Exploring Kathmandu

Ed. note: reporting live from the Andaman Islands off the coast of India! We’ll be diving here until mid-December. The undersea life is pretty spectacular but the internet connectivity is unimaginably slow.  I’m on a very painful digital detox these days.

Dreaming of the mountains in Nepal.

Dreaming of the mountains in Nepal.

When we started planning our big trip way back in June of 2012, we only had a vague idea where we were going. We planned to start in China and concentrate most of our time in Asia. But in the back of my mind I had a few plans, just one or two bucket list items. One of those was trekking in Nepal.

Nepal held mythic status in my mind. It sounded like a haven for backpackers, a place traveler’s rave about. We heard it was easy on the budget, culturally rich, and accessible for independent travelers. Our kind of place. When our diving plans came together for early October, it looked like we had two weeks open between Sri Lanka and the Andaman Islands – so I quickly booked a flight to Nepal and sold Zev on my crazy scheme.

Max, a friend from DC who is now living in Addis Ababa, joined us for our two week jaunt around Nepal. Traveling with Max was a blast and it was such a delight to reminisce about the good old times in DC.

Our fearless navigator, Max!

Our fearless navigator, Max!

Stepping out of the Kathmandu airport, you can see the distant peaks of snow-covered mountains. It’s a very misleading introduction to the capital of Nepal. Heading into Kathmandu proper, the tranquility of the mountains quickly cedes way to a dusty, chaotic, unbearably noisy city with traffic choked streets, most of which are unpaved and so broken up you fear that your dusty Suzuki Maruti taxi wont make it to the guesthouse. The air of the city is heavy with a haze of dust and smoke. Nothing in Kathmandu is safe from the film that settles onto every surface and gives the city an ancient and otherworldly feel.

We stayed in the uber backpacker-y neighborhood of Thamel. Like almost all of Kathmandu, it has narrow streets and decrepit brick buildings with carved wooden latticework windows, but its storefronts are filled with a greater density of tourist shops than you ever thought possible. Each shop sells a near-identical [monotonous] mix of prayer flags, Buddhist paraphernalia, and knock-off cashmere shawls.

The clogged streets of Kathmandu.

The clogged streets of Kathmandu.

The Dream Garden is a serene oasis in the heart of Thamel.

The Dream Garden is a serene oasis in the heart of freneticThamel.

Rooftop kite flying in Kathmandu.

Rooftop kite flying in Kathmandu.

A tea shop in Thamel.

A tea shop in Thamel.

Cleaning out a shrine at Swayambhunath Temple

Cleaning out a shrine at Swayambhunath Temple

The famous Swayambhunath temple, Kathmandu.

The famous Swayambhunath temple, Kathmandu.

Every building in Kathmandu feels ancient.

This curious dog really cracked me up.

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Selling offerings outside a temple.

Selling offerings outside a temple.

Max met us at the airport and we spent a handful of days exploring Kathmandu and organizing the logistics for our 7-day trek in Langtang. Beyond Tibetan prayer flags, Thamel is a Mecca for name brand outdoor gear of questionable authenticity at prices and quality low enough to classify them as disposable, which proved perfect for our limited budget and total lack of space or interest in adding nylon baggy purple zip-off pants to my wardrobe beyond our trek.  We also stocked up on a metric shit-ton of granola bars, cookies, and a pack of highly prized German gummy bears to tide us over between meals on the trail.

A tailbone breaking 7 hour bus ride later, and we were at the trail head! I must admit that we didn’t know what to expect from this trek. From what we heard, the Langtang route is supposed to be one of the easiest and also most beautiful walks in Nepal. Perhaps we were sorely out of shape (definitely the case), but the walk was very challenging, especially because we carried our own granola bar-laden packs. Each evening along the way we stopped at a little guesthouse, indulged in a solar heated shower and settled down to some card games and a hearty meal of ‘Sherpa stew’, fried pasta, or some other tasty starch concoction.

This is what I was after. A great view of the Himalayas.

This is what I was after. A great view of the Himalayas.

The trail splits around a stupa.

The trail splits around a stupa.

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