After 42 hours of travel time, including a missed connecting flight that led to 8 hours of ‘joy’ chilling in Delhi airport, I finally made it to Kathmandu at 11pm last night. Exhausted beyond recognition, I was overwhelmed by the taxi drivers that descended upon me when I left the airport and due to my impaired judgement, I feel I might have made a rather poor choice in the car I got into in comparison to the taxis I have now seen driving around. I experienced a taxi ride that I believe I can’t possibly ever forget. It was shared with random people that jumped into the cab last minute in the least road worthy car imaginable with no seat belts and a driver who went through blacked out back streets at high speeds with no roads, only sand that had either sinkholes or bumps of sand that appear better suited to 4WD Quad Bikes. After what felt like an eternity of nearly hitting my head on the roof multiple times, trying to make some sort of sense of the conversation every else in the cab was having, waiting for the taxi driver to stop chatting with men who appeared out of the darkness in a dim alleyway, I made it to the hotel at precisely midnight. At this point I exhaled. I did’t care that my driver then insanely overcharged me, I was just thankful to be out of the vehicle. I quickly got myself into bed – post a stressed exhausted phone call to my mum – and tried to imagine the sounds of blaring horns, motorcycle exhausts and constant hoicking of spit as sweet lullabies – well, maybe not, more like tried to use my beanie as a buffer. This first ride into town was to be my first and only negative experience of Nepal.
Waking this morning, I felt undeniably refreshed and ready to explore. I set off to go through the city center backstreets in the morning to make my way to Durbar Square and I find it impossible to find the correct words to describe the sensory overload that took place on my way there. Initially I attempted to locate Thamel, the tourist gathering spot, but couldn’t quite figure that one out so left it for the afternoon. I am now thankful for how this turned out as my first point of contact was solely with Nepali people as I appeared in most of the streets I wound my way through, twisting and turning down the alleys, most with an offshoot that lead to a beautiful shrine, temple or buddhist stupa, to be the only tourist around and certainly the only solo female. The people were incredibly friendly and in a very genuine way, there was no pressure to purchase their wares, they were simply interested in chatting. I would say the most forthright sales person I met was a beautiful 12 year old girl with great English and a personality that would rival the star power of Hollywood who’s charms I gave in to and let her Henna my hand.
Much excitement was happening in the morning as this is the final day of the New Year celebrations in Nepal. Colourful sparkling flags and streamers have been hung all through the streets and everyone has their forehead marked with bright powder. The hustle and bustle in Asan Tole was in overdrive as pedestrians, rickshaw drivers, taxi drivers and cyclists each all appear to have an equal right of way and it is simply a matter of who steps out first that gets the advantage.
During my walk, I feel in the short 3 hours I spent, I’ve never come close to experiencing such a myriad of smells and sights. Some backstreets do smell unbearably bad and I simply tried my best to breathe through my mouth and attempt to distract my mind from it. Within a minute or two, I’d be away and suddenly the entire air would be filled with the aroma of burning incense and this to me, is the heart of Kathmandu. The incense smell lingers on your clothes, your hands, your hair. It is a woody and deep fragrance that I can’t properly discern, but I’ve decided I don’t really need to know, to me, is it simply, Kathmandu, mystical, magic and unique.
Spending my afternoon in the tourist hub of Thamel, once I finally figured out which side street I had missed earlier in the morning, I picked up a few souvenirs and then settled down for lunch at the Roadhouse Cafe, which specializes in pizza. Yep, I travel halfway across the world to Nepal and what do I order? A margherita pizza. But it was a margherita pizza that cost me $4 and was certainly up to standard, extremely delicious.
I am looking forward to the new areas I will head out to explore tomorrow and really can’t wait to get out to the mountains!