Friday, May 22, 2009

CC: I'll Soon Be Seeing You.

After a few days in town, I’ve finally found the Kathmandu that Cat Stevens was singing about.

To be honest, I was by no means looking forward to arriving. When you’re talking to trekkers you can’t mention Kathmandu without being barraged with words such as loud, pollution, beggars, dirty, and awful, to name a few. In fact I’d only met two people who seemed to really like it at all.

So it was with much trepidation that I peered out the window of the bus as we started to roll in to the outskirts of the city. Not so bad yet - maybe it doesn’t really hit you till you get to the city centre…

Kathmandu from Above - ok, a bit polluted

I step off the bus. Huh. There’s no shit in the streets. I can’t see a single person relieving him or herself at the side of the road or even detect the smell of urine. A cow politely moves out of the way for the traffic – consisting mostly of pedestrians and just a few motorbikes.

“My friend! My friend!” Here it comes. Time to get besieged by touts, shop owners, and beggars. “No thanks.” I reply (unusually polite after my time in the friendly mountain villages). He nods and walks away. Wait! What? He left as soon as I said I wasn’t interested?.

Big stupa in the middle of a square

This doesn’t seem right. As far as I can see, Kathmandu is an India veteran’s wet dream. It’s as though someone took note of every cry of frustration I’d ever uttered about all of the worst problems in big Indian cities and just removed them from Kathmandu. Walking through Thamel (the big tourist district), I’m surrounded by comfortable hotels and immaculate restaurants serving spot on western food. This place just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the subcontinent! It’s like a theme park!

Expensive Thamel restaurant

But then again, it’s like a theme park. I didn’t come all this way to sip chai (inflated to six times the normal Nepali price!) and munch on salads and pizza with Westerners on short vacations whose budgets are as big as they are boring. After a few days it’s time to migrate to Freak Street (yup, that’s actually what it’s called). I don’t even think I rationally played any part in making this decision either – I suspect that my month and a half old beard in conjunction with my Aladdin pants made that particular decision for me.

Looking down Freak Street at night

Away from the travel agencies and souvenir shops, and right next to the city’s Dubar Square, it was seriously like walking through a time portal. Four decades melted away before my eyes. A few hotel inspections later I chance upon the Moonstay Lodge (costing about $2.50 a night). This is more like it!

My room!

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