The Journey to Kathmandu
I arrived in Kalimpong in the afternoon of the 2nd of May. Kalimpong is, like Darjeeling, in the hills. At a l ower altitude it was hot. Not quite India hot but enough to be a bit uncomfortable. I found a hotel called Oasis with a very friendly staff and cheap rooms. The first had a dodgy l ightbulb but I got myself moved and the second was better, albeit a good amount grubby. I went out for some food (and a beer) in a little place up the hill. The place was empty but had a nice ambiance. After Darjeeling I found Kalimpong very untouristy.
Shortly later a man came in so I said hello. He came from Israel and said his name was Ran. We chatted for a bit, he said he was going to Kakarbhitta in Nepal the next day. I invited myself along, he didn't seem to mind.
The next morning I set out early to visit two Buddhist gompas. They were both uphill and I got lost frequently. I arrived at the first, Thongpa Gompa. It was nice, slightly off the road and thus quietly peaceful. There were many prayer wheels. I stayed there for a while and shot some pictures.
I left to walk up a very steep hill to the next one. I estimated it would take roughly 10-15 minutes before I would arrive. 35 minutes later I arrived at Dr Graham's Home. Dr John Graham was a Scottish missionary and he came to educate the c hildren of the tea estates. The grounds contain a school, an orphanage and, of course, a nice church.
I headed back down towards town and saw the missed gompa to the left of me down the hill. I assumed the road to reach is was, by then, behind me back up the hill. I looked at it a bit from my current viewpoint and then continued once again the easy stroll downhill.
I checked out and went to meet Ran. He wasn't ready so I got some food in a place called Gompu's and waited.
Kakarbhitta and border fun
We got a jeep to Siliguri where I tried various ATMs but for some reason they would not give me any money. I tri ed my backup card and that worked fine.
Our trip to the border checkpoint was by bus. All authority states that us foreigners need to pay 30 US dollars (in dollars) for a 30 day Nepal visa. I didn't have this and it woul d be difficult, if not impossible, to have rupees changed to dollars in India.
Luckily rupees were fine. I payed IRS1600 ($39/£19) plus a IRS100 surcharge. This was acceptable and cheaper than I expected. I got a 60 day visa for that instead of the 30. I'd he ard the 60 day visa cost $60. I am tempted to stay in Nepal for 31 days so I can say I got a good deal.
We stayed in Kakarbhitta for the night, there was a terrible thunder storm that lasted from 9pm until well past midnight. It was very hot too, I didn't sleep at all. Ran left at 4a m for a bus to Kathmandu. I left at 6.30am for a bus to Janakpur.
The first day I had a little stroll and saw some of the local area. The second day I visited some temples, got a bit harassed by Sadhus and was also given a dot on my head. I took some nice pictures of some god s that happily posed in stone for me. I booked my ticket for the overnight train to Kathmandu.
On the third day I sat in my hotel. I went out once to buy a mango and three oranges. One orange was mouldy inside, the other two were not so nice. The mango was gorgeous. I went out and bought two more and then ate them. At 2pm I checked out and went to sit in the hotel's restaurant. A very nicely furnished room, a good looking menu and tasty food. The staff were either too present, hovering over the side of the tab le or away in some distant place untraceable.
My bus was due to leave at 5pm, I was told to be there by 4.30 so I left the restaurant at 4.35. Outside was surprisingly cool, I was shocked. Then the wind happened. Dusty floors and wind do not go well together. I got a rickshaw to the bus stand. He overcharged me but I allowed it due to the fact that he had, by profession, to keep his eyes open through the dust storm.
I go on the bus around 4.45. It eventually left at 5.50. I was told to expect 10 hours on the bus. I found the delay preferable to arriving in Kathmandu at 3am. I had the seat directly behind the driver, it was not comfortable but none are. I had a bit of leg room and a reclining seat that reclined greatly, maybe a whole inch!
I didn't sleep on the bus, I knew I wouldn't. I tried to but sleep would not come. I was, however, and as it always seem I am in such circumstance, very tired. I arrived in Kathmandu a bit after 4am. It was sti ll night and dark but there was a faint morning glow to the sky.
I asked directions to Thamel and was offered a taxi at NRS200. I didn't know where I was or how far it was to Thamel but I knew it shouldn't cost so much. I declined the taxi and asked again which direction. I was given it so I set off to walk.
It was a nice pleasant morning, cool, a bit damp and emerging light. The taxi driver drove after me and offered the trip for NRS100. I said no. He offered to used the meter. This is very rare, I don't think it ever happens. Usually you have to ask if they will use they meter and usually they will say no.
I declined the taxi again. I told the driver that it was a nice morning and I should like to walk. I followed the road as directed. I asked a man on the way how long I should expect it to take, he said 15 minut es. I walked for maybe 20 and, by then, the sun was visible. I was East of Kathmandu.
I found where I should expect to be arriving in Thamel and soon did.
It was still early, nothing was open. No hotels were open. I met two Argentinians who had also arrived this early. One was called Juan, I realise now that the second and I were not actually introduced.
We strolled for a bit and then met a man/tout who offered a hotel for NRS200 (single room) and NRS300 (double). He also said there was 24 hour hot water, this was a lie.
We arriver at the hotel. It was big, it was quite modern, it looked nice. I was given a triple room (3 beds) for lack of a single room. It's nice and big and amazing for just NRS200.
I took an unpleasant but needed cold shower and then went out for some breakfast.
Thamel is a tourist ghetto. It's not Nepal, it's what Nepal thinks tourists want. I came here to see Nepal and I've got lots of restaurants, lots of bars and lots of cheap shops. I think it's ace. I could go on about it for ages and I will, but in another post.