Free trip to Kathmandu!

When I was first contacted by Travelscene to see if I could be a part of the Facebook Fan Trip to Kathmandu, I had some difficulty believing if it was all for real. Now that it has been and gone, I still can’t believe that it all actually happened.

Joined by three other winners, I met Dan, Shannon and Trish for the first time just moments before boarding the plane in one of those awkward ‘hey I’m from the internet’ introductions. We all got on like a house on fire pretty much from the moment we met, which is pretty awesome since we were just about to spend the next 17 hours or so sitting about three inches apart.

Dan sleeping on my shoulder: not awesome.

First leg to our final destination of Kathmandu was a 9:50am flight with China Southern Airlines, around 10 hours from Sydney to Guangzhou. The seats were small but the legroom sufficient, and the food edible and about on par with most airlines. The service, on the other hand, left a little to be desired, with an attitude that seemed like any request was a hassle and even having calls for service actively ignored. The in flight entertainment was basic, with two different movies on communal screens, cycled through a couple times each.

There are videos reminding passengers to stretch throughout the flight. It results in this cabin-wide synchronised stretch. It’s beautiful.

The transfer in Guangzhou onto the Kathmandu-bound flight was relatively hassle free, and the flight itself was fine. Again, food was fine and in flight entertainment was less than amazing, though I spent most of my time trying to rest up for the days to come.

We were met at the airport by an affable bloke by the name of Anang and driven straight to our hotel. Anang made sure to outline everything that would happen over the next few days and how it would all go down, and put himself at our disposal for whatever our needs were over the next few days.

Hotel Everest was our accommodation for the next few nights, and according to online reviews, one of the classier establishments in the city. Boasting a rooftop bar, a pool and a casino among other things, we quickly discovered ‘rooftop’ actually means ‘it’s indoors on the top level,’ ‘pool’ indicated a foot of muddy water in a half finished trench, and that the casino was little more than a shed to the side of the hotel.

View of the pool and courtyard. Inviting.

View from the room

To be fair the hotel was a comfortable and safe place to stay, located in a spot close to everything, with friendly staff and excellent service. The all-you-can-eat breakfast was delicious and provided a nice mix of Nepali and Indian style foods, or you could opt for the toast and cereal if you were in a boring mood. The hotel was more than adequate in providing for our needs, but it needs to be pointed out that their idea of a fine hotel would likely struggle to gain a 3-star rating in many other places.

With daylight breaking some time before 5am and my body clock several time zones away, my first full day got off to an early start. As an interesting side note, Kathmandu sits in a weird quarter-hour time zone, 4 and a quarter hours behind Sydney, unlike the usual full-hour (or half hour if you’re one of those weirdos from South Australia)

We spent our first day being driven around the city, first checking out Swayambhunath temple, and ticking off the first of my ‘must-see’ sites in the city. Perched atop a high hill, we caught amazing views across the valley and many chances for some brilliant holiday snaps. Littered with colourful Buddhist flags in the trees and mischievous monkeys running amok, there was so much going on it was hard to know where to look.

Kathmandu Durbar Square was our next destination with a smattering of more temples and a royal compound-cum-museum. It was also a hotspot for locals hustling for an easy rupee or 500 from some unsuspecting sucker; enter Shannon. Shannon was a magnet for these people, receiving henna tattoos, purchasing strange trinkets and receiving impromptu personal tours any time she stopped. She seemed to enjoy it all, and I’m betting the locals were stoked with her generosity, so win-win.

Coincidentally, another must-see site on my list – Freak Street – happened to be situated right next to the square. A famous hippie hangout in the 60’s, these days Freak Street is an incredibly underwhelming and a regular old street, indistinguishable from any others in the area. Still, two out of three sites on my list crossed off in half a day, I was doing well.

The only time Freak St lived up to its name

Back in the van, we made tracks for Patan Durbar Square, at which point all these temples started blurring into a single memory. A few minutes and some photos later, we went and grabbed some lunch, then continued on with Anang for a walking tour through the back streets of Patan. Lots of old buildings and narrow alleys, we all noticed a resemblance to the stoney alleys of Venice. After a full on day amongst hoards of people, it was a nice change of pace to walk through practically deserted, quiet back streets.

We capped off the day with cocktails and dinner at an overtly touristy restaurant, complete with ‘traditional dancers’ decked out in traditional garb. Things became awkward towards the end when the dancers were performing to us only, and an otherwise empty room. The food was filling and delicious, but the really interesting part was the “local wine,” I believe they call it noshki. I put that in quotes because it was less wine-like and more tequila-from-hell type spirit. Our night was just starting.

Suddenly it’s morning, I’m a little hazy, there’s an empty bottle of vodka, some soda and numerous glasses scattered throughout my room. I’m pretty sure we all had a good night, but now we had to prepare ourselves for two days of trekking. Shan, Dan and I met up with an awesome bloke by the name of Rabindra, who was our guide on the trek for the next two days. Meanwhile Trish had to stay behind in Kathmandu because of ‘doctors orders,’ but I suspect it was more likely because she’s soft. And something something, scared of leopards, something something. Whatever the case, it was her loss.

Our friendly Travelscene reps did warn us we would NEED hiking boots and that runners were NOT appropriate footwear. In typical style, I said ‘screw that, I’m not buying new shoes for a two day trek’ and wore runners anyway. Our guide clearly thought I was an idiot, and an impressive fall late on the first day would confirm his thoughts. I had many close calls, almost rolling my ankles on at least a half dozen occasions, and save for a grazed knee I’m pretty sure I came out on top at the end of it all.

The accommodation was basic, but comfortable, and both nights our rooms had incredible views across the mountains. Rabindra made every effort to make sure we were all happy, letting us set our own pace, starting each morning at whatever time we felt we would be ready, and always cracking jokes and having fun with us.

Oh yeah, and this came out of the taps in one of the rooms I stayed in:

NOPE

Along the way we saw all kinds of plants an animals, from cows and goats to lizards and birds, and crops of corn and wheat to marijuana literally growing as a weed.

By the third morning, and last day of our adventure to Nepal, we were all pretty knackered and cut our trek short by a few kilometers so we could get back to Kathmandu nice and early, and spend our last few hours hanging out with Trish and loading up on cheap Nepalese goods. With that, we jumped in the world’s smallest taxi, hit up Thamel and bartered our way across town, picking up all sorts of goods such as tea, clothes, books and of course cashmere/pashmina scarves, throws and sweaters. Had fun sign-spotting too.

I personally had one last thing on my list that I wanted to do: The Garden of Dreams. It turns out it was right around the corner from where we were shopping, and for around AU$2 we made our way into the walled garden. It was a slice of peace and tranquility amongst a noisy and fast paced city, and apparently its every unoriginal Nepalese guys’ date spot, with loads of couples necking on around the joint. There we lay on the grass and necked chilled out for a couple hours, then off to the bar ar0und the corner for some cheeky beers before we had to head back to the airport.

It seemed like the whole trip was over as quickly as it had all come together. For a four-day trip, we packed in a hell of a lot and experienced so much, I had a pretty rad time. Then they hand us these newspapers on the flight home:

Written on July 24, 2012