If you're seeing this it's because your web browser doesn't support web standards, these pages will work and look better in a browser that does. Sorry for the annoyance - the site at the previous link gives an excellent explanation as to why I've done it (SB).

Nepal Notes

Nepal in August. Will I see fabulous temples, breathtaking mountain views and fascinating cultural sights? Or just rainclouds and monsoon downpours? Watch this space to find out...

Saturday, October 11, 2003

After much digital prevarication (what you get for being a die-hard slide film user) I've finally uploaded the photos from my trip! There are snaps of the other volunteers, the Student Guesthouse guys and of the teachers and pupils of New Arunodaya English High School. There are also my fancier "proper" pictures of Nepal and the Langtang trek.
# posted by Simon @ 10:33 PM

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Here they are, the Trail Tales:

Tuesday August 26th

A gruelling thirteen-hour journey to Syabru Besi that included a flat tyre, an hour’s walk across some precarious-looking landslides and a change of bus. At the end of the journey we had to wade across a final landslide with a gushing waterfall in the dusk. Tired and heavily laden I slipped on the torrent’s shifting boulders and if it weren’t for our able guide Ganesh’s swiftly presented arm I would’ve gone in. He earned a week’s wages there on the spot.

As the primary means of transport to the area the bus was crowded with all and sundry and their various baggage including sacks of rice, cans of oil and basketfuls of chickens and a goat tied to the roof. The roads are pretty basic too, looping perilously up steep hillsides causing numerous white-knuckle moments as buses and lorries try to squeeze past each other. The last half of the journey was on a rough hardcore track meaning we hardly ever got out of second gear and our guts were given a good churning.

We trudged into a little hotel dimly lit by underpowered light bulbs wet, tired and in the dark. We were shown our basic room with two vaguely padded beds, pillows with all the give of cloth-covered bags of cement and one very large spider. It was huge, body the size of a large furry plum and five inch legs. Tolerance aside it had to go, however within five minutes it (or its twin) was back and had to be re-ejected. We changed and Stuart and Ganesh had Daal Bhaat whilst I settled for a wooden trail biscuit not feeling very hungry. We played cards before bed, Stuart teaching Ganesh “bullshit” – his version of “cheat”.

An early night but with no sleep as my body mutinied. Having consumed some dodgy Daal Bhaat or Chiya on the way I got an ill-timed and dramatic bout of Nepali belly. Feverous and delirious non-sleep followed by a series of violent evacuations for the rest of the night. Of course this would coincide with my first experience of a rather grimy, Asian style squat toilet.

Wednesday

I couldn’t manage walking today, no energy and the need for close proximity to a bathroom. Fortunately we have a day to spare so I suggested Stuart and Ganesh went off day hiking whilst I rested up at the hotel. Immodium and oral re-hydration solution seem to be doing the trick.

Syabru Besi resembles something from the Wild West. A dusty one street town lined with stores, lodges and tin-roofed shacks sat at the bottom of a very steep valley; a roaring monsoon-fuelled river running at its bottom. The village all came out to see a helicopter land. Watching it taking off again I had a strong urge to run down and plead to be flown out of here. Having hit rock-bottom in the night I felt a very long way from home.

In the evening I ate some plain boiled rice and we attempted to teach the huge, quiet Tibetan also staying at the Hotel how to play ”bullshit”.

Thursday - Day 1

Finally started the trek up the Langtang valley today. However the going was hard for me, running on empty and with no energy reserves I tired easily, was always at the back and needed frequent stops. After a leisurely breakfast of Tibetan bread and black tea we set off at 9.30am to make the day’s climb. Crossing narrow suspension bridges and down lanes overgrown with giant nettles and cannabis plants (yes, they grow as weeds) we soon entered the forest covering the steep narrow valley. Walking up through the dripping trees comprised the majority of the days’ trek with occasional crossings of streams on uncertain looking log bridges and, like on Shivapuri, the unwelcome attention of buzzing insects and our old friends the leeches. Only Ganesh was unlucky enough to be munched upon by one of the vampiric little squirmers but we did see plenty on the move.

We stopped for a couple of much-needed but expensive cokes at one of the lodges on the trail. You appreciate them more (and feel a little guilty) when you see the backbreaking basketfuls of bottles being carried up the same trail you’re labouring up by wiry-legged porters in flip-flops. Ate noodle soup for lunch whilst I determined if I had sufficient energy to continue another 4 hours to Lama Hotel. We made it as far as Langtang View lodge, at 2400 metres 700 metres up from Syabru, and intended to stop for tea before walking the last half hour. However the combination of a sudden monsoon downpour and a very persuasive hostess made us decide to spend the night here. We spent the evening watching life around the hearth – spoiling the baby, cooking dinner and chatting. The cards came out again later, Ganesh teaching us Juthpathi, a Nepali game, and me teaching Rummy in return.

Friday - Day 2

Difficult to sleep with the sound of a roaring river and the racket of jungle wildlife – we’d seen monkeys in the trees the night before. Got up at 7am and washed in the stream, breakfasted on Tibetan bread and butter that, due to my illness-shrunken belly, required two cups of tea to be washed down. During which our hostess turned on the sales patter again offering a range of home-knitted clothes.

The walking was much better today; I was keeping up with Ganesh and seemed to have the majority of my strength back. With 900 metres of climb the going was still tough but it felt good to be exercising. We stopped a little further up the trail at Lama Hotel for tea and then the views rapidly improved as we climbed out of the gorge and towards the top of the forest; occasionally presented with towering narrow waterfalls thundering down the opposite hillside. We met some other trekkers on their way down: an expat American girl on the trail and two Parisians and their guide who we chatted to over a lunch of egg noodle soup at Gharatabela.

Carrying on we passed two Nepali women struggling up the trail with heavy loads. Ganesh offered to lighten their load a little and carried one of the empty canisters they were using to take Rakshi (a local spirit) up the valley to sell. Much later on after a steep climb out of the trees we reached their village of Thangsyapu shrouded in clouds. They called us into their kitchen where we bought tea but they shared their meal of potatoes for free. We peeled the spuds, which were boiled in their skins and then dipped them in chilli and salt paste. Simple hearty fare.

Higher up the valley opened out and we tramped the last hour and a half out of the trees across the fields and a long suspension bridge to Langtang village at 3330 metres. We found the hotel with the best view (that was also open, not easy out of season) the Eco Guesthouse, checked in and proceeded to have the best hot shower ever (steam no less). Stuart and I celebrated with a mini feast of peanuts and chocolate biscuits.

I should explain that in this application the word hotel maybe somewhat misleading. If you’re thinking mahogany reception desks, bell boys, crisp white linen and ensuite bathrooms you’re much mistaken. On the trail hotels are invariably a rough kitchen built around a wood-burning hearth with a common room of wooden benches and tables attached. A separate building has small rooms containing basic wooden bunks. If you’re lucky the toilet is nearby.

We spent the evening around the hearth with the gregarious host, his wife and their two daughters; drying our boots and chatting happily. Vegetable chow mien for dinner with some very tasty cauliflower and a complementary apple for pud then an early night hoping to catch mountain views in the morning.

Saturday - Day 3

Woke up at 5.30am to mist and low cloud reducing the chance of decent views. We got up anyway at 6.30am and after rousing Ganesh headed out at 7.30am. Almost immediately the clouds started to lift and across the valley, above the towering black hillside, behind the hotel there appeared a gleaming white shard of mountain against a patch of clear blue morning sky. An awesome sight, it was if someone had taken some Scottish mountains and then built another mountain on top.

On the way up the valley we caught up with another two trekkers, Nick and Lyndsey. Nick had actually emailed a reply to my message on the noticeboard at KEEP after I’d left so already knew of me. Lyndsey was another teaching volunteer from my organisation and was stopping off in Nepal on her travels. She also likes to talk, Nick commenting it was good we came along to “dilute her” for a while.

Up from Langtang village the valley has a wide U-shaped glacier scoured profile contrasting with the lower steep V-shaped river-carved gorge. The higher we walked the rough fields got increasingly rockier, with the tiny bright points of yellow, white, red andblue alpine flowers peeking between the boulders. Passing walls of Mani stones (dry stone walls paved with upright flat stones carved with Buddhist verses) traditionally always keeping to the left.

Stuart’s head started to feel the effects of the altitude so we took it slowly for the last twenty minutes to Kyajin Gompa. We had lunch with Nick, Lyndsey and their silent Polish trail-mate Martin who had gone ahead. Packet tomato soup at 3730 metres, although some maps and the signs in the village list it as 3900 metres. Stuart returned down the valley ahead of Ganesh and myself, leaving us to play cheat with Lyndsey made all the more interesting by altitude induced giddiness and light-headedness.

Leaving the others who were staying to explore the upper valley we made a quicker descent down the valley where Ganesh distinguished himself again rescuing a lost camera lens and film I’d managed to roll off a rock whilst rooting through my bag. Dozed for the remainder of the afternoon trying to rid myself of a slight headache I’d got from the high altitude. All thoughts of my sore head soon vanished when I went down to the kitchen and became the object of the girls’ attention. Playing wind-up helicopter, hide the apple and spin the carrot with the younger and teaching the elder English with gestures for “blue sky” and “white mountain”. The friendly, cosy atmosphere was infectiously charming.

Our host came to light a smouldering dish of juniper branches for his evening Puja, trailing the fragrant smoke through the kitchen and the sleeping cabin. Daal Bhaat for dinner and then a game of Juthpathi with the three of us, the cook boy and the local schoolteacher until late, well trail late - 9.30pm.

Sunday - Day 4

Up early again at 6.15am but without the brief views of the preceding morning. I’d decided against trudging through the wet undergrowth to get to the Stupa on the low hill across from the hotel but felt obliged to after our host proffered a stick to clear a path with. At the top were good views to the waterfalls misting down the cliff face behind the hotel and down to the sharp gorge of the lower valley. We breakfasted on fabulous pancakes with honey and waved a sad goodbye to our amenable hosts.

It was predictably much easier walking downhill and we reached the Riverside hotel close to our final destination in only three hours. Ganesh pausing along the return trip to gather fern samples for his friend and mentor Chris and berries off the gnarly local trees to make Achaar – spicy pickle for Daal Bhaat. After tomato noodle soup we made it to Lama Hotel in less than an hour, Stuart rested briefly before continuing down to Langtang View to buy a hat he’d nearly bought earlier off the valley’s top saleswoman. We’d planned a different route back that would not take us past her hotel. Ate some more celebratory Cadburys fruit and nut on the balcony.

Our new host lit the fire in the common room that night and after dining on fried potatoes with hard Nak’s cheese (Nak = female Yak) I read until the sudden appearance of blankets and pillows made it obvious everyone wanted to go to bed. Any chance of much-needed sleep of my own that night was banished by the presence of an unwelcome guest in the bedroom - namely a rat. Now our rodent chums don’t usually bother me, I'd see them rooting through the rubbish or shooting across the classroom floors at school. However put me in a ten-foot wooden cube in the pitch dark (such was our bedroom) and I become very unwilling to share my personal space. The fun started right after I'd blown the candle out and zipped myself into my sleeping bag. I'd warned Stuart to double-bag any food and keep it in his pack to discourage any hungry critters. However this night I'd foolishly ignored my own advice and left a plastic bag of food on the windowsill. Drifting off to sleep I heard some rustling. Presuming it to be the bag settling I had a quick check with my torch, found nothing and tried to go back to sleep. It wasn't long before the rustling started again and this time I heard the patter of tiny feet along my mattress through my pillow. Spooked now, I lit the candle and discovered a displaced packet of biscuits next to my thigh, one corner chewed through with a sizable chunk of biscuit missing. Stuart looked fast asleep so I had to look for ratty alone. Having checked all the shelves I had to take the plunge and look under the beds. So there I am with the tiny beam of my mini-Maglite sweeping the floor all the while mentally preparing myself for the sight of a pair of beady eyes or a speeding fur-ball, in the hope I don't let out a huge girly scream and wake Stuart. But alas no rat. What I do find though is its point of entry, a triangular gap in the corner of the floorboards. Covering the hole with my notebook I again try to go back to sleep. This was also short-lived as soon after I heard the notebook shifting. Re-lighting the candle and shining the pathetic beam of the torch into the corner I saw with dread that the notebook had been moved. I’m afraid this is when I resorted to profanities: “Oh shit. Shit. Shit!”. This time my searching managed to rouse Stuart:
“What’s up?”
“We’ve a visitor.”
“What kind of visitor?”
“A furry one.”
“Don’t look for it, just ignore it and go back to sleep.”
At the time this seemed uncharacteristically tolerant of Stuart, however he did proceed to spent the rest of the night completely mummified in his sleeping bag with the minimal opening necessary to prevent complete suffocation. Again unable to locate our elusive guest I re-sealed the hole but this time placed a heavy shoe on top of the notebook. Although we heard nothing else for the rest of the night, my overactive imagination had got well into the swing of things and had great fun keeping me awake for the rest of the night with images of Roland and chums bashing at the notebook with a tiny rodent battering ram. It was only when I recounted the events in the morning that Stuart admitted that he’d assumed our furry visitor was of the eight-legged variety and that in this case ignorance was (relative) bliss.

Monday - day 5

Awoke tired after the night’s events and went down to the kitchen to be offered a mug of hot tea from the large pot warming by the hearth. I discovered too late that this was tea in the Tibetan style that is with plenty of milk, salt and butter. Manfully glugged down the briny liquid and hid my mug in case top-ups were forthcoming. Fared better with breakfast, large bowls of creamy sweet rice pudding.

I had a stark reminder of the level of poverty of the Nepali people before we left the hotel. The hotel manager had told us it was difficult to earn enough to pay the 8000 rupees rent per season (3 months) the owner charged. Ganesh told me that if they couldn’t pay when the owner visited they might lose the hotel that was their home and then be unable to look after their baby son. Ganesh, who had been smitten by every baby we’d met on the trail in particular the baby at Lama Hotel, had agreed to take the baby off them in one month if this was the case. Although having a daughter Ganesh was desperate for a son and believed a palm reader who’d told him he would only ever father daughters. I said the parents must be very sad to give away their child, but Ganesh said no that in the situation they would be happy to. I bit my lip and reigned in any moral judgements, trying to understand my views were coloured too much by my own cultural references.

The different route down turned out to be very challenging. Rather than following the river at the base of the valley it climbed up and took a narrow twisting path along the top of the steep valley side. There were several very exposed sections pitting my willpower against my mounting vertigo (I won, just), including rickety two plank walkways across jutting rock faces. The longer narrow path was in turns rocky and muddy and ended with a steep 800 metre descent punishing on the knees. However the views across and down the sheer valleys were outstanding and being off the beaten path gave a more authentic sights of Nepali life: small villages clinging to the hillside, herds of cows grazing the steep verges, small water-wheel driven flour mills and whole families working the narrow terraced fields.

We arrived back at Syabru dog-tired but chuffed to have made it to Kyajin Gompa and back within 5 days. A celebratory coke and the last of my chocolate then trimmed the week’s beard growth into a souvenir goatee. The celebrations continued later with a large bottle of beer each. However this plus our exhausted state made our attempts to play cards later comically useless.

Tuesday

A slightly shorter but nevertheless arduous eleven hour return trip made a little less bearable by the bus driver’s habit of playing Hindi music at high volume for the majority of the journey. Ear plugs to the rescue again.

I’d been reading Jon Krakauer’s firsthand account of the climbing disasters on Everest in May 1996 throughout the trek. So although we’d had a fairly tough week, it was small fry compared to the events described in the book. It was good to keep a little perspective.

# posted by Simon @ 10:01 PM

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Well, my time's run out. This is my last post from Kathmandu.

Had a great Thai meal last night followed by a couple of drinks to say goodbye to all the other volunteers. After packing this morning I returned to the School to bid them a last farewell and take some photos to remember them by. They were genuinely pleased to see me again and eager to hear all about my trekking exploits. I left with another big silly grin on my face. As I was in the neighbourhood I carried on up the hill to make a final visit to Swayambhu. I cooled down after the long climb soaking up the view of Kathmandhu baking in the sun. All that's left to do now is post this and make my farewells at the hotel; I bought a disposable camera to take pictures of all the guys who work here (who are more like mates now) and I've got an extra set developed so they can keep the pictures of themselves.

I've mixed emotions about leaving. On the one hand I'm just about ready to come home, I've a hankering for hot baths, clean sheets, the Yorkshire Dales, the company of friends and family and plenty of good home cookin' (roast chicken, cheese and pickle sandwiches, beans on toast - hmmmm). The situation with the Maoists in Nepal is also becoming somewhat unnerving. It's the Nepalis not the tourists that bear the brunt of the troubles and it's a sad to see a country that in many respects is trying so hard to pull itself together unravelling at the seams. The mood in Kathmandu has changed over the last week, there's a noticeable police and army presence and last night there were tanks rolling past the bar we were in. In this respect I'm glad to be leaving, but sorry for those I leave behind. However there's definitely things I'll miss. Maybe not the stench or the constant hassle on the streets, but certainly the peaceful calm of the Buddhist stupas, the steeply terraced lush green hillsides, our late night sessions of people watching from the hotel rooftop and particularly the Nepali people themselves. Their openess, friendliness and quiet generosity has left a lasting impression. I think I've made some good friends here, and I hope to be able to come back and visit them again someday (besides there's plenty more Himalaya to trek...).
# posted by Simon @ 2:39 PM

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

I went along to KEEP (Kathmandu Environmental Education Project) this morning and dutifully filled in an entry in the appropriate Trekker's logbook. Forced myself to eat one of their chocolate brownies with some lemon tea whilst scribbling. Then my shaggy countenance prompted me to seek out a barber. My first Asian haircut actually ended up involving, aside from a short back and sides, a wet shave (with cut throat razor) and a head and back massage. Melted out of the barber's and went off to do some miscellaneous chores this afternoon.

Now, as time is trickling out I'll take this opportunity to bash out a few miscellaneous observations I've noticed along the way.

The way chicken is sold in Kathmandu, namely live, leads to some rather novel sights. Such as clucking basketfuls of feathers being weighed on enormous scales. And men riding along on bikes with a dozen or so birds tied upside down to the handlebars by their legs, their heads peering quizzically at you as they avoid the whirring spokes.

The buses here are rather solidly built, well having seen the "roads" they need to be. They're the Land Rover mark 1 of the bus world, huge wheels and basic welded iron construction. The notion of upholstery is an alien one too, but what they lack in padding they more than make up for with ornamentation. The interior is covered in tassles, pictures, amulets and weird kitsch posters with slogans like "Love is Enough".

The habit taxi drivers have of saluting every time they cross a holy river. The bizarre affectation of tying a child's shoe to the back of tempos (larger fixed-route tuk-tuks). The rickshaw drivers who have learnt to elicit trade by shouting "let's go!" in a rather naff America accent. The depressing number of beggars, street children, cripples, lepers and mangy dogs shuffling the streets - more so now the tourist season is starting.

And of course there are the drug dealers. In Thamel especially they are particularly rife, understandably so as it's where all the tourists are. It's a very sad indicator of the level of hard drug abuse amongst street children that this trade inevitably supports, but they're here because we're here so it's up to us to deny their trade (the police are relatively unconcerned). Ominous as they are, the dealers themselves are harmless and in some instances verging on the comical. They fall broadly into two categories in approach. The first want to be your mate. Assuming you play along, the conversation goes something like:
"Hello brother how are you?"
"I'm fine thanks" (continuing walking briskly along)
"Where are you from?" (tagging along, keeping in step)
"England"
"England, great place. Capital is London. First time in Nepal?"
"First time yes."
"Perhaps you need some help while you are here."
"No I'm fine thanks."
"Perhaps you like to smoke? Marijuana?"
"No, no thankyou."
"Ok brother bye-bye."
The second have what I call The Exorcist approach. That is they walk past ignoring you and when they draw level whisper down your ear in a menacing demon-possessed baritone "hashish". One guy's attempt at this was so obvious I burst out laughing in the street; I may have dented his pride a little. Paul and Dan, two of the other volunteers, had a running competition to see how many times they would be propositioned on the five minute walk back from the pub. I think the record was six.

I'm going out for goodbye food and drinks with the other volunteers tonight. With luck, I might be able to squeeze a last smidgen of sightseeing in before my flight tomorrow evening.

# posted by Simon @ 6:37 PM
Quick post to say I arrived back in Kathmandu last night after an extreme week away trekking. A great week with more than it’s share of highs and lows, however time’s running out for me in Nepal so I’ll leave the trail tales until later. I’ve another epic journey home to make so I’m sure I’ll find time to write it all up on my PDA ready for posting soon after I return.

** Trail diary to appear here soon **

Got a really warm return welcome from the guys who run the hotel last night and found them playing with their new toys – a DVD player and projector. Nailing up a sheet to the wall in the lobby we turned it into an impromptu cinema and spent the evening watching Face-Off (very John Woo). However it was a cheap Chinese knock-off DVD so some fiddling with the DVD player set-up was required - Simon to the rescue. This turned out to be a rod for my back as despite being road-tired and wanting my bed I had to stick around for the whole movie because every time the DVD froze there were calls of “Simon, Simon. Where’s Simon?”.

# posted by Simon @ 10:14 AM

Monday, August 25, 2003

Last entry for a week or so as I'm off trekking tomorrow and they don't have too many Internet cafes in the high Himalaya. Myself and Stuart are off to trek up the Langtang valley from Syafrubensi, climbing up as far as 3900 metres although we may spend an extra day hiking up to see the glaciers. The mountains around the region just pip the 7000 metre mark so, weather permitting, we should get some excellent views. I'm really looking forward to getting out there as I've just about had my fill of Kathmandu mayhem.

As we're going independantly rather than with an agency, I've spent the majority of the last two days organising the trip: researching the area, finding a guide, organising permits, booking bus tickets, renting extra kit and buying provisions. I did manage to squeeze in a trip to Pashupathinath this afternoon though. This is a series of temples and shrines stacked either side of a steep-sided gorge on the Bagmati river east of Kathmandu. Hindus hold it especially sacred as the main temple to Shiva is here. It is also the place Hindus and a large number of Buddhists consider to be the most auspicious for cremation because the Bagmati river is a direct tributary of the Ganges. So one of my first sights of the area was of the cremations on the ghats (platforms) alongside the river. Despite the fact there are very obviously bodies being burnt here (bonfires with feet sticking out of them) the scene is in no way morbid or gory. In fact it's rather calm and contemplative: the relatives carefully circling the shrouded body around the pyre before tenderly laying it on top, draping coloured shawls and lighting and stoking the flames. A direct and honest acceptance of the body purely as a vessel rather than the person.

Up river from the temples are a series of caves built into the cliffs with precarious gerry-built extensions and haphazard steps linking them. These are inhabited by the various holy men, Hindu and Buddhist, living in the gorge. Some are genuine, others just want tourist dollars for taking their photograph. The area around the river was thronged with Nepalis, however climbing the steps to the top of the hill opposite brought me to a very peaceful series of Shiva Linga (shrines) in the forrest. The quiet only broken by the antics of the numerous monkeys oblivious to the solemnity of the place. I had lunch in a local cafe, and was kept company by a couple of local girls who seemed to enjoy just watching me and flicking through my Rough Guide looking at the pictures and practising reading English.

Righto, going to leave it there for tonight as I've a bag to pack and an early start to catch the bus (5am - urgh!).
# posted by Simon @ 10:11 PM

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Having discovered that the film in my camera was water damaged by the Shivapuri monsoon downpour gave me an ideal excuse to return to Boudha on Friday. Due to the recent rains the stupa had lost some of its brilliant white shine and was looking a little green. It was no less impressive though. I went to the monastery again to meet up with Paul and Dan the volunteers teaching there. At the end of the lesson Sunam, the head of English monk, gave us a tour of the temple interior. It was even more elaborate than without, with murals, golden statues of Bohdisattvas (Buddhist masters and heros), huge ceremonial gongs and dark carved brass trumpets, piles of embroided Buddhist scripts and photographs of important Lamas. We were presented with the intriguing sight of two photographs of different people but, due to their belief in re-incarnation, the same Lama. We had lunch overlooking the stupa. I had thukpa, a Tibetan noodle soup.

With time to kill before dinner I returned to Kathesimbhu the small stupa off a Thamel side-street we discovered on our first day. As it was dusk this meant it was puja time and the square was being circled by streams of local Buddhists counting off their prayer beads and muttering mantra as they softly shuffled by. This activity didn't interrupt the local kids who continued to use the square as their playground.

One of the recommended activities in the guidebooks is to have dinner in one of the restaurants of Kathmandu's handful of five star hotels. The theory being that you're getting a thoroughly decadent night out which, although expensive by local standards, is still well below what you'd pay at home. So nine of us ventured out to the Crowne Plaza hotel for dinner. Four us nearly didn't make it as our taxi driver had no idea where the hotel was. Of course he didn't admit this straight away. First he drove around laborynthine back streets to the wrong hotel; then stopped the cab, got out and ran into the nearest building to ask directions; finally getting the directions from another driver alongside at traffic lights! The meal itself was pricey but excellent with some extraordinarily spicy starters. I got adventurous and had a fish main course. However the service took on the aspect of an Ealing comedy as it was the first night of the new menu and the waiting staff kept getting everyone's orders mixed up - musical plates.

Today I went to Patan, the town on the south bank of the River Bagmati opposite Kathmandu. Trying to have an economical day after last night's extravagances, I wanted to avoid forking out for one of the ever-eager "guides" especially having already paid the tourist entry fee to Durbar (palace) square. However they're rather persistent in their efforts:
"Namaste. Hello sir."
"Namaste. Hello. I don't need a guide thanks."
"I'm not a guide, I am a student."
"Ok, I'll just look around myself thanks."
"Yes ok. This is the temple of..."
"No thanks" (walking off)
"Ok bye-bye sir. I'll wait for you here if you need me"

Inside one of the restored palace buildings is the Patan Museum, where I spent a couple of hours looking at the well designed displays of Buddhist and Hindu sculptures. Thanks to the well written information boards amongst other things I now know why statues have multiple heads and arms (to display all their characteristic hand gestures, aspects and held artifacts). There were also some fascintating photographs taken in 1900 showing Kathmandu before all the urban sprawl - the stupa at Boudha visible across the fields instead of surrounded by tottering cafes, shops and temples.

Leaving Durbar square I wandered through the back streets and stopped at Hiranyavarna Mahavihara, the Golden Temple. I had to leave my shoes outside, leather being forbidden within. At the centre of the courtyard is a golden stupa and at the far end a tall tiered pagoda rises covered in carvings, the whole of it plated with gold. A fabulous sight.

Went back to Helena's for dinner tonight, craving some simple hearty fare - spinach quiche and slice of giant cinamon whirl. Trekking planning and shopping day tomorrow.

# posted by Simon @ 9:26 PM

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