Here I am in Nepal. Pokhara, to be exact. I arrived in Kathmandu on… er, well, recently, and stayed there for a few days, then made a snap decision at about nine o’clock yesterday evening to come to Pokhara today.
Kathmandu is a crazy crazy town. There’s a very touristy bit called Thamel where I’m staying, then there’s an old, quaint, maze-like bit, then there’s a modern-ish capital city full of people who have places to be. The roads are all quite narrow and few have pavements and the cars, motorbikes, rickshaws and bicycles drive on whatever side of the road pleases them most at that moment, honking their horns or whistling to let everyone know they’re coming through. Luckily on the first day someone told me an important tip – always walk on the left hand side of the road. This eases things a bit. Walk slowly and purposefully without hesitation. Also, after a while, you come to take a millimetre between you and a speeding motorbike as an acceptable margin.
The pollution is unbelievable, especially if it hasn’t rained for a while. Fortunately, given that it’s the monsoon, it rains rather a lot. I got completely drenched yesterday looking for an ATM that didn’t say ‘network busy’. In fact I think I met a guardian angel – to digress. I was down to my last 30 rupees (22p) and stuck in the incredibly beautiful town of Patan, which was formerly a separate city state but is now a suburb of Kathmandu, albeit one with its own Durbar Square full of beautiful temples and a stunning Royal Palace with a brilliant museum in it that helps explain what’s what when it comes to Hinduism and Buddhism. I spent the day there and accidentally blew more money than I was intending – the entrance fees alone came to three times as much as I thought they would. The ATM in Patan didn’t work. Luckily, 22p is enough to get a bus ride back to central Kath, with change.
After catching the bus back I went to every ATM I saw on the walk back to Thamel. I was now down to 10 rupees. All of them accepted my card and my PIN, asked me how much I wanted and then said the network was busy – why they can’t inform you of this at the beginning of the process is beyond me. It had been getting hotter and more humid all day until suddenly it completely pissed down, sending people shrieking and running for cover. I went on through it still trying different ATMs, then a man – a guardian angel – popped out of his shop and walked me to one that he swore had worked for him five minutes ago. We had a lovely chat on the way and then, to my infinite relief, the machine actually let me have some money. When I left the little booth that houses the ATM the man had gone, and the rain had stopped.
As well as the constant honking of horns, Kathmandu is full of barking street dogs and bells ringing at the temples that seem to be on every street corner. You inhale alternate lungfuls of smog, incense, wafts of curryish cooking smells, the odd blast from a bad toilet, and after it rains, a hint of eau de wet dog.
I arrived in Pokhara at lunch time today. The bus ride over was breathtaking – high hills covered with forest, fast flowing rivers with rope bridges thrown across them, highly decorated trucks with people riding on the roof, hairpin turns winding up and down the hills and people in paddy fields with water buffalo drawing their ploughs. Pokhara has a beautiful, peaceful lake backed by the Himalayas, except you can’t see any mountains today because the clouds have rolled in. Annapurna’s there somewhere, apparently.
I have many many stories to tell already, but that’ll do for now, I think.