I have a friend on Facebook who recently posted pictures of him and his wife in first class seats on British Airways, clinking champaign glasses and lounging in comfortable looking recliners.. I have to chuckle (at us, not him) when I compare this to our connecting flight from Rome to Kuwait.
In our plane, we had to listen to the flight instructions in 4 different languages, none of which were English. Our high tech personal LCD monitor was packed with “activities” and films .. geared to a very specific audience… not us. It had 3 cameras views of the plane which was very cool. You could watch take-off and landing in scary detail. But the most interesting feature for me was the map that showed the plane’s position during our journey. It had a bright red line from the plane icon that led to Kuwait and a constant distracting yellow line leading off screen. This had me confused for most of the flight until I figured out, after puttering around with the interface, that the confusing yellow line was pointing to Mecca .. necessary.
In Kuwait International Airport, Sylvie and I waited in a very long line for a couple of hours to board our next connection to Bangladesh… sheiks passed by with their numerous wives dressed in black hide-alls following close behind. This flight was … lesser than almost any other carrier we have ever flown. The Bangladesh airport was even worse .. in fact, the worse. Sorry Bangladesh. If it weren’t for the jet planes parked outside the large windows, you could not tell that you were actually in an airport. This building came complete with roaches, rats and stray cats. There was litter h bin and hawking some phlegm on top of the pile … then moments later, a poor mangy cat making her way to the heap and licking around.. my stomach churned..
The flight to Kathmandu was on a very used plane, probably purchased from Spain, as all the signage was in Espaniol. This old jet had already served it’s proud duty, and was now being squeezed and recycled for more. The food was great. The approach to the city was different .. the pilot did 3-4 circles as he dropped altitude and finally angled himself to the airport between 2 massive mountain peaks .. A tricky and exciting landing.
It seems with every journal I am describing the poorest place we have ever been. The most rubble and dust we have ever experienced.. the most garbage .. the most honking .. the oldest world. Perhaps, it’s because we are getting braver in our travels and choosing increasingly remote locations to visit. Once again, our latest destination, Kathmandu, takes the prize for all of the above. Mayhem on the streets .. constant honking .. dust blowing everywhere .. poverty on top of poverty .. shanty towns not confined to areas, but rather making up the entire cityscape.. donkeys, horses, cows, wild monkeys, dogs and cats everywhere walking the streets like pedestrians. We actually saw two cows cross a very congested street with no owner in sight. All of this was amplified by the fact that Nepal had a major earthquake in 2015. The effects can be seen throughout the city .. cracked buildings and walls, cracked roads, entire areas of devastation, missing buildings on city blocks and lots of very old school construction.
The poverty was unbelievable. There were begging children everywhere making you feel like a sack of sh*t as you walked by. We were obviously not able to accommodate all of them. You may as well come to this city with the sole purpose of giving them everything you have, because it would be the only way to avoid the pity and sadness that haunts you during your time here. There were mothers with their babies sitting on the roadway begging, shaking empty baby bottles at you and so many people with missing or rotting limbs. A few had absolutely no limbs, just a torso and head wrapped like a mummy laying on the corner with a bowl of change. There were a few with what looked like freshly missing limbs .. the bandages soaked red and brown on the ends.
The hecticness .. the constant drone of scooters and motorbikes trying desperately to share the walkways.. And by walkways, I mean extremely crowded dirt paths. The paths are about the width of a car with shop fronts directly connected on either side. There are tons of people walking both directions. And then there are these .. people .. on motorbikes honking at everyone to clear a path as they cruise around the neighborhood. Not 2 blocks away is the major street with ample room for animals, cars and bikes. Why even bother coming in here with your motorbike? .. laziness? Something to do? Or something I just don’t understand.
It wasn’t all frustrating and heart wrenching. The food was amazing .. I will go as far as to say, the best traveling culinary experience to date with no side effects .. knock on wood. Dal Baht is healthy, delicious, dirt cheap and different depending on who is making it. Indian food around every corner .. pure, spicy and real. Samosas on the fly .. on and on .. food heaven. The people were another excellent part of the trip.. among the friendliest ever.. always willing to help and always made us feel welcomed.
There are plenty of hotels. The guide books warned us to book ahead or risk being out in the streets… complete lies. There are places to stay every 20 meters and none of them are full. Don’t listen to the scare tactics … every hotel will tell you that “this is our last room” .. once again, lies.
We stayed in Thamel .. the tourist area where people gear up for their treks. The Himalayas offer hundreds of different treks so it’s no wonder that it’s their number 1 source of tourism. We’ve never seen so many shops with trekking and mountaineering gear .. one after another .. for blocks and blocks and blocks. Most of the items they sell are good quality knock-offs, mostly “The North Face”, for dirt cheap. Sylvie and I shopped for deals and spent about $200 total on thermal under armor, fleece sweaters, gloves, neck warmers, fleece jackets, rain jackets, fleece jogging pants, new day packs, hats, hiking poles, map, batteries. Great fun, but also added a few kilos to the backpacks.
As we shopped, explored and ate, we watched the crowds dwindling away. We had arrived for their most important holiday season of the year, Dashain, which, in their own words, is bigger than Christmas. The buses were fully booked for locals leaving Kathmandu to the country side to celebrate with their families. Sylvie and I were trapped in the city. We stayed 6 days total organizing for our trek. We had to acquire the proper permits, purchase insurance for helicopter rescue (yikes) and buy the equipment of course.
During all of this, we were victims of bank machine error. The machine denied a withdrawal request and stated that my card was being blocked. I tried the machine beside it and was able to withdraw some cash. Days later, checking online, we noticed that our bank had removed the $450 equivalent of that “blocked” transaction. Joy … apparently Scotiabank is investigating.
A pretty crazy and amazing place .. mini Delhi.