Friday, 18 September 2015

Impromptu trip to Lalitpur and getting 'lost' in Kathmandu!

So my first day in Nepal started with the rude awakening at around 7am. However, we were all planning on meeting for breakfast at the roof terrace for 8.30 so I just lay there for a while then went up to meet everyone.

Breakfast was a simple tea, coffee, egg on toast, but it was enough to fill me up, as in the heat I don't really like eating much. We all chatted for a while and the Scottish girl came up with an amazing looking doughnut from her favourite German bakery down the road so we made sure we got directions for later! She had to catch her flight so we said our goodbyes and then we planned what to do with our day. The German guy, Walt, who is in his 50's, I think, doing the round the world trip he had always wanted to do, had had some recent bad luck. On his first day (after his long flight from Germany) his airline had lost his Delhi - or so they said (we later found out it didn't even arrive in Delhi, it somehow got lost in Abu Dhabi?!) poor man! So he had to phone airlines and go to the airport to check where it was, as they said it should arrive today...which at 6pm he found out it was still in Abu Dhabi!

So me, Sebastian the Swiss, and Jose, the Spaniard, all decided we wanted to see the famous Durbar Square (meaning King square) in Patan, Lalipur. It's down in the southern most part of Kathmandu, pretty much another town linked to the city. A very long walk, but we all decided hey, we are here to see the city so why should we take a cab or bus...let's walk and get wonderfully lost, which is one of the best things when you travel, you see what the normal 'tourist' doesn't see.

So we set off around 10.30am, direction south. Sebastian is a super traveler - he had a compass on his backpack so if we set it to where we needed to be, we just had to follow it, but we decided we wouldn't stick to the main roads, we wanted to take our time and explore and we definitely did just that!

So we first went through most of Thamel which is the area we are staying in, north Kathmandu above the river. It's known as the traveler district, as its where most of the hotels, shops and bars are. It's a buzzing little place, full of little boutique market shops, selling just about every bit of tourist tack you could imagine, with even more tacky sellers trying to make you spend money, but I understand why they are desperate. Tourism in Nepal has decreased dramatically since the earthquake - by up to 50% - so local businesses, sellers etc are really feeling it. They are saddened by it, as Nepal thrives off its tourism especially it's trekking, without it, they really suffer and with the devastation of the earthquake as well, its hit hard. That's why, if it's important to travel anywhere at the moment, it's here! It's safer now, and it's well worth the visit - trust me! It's peak season at the moment, where normally guesthouses are full, and treks are so booked up you have to wait weeks for the next one. This year? The guesthouses are half empty, and a guy I spoke to who just came back from Everest Base Camp, said for 15 days he didn't see one foreigner up was deserted he said. So it's pretty sad for the locals who rely on this kind of business, especially in the mountains and villages.

But anyway, so Thamel is a very hippy, backpacker kind of place, but we managed to find some little hidden backstreets that took us away from that for a little. We managed to make it all the way to the river, which normally takes around half hour to an hour, but it took us more like an hour and a half, as once we got to the river, we discovered a woman's festival happening just before the bridge. So we decided to go check it out. It was pretty awesome, women all dressed in red sari's were queuing for something, we have no idea what but it went on for miles! Then there were street sellers, music, dancing in the street, it was pretty cool!

We then took a walk over the river on a rickety metal bridge that rocked alot and didn't seem very safe, but it was fun watching all the women walk over it going 'me don't like' lol. Once we got to the other side of the river, we randomly took turns that lead us in the general direction of Lalitpur, going through very residential districts where they seemed to think it strange seeing us foreigners. But a simple Namaste, bowed head, hands together and a smile seemed to make their day, it's such a lovely thing to see! We passed lots of 'shopping streets', and in Asia, this means streets that have shops that sell exactly the same thing as every other shop down that street! So we had Sewing Machine street, Toilet and Sink street, Lamps and Electricity street, Tyre and motorbike fixing street, Car fixing street, Kitchen appliances Street...the list just goes on and its such a strange thing...why would you have shops selling exactly the same thing, next to each other? I guess it keeps it all in one place so you don't have to go traipsing all over the city for what you want? Who knows!

We went past the famous tower in Kathmandu that was destroyed during the earthquake, so much history just gone! Much rebuilding hasn't really started/been completed yet, as this summer was their monsoon period so with the rain, not much can get done, but you see various buildings literally propped up with wooden beams, and many destroyed buildings, you also see a good deal of rebuilding happening now it's their autumn and its generally drier. But mainly, most of Kathmandu was untouched by the earthquake, many buildings have good re-enforcement unless they were old, it's more the surrounding villages that were struck very hard by it.

We then, after a little wrong turn, managed to make it to Lalitpur, a good 3 hours later! So by this time we were starving, and noticed a little student cafe so went here for lunch. It was, I kid you not, the cheapest place ever! A Nepalese noodle soup (Thupka), fanta and a bottle of water, cost me 140 ruppees, (160 is £1) so it was barely even that. We then carried on to Durbar square, passing quaint little stupa squares and tiny little backstreets. Lalipur is a quieter, less touristy area of town until you get to Patan Durbar Square. Once we stumbled upon the splendor of it, almost another hour later, it was amazing. Loads of Prayer flags, which I found out today from Sudan (my Kiwi friend Becci's Fiance), are Tibetan Buddhist flags representing the elements with individual scripts written on them, were strung up everywhere. And colourful flags of all types. So Green stands for water, Red for fire, Blue for air/space, White for air and Yellow for earth they also stand for luck, happiness, compassion, prosperity, health and longevity.

We saw that you had to pay via the main entrance, but when you're a seasoned traveler, you quickly learn that there is always a side entrance you can find to enter for free. So off we went in search for it! This took us on the best walk of the day, down tiny, old little residential backstreets just to the right of Durbar Square, where the buildings were so local, the doors were still tiny, as were the people, no one spoke a word of English and again, Namaste made their day, they seemed shocked but emboldened by the fact we were walking through their little squares. There were absolutely no other tourists around it was amazing! 

Eventually we found the sneaky side entrance - in fact - a little old lady showed us the way, she seemed to know what we were after! lol And Patan square is indeed a magical place. It was just so nice to sit and chill surrounded by temples so old - if they could speak the stories would be amazing. Again you could see a little damage from the earthquake but all in all, for how old the temples were, they were still in pretty good shape. We walked down to a fountain, where a massive monkey came bounding up the steps straight at us - he almost took me out, he was the size of a baboon! 

And we stayed here for a while, chatting, taking it all in, taking pictures. Then as it was getting late we decided to walk home, but again with a little detour until we reached the main road and then followed it back. But the best sight of the day had yet to fall upon us. By sheer luck, as we were walking over the river, we saw the most amazing thing, a double rainbow over the mountains and eastern side of Kathmandu, mirrored in the river below, it was simply stunning - the picture doesn't do it justice on how bright they were. We also saw a monkey jumping around on and then biting the overhead electricity cables, so we were waiting for fried monkey but fortunately it didn't happen!

We finally made it back to the hostel for around 6pm - we'd been out walking for around 7 hours - we were knackered, our feet were filthy - we were filthy. So we freshened up and then went out to dinner with another swedish guy who had just arrived and Walt who had come back from his unsuccessful attempt at trying to locate his bag! We went to an Indian/Nepalese restaurant called...Mc Donalds, just opposite our hostel, which was lovely and for a beer, pretty much a litre of beer, a curry and a naan bread it was £3!

We then decided to make use of the roof terrace and the live band in the hotel opposite - as we wouldn't sleep til midnight anyway with the noise, and chatted until it was time to head to bed. An awesome first day, couldn't have asked for better - or for better company, and the compass was a much welcomed friend!

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