Once upon a time, the MrMr and I decided to spend a weekend in Kathmandu. Friends laughed when we told them our plans. Flying to Nepal for a couple of nights wasn’t the norm. You go there to trek, become a hippy and eat a lot lentils. At the very least, you’re supposed to do some hardcore bumming around for a good few months.
Pish. We were living in Dubai and there was a new low-cost airline in town. Air Arabia could get us there in under four hours, which is about the same as taking Easyjet from London to Moscow. And, besides, it was Nepal – a country I’d yet to visit. If I could’ve only stayed a day, I wouldn’t have given up on the opportunity.
I don’t remember much of the flight apart from a hysterical woman a few rows ahead of us. The whimpering began not long after we took off and turned into deep moans and floods of tears as we began our descent. She was Nepali and accompanied by a stone-faced woman who was not having a bar of it. Perhaps she was a wayward daughter being returned to her family? Or an about-to-be repatriated crook? My mind boggled.
Sardined where I was, I could be no help to her, so I plugged in some music and looked outside the window instead. We passed over Pakistan and northern India until the mountains, stitched with rice-paddy fields, gave way to vast green plains occasionally peppered with wooden houses and curious looking clay chimneys that reached needle-like into the sky.
We were feeling a little flush back then, so we eschewed the backpacker lodges and opted for the Yak and Yeti – Kathmandu’s old-school five-star hotel. On our second night we went all James Bond and had a flutter at Casino Royale, though nothing about it was similar to the fable. It reminded me more of the places we used to frequent in Doula, Cameroon. Torn baise, cigarette smoke and lots of dodgy looking types betting what I could only assume was embezzled public funds or other such ill-begotten gains. There were a lot of moustaches.
We used our legally-begotten rupees at the roulette, black jack and poker tables and walked out with enough for a lavish dinner next door at the Y&Y’s Chimney Restaurant. I honestly can’t remember what we ate, but I do know we were the only ones there and that we were treated to a true feast by a circular fire that filled the centre of the dining room.
When we weren’t fleecing the house, we spent our time exploring. We visited the nearby Bhaktapur, a UNESCO world heritage site where we felt as though we’d been transported back in time. The city centre is closed to traffic, and crafters and makers line the cobbled streets sewing, painting and making pottery. We made friends with children who wanted to sell us paintings and teenagers who wanted to practice their English. We ate steaming hot momos (the world’s best dumplings) from street vendors. We drank Everest beer in rooftop cafes with that boasted unencumbered views on the Himalayas.
We did the same thing back in Kathmandu, where we also strained our necks for a glimpse of the Kumari – a living goddess, AKA a young girl especially chosen who lives inside one of the temples on the temple-rich Durbar Square. Patan, a nearby ‘city’ that is more like a suburb has a Durbar Square too. On the full-two days we were there, we climbed the steep stairs of all kinds of Budhist shrines, we rubbed Ganesha’s belly and tried not to buy too much tat. We failed – the children were too persuasive.
Let me pause here to give you my number one travel tip for these sites: get a guide. These places are lived in – not roped off like many of the ancient sites in Western countries. The guides are friendly, knowledgeable and trustworthy – as long as you find one with the proper ID.
We met lots of tourists and travellers like us – all questioning if we we’re doing the Annapurna trek or heading for Everest base camp. The answer was obviously a negative, but we did book in for an early morning flight to see the world’s tallest mountain up close and personal. Unfortunately, this was to happen on the same day we were to leave and a fog had rolled in making the trip impossible. It was the only disappointment and just one of the many reasons I long to return.
Images © Kate McAuley