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The Nepal diary, in unreal time

Day 1

Kathmandu is as chaotic as it gets. As polluted as it gets. But still you can't get your eyes off it. Love is blind, and smelly.

I have been walking the whole day. Sounds easier than it is. The roads are difficult to walk, potholes are everywhere and anywhere you step it moves. There are no sidewalks, and there are 16 hours per day of blackout. Walking in the evening is probably meaningless and certainly dangerous. Plus of course that the driving rules are as clear as the water in my bathtub when I finally washed this evening: brown, to put it mildly. Or was it me after ten (10) hours of meandering? We will never know. But I think I found the rule underlying Nepalese driving. and here is how it goes: say a motorbike is coming against you. And you are driving a car, a tiny white Indian Suzuki Maruti taxi (they are all the same) with patchy seats and a driver that hardly fits in (let alone yourself). What happens is, when they come close enough, the drivers first establish eye contact and then both speed up. You close your eyes (you had the good idea of sitting at the front, for a better view) and hope for the best but expecting the worst. And then nothing happens. Strange... the massacre is somehow avoided.

It takes some training and a lot of curiosity, but at the third time you try hard and keep your eyes open. And what happens is quite simple. It's like those old duels of horse riding knights who raised their spears and ran against each other, until one of them winked and deviated or fell dead. That's how it happens in Kathmandu. The one who winks has to avoid the other. The price is dear if he doesn't. And of course the one who winks is usually the weakest one. In other words, next time it's you, the pedestrian, against the taxi or the motorcycle. So be ready. Get your sunglasses off, wink and get the hell out of the way, because I have seen the hospital and I don't mind winking AT ALL.

This hotel is making me nervous. I was woken up aat 05.00 by Chinese clients who slammed doors as if they were alone in the hotel. Then at 05.30 the kitchen smell invaded my room. Must have been fried eggs, fried chicken, or fried yak, because it made me nauseous, and I had to take shelter in the clean air of Kathmandu with an early start. LOL, because if you were here, you'd understand why half the people are wearing a mask. The other half have given up on a long healthy life. The lifespan is 62 years. I asked the lady who sold me the prayer wheel how old she is. Actually, I asked my guide to ask her, because my Nepalese has gotten a bit out of use lately. She looked a hundred years old, had just one tooth and her eyes looked like volcano craters. A bit like these centenary olive trees that Plato once touched and that still stand in the middle of the street in Athens. The lady said 68. Well over the average. Could she be hiding her years?

As some of you are already aware, I have come here to save my soul. Yes. It needed desperately some saving, and Kathmandu, the stupas and the buddhas seemed like the right, obvious thing to do. You see, in comparison to our religion, where we are almost all doomed anyway (even weird thinking is not allowed in the western world, although a lot of weird acting goes unaccountable), in Buddhism there is hope for everyone. Even me. I will almost probably be reincarnated into something else when I come back to this world. Now, the thing is, into what exactly am I going to be reincarnated because coming back as a rat, for example, will certainly not mean much progress. But on the other hand, this is negotiable. If I give donations to the temples, turn the prayer wheels and the praying beads and ring the bells at a rate of some hundreds per day, then I may even come back as a God. Try that with Christianity!

And I already have a preference as to my future reincarnation. But before making it public, I must remind you that taste is a personal and sometimes unfathomable thing. Ready now? OK, here I go: I want to come back as Hanuman, the monkey god. I have frankly not understood much about the Hindu and Buddhist deities, and a reason for that is, when my guides spoke, I was just nodding trying to be polite, because I hardly understood a word. Peter Sellers in The Party spoke highly literate English compared to Obwan (I think this is his name), my Nepalese guide who as most Indian and Nepalese likes to accompany every phrase with the verb to be, even if the phrase already has another verb . Example: I am very like Indian food.

But let's not stray from our subject: Glazing my soul. There are hundreds, thousands of gods, that come back reincarnated, have an animal head, a human body or vice versa, take impossible sex positions carved on the wooden structures of the temples, have unspeakable names, but this Hanuman has become sort of an obsession to me.. Subconsciously, I know that the ending -man does play a role. I will have to ask my shrink about the monkey part.

My face is now red as a lobster from the pepper with (some) tofu on top that I had (I tried to compensate the missing tofu by serving myself a larger portion. That didn't help). I thought eating tofu would make my head spin less, and give me some strength, because it is full of protein, and my heart has been pounding like a Honda Hero motorcycle all day. But in the end, I think I just filled my stomach with hot chili pepper, again. And this Brazilian group is making me a bit nervous. They speak Brazilian to the Nepalese waiters, and Spanish (sort of) to the two Spanish girls they are trying to pick up. And they are all so cançados, so tired , that it brings tears to my eyes. They should take my example. Older than them and yet spitting fire... The espressos at The red dingo cafe and the chilli must have something to do with it.

I am now going to try and get some sleep, after I watch the evening news, the Greek bailout, the Syrian and Iranian wars-to-come and other such pleasant stuff. I have a satellite TV in the room, as well as a shower cap.

And I haven't given up on saving my soul. Which is going to happen as of tomorrow in Bhutan. Buddha willing, weather permitting.

Day 8 (day 2 in KAthmandu)

Goodbye day from Bhoutan. Early wake up, 0 degrees, and ride to Paro for the flight. Emotional farewell from Aku and Pemo. They both were happy for my presents and accepted them in the pure Bhutanese way: Bowing their upper body and their head slightly, and extending their palms united. I will miss them.

After a good control, ready to fly with Drukair, this time with their second and last airplane: the big one! I have proudly flown in both of them, I must say. A thing that can not easily happen with most airlines, I would add. Departure almost on time but shit, I forgot again to ask a window seat. And the Himalaya was so clear on that sunny day. But having decided that I can't afford being embarrassed to ask, I kindly asked the stewardess to let me be seated for some time in the Business compartment which was empty on a window seat, and she let me. And that was a big present, for my farewell from Bhoutan. The spectacle was amazing. One has seen many mountains from a plane, but these ones are different. Majestic. I sat there looking for some time, feeling like a young boy in front of a full of presents Christmas tree. How lucky I was to be able to see this grandiose view...

And then, I had a marvelous sleep...

When I woke up, we were landing. To tell the truth, I was a bit wary of encountering Nepal again: the chaos of the airport, the pollution, the traffic jams.

And Buddha seemingly heard me and rid me of this bitter task. For we did not land in Kathmandu, or Nepal for that matter... We landed in Patna, in Assam, India! Oh great, I thought: Four countries for the price of three! What had happened was, while I was dreaming of being re-born as an angel, the weather had become foggy in Nepa,l and having circled around for quite some time, we had to refuel, and since fuel is cheaper in India (OK, I made this up...), we landed in Patna. Without the slightest idea when we were going to depart again...

And soon the crew and the passengers became one thing, and started exchanging everything they had. Mainly food. The Bhutanese monks appeared with amazing quantities of sweets (they looked like those that Hare Krishna distribute in the streets) and yak milk. The Chinese drank non stop tea in big plastic closed cups, ate crap food and listened to loud opera-like Chinese music (and we listened with them of course) and the British cold-ass old couple beside me started moaning Oh-dears and silly observations (“I can't see the pilot in the cockpit, is this a bad sign?”). “So, finally you couldn't take these pictures of the Himalaya?” Asked the silly old man with a look of satisfaction in his eyes the only Greek passenger... He had not seen me going in the Business section for the pictures. A silly American girl of around seventeen looking more flower-power than Bob Dylan in his good days went up and down the aisle saying stupid things to her extended family on different seats and the three bulky older British women behind me started reminiscing their trip to Bhutan and how nice it was in the Tiger's nest last day and this pissed me off and I thought they were even more ugly and silly. A thing I confirmed when they asked me where I come from and I said Greece, and they made this grimace like, how come any of you can travel so far? I decided I am quite OK alone, and concentrated on my veggie biscuits that I had bought in Bhutan but were produced in Malaysia.

One of the most interesting passengers in the airplane was a danish Buddhist monk of around twenty years old. I somehow was not convinced... Well, he is right now in the same hotel as I am in Kathmandu, in a completely another dress (a freak-of-the- seventies' dress, I would say), eating huge quantities of buffet food and somehow preparing an Everest expedition for a group of washed-out Europeans. A Buddhist monk who was a travel agent in another life?

Some time much later than foreseen we made it to the horrible, horrible airport of Tribhuvan (Kathmandu). I dragged myself out to the heat and of course no one was waiting there for me, after our adventure in Patna. Harassed by a hundred taxi drivers, I suddenly missed the fresh air of Bhutan... My phone said "no network" and I was bombarded by taxi drivers and touts, while trying to keep my eye on my bags and trying to figure out how on earth I can get in touch with the agent that should have been there.

When in Kathmandu, I decided I was not exhausted and spent the rest of the day wandering in Durbar square and Thamel, window shopping. Matter of speaking of course, there are not that many windows to protect the merchandise in reality.

Tried in vain to find those nice cafes in the Lonely Planet, until I got fed up: there is absolutely no way to understand where you are in Kathmandu. There are strictly no signs, and all streets are the same. So I just kept walking until it got dark and took one of those tiny Suzuki taxis, to which I have a lot of difficulty getting in or out.

The hotel and my clean bed seemed like paradise...

day 9 (day 3 in Kathmandu)

OK, this was going to be the Xtreme day of the tour. Having had to give up on the idea of paragliding and micro light flying, since there was no time to go there and get back on time to Pokhara and I somehow had had enough of narrow, dangerous and potholed streets, I opted for a mountain bike tour. And a mountain bike tour I got! 6 hours in the Kathmandu valley, going up and down and up and down, watching carefully to save my ass from buses, cars and cows, until I was exhausted, really exhausted, and this time it was not the fried aubergines or my bowels: During the last 10 of the 40 kilometers I simply wished I could take a taxi... Shanji my guide seemed to be bored. Around twenty, thin and an experienced high altitude mountain biker, he spent his time calling on his mobile while I was trying to catch up. And that was the easiest tour they had suggested...

I came to the hotel exhausted, dirty but happy. There is no better way to see the valley of Kathmandu than on a bike. The bike was excellent, the picnic lunch too, and the vistas sometimes spectacular. I only hope I don't get lung cancer from all the fumes I inhaled. (for more cycling in Nepal, see here).

In the afternoon I visited Sunil's office. Sunil is a Nepalese travel agent who someday will be not only rich but famous as well. I was impressed by his team of young IT-men, web designers and programmers. All Nepali, is his motto, and nepalsutra.com is his site. Absolutely recommendable...Leaving his office, I got lost purposefully this time around Durbar square, not bothering anymore to consult my Lonely Planet. And I ended up in Thamel again, real shopping this time.

Tomorrow is last day. I am packed and ready for Baktapur.

day 10 (day 4 in KAthmandu)

Easy start for Bakhtapur. The city was impressing. The best thing I saw in Nepal.

Then visit to Nagarkot, for the sunset. Cold and misty, did not see the Himalayas... Totally useless, unrecommended trip. A very bad driver, who made me once again completely car-sick. I thought that if I had to vomit, he would get what he deserved. I didn't.

Then transfer the 7th worst airport in the world, Tribhuvan. Before you enter the airport, every person even touching your trolley will ask for a tip. Even the person weighing the luggage at the check-in counter asked for one. I did not give, not because I think tips are prostituting people even more (I don't travel to teach anyone anything they should already know), but because I was embarrassed to do that in front of everybody on the line. He was not, apparently. He actually jumped over the counter, leaving everybody else wait, and kept following me, saying “a small tip, a small tip”!!!. I now fear I never see my bag again... This whole airport stinks, of corruption and toilet. What a shame... I think I have never been happier to board a plane back home.

Spending the last moments before getting the bus to the airplane with a perfumed handkerchief on my nose to stop the nauseating smell of the toilets, as most of the other passengers, I prayed not to be seated with the teacher monk who was waiting in front of me, shabby and dirty, furiously cleaning his nostrils with his finger and, I swear, eating what he got out of them.

Now in Doha, where civilization has come, as well as flat screens, Costa bars and duty free shops to pass your time. I think I will go for the huge Nutella package, I have never seen one so huge! Being in this huge, clean, illuminated airport where one can calmly just wait for the flight home, I had the feeling of already being there somehow...


And they called it puppy love





Local kid welcoming me in Kathmandu






Young monk walking crabwise








Child forgotten by his parents at a shop in Kathmandu







Monkey gazing a banana






Monk with a fairly big shoe size





I don't have a decent photo of myself in Nepal,

so I put this one taken in Habana.

But we all had fun, didn't we?