Trapped in Thamel: Kathmandu Arrival

I knew I was in for a bit of a shock at the Kuala Lumpur airport when I looked around and I counted only 5 other females at the gate for the flight to Kathmandu. ( By the time we boarded there were about 15 including myself) I read that arrival in TVI could get pretty hectic so I was mentally preparing for the worst as we landed after the four hour flight. It actually wasn’t that bad. They had electronic visa application machines even though the flight attendants gave out arrival cards to fill out on the plane that were totally disregarded. I waited only a short time for my turn to use one of the three working machines. From there you take the receipt to the visa counter and pay depending on how many days you plan on staying. I paid $100 USD for a 90 day tourist visa. The maximum days you could spend on a tourist visa in a year is 150, only 90 the most at one time. If needed, I can extend the visa for up to 10 days only paying a fine of $2 USD/day, before incurring a larger fine. From the visa counter you then have to go through immigration. I didn’t have to wait at all, handed over my receipt and passport and got my stamp with only a few questions about my plans. I then headed straight for the baggage claim, shoved my way into the thrall and waited nervously for my bag. As I saw an unfamiliar hand reach down and grab it, I panicked and started to protest, but it was quickly tossed back on the belt and made its way to me. I changed only a bit of money at the airport, at a rate of 104.1 (later in Thamel I changed at a rate of 105.32) and looked for my hostel pick up. Because of the airport confusion, no one was there to get me. I was preparing to take a taxi, when luckily, two girls from my flight saw me and told me to get in with them to Thamel. The driver wanted me to pay an additional 700 rupees, that they had already paid, but I refused and got in anyway, so between the three of us it only cost about 200 each.

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Traffic was absolute choas, busses, taxis, people, motorcycles, I thought Taichung traffic was bad. This was like Taiwan traffic with vehicles from 30 years ago and 10 times as much dust. He dropped us at one of the girls hostels in Thamel and refused to bring the other girl and I anywhere else. Which was fine, I had my google maps and wanted to delve right into the chaos. It took me about an hour to figure out where I was going, my initiation to the maze that is Thamel.

Thamel is a slew of streets catering to the trendy backpacker community, which is apparently huge. Shop after shop of gear and clothes and crafts and every sort of sweatshop knick knack you can imagine, coffee shops and bars, and a few yoga centers thrown into the mix colorful and noisy and you have a backpacker haven. My hostel is a bit on the outside so I can come and go as I please, but it is not as easy as it looks. I spent the rest of the day wandering through the labyrinth.

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Day 2 was a little more productive, I got up early for a Iyengar yoga class at Parayama Studios. It was a nice class though a little to full for the detailed instruction Iyengar requires. After, I went to the Kathmandu Environmental Education Project center and left an add for a hiking partner and talked over my initial plan with the trekking information guy there. He advised me to look into shorter treks around the Annapurna region and Langtang when I get back to Kathmandu. He gave me the okay with my plan and wished me luck in finding a partner.

I indulged myself in my surroundings and spent the afternoon in a Vegetarian sit on cushions on the floor backpacker restaurant, OR2K. I checked out the Astrek Climbing wall and Social Tours, hoping to do a cooking class Saturday, but they were closed Saturdays and the climbing wall’s two lines were well occupied.

After another hour of trying to find my way home, I decided I was over Thamel. I don’t mind wandering, but my lungs were so full of dust, and lacking clean drinking water, made my head heavy and tired. The fact that I hadn’t seen a single tree, let alone a mountain, wasn’t helping. I’m itching to get out of the city. Get out of streets that are just lined with things things and more things…

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It took me a while to find a quiet spot for dinner on a Friday night but I did. Everything I’ve had to eat so far has been simply amazing. A fusion of Indian and Middle Eastern food, I think I died and went to food heaven. As much as I resent it, I understand how easy it is to fall into the eating/shopping trap that is Thamel.

Saturday, I got out of Thamel and wandered to Ranipokhari (Queen’s Pond) and Dubar Square. Took care of some practicalities, sim card, changed money, figured out where to go Sunday for my first Work Away farm. Later I will attend a Meditation class and get dinner with another guest I met in the hostel and Sunday I am out of here.

My initial impression of Kathmandu; everyone is super friendly, from the girl at the electronics store to the son who works the front desk of the hostel. Everyone is dressed so colorfully, I can’t wait to get some colorful traditional wear for myself ( yes even I know I can’t help myself from a bit of souvenir shopping eventually). The food is amazing, just amazing, I could just spend the next three months eating something different for every meal.

But,

that’s not why I came here. I need air, I need mountains. I’m so close, all I need now is the patience to wait for them.

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