Evidently not many of the millions of tourist dollars that pour into Nepal every year get spent on infrastructure. The airport is chaotic, the roads are potholed, and littered with sleeping cows and the city itself is a filthy, low-rise sprawl. Electricity cables hang like bunting between the buildings and rickshaws, taxis, mopeds and pedestrians all vie for space on the narrow streets – pavements are non-existant. And then, of course, there are the power cuts – on average hotels and shops are without mains electricity for about 10 hours a day - invariably at the most inconvenient times.
Yet for all its downsides, Kathmandu has a certain charm. The people exude the characteristic Nepalese hospitality, and there is an energetic buzz from the markets and street hawkers. Understandably the majority of shops specialise in mountaineering and hiking gear, 90% of which is fake, branded goods such as North Face, Mammut, Mountain Hardwear, etc. The quality of forgery varies from the very good to the appalling. But they are priced accordingly, and it is possible to pick up a perfectly decent GoreTex jacket for a tenth of the genuine equivalent.
Out hotel was the tired Hotel Thamel. The electricity was sporadic, but the cockroaches worked 24 hours.
Kathmandu does have some interesting sites, such as Durbar Square (although recently an extortionate entry fee of 750 RPS per person has been introduced), and the Swayambhunath (also known as the Monkey Temple). But no one budgets too much time here as for most people it is little more than a gateway to the mountains.
John did enjoyed reminiscing in some of the old haunts from his 2008 Mount Cho Oyu Expedition, in particular a visit to the Rum Doodle Bar which was a poignant reminder of the tragic end to that trip – still hanging on the wall was the placard signed by 10 members of the 12 man team. Of the remaining two, one had died on the mountain and the other had been evacuated with frost-bite.
We also enjoyed some excellent food in Kathmandu which was a pleasant change after Russia and Mongolia. In particular, our favourite places were:
- Roadhouse Café
- Northfield Café
- New Orleans
- Fire & Ice
- Tom & Jerrys
- Rum Doodle
After a few days, the hustle and bustle was starting to get to us and we yearned to get into the peace and quiet of the Himalayas. Equipped with a new (fake) Marmot sleeping bag and hiking poles, we were ready to leave the city and hit the trail…