I have been begged and begged and begged (well not really, but several people did ask) to post some more photos of Nepal. I am not one of those who walks around with a camera in hand, firstly because I don’t own a camera, and secondly because even if I owned one I would probably put it in my purse and completely forget about it. However, on my very first trip to Nepal two years ago I dragged a camera everywhere I went, and I did snap some pretty decent photos. So here it is, a small photo overview of my visit to Boudhanath.
Exciting times over here in Nepal. I got out of the house! I had some errands to run and some meetings to attend in the city, and while Mr.B. was able to give me a ride to the city, he was not able to take me home afterwards. I was left to find my way around on my own. I was scared, and nervous, but at the same time I knew I had no choice but to summon all my courage and go with the flow. In preparation for this little adventure I studied the map of the area before getting out, but, truth be told, once I was out there, the map meant nothing. Streets of Kathmandu are confusing! I was preparing a strategy on how to approach a taxi driver and I even had my little pocket dictionary safely tucked into my purse, but in all honesty, I was hoping the guy would speak enough English so that he can successfully take me from point A to point B.
Now, I’ve heard many stories. Ugly stories. About foreigners getting ripped off in taxis, and that the only way not to get ripped off would be to speak Nepali and be confident, projecting the attitude as if you know what the heck is going on. Obviously, I speak no word of Nepali, so the possibility of projecting confident attitude went down the drain. However, I did get an inside tip that I might fare better if I stop a taxi driving by rather than taking the one that’s stopped at the taxi stop. That sounded like a good tip, so I quickly decided to adopt that plan, and on my merry way I was! I walked by the guys at the taxi stop, showing no interest in their services, and continued down the street, looking, what I thought was confident, but I’m pretty sure I had deer-in-the-headlight eyes. Constantly turning around to try and spot any taxis coming my way, I successfully avoided water-filled potholes, cow dung, and stray dogs. One taxi went by, the second one, the third one… They all had customers in it! Will I be able to get a taxi this way? How long will I have to walk? I saw a taxi approaching, strained my eyes and saw he’s got no customers inside, and automatically my hand went up signaling him to stop. For a moment there, I felt like I was in New York City, but that moment was gone in a flash when I looked around.
In the taxi I went, feeling relieved I got this hurdle down. My driver, a young guy with long hair tied up in a small pony tail, turned around and asked: Where? Oh good, I thought, he speaks English! Thamel, I said (where else could a foreigner go!?). And then it occurred to me I need to set the price. So, as if I know what the heck I’m doing, I said: how much? The guy looked at me, thought for a little bit and then said: 300. That took me by surprise! After hearing all the stories of how foreigners are being overcharged, I expected him to say some crazy sum like 2000 Rs. But 300, only 300!? Quick calculation in my head – that’s 18 kuna, that’s 3 dollars… OK! To Thamel we go! I do realize that a Nepali person would probably pay barely a 100 for that distance, but hey, you live you learn, no?
Taxi itself was this tiny beaten up Suzuki Maruti that jumped around like there was no tomorrow. I’m pretty sure it had not been serviced since the 70s. Every time we would stop due to traffic, or an occasional traffic light, poor little taxi would die. I was sitting there wondering whether a lower price of the ride entails pushing the taxi through the intersection if it stalls. But, lo and behold, the taxi would each time start up again and I reached my destination a little sweaty, but alive and happy!
It’s no secret that Nepali women have wonderful hair. Wherever you look, you can see black silky waves falling down girls’ shoulders. They spend a lot of time grooming their hair – oiling it, and brushing it, and making it all shiny and silky. But, I’m pretty sure that even without that, their hair would still be amazing. In fact, Asians in general have great hair. I once read somewhere that asian race has the best quality of hair amongst all other races. Caucasians for example, have the greatest genetic diversity, while blacks have the best teeth! But I’m digressing.
Back to the hair. I have never had nice hair. I’ve always felt like I am missing on something for not having a long, full, luscious hair like most of my friends. My hair has always been, thin, silky and feathery – I like to call it a-three-year-old’s hair. I have a friend whose hair is amazing. Divine. We grew up together and she always wore her hair braided in a thick braid. Oh how I envied her! Interestingly, she’s been cutting her hair short for years now, and I still simply cannot understand why. Oh, well, to each his own.
The other day Mr.B. and I went grocery shopping to the Wal-Mart of Nepal, Bhat Bhateni supermarket. As we pushed our cart filled with absolute necessities for my survival, like bread and butter, towards the cash register, I remembered I need a nail polish remover. Off I went in search of it, and after couple of minutes of pointless wandering between the shelves, I was approached by a young girl, a shop assistant, and offered some help. Nail polish remover has been located within seconds and I gratefully smiled to the girl. As I was about to leave she stopped me asking: Do you need anything else madam? – a short pause, couple-of-seconds-too-long look at my hair, and then – A shampoo maybe? Ouch! What a slap to my self-confidence. I was never too confident about my hair, but I may never recover from this.
Kathmandu is a hectic and polluted city that, to a westerner not used to so much hustle and bustle, might seem completely disorganized and unlivable. First of all, it would be tough to define locations by using street names. Even if street names were there, there would be no way of identifying the particular street, because the name is not written anywhere. The safest bet is having the location explained to you by using well-know sights close-by. Secondly, and I cannot stress this enough, traffic in Kathmandu is horrendous. However, even tough it doesn’t seem that way, there is a certain order to it. There seem to be some rules most people are following, so I have yet to witness an accident.
Most of the places in Kathmandu look shabby on the outside, and if you didn’t know better, you’d avoid getting in the small alleys thinking the only thing that you might find in there would be shady guys and stray dogs. But what I’ve found to be true, and this goes for most places in the world, is that best restaurants/bars/shops are found in the unexpected places, with a shabby outside, in a not-so-good of a neighborhood.
The other night Mr.B. came home from work late, tired, but he was being a really good husband and agreed to take me out for an ice cream since, at that point, I’ve been stuck in the house for couple of days. As soon as we got out it started raining, and without street light (the electricity was out) we could hardly see anything. But, off we went in search of a good ice cream place. We’ve been to Baskin Robbins (which, btw, I wonder whether it’s just a knock-off of the real thing!?) many times already so we dismissed that idea and instead opted for a different kind of dessert after all. Mr.B. said he knew of a great place for desserts pressing on the gas pedal and zipping through the empty streets of Kathmandu. Suddenly we ended up in a neighborhood filled with shady-looking guys and dark alleys (or was is just the rain and house-arrest playing tricks on my mind?) and before I even managed to comment on it, Mr.B. pulls up in a driveway which opens up to a wonderful yard and an even nicer restaurant. Imago Dei – cute, cute place. All the way from the entrance I spotted the chocolate cream pie and there was no doubt in my mind – I had to have it. And, oh boy, did I gulp it down. It was one of the best cream pies I’ve ever had and there I was sitting in the shady Kathmandu neighborhood indulging on an American dessert in a cute restaurant contemplating on unexpected surprises in life. You never know what awaits behind the corner – maybe an amazing cream pie, maybe something even better. No alley should go unexplored.
Since I came to Nepal, for one reason or the other, I have not gone out much. Even when I have a chance, opportunity or a need to go out, I do my best to avoid it if I need to venture out alone. Debilitated by not knowing the language is the worst obstacle. It’s easier for me to stick around the house and wait for Mr.B. to take me places, though I’m well aware that is not how I should spend my days here.
The other night we met up with some friends who had a really good point. They told me that if I was here on my own, I wouldn’t be scared to go and venture out. Or that if I was in, for example, London, I would get out and familiarize myself with the place, meet people, look for things to do. And that is true – I would do exactly that. I need to break out of my comfort zone and do what I would do in any other place on Earth.
In that spirit, I decided to take one step at the time and start with small stuff. Like talking to our house helper, our Didi, who speaks no English. I was planning to make some crepes so I needed eggs and flour. After thoroughly researching on those particular words in Nepali, I confidently approached her and told her I need dui aenda (two egg). To my utter disappointment she had no idea what I was talking about. That tells you about my ability to pronounce Nepali words. All she said was No! and off she went out of the house. Soon after that she came back with her son in tow and we all embarked on, what was to become a long road, of figuring out what I need from them. After he didn’t understand that I needed eggs, even when I clearly described a chicken and the process through which the eggs are extracted from the mentioned animal, I resorted to my small dictionary and pointed at the word egg. He had an AHA! moment, translated what I needed and we were back in the game.
Next step – flour. This was, to my relief, much easier. I took the flour out of the cabinet, pointed at it, said pitho (flour) and asked OK? She looked at it, said something in Nepali out of which I only understood purano (old) – grateful for those Hindi classes! – and then smelled it, finally winningly concluding it is still just fine. She sifted it for me and I was on my merry way – happy that I got out of my comfort zone and didn’t die. Next step – supermarket!
Getting ready for this move has been a struggle in both emotional and physical ways. It was hard to say goodbye to everyone, especially my family, and it was almost impossible to pack my life in a couple of suitcases. But what needs to be done, needs to done, so I summoned my strength and did it.
My trip started with a car drive to an airport in Budapest where, as expected, I had issues with checking in extra luggage. I always have some kind of luggage issues when I travel – it’s like a curse. After accepting the fact that my luggage might not make it with me, and that I will probably end up paying an exorbitant fee for it, I set off on a Finnair flight to Helsinki. I had this vision that Finnair would be an amazing airline with clean, new and technologically advanced planes. Maybe I thought that because that’s what’s expected of northern Europeans to be like. I have to admit I was very disappointed when I realized the plane is old, shabby and poorly cleaned. I still hope the stuff I cleaned off the window was someone’s rice and curry splattered during turbulence, and not something else (let your imagination run wild here). Helsinki airport was also not the modern marvel I expected it to be. It was an awkwardly shaped small airport where everything in the departure terminal closed down at 7pm. I’m in no place to pass judgment considering the state of Zagreb airport, but I simply expected more from Finland. I guess it’s called prejudice and I should shake it off. I do have to commend Finnair and Helsinki airport for a great customer service. Lady at the transfer desk managed to resolve my luggage problem with one phone call and in a matter of seconds (thank you Hungarian lady for creating the problem in the first place, thank you!).
Landing in Delhi was, as always, a mixture of smell, color and heat. I don’t like that airport. It seems like the plane always stops at the furthest possible gate and then you are to walk for miles in a very warm (it was 32 degrees celsius when we landed at 5am!) terminal to reach an exit. But, alas, I reached it and was greeted by many employees at the transfer desk. Delhi airport is one of those places where there always seems to be more employees than passengers. Seven of them then started working on issuing my boarding pass for my flight to Kathmandu and I was ushered into a seat in the waiting area where I exchanged several lines and compassionate you’re-waiting-as-well smiles with a Chinese dude. 45 minutes later my boarding pass was ready (were they making the paper themselves?) and I was fighting my way through duty free shop to the gate. I was stopped probably five times and asked whether I am on the flight to London. Talk about prejudice and discrimination. Yes, I know I am very white, and yes, I did have a bag with a UK flag on it, but is that all it takes for someone to assume I am on a flight to London? I proudly said: No, I am going to Kathmandu. I like to believe that startled my interceptors and completely threw them off, though I am pretty sure they couldn’t care less.
Flight to Kathmandu was unusually uneventful. It might’ve been because I was too tired to even care. I sat there staring at nothing, since my entertainment system didn’t work, yet the flight seemed short. Before I realized it we were landing in Kathmandu and I saw all the tourists on the plane stretching their necks to see the mountains and the city. Clearly I didn’t consider myself to be a tourist, though I couldn’t pass for anything else. Only the last name in my passport gives a small hint of the reason for my staying in Nepal. Everything during arrival went smoothly: I filled out my paperwork and within minutes I got my visa glued in my passport. The immigration officer gave his colleagues a crash course in geography proudly explaining Croatia is in Yugoslavia. I nodded my head in agreement for I had no strength or willpower to recap recent historical events in Europe. I rushed downstairs to get the luggage which was, unbelievably, already doing rounds on a conveyor belt. I grabbed it, rushed past the customs officer not trying to stop at all and out I went eyes wide open, in search of my husband. Taxi drivers where approaching me saying taxi madame, but I felt like I was in one of those movie scenes where things are happening around you but you don’t see or hear anything. There’s music playing and you’re courageously and with determination making your way to your goal. Taxi drivers were just some vague voices fading away in the background. And then there he was. My husband. Waiting for me right outside the door with a huge smile on his face. I’ve made it. The Day finally came. Namaste, Nepal.
The countdown is on – I am leaving for Nepal in couple of days and I have started thinking of my flights, checking on the weather, and wondering about who will be my fellow seat-sharer on the plane. With many international (and domestic) flights under my belt, I’ve had an opportunity to share a row with many different, and sometimes quite interesting, characters. Obviously, small children top the list of the most unwanted persons on a plane seat next to you. I’ve had some experience with that, but luckily it has not been too traumatic. Next on the list would probably be people with motion sickness. To all the motion-sickenss sufferers out there: please, do not get a middle seat, and for god sakes, take a pill. I beg of you! On my last trip to Nepal I sat next to a teenager who spent 3 hours (on a 4 hour flight) throwing up. I was in the window seat; he was in the middle. Take this moment to sympathize with me.
Third place on my worst traveling companion list goes to the talkers. I’m one of those people who does not like to spend my whole trip trying to lead senseless conversations with people I will never see again. Polite exchange of information or a compassionate smile in moments of misery are fine, but looking to resolve crises in the Middle East while flying over it is simply not my cup of tea. I’m a solo player. I roll on my own. I have my book, my phone, my water and my pretzels. On one of my flights to Boston, while Mr.B. lived there, I ended up sitting next to a guy who resolved to make me take a roadtrip to California. Before I even managed to say anything he pulled out a map of US and went on to show me the route I should take explaining in detail each and every sight I should visit on this trip. I lived in New York. It was one long route, and one very long flight. Once, while traveling back to Croatia from US, I ended up sitting next to a Romanian lady who decided I absolutely need to know everything about her life. As soon as she sat down she proceeded to talk about her son, in detail. I found out he played a guitar, went to college and had a girlfriend. Seeing that was not enough information shared, she then pulled out a family photo album to show me photos of her late husband and all of her relatives and family in Romania. I’ve never before met anyone with such a huge family. A totally separate group of talkers are the ones who only talk about themselves in superlatives: “I’m the best, I did this, I did that, I traveled here, I traveled there, I know this, I know the best, you better be grateful you’re sitting next to me”. That’s definitely a person you don’t want to be stuck with on a long flight.
However, nice people can be met on the plane. Once I met a lovely girl who travelled from California to Italy and we had an amazing conversation on relationships and traveling after which she fell asleep curled up on her seat. I’ve then decided I need to lose some weight (and possibly some height, though I don’t know how!?) since I couldn’t curl up on my seat, and she looked so comfortable.
I wonder who I’ll get to meet and talk to this time. Will it be someone normal? Will the person be so wacky I’ll have to come up with a new worst-traveller-companion category? Only time will tell.
What’s with you? Have you ever had an annoying traveling companion?