May 252012

After landing just after 8pm, getting to the hotel at 9pm, and catching up on e-mail over wine finally crashed around 1030pm. My strategy had been to book an early flight the next morning, knowing I wouldn’t get a full night’s sleep due to jet lag anyways. I was correct, and this proved to be a perfect choice. Woke around 4am without an alarm, coffee was delivered to the room shortly after, and I was out the door and to the airport with no troubles at all!

Check-in was a bit confusing – with people manning the doors to the airport, and seemingly being random who they let through. They wanted an itinerary, printed only – e-mail on the phone not good enough, but my sense was if you were polite while putting up enough of a stink and acting important enough you were let through. One lesson I’ve learned in developing country travel: be polite, firm, give off an air of importance, and you almost always get what you want. One hint of rudeness, or being “nobody” and the petty bureaucrats eat you for breakfast.

Got to the Air India counter, where I learned the flight was completely full. Managed to get an exit row window for the short flight, so I was plenty happy. Immigration was quite quick, and soon I was in the Priority Pass lounge for a quick snack. Three Diet Cokes and a few hard boiled eggs later, I was happy, and it was off to the gate, where at 40 minutes prior to departure I was one of the last to board!

Air India Flight 213
Delhi, India (DEL) to Kathmandu, Nepal (KTM)
Departure 7:30, Arrival 9:00, Flight Time 1:45
Airbus A319, Registration VT-SCJ, Manufactured 2007
Seat 11A

Honestly not too much to say about this flight. Crew was good, seat mates were tolerable (except the guy in the middle who insisted on hogging the armrest and part of my space) and even got en edible meal on this short segment, with the typical in India “veg or non-veg” options.

Soon, we were landing in Kathmandu, with a short bus to immigration.

Things were a bit slow, but only took 20-30 minutes to clear, get my $5 transit visa, and get outside where my hotel transport was waiting for me. Unfortunately, there were major strikes and protests going on in the country due to a rapidly-approaching constitutional deadline, so we took bumpy back dirt roads to the hotel in order to avoid the protests.

I was staying at the Hotel Tibet International, which was a relatively new “boutique” hotel in the Boudha district just outside Kathmandu. Unfortunately I learned after my arrival that going into the city would be impossible due to the strikes, but fortunately there was plenty going on in the Boudha area which is why I’d booked this hotel.

My first stop after a nap was the Pashupatinath temple complex.  It’s a temple to Shiva which is only open to Hindus, but the grounds are huge and there’s lots to see.  I got lucky when I was there that a funeral procession was going on, so I got to see the elaborate funeral ritual including preparing the body, the procession along the holy river, and finally the cremation.  Definitely not an experience for the squeamish, but I was very fortunate to get to experience this.

Now, this is where things got a little uncomfortable and I felt like a gawker (despite the fact a few dozen other tourists were there as well.)  The family arrived, and what was clearly the widow of the deceased did the obligatory laps around the corpse and was wailing at the top of her lungs – to the point it almost made one tear up to watch.  It was very uncomfortable, raw, and an unbelievable cultural experience.  I have to say, I felt a bit honoured to be there and experience it.

After this, I headed back to the hotel, grabbing some snacks along the way, and chilled out in the air conditioning for a bit so as to avoid getting sunburnt too badly.  As the sun was setting, I headed to the next local site, the Boudhanath Stupa.  The main thing to do here is to Circumambulate the stupa (walk clockwise around it) while chanting mantras.  I skipped the chanting, and like all the other westerners just took in the other folks looking.  It was an awe-inspiring structure, and the human zoo was quite something.  I retreated to a third-story restaurant for some local grub called momos, which were basically dumplings stuffed with ground buffalo.  Tasty with a couple local everest beers, and provided a great perch for people watching!

After this it was back to the hotel for a short bit, where I learnt the protests were over, and taxis into the city were now possible.  I went out to grab one, and ran into a couple sherpas attempting to do the same.  Seems they were headed to the same area I was going to, and upon learning the restaurant I was trying to go to said they liked that place, and would go there too – can we split a cab?  Sure, why not!

Long story short, got the cab for 1/3 the price my hotel told me it should cost, and we had a fascinating dinner which involved lasagna and doing several shots with the sherpas while their two small children watching.  It was a priceless experience – the kind of thing that only happens when you totally put yourself out there, let go of fear a bit, and take the chance of awesome experiences.  Oh, and the dinner was good too.  I can highly recommend Fire and Ice in Kathmandu for pretty authentic Italian and people-watching.  Lots of locals as well as tourists, so it’s a good experience!

We shared a cheap cab back as well, where I quickly passed out ready for the early departure in the morning!

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