Monday 28 August 2006

Nepal: aborted flights and tourist traps

It was just passed midnight as Mrs M commenced hair preparations and involuntary stomach emptying (yesterday’s soup?) for an early morning mountain flight. A phone call at 6am advised that one of the flights had been cancelled and we should report earlier than scheduled. This did not bode well. Despite being driven to the airport, we were informed that the weather was not good and we were asked if we would like to try again tomorrow. Like idiots we said yes. We drove back to eat breakfast three hours before our usual time.

So, to plan C. There was no plan C either so we headed towards Swayambhunath temple, reputed to be THE one place to visit in Kathmandu if short on time. Oh how wrong. The temple was filthy, smelled of dog excrement and sewerage and was overrun with tourist shops selling the usual junk. What a nasty place.

We beat a hasty retreat to ‘Freak Street’ in Thamel which was the tree-hugging capital of Kathmandu in the 60s and 70s. Although a mere shadow of its former glory (a few shops selling ganga tee shirts and badges), we found good Chinese sustenance. Mrs M whined until she selected one of the tasty cakies which was consumed with Nepali tea (which tastes like liquefied English rice pudding). While roaming the streets of Thamel we encountered a gallery selling traditional Nepali paintings at (starting) prices that did not make us giggle with disbelief. Nonetheless, we found common ground and walked away highly satisfied with our purchase.

More traumas followed. Our taxi driver, selected because he had a matching set of wheels, took us in completely the wrong direction (despite verbal and written instructions) and refused to take us back to the hotel. We disembarked without payment. While bargaining with taxi no. 2, taxi no. 1 returned and a suitable fee was thrust in his direction. The driver grumbled back to the Dwarika while driving with elevated impatience down narrow lanes unsuitable for vehicular traffic. With knitted eyebrows, I still had time to observe a suite of office furniture being carried on the heads of three men, one desk and one chair each, and one elderly gentleman negotiating traffic lights with a wardrobe strapped to his back.

We calmed down with bangers and mash in the bar, a Nepali delicacy. Walking back to our room, we noticed a copy of The Kathmandu Post on a newstand. The front page contained an article about the flooding caused by the torrential rainfall in several districts. However, it was the situational irony of the hotel stamp across the photograph which really caught our attention.

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