Landing in Kathmandu is
returning to a simpler way of life free of technological advancements
that in theory were supposed to create leisure but in fact cause people
in the "developed world" to work longer and harder. The first
glimpse of Kathmandu from the plane window is a sprawling expanse of
low-rise brick buildings, some only partially completed. Exiting the
airport, the tourist is mobbed by local touts offering everything from
taxi service to discount accommodation to trekking guides. Partial
shelter from this entourage is found at the fixed-price taxi ticket
counter located just outside the airport lobby. The price is NPR 250 to
Thamel, about NPR 50 higher than the prices offered by independent
drivers. The fixed-price savings can be considerable when considering the commission
collected by the independent drivers from your hotel or guesthouse of
choice that is passed back to you in your daily accommodation price.
Beware of any stranger sitting the the front passenger seat of your
taxi. We had one in our fixed-price taxi. This stranger will claim to
work for a hotel in Thamel or be a mountain guide or such. In fact, this
person is expecting to collect a commission on your accommodation of choice.
We initially suggested to our tout that he had the wrong target, that he
wouldn't be collecting any commission from us, that he should look for
other tourists who are more naive. For the next kilometer, he continued
to insist that he just needed a ride to Thamel, he's a mountain guide,
and if we were interested, he could show us some hotels in his
neighborhood. Just over a kilometer from the airport, Wes ordered the
taxi driver to stop the car and gave the driver an option: either the
tout gets out or we get out with our NPR 250 refunded. When we
opened our doors and threatened to exit, the driver demanded that the tout get out.
Free of the tout, our driver relaxed. "He no mountain guide. He
just make problem," our driver confided in a friendly and relieved
tone. The tout probably walked back to the airport to the bemusement of
his buddies who would realize that he was ejected by a tourist.
The Thamel section of
Kathmandu has all the traveler conveniences one could need. In the
center are hundreds of tour operators, currency exchange booths, 2nd
hand bookstores, bakeries, mini-markets, restaurants, Internet access
points, long-distance telephones, and shops selling everything from
cheap mountaineering gear to Tibetan prayer wheels to Kashmir carpets. A
10 minute walk away are airline offices and the American Express office.
Relative to other developing nations, this section of Kathmandu is
remarkably clean. Streets are swept and floors are wiped daily. Police
at intersections limit the number of beggars and touts badgering
Thamel is the place to
find tours to Tibet, depending on the ever-changing Chinese government
regulations, tours to Bhutan, trekking and mountaineering guides,
whitewater raft trips, and bungee jumping. Spend a few days to identify
which tour operators run the tours and which are agents who falsely
promise the world then sell their clients to the operators for a commission.
After 6 days of scouting
and price comparing in Kathmandu, this is our list of recommendations:
We will use Green Hill for
a trip to Tibet and Far Out for ice climbing instruction and summitting
a 6000+ meter peak. The instructor Rajen Thapa at Far Out is certified by
Nepal, India, and the U.K. for rock climbing and ice climbing
instruction. He's also trained in first aid and emergency rescue. His
past 7 years of climbing experience took him to the highest peaks in the
world. Read about our Tibet trip and ice climb on future
web pages. We must train physically and acclimatize to higher elevation
over the next 6 weeks before attempting the ice climb to a summit with
When in Kathamndu, don't
forget to visit the many Hindu and Buddhist temples. Certain Hindu
temples bar entry of non-Hindus. Certain Buddhist temples are Tibetan
and accessible to foreigners for an entry fee. The significant temples
all around Kathmandu are interesting and worth visiting over the course
of several days.
This section of our
journal is written while US and UK forces bomb targets in Afghanistan.
We are concerned for the Afghans who have already suffered under
Taliban rule and now have greater life threats to cope with. We are also
taking travel precautions by avoiding Muslim countries. We sense no threat
against Americans in Nepal.