Nepal Kathmandu 2001.10.05 - 10.13

Capital of Nepal

We first met Kirk and Maren in Dahab, Egypt. Our routes converged again in Kathmandu. We will travel together until Lhasa, Tibet. Visit Kirk and Maren's website at

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 tourists.

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:

Green Hill Tours Tours to Tibet and Bhutan, Trekking guides and porters, whitewater rafting, bungee jumping.
Tel: +997-1-428326
web site:
Located next to the entrance of the Kathmandu Guest House in Thamel.

Far Out Trekking guides and porters, technical rock and ice climbing instruction, peak summitting.
Tel: +997-1-437469
web site:
Located on the 2nd floor, 5 doors north from the Kathmandu Guest House in Thamel.

Shona's Rentals Reliable mountaineering gear sales and rental: snow gear, rain gear, ice gear, packs, sleeping bags, stoves, boots.
Tel: 265120, Int'l: +977-1-265120
Located on Jyatha Road, across the street from the KEEP Office near the entrance to the Thamel section of Kathmandu. The owners are experienced mountaineers and give solid advice.

Kala Patthar Trekking Store Cheap mountaineering gear: snow gear, rain gear, ice gear, packs, sleeping bags, stoves, boots.
Located at the end of the road north from the Kathmandu Guest House in Thamel. At the T junction, turn left. Store is in the corner on the left side of the street.

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 Far Out.

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.

Durbar (Palace) Square in Kathmandu is the location of the old Royal Palace. A collection of shrines and temples surround the old palace, attracting tourists and peddlers looking for tourist dollars.
Adjacent to Durbar Square is Basantapur Square where interesting metal and wood crafts are sold. Be prepared to bargain while maintaining a good attitude. Vendors will claim that certain wares come from Tibet or Kashmir. Maybe they do and maybe they don't. Decide for yourself.
Water continuously flows into Hiti water tank where locals wash clothes and bathe.
The Swayambhunath Buddhist Temple sits atop a hill overlooking Kathmandu and is one of the most popular and recognizable symbols in Nepal. Located 2km west of Thamel, the walk there is pleasant. Prayer flags drape the stupa that monks walk around clockwise while spinning prayer wheels.
These "holy" men pose for photos at the entrance to Swayambhunath. They don't speak much except to let tourist know that they expect NPR 10 per photo.
Along the eastern stairway to the top of Swayambhunath, Wes has his palm read. The fortuneteller stated Wes' past, present, and future. If the future predictions are anything like his reading of the past, then about 90% of his predictions will be false. (Wes is giving him 10% credit for reading "You are intelligent." and "You are happy now." Some of the false statements: you have a bad marriage, you have stomach pain, you did poorly in your studies between ages 14-17, etc., etc.)

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