My first few days in Nepal have been nothing short of amazing. I have seen so much, and my mind has been blown already. I arrived in Kathmandu on Tuesday afternoon. The landing was spectacular. I saw Everest from the aeroplane!
The airport itself was not exactly what I would call award winning, but I got my visa, some Nepalese Rupees, and my very heavy backpack without too much hassle.
I was planning to spend two nights in Kathmandu to buy a local SIM card, a sleeping mat and a few other bits before heading to base. While I was still planning my trip, I was a little apprehensive about my time in Kathmandu, as I had no idea what to expect or where to stay.
As many of you know by now though, I don’t believe in coincidence.
So, by sheer “coincidence”, I met a lovely South African couple while on holiday there, who lived in Nepal previously. They gave me some valuable tips, and also put me in touch with Bikram, their friend who owns a guesthouse in Kathmandu. I booked to stay at the guesthouse, and Bikram had arranged for a taxi to fetch me from the airport.
As I exited the airport I was met with a sight of about 100 Nepalese taxi drivers, all waiting with name boards. It took a while before I saw my name, but I finally got to my taxi.
Not to be confused with the London black cab, the Nepalese taxis are little Maruti Suzuki 800’s, all who seem to have known much better days. The ride to the guesthouse took about 30 mins, and even after all that time, I still cannot quite confirm which side of the road they (should) drive on in Nepal! The traffic is unlike anything I have ever seen, or heard for that matter. There are an insane amount of motorbikes and scooters, buses and cars. Pedestrians, cows, goats and chickens all seem to have equal right of way as the vehicles, and a constant serenade of hooters is heard anywhere in Kathmandu all through the day. And the most bizarre thing for me is that the hooters are purely used to indicate their intention to go ahead, and does not seem to ignite any road rage or anger with anyone. As the taxi driver explained to me, it is very much a case of reading the other driver’s mind. (!)
Once I got to the guesthouse I was very overwhelmed. I guess the excitement, apprehension, travel time, jet lag and sensory overload just got to me a bit. Bikram was lovely and agreed to meet me in the morning to help me around to get a SIM card and sleeping mat before my trek to Nuwakot on Thursday.
I had a deliberately bland dinner and slept incredibly well.
Wednesday morning I got to see more of Kathmandu on our shopping trip. The thing that struck me about this fabulous place is that despite everything seeming so super chaotic, it all just seems to work. Things get done, people get about, and above all everyone is incredibly friendly and helpful. It is sad to hear that the tourism industry has been nearly wiped out after the earthquake. I had another early night as I had to get up early for the next day’s adventure of getting to the volunteer base.
So on Thursday I got up really early to be at the bus station in time to get the one daily bus to Nuwakot. I use the terms “bus”, and “bus station” loosely here. There was nothing to give the bus station away other than the taxi driver stopping, getting a sheet of newspaper out, and putting my backpack on it. He knew where I was heading, and he kindly spoke to the ticket officer on my behalf and made sure I got on the right bus. Said bus was a vehicle with four wheels. That is the only resemblance it has to any bus I have ever seen.
As for my luggage, a Nepalese chap promptly climbed up the side of the bus and launched my 22kg backpack on the roof. So I was sitting on this bus with no idea how I was going to know when to get off, when another All Hands volunteer got on. I knew this instantly, because he was the only other non-Nepalese person on the bus. He was ordered to sit next to me, which was good, because he had the privilege to have all the standing passengers’ elbows in his face and sides for the entire journey. This bus trip made the London rush hour tube look like a business class lounge.
After four hours of intense travel, we got to the Colony Intake bus stop which is where we had to get off. The route from Kathmandu is a mere 70km, but all of this is against gravity defying heights, with more than a few forced reversals, numerous moments of me trying desperately to lean over to prevent the bus from tipping over the edge and the hooter of the bus used excessively when going round blind corners. At least I saw some simply incredible views.
The last stretch of our journey to base was supposedly a 25 minute walk. It was in my best interest to make this as quick as possible, since I had a heavy pack on my back, and a slightly smaller, but also pretty solid backpack on my chest. It was heavy. We did however manage to get lost despite the detailed photo instructions we both got from All Hands (no google map potential here), but eventually found our way to the volunteer base which would be home for the next two months.
The volunteer base is a huge pink building behind an even bigger Vishnu tree. I didn’t realise that Friday was a public holiday in Nepal, and Saturdays are our days off as standard, so I had two days ahead of me to acclimatise, find my space, and finally get over what remaining jet lag I still had.
In my next post I will tell you all about the area, the base and the actual volunteer work we do.
So far it’s all good. It’s been an experience, and I will lie if I say that my comfort zone is not being pushed to the maximum. I am confronted daily with how utterly privileged and comfortable I have been so far in my life, taking so much of the basics for granted. It’s a cliche, but it’s true. We all do it. But more of that in my next post!