Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Namaste from Kathmandu!

A city on the other side of the world

A 14 hour red eye to China followed by another 5 hour flight got me to Nepal smoothly. I came to Nepal and Tibet solo, but as it turns out, I had connections in Kathmandu. Go figure. I was excited to stay with Peter, who is a friend of my cousin (thanks Steph!), and his family, in Kathmandu. I wasn't headed to the standard tourist section of town (Thamel), but instead to this lovely neighborhood.
View from where I stayed in the friendly, safe middle class 'hood of Gairidhara
After a 10 am arrival and a little nap, Peter took me to the center of town to drop off my passport at an agency to get my Chinese visa. A nice chill first day. I already started enjoying time with Peter, his wife, Sonya, and two kids, Mateo and Sorin, who were 4.5 and almost one years old. Thanks a TON to Peter and Sonya. Their hospitality truly made my time in Nepal absolutely wonderful and unique.

Tourist-ing Kathmandu
I had two and a half days of hanging around town waiting for my visa before I left for Tibet. I didn't have many must-see sights, but wanted to enjoy the culture and daily life of the locals. I hit the town hard the second day. I just started walking through the city in a general direction.

The winding, muddy, back streets of old part of town in Thamel
Random temples in hidden alley ways
There were small and large temples every corner I turned and alley way I ducked into. I was half following the interesting, informative Lonely Planet walking tour and half exploring anything that caught my interest.

Ladies bonding over a ritual offering at a local temple. Rolled up paper and incense in a bowl.
For the most part, I roamed the streets without any of the typical tourist harassment. People were just going about their day. Durbar Square was the only place where there were some eager tour guides offering their services to me.

Durbar Square - the central part of old Kathmandu.
After the main square, I purposefully got myself lost in the non-touristy part of town and enjoyed observing the locals go about their day.

The local water hole for dish washing, bathing, etc.
Excited school boys ran up to me in their school yard shouting "Hello! Hello!" Not too many tourists in these back streets.
There are actually a cluster of 3 main cities: Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktuphur. So I headed in the direction in Patan, the city directly south of Kathmandu. It seemed like a doable walk, but after 10 minutes, when a mini-bus drove buy with a boy hanging out the door yelling "Patan! Patan!" I ran up and jumped in. Definitely worth the 15 cent ride to the north gate of Patan.

I meandered Patan's back streets and ultimately ended up on a rooftop eating lunch overlooking Patan's Darbur Square. Not a shabby day.

Patan's Darbur Square
I figured no matter where I ended up this day, I'd just hop in a taxi back home for $3. That's exactly what happened. Successful exploration and I came back to a home-cooked Nepali meal.

Kathmandu continued!
I tired myself out roaming the city the second day, so on day 3 I decided to take it easy. My main goal was to navigate myself back to the tour agency that should have my passport and Chinese visa at 5 pm. After hanging out with the family in the morning, I headed to a must-see stupa via taxi.

Boudha Stupa
Beware! Buddha eyes are always watching.
There are two main stupas, places of worship, just outside of Kathmandu.
1. Swayambhunath is known as the monkey temple. I already had a hunch of these devious monkeys who get a little too close to humans. No thanks, I'll pass.
2. Boudha Stupa is the more ritually important one for Buddhist. So I went here and circled clockwise like all the other locals until I got too hot and tired and chilled at a cafe.

In the afternoon, I relaxed at the Garden which was beautifully curated and peaceful. Then I picked up my passport and Chinese visa (phew). I was already loving this crazy bustling city and time with my hosts.

2.5 days down. Kathmandu seen. Chinese visa secured. Off to Tibet!
Leaving Kathmandu, Nepal, for Lhasa, Tibet, on Air China

Monday, July 28, 2014

Off to Nepal and Tibet!

My goal was to leave the country by the end of July. I managed to secure a one-way ticket from Nepal to Tibet 3 weeks ago. Of course there was still the issue of getting over to that side of the world. I finally got a round-trip ticket to Nepal about 2 weeks ago. And now I'm leaving LAX. China Southern Airlines is pulling through so far!