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Paul & Tracey's Travels
7th Feb 2012 - Kathmandu,Himalayas,Nepal
Flight to Nepal, a temple, holy men, and death

Had a fantastic day today - our first day in Nepal

After a quick breakfast, we left the hotel for the 20 minute drive to the airport. We were not expecting him, but our friend Prem the driver turned up to take us which was nice. I have been trying these last few days to get a photo of an Ambassador - an old English car that is very common in Delhi. They are either white (usually a government car) or black and yellow used as cabs. They look a bit like the old 60's Volvo. Anyway, the drive to the airport was my last chance to get a good photo and I failed - now I am going to have to come back to India :)

Flight to Nepal

We arrived at the airport in plenty of time for our midday flight to the Nepalese capital. Indira Gandhi airport is brand new and is apparently the world's 6th largest. We got checked in quickly and efficiently ready for our Jet Airways flight. The flight was full despite there being several flights a day between Delhi and Kathmandu. I wanted a window seat as I was expecting great views but we could not check in online beforehand, so once on the plane, we did some gentle negotiations with the man who was booked into the window seat where we were seated- he was a Nepalese called Shankar and he was happy to swap seats as he had seen the mountains "many times before!" Shankar spoke good English and it turns out that he had studied for a year in Newcastle, although he said that it took him 6 months before he could understand the Geordie accent !!

The weather was sunny, and the majority of the flight was across the low lying land of Northern India, but about 10 minutes before the end of the 100 minute flight the snow capped peaks of the Himalaya could be seen in the distance. Then the plane turned toward the mountains and started to descend, and I think the approach to Tribhuvan airport in Kathmandu is the most amazing I have ever seen. The plane passes low over some wooded mountains and you can plainly see small communities grouped on the top of individual peaks surrounded by what looks like perfect green lawn. Then you start to see the Kathmandu valley slowly open up before you, first dotted with a few individual houses, then bigger communities before the main bulk of the city opens up, surrounded by green mountains with snow capped peaks in the background.

First hours in Kathmandu

We passed quickly through the small brick built airport, and out in the car park we met up with Birendra, our local tour guide who is going to show us around over the next 3 days. We have been used to driving around India in a 6 seater air conditioned Toyota, so it was a bit of a surprise to be shown to our car - a 20 plus year old Japanese car with no seatbelts fitted. At first glance, the city of Kathmandu appears very similar to some of the desert region cities we have seen in India - lots of traffic, very dusty, lots of poor at the sides of the streets selling their wares etc. But there are subtle differences - no cows wander the streets, traffic is mostly cars, buses and bikes with very few Tuks Tuks and rickshaws. the traffic is also a bit less manic, although reliance on the horn is still a factor.

I am slightly concerned about our cash flow at this point. We have some Indian Rupees, but when we tried to exchange them at the airport, they would not do it - they want stealing, yen, dollars etc. In India we were told that the Nepalese will accept Indian Rupees, but only notes of 100 or less - about £1.30. Our guide said higher notes will be accepted cos he will be with us ! It all sounds a bit iffy !

Kathmandu has a population of about 2 million, with Nepal having a total of 16 million. Like India the population is 80 percent Hindu, most of the rest are a mixture of different religions including Buddhists and Muslims. The country has the highest point on Earth with Everest on the Tibetan border in the north, and I think 4 of the remaining 7 highest peaks also being in Nepal, but surprisingly the low point in the country is only 17 feet above sea level. Kathmandu itself though is quite high - as I type my height measuring app is reading 4267 feet which is higher than Ben Nevis !! The area does suffer from earthquakes but most are vey low on the richter scale although reasonably recently they had a 6.8 richter scale tremor with some building damage.

It is spring here and the day time temperature is in the low 20s whilst at night time it goes down into single figures. It very rarely snows in the city - lowest winter temperatures are around freezing point.

The drive to the Everest Hotel only took about 15 minutes, and we agreed to meet up with our guide again at 4pm after we checked in and had a break. We were amused when we were asked whether we wanted a big bed for two or separate beds? The view from the hotel room is amazing right across the city with mountains in the background. Apparrently the electricity supply in the city goes off twice a day for 6 hours each day, but our guide promised us that the hotel would maintain a supply all day. Certainly, later in the day after sunset, when gazing out across the city, there were very few lights on, and even as I was typing this sentence, in a very weird coincidence, the electricity in the hotel suddenly went off for a couple of minutes !!

Temples and death

At 4pm we met with our guide in the lobby and set off for a short drive across the city to the Pashupati Temple. I suppose I was expecting some marble temple built a few hundred years ago, but what I got was something else entirely. The full title for the area is the Pashupati Area Development Trust - this is a Hindu temple complex some parts of which are earlier than 600 AD. The first thing we saw on entering was the bereaved burning their dead. The temple is built on a river that flows from the Himalaya to the north and eventually runs into the Ganges in India in the south, which is considered a holy river and so local Hindus perform a water ritual with their dead, before creating them and putting the ashes into the river.

Our guide Birendra, a Hindu himself, explained the details of the procedure, and told us a few facts that perhaps we did not necessarily need to know ie it takes about two hours for the human body to burn and turn to ash, and after about twenty minutes there will be a loud pop which which will be the head ! Bizarrely, yards away from this on the other side of the river were several parked motor bikes on which monkeys were amusingly sitting !

A meeting with some holy men

It was quite surreal after only a couple of hours in the country to watch families mourning and cremating their dead, whilst standing in the afternoon sun, at the side of a dirty river, with monkeys running around your feet. We then walked up a few steps to be confronted with four elderly gents dressed in bright orange and with dreads and very impressive beards. These it turned out were the holy men - basically anyone can become a holy man by renouncing all desire, eating only veg, taking no alcohol and having no belongings. They can then come to the temple and if they have no money, the trust will feed them, otherwise they buy food (with money given by the likes of me), cook it themselves and live a simple existence in the temple grounds. The true holy person will never leave the temple grounds, but there are some fakes that dress up in orange, beg on the streets for money, then go back home and dress in normal clothes and drink liquor !! It' something I am seriously contemplating!!

The trust will also help the bereaved by helping to pay the 1000 Nepalese rupees that it costs for wood and a priest if they can not afford this for their own loved one, which is less than 10 pounds.

Life in Nepal

As we walked back to the car through the locals on the street selling souvenirs we found that there was so much less hassle to buy than in India. Back in the car we drove through the rush hour traffic back to the hotel. We will be going out with our guide again tomorrow although not sure what he has got planned - hopefully not more burning dead bodies. On the way he was telling us a bit more about the country - there are 3 arms of the local police - tourist, traffic and armed police. He also stated that there was a lot of corruption both in the police and government. I am hoping we will not be awoken in the middle of the night to be arrested for talking with seditionaries!
English is taught at all schools so we should be able to get by conversing with the locals.

Back at the hotel, we had a lovely evening meal. The head waiter was the spitting image of Odd Job from James bond. Our guide recommended the locally brewed beer - Everest, a 5 percent lager, and it proved very refreshing.

Tomorrow more sight seeing, and the following day we have been promised a flight over Everest itself ! Our guide told us that it does not actually ever snow on top of Everest due to the prevailing weather conditions, and this time of year the weather is very good for flights, which have to go early in the morning before the temperatures rise cause the clouds to develop and restrict views. Cannot wait.

Have got some great pictures from today, but having trouble uploading them here...keep checking back !

STOP PRESS - Just read in the paper that we had a narrow escape flying today as a couple of hours later a raging fire started and threatened the whole airport. The airport was closed and three international flights had to circle for over an hour until they were told they could land !!

Next: Rain, temples, and a drive round the city
Previous: Road trip North to Delhi

Diary Photos

Paul and holy men who live at the Pashupatinath Hindu Temple, Nepal

Approach by air to Kathmandu, Nepal

Approach by air to Kathmandu, Nepal

Approach by air to Kathmandu, Nepal

Approach by air to Kathmandu, Nepal

Kathmandu from the air, Nepal

Kathmandu from our hotel room, Nepal

Kathmandu from our hotel room, Nepal

Dusty Kathmandu road, Nepal

Pashupatinath Hindu Temple, Nepal

Pashupatinath Hindu Temple, Nepal

Pashupatinath Hindu Temple, Nepal

Pashupatinath Hindu Temple, Nepal

Pashupatinath Hindu Temple, Nepal

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