#35 Day 10: Namche, Nepal

Wednesday 5 April 2017

Testing day! Up early and down to the communal area for blood pressure recording, sats and the dreaded step test. My levels seem to be ok, and my heart rate after doing the two minute step test only increased by 4 so at the moment I don’t seem to be affected by the altitude (which is 3,445m). 

It was also washing day, so my room mate and I borrowed a metal bowl and the Lodge owner showed us to an outside tap and we spent a happy 20mins washing various items and finding space to hang them on the line. We were out the back of the Lodge so there was no one to disturb us and we could appreciate the sun and blue sky and the backdrop of beautiful mountains in the background. Our room is at the front of the Lodge and it’s magical to open the curtains in the morning and be greeted by a snow capped mountain literally within spitting distance.

Washing done, we were relaxing before lunch when panic ensued – the family I mentioned in #30 had made it to Namche and needed two rooms next to each other so we were asked to move rooms. Everything in Nepal is quite laid back, until something needs to be done and then there is a lot of running around as everyone wants to get involved and there is a lot of shouting etc. until whatever it is gets done and then it’s all calm again. Needless to say we spent a harried 10mins ferrying our kit from one room to another and then we went down to enjoy our lunch, which predictably was potato, pasta and bread!Namche is a great shopping town and as we hadn’t had gone out yesterday afternoon Amanda and I made a shopping list and went out to explore. This was our shopping list – all the essentials: toilet paper (I haven’t really described the toilets, maybe next time as it will take up a paragraph at least, but believe me, toilet paper is the most essential item you need in Nepal), hand sanitiser (second most essential item), snacks, a rubber bit for the bottom of my trekking pole as I’d lost one the previous day, a chocolate brownie and wifi. I described how when we arrived in Namche we had to then climb the hill to our Lodge, so to get to town we had to climb down – much easier! We spent a leisurely time getting all the things we needed, a kind shop keeper gave me my rubber bit for free! and then we looked for the cafe that had free wifi. 

It was called the 8848 (the height of Everest) but it was packed and showing a documentary so we found a much nicer place called the Sherpa Barista, which also had free wifi. We had a very yummy hot chocolate, shared a brownie and fitted in a bit of catching up with friends and family on Whatsapp and Facebook. We started the steep walk back, luckily it was punctuated by meeting various people from our group on the way, and having to wait for a train of yaks to negotiate a particularly troublesome set of steps, so we had lots of rests and made it back to the Lodge for dinner, which was pink prawn crackers with soup for starters, cheesy potatoes, veg, spaghetti and a veg pastie for main and two slices of fruit for pud. 3 course meal – can’t complain.

I had a bit of a headache after dinner, but soon forgot about it as I was playing Irish snap and needed all my concentration as I was playing with the youngsters – Chris, Jess and Alice who are all around 18-19. For those of you who have never played Irish snap, it’s like normal snap but you have to count upwards from Ace in turn, so the first person lays a card and says Ace, the next person lays a card and says Two and so on. If there is a snap you snap, and if you lay a four and it’s your turn to say Four then you can snap – so you have to think about two things at once and also make sure you’re not the last one to slam your hand down otherwise you get all the cards (which means you lose). When someone finished their cards they were allowed to stay in the game and just shout out the number when it was their turn, so one game lasts for ages and can get a bit hysterical – or maybe it was just the altitude making us hysterical …

Eventually we finished and then went down to the basement to ‘Club Namche’ where there was a makeshift bar, a disco ball and a pool table! This was it, I was finally playing on the world’s highest pool table!! We had a game of doubles and then I went up to the room as Amanda was getting ready for bed, and we had to prepare for an acclimatisation walk tomorrow. 

#34 Day 9: Monjo – Namche, Nepal

Tuesday 4 April 2017

Not one to get a good nights sleep when at home, when the alarm went off at 6am I felt as if I hadn’t slept a wink – although my room mate begged to differ as apparently at some point I snored …

Breakfast was porridge, omelette and toast and we left around 8.30am to walk to Namche Bazar. The hill to Namche is legendary as it’s the biggest and longest hill on the trek and the hot and sunny weather, although fabulous, would make it harder for us as most of the trail is quite exposed. I had bought a small tube of factor 50 face sun cream, but soon realised that I might run out before the end of the trek as the sun is really hot and with the absence of clouds you have to replenish frequently. I had assumed I would be wearing my thermals under my clothes from the beginning but t-shirts seemed to be the order of the day and if this weather continues then I don’t think the thermals will come out until we are much higher.

We took it steady and made it to Namche without too much exertion, I’m not sure what the fuss is about! I was determined to make it as the highest pool table in the world was waiting for me, so every time we rounded a bend and saw yet more steps I kept the thought in my head of drinking a cold beer and me thrashing the locals (well, I’m allowed to daydream, right?) so the journey went fairly quickly. The good news was that we made it to Namche in a fairly good time, the bad news was that our lodge was at the very top of the town, so after making it up the hill we then had to climb another 300m of winding steps … I have to admit, this was a bit of a killer and by the time we got there we were hanging out for a hot lemon and lunch. After lunch I sat outside in the sun with an earl grey tea (a rooibos one I had bought with me from the UK) and wrote some blog, it was very civilised. We had been warned that there would be an absence of showers on the trek, however this was a fairly luxurious lodge (Amanda and I were lucky enough to have a room with a toilet) and a hot shower was available – at a cost of Rs400 (US$4). I availed myself of the facilities and felt like a new woman.

Namche Bazar is a pretty town, it is perched in a horseshoe shaped cut on the side of the mountain and the buildings are layered on levels like a rice field. They are all built in the same style, more rectangle than square, a couple of stories high, and have tin roofs that are blue, green or red. Our lodge is called the Hotel Sherwi Khangba and Xtreme Everest have used it for previous trips. It is owned by a man called Lakpa Sonam who is an amazing photographer, and many of his photos are up in the lodge (and are also available for purchase). He has also put together a photography exhibition and there is a small museum which I must make time to see. As my afternoon had been taken up with various activities I didn’t get time to go into town, so Amanda and I made some plans for the following day. There was plenty of time as we had 4 nights in Namche.

Dinner was soup with popcorn for starters, and potatoes, veg and spaghetti for main – it appears that in Nepal I’ll be mostly eating potatoes, pasta and veg – plus dhal bhat!

The cards came out after dinner and I joined in with the boys again. I taught them a game my family calls Woofie, but they renamed it ‘Mooney’. As the game is fairly simple we started to add rules that complicated things and this game was called ‘Xtreme Mooney’. It ended up being a lot of fun and we laughed a lot. A good end to a tiring day.

#33 Day 8: Kathmandu – Lukla – Monjo, Nepal

Monday 3 April 2017

Up at 5am for a 5.30am breakfast, we were due to leave for the airport at 6am. As there are between 40-50 people in the whole group we were going in different tranches and the first group had already left for the airport. Word filtered down that was a delay at the airport, the rumour was that there was bad weather at Lukla so none of the flights were leaving Kathmandu. It was entirely possible that we might not go that day so we were a bit disappointed. Suddenly at 6.30am we were told to get our stuff, we were on our way!

Speculation was rife about the reason for the delay, and it was … wait for it …. a leopard on the runway! Only at Kathmandu. The airport was chaos, the sherpas were unloading all our kit bags off the roof of the buses but it was too difficult to find our own one (they all look exactly the same) so we were told to take any old one and go through security. After all our efforts to get the right weight, it didn’t really matter because all they did was bundle them on the scales a few at a time and record a cumulative total!When we got airside we saw the poor people who had been up since 4am, but luckily as the planes were now moving they were called and we were not too far behind.

We caught a bus to the 19-seater propeller plane, which came with a stewardess who said everything in both Nepali and English, like we were on a 747. She even handed round a little boiled sweet 🙂 The reason for the small plane is that Lukla airport is apparently the most dangerous in the world (I beg to differ, the one at Montserrat, in the Caribbean was pretty scary) as the runway is 527m long and at an 11.9% gradient. The planes come in to land and if they don’t stop in time they basically crash into a big wall at the end of the runway. The flight itself was quite short, a little bumpy and provided amazing views of the mountains. The landing was absolutely fine and we walked up to the Paradise Lodge where we found the other group. 

The altitude at Lukla is 2,880m so I was wondering, like at Cuzco, whether I would feel the altitude straight away, but I didn’t feel any different. We discovered that the kit bags had been distributed across all the planes so the people who had travelled earlier had to wait, as we did, until everyone was here so that we could be reunited with our bags. 

Everyone finally arrived and everything got sorted, bags found, yaks loaded up and we set off at 11.30am, which was quite late as Monjo was 11.6 miles away and a full day’s walk. We cleared the Police checkpoint and started down the trail and it hit me that I was finally walking in the Himalayas!! After all the planning, preparation and waiting it was a bit of emotional moment. The trail followed the river in the Kumber valley and it was beautiful, lots of trees with now-capped mountains in the background. I was looking forward to seeing the first suspension bridge and it didn’t disappoint. The bridges are actually quite sturdy but are not very wide, and get really bouncy when lots of people are on there. The paths are used by everyone, so every so often you have to make way for locals carrying extremely heavy / wide loads, that are twice as big as they are. It’s quite amusing to see them on the bridges as neither will give way so they start at opposite ends and then have to squeeze past each other at some point on the bridge. We also got stuck in ‘Yak jams’ where the yaks are walking in convoy, so you have to flatten yourself against the mountain side of the track (because apparently the other year an Australian went the opposite side and got pushed down the cliff by a yak!) and hope that the yak doesn’t squash you on its way past.

We had a very late lunch, of vegetable fried rice, at a Tea House on the way, and I got my very first taste of ‘hot lemon’. I wondered if it contained caffeine so asked to see the packet, it turns out it is powder in a tin. It didn’t, although there were lots of E-numbers on the ingredient list so it’s a good job I’m only in Nepal for a relatively short time! I liked it, if you were in the cadets you will understand whendidn’t I say it tastes like screech. It will be something to keep me going when we get higher up.

We set off again at around 2.30pm and the terrain got a little steeper as we went away from the river and up to Monjo, which is at 2,804m. While we weren’t experiencing altitude sickness, being that high does make you short of breath, so it’s slow going and you constantly have to watch your step as the path is uneven and there are lots of steps – all at different levels. We made good progress, but as we had started so late it was going to be a race against time to make it there by nightfall. 

The sun was setting and it was hard-going getting up the steps at the end to enter Monjo. We still had a little way to go and so by the time we made it to the

Lodge it was a few minutes away from being dark. We were by no means the last, so the trek leaders and sherpas put on head torches and had go and find all the people still out in order to lead them up. It was a bit of a dramatic end to our first day, but everyone made it safely. 

I had my first chicken dhal bhat for dinner (chicken curry, rice and lentils) and then we had the first of our nightly briefings, where they tell us what’s happening the following day and what rooms our trek leaders are staying (in case we feel ill in the night). There was a choice of joining the ladies for a chat or the boys who were playing cards … you can guess where I ended up! Bed time is early over here, so we played ****head – which I last played in the Amazon in Peru, and was still as bad as I was then – until bed time.

Tomorrow we are off to Namche and have the biggest of three hills to walk up, and should be there by lunchtime. Hopefully!

#32 **Stop Press!**

As it’s not that easy to get access to Wi-Fi, and i don’t always get a chance to write, I’m a bit behind with my posts.

I thought I’d interrupt the story to report that I made it to Everest Base Camp on Friday 14 April!!

I’ll fill you in when I get to the appropriate post, but the weather’s been amazing (until the morning after Base Camp day when it snowed and we had a 8.5hr walk to get from Gorak Shep to a place called Dingboche …) and the group is great.

More to follow in due course …

#31 Day 7: Kathmandu, Nepal

Sunday 2 April 2017

After eating the meat at the BBQ, my tummy was a bit uncomfortable and I didn’t really sleep very well. We had to go for testing between 7-8am so Amanda (my room mate) and I got up at 7am and went to the lab. 

The Xtreme Everest team are doing various pieces of research on this trip and there is also a team from the University of Nebraska. For Xtreme Everest the first thing we had to do was measure our resting oxygen (O2) saturation levels and heart beats per minute (b.p.m.) via a little gadget attached to the end of our right index finger. The next test we had to do was record our blood pressure, and then count how many breaths we took in one minute. We were doing it in pairs and measuring each other. The final part was to measure our O2 levels and b.p.m. whilst doing exercise, so we had to step up and down a step, one step every one second for two minutes. Even though we are only at 1,400m, therefore no altitude sickness or anything, as you are above sea level your heart has to work harder. After doing 2mins of steps my heart rate was 135 b.p.m.! Yikes. All of this research is examining how people’s bodies respond (in terms of O2 saturation and heart rate) at different altitudes. This is going to be looked at in conjunction with the tests the guys from the US are doing. These would be later in the day, mine was luckily at 9.45am so I had time for a relaxed breakfast and then wandered over to the lab.

The Nebraskan guys are doing two pieces of research, the first needs a sample of blood. I have tried to interpret into layman’s terms what they are doing; they are measuring cardiac strain by looking at the blood in some way, analysing two different peptides that can signal heart failure and measuring haemoglobin levels. The second is an echocardiogram, which was quite exciting (even more so as the guy doing the echoes (Walker) is quite fit – hehe), which takes pictures and records the sound of both sides of the heart and the lungs. I had to strip my top half down to my bra (covered up with a blanket, so don’t worry, I didn’t expose all and sundry to Walker) and then he put two electrodes on my chest and one on my side and then used a handheld probe to scan. The first piece of good news is, I do have a heart! Haha. I assume if it wasn’t normal he would have said something so the other piece of good news is that my heart appears to be normal. Yay.

The final test is a microbiome test, where we have to swab our foreheads, tongues and (I don’t want to tell you) swab a bit of our poo. This does not mean we have to stick a swab up our bum! Just take it from used toilet paper (phew, I was worried for a second until they explained it). This is just to see how many micro-organisms we pick up over the course of the trek. 

So that’s all the tests. We have to repeat them three times – once in Kathmandu, once when we get to Namche (height 3,445m) and the final set at Pheriche (4,371m) so that they can compare the results from each of the tests to see how the levels change as the altitude increases.

As we will be eating Nepalese food for days and days on the trek I didn’t feel bad about having a BLT for lunch and for relaxing in the afternoon until our medical briefing at 6pm. On the Sheffield weekend they had explained to us about HAPE and HACE (see Sheffield blog entry) but going through it again when actually sitting in Nepal I must admit I did feel a little nervous. What will be will be, I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

The rest of the evening was spent packing and re-packing, it ended up being like a comedy sketch. We are allowed 15kg in our kit bag (issued in Sheffield) and 5kg in our day sack – airline rules, as we will be getting a teeny tiny plane tomorrow morning at the crack of dawn to Lukla. There was a set of scales outside our trek leader Kay’s room. To get there we had to come out of my room, walk along the outside corridor, down a staircase that has a spiral at the top, under an arch, along a path, up two flights of stairs and then along the corridor to the room. My kit bag was really light so I was feeling smug, however I collected my sleeping bag and down jacket suddenly it was panic stations! After spending so many months planning the exact items I was going to take on the trek I now had to re-evaluate to try and lose weight. Both Amanda and I, after much umming and arring and two visits to the scales, risking life and limb carrying a massive kit bag and rucksack up and down all the stairs, we were finally happy at around midnight! The alarm was set for 5am and we snuggled down for the night.

#30 Day 6: Kathmandu, Nepal

Saturday 1 April 2017

Woke up early again and packed before breakfast, and had my last scrambled egg, toast and sautéed potatoes at Rokpa. Went out to change some money and wander round the stupa one last time and then said my goodbyes to the older man, Shiva, who worked there and I had got friendly with. I was quite sad to leave Rokpa, it was a pretty place with the courtyard garden and flowers, prayer flags overhead and peaceful surroundings. When you feel comfortable and safe in a place it’s sometimes hard to move on.

As it was a Saturday, and a public holiday, the traffic was light and we made it to the Summit Hotel by 12noon. The majority of the group were on a flight from London and wouldn’t arrive until late afternoon so I thought I’d sort out all my kit before my room mate arrived. The Summit Hotel is very nice, with a pool, fitness room and pretty places to sit. I went to the bar for lunch and bumped into Kay and Sarah. Kay is my expedition leader (there are three groups) and Sarah is the ‘runner’, but actually works really hard doing the admin and organising for the scientists and the laboratory. Yes! They have set up a lab at the hotel where we will do our base tests for the research before we leave for the mountains.

After lunch they had work to do so I went to the pool to relax. There are some families here – a man called Mike is the overall research project leader and he is here with his wife Denny, who is the chief medical officer, and their three kids. It was one of their kid’s birthdays (I think he was 8) so there was a little party in the afternoon with cake! Very nice 🙂

There is another couple with two girls and all the families are going on a trek but starting in a different place and only going as far as Namche Bazar (where we stop for four nights). The youngest is 2 years old, I think it’s great that they are giving their children this opportunity at such an early age to travel and experience the world. I know that not everyone is in a position to take their children to Nepal for example, but I think parents should expose their children to foreign experiences from an early age so that they are not scared of the world and learn about different cultures etc. My parents couldn’t take me further than France/Spain because we couldn’t afford it, so as a result when I did my backpacking it was very overwhelming. Everyone does things at their own pace and as and when finances allow, and I’m not in any way criticising my parents, but if I ever have a family I’m going to try my best to give them as many experiences as possible.

As the party was finishing it started to rain, and this turned into a major thunderstorm with lightening and pretty impressive thunder. This delayed the plane so our intrepid travellers arrived around 6pm. There was a little welcoming ceremony, where we had to line up and accept a bindi on our foreheads (a blessing), a garland of orange marigolds, a boiled egg (I didn’t find out what the significance of this was – I’ll make some enquiries!) and a little shot of a liqueur. It was nice to see everyone I’d met in Sheffield and meet up with my roommate, Amanda. 

There was a briefing at 7pm, which was quite exciting as they talked about the experiments we would be taking part in. We had to sign some consent forms and would need to report to the lab at 7am tomorrow morning! I’ll talk about the tests tomorrow when I find out what happens! There was a BBQ afterwards and we went to bed around 10pm (as Amanda was knackered and I thought an early night might do me good).

#29 Day 5: Kathmandu, Nepal

Friday 31 March 2017

After my usual scrambled eggs, toast and sautéed potatoes and bush tea for breakfast, today I was on a mission to buy some walking poles and possibly some woollen mitts which I’ll apparently need on base camp day. The place to go was Thamel, where I had gone for drinks with the guys on Wednesday evening. I was going to walk but the city air is really polluted with all the vehicles, many of which belch out thick black smoke, and the roads are rarely have a tarmac surface so the dust gets everywhere. There is a particular main road I’ve been down a few times now that has a series of drainage pipes along the side. A JCB half heartedly pushes some mud along the middle of the road every so often but there is no evidence that anything is actually being done. I think they dampen down the road with water every day because it’s usually muddy, but on the way back from Patan yesterday the water had obviously dried out and the visibility was literally a few meters. As we entered the billowing dust cloud, even with the windows closed you could feel it catching the back of your throat. By the time I had got back yesterday my throat was really dry and sore – I wasn’t ill, it was just the dust. Therefore I decided a taxi was in order for today and off we set.

Thamel is a big maze of tiny, busy crowded streets that all look the same and if you don’t have your wits about you it’s possible to get lost and walk round and round for hours. The driver dropped me at the entrance to one of the main thoroughfares and taking note of my surroundings I started down the road popping in and out of the various shops selling trekking kit looking for my poles. I found a pair I liked and then said I would come back, ploy to see if they will give a discount and also because I felt I needed to get a feel for what was on offer and make the right decision. He did offer me a discount so I took note of the shop and continued on my way. I found a more ‘official-looking’ shop and after speaking to the very helpful guy found out that the ones in the other shop were probably fine, and the right price for the quality, so my mind was made up.I decided to go down to Durban square (the main square in that area) and on the way found my mitts. The shop keeper had to look for the size I wanted especially (I think he went to another shop to get them!) so I felt I had to buy them and didn’t barter much on the price – I got them for about US$2, not bad at all. As I got close to the square a man selling wooden chess travel sets decided he would follow me, I kept walking and kept saying no and in the end he went down to Rs25 after starting at about Rs500! He also had some flutes with him so I asked how much. He had two types, a hardwood one and some bamboo ones and it was the hardwood one I wanted. He said it was made of sandalwood, and it certainly smelled like it (although maybe he just rubbed sandalwood oil on it) and he reckoned they would cost Rs5,000-6,000 in the shops. I don’t know if that was the case but in the end I parted with Rs1,000 (about US$10). He had two of them and was promising me the better one of the two, but there was some slight of hand and when I got back to my room I realised he’d given me the more inferior one. I was a bit annoyed – more at myself than him, as he was obviously saving it for someone who will pay more – because I should have double checked it before handing over the money. Saying that, I now have a flute from Kathmandu, it’s in tune and plays well so that’s the main thing! After my negotiations with the street seller we’d gone a bit off piste so the landmarks I had remembered were nowhere to be found. I knew the general direction I needed and after some zig-zagging I recognised where I was and found the shop with the poles (10% discount, didn’t even have to haggle). 

A bit bored with the hustle and bustle of Thamel, I decided to walk to the Narayanhiti Palace Museum which was close by. As I was walking along the road a sign caught my eye, it said: “The Garden of Dreams”. Someone had told me about this place, it’s a garden in the middle of Kathmandu with a nice cafe. It was lunchtime so I thought, why not? The place was built in 1920 in the Edwardian style and has three pavilions, a small amphitheatre and a couple of ponds. It was really lovely and peaceful and just what I needed after a couple of hours in Thamel. As it was about 2pm I decided to have some lunch and thought I’d try a local dish called Mo:Mo. They are smallish filled dumplings and I had a choice of veg or chicken. I decided to go for chicken and when I asked if it was spicy “No Ma’am” was the answer. Hmmm, I think the waiter and I have differing opinions on the meaning of spicy! I tried my best and ate about 6 of them (I think there were 10) but quite a lot of the filling ended up staying on my plate, lol. But it was an experience, and I’ve since found out you can get non-spicy versions … apparently.

I didn’t make it to the museum as had to get back for a pedicure at a place called Harmony Spa in Boudha at 5pm. One of the ladies I had spoken to on my first morning at Rokpa had mentioned it, and I had stumbled upon it yesterday and thought I’d treat myself because of what I would be putting my feet through very soon. It was nice to sit there relaxing, and I now have pretty painted toenails 🙂

I spent my last evening in Boudha eating dinner in Flavours restaurant, it had become my favourite, and enjoyed a nice chicken stroganoff!

#28 Day 4: Kathmandu, Nepal

Thursday 30 March 2017

Reality strikes me today as I wake up at 4.30am and can’t get back to sleep. The first few days I was swept up in the hustle and bustle and are eager to get out there and explore, but it’s been full on and I’m feeling tired. Also, I know I have nothing specific to do today and that’s making me feel a bit lost. I think the hard part of the trip isn’t going to be trekking in the mountains or dealing with cheeky kids in the Galapagos, it’s going to be when I’m on my own and I have nowhere to be, no schedule, and my time’s my own. My life at home is full of routine, it’s what I like, it keeps me balanced and purposeful. While I hate getting up early I do actually like going to work as I enjoy it and I love the people I work with, and my life has a rhythm. 

Since I’ve been single I’ve gotten to know my friends a bit better and spent more time with them, and made new friends too, and I think my life is much richer now than it ever was having such amazing people around me. It’s at this point I want to say a few thank yous to various people – first of all to you, dear reader. Knowing that people are reading and are interested in what I’m doing, and encouraging me by posting comments, has spurred me on while I was preparing, and no doubt it will as I’m going along. Thank you to my family, who I don’t believe have read a single word of this blog and have not made a fuss at all about me doing this trip as they are now used to me going off on my travels (and know I’d hate a fuss) but who love, support and encourage me at every turn. Thank you to everyone who has given me cards and presents – Spenser (also an avid reader of this blog), Jennie P, Audrey & Nicola, Sarah and the family, Chris & Ron, Helen & Richard, Phil (at Christmas) and my amazing little team at work (Denise, Claudia, Marin, Mike & Kiran). Thanks to all my friends who’ve sent me good luck messages on text, WhstsApp and Facebook, and also to Federico for suggesting this little Guest House, Rokpa, which has been lovely and where the staff have made me feel very welcome.

Federico actually works here, but is in India on a course so I haven’t yet seen him! Rokpa is a charity and is run almost entirely by volunteers across the world helping people in need in India, Nepal and Tibet, as well as South Africa, Zimbabwe and other countries. In Kathmandu, it “gives new life and hope to the poor, homeless and deprived through a yearly soup kitchen, a women’s workshop, a medical tent and a children’s home for former street kids”. While I’ve not done anything practical like Federico, hopefully by staying here for a few days my financial contribution will help towards improving the life of someone who needs it.

So, back to this morning. At work when faced with a problem I find a solution so I knew I needed to find something to do and decided to visit Patan, once a city-state but now a suburb of Kathmandu separated by the river. It boasts the finest collection of temples and palaces in the whole of Nepal. I went to breakfast and ended up chatting with Lheisa (pronounced Lisa) who I’d met yesterday. She was off to another part of Nepal for a few days so I wouldn’t see her again, unless she comes to London (or I go to Dubai, as that’s where she’s working). She is an English literature teacher and works at a university in Dubai so we had some things in common. It was nice to make time to sit and chat, I am re-learning the art of conversation and it was interesting to talk to her and learn about her life. Hopefully I will meet lots of people on this trip and be similarly enriched.

Off she went and I thought I’d better get a move on as it was mid-morning. I went to the main road to get a taxi to Patan, however the traffic was bad and they wanted to charge an arm and a leg and said it would take 2hrs, so I had my map with me and I decided to walk as I reckoned it would take me about 2hrs and I wouldn’t have to pay a single paisa! By now it was about 11.30am and they say that only mad dogs and Englishmen walk around in the noonday sun. Well, there are certainly a lot of dogs around, and I was doing a good job of being a mad Englishwoman, as I later found out it is 9-10km from Boudha to Patan!

It was slow-going as I had to dodge all the people walking this way and that, dodge the motorcycles that often came up the pavement as a short cut (although this is nowhere near as bad as in Saigon), picking my way through the road works and occasionally stopping to consult the map. Now that I have my travel head on I’m much more switched on with map reading and am good at making mental notes when I take a turning if I know I’m coming back that way etc. The lady I met at the Hindu temple said I had a very good sense of direction. Haha! Yes, I do sometimes, good job she didn’t meet me in England when I was doing my practice walks!

Fortifying myself with a packet of ‘Kwiks’ crisps aka cheese balls on the way, I made it to the main square and then found a restaurant. I decided I was going to ignore this no meat advice and have a ‘buff’ chow mein. Ollie had been talking the night before about having buff skewers. Buff stands for buffalo, beef isn’t eaten due to religious reasons so they eat buffalo instead! It was ok, the whole thing was very salty presumably due to the soy sauce and I guess the meat is preserved in salt as well, but it filled a gap and then I paid my Rs 1,000 and went to look at the museum. 

It is a lovely building and houses 100’s of statues and carvings of Buddha and various Hindu Gods dating back to the 13th century. It was very peaceful inside and fascinating to read how they cast the bronze busts of Buddha using a method that starts off with wax! The temples in the square were badly damaged by the earthquake so there was scaffolding round most of them and people working on the reconstruction. One place that was untouched was the Golden Temple, a Buddhist monastery that has existed in its current form since 1409! I found my way there and had a little look around, it gets its name from the gilded metal plates that cover the roof and outside of the temple. It is quite small, but beautiful none the less. I decided I’d better get a taxi back otherwise it would be dark by the time I got back, so I walked back over the river and picked one up for Rs350 (bargain!) and was back in about half an hour as the traffic was not too bad.

I had one more mission to do before bed and that was to visit the tailor. There was one by Rokpa and that morning before setting off I had asked him sew a cord on my sunhat (so the mountain winds don’t blow it off my head!). I’d bought the cord and some cotton with me as I was intending to sew it myself but I thought I’d give him some easy money and have it sewn on by a machine, which will hopefully be more effective than my sewing! For those of you who I am Facebook friends with, in the picture of me wearing my rucksack on Day 1 you might have noticed various country flag patches sewn on. I started this 20 years ago on my first backpacking trip. Back then it was the thing to do – buy a sew-on patch from the country you visit and put it on your rucksack. These days it’s not so cool and people think you’re a bit of a try-hard, but it’s a tradition for me so I continue to do it. I’ve got a bit behind as they take ages to sew on and your fingers hurt trying to pierce the thick material, so I bought four of them with me and had found a Nepal one. I went back to the tailor to ask if they could do it for me, left it with him for about half an hour and came back to it all done. Hurrah. By the time I get home I’ll have a few more, so I’ll have to make myself sew them on before I put my rucksack back in the loft!

No meat for dinner, spinach rice and vegetables at Flavours, the restaurant I found on my first evening. I like it there and the food is good and simple – and not too expensive. Walked home to the dogs’ nightly chorus …

#27 Day 3 (pm): Kathmandu, Nepal

Wednesday 29 March 2017

I had been corresponding with a girl called Steph, here with her boyfriend Ollie, who was conducting some research of her own for a PhD and was already in Kathmandu. The Xtreme Everest organisers were also here as they were giving a two day conference this week, so I was due to meet them all at the Summit Hotel at 6pm (this is where we set off for the trek from and where I will be moving to on Saturday). I asked the Guest House (called Rokpa, I’ll explain how I ended up here another time) to arrange a taxi for me at 4.30pm so that I could get there a little earlier. I am hiring some kit from a trekking agency that have an office there so I wanted to check everything was ok, and also ask them for some trekking poles.

The guy who transferred me from the airport is actually the son of an older man who works here and he is the one they call when a guest asks for a taxi. He looked a bit worried when he found out where we were going and said it would cost Rs800 (about US$8) because of the traffic. We set off and got caught in the worst traffic I think I’ve ever been in. There is one main road out of Bhouda (where I am living) and two cars were at the junction of this road with their hazards on, one of them chocked with stones on its back wheels because this road is on quite a steep hill. We sat in the traffic for about 45mins, inching forward a few feet every 5mins as everyone fought for a spot in the one lane we had to go down to, as the traffic policemen let out a few cars at a time. I started to get worried that we wouldn’t make it as the next road we needed to go down is also really busy and we were bound to get caught in a jam there too. 

In the end it took us 1.5hrs to do a 30min trip, and I got there just on 6pm. The driver got a tip and the poor man asked if I wanted him to wait so he could take us to a place called Thamel, where we were going to eat, because I don’t think he wanted to drive back in all that traffic! As it happened, the XE people had only just got back and wouldn’t be ready until 7pm at the earliest so I had to let him go. I made a mental note to leave in the morning on Saturday in the hope the journey will be a little quicker.

It was nice to see some people I had already met on the Sheffield weekend, and meet some new ones. Everyone was in a good mood and we got some taxis to Thamel to a bar called Tom & Jerry’s. I had my first beer of the trip – it was called Everest – and won my first pool match (doubles) of the trip! From there we went to a place called “K-too!” to eat. It was serving steak, but everyone says don’t eat the meat over here so I decided not to have one but it was really nice and I wished I’d gone for it. 

By the time we finished it was around 11pm and I thought I’d better get back because Thamel is a bit of a way from Boudha and I didn’t know how to get to Rokpa in the dark, and what I also didn’t realise was that there are no streetlights on the roads so travelling at night is almost as scary as in the daytime as its pitch dark! While there are hardly any cars on the road, you can’t see the numerous pot holes and not every vehicle has lights. All the shops and houses are shut up so it’s really eerie as there is literally no one around. However, as when I got lost in a taxi in Abu Dhabi (trying to get back to Charlie’s house after getting the bus back from Dubai where I met with my cousin Ian), I was confident we would make it and between the driver and me we got back to Rokpa safely. A late night but an enjoyable one 🙂

#26 Day 3 (am): Kathmandu, Nepal

Wednesday 29 March 2017

After going to bed around midnight after finishing my blog, I was woken up by an insistent rhythmic tapping at around 6.30am. This was punctuated by some other louder bangs from time to time and sounds of men talking. My room is right at the front on the ground floor and I have a set of four floor to ceiling windows, with single pane glass (missing my triple glazing already!), so assumed it was the guest house staff setting up for breakfast and it would stop soon. It didn’t so I eventually got up and as I went to breakfast I looked up and saw that there is a building site next door. Note to self: try to go to bed earlier if I want to get more sleep!

There were two friendly-looking ladies having breakfast when I arrived and after a while we got talking. As they’d been here a few days longer than me they gave me some tips on what to see and do, and once I’d got a map from the nice man at reception I decided to visit Pashupatinath Temple. The temple is located on both banks of Bagmati River and is where Hindu’s go when they are about to die. When they do die they get cremated on the bank of the river and then their ashes float down the river – which eventually flows into the mighty Ganges. 

Ha to everyone who laughs at me for taking my umbrella on every holiday I go on! As well as the banging, I’d woken up with the familiar sound of rain and was very glad I had my waterproof jacket and umbrella. After deliberating for absolutely ages which muddy track I should go down from the main road, I successfully navigated my way to the temple and paid my 1,000 rupees to go in (about $US 10). Unfortunately only Hindus are allowed in the temple and, as I’d politely told the man who wanted to be my guide I wanted to wander about by myself, I wasn’t really sure where I was allowed to go! Luckily I bumped into a French-Canadian lady and we found our way around together.

It so happened that a ceremony was going on at the time. Watching from the opposite bank of the river it was upsetting to hear the wife (I presumed) of the deceased wailing and being helped to walk back up from the river bank, and seeing the body under an orange sheet with his bare feet sticking out. It’s said that if you die in this particular temple you are reborn as a human, so I hope whoever it was has now been reincarnated as a baby to continue the circle of life.

When I got my Yellow Fever jab I was advised to get the Rabies one too as the nurse was particularly worried about me getting bitten by a rabid dog in Kathmandu. Well, there are many, many stray dogs here but they are lovely and I want to pet them! They are mostly big dogs, Labrador size, but they either stand there, tails wagging, and watch the world go by or lie curled up in random places. I’m not sure what happens at night though, I think they play a game of ‘who can bark the loudest for longest’ because every so often a bout of barking breaks out, usually just when you’re trying to sleep … anyway, the reason I’m mentioning this is because it’s the monkeys you have to look out for and they can also have rabies.

After setting out mid-morning and then after the deliberating and walking there it was about mid-day, and then after wandering around it was probably after 2pm by the time we had finished. There were lots of monkeys around this temple but all was calm. I had a banana in my bag and as I was out of the Temple on the main road, on the other side of the river where the monkeys were, being a bit peckish I got it out and began to un-peel it. Out of nowhere this monkey materialised and jumped me, climbing up my body and clawing at my hand! I instinctively shook my arm and dropped the banana, at which point the monkey jumped off, snatched up the banana and proceeded to eat it. All this happened in a split second so it was over before I knew it. I had felt the monkeys claw on the palm of my hand, but as I had my waterproof on this luckily saved me so no skin was broken. A narrow escape and a lesson learned the hard way – do not eat if there are monkeys in the vicinity!!

I found my way back to the Guest House for lunch and got ready, as I was getting a taxi over to the Summit Hotel (where I will be moving to on Saturday) to meet some of the trekking group for dinner.