“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”
It’s easier to look back than to look forward. When leaving Myanmar, I thought of everything I’ll miss there and the many people and places I couldn’t meet and see. It’s almost a special ability to be able to let yourself completely to the feeling of excitement about the new destination, without turning back. Oh well, I’m still learning and practice is essential 🙂
The way is the goal
The tricky part of new places is that you first need to get there. Leaving Myanmar I was on my own again. My first flight took me from Yangon to Bangkok where I got a fancy place at “Hotel Airport” with easy access toilet/bathroom, located just several steps away from my gate… literally. My flight on the next morning at 8:10 would have taken me to Kuala Lumpur where I would get my connection flight to my final destination. But chance had prepared something more exciting for me. At 7:20 I was approached by a widely smiling Thai lady and I was told that my flight is cancelled and I can take the next one few hours later. When I mentioned that I would miss my connection flight, she kindly proposed the interesting solution that I just have to buy a new ticket… Fortunately, her boss and her boss’s boss were more talkative and reasonable.
Eventually, I got a replacement flight from Kuala Lumpur on the next day which meant that I had to sleep again at the airport, this time in Kuala Lumpur. Quite lucky! When I arrived in Malaysia, the day was relatively young so I took a bus to the city. It’s hard to talk even about a first impression after spending just several hours in a place. Still, Kuala Lumpur surprised me. I thought that the Bangkok’s skyscraper and modern building culture is impressive but the concrete jungle of Kuala Lumpur astonished me. For the straight line of 2km between the train station and the city center I needed 2, 5 hours by walk including crossing a city highway. Looking up, one’s sight is limited by massive modern buildings. On them, bank and company logos were competing on high altitude who is bigger and more shiny. Few historical buildings as the Merdeka Square and the Sultan Abdul Samad building caught my attention. The obvious cultural mix of the city was impressive as well. Without doubt, the highlight of my short walk were the Petronas Twin Towers. At night, the towers looked like a giant light bowl. Every time my eyes concentrated on a certain building part, I could recognize another beautiful detail. I spent almost an hour glazing these beautiful buildings, almost missing the last bus to the airport.
On the next morning I was woken up by a group of young students and their teacher who asked me kindly to move because I was sleeping in the area where they have their morning exercises 🙂 This time – the flight had only a delay and late at the evening I finally arrived.
Arriving in Kathmandu, Nepal
Airports are often the most modern part of a city. I guess it’s a matter of image to give a good first impression to visitors. Well, Kathmandu is an exception. As basic as possible for an international airport, no advertisements, no company offices – just simple functional halls which gave me the feeling of emptiness. It reminded me of an old, barely used train station. Considering the current petrol crisis, I got lucky to get a transport to the city center with a guy I met on the airplane.
Due to the lack of transport possibilities and the late hour, I couldn’t reach my couchsurfer so I had to spontaneously look for an accommodation. By lucky chance, a young Nepali girl heard that I’m asking people around for a hostel and showed me the way to the Fireflies Backpacker hostel (later more about it). After that I joined her and her Spanish friends for a dinner in a local restaurant.
At this point I’d like to introduce you Swekshya: The first hour, while telling her my story, I thought I was speaking to a girl grown up in the center of Kathmandu. Then, with a smile on her face, she explained me how her house was destroyed in the earthquake so she, her sister and her mother moved to the Chuchepati camp in Kathmandu where they live for the last five months. She was going to university but had to stop after the earthquake in order to teach English (for 45€ a month!) to support her mother. Unfortunately, she would probably lose her job in several weeks because the organization, which finances her, is leaving Kathmandu. Now imagine hearing that story from a smiling girl with no visible signs of unhappiness or worries. I was quite shocked. I’m sure she has her worries but the way she seemed to deal with them and not letting them affect her attitude was remarkable. Then she told me about her dream (and her mother’s) that one day she will visit another country. I must be honest – at some point, the thought of a possible scam went through my mind (I’m not quite proud of that). Soon though, I realised that she won’t ask for any help but rather just wanted to share her story and experiences. It was an evening full with conversations, laughter and of course me learning my first Nepali words. Wow, what a first night in Nepal! We said goodbye with the promise of me visiting the Chuchepati camp.
Kathmandu or the beauty of the chaos
I turned out to be in Nepal in a very exciting political times. Due to protests on the south border of the country (directly supported by India), the petrol deliveries from India to Nepal were stopped which resulted in a massive fuel crisis in the country. Basically, India tried to punish Nepal for creating a new constitution (a very liberal and modern one in fact) and wanted to put pressure on Nepal to also get an easier access to its water resources which India plans to use for multi-billion projects. Long story short – Nepal was out of fuel. Many vehicles waited for days on a queue to get a maximum of five liters on a price five times higher than the normal. Big part of the fuel came from the black market of people transporting fuel over the border on their back. As a result, the transportation in Nepal was a very challenging tasks. Just few buses ran between the cities and they were very expensive and massively packed. Often people were riding ON TOP of the bus together with some luggage. So I had to abandon my plans of hitchhiking through the country and concentrate on the few regions which were more accessible.
I spend the first five days exploring Kathmandu and its people. The vibe of this city is unique and something I’ve never seen before. Now, Thailand was dynamic but relatively clean and organized. Myanmar was quite chaotic and primitive (I don’t mean it in a bad way at all) but due to the lack of any essential economy or trade – it still felt quite and laid back. But Kathmandu… oh my. It’s where the intense dynamics of daily life meet the chaos and disorder. It seemed that something was happening all the time but I couldn’t get which rules were defining it. Motorbikes, bicycles, cars and buses were rushing around. In Thamel (the touristy part) I was offered a ride or something to buy every 50 meters. From time to time, a goat or a cow (just having a walk on the street) would put some diversity in the picture of the city dynamics. The narrow streets were full with vendor shops, butcheries, tea shops, cafes. On some random corner, a Hindu temple would appear or the sound of some Krishna songs would fill the air. All this mix gave me the feeling that the city was pulsating with a very genuine cultural vibe that I’ve never seen before. In this chaos, I felt strangely safe and comfortable. I felt like I cannot do anything wrong because everyone seemed to do what they want.
I wouldn’t say that Kathmandu is a sightseeing city because the “famous” places weren’t that many. At the same time, for me it is one of the best places to get lost. A random walk around the city (and especially outside of touristy Nepal) would bring one many surprises around the corner. Finding small shops and “restaurants” with delicious and sometimes ridicolously cheap food prepared by the family in front of you, was a pleasant challenge. Visiting Durbar square (despite the many destroyed temples) gave me a great insight in the old Nepali (Hindu/Buddhist) culture and architecture. Still, much better that the sightseeing was the football game with some local kids on a side street next to the square.
One of my favorite places turned out to be the Monkey temple (Swayambhunath) – a mixture of Buddhist and Hindu temples located on a hill above the city. The green gardens and tons of Tibetan flags connecting the temples created a mystical feeling on this place. And of course – the monkeys. It’s impossible to stay serious at the glance of a monkey hanging its both legs from a statue with another one sitting on the first one’s face…
The people of Kathmandu
Just on my way back from the monkey temple I had the most genuine meeting with bunch of kids which taught me how to control their kite (which I was honostly really bad at). The oldest one spoke decent English so we could talk about his life and perspectives. One thing I kept hearing – his dream was to visit the amazing Europe where people are so happy. While visiting Europe can indeed be a great experience for a Nepali child, I didn’t feel quite alright with the fact that they look up so much on the Western world. I tried to explain that not everyone (by far) is happy in Europe despite all the comforts of the life and that the beauty of their culture and their country is something unique they should be proud and happy about. Probably I cannot either imagine as well how they feel and live or maybe just most people want what they don’t have. OK, I’ll stop with the deeper philosophical discussions. It was lovely to meet these guys.
The adventerious vibe of Kathmandu attracts the respective people. Just in several days I got to know some great human beings. An important contribution to that had my hostel (Fireflies backpackers), created by young Nepali guys who are ahead of several volunteering projects. One awesome person I met is Big Jack, a big Maori guy who came from New Zealand and runs for more than four months volunteering projects to support remote areas affected by the earthquake. Or Prashant – an amazing Nepali guy (cousine of a friend from Germany) with whom I found so fast a common language and mindset. And of course Noam – an Israeli guy who left the army after six years of service and travels the world since. Just few hours after our meeting in a hidden small local restaurant, we were exploring the small streets of Kathmandu behaving like good old friends. Even though I want to tell you about all the special people I met these days, I guess some things just cannot be told by words.
Kathmandu and its people really enchanted me. After the first day, it was clear to me that I’ll extend my stay in Nepal. Still, on the forth day in the city I felt that I need to continue to the places which brought me in this country on the first place. I felt that I need to replace the dusty loud streets with a chilly quiet beautiful place. The mountains were calling.
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