- Royal bloodbaths and Maoist rebellions
- Mountainbiking around Phewa Lake
- Shekkhar and the Babylon Cafe
- Challenging our new friends in Carrom
- Hiking to the World Peace Pagoda and finally swimming
- Succulent fish and breath-taking sunsets
- Never take a bus hungover in Nepal
- Arriving in the capital of Nepal
- A classic Basti
- Planning our trek
- Birthday plans
I am in Kathmandu now, the capital of Nepal and there is lots to catch up! Last time I wrote to you, we had just arrived in Pokhara, after a long, tedious bus ride taking more than three days.
Royal bloodbaths and Maoist rebellions
First of all, I want to tell you a bit about Nepal’s recent history, as it´s very peculiar and unique. Nepal has always been a little bit behind, and it still is. Tourism was not allowed until the 1950s and still today Nepal relies 100% on India. Until 2001 a very popular king was reigning. Then, his son stormed a family dinner, shot around and killed 10 members of the royal family, among them the queen, the king and eventually himself. This was a shock for the country, especially because all of the evidence was destroyed straight away, bodies cremated and the building torn down. As a result the reasons behind this massacre are still and will always be unknown. After this the other brother came into power. He was in Pokhara during the massacre. But this guy is a mess and very corrupt trying to get even richer with every opportunity.
As a result of the horrible politics of this king, Maoist rebel groups emerged. They led a civil war against the king and his tough grip on them just increased their popularity even more. These Maoist groups occupied the country and trekkers had to pay them money to be able to go trekking. The US declared that these groups were terrorists as they were very left-winged and you can imagine why the US didn’t like this. They supported the king with millions of dollars but in 2008 the rebellion finally succeeded and the king had to resign due to the massive support of the Maoist groups, who got the task of writing a new constitution and assemble a parliament. Until today this has not happened. Today it´s one of the few countries where energy supply even in the capital is not guaranteed, on the contrary it´s cut off for up to 18 hours per day and we rely on generators of the hotels and shops. In Pokhara it was the same and I can imagine that in the country side they do not have any sort of electricity at all. Fuel can only be imported from India and at the moment India has been refusing to do so for the last 3 weeks and the fuel is basically not available anymore. Well this to give you a short background knowledge. now back to us
Mountainbiking around Phewa Lake
Coming back to where I left you: Yassin felt better and we decided to take it slowly and do stuff around Pokhara. First, we went to the International Mountaineering Museum, which sounds great, well it was not. They basically printed out pixled pics from Google and put them into a huge hall. This was the museum, but hey, this is Nepal!
So we decided, instead of going to museums, lets enjoy what Nepal is famous for, its nature! We took our bikes which we rented for the entire time, and rode along the coast of the lake. It is amazing. You share the road with cows, bulls, dogs, goats, cats and humans and it changes from concrete, to mud, and sometimes even to rivers where no scooters or anything could pass. But with our bikes we were able to drive very far down and got to remote villages where people rely 100% on their own production. They have 2 bulls for milk and workforce, a little rice field irrigated by the hundreds of rivers rushing down from the mountains and get fish from the lake in front of the door. But even here you will always get cigarettes and alcohol (the former pleases Yassin very much in contrast to the conservative antismoking Indians).
Then we just chilled down in some family run café, that is to say they put 2 chairs next to the lake and you could try to order, but in the end you just get what they have. So we chilled, drank tea and tried Lala´s method of producing authentic hash, by rubbing your hand slowly against each other and pressing little marihuana leaves in between your hands. This massively failed, but I guess it just takes more time. Not that we need it, but we wanted to get the real experience.
Also near the lake is the “Happy Village”, it´s really the name of the village. And we found this one place where you could just chill all day, you can go swimming in the beautiful lake, order an amazing iced lemon tea while watching the sunset.
Shekkhar and the Babylon Cafe
On the way back to Pokhara we wanted to play some pool. When I heard pool balls in the distance I looked up and glimpsed this bar on a rooftop. We went there, and it changed our Pokhara experience, as we would chill here the next days, all of the time. It’s the Babylon and run by Shekkhar and his best friend. His story is also very impressive. He lost his parents when he was very young and moved to Lakeside, the touristy part of Pokhara, as soon as he could work. There he met his best friend and both of them struggled through shit jobs from one hotel to the next, slowly saving up money.
Now, after 10 years, they had enough money to rent their own place and the two set up the Babylon! It´s just so amazing. A rooftop with a view over the lake, there is a pool table, a Carrom board (more about that later), drinks and the most amazing food. Ah and the music: basically he picked up a few CDs from travellers he met in Pokhara. And the result is the weirdest, best playlist ever. Beatles, old school hip-hop, dub step, bob Dylan, bob Marley, nirvana, Chinese man records and so on, just soo good. Moreover they grow their own vegetables in a garden nearby and cook them, maybe the best vegetables I ever ate. Well we chilled a bit but went home early as we were both still quite tired.
The next morning we went to Shekkhar´s straight away. We just wanted to have breakfast, Well we arrived at 10am and left at midnight. The breakfast was just so good and I will keep the bill of that day, it goes like this: 2 breakfast, tea, pool, pool, pool, dhal with rice, Cuba libre, pool, 2 banana pancakes, pool, cuba libre…… and we paid around 10 euros for the entire day. Well that’s Nepal!
Challenging our new friends
We got to know Shekkhar and his friend better and they told us stories about Nepal and themselves. But most of all we started playing Carrom board! We had already seen it and given it a shot in Rishikesh, but didn’t really understand it. It is basically the most popular game in Nepal. It’s a relatively big wooden board with 4 holes, one in each corner. The aim is to flip coins into the holes using another white coin and flipping it. It’s a little bit like pool. The first time we played both me and Yassin did not pot a single coin. Our first one-on-one game lasted for 2 hours. Towards the end, bam bambababam, bam! We played 3 days straight and it´s simply addictive.
You can play one-on_one, then there is the game for 3 “Saddhu” (which are the holy people without money, and the losers of the game are called Saddhus and have to go to the “temple”) and the best game, the 2 on 2. We played so much, best game ever, and very sociable and chilled as well! Unfortunately we were the only customers in the Babylon but we are very confident that this place will be packed in a few years, as it just gives you everything you need.
The two of them were also very good at pool and they challenged us to play two on two for money (it was not our idea, but they insisted), well what they didn’t know is that me and Yassin we are two damn good pool players and we have a lot of experience playing together, we played 2 euros a game and financed half of the day´s expenses by winning them J .
It´s really weird because in Pokhara if you go out on the street at 9pm it´s deserted, nothing, everything closes very early. But both me and Yassin we are sure give this place 10 years and it will boom. The people, the food, the location, the atmosphere are just amazing and we didn’t even get to see the mountain range.
Hiking to the World Peace Pagoda and finally swimming
After having spent the entire day before at Shekkhar´s, we thought that this day should be a little bit more active. There is a stupa (a Buddhist temple) on top of a hill overlooking the lake. We took a beautiful trail up the jungle and up there the view was amazing! On clear days you get a view on all of the Annapurna range peaks. Unfortunately, monsoon season did not allow us this magnificent view. Nevertheless, we had one of the best deserved and nicest cokes of this trip and were happy to have walked up on the flat, scenic mountain trail rather than the steep stairs we took down.
When we got down again we finally decided to go swimming. Because in this book called Lonely Planet they strongly advise you not to go swimming as it´s so polluted blablablabla. And we idiots believed that for 3 days, and the first time we actually jumped in we didn’t want to get out again. Coming back to that. I mean without a guide book it´s difficult, but the Lonely Planets are just sooo deceiving sometimes, everything they claim is bad turns out to be good, and the other way round. We start doing stuff because they say it´s not nice in the book. Not even to mention the accommodation, which they always get wrong and we just look for it ourselves now, and ever since we have found the best rooms for cheap rates!
Succulent fish and breath-taking sunsets
We went having some fish in a little hut in the Happy Village, which is amazing as you eat it 2 m away from the lake, and it tastes so fresh. The rest of the afternoon was just swimming, drinking nice iced lemon tea, eating fish, watching the beautiful sunset, swimming, talking, perfect.
After that, last night at Sikhar’s! First we helped him with his next major project: putting all of his music on his new bought iPod (which for us is normal, he saved up so much money just to buy it). After that we challenged them. For the first time me and Yassin felt like challenging the two Nepalese guys in Carrom (before we split up and played with one of them each). Obviously we lost every single game for 6 ours, but we had some match balls, and we played some fine shots! They were really proud of us and we played until 4 am along with Cuba libres. We got their details and will stay in touch 100%, not only for the Carrom board but also because I just respect these two so much and we really want to help them advertising their place to people we know and by writing to guidebooks suggesting the Babylon.
Never take a bus hungover in Nepal
Since today I know I should never take a public bus in Nepal after having slept 2 hours only and being hung over! We had to take the 7 hours bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu at 7am. The alarm didn’t work and I still don’t know why I woke up by myself at 6am and how I managed to get up. Well we did. In a series of classic coincidences we managed to get to the bus station and hopped on the bus. I told you that the Nepalese are not as much into snacks as the Indians, but this day I found out, they never have snacks! I needed to eat (remember the hangover), all I had in my belly was Cuba libres from the night before and the bus was speeding along the main highway of Nepal. As I told you this means a windy road, full of turns, mud, exposed and one way only, which does not mean that there are not buses coming the other way. And you would think that they break to make sure that both will pass safely, well wrong. I guess they are so happy with their lives here and don’t care about dying that they just passed with literally 2 cm between the two buses and 2cm next to the void. Ah and the music! Full power, 6am, Nepalese folk music. Usually a guy and a woman singing as high pitched as they can, and this one damn instrument, which is always there, in every song and it sounds like a horrible drum! And if they want to take a break from Nepalese music, what do they play: Justin Bieber! True story!
Well I was very close to puking out of the window when we finally stopped around noon and we got the chance to eat. I made the mistake of putting the entire bowl of chilli sauce (which is meant as dip for deep fried stuff, but I didn’t know that) into my noodles, it was far too spicy but I was hungry and had to eat, so I did, much to the discontent of my digestion the next day. Well that’s Nepal!
The bus ride was horrible, no other word for it. When we eventually arrived in Kathmandu around 3pm, we got kicked out on a highway outside of the city: great!
Arriving in the capital of Nepal
We heard lots of bad things about Kathmandu and were originally planning to stay only one night and then take off immediately, but then we got to the city centre and fell in love with this city. Who has been to Bangkok, it´s like Kao San Road, just without all the hassle. A lot of backpackers, nice little alleyways, and lots and lots of shops! We also found a great hotel and decided to stay here a few days!
I got in touch with Dee Besh’s sister Dina, who is a doctor here in Kathmandu and she came over with her car to show us around. She is sooo cool. She is Dee´s older sister and I mean you guys know how we think of Dee, for her it’s the younger brother, and she takes the piss out of him all of the time. She has been to school in India for 12 years, studied in China for 8 and been to Europe for 2 years. As a result she speaks perfect Hindi, Nepalese, Chinese and English but decided to work here in Kathmandu and live with her family. Dee Besh´s family is quite influential here and if I got it right his father imports whatever the country needs, or better whatever there is a demand for in Nepal. He made a fortune with generators (most of them are imported by him, and I told you how important they are), then other goods, hydropower technology, just everything.
Dina is very cool and funny and she speaks perfect English, which is great because we got to ask her everything concerning Nepal’s history, feature, and just things we needed to sort out. She is very helpful and the hospitality she gives us is great. She brought us out for dinner to a Nepalese restaurant outside of Kathmandu and is taking care of everything. Today we got their driver Narayan and their car to show us around, then she wants to do loads of stuff with us when we are back from trekking. Day trips to some nice places, wild water rafting, maybe bungee jumping (although I am not too keen on doing that), and well just lots of stuff. And she doesn’t want us to pay a dime, as for her it’s normal that we are the guests, we come to Nepal, and she wants to give us the best possible impression of her country. But if you know Dee you can imagine her, as crazy as him.
I am very happy to have this opportunity as with her we can really explore the original Kathmandu and Nepal while asking everything we want to know.
Planning our trek
Today the plan is quite chilled: shopping shopping shopping! They have amazing outdoor stuff, down jackets, cashmere sweaters and lots of other stuff. We are going to buy lots of stuff and Dina will send it back to Europe for us. And we have to find a map. Because tomorrow we are going trekking. We decided to do the Langtang trek instead of Annapurna or Everest basecamp. The latter are more famous and crowded, but they go up to 5000m and I mean I am quite experienced but it’s the Himalayas and I still have an injured foot, and Yassin is not really into mountaineering and smokes a lot. So we decided to go for the chilled-out Langtang trek. It’s a 7 day trek which goes up to 3800 m and our Chilean friend Andres who we met in Amritsar did it and told us great stories about it.
You walk in this valley, pass villages every 2 hours, where you can sleep in teahouses for nothing and eat their food cooked on the fire. It´s just nature, Himalayan peaks, probably a lot of rain and nature, nature, nature. You can also do day trips from the valley up to other spots, which we might do on a nice day, but everything chilled, we are here to have a good time not to do some real mountaineering. I will come back for that in a few years, 100%. So yeah Langtang. It will take around 10 days all in all and don’t expect any mails, as I am happy if they manage to boil some rice there. We plan to be back around the 21st 22nd to stay 2 more days in Kathmandu and then make our way back to India to Darjeeling! I am very excited about the trekking and we just need to sort some stuff out, but Dina is very helpful and she will take stuff from us these days and we have her number in any case of emergency, but like I said, the Langtang trek is the most chilled you can do, so there shouldn’t be any problems.
Ah and I don’t know if I already said it, but we booked our flights to Koh Phi Phi, And on the 28th we are going straight from Bangkok to Phi Phi, for some crazy birthday partying! We thought that after 6 weeks of mountains, nature, bus rides, temples, spiritual stuff we deserve some old-fashioned “gap year” Phi Phi partying! I have been there last year, and I can´t wait to spend my birthday in a club on the beach with a bucket of whisky/coke/red bull in my hand.
Well guys stay safe and I will write again after I get back from Langtang. Nepal is amazing, come here as soon as you can and go to Shekkhar´s!