My First Night in Kathmandu

54 comments

My First Cold Night in Kathmandu

I hate arriving in a new city after dark and Kathmandu was a good reminder as to why. The bus dropped me off several kilometers from the touristed Thamel district, where I hoped to find a cheap room. It was dark, cold and dusty, with no road signs or street lamps and I had no idea where I was.

My first night in KathmanduA friendly Nepali recommended that I get off at the next stop, rather than go to the bus station which was even further away. This seemed like a good idea until the bus pulled away and I found myself standing in the dark by a busy road without a taxi in sight. Maybe I should have thought this through…

Worst of all, I didn’t know what a Nepali taxi even looked like and spent several minutes waving at passing families on their way home — they all waved back but looked a bit confused. Eventually I spotted the small unlit “Taxi” sign on a passing wreck of a car and was soon on my way for a quoted price of 200 rupees. I didn’t even bother to haggle.

Things were looking good for about five minutes and then we hit the traffic jam. It was a narrow, two-lane road and was backed up as far as I could see, which with all of the choking dust really wasn’t that far. We would sit in one spot for five minutes and then the line would move. My driver would start the engine, pull forward about ten feet and then shut it off again. To pass time, he played music on the stereo, repeatedly swapping flash cards to find the next Hindi pop hit.

After thirty minutes –and about 100 feet– the driver went to start the engine and, of course, the battery was dead. After waiting through several failed attempts at starting it and then watching him stare blankly at his cellphone for a minute, I helped him push the taxi to the side of the road while hundreds of car horns blared behind us. Thank you, DJ Park-n-Walk.

He demanded I pay 150 rupees as the hotel was only “200 meters that way” but I knew we hadn’t covered much distance so I gave him a 100-note and grabbed my bags. Finding the next taxi was easier, as all I had to do was walk down the line of stationary cars and find the next empty one. He wanted 200 rupees too.

But he knew the hotel I was looking for and after a few more minutes we passed the invisible barrier that was stopping traffic and we were on our way. Again. The 200 meters turned out to be over a kilometer and required four right turns and a shortcut down a dark alley that I wouldn’t have walked through alone if my life depended on it. I’d have never found the hotel on my own.

My first night in Kathmandu
My first night in KathmanduThe hotel itself proved to be pleasant, clean and fairly cheap: a single room on the fourth floor with shower and TV only cost 600 rupees ($7.50 US), with the seventh day free. Best of all, they had a nice balcony restaurant where I enjoyed a cold Gorkha beer and a thin steak with mushroom sauce. It was the first meat I’d eaten in months and made it all worthwhile.

Now, I hadn’t watched television in months and was pretty excited to learn that they had cable, so I’ll admit that I practically ran upstairs to my room after picking up a couple of beers and some snacks from the corner store. And I quickly discovered that the room must have been a recently-converted meat locker — I could see my breath, it was so cold and damp. The brick and cinder-block buildings in Kathmandu have little-to-no ventilation or heat and never seem to shed the cold from the night before. I climbed into my sleeping bag, slid it under the quilt and reached for the remote.

There wasn’t much on –it’s true the world over– and I found that my favorite channel was one that showed devotional videos. They featured background images of waves crashing in the moonlight and would pan the camera all around and zoom to and fro, but there’s really only so much you can do to jazz up a video of a chanting 80 year old man. Eventually I found the one English-language movie channel and suffered through half of Keanu Reeve’s remake of The Earth Stood Still and then RoboCop. No wonder everyone hates America.

While watching RoboCop, I learned why it’s a mistake to stay in the heart of the Thamel district: the world’s worst classic rock cover band fired up at a bar down the alley and I was quickly overpowered by a painful rendition of Smoke on the Water. The guitarist was actually pretty good but the drummer had the wrong set-list and was playing Sweet Home Alabama. The singer was truly awful, screaming and slurring the lyrics in a pitch that had every dog in town howling.

I really shouldn’t be so tough on the guy, in retrospect, as he seemed to be self-administering a steak knife vasectomy at the same time and that level of multi-tasking takes real talent.

My first night in KathmanduLooking back, I can remember being young and wise and proclaiming “if it’s too loud, you’re too old!” to anyone who would listen. I can safely say now that I’m too old. When the power went out, as it does several times a day in Nepal, I actually cheered. This being a common occurrence, they were prepared and started up a generator as the band launched into a blurry cover of No Woman, No Cry. I cried.

So when the generator finally ran out of fuel at 10:30, and the neighborhood went blessedly silent, I raised a lit lighter as a salute. And for the warmth.

 

 

You might also enjoy these related posts:

54 comments on “My First Night in Kathmandu

  1. Jeez. You really didn’t rate Nepal, did you? Auto-castrating guitarists? Excellent stuff.

    • Nah, I loved Nepal (tho it was cold and rainy while I was there). But that first day was rough. After a bumpy 10-hour bus ride, a softer landing would have been nice…

  2. “Eventually I found the one English-language movie channel and suffered through half of Keanu Reeve’s remake of The Earth Stood Still and then RoboCop. No wonder everyone hates America.”

    Haha! ;-)

  3. Was laughing so hard by the time you said “I cried”.
    Lovely pics Wes!

  4. Love that 2nd photo, the blue become such a beautiful background color.

  5. Ah, one of my favorite cities in the world. If you want to ditch the tourist crowd (but not completely) there a really cool part of town just south (walking distance) of Thamel near the bagh bazaar. Have fun.

  6. Great fun! And well observed. Fairly confident (and indeed looking forward to reading it) your experience of this magical place will improve dramatically. I suspect the classic; “run for the hills” was once upon a time, coined right there in Thamel!

    But don’t run too soon. Kathmandu hides some extraordinary treasures, for those stoic enough to seek them out.

    Good luck.

    ps amazing photos!

  7. Awesome photos as always Wes! :D

    I’m guessing that when you lived in Austin, it was far far away from downtown? :P

  8. Top post Wes! I’ve lost count the amount of bands I’ve heard butchering Smoke on the Water, so I feel your pain.

    The new format looks great as well.

  9. As always, i like your sense of humor and story telling art. And of course the photos :)

  10. Gorgeous pics. Great post and that last line was classic. “And for the warmth.” This is precisely the reason why I hate going to Asian mountain areas — it’s too cold, which is I guess a relief from the too hot of most everywhere else in Asia — but, I’d rather sweat it out than freeze it out.

  11. Great shots and story – really gives people who haven’t been there a little insight into the culture.

  12. Great post, nice pictures, and excellent use of humor. That sensation you have when first realizing you have made a mistake is always memorable, especially in unknown places. Looking forward to more-

  13. Love the pics and the humor. Thanks for sharing.

  14. yo,

    what’s the name of the hotel at which you spent the first seven days? the one with the ghorka beer and steak? please tell.

    russ

  15. Top form Wes, really top! I’m definitely not staying in Thamel after that story (but def am staying in KTM).

  16. I’m from Kathmandu and sounds like you got ripped off at those cab fares. You should try and befriend a local and ask him to show you around so they don’t keep on charging you ”tourist” prices. Trust me, you’ll save a lot of money.

    • Oh, I totally got ripped off — you’re absolutely right. But I was a foreigner who didn’t know where I was, lugging a huge backpack in the dark. Fresh meat ;)

      Thanks for the comment!

  17. DonaKay Rein on said:

    I can’t wait to meet you in person some day. I laughed so hard…let’s just say I have more laundry to do! I’m contantly amused by your ability to roll with the punches. I think your mom had them play sweet home alabama so you might get homesick! haha Best wishes sent your way!

  18. Shite, bad music from America transcends borders. Are you proud? I’d be.

  19. What a rough landing Wes, I’m pretty sure you expected something different. I had for years pictured Kathmandu as a remote yet absorbing location, however it seems things have changed quite a bit. If you at least had had better weather when there…Oh, and kid yourself not: we all hate noise when trying to relax and are in a somber mood :)

  20. nice narration of your travel experience in Nepal… I’m missing Nepal and this post made me want to go back…

  21. I really in joy reading this Wes it makes me happy to know your living your dream.

  22. Jeez – are u still here? I leave for Pokhara on the 16th but tomorrow is fairly gree if you’re here and want to get together. I also have a love hate relationship with KTM. Been here 10 days and it’s 5 days too long. But I will say that I walk thru the dark, intimidating-looking streets of Thamel and Chhetrapati all alone after dark and feel perfectly safe. Now Pokhara, that’s an entirely different matter. It’s my second home and I love it there. If you haven’t been, you definitely should check it out.

    • Oh, I would have loved to meet up, but I left KTM quite awhile ago. In Chiang Mai now. I really liked Pokhara though it was rainy and cool when I was there and I didn’t get to really explore it well. Next time! ;)

  23. Wes,
    Love the format, the storytelling, the photos, wow. But.. are you trying to imply that robocop is a bad movie? Because that would be crazy talk..
    - Phil

  24. I love the new format — works very well since you have such vibrant photos!

  25. funny stuff man, funny stuff! The vision of this rag-tag band about to fire up the generator much to your dismay had my chuckling.

  26. I would have thought Bob Seger would have been a staple. Thankfully not. Even the original makes me dive for a radio station change.

  27. Johnny, most excellent description of the place. I was in Katmandu in ’83, suspect it has changed quite a bit since then but the weather and general ambience that washes over the place runs circles around most other places I have been to. In a few months I will be forced retire from my job and will be back there to recollect those days of old. Gerat composition in the photos.

    • Thanks, Tom. People I spoke with said KTM had changed a lot during the last 5 years due to the Maoist problems. They said a lot of people from the smaller towns and villages had been forced to move to KTM for safety, creating overcrowding issues. An amazing place, regardless, and I’m sure it’ll surprise you in new and interesting ways. Thanks for the comment.

  28. Too funny man! Love the new layout too.

  29. 200 Rupees airport to Thamel. That’s what it cost me in 2009 for that trip.

  30. Shree on said:

    I cannot thank you enough for the couple of stories you’ve done on Nepal Wes. Born and raised in Kathmandu and went to the army college in Bhaktapur for about a year before my whole family moved to the States, I miss my country every single day. Your photography and stories (very funny yet very insightful) are so different than all the ones you see and read by “googling”. I am very glad that you focused on little things- the back alleys (gallis), the century old door handles, street vendors. I got teary eyed looking at all the pictures and made me miss Nepal that much more. Been here in the States for over 13 years, my whole family is here and I am living a wonderful life with my kuire (American) husband and my golden retriever, Ginger but I let out a big sigh of what felt like heartache.
    I really hope that you get a chance to go back. I am looking forward to the stories about the people, sceneries and endless haggling you might encounter when you do go back. Some cities I would like to suggest visiting for you are Nagarkot (maybe two hours from Kathmandu), Pokhara (though I think you visited but I want to see how you capture the mountains and the lakes), Gosaikunda and Lumbini (birthplace of Buddha).
    You are doing a wonderful job and I am addicted to your blog now.
    Take care and be safe out there (wherever ‘there’ is).

  31. Martin Szekeresh on said:

    Good stuff Wes:
    Especially, “as the band launched into a blurry cover of No Woman, No Cry. I cried.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *

256,829 Spam Comments Blocked so far by Spam Free Wordpress

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge