I've been in Kathmandu for three days and we've been out and about for all three days. Always the eternal question, Where do I begin?
Perhaps I should begin with two very big decisions I've made in the past week. The first is that I've decided to go back to China in December and find a job teaching English. I'm in touch with several different agencies and it is my hope to live somewhere in the Southwest of China, perhaps even Yanghsuo! The prospect of returning back to America only to find that I don't have a job or an apartment just isn't that appealing. It's downright daunting. On the flipside, I had a great time in China, there is a huge demand for English teachers, and it will allow me to continue this adventure of a lifetime. The downside? I won't get to see any of my friends for a very long time and I won't get to be with my family for the holidays.
The other decision isn't really quite as big, but is still super exciting. Mimi and I have signed up for a sixteen day trek through the Himalayas. This means that we will literally be walking on foot through some of the highest, most beautiful mountains and valleys in the entire world. We actually spent a good portion of the last few days going to different trekking agencies in order to learn more information and find the best deal. We also met with a couple of different guides before we settled on one that we felt comfortable with. Our guide will responsible for keeping us on the right path, as well as finding us the best accomodations each night. He also will (hopefully) be able to take us to some "off the beaten path" destinations along the way and teach us something about the local cultures and areas.
We are going on what is called the Annapurna Circuit Trek. It's highlight is undisputedly the Thorung La Pass, which at 5416 meters is one of the highest passes in the world that doesn't require mountaineering gear. To put it another way, we'll be at a higher altitude than anywhere in all of North America. Later in the trek, we will also be passing through one of the deepest valleys in the entire world. The Annapurna region also has incredibly diverse cultures and people. Like with so many of the best things in life, I'm simultaneously nervous and excited. I was a little nervous about the safety aspect of the trek, but after doing quite a bit of research and talking with our guide, I feel much more comfortable. And besides, you only live once. I came all the way to Nepal, and it just wouldn't make any sense not to trek through the world's tallest mountains. We leave on October 19. Sadly, this means there will be no blog updates from October 19 to November 3. I'm bringing a notebook though and plan to write journal entries each night.
Now, what else? Well, Kathmandu is a very interesting place. As a Westerner, it is impossible to escape the tourist district known as Thamel. My immediate comparison was with the other "tourist ghetto" I recently visited, Th Khao San in Bangkok. In many ways, the two areas are very similar. Thamel is bustling with backpackers, trekkers, spiritual seekers and what I call "lifers," meaning people who came to Kathmandu and then never left. The area is also swarming with a vast array of budget accomodations, bizarrely comprehensive restaurants (more on that in a bit), trekking shops, hash dealers, book stores, Buddhist/Tibetan craft stores, and bicycle rickshaw drivers. There is even the occasionally Nepali person as well. Hehe.
But somehow, despite the tourist vibe, Thamel didn't immediately rub me the wrong way. Th Khao San instantly struck me as an invasive, inappropriate neighborhood that had gotten out of hand. Maybe the shock just isn't as bad the second time around, but I actually kind of dug the vibe in Thamel. Instead of booze buckets, the bars here limit themselves to a pint of beer. There is no air of decadence. At the same time, Thamel is a lot of fun. Wandering through the bookstores, I had a blast flipping through the coffeetable books filled with amazing pictures of the Himalayas. It's also been fun chatting with other travelers about their recent trekking adventures. The other Westerners here don't rub me the wrong way as they did in Bangkok. In Kathmandu, everyone seems to be on the same page. Everyone seems to be on the same budget as well.
Like in any tourist area, the most annoying thing about Thamel is the hawkers and pushers. I've become incredibly skilled at brushing aside aggresive would-be tour guides and taxi drivers, but the guys in Thamel take it to a whole new level. Everybody and their older brother works for a trekking agency, and they all have business cards that they want to unload on you. Everyone and their younger brother also apparently deals hash in Thamel, and the dealers here are aggressive and in your face. They literally pop out of nowhere and come right up to your face, whispering in the sketchiest voice possible one long, convoluted word, "Smokehashishmarijuanasmoke," or some combination thereof. Sometimes, I can see them preparing to saunter up to me from a block away. In these instance, I can prepare my negative reply thoroughly. Othertimes, they come out of nowhere and are somehow in my ear before I can adequately prepare a rebuttal. In any event, I always ask myself, who would be stupid enough to buy drugs off the street in a foreign country. Given by the number of dealers, the answer is apparently everybody.
Sometimes I wonder if I like Kathmandu so much because the things that annoy me about big Asian cities have simply faded into the background. Upon arriving in China, drawbacks such as air and noise pollution were quite bothersome. But after a few weeks in China, I hardly even noticed all the noise. Then when I got to Kolkata, it was culture shock all over again. But once again, the noise and garbage have begun to blend into the background. But if I take a minute and observe Kathmandu's ludricrous traffic patterns, it's absurd frequency of honking, and its disgustingly smoggy skies, it becomes clear that Kathmandu is one of the most chaotic and apocolyptic cities we've been to yet. I'm just used to it, I guess.
Another funny thing about Kathmandu is the food. I first became aware of this trend in Darjeeling, but it's gotten completely out of control in Kathmandu. Allow me to explain. In Thamel and other tourist areas, the norm for restaurants is to serve literally every kind of cuisine known to man. Restaurants in Kathmandu bring the concept of international cuisine to a whole new level. On the surface, a restaurant may appear to be geared towards Indian or Tibetan food. But a quick examination of the menu reveals that the restaurant not only offers the standard Indian curries and Tibetan momos (dumplings), but Italian lasagna and spaghetti, as well as Chinese chow mein and Kung Pao Chicken. Flip to the next page and you'll find a breakfast menu which offers a Denver omelettes, Belgian waffles, and in one instance, Huevos Rancheros. I promise you I'm not exaggerating. If you get lucky you might even find a Nepali dish or two.
So, how is the food? On the whole, not very good. Despite the much welcomed variety of food, a restaurant that is cooking Saag Paneer in one pot and pasta Bolognaise in another just isn't going to be that good, no matter how you slice it. Still, it's been fun eating here and the Huevos Rancheros were pretty damn good.
I have much more to write about, but my eyes have become heavy with sleep. Hopefully I'll have time for another post tomorrow, and I can write about some of the temples and museums we've visited in the last few days. Good night.