Boarding, revised itinerary

We’re through security at KTM and waiting for the arriving passengers to deplane so we can board for Istanbul. We should arrive there this (Monday) late afternoon and will not leave until early tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon. Hoping for a hotel stay on Turkish, but rumor is the help desk in Istanbul has been less than sympathetic to passengers dealing with this situation, which has happened with half or more flights on this new route.

Regardless, they will get us to Chicago on Tuesday. We’ve already been rebooked on that flight rather than today’s as previously planned. My problem from that point is my separate itinerary to take me home to Seattle. To change that flight or to book another one-way flight for Tuesday night will cost almost as much as this round trip from Chicago to Kathmandu, though I can try to claim it through our travel insurance policy. First, though, I’ll try to get Turkish to book me through to Seattle, but the desk here at KTM isn’t set up to do that. Should be plenty of time in Istanbul to plead my case.

Headed home

We’re all packed, waiting for breakfast and a taxi that should be here in 20 minutes. We are reversing our outbound journey: Kathmandu to Istanbul to Chicago (where Tim and, temporarily, Emily will stop) to Seattle. It’s Monday morning now and will be Monday night when I get to Seattle after around 25 hours in the air.

That’s the plan, and hopefully Turkish has their act together on this end to turn the inbound morning flight around and get us out on time. We only have an hour layover in Istabul, so a late departure here means missing the daily flight to Chicago and spending a day there. The last such flights have made it, though, so we are hopeful.

After this, we shall have no more NCELL access, so this will probably be the last post until we arrive in Chicago.

Wish we were all at the Hotel Norbu Linka

And we are. Got ourselves moved into a couple of much improved rooms here late this morning. The window is open, and instead of metal grinding, tile cutting and who-knows-what pounding I hear only the normal sounds of Kathmandu: birds, dogs, the quiet hum of generators and some light hammering. It’s an incredible improvement. Thamel is too crazy noisy not to sleep well at night (and occasionally during the day, as the desire for naps after evenings spent at Ohm occasionally dictates).

Emily and Tim are off exploring a few more things they wanted to see. I have to shop a bit instead and want to relax the rest of the time on the roof here, reading and enjoying the peace.

Every trip reaches this point

There’s always a time when it becomes very clear and foremost in my mind that the rest of the trip’s days have been spoken for. When I couldn’t head back to a trekking trail or even just to see the mountains at sunrise if I wanted to. When there just isn’t enough time remaining to make any plans beyond finishing what’s already known. When, really, we’re looking at hours rather than days.

This realization can come well after the time for such plans is gone. I pushed it aside as time dwindled in Pokhara and for our first couple of days here in Kathmandu. But last night it hit, and here is what we have left: today, tomorrow.

So the Himalaya will wait until next time I get away to visit here. Today we are moving hotels (to the quiet but more expensive Hotel Norbu Linka), finishing shopping and visiting Raj. Tomorrow is free but will occupied even if in what appears to be a lack of occupation.

Last night, though, we snuck in a fun visit to Ohm to watch Nepali musicians play and sing their heart out on American cover songs, from Marley and the Stones to that “Wasn’t Me” song from back in high school. You never hear these songs played or sung with such combination of skill and wild abandon back home — not to mention the accents. It was awesome, of course.

A day of holy sites

I’m back at this construction site we currently call home for a bit of a rest prior to the evening’s activities. Following standard Kathmandu breakfast (bread-based and purchased from Pumpernickel), the three of us met up with Raj and visited Pashupatinath and Boudhanath.

Pashupati is the biggest Hindu site in the city, and it was the center of yesterday’s Shivaratri festival. As Emily put it, Lollapalooza has nothing on Shivaratri for depth of refuse left behind by the crowd. Crews were working on cleaning it up. The holy men (“holy babas” — “fathers”) in town for Shivaratri are still camped out in large groups scattered around the grounds, dozens of them or more. Beyond the cleanup and these camps (which resembled groups of American youth at a protest for their smoking, clothing and drum circles), life and death went on. The platforms along the river were filled with funeral pyres, more so than on my previous visits, and as we arrived one sobbing family was leaving that area. We had Tikka applied to our foreheads and paid a few rupees for that privilege, and Emily and Tim took pictures of the holy babas, the monkeys and the rest of the huge grounds with its dozens of temples to Shiva.

From there, exiting on the far side of the river, we took a second cab, this one to Boudhanath Stupa. I forgot how huge it was until I got a glimpse between buildings as we arrived. We walked part of the way around on the ground level, visited one of the monasteries during their noon-time puja (chanting, big old horns, the whole bit), then stopped for lunch at the very nice restaurant where Raj had done the practical portion of his training in hospitality. The food was great, and we actually had a few traditional Newari dishes that I had not seen before, including something resembling an egg-and-chicken quesadilla, dried chicken meat, hot chunks of chicken in a sauce, etc. It all was excellent, and I need to figure out what each item was called. We had a shot of some rice wine, too, complimentary with the Newari meal and much stronger than raksi.

After lunch, we continued our circuit around the stupa, stopping at one point to climb up the stairs to the first elevated level, making a complete circuit up there, then descending to the ground to finish that circuit. Spun a few prayer wheels, stopped in another monastery and took a lot of pictures.

From Boudhanath, we walked ten minutes back the way we came to visit Bhat Bhateni, the supermarket here that most resembles ours in the US. This one, though, was more like a Costco or something, with groceries on the bottom level but additional floors above for home goods, clothing and electronics. We hit the first two levels, bought some spices, then headed back to Thamel passing in the taxi a fire that seemed to have started in an apartment above the street-level commercial space and that had attracted quite a crowd.

The crowd did not yet include any fire-fighting professionals. Apparently, there are only a few fire-fighting vehicles in the whole of Kathmandu, and they’re made necessarily small to fit the narrow streets. Even diminutive trucks have a hard time getting through unmovable traffic, though, which causes a delay of ten or more minutes for any fire response. This should explain some of why Pilgrim’s is now an empty lot.

So, that’s the day gone now. The night will involve a live band after dinner, I hope. There’s no sense attempting to sleep early around here — may as well go hear them in person. Tomorrow we relax, shop, and visit Raj and his wife for dinner.

Ah, Thamel

So, here we are in Thamel, Kathmandu, to spend the remainder of the trip far from the mountains where we started. It’s Shivaratri today, Shiva’s holiday, so schools are closed and everyone is heading to Pashupatinath — upwards of 100,000 people from Nepal and elsewhere. We are planning to go over there later with Raj to watch the festivities.

We settled in Hotel Nana yesterday afternoon after arriving by bus — Emily and I from Pokhara and Tim and Raj from Chitwan. Raj headed to his home, and we spent evening having snack and drinks at Tom and Jerry. Breakfast this morning at ye ol’ Pumpernickel Bakery, then we walked around part of Thamel to get our bearings.

We ended up at the largest stupa that I know of close to here and walked around it. A couple of local girls with some rope attempted to set up a toll booth around one portion of the circumference of the stupa, demanding rupees for Shivaratri. I’m not sure if that’s some traditional thing or not, but I generally avoid giving money (or choc-o-lat) to anyone asking for it here. I’ll buy things and give tips, but giving money away just encourages more of that, and that’s not for the best. Anyway, we snuck through the toll booth eventually and walked back around to the far corner of the square to the Buddhist painting school. We got  an explanation of meanings behind the two main types of Thangka paintings (the mandala and the wheel of life) and bought a couple of the smaller mandalas.

Sam says I only blog about food, but such is life in Nepal with little on the agenda now beyond relaxing, visiting the major holy sites and finishing shopping. No gifts will be procured for those complaining about the contents of this or any other writing, of course.

So now I’m at KC’s, sipping a banana lassi, catching up on the blog, enjoying the loud hip-hop here on the deck mixed with the car and motorbike horns from below and the smell of dust and incense. It’s certainly not a quiet place, and our hotel is no exception to that. Like Peace Eye, it is also under construction during this tourism off season. Across the street, Northfield’s front area is gone, replaced by a mess of iron work as they are apparently building a new building next to what remains. Slightly down the block but visible from our balcony is the mostly cleared lot formerly inhabited by Pilgrim’s Bookstore, which burned along with a few of its neighbors one night shortly after I left here last year.

The weather is trending back to clouds, and it slightly cooler here today than it was yesterday, but days are warm enough to enjoy and nights cool enough to sleep — without open windows, too, which is important in this noisy section of the city.

It’s good to be back here, this place with which I enjoy a love-hate relationship.

Just enjoying Pokhara

I don’t know how many more times I’ll see them, so I am sitting on the roof of Peace Eye looking at Dhaulagiri, Annapurna South, Annapurna, Machapuchare, Annapurna IV and Annapurna III. Listening to some country on Spotify.

Emily and I have today and tomorrow remaining in Pokhara before we head to Kathmandu. Yesterday we walked around a little and sat at Club Amsterdam for a while, looking out at the lake with Lakeside’s flowers and palm trees. We don’t have a lot more than that planned, though I may take a little tour in a helicopter today or, if it’s clear again, tomorrow. I’m waiting to hear about whether they have enough other passengers to go for a flight, though it is just a four-seat R44 like Texas John flies back home.

I suppose we need to book a bus to Kathmandu before too long, but otherwise all we have to do is relax and enjoy the view. And the peace and quiet prior to moving to noisy Thamel.