Cattle class

OK, Royal Nepal Airlines = urgh. I’m currently in the much comfier surroundings of Kuala Lumpur International Airport awaiting my transfer flight to Perth and I’m so glad I can breathe again. A word if you’re ever going to fly with the Airline (and chances are you will if you’re going in or out of Kathmandu): diet. Heavily.

Simply, I don’t exactly have a lot of spare weight on my bones. Especially right at the moment. I found the seats a tight squeeze, and the skinny woman next to me was half in my seat as well. Also, the food was the stuff of legends – the legends that say airline food is crap. A stale roll, butter that’s straight out of the deep freeze, undercooked food, the most disgusting desert ever… at least he coffee was OK. Which is weird as I don’t like coffee which means coffee-lovers will probably hate it!

Anyway, enough whinging. My body thinks it’s 4:15am and the clock’s telling me it’s 7:00. At least there’s not another timezone between here and Perth. I’ll be there at 16:00 local time, I think. Catch you from Oz!

Hints for Nepal

1) Check with an embassy regarding any protests etc. We got held up for a day at the border as the roads to Kathmandu were impassable. As a result we had to pay for a flight at an inflated price. There are no ATMs in Kakarbittha, and the local bank won’t advance cash against a Visa card. We were bloody lucky Hans had a stack of US dollars!

2) If you intend to buy travel tickets, especially flights, in Kathmandu then bring US Dollars in with you. The airlines will only accept this as payment, therefore if you pay in Nepalese Rupees at the travel agent, you’ll lose out. Our agent was very honest in explaining this. The actual exchange rate was around 70NRP to 1USD. The local money changers were asking 72NRP to 75NRP for a dollar, and he had to convert based on this rate otherwise he’d lose out. Therefore paying with dollars you’ve brought in is cheaper.

3) Don’t forget the departure tax at the airport. The domestic flight from Kakarbhitta to Kathmandu was 170NRP, and flying from Kathmandu itself varies depending on your destination. My flight to Malaysia cost me $US23 or 1695NRP. Hans’ flight to Delhi was around 1350NRP. The tax is not put on your ticket, and I believe they accept both local currency and US$ at the airport.

4) Planning on being there for four days? Go for the free-of-charge 3-day visa and ring the immigration people before you leave. I had absolutely no problem whatsoever with the additional day. Getting up to five days without charge is also not unknown. The penalty for going over that is still less than the $30 charge for a visa, as long as you don’t take the Michael.

5) Buy any hiking/camping equipment in Pokhara, not Kathmandu. Most treks start from there anyway, so it saves you lugging the stuff on the bus – and it’s cheaper anyway.

6) Scour the bakeries in Kathmandu for the ones which sell stock off cheap late in the evening. As they bake fresh each day, the stuff will be fine for breakfast and lunch the next morning.

7) As with any Asian country, learn to haggle. I managed to get 10% off an already very good price for some convertible waterproof trouser/shorts.

Durbar Square… then airport!

Yes, it’s been a short trip to Nepal but on the whole an enjoyable even with the problems getting into Kathmandu. Certainly worth the effort and certainly somewhere I will return to.

We got up fairly early this morning and I wolfed down an apple danish I’d bought from a bakery the night before. Handy tip for Kathmandu – there are two bakeries near the Guest House. One does 50% off after 8pm (25% on cakes) and the other does similar after 9pm. Great way to save money on late night munchies and the next morning’s breakfast!

Hopping on a rickshaw, we were pedalled to Hanuman-dhoka Durbar Square. This is a central touristy area filled with temples and markets. Although it’s an open area, as a tourist you have to pay to enter. The ticket is 200NRP for non-South Asian passport holders and lasts all day, so you can come and go as you please. However, you can also get your ticket turned into a pass – I think for free – which will cover you for as long as you request. You need your passport and a photo for one of these.

It’s a nice enough area, but expect to be harassed by wannabe guides. We had one folow us around for the best part of an hour despite Hans’ constant explanations that we didn’t want a guide and that he was doing himself more harm than good by pestering us.

After we’d walked around a fair bit by ourselves, we settled on another guide who was much more polite and less insistent – and also more open about his pricing. We agreed on 400NRP for a 45-minute tour with 100NRP bonus if we thought he was particularly good. He was – and got the agreed bonus 100.

The tour was concise, informative and enjoyable. I certainly learned a fair bit about the square, and also about the connections between Hunduism and Buddhism.

Amongst other things, we saw Kumari-ghar. This is a house which plays home to the Kumari – a living goddess. A girl aged three is determined as being the host of this spirit and lives in the house until puberty. She cannot touch the ground at all during her “reign”, and is only allowed outside thirteen times a year as part of a celebration. Tourists can catch a glimpse of her on demand by entering the house. Our guide gave a shout to her “keeper”, and a minute or so later a very bored looking girl bedecked in jewellery and makeup appeared at an upper window for a few seconds.

Afterwards, our guide invited us for a quick cup of tea and even kindly paid for it. He’s actually a graduate in English history, but his English isn’t perfect so he asked us to help him with some homework. We sat for maybe half an hour explaining some sentences he had written down and didn’t understand. You know, it’s amazing how difficult English becomes when you’re trying to actually explain it to someone. What I take as second nature really is a mindbendingly complex language. As ever, I have a lot of respect for anyone who can learn it as a second language.

We walked back to Thamel and picked up some lunch on the way.

Plans for the afternoon are quite basic. Get some things posted, collect my flight ticket for tonight, go online and meet up with Caroline again for dinner. I’ve got some laundry to collect and pack, then I’m off to the airport for a 23:30 flight to Perth via Malaysia.


That’s a “hello, how are you” in Nepalese. Everyone says it and it’s just one of those greetings that sounds nice.

OK, pretty much all I’ve done in Kathmandu is plan to leave. This is not because I don’t like the place. Far from it, it’s lovely! Just the right side of hectic, plenty to do and see, prices are good, accommodation excellent… I just have a schedule to keep and I want to “finish” Australia and SE Asia before I head home.

Nepal is an easy country to get to from Europe, so I’ll maybe plan a longer holiday here some day. I definitely want to do a trek, but it would need to be 10+ days to be worthwhile.

I sorted my flight out at Youth Travel who were hugely helpful. They’ve let me pay a chunk of the cash off today and the balance tomorrow so I can hopefully use more cash. This saves me the 3.5% credit card surcharge, but I’ve only just realised that my flight ticket is £310 and my bank balance was £233. Whoops. Thankfully, I didn’t overdraw.

I’ve arranged an overdraft, but that might not be in effect until Thursday. Likewise the money transfer I kicked off yesterday has left my Lloyds account, but knowing how banks seem to like taking ages to move cash it probably won’t end up in my Nationwide account until Thursday as well. At least when I reach Australia, I’ll be able to withdraw money!

The Nepalese immigration were very nice as well. As mentioned, I have the 3-day “free” transit visa. Flying tomorrow takes me into a fourth day, but we checked with them and they said that’s OK. No need to cough up an extra $30 for a 30-day visa I won’t need.

Other than that, just some more online stuff and seeing Caroline off on a day-trip. We’ve moved into her room as it’s a little nicer, and when I leave tomorrow, she’ll move in with Hans for a night before they go elsewhere. All working out nicely!

Kathmandu at last

We rose early to make sure we got to the airport on time, but it turned out that this wasn’t necessary. The staff downstairs had already sorted us out a taxi and it wasn’t leaving until 9:30. Our 11:40 flight had turned into a 12:15 one as well. As a bonus, they’d also found two more people to share our taxi, which meant the fare had halved. Good stuff.

After shaking hands with a load of local kids and getting some pics of a ludicrously cute baby, we made the short drive to the airport. A parade of ambulances screamed past us and tried to box us in at one point. Reading a newspaper later, I think they were protesting at several of their staff members and vehicles being attacked by other protesters in the current “strike”. Madness.

The airport was a tiny affair, but the staff were as helpful as everyone else we’ve met so far in Nepal. I was ushered into a back room to pay for my flight ticket on Visa using a manual swipe machine that was still stored in the cardboard packing carton from when it had been mailed to the airline. Shiny new!

We then found out that we had to pay departure tax of 170NRP per person. This was when we were very relieved that the taxi fare had been reduced, otherwise we’d have been stuffed!

Walking through security was a little different to the norm. Males and females had separate curtained alcoves to go into to be searched, which seemed pointless as they only went through our bags anyway. We sat for quite some time in the waiting room as our flight was around 90 minutes late.

Finally, our Buddha Air plane landed, emptied and sat waiting for us. This was the smallest plane I think I’ve ever been on (possibly one from Bradford to Aberdeen was the same size) – 18 seats. I was sat next to a mother with another stupidly cute Nepalese child, which kept me amused for a lot of the short flight.

On landing, we were off the plane and reunited with our luggage inside of ten minutes. Within another twenty or so, our taxi got us to the Kathmandu Guest House.

This is a lovely place and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone visiting. More like a hotel than a guest house, it includes all the facilities you’d expect. It also has a greater variety of rooms and prices than anywhere else I’ve ever seen.

We dumped our bags and took a walk. I checked out flight prices to Perth (via Hong Kong… tempting) and then got lunch at a random restaurant. We knew the food would be fresh when the staff walked to the shops to buy the ingredients after we ordered. My peppered steak was simply gorgeous.

Back at the hotel, we met up with Caroline who’d been in the room next to us in Palolem. Lovely to see her again! We nattered for a bit and then headed out to use the interwebnet.

25NRP per hour is the going rate (60 for the wireless at the hotel) and I spent a smidgen over three hours trying to catch up on things. I also checked alternative flights and think I’ve decided on an Air Malaysia flight via KL. It’s cheaper than the HK one and gets in to Perth at a more reasonable hour. The Cathay one via HK is still an option, though, as I can stop over in HK and I’ve not been there before! I’ll decide tomorrow depending on availability.

The other choice is when to fly. If I leave tomorrow, then I don’t need to extent my 3-day transit visa. If I leave any later then I have to cough up $30 for that. Decision time in the morning!

Dinner was guzzled at a rooftop restaurant and was also superb. The food here is as good as Goa and similarly priced.

Then back to our hotel and bed for the night. Tomorrow could be the last of my short trip to Nepal!