My fascination with this city continued with a rather streaky plane ride from the border town of Kakarbitta, just across Siliguri in West Bengal, India. During the flight, which was preceded by a rather pre 9-11 airport frisk, I saw the Himalayas clearly for the first time and the air hostess was kind enough to give me a crash course on all the main peaks. While listening attentively, I even got to see Everest from a distance. According to an old saying (originating before the dawn of air travel) a glance at the mountains would have washed away your sins. Hence I believe I landed with a clean slate. Below me, the rolling brown hills, (rather high ones at that) soon gave way to more and more settlements and then the valley appeared and my buddy Kuka and I were finally in Kathmandu. Norling Guest House – an unassuming Tibetan run hotel in the bustling Thamel area of Kathmandu was where we stayed first. Buff momos and beer later, it was time for Kuka and I to get out and explore.
To avoid getting lost, I made a mental map of the area around me using the most vibrant landmarks to make it easier to remember; Dance Bars – dozens of them with names like Titanic, Pussycat, Cobra and more. They were difficult to ignore as garish Bollywood numbers (a reminder amongst many that self-styled big brother India wasn’t too far away) permeated the air with ruthless nonchalance; enough to deter anyone. Some of them also had “Dance Bar with Shower” on the sign boards, although in those 4 degree evenings, it wasn’t a pleasing thought from any angle. The next day, I reunited with an old friend, Pradeep, who knew the city like the back of his hand,. Durbar Square after square, stupa after stupa, interspersed with old temples adorned with interesting and in many cases sexually liberating architecture; he had a story for all. The famous Pagoda style architecture, which actually originated in Nepal, was all around me. The bustling crowds, amalgamated with the timeless architecture created a unique ambiance, coupled with carefree hitchhikers and friendly locals. After a trip to Bouddhanath Stupa, another stupa complex also known as little Tibet, the comfortable winter sun got a little bit unsettling and it was time for a beer.
The good man, Pradeep took us to a place which he claimed was dingy, old and exactly what we wanted to experience. The building was old, the place was quite charming, and the acid jazz helped add a Bohemian zing that up till then I had not experienced in this famed city. For a while, I felt like I was back in the early seventies.
Buffalo lungs, tongue and brains graced the table, and Nepal Ice, Tuborg Gold and Calsberg complimented our afternoon that day. Add to that a traditional Newari pizza-like dish with more buffalo meat topping and we were gastronomically satisfied. Next we headed off to Kathmandu’s durbar square, where we met one of the most interesting people over the whole trip; a revolutionary acquaintance of our local friend – not a gun toting, rage filled revolutionary, but a calm young man with a plan and a passion for his ideology. We couldn’t discuss too many things but as the young man made his way around the square we slowly realized who was in control of the place, the city and the country in general. We rounded up the day with an evening trip to the nearby Swayambhu temple, which was the central plot in an old Dev Anand movie. It was here that we were ambushed by a troop of monkeys. Not very pleasant creatures at all and for a while I was pretty unnerved and wished I had a flanged mace or at least an air pistol, for self-defense of course.
A nice trip to beautiful Pokhara followed the next day, but another town, another story. When we returned from Pokhara to Kathmandu, there were fears of a strike, and I was worried as I hadn’t completed my customary KTM shopping. Pradeep was back and we were once again in the now familiar surroundings of Thamel. A night of pub-hopping followed; Sam’s pub with its dirt-cheap tequila, Weizen – which was becoming a hangout for us and Rum-Doodle with its curious interiors. This was interspersed with delightful Kathmandu street-food – Buffalo meat sausages and gigantic fried chicken legs, momos galore and quite a lot of other stuff. It was a particularly cold night, so the hot food and the omnipresent Blender’s Pride were comforting at its best.
The next one and a half days passed in a breeze as we didn’t really explore much, thanks to general laziness further complimented by a rather prolonged hangover – However we did go for an early morning walk to Swayambhu and that time the monkeys were less menacing. After some hurried shoe-shopping, the time came for us to head back across the border, to Darjeeling.
As our bus slowly exited the bustling streets of Kathmandu, I couldn’t help but feel melancholic about leaving the city. It was a short trip but we got a little dose of everything, literally and figuratively. At the same time I was looking forward to the prospect of returning and experiencing Nepal beyond its towns. The pull of the mountains are way too strong for one to ignore that thought, for once you’ve seen them, they’ve had you.
As for KTM, this place cannot be described honestly in just one article, and even an attempt would be criminal. So my best advice for the reader would be – Pack your bags.