Himalayas and uninvited guests

The choice of transportation to get from Darjeeling to Kathmandu is quite limited: You can go back all the way to Delhi and fly to Kathmandu for a more or less reasonable price – which is connected with two days of travelling, you can cross the border to Nepal by land and take a domestic flight from an airport near the border – foreigners are charged absolutely absurd prices for the short domestic flights or you can go on an adventurous 12 hour overnight bus journey for a reasonable price. Guess, what we chose? 😀 Since the buses depart from a market just across the border, this was our preferred option. But, as there is no website to book bus tickets (and we learned our lesson with trains in India) or at least to see the schedule, there was some uncertainty in our plan and chances were to get stuck on this market in the middle of nowhere. As good project managers, we looked for an option to reduce this risk and found it in a small travel agency in Darjeeling. We described our plan to a guy sitting in a small shop with not more than a laptop and a shelf selling everything from Himalaya DVDs and books to W40. We told him, if there is a cheap and a comfortable option, we would go for the comfortable. He agreed and went outside for a short phone call. When he came back, he told us, that there would be someone picking us up at the border and having our tickets. In exchange for 15€, we got a hand-written piece of paper confirming our payment and providing the phone numbers of the guy in the shop and of the person, who should pick us up at the border in Nepal – it doesn’t get more safe, does it? 😀

So when we left Darjeeling, our driver winded down from the mountains to a place, where lots of trucks wait to be allowed to pass the border, stopped at small building close to the road and pointed at it – “Customs!”. So we took our backpacks, walked into the building, got our leaving stamps and were pointed to the bridge. This was the first time, Alice crossed a border by walking to the other side – a strange feeling being on no-man’s land. While crossing the border by walking over a bridge – you could literally see that the other side of the border was greener. 😉 On the other side we were greeted by Umesh, whose number we got at the travel agency. He waited patiently while we got our visas sorted (with extremely friendly border officers) and walked with us to the bus station. As the bus wouldn’t leave for another 3 hours, he invited us to rest at his guesthouse. Half an hour before the departure of the bus, we came to the bus station and saw our bus, which indeed looked better than expected. It even had half reclining seats with leg rests, which looked more or less comfy. The driver stowed our backpacks, we thanked Umesh for his help and our adventure began. After some time we left the city and were on the way. Before departing we asked Umesh how the roads in Nepal were and he replied that the road to Kathmandu is very good (it’s Nepal’s main connection to the sea and the outer word to set the expectations right). Hahaha… this was the overstatement of the year. As long as we were in a city, the road indeed was okay (especially after what we’ve already experienced in India), but once outside the city the pavement was gone as well and the road consisted of dust, sand and stones. The bus was shaking so much that Michael decided to hold his backpack in his arms all night to avoid his camera disassembling from all the shaking. Additionally the temperature was changing from Siberian cold to Sahara heat every couple of minutes. When trying to open the window during one of the heat phases, Michael broke one his nails and his finger started bleeding and to top this fun, the tour took 17 instead of 12 hours. We never ever want to ride 17 hours in a more or less comfortable bus. Once we arrived in Kathmandu, the people in the bus helped us to get out at the right stop as the bus stopped at several locations in Kathmandu. Our Airbnb host Sanjeev expected us 5 hours earlier and had no way to contact us and we couldn’t reach him either as our phones did not work in Nepal. How did we manage to travel without mobile phones and internet before? We walked to a taxi stand and asked the driver whether we could call Sanjeev and if he could give a way description to his place to the taxi driver as it was a bit tricky to get there. Once we arrived, we were greeted warmly and with tea on his rooftop terrace with a view over Kathmandu. Sanjeev gave us some advice on where to go and what to see in Nepal as well as our next stops in Nepal. When we planned our trip to Nepal, we decided that we wanted to stay in Kathmandu only for a day and got ourselves ready to explore the city. We visited Thamel, which is the backpacker district. There you could buy anything starting with your equipment for your next Mt. Everest expedition to Pashmina shawls. After we got enough of all the touristy stuff, we took a cab to the “Monkey temple”, which is located on a hill and offers a great view over the city (and of course some monkeys).

After the temple we felt like we’ve seen enough of dusty Kathmandu and arranged our transport and accommodation in Nagar Kot – a small place just 25km outside Kathmandu at around 2500m elevation. The main features of Nagar Kot are stunning views of the Himalayas and silence, perfect combination for us. After the exhausting days behind us, we decided to stay there for four days and just to enjoy the views and do a bit of hiking. We booked ourselves into a place called “Peaceful cottage”. On the way there, we saw more of the “perfect Nepalese roads” – in fact we were told, that over 80% of the road system are still under construction after the major earthquake 2015 and the railway system is not existent. But once we arrived, the place was indeed very quiet and peaceful. As the weather played us badly (again!) and one couldn’t see the mountains, we used the time to catch up some sleep, relax and have some tea in the restaurant. It was late already and we were preparing to go to bed when Alice saw, that some trash fell off a shelf on the floor. Since “we ain’t afraid o’ no ghosts”, I said, it’s probably because of the air con running and didn’t think of it any more. But just some minutes later we knew, it wasn’t the air con and most definitely nothing paranormal, but a big fat rat, which was now standing on my pillow! Wow, what a start to the evening! When I made a move towards the rat it disappeared between the wooden shelf and the wall made of natural stones. First thing we did was of course calling the reception to change rooms, but no luck, we were the last ones at the restaurant and they closed down everything when we left. It would appear several times at different positions of the wall, so we tried to close those gaps between the wall and the shelf with shoes, glasses, bottles and whatever else we could find in the room – no chance, it would always find a new gap to crawl out. Finally, Alice was so tired, that she literally fell asleep despite the rat. I really couldn’t and since I had an extended nap in the afternoon, I felt fit enough to stay awake and so I was watching a TV show on my tablet and occasionally threw my flip flops through the room to make the rat crawl back to where it came out. The beast was really persistent and every time I got a bit more tired and thought, that I didn’t see it for a while, it would crawl out somewhere again and watch me challenging in the eyes – nasty little bastard! Around 3 am I wasn’t as cautious anymore and didn’t look at the wall for a moment – when I looked up again, I saw two fat rats! One on the floor and the other one crawling out of the wall! I shushed them and threw my flip flops again – the adrenaline level was up again, now they outnumbered me! Somewhere around 4 am, the sun began to rise and the rats seemed to disappear. As I was awake anyways, I decided to go up to the roof and make a sunrise video. So I grabbed my equipment, dressed up for the cold outside and was on my way. Alice woke up and promised to come as well. When she was on the roof, she told me, that the rat came again and made her scream while jumping on the chair… those beasts! At least we enjoyed a really stunning view of the mountains and even saw a glimpse of the Everest in the distance. Once the sun was up, we went to the reception and told them about our sleepless night. They excused themselves and gave us another room at the other end of the building – this time without pets. In the afternoon of that day, there was a short rain shower with a bit of wind – nothing major for us. But apparently it was enough to kill the main electricity line to the village and with this the internet. As this wasn’t the first time, the hotel had a generator to provide light, but power outlets and air condition were dead. All guests gathered in the restaurant on that evening and warmed themselves with some soup and tea, but after one day without electricity everyone ran out of power for their phones and laptops – like our laptop. When the power came back, luckily the laptop wasn’t plugged in but unfortunately it killed the laptop’s charger and so we had no laptop for the next days… No serials, no documents… back to the stone age.. ah… tablet age again. 😉

After four days in Nagar Kot, where there was literally nothing else to do than relaxing and watching the mountains if possible, we were ready to discover one of the oldest and most interesting cities in Nepal – Bhaktapur. Just outside Kathmandu, this city is full of history and ancient buildings. Even though the earthquake of 2015 destroyed nearly half of the buildings and most parts of the city are still under construction, you can see pagodas and palaces, which show how Nepal used to be since hundreds of years. We were very lucky to pick the Pradhan House as our accommodation here, as the Host and his family are true locals and very hospitable. Ganesh offered us a tour through the city and showed us corners we would have never found on ourselves. Especially a paper factory, where all kinds of paper are still made manually was very interesting to see. In the evening we had a traditional Nepalese dinner prepared by Ganesh’s wife and enjoyed a truly local experience. On the next day, we flew off to a well-deserved week at the beach in Thailand. We both caught a cold in Darjeeling, which didn’t really go away in Nepal and so we were looking forward to recharge some sun and heat in Hua Hin. A visit in Bangkok to see my favorite tailor and for Alice to see the major sights of the city was also on our schedule.

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