Nepal, Day 0: Kathmandu
Rain. I woke to drizzling rain and cold weather, two things I haven't experienced in a while. Although when I say cold, it was still about 20C, but that's enough for me to pull out my long pants and hoodie and to ditch my thongs. The rain didn't let up until after lunch. I was soaked.
Kathmandu is unlike any other city I have visited, or maybe an amalgamation of a few. The state of the roads and the lack of basic infrastructure take me back to Albania or Kosovo; the craziness of the old town remind me of Turkey or Morocco; the weather is clearly Australian.
I have visited a lot of countries and there is always a certain level of culture shock as I try to absorb everything that's going on in front of me. Usually I would have Danny by my side to assist in this adjustment, but when it's only me that process is made slightly harder. My strategy to work through this at the moment is to mentally list positives, the things that have gone to plan so far. My flights weren't delayed; my luggage wasn't lost; no trouble finding my accommodation; I can withdraw cash at ATMs (once I remembered my pin 30 minutes after my first attempt); I have found and purchased everything I think I need for the trek; I haven't been mugged or run over (but given the standard of driving the latter is a distinct possibility); vegan food is easy to find. With every small victory I am convincing myself that I have made the right decision to venture out into the unknown solo.
Living in Bangkok I presumed I would be ready for another big, busy Asian city. Kathmandu couldn't be any more different to Bangkok if it tried. The absence of skyscrapers, trains, malls and any form of organisation was apparent almost immediately. I didn't wander far from the old town, so my views are fairly limited so far.
My walk around town was also a different experience from what I am used to at home. Sidewalks are non-existent. Roads turned into giant mud pits after the rain. Spitting is as common as the horn (i.e. very). The streets are narrow, and I spent most of time doing my best to avoid being hit by a crazy taxi driver, sidestep around the street sellers and not roll my ankle on the uneven surfaces. As there are only a couple of types of shops they all ended up looking the same. I felt like I was going around in circles but I could never really be sure. The best way to determine my location was by listening to whatever the street sellers were trying to push in my face, as they seemed to work on specific intersections that I repeatedly passed. This ranged from Tiger Balm to plastic jewellery to certain elicit substances. I never became lost, but it sometimes took me a while to return to a particular shop or cafe. As crazy as it can be, I am starting to really like this city.
Today was all about going on a shopping spree. As I'm not the hugest fan of shopping, this was a bit of a drag. I swear I walked further today planning the hike than any day I will when I'm actually on the hike. But the important thing is, I'm ready to rock and roll. A quick list of my achievements: picked up the trekking permits, booked a bus for tomorrow, rented a sleeping bag, bought a waterproof jacket (once the rain had stopped), purchased thermal clothes and socks, located a trekking map, loaded up on food for the bus trip, procured a set of trekking poles (which wasn't on the list, but was added after the insistence of several friends), and stocked up on water purification tablets and altitude sickness medication. I'm exhausted just writing this. I now rate myself as a decent haggler though.
Kathmandu truly is a hiking mecca, based on the number of outdoor stores there are, although shops offering goods made from yak wool, cashmere and pashmina clearly outnumbered trekking stores. I successfully avoided these, along with any food outlet offering "buff" (buffalo meat). I came across several vegan signs outside restaurants, which is always a welcome sight - Bangkok could learn a thing or two about this.
Tomorrow it all begins, after a lengthy 7-8 hour bus ride. Let's see if I'm as positive tomorrow night about the trip as I am right now.