Leaving Melbourne on a 12:30am flight was a bit of a drag, wasn’t until 4am that they’d finally fed us, cleared the trays, and allowed us to sleep. Before we knew it everyone on the plane was fighting for a view out the windows to get the astounding first sight of the Himalayas. They never fail to impress, those looming ice-giants. And soon enough it was “welcome to Kathmandu”.
The queue for the visas seemed to take an eternity, I was just so impatient to see the city that I love and meet the people that I hadn’t seen for two years. Unfortunately, my Nepali family had been caught up with various things that day (one of which was going for a six hour run from their village to Kathmandu) so we jumped in a massively overpriced taxi (cheers airport drivers). We drove to the centrally located Hotel Pilgrims where Som had so kindly organised a room for us. This hotel is always used as the home base for Take On Nepal experiences and the staff are incredibly helpful.
After checking into the room and tapping into the wifi I found that we had two hours before Som and Dinesh would meet us at the hotel and take us to dinner. First priority was a shower then we headed into Thamel. I was very impressed at my ability to still navigate the streets after two years away. It was like I’d been there just yesterday, the same eye catching shops, the same smells, the same friendly and relaxed vibes, and the same crazy drivers. I took us to a currency exchange I remembered and then we had a look in some of the many scarf shops.
I don’t specifically remember this from my previous visit, but Kathmandu is very dusty and the air is very polluted. This has probably worsened since the earthquake as roads that were once paved are now rubble and dust. To protect their merchandise the shop keepers have their books, maps, shawls etc in plastic covers with a coating of dirt that has floated in from outside. After our exploration we made our way back to Pilgrims and went up to the seventh floor rooftop which affords a great lookout over the sprawling city and the surrounding mountains. On the top of the surrounding buildings are water tanks and solar panels that are covered in layers of dirt. Even the plants are grimy.I love the building style in Kathmandu. Every building has a rooftop with a little garden and a clothesline and place to sit. I can think of no better way to pass a lazy day than reclined on a rooftop in the Nepali winter sun with a book and a pot of masala tea.
We made our way back downstairs as it was nearing 5pm. As we walked past the reception desk I hear this voice call out my name. I turned around to see Dinesh walking towards me. Of all the people I met in Nepal last time he was the one I missed the most, we became great friends during my last visit and the idea of seeing him was one of the many motivating factors for me to return. I was so happy to see him and to introduce him to my mum.
We sat and chatted and drank masala tea until Som arrived and it was time to go to dinner. The four of us walked through the crazy streets of Kathmandu, no footpaths and insane drivers. At one stage we had to walk through a hectic intersection with people and cars and motorbikes just seem to navigate around each other with an easy understanding that would never be seen in Australia. Needless to say I felt like if I was alone I would probably die in that intersection so I just stuck behind Dinesh and followed him as closely as possible, watching him casually look from left to right and back again as if it was the most natural thing in the world. He told me that when he was at college he had to walk home that way in the dark at night. There are no street lights in that area so after the shops close the only light would come from the passing cars.
They took us to the new hostel that Som has set up in the city for the kids who come from his village to Kathmandu to go to college, year 11 and 12 equivalent. A few of the training guides like Dinesh and Mane who have finished college stay there too, and it is also where they have their Kathmandu office.
They had been cooking noodle soup and they set a huge pot in the middle of the floor in the office. I was happy to see several familiar faces and many new ones, maybe 14 people altogether. A few girls including Tenjen who, together with her sister Passang, were highlights of my time in Nepal before, and many boys including Sabin, Som and Dinesh’s youngest brother who I hadn’t met before but had heard about many times. The soup was fantastic, coriander and chilli, vegetables, with little bits of meat in it (my first time eating meat in Nepal), and Mane told us they made the noodles themselves at home.
As soon as we walked through the front door we had an immediate sense of being part of this big family. Everyone is so lovely and walking back to Pilgrims after dinner I was so full of joy and satisfaction from being back with my Nepali family.
In the morning about 6 or 7 of the guys including Som, Dinesh, Mane and Sabin met us at Pilgrims to walk us to the bus stop at “trekking pace”, which was maybe more than Mum had bargained for at 6:30am. Som had organised our bus to Pokhara for that morning, and the big group of boys swarmed around us companionably as we walked 15 minutes to the bus stop. They were then going for a run around Kathmandu after having run the 6 hours to the city the previous day. Not only are they incredibly kind and generous but also the most energetic and insanely fit people I’ve ever met. I’m so happy to be back in this amazing country.