***Having trouble inserting photos…see the Photos page for pics of Kathmandu***
Arriving in Nepal was something that I had thought about for many days before it actually happened. As you may have gathered from my last post, I had gotten to the point of being a bit nervous about heading here as I had very little idea of what to expect. I had imagined a poorly organized airport with a chaotic scene upon exiting. However, the arrival went reasonably smoothly. I got my visa, picked up my bag and headed for the doors, where the driver from my Guest House was waiting for me. That was easy! We got into a tiny little car that could only be described as “no-frills” and were off (slowly) through the city. I was clearly gawking with a smile on my face and the driver had a good laugh. I got settled, had an amazing dinner of homemade Palaak Paneer and headed to bed as it was late and it was pouring rain. The next day I headed out for a walk to see what I could find. I wandered out of the touristy Thamel district, down to the river and across to Patan. Among other things, I passed a massive but decaying high school, a field with young boys playing soccer, many street vendors, temples with monkeys playing, cows in the street causing traffic jams, and the National Stadium adorned with signs promoting tourism. Nepal has had a turbulent past and is now looking toward a future of stability and peace (hopefully). In an attempt to gain prosperity and stability, they are looking to increase tourism and are now in the middle of “The Year of Tourism”. I have yet to determine exactly what this means for visitors, but as I haven’t ever seen Nepal in a non-tourism year, I can’t really compare. While walking around Kathmandu, I was one of the only visible tourists, but at no point did I feel uncomfortable or unsafe. However, I did get lost, not just once or twice, but almost every time I left my guesthouse. Kathmandu is a labyrinth of alleys, temples and shops that trick you into thinking that you have been here before, but alas, it is a completely different neighbourhood. Many of the street don’t have names and the buildings don’t have addresses, so getting lost is pretty much inevitable. I met some great people at my guesthouse who wandered around the city with me. We headed into Durbar Square, which was once a palace dating back to the 7th century, and also climbed up to the Monkey Temple which overlooks the city and a good part of the Kathmandu Valley. The temple has a proper Buddhist name, but is known as the Monkey Temple because it is crawling with cheeky monkeys. I had a close encounter with one monkey as I was circling the stupa. I guess he thought I had gotten too close and bared his teeth and started hissing. I had no idea that they could make that sound! It definitely worked as I jumped and quickly got as far from him as I could. Rabies was one of the shots I chose not to get before I left Canada, so I do not want to get bit by anything!
While I was in Kathmandu, I had to find out how to get a new passport. I have the exciting predicament of having run out of pages long before my current passport expires. Nepal does not have a proper Embassy, but they do have a Canadian Cooperation Office which says on its website that it can help with passport issues. However, as it is in Kathmandu, it doesn’t have a proper address just a neighbourhood, so it took me a little while to find it. Once I found the office, I was quite surprised to learn that the 3 weeks quoted online is now 6 weeks because the application has to be approved in Nepal, then sent to Delhi for final review, then sent to Canada for printing the passport, which is then sent back to Delhi, and then sent back to Nepal. Ahhh governments…so efficient. In order to get past the first check in Kathmandu, I had to have 4 references vouch for me so to all of those people who helped THANK YOU!!! I was finally ready to drop off the completed application on Tuesday morning, just before getting picked up to head to Pharping to spend a month at the monastery. When I got up on Tuesday, it was raining so I wrapped myself up and headed through the mud and traffic to the office. It took about an hour and waiting, explaining myself, waiting and more explaining before my application was accepted and I could head off to get cleaned up for the monks. While in Kathmandu, I have learned to accept that I may not be clean or dry for a long time yet. My feet, even after scrubbing, look like I have just left a rainy festival and the mud splatters seem to reappear instantly after washing. So, the monks first impression of me may not be amazing, but hopefully once I get there and get settled I will be able to be a little cleaner. Kathmandu has been a nice stop, but I am excited to get to the monastery. I have heard some really amazing things about the people there and can’t wait to meet them for myself. Pharping…here I come!