2nd of May
Potala Hostel – Thamel (Kathmandu)
You dream for months on end with a destination, a place that seemed so far away and yet it has always been part of your life. That place that has seemed almost unreachable is where you are standing right now and feels real good.
It is night time here in Kathamandu and I feel exhausted. It has been a first day full of emotions, sensations, surprises and most important; a day where I have recovered that magic feeling that only a traveller can recognise. I am where I suppose to be right now and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world right this second. You called me for many years Nepal and here I am.
My flights went smoothly and I even enjoyed my stopover in Delhi. My flight from London to Delhi took 7 ½ hrs with a 3hrs stopover where I managed to sleep a bit and then smoothly connected with my next flight to Kathmandu, a comfortable 2hrs flight.
Researching prior my trip is an important habit of mine. I particularly research with special interest airport arrivals into new destinations where visas are required as I prefer to avoid unexpected surprises that may jeopardize my entry into the country in question. Entry in Nepal is made easy for foreigners as the country survives largely due to the thousands of people that visit Nepal to trek yearly however there are a few relevant points that are useful to know prior your arrival that will avoid you the hassle.
I choose to make my visa on the spot upon arrival to Kathamandu’s Tribhuvan Airport. As I was expecting it, upon descending to the arrival hall, I find a crowd of backpackers; clearly we are all there to trek. I know pretty much the process I have to follow thanks to my research and with that in mind, I head straight into the arrivals hall, search for the desk with the application forms on it and fill out the two that are required with the usual details. With that in hand and a passport picture, I head to the immigration desk, hand over the forms, have my passport stamped and pay $40.00 for the visa given that my time in Nepal will be exceeding fifteen days and an additional 400 rupees for airport taxes.
Exiting from the airport terminal to the street can be a daunting experience but also a great introduction to Nepal. If the chaos shocks you, remember that it will only grow as you enter the chaotic and yet fascinating city of Kathmandu. I knew exactly the human madnes that was expecting me outside the terminal but I feel confident, I know what I have to do to avoid scams from drivers desperate to catch disoriented backpackers.
I take by backpack and I confidently walk outside the arrival hall terminal. As I come out, I have a wave of men approach me offering rides to Thamel (the backpacker neighborhood) I ignore them all and keep walking towards the main road. As soon as I reach it, a man approaches me and I offer him 300 rupees to take me to Thamel, he then asks for 350 and I tell him 300 or nothing to take me exactly where I want to go in Thamel. He accepts and off we go not before a man gets inside the car and ask me if I’m there to trek. I lie and say that I have it all organized, he leaves without much persuasion and we are now ready to go. We set off into the chaos.
The ride to Kathmandu is short but scary; I count almost four near death crashes! Nothing makes my driver react, though. Almost dying in a twenty minutes ride doesn’t make him react one bit while I’m praying that I can live at least to see the Himalayas! As we come out of the airport, I start seeing animals in the middle of the road, cows on the pavement, hundreds of people sitting and laying in the streets, street markets, fires lit in the pavements, chaos everywhere, cars and motorbikes coming towards us in all directions and honking as there was no tomorrow. Love this madness! I certainly am in Kathmandu.
You know you are in Thamel when you can spot all the backpacker types there are in every square meter. Thamel is considered the centre of the tourism industry in Kathamandu or the backpacker neighbourhood for excellence. Thamel is to Kathamandu what Khao San Road is to Bangkok.
The taxi drops me just in a random street in the middle of nowhere in Thamel and I do the only thing I can think of; start walking and try to find a place to crash. I walk and walk and I never pass the same street twice or maybe I do but is all too confusing to notice. Thamel is as fascinating as it is chaotic, dirty and crowded. There are no pavements and everything and everyone are literally in the street. There are too many Guest Houses and I decide to head into a small side street where I come across a Hostel name that sounds familiar, I don’t think too much why and I head straight there and pay for one night (Potala Hostel, 600 rupees per night, about £5.00)
I drop the bags and head straight back to the streets. My mission is to hire a guide on the same day and head to the trekking the next day without wasting any time. With that idea in mind, I start walking around the streets of Thamel before it starts to get dark as I’m not very confident that I can find my way back to the hostel in darkness. As I walk I notice that there are literally hundreds of trekking agencies everywhere, is hard to see anything else but hiking clothes stalls, hostels and trekking agencies. Here’s clearly a country that lives almost uniquely off one thing; trekking tourism.
I’m growing more and more confused by the second and I’m about to give up on my search when I spot a agency at the end of a Cul-de-sac street that looks nice and quiet inside. It is just what I need in the middle of all the chaotic confusion of the streets of Thamel. I head straight and funnily enough the agency owner is a Spanish man settled in Kathmandu. How very handy for me 🙂
I end up booking my trekking with them for the next day.
I decided on the following conditions prior my trekking;
I want to trek alone with a guide and not be part of any group (“guide only service”)
I want to design my own route
I want to carry my own backpack and not hire porters
I want to have the freedom to choose the tea houses along the trek and pay directly for the accommodation and food instead of pre pay expenses
I don’t want any packages
I want an agency that is part of the “Agencies Association TAAN”
(Always confirm that their guides are registered guides and are insured)
Once I express my conditions clearly, my next point of concern is the guide. I’ve read that alone female trekkers should be wary of male guides and with that in mind, I had some questions in mind to ask to my potential guides (the agency has some male guides outside and gives me the chance to interview as many of them as I like until I find one that I likedor feel comfortable with)
Choosing a guide: Here are some of the questions you may want to ask if you are a female trekker
Interview at least 3
Ask if he would be drinking alcohol on the trek
Make sure that his English is good enough to communicate with each other without major difficulties
Ask him if he has a family and a wife and ask to see pictures
Confirm that the guide will be paying for his own food and accommodation
Agree on route
Agree on who pays what on route
A couple of hours later, I leave the agency with a 15 day trek organized for the next day. How exciting! We have agreed on a route that passes through the Gokyo Lakes as per my own request. Krishna, my guide and I, we’ll be leaving the next day heading to Lukla with a short flight of about forty minutes and from there, a “little”walk to get close to the roof of the world.
I pay $660.00 to the agency that includes my guide and the return flights to Lukla for my guide and me.
What is NOT included is the entrance fee to the Sagarmatha National Park, accommodation and food.
My guide Krishna will pay for his own expenses (accommodation and food)
I need to be at the agency tomorrow at 5am, is dark and I’ve got no clue how to go back to my hostel. I suspect is going to be a long night and a different chapter!