Brica and I arrived in Nepal together on a Thai Airlines flight. There is a new terminal for international flights, but the airport is still a pretty barren place. We all walked off the plane to a rather modern red brick building. Brica had gone through the trouble of getting an entry visa in advance, but I had to wait in the line. They only accept US$20 for the two week entry visa. After I finally made it through Brica whisked me off to the waiting car of her friends.
Brica has a college friend who is from Nepal. That friend was in New York at the time, so her father was kind enough to pick us up at the airport. He took us to his house at offered to let us stay as long as we wanted. However I had only two weeks in Nepal, so I wanted to get up into the mountains as soon as possible.
Kathmandu is not a very big city for a capital. There are a lot of people there and there is a lot going on, but somehow it does not look like a capital. I think the tallest building in town is the Royal Nepal Airlines building on the main street, Kathi Path/ It is maybe eight stories high. There is of course a palace for the king, a national stadium, and some nice parks. However, something seems to be missing.
Like Bangkok, all of the backpacking tourists from abroad have chosen one small area in the capital as the center of activity. In Kathmandu, Thamel is the place for trekkers. There are many cheap places (US$5 per night?) to stay as well as restaurants, travel agents, used book stores, and camping goods shops. We wanted to get a start on our plans and also get a feel for the city, so we started off working from Tripureswar down Kathi Path to Thamel. Kathmandu is small enough that one can walk anywhere. The three-wheeled taxis and rickshaws are fun as well, but a walk now and then is nice. We arrived in the middle of the action just in time for lunch.
The restaurants in Thamel are truly amazing. They all specialize in satisfying the same hippie-type backpacking world traveler. Since I fit into that category sometimes, I was easily wowed by their vegetable lasagnas and sandwiches. After lunch we were hounded by more people wanting to sell us maps, clothes, tours, handmade violins, and other odd things. There is a quite open black market for currency in Thamel. The benefit over the bank rate has gone down over the years, but it is still enough to entice most travelers. We had absolutely no trouble changing money in the odd back shops of Thamel. One guy even talked to us in Japanese. They really know their business.
I had read up on trekking in the Himalayas. I knew that I didn't have enough money to get anywhere too far away. A good three to four weeks is a minimum for many of the fun courses. In addition to the sheer distance involved, there are a lot of preparations, especially if you just had all of your stuff stolen in Thailand.
We asked around about getting a guide (to show us the way) or a porter (to carry our stuff) for a ten day trek. Many people were happy to introduce us to their brother or cousin or friend. I wasn't sure if we really needed their help, but they insisted that we wouldn't want to go alone. Eventually we happened upon a place called Kathmandu Environmental Education Project (KEEP). They are in a new location, but if you ask and look around you can find them. At the KEEP Information Center there is a log book from people who have just returned from the hills. They give advice about what are the best teahouses, how hard the trail is, and where is the prettiest. We read many testimonials while sipping on cider and chatting with other people. We eventually decided on the Mt. Everest route. It is not the most popular or most difficult route, but for a number of reasons it suited our desires. According to most people, the route is very easy to follow and there are plenty of teahouses to eat and sleep at; No need for a guide.
Next we had to get a permit to trek in that region. A regular visa only allows a tourist to visit the main towns. Anyway venturing into the hills better have the proper permission. Luckily the Immigration Office is right there in Thamel. We applied for that one morning and picked it up the same day. We then took our permit across the street to get an entrance permit into Everest National Park. It all sounds a little difficult, but the system is set up to handle many similar trekkers every day.
Aside from buying some new gear and renting a sleeping bag, the only remaining problem was transportation. We would take the bus as far as we could. Unlike Mt. Fuji there is no bus up to Mt. Everest. One can take a bus as far as Jiri and walk a couple weeks to the camp at the base of Everest. For those with no time, there are a couple landing strips up in the higher mountains. We were low on time, but also low on money, so we decided to take the bus in and fly out. The flight would save us five days or so, but if the weather didn't cooperate we might have to wait even longer. There are many horror stories about people not being able to get out of the Lukla landing strip for a number of reasons. We bought our tickets in Kathmandu thinking that that might help alleviate lack of seat problems.
As I said in Thailand, I don't generally go overseas to go shopping, but I don't usually lose all of my clothes and my blanket half-way through a trip. Luckily for me Kathmandu is a very fun place to go shopping. There are tons of shops selling backpacks, boots, sleeping bags, and other gear that I needed. I would also need a decent jacket for those high altitudes.
As I was trying on some cheap boots one day, I was rummaging through the fleece jackets in the store. I found one that said Patagonia on the front and North Face on the back. How lucky! My two favorite outdoor brands. I asked the store clerk about this fine fleece. He explained to me how the inside of the jacket was made by North Face while the outside was made by Patagonia. What a great answer. I bought the boots and the jacket.
Aside from all of the fake jackets and outdoor goods, there are some really great satchels and wool goods. I picked up some nice socks and a new wool hat. All of the storekeepers were always quick to point out the selling points of their goods. "Sure it is waterproof." "Yes, it is fireproof." "It will do anything you want."
We also stocked up on candy bars, candles, and other goods that would be useful but expensive up the trail. I highly recommend water purifiers over bottled water. We drank stream water the whole time. You should also get some organic soap for bathing in the stream. Here is a list of advice for the Model Trekker brought to you by KEEP.
Ready or NotAfter three busy days in Kathmandu, we thought we were ready to set off on our adventure. We had a couple maps, plus my guide to trekking in Nepal. It included a small section of useful phrases in Nepali, but English has long been the language of trekking in Nepal. We filled up Brica's large backpack and my small bookbag and made off for the bus station early on 27 March.