Nepal: Kathmandu to Hong Kong

Posted Posted in Nepal, Round The World Trip

We woke up at 5:00 to head to the airport for our 8:30AM flight to Hong Kong.  We’d arranged for the hotel driver to pick us up at 5:30, but he wasn’t there.  So we took a taxi and gave him a good tip because we had extra Nepali Rupees so why not?

The little Kathmandu Airport was – as expected – a nightmare.  They hadn’t even opened the doors to the airport and there were already 75 people in line for the security check.  When it opened at 6:20, I went ahead to get in line for seat assignments, while Jon stood in line for the x-ray machine.  The men at the desk gave me Exit Row seats, which is what I’d asked for.  Unfortunately, as we found out 2 hours later when we boarded the plane, they were not an exit row.  They were actually the last row of the front section, which means right in front of the wall so the seats didn’t recline.  Bummer!  But it turns out that a family of little kids had been seated separately, so Jon and I gave them our row and we sat in adjacent aisle seats.

OK.  So this is not exciting stuff for our journal, but it’s a travel day so what do you expect?

Hong Kong International Airport

We arrived at the brand-spankin-new Hong Kong airport at 3:30 Hong Kong time.  Jon tells me that the airport was finished in 1997, and it definitely looks it.  This place is the epitome of modernization!  If it were (much) smaller, I would think it could be a very trendy NYC bar!

We were thrilled to get here, despite the fact that it was pouring rain.  Jon has some Marriott points left from the “consulting days” and we’ll be cashing in some of that for 3 days at the Harbourview Renaissance here in Hong Kong.  This reservation is one of the only things that has kept us going over the last few weeks: luxury!  clean sheets!   air conditioning!  competent staff! a concierge!!!  Ahhhhh……

On the plane, we had mapped out our voyage to our hotel – which would include a ride on the Airport Express train to Hong Kong Central, then a brief walk to the Metro, then a few block walk to the hotel.  Unless, of course, if the hotel has a shuttle from Hong Kong Central which we were praying for since the rain didn’t look like it was going to let up.  But as Jon went to get us money, I was looking at a map of the terminal which had a list of the hotel shuttles directly from the airport.  And – in a lovely turn of luxury and pampering – our hotel has a shuttle!  No lugging of the backpacks on various modes of public transport!  We are going to be chauffeured!  Well, in a bus that is.  So we went to the counter and made the arrangements, and were asked to please have a seat and a representative will come and collect us.

Let the pampering begin!

Hong Kong

The bus ride was very nice, and took us right through some of the different Hong Kong islands.  We’re surprised at how much Hong Kong looks like Hawaii (although, of course, we’ve never been to Hawaii so this is really what we think Hawaii looks like).  There are big lush green mountains surrounded by buildings and roads and bridges.  At any rate, this place is modern.  I found it a bit odd being among skyscrapers and concrete again, but Jon is thrilled to be back in a big city.

The Harbourview Renaissance

The Harbourview Renaissance is lovely!!  Marble floors, water falls, a grand piano player with a string quartet.  Puh-leeese!  Why have we been staying in dives?  Oh yeah.  Because they’re cheap.

Jon is still a Marriott Gold Member (or whatever the highest level is) so they have given us a room on a high floor and access to the Renaissance Club!  And although we don’t have a direct view of the Victoria Harbour, we can definitely see it from our window.  Really, who cares?  We’re on the 35th floor and can see the entire city!  We’re so high up that we might have to start taking Diamox again to avoid altitude sickness!  Just kidding, of course.

We were starving so we dropped our stuff in the room, laid out everything that has gotten wet when it was taken off the plane, and took the elevator to the 40th floor to the Renaissance Club for food.  Yum!!  There was an entire buffet laid out of spring rolls, tuna tartar, dumplings, and little sweet pastries.  We chowed down, but as discreetly as we could without looking like starving budget travelers.  (Which is exactly what we are, of course).

Out On the Town

After our buffet binge, we chilled out in the room for a while and then headed out to walk around.  We are definitely in Hong Kong’s business district, so there are many 2nd-floor walkways, malls, and eateries.  In fact, we never went down to the street level until the very end of our trip – we just kept walking around on the different esplanades and through different shopping centers .  We stopped into some grocery stores because Jon wants some “manly soap” (although he’s been very good not complaining about how pretty he smells using Dove).  Unfortunately, we didn’t find any so he’s going have to continue to use the girly stuff.

Finally, we ended up at the restaurant we had been looking for.  We have been craving this food for a good month now, and are thrilled to be in a city that has it.  We placed our order with the maitre ‘d and waited.  The food arrived very quickly and smelled delicious….

A Quarter Pounder w/Cheese for me.  A Big Mac and a Double Cheeseburger for Jon.   Supersized, of course!

We took our food to-go and hustled back to the hotel where we could eat in front of the extensive television channels in our room.  I know we’re going to get flamed for this via email from all of you.  But look: every once in a while you have to mix up all the culture with a good, healthy dose of western capitalism.

We spent the rest of the night in front of the boob tube, lounging around in our courtesy hotel robes and slippers.

So there.

Nepal: Kathmandu

Posted Posted in Nepal, Round The World Trip

Today was our last day in Kathmandu, and we had a huge amount of stuff (excess clothes and XMas gifts) to mail home.  We headed into Thamel to go to one of the Export Offices which could mail our stuff.  On our way there, we passed a store into which we had glanced before.

Gurkhas Khurkuri House

The Gurkhas Khurkuri House ( sells Gurkhas Knives, which are traditionally used by Nepal Gurkhas in addition to being used by local Nepalis.  The knives are big, beautiful handcrafted knives with sheaths made from leather, yak leather, bone, or silver.  And the blades themselves are often carved with lovely designs.  Jon, who really hasn’t bought himself a Jon-specific souvenir, decided it was time.  So we went in, looked around, chatted with the owner, and Jon chose a lovely large knife with a yak leather sheath.

When Jon asked about shipping, the owner (Rajendra Deuja) said that he can arrange it through one of the local exporters.  So then we realized that we can ship everything through him – including the 10 kilos of stuff we had in our backpacks!  Rajendra made some phone calls, and his son brought out a large scale, and we piled our stuff bit by bit onto the scale to weigh it all.  After a few more minutes of addressing, filling out forms, and exchanging money and business cards, we were on our way – one Gurkha Knife richer, and 10 kilos lighter!  I don’t know which made Jon more happy: getting a Gurkha Knife, or mailing all our stuff in a one-shop stop.  Either way, he was ecstatic.

Barnes and Noble Books

There’s a bookstore here called the Barnes & Noble Store which we’ve come to know very well.  It’s not the same as B&N Bookstore in US, but there really isn’t any copyright enforcement here in Kathmandu so what do they care?  They have a great selection of used books which they will also buy-back at 50% of the price.  We bought a few of them before we went to Tibet, and came back to re-sell them a few days ago.  On our last re-sell mission, we stocked up on books for China, but we were still looking for used Lonely Planets for Vietnam and Thailand.  So we made a last stop at Barnes and Noble to see if they had acquired any in the last few days.

In front of the Lonely Planet section, we met a nice French couple who told us not to buy them here – that we can get them for very cheap in Saigon.  They will probably be pirated, of course, but it’s good to know that we can still get them there for cheap.  So we’re happy for two reasons: (1) Cheap is good, and (2) We weren’t looking forward to lugging two extra Lonely Planets books around China.  They’re heavy!  But after our wild Lonely Planet goose-chase around Cairo (see July 16), we also didn’t want to run the risk that China wouldn’t have Lonely Planets before we arrive in Vietnam in October.

Lunch at Fire and Ice

As today is our last day in Kathmandu, we are having lunch and dinner at our two favorite restaurants here.  For lunch, we went to Fire and Ice and ordered some of their excellent calzones.  (We still haven’t decided if they’re better than Luigi’s in Harrisonburg.  Jon is determined to hijack one of our parents’ cars in DC and drive the two hours down there to find out.)  We finished lunch off with a chocolate soft-serve ice cream cone.  Yum!

Kathmandu Free Movie

Kathmandu has a bunch of “free movie houses” that regularly rotate their selections among each other.  We passed a place that was going to show the movie “Evolution” with Julianne Moore and David Duchovany at 3:00.  So after a little more goofing off around town we walked to the place that had the sign.  On the way there, it started to rain.  And by the time we got to the movie house, we were in a torrential downpour.  This was fine with us, because we are never without our trusty blue ponchos (which our friend Gabrielle told us in Shigatse made us look like two gnomes).

Sorry – I got distracted.  ANYWAY… we hustled back through an alleyway and into a room with a few tables and chairs.  The only requirement is that we order something while we watch the movie, so Jon ordered beer and I had a chocolate milkshake.  The movie was showing on a little television with a huge stereo sound-system that unfortunately was useless because the movie quality was so bad.  I think that someone recorded this by pointing a video camera at a television and hit “record”.  But we really didn’t care, because this was a nice way to spend a rainy afternoon.  The movie was relatively entertaining, but let’s just say that we’re glad it was free because it wasn’t that good.  Also, there were 3 other people in the room with us watching the movie.  And, although they were quiet, some of the guys who ran the joint were carrying on normal conversations in the back of the room.  But you really can’t shush someone when you’re watching a free movie.  I’m sure there are laws about that somewhere.

After the movie, we headed back to the hotel to pack up our stuff and to chill out before dinner.  Then we went back to see Surendra at Bajra Silver Crafts to get my Om charm, which was very nice.  Surendra was very excited about us having a website and insisted on writing down our email and website information before he would let us leave.  He’s such a great guy!

Dinner at Yin Yang

As I mentioned before, we’re eating at our favorite places today since it’s our last day here in Kathmandu.  So we had dinner at Yin Yang and ordered our favorite dishes.  We really can’t wait until Thailand – we just LOVE this type of food!  But then again, we said the same thing about Indian food and Jon says that he doesn’t even want to smell the stuff for at least a year.

After dinner, it was pouring rain again so we put on our blue Gnome Ponchos and headed out.  We stopped by a bakery to get donuts for tomorrow’s breakfast and some brownies for us tonight.  Then we went back to the room, ate our brownies, and went to bed.

Nepal: Kathmandu

Posted Posted in Nepal, Round The World Trip

A few days ago we emailed our parents with the number of the hotel so they could give us a ring.  At 7:00 this morning, my Mom and Dad called and we chatted through a bad connection.  The funny thing was that we realized we had nothing to talk about!  Of course, this is because they read all the journals and email us at least every other day.  So despite thousands of miles of distance, we’re very up to date on what’s going on in each others’ lives.  How’s that for technology?  Five minutes after we rang off with them, the phone rang again but this time it was Jo Connal.  It was so nice to hear her voice and to find out what’s going on back home.  So they still haven’t found Chandra Levvy, huh?  Can’t say that I miss the U.S. version of “important news”!

Today was a big errand day.  We went into Thamel to pick up a charm a jeweler was making for us, but he had changed the price significantly from the one we’d agreed to on Sunday.  So we had to do some heavy arguing to get our deposit back.  It wasn’t pretty.  At one point in the thick of it, the vendor looked at me and said “You’re a woman.  I don’t do business with women.  I will talk to him.” (indicating Jon).  Suddenly, all I could see was red.  But I was coherent enough to recognize that – because of the culture – it was pointless to go off on a feminist tirade, which is what I was very tempted to do.  So I turned around and walked out.  Jon stayed and argued further, and somehow got our money back after 10 more minutes of arguing.  He came outside to find me, where I was standing so completely irate and furious that I could barely speak.  Jon decided that we should go to the Internet Cafe, so I could be distracted and cool off a bit.  It worked.  An hour later I was feeling much better and ready to go have lunch.

On our way out of Thamel, we stopped by a jeweler we’d found late the other day who we really liked and who sold us some lovely gifts.  His name is Surendra Bajracharya and, although his little store has no name on it, it’s called Bajra Silver Crafts Exporters (  We chatted with him about what we wanted, and he told us to come back later tonight and he’ll have a price for us.  He refused to take a deposit, which of course scored big points with us.

American Embassy

Jon is in dire straights with his passport.  He has maybe 1.5 pages left for entry and exit stamps, and we’ve heard that China is particularly snippy when it comes to passports with no room.  And while I have 3 pages left in my passport, there’s still plenty of opportunity for issues at various borders.  So Jon thought we should go to the American Embassy to see if they could help us.  Lonely Planet said that the Embassy was just a few blocks away from Thamel, so we strolled over there to visit.  Unfortunately, this was the “Embassy Club” (whatever that is).  The real US Embassy is much further away in northern Kathmandu.

So we decided to get a taxi to run some other errands and then go to the US Embassy.  We hailed a taxi and told the driver to take us to Royal Nepali Airlines.  After a few minutes of driving, he wheedled out of us our schedule for the day and negotiated a price to be our driver for all our errands.  What a nice idea!  Now why didn’t we think of that?  He was a funny old man with a nutty hat, and he made cracks about other drivers the entire ride.  Although his English seemed to be passable, he didn’t understand the phrase “What is your name?” and would instead crack more jokes about people on the roads.

Royal Nepal Airlines

We needed to go to Royal Nepal Airlines to make sure they hadn’t cancelled our flight.  This airline is notorious for suddenly changing routes and schedules without any concern for the people booked on those flights.  So although someone hired by Intrepid confirmed our flight while we were in Tibet, we needed to make sure the flight was still running as scheduled.  We expected to be at RNA for a while, waiting in line.  But the office wasn’t crowded and the woman at the “Tourist Reconfirmations” desk waved us right up.  The flight is still as scheduled, and we have to be at the airport at 6:00AM on Thursday morning.

The Real US Embassy

We hopped back in the car with our nameless driver and drove into northern Kathmandu, which was about a 10 minute drive.  He dropped us off at the US Embassy and we walked through the door and through the security check, where the nice woman hand-checked our day pack and set aside my camera and Jon’s Swiss Army Knife.  We walked into the Visa room and were surprised to find no one waiting in the waiting chairs.  We walked up to the window, buzzed the button for service, and a nice man came up.  We told him that we needed extra pages for our passports and he smiled and said “Of course!  No problem!”.  A few minutes later, he came back with inserts, adhered them to the used pages of our passports, and notarized them.  Just like that, we were done.  In and out in 5 minutes.  Jon, with a smart-ass grin, kept saying, “I don’t know what you were complaining about when you went to get our visas.  This was so simple!”.  Grrrrrr.

On the wall of the waiting room was a sign that we really liked.  It was a picture of the US flag and read:

“You can’t appreciate home ’til you’ve left it….. nor Old Glory ’til you see it hanging on a broomstick in the shanty of a consul in a foreign town.”  – O.Henry

We thought this was very fitting, and definitely agree with him!

Back to the Hotel

Our nameless driver happily drove us back to the hotel.  He was happy, of course, because he made a nice amount of money for a short amount of time.  And we were happy to pay him because we thought our errands would take 3 times the amount of time they did.  So everyone was in a good mood!

We chilled out in the Kathmandu Prince for a while, Jon doing some reading and I finishing up my errant journal entries.  Then we headed back into town to see about Surendra’s price.  The price he gave us was for the little charm definitely fair, and we told him that we’d be back tomorrow evening to pick it up.  Again, he refused to take a deposit so we were very happy.  Jon’s eyes wandered onto some rings in a case and he found a replacement toe-ring for me.  (Mine is somewhere on the bottom of the Trisuli River after yesterday’s swim).  Although the rings he had weren’t toe-rings, Surendra said he would have one made for me tomorrow when we came for the charm.  If I like it, he will sell it to me.

So what could have been a traumatic day was actually a very nice one.  We went to dinner at a place called “Casa Della Pasta” where we each ordered a huge beer and finished up our postcards.  After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and watched some silly movie on Cinemax until we fell asleep.

Nepal: Kathmandu

Posted Posted in Nepal, Round The World Trip

White Water Rafting Trip

The company through which we organized today’s white water rafting trip told us that we’d be picked up at our hotel at 6:30.  We assumed this meant in a car.  But we were wrong.

The man who picked us up was on a motorcycle and indicated to us that we should walk down the road to Chettripati Square.  So we figured that the car was either there, or at Mark and Laura’s hotel right around the corner.  When we got to the square, Mark and Laura were waiting there with a guy named Krishna who was holding our lunches.  The dude on the motorcycle honked and drove away.

We looked at Krishna and said, “Where’s the car?” and he said, “No car.  We take the bus.”.  Well, now this is all starting to come together.  When we’d stopped by the rafting place yesterday, there was a bit of confusion as to what time we were being picked up and someone told us that we should be at the bus station by 6:30.  After we had reflected on this a bit longer, we realized that no one ever actually SAID that we were getting a RIDE to the river.  Only that we were being “picked up” at the hotel.  So we looked at each other, shrugged, and followed Krishna through the streets of Kathmandu to the bus station on Kanipath Road – about a 10 minute walk.

The Bus Ride To the River

Krishna got us tickets on the bus, which was sort of a touristy bus with high-backed chairs and cushions.  At 7:00, the bus left the bus stop and drove out of Kathmandu.  The drive was about 3.5 hours long, and we stopped a few times to let someone off or to pick up more passengers.  But all in all it was an uneventful trip.  We stopped within the last hour at a restaurant to stretch our legs, use the loo, and grab a beverage.  When the bus started up again to leave, we got on and noticed that Krishna and his fellow rafting guides were not on the bus.  So we mentioned this to the “conductor” who pointed to the ceiling.  Krishna and his friends were riding on the roof of the bus for the rest of trip, which last about 40 minutes.

I had my book “Touching The Void” by Joe Simpson which Mark and Laura had both read.  So every once in a while Mark would stick his head over the seat and say “Which part are you at?…. Oh that’s a good one….” and would tease me about what was coming up next.  This book is so good and so descriptive about mountain climbing that my hands were sweating as if I were on the mountain with them!

We arrived at the river at 10:30, and had to wait another hour or so for them to inflate the rafts and get our helmets and life jackets in order.  At 11:15, Krishna gave us our briefing and list of commands: All forward; right forward, left back, all back, etc…” then we were ready to hit the river.

Trisuli River

The four of us were in an raft with Krishna, an assistant guide, and 3 guys from Spain.  I think that Jon and I were the only ones who had been rafting before, so we sat in the front of the raft.  But it didn’t really matter because these rapid are only Class 3 rapids so anyone can do them.  There were two other rafts that left the shore with us, each with about the same amount of people but the current put a lot of space between the 3 rafts which was nice.

It took us a short while for everyone in the raft to get comfortable with the commands and the feel of the rapids, but we were cruising down the river in no time and having a blast.  The scenery was incredibly beautiful, and the mountain run-offs created some gorgeous waterfalls into the river.  I wish I could have taken out my camera and taken some pictures, but we were hitting white water every 4-5 minutes so there really wasn’t enough time.

After an hour and half of paddling, rafting, and shouting “Woohoo” on the bigger rapids, we pulled over to a beach for lunch.  Well, first Krishna tried to land us on a rocky bank but we looked at him like he was crazy and asked for a soft, sandy beach.  So 5 minutes downriver we paddled over to a nice beach and settled into our box lunches.

The lunches were pretty heinous.  There was a box of mango juice, a hard-boiled egg, some fried vegetable concoction, a cole-slaw sandwich, and a cheese sandwich that Mark called a “rubber sandwich”.  But we ate as much as we could, and were happy that we brought some chocolate bars with us.  Unfortunately, the chocolate had melted so Jon held them in the river for a few minutes until they cooled down.

The four of us on the beach for lunch

We set off again at 1:00 and continued down the river.  This time, Mark and one of the Spaniards sat in the front of the raft so they could have some fun too.  I didn’t realize how hard it was to paddle in the front until I was no longer there.  This paddling thing is a piece of cake!

We passed under a lot of suspension bridges on the river.  Some of them looked like they had been there for 100+ years, but people we still walking on them!  At one point, we passed a  zip wire with a rusty cargo basket hanging below it.  A little man was pulling himself across it and was about 1/4 of the way when we rafted under him.  What a commute, right?

After our last big rapids, Krishna told us we could go for a swim so a few of us jumped in the freezing cold water.  The current was really strong, but the raft was moving with us so the only issue was getting back into the raft.  This proved to be the funniest part of the trip.  The Spaniards had a difficult time because they weren’t little guys, and we all laughed each time they tried to climb on without any help.  They would simply slide back into the water again.  When I came to climb on, Mark and Laura reached over to grab me by the life jacket to haul me in.  This was all done none too gracefully and for a few minutes I looked like a wet fish flopping around the raft as I tried to get right-side up again and we all laughed hysterically.  Someone smacked me on the behind just for effect!

A short while later, we paddled over to our final stopping point and carried the raft up the shore.  We had brought a change of clothes, and took care of changing and getting dry again.

The end of the trip – in front of an old tree

We then climbed to the top of the hill where we had to wait for a bus to Kathmandu to drive by.  The road that runs along the river is the only direct road from India to Kathmandu, so buses drive along every few minutes.  The trick is to find one that (1) is heading to Kathmandu, and (2) has room for all of us.  20 minutes and 5 false calls later (most buses didn’t have room for us), we finally got on a bus and were on our way by 4:00PM.

Bus Ride From Hell

This bus was not nearly as nice as the bus we had on the way out of Kathmandu.  Most of the seats were broken and permanently in the upright or fully-reclined position.  Laura was in a seat that was stuck upright but the seat in front of her (where I was sitting) would only fully recline.  So the poor thing had no room.  Jon and I were sitting on top of the wheel well, so our knees were jammed into the seats in front of us.

Unfortunately, the sun was setting so we couldn’t read for much longer.  The bus was driving excruciatingly slowly, and we were often passed by other buses full of people.  We were all dirty, tired, uncomfortable, hungry, and getting more and more impatient by the minute.

After 3 hours, the bus pulled over for its 20-minute restaurant stop and we realized that we still had a good hour to go.  This bus was SO SLOW!  None of us were really thrilled by the prospect of another hour, but neither did we have much choice.  So around 8:00, when we pulled into a bus stop close to Kathmandu, we were ready to get out and catch a taxi into town.  Unfortunately, there were no taxis to be found.  But there WERE touts who climbed on the bus to say “Welcome to Kathmandu!” and tried to get us to stay at the hotels paying their commissions.  This lasted for about 10 minutes until all of us in the back of the bus lost our collective patience.  We started yelling for the bus driver to drive on and for the touts to get off the bus.  Finally, we were on our way again.  10 minutes later, we made another stop where we actually saw taxis.  It was pouring rain by this time, but the 4 of us raced off the bus and climbed into a taxi and told him to take us to Thamel in Kathmandu.

Ironically, we went from the slowest bus in the country to the slowest taxi driver in the country.  At one point, Laura said “Do you think he knows how to get out of second gear?”.  Just like New York.  When you’re hungry and want to get somewhere fast – you get the only defensive driver in the city.

Pizza at “Fire and Ice”

We made it to the restaurant – “Fire and Ice” – to which Jon and I had been yesterday for lunch and which has some of the best pizza in Kathmandu.  Yesterday, we split a calzone because they are so big.  But tonight, we were so hungry that Jon and I each ordered our own.  Laura and Mark each ate a pizza, too.  And although the last 4 hours were painful and annoying, the yummy food and cold beers made us happy.  We felt much more relaxed as we left the restaurant, despite the pouring rain and cold air.  Luckily, there were taxis right out front so we took a taxi to the short distance to Chetripati Square near both our hotels.

The four of us ducked under an overhang to say our goodbyes because Mark and Laura a leaving for China tomorrow morning.  We’re so sad to see them go because we all got along so well, but I’m sure that these are people we’ll see again sometime!

Jon and I ran through the rain to the hotel, where we each showered and washed our wet river clothes.  (Yes, doing laundry in the shower is a very efficient use of time and water!).  Then we curled up in bed and read.  I had to stay up until midnight to finish my book – it’s that good!

Nepal: Kathmandu

Posted Posted in Nepal, Round The World Trip

Today we slept in until late, packed up our stuff, and switched hotels.  The Kathmandu Hotel (where we stayed the first few days here in Kathmandu) was about 2 blocks away from the Hotel Harati, where Intrepid had us staying.  So we piled on our backpacks and headed down the street.

At the Kathmandu Prince, Rammani was very happy to see us again.  He told us that – since we had been “trekking” in Tibet – he would give us a room with a bathtub.  A real treat!  So we put our stuff in the room and essentially moved in since we’ll be here for 4 days.  The waist support of my backpack is ripping because of too many hotel porters picking it up incorrectly.  So I took everything out of it and will take it to one of the mountain trekking stores to have it fixed.  We also gave the hotel our massive pile of laundry with our sleeping bag sheets and are so excited to have stuff washed.

Christmas Shopping!

We headed into Thamel to buy some souvenirs and do some Christmas shopping which we will send home and which will hopefully make it there by December.  I’m not going into detail about where we went and what we got (duh!  Then they won’t be surprises!), but we spent all day shopping and got lots of cool stuff.

Calzone Debate

We had lunch at a great restaurant called “Fire and Ice” which serves pizza and ice cream.  Jon and I split the biggest calzone I have ever seen.  It was also one of the most delicious I’ve ever had!  We debated whether it was as good as those at Luigi’s in Harrisonburg, VA.  I think it is, but Jon thinks I’m having Luigi’s withdrawls.  So we decided that – next time we’re visiting family in DC – we’ll drive the two hours to Luigi’s for lunch so we can determine if it’s as good as we remember.  I wonder when that will be.

Yin Yang

While we were in Tibet, we overdosed on noodle soup.  It seemed that noodle soup is all Tibetans eat!  Or at least that’s the safest thing to order in most restaurants.  At one point a few days ago, we were waiting for the group to meet to go to dinner and Jon had a  “If-I-Have-To-Eat-Another-Noodle-Soup-I’m-Going-To-Explode” look on his face.  I’m sure you know that look.  So I gave him something to look forward to and said, “When we get back to Kathmandu, we’re going to go to Yin Yang and have the spicy prawn appetizer, I’m going to have the Chicken Massuman, and you’re going to have the Green Curry Beef.”  This made the millions of noodle soups a bit more bearable.

So we made plans to meet Mark and Laura at 7:30 at Yin Yang for dinner.  We arrived kind of early at 7:00, so Jon went to pick up my newly repaired backpack (on which they apparently broke 10 needles trying to fix it!) and I got us a table and some beers.  I was almost done with my beer when Mark and Laura showed up, and – having not consumed alcohol in a few weeks – I was feeling a little tipsy.  We had a lovely dinner with them and laughed the entire time.

Mark, Me, Jon, and Laura at Yin Yang

I don’t know whose idea it was to order dessert, but none of us had eaten this much food in 2 weeks and we had to waddle back to our respective hotels.  We said good-night and told them we’d see them bright and early tomorrow morning for a white water rafting trip.

Nepal: Kathmandu

Posted Posted in Nepal, Round The World Trip

This morning we met the group at 8:00 for a tour of Kathmandu’s major sights with a local guide.  Last night it rained pretty hard, so the streets were very muddy and wet.  Regardless, we set out for the 2km walk to Swayambhunath.


Swayambhunath is the Buddhist temple also known as the Monkey Temple because of all the monkeys that live there.  The temple is very large and is situated on top a hill west of the city.  We can see it from our hotel room window.  It took us about 20 minutes to get to the temple, but mostly because we had to walk up 365 very steep steps.  Our guide told us that there are 365 steps because – for pilgrims – this is one for every day of the year and helps in the purification process before reaching the temple.  I commented that it’s good because I need all the purification I can get.

Needless to say, I wasn’t saying much at all when we finally reached the top because I was so out of breath and so incredibly hot!

But the view from the temple was incredible and we all just stopped and stared for a while while our guide told us about it’s history.  No one really knows when it was built, but there’s evidence that it’s been here for 2000 years.  The stupa is a dome-shaped structure topped by a gold-colored block with Buddha eyes.  Around the base of the stupa is a number of prayer wheels which pilgrims spin as they pass by.  It’s important that the wheels be spun in only a clock-wise direction, and we were told to walk around the temple in only a clock-wise direction as well.  I never really asked why, but sometimes you just accept these traditions and go with them.

The Swayambhunath Stupa

The flags are prayer flags with various mantras on them.  It’s said that – when the wind blows – the words are dispersed into the air and prayers are granted.

Kathmandu Durbar Square

In Nepali, Durbar means ‘palace’ and although the King no longer lives in the old palace, the temples are still clustered around the square and it is still the center of Kathmandu.  Our guide took us around and showed us many different buildings here.

We saw the Kasthamandap – also known as the House of Wood.  Legend has it that the entire building was made from a single sal tree, but I’m a bit skeptical about this as it’s a huge building.  While we were there, an adorable child wandered up to us looking for chocolate which none of us had.  So Ken started to play with her instead.  He played the “lifting game” where he lifted her high up in the air or swung her by her arms and she would giggle uncontrollably.  It was so cute!

We also saw the Shiva Temple and – today being Monday – it was quite crowded with women worshippers.  I can’t remember if I’ve previously described Shiva, but he is the Creator and the Destoyer, and is probably one of the most important Gods in Hindu.  He is known as Mahadev, the Great God.  His shakti is Parvati, or the Great Goddess (Mahadevi). Apparently, Shiva is very good to his Goddess and many Hindu women aspire to make their men as good as Shiva.  So this is why the Shiva temple is crowded with women today, because they are making him offerings to bring good luck to their husbands and to have some Shiva-ness rub off on them.  So Shiva is quite the stud muffin.


Also in Durbar Square, the most interesting part of the day was a visit to the Kumari Bahal to visit the Kumari Devi – Nepal’s living goddess.  She is a newly selected Goddess as of two months ago and is only 4 years old.  She can come to the window once a day to look out into her courtyard.  So we went into the courtyard and looked up at the window and waited for her to appear.  We were not allowed to take photos of her, but we could take pictures of the window and the courtyard, which is actually beautiful in and of itself because all the carvings are entirely of wood.

The Kumari Devi’s window

We didn’t have to wait long for her to arrive, and she suddenly appeared out of nowhere.  She was wearing a yellow silk jacket and had a red good-luck mark on her forehead.  We clapped for her as soon as we saw her.  Then, five seconds later, she was gone.  She didn’t look very happy for someone who was recently named a Goddess, but I guess she may not fully understand what all the hubbub is about.

I think Jon should make me a living Goddess.  I think I’d be good at it.  And I wouldn’t let it go to my head.  Really.

After touring Durbar Square, the group dispersed and everyone went their own ways.  Jon and I caught a rickshaw back to the hotel because I was feeling the effects of the heat and needed to sleep for a while.  He hit the town for lunch and ran some errands before we take off for Tibet tomorrow.

Later, we met everyone in the lobby at 7:00 for dinner and went to a place called Alice’s Restaurant (Arlo Guthrie, anyone?).  The food was quite good and it was nice to hang out with the group and to get to know everyone.  We have to be up early tomorrow, so we didn’t stay out late.

Nepal: Kathmandu

Posted Posted in Nepal, Round The World Trip

Today we slept in because we have to switch hotels to the place where Intrepid Travel arranged for us to stay.  We’re excited to meet up with another group tonight and to meet some new people.  We packed up our stuff and checked out of the Kathmandu Prince Hotel (where, by the way, Jon negotiated an AWESOME price for us when we get back from our trip).  It’s a nice little place and the staff is very nice.

Northfield Cafe

We put on our backpacks and trekked a few blocks away to the Hotel Harati.  We dropped off our stuff, grabbed our books, and headed out to lunch.  We went to the Northfield Cafe in the Thamel district – a cute little courtyard back away from the street covered by a big blue tarp.  We ordered banana smoothies and nachos, and read our books.  Then we ordered lunch and read some more, and then ordered a scrumptious apple pie a la mode.  It started raining a bit, but we didn’t care because we were under the big blue tarp.

After lunch, we walked around more of Thamel, stopping in the backpacker stores to get fleece gloves and hats for Tibet (where we will be at/above 3500 meters).  We also picked up a little t-shirt I had made a few days before.  Then we went back to the hotel because we’d forgotten our computer disk to upload journal entries.

While we were back at the hotel, Kath – our Intrepid Travel Leader – stopped by to say hello and to get some paperwork we had for her.  She’s very cool, and we chatted about traveling and the Tibet trip for a while.  Then she left and Jon took the disk to the Internet Cafe while I lay around and read my book.  He also stopped by a grocery store for snacks and took my new t-shirt back to the store because they’d forgotten to sew part of it. (oops)  What a great guy to do all that while I lay around!

Dinner at K-Too

At 6:00, we went down to the hotel lobby to meet Kath and our new travel group.  There are about 12 of us, and we were surprised by the number of Americans in the group.  Kath briefed us on the trip (very cool), the accommodations (very sparse), and the high altitude (very high).  We also talked about Intrepid’s “Responsible Travel” mantra: don’t use too many plastic water bottles, don’t promote the begging, and respect the religious pilgrims – among other things.

Then we went to dinner at K-Too, a restaurant in Thamel.  We were quite a happy crowd, and there was a cool band playing in the bar so we were very content.

After a while, a group of 40 teenagers with matching shirts came in as well.  We wondered why any group would want matching shirts, but found out later that they had been together trekking for a month and tonight was their last night together.  So they were very sentimental and taking pictures of anyone who moved.  One of the kids got up, borrowed the band’s guitar, and sang a song which made the whole group teary-eyed.  I remember high school trips like that!

Anyway, here’s the low-down on our group from what we could gather over dinner:

Kath Our travel leader from New Zealand.  She loves China and Tibet and has been ALL OVER.

Susan From Potomac, Maryland but originally from Long Island.  She’s a fellow Wahoo so enough said.  We love her already.

Alex Young girl (20, I think) from Switzerland.  She’s been on the road for 7 weeks and speaks quite a few languages.

Lhasa From Australia, but currently lives in Japan.  She’d just arrived when we started our group meeting and was very happy for someone who had just ended a long plane ride.

John From Australia just North of Sydney.  He’s been to this area 4 times before – from Everest Base Camp to hanging out in Kathmandu.

Sid A doctor from Montana and is currently moving to Minnesota.  Very nice guy.

Lisa Originally from St Louis, but currently lives in Boulder, CO.  She’s spent some time in Africa, among other places and is traveling with her Dad.

Ken Lisa’s Dad from St. Louis although originally from Manhattan.  He works at Washington University doing medical research and is currently working on a very cool paper: the effects of distracted driving.

Gabrielle From Austria.  She didn’t come to dinner so we didn’t get to know her very well.

Laura and Mark They’re from the UK, but they hadn’t arrived by the time we went to dinner so we hope to meet them tomorrow.

Nepal: Kathmandu

Posted Posted in Nepal, Round The World Trip

We were up early to do a tour of the valley outside Kathmandu.  Our driver met us in the lobby at 8:00AM, and within 20 minutes we were driving in the green countryside on narrow mountain roads.  The scenery was stunning and the drive was very nice.


Dakshinkali is a temple dedicated to the goddess Kali, Shiva’s consort in “her most bloody incarnation”.  On Tuesdays and Saturdays Nepalis come here to sacrifice goats, roosters, ducks, sheep, and pigs to satisfy Kali’s blood lust.  We had to walk down a long drive and some steep stairs to get to the temple, which sits in the corner between two hills where two rivers meet.  It’s a lovely setting, and even though it’s basically a slaughterhouse, the entire experience is powerful.  The temple is very holy to local Nepalis, and we were not allowed into the Kali compound.  So we sat on a hill above the compound and watched the blessings and sacrifices.  I did manage to get a picture of a rooster just before it was given to Kali.  Good taste tells me I shouldn’t put the picture here, but Jon is insisting.


After the animals are sacrificed, the bodies go into a plastic bag and go home with the owners for dinner.

Sekh Narayan Temple

We also stopped by the nearby Sekh Narayan Temple, which has an interesting collection of temples, pools, and carvings.  The main temple is above the pools and is sheltered under a multi-colored, overhanging cliff.  It was interesting to see.

Jal Binayak Temple

We drove through Chobar to the Jal Binayak Temple, which is just below the Chobar Gorge on the riverbank.  It’s one of the valley’s most important shrines dedicated to Ganesh.  It dates from 1602 although there was probably a temple here long before that.  Just above the temple a suspension bridge stretches from one side of the gorge to the other.  We went here first to enjoy the view before going down to the temple.

Jon on the suspension bridge

The Jal Binayak Temple


The driver then dropped us off in Patan, which is a town just outside of Kathmandu.  We especially wanted to go here today because today is Krishnasthami – the God Krishna’s Birthday – and there is a special festival in Patan today.  Krishan is an incarnation of Vishnu, who is an important Hindu God.  So we made our way to Durbar Square, where the festivities were taking place.

The place was PACKED.  They had roped off sections of the square where men and women were standing in line with flowers, oils, and gifts to put into Krishna Mandir (Krishna’s Temple).

Krishna Madir

Here’s Lonely Planet’s description of Krishna Mandir:

…built by King Siddhinarsingh Malla.  Records indicate that the temple was completed with installation of the image on the 1st floor in 1637.  With its strong Mughal influences, this stone temple is clearly of Indian design, unlike the nearby brick and timber, multi-roofed Nepali temples.  The 1st and 2nd floors are made up of a line of pavilions from the top of which rises a corncob-like shikhara.  Musicians can often e heard playing upstairs.

Krishna is an incarnation of Vishnu so the god’s vehicle, the manbird Garuda, kneels with folded arms on top of a column facing the temple.  The stone carvings along the beam above the first floor pillars recount events of Mahabharata while on the 2nd floor there are scenes from the Ramayan.  These fine friezes are accompanied by explanations in Newari of the narrative scenes.

We had lunch at Le Cafe Temple, which had a great 4th floor terrace where we could look out over the entire festival.  We ordered lunch and people-watched for a long time.  There was so much to see – Brahamans, dancers, worshippers, tourists.  It was all fabulous.

Special Note:

Tomorrow, we meet our tour group to go to Tibet.  We leave for Tibet on the 13th (I think), and I’d be surprised if Internet Cafes are abundant there.  So you may not hear from us until the end of August when we return to Kathmandu.  Either way, keep sending emails because we LOVE to get emails from you all!  And keep checking just in case we can get to a terminal somewhere along the way.


– Jon and Heidi

Nepal: Kathmandu

Posted Posted in Nepal, Round The World Trip

We slept in and laid around the hotel until around 10:00, when we decided to go out and explore Kathmandu.  We had a few errands to run: go to American Express for traveler’s cheques, book a rafting trip, see about city tours, and sell some used books.  So off we went.

First we walked through the Thamel area of the city, which is where we were last night.  We’ve decided that this city actually reminds us of Key West, sans beach, and a few thousand meters above sea level.  It has a dead-head atmosphere, but without being utterly crunchy.  We stopped at a bakery and grabbed some lunch – for about $4.00.  Then we hit the pavement to find the American Express office because we’re out of traveler’s cheques.

On the way to AmEx – which is in the “upscale” part of town in Dubar Marg – we passed the Royal Palace.  I have no idea if anyone is actually living there or not, but I have to assume that someone is.  I know that a cousin of the royal family was next in line after the family’s untimely death in June, but that there was great opposition to his taking the throne.  I really should get up-to-date on the local happenings here.  But at least the curfew was revoked last month – otherwise this place would be quite a drag to visit.

American Express

American Express – thank goodness – could issue us travelers cheques using a personal cheque.  This is important because we have had NO LUCK with this transaction in any other country we’ve been in – despite being told by AmEx in the US that this was possible.  So we were ready to charge it on the credit card at ridiculous rates, but now we don’t have to.  And we’re psyched because we’ll be in Hong Kong in a few weeks, where our bank (Navy Federal Credit Union) has an office.  So we’ll be completely set in the cash department in just a little while.

We also stopped by the travel office (Yeti Travel) to see about booking a white water rafting trip, and to arrange for a hotel after our Tibet Tour at the end of the month.  Prices in this office were WAY too steep for our tastes, so we’re going to see what we can negotiate at some of the local guest houses.


We walked around Thamel to do some shopping, look for hotels, and find a rafting place.  We stopped by the legendary Kathmandu Guest House and checked out the rooms there.   The Kathmandu Guest House is one of the oldest in the city and has quite an eclectic ambience to it.  They have a whole range of rooms from backpacker rooms with shared baths to an up-scale wing with A/C.  We negotiated an OK rate for our end-of-August stay ($36/night), but we decided to wait and see what our current hotel offers us.

So we strolled up and down the streets looking at t-shirts, Tevas, skirts, and sweaters.  We found a little bit of everything and also some nice gifts.  The shop-keepers are very nice and will do anything to please a potential buyer.  So we had a nice time.

The funny thing about this city is that – although it’s illegal – EVERYONE is selling marijuana!  All you have to do is walk down the street and someone will murmur in a low voice “smoke… hashish… pot… marijuana…”.  I suppose it doesn’t surprise me since this is such a “backpacker/Dead-Head” sort of place.  But we haven’t heard these kinds of marketing tactics since our last Grateful Dead show!  Ahhh… the good ol’ days!  I’ll never forget Jon’s friend Gabe, who loved to mess with peoples’ minds at Dead Shows.  He would walk around the parking lot (always a huge scene before the show) murmuring in a low-pot-selling-voice “Q-tips…. rubber bands… pencils…”.  Such a riot!

Well before I implicate myself any further, back to Kathmandu.

We found a cool rafting company and booked a day-trip on August 27, the day after we return from Tibet.  The water is very high this time of year, and we can really only get on Class 3 rapids which is disappointing.  But hopefully we’ll do some cool rafting in New Zealand in December so we’ll content ourselves with this for now.

Jon also bought a t-shirt with a cool Nepal-like embroidered design on the front of it.  But they didn’t have it in the colors he would like so they have to sew it for him and he can pick it up later.  I love this!  The t-shirt is going to set us back a cool $4 so it’s well worth the wait!  I also found some replacement Tevas for myself (as mine are about to be declared hazardous material), and a cool skirt for $3. This place is great!

Then we went back to the hotel to rest.  We let Rammani – the desk clerk – talk us into a morning tour tomorrow outside the city.  We don’t want to do too much in the city because city tours are part of our Tibet tour.  But getting out into the valley sounds like fun.

We went to dinner at a cute Italian restaurant in Thamel called La Dolce Vita.  The pasta was yummy, and the view of Thamel was very cool.  There were a couple of bands playing in local bars, and everyone was out on the street walking around.  We are SO HAPPY!