Nepal doesn’t accept the Nepalese Rupee as payment for its own tourist visa! Interesting optics. Too shocked with this detail, we failed to take a picture of the sign listing the accepted currencies; USD, CAN, EURO…. The issuing of the tourist visa was an amusingly archaic pen and paper affair that fortunately for us didn’t take two hours. After years of dreaming to one day visit Nepal, here we were at the gateway to Everest and so much more.
For a first time visitor to Kathmandu and passionate buyer/hoarder of outdoor gear and apparel, no guidebook could have prepared Michel for the gear chub sported for a solid 6 days straight. Complete mental overload. A bargainers paradise. Low quality fake gear. Higher quality fake gear. Genuine gear. Second string gear. Used gear. Nepali made gear marketed under a unique Nepali brand. In the end, we purchased a sampling of goodies from nearly every category. Everest Hard Wear and Shona’s truly stood out for their service and high quality, locally made down goods. We couldn’t resist each buying a killer -10oC sleeping bag to add to our collection of already 6 bags back home. Sleeping bags are like friends or spiced rum and cokes you can never have too many. A complete new hiking wardrobe from various vendors and some odds and ends completed our Kathmandu shopping spree. We also picked up an interesting Ganesh painting at the local art cooperative Shangri-La Art Gallery in Thamel. We bought a painting but gained a friend; the director Anil is a truly fantastic gentleman. We continued to stop by the shop for short visits even weeks after our purchase.
Before getting too comfortable in Kathmandu Michel’s stomach bug came back with fierce revenge. Unclear whether this was a revival of the Namibian schnitzel bug, a new infection or maybe even malaria we reluctantly made our way to a Kathmandu hospital unsure about what sort of care to expect. Any doubts about the healthcare available to travellers in Kathmandu were squashed after nine hours of excellent treatment at the CIWEC Clinic. No different from most places we’ve visited to date, excellent healthcare is available to travellers nearly everywhere on the tourist track. With a mix of professional staff from around the world, an IAMAT co-ordinator and active in the ongoing research of travellers diarrhea – this is a first world hospital in a third world country. This is fine for a traveller with a tummy ache but it’s sadly clear that the average resident doesn’t have access to this caliber of healthcare. It only takes a glance at the local paper and brief stroll through Kathmandu to pick out the challenges facing Kathmandu; electricity, healthcare, education, air pollution, the treatment of woman and city infrastructure to name a few. Despite these issues, the residents of Kathmandu are cheery and nearly always have a smile hanging off their faces.
The risk of seismic catastrophe in Nepal is great. Seismically active zones. A history of earthquakes. The last significant earthquake occurred in 1934 destroying 80,000 buildings and took the lives of 8,500 people. Nowhere else was the concern for a sizeable seismic event made clearer than when visiting the Shree Mangal Dvip boarding school in Boudha. Founded by Thrangu Rinpoche the schools mission is to provide education to the children of the Himalayan highlands. The school provides an excellent education to children who would otherwise go without. Firmly committed in their responsibility for providing quality education, the school is also focusing on the children’s safety and clearly planning for the inevitable. The school is in the process of completing seismic upgrades to it’s structures. Through the kindness and generosity of mankind, the first phase of the seismic upgrade has been completed. If you’re interested in getting involved with the seismic upgrade project or school please checkout their Facebook page or website.
Committed in experiencing local cuisine from the inside out, we enrolled in a couple of days of traditional Nepali cooking lessons. In doing so we gained a new found appreciation for the work that goes into preparing dal bhat and momos. The people at Social Tours have taken an interesting approach to pricing their courses in that they allow attendees to pay what they feel the course was worth. Interesting and it must be feasible as they have no intent in changing their pricing structure.
After an impeccable health record in Africa, Nepal really was a different story for us all together. First the Namibian schnitzel bug then a simple little common cold that manifested itself into borderline pneumonia after a couple of weeks at altitude on the Everest Base Camp Trek and finally the cherry on top – another over zealous stomach bug. We came for the trekking and left without having reached our goal of reaching Everest Base Camp but gained so many unexpected experiences along the way. It also gave us the opportunity to think a little bit about the dreadful feeling of failure…
No one likes to fail, we all enjoy the feeling of achieving a personal expectation or having someone praise us for a job well done. Unfortunately in life we have realized that in order to be successful we must sometimes fail. At least we convinced ourselves of this to soothe the sorrow. The entire roughly 60km return trek back down to Lukla, which had taken us 15 days to reach was incredibly disheartening. The altitude hadn’t forced us to turn around. We felt fine at 5,100m. Our physical conditioning hadn’t forced us to turn around. Legs felt strong. But some pesky illness did. After having turned around we both stopped and took a moment to look at the view behind us and realized that we were in paradise. The beautiful vistas still didn’t soften the blow.
The people of Nepal were fantastic and this truly came through when venturing out of the touristy hot spots and into unspoiled natural habitat. Between the choking street dust, constant honking, street congestion and the ongoing cloud of polluted air (domestic and foreign) we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Nepal. We will surely miss the Nepali tea and the welcoming folks we shared so many pots with.
As usual, unfinished business… Without having reached base camp, climbed any of the trekking peaks or rafted the Karnali we’re sure to return to Nepal for a mulligan. Next time we’re coming equipped with 3M respirators and multi vitamins.
Cheers, Tamaira & Michel