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October 18, 2006

gone trekking!

dear reader:

i'm off trekking annapurna sanctuary (to annapurna base camp) here in nepal from today through October 29th. during that time, there will be no updates to this blog, or new photo or video uploads, so i'm afraid you'll have to wait until then for my final impressions of india, thoughts on kathmandu and thamel, and what happened on my trek.

so you can take a break from checking this site for a while. but if you're looking for something to read in the meantime, why not check out something from my reading list?

your humble narrator,


October 26, 2006

hanging out in pokhara

i got back from my trek a few days ago (earlier than expected), and have spent my time hanging out and relaxing in pokhara, nepal.

the cold that i caught in kathmandu didn't end up going away before the trek, and once it had lingered on for over a week, i decided to shorten my trek to take only about a week instead of 11 days, so i could spend some time in pokhara and relax.

the trek itself was fantastic -- i'll upload some photos and write about it more another time when i'm on a faster internet connection. (the "pokhara cyber association" appears to be a group of all the internet cafes in town that have agreed to charge 5x the internet fees of kathmandu, so i end up paying 99 rupees per hour (US $1.20) for some of the slowest connections i've found on my trip.)

i'm paying top (relative) dollar (USD $6 / night) for a great hotel room on the roof of a hotel, effectively getting my own penthouse room for a few days. satellite tv (vice of vices!) comes in nicely on my room's TV set, so i get to catch up on 1980s US movies, along with somewhat-dated episodes of The Simpsons, thanks to what appear to be Indian satellite channels. (i am still trying to find a chance to watch some of the surreal-looking indian science-fiction tv shows that i keep seeing advertised on TV.)

afternoons have me wandering around town and enjoying the warm, sunny days, indulging my secret inner hippie at one of the fine yoga places in and around town, reading books or exchanging/buying more used books for only a US $1-2 each. nights out are spent at one of the many good local restaurants (with or without movie accompaniment), drinking at the busy bee, and hanging out with other backpackers that i either met trekking or just hanging out around town.

it's not tremendously meaningful, and i'm not seeing any sights of value, but i'm having a good time. all is well here in nepal.

October 30, 2006

the best of pokhara

after enjoying my leisurely week in pokhara, it's time for me to be heading on to kathmandu, and then onwards to the arabian peninsula from there.

but before i leave, i wanted to share with you my picks of the best places and things to do in pokhara:

Best Breakfast: Mike's Restaurant

Best Dinner: Moondance (great pizzas AND mexican food? heaven...)

Best Happy Hour: Moondance (cheap beer and free microscopic pizza slice)

Best Midrange Hotel: Hotel Travel-Inn (you can get the top-floor penthouse apartment room for 500 nepal rupees with sufficient bargaining)

Best Place to Unleash Your Inner Buddhist: Ganden Yiga Chozin Buddhist Meditation & Retreat Centre

Best Bar: The Busy Bee (of course! it seems like they are the most popular backpacker bag in town, and usually have a good vibe. you can't be in pokhara without hearing about this place.)

Biggest Tourist Trap: Devi's Falls

i'll miss all the nights spent out with other backpackers, hearing the same set of songs played by the same cover band every night at busy bee, and all the of my unproductive yet very relaxing time. everyone needs a lost week now and then!

October 31, 2006

escape... from kathmandu!

after one last night of dining and carousing in kathmandu at tom and jerry's and the rum doodle with my trekking friend andrea, and one last morning of souvenir shopping, it was time to leave town and catch my flight to delhi, and the onwards flight to dubai. these flights had been purchased months ahead of time, carefully (and painfully) reconfirmed in kathmandu weeks ago, and so i thought i was all set to leave town.

my guidebook emphasized very strongly that i should arrive at the airport 3 hours before my flight's departure. i had all the best intentions of arriving at this time, but one things led to another, and i ended up only arriving at the airport a little over 2 hours before my flight was scheduled to depart. thus began my Longest Travel Day Ever. (to be fair, my guidebook did warn me that kathmandu airport would be slow, but i'd been to a lot of airports by this point in my trip, and figured this couldn't be much worse than what i'd encountered to date in other places. i was wrong.)

first off, there was a mandatory ticket check at the front gate of the airport before they would let my taxi in. (and my taxi had his meter on! this was a first for me in nepal, since i'd usually use my "meter on" request as a opening point for a low fixed-price fare negotiation)

second, there was a 20-minute line outside the airport terminal to have my ticket checked (again), and my checked baggage x-rayed and a useless plastic tamper-proof belt wrapped around one of the 3 zippers on my bag, leaving the other 2 zippers open to tampering.

third, there was a 15-minute wait in line (not helped by the fact that the "Exit Fee" window was also a currency exchange window, which could lead to long transactions) to pay the rapacious US$20 exit fee. This wait was in the "Foreigner" line, even though the "Nepali" window was open with two cashiers, and sat empty of customers most of the time.

then I finally got into the line to check in, which was massively long, with tons of people cutting in line and engaging in shouting matches with other people trying to cut in line, but i was checked in with my boarding pass at last.

at security, there was a ridiclously long line (we're now at about 30 minutes before my flight's departure time). There were actually two security lines, but one was for "Women Only", and sat empty half of the time, so half of the security scanning people and equipment just sat unused most of the time (most women in line were travelling with men, so there was no advantage to them using the empty line and waiting 20-30 minutes for their companion to emerge from the long line). finally i got to the front (thanks to some irish trekkers who helped move me up to the front when i started running short on time for my flight), was pawed over by security's search, had my bags frisked (and my roll of scotch tape seized for some reason), and then finally approached the gate.

at the gate, I ran into a friendly couple that also happened to be from san francisco, and was chatting away with them for a few minutes before the announcement came over the loudspeakers that our flight to India had been cancelled, but that people interested in getting on an alternate flight that day could go to the front of the gate and get booked on a flight leaving right no to calcutta, which would then have a connecting flight to delhi. (keep in mind that most people hearing this announcement also knew that almost all of the flights on all airlines out of kathmandu into india were already booked for many days out.)

suddenly there was a massive scrum pushing towards the gate to get those few tickets on the calcutta flight, with me near the lead, and somehow i ended up only a few people from the front, as people shoved around me, and one guy even bear-hugged onto the stranger in front of him in order to get pulled ahead in line. my ticket was grabbed from my hand by the agent "in charge", and within the space of a few minutes, i was reassigned to the new flights, hopped on a bus to the airplane, IDed my checked bag lying on the tarmac to be transferred to the new plane, and got on the jetway stairs to board the flight to calcutta.

home free? not quite.

at the stairs up to the plane I was greeted by another security checkpoint, where I had my carry-on bags rummaged through for a 2nd time, got frisked again by a very enthusiastic screener who took way too much of an interest in checking my butt, and then i finally boarded the plane.

at calcutta, i cleared immigration quickly, grabbed my bag off of the carousel, took a bus to the other terminal for domestic flights, waited an hour or so for the delhi flight, and voila -- i'd made it to delhi!

once at the delhi airport, i'd already missed my original connecting flight to dubai. so after a bit of wild goose chase trying to get into the indian airlines offices at the terminal, i finally found the indian air office and they put me in limbo there for several hours while they tried to find space on an emirates flight heading to dubai sometime around 3am.

while i was waiting in limbo with a few other passengers, i couldn't help but notice the mouse (similar to several that i'd seen previously in streets, restaurants and stores in india and nepal) roaming around the office floor, and at this point i was way beyond reacting in any way to the mouse. why bother? he's just a mouse. and this being india, the office staff considerately arranged for us to have excellent tea and samosas while we waited. it's one of the things i love about india... if you don't sweat the discomforting things that inevitably occur, you will get rewarded by all the great things that india and the indian people do that just don't happen in other countries.

and so after running down my indian cellphone chip credit by making long calls to harass my friends at home in the united states, i was at last summoned to my flight, and at 3am i hopped on board my plane for dubai.

and THAT is the story of my escape from kathmandu.

special thanks to indian airlines for their handling of the situation -- at the transfer points in calcutta and delhi they handling everything quite nicely. even though none of the staff we met were really expecting me, they always got me on the soonest possible planes, were polite, and didn't lose my luggage. it seemed chaotic, but it always worked as promised. kudos to them.

About Nepal

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