Archive for January, 2006

Bangkok to Murray Bridge via Melbourne

Monday 23rd January 2006:

Just after midnight we boarded our Thai Airlines plane for the leg to Melbourne. Yet again we had a half hour wait before the plane taxied for take-off. I spent about the first hour of the journey talking to the girl next to me. She was a student from Kathmandu going to do business studies at university in Melbourne. She had previously studied in the USA but didn’t enjoy her time there.

Long flight to Melbourne

The nine hour flight was long and tedious. I tried to sleep but couldn’t get comfortable. I think I got about two hours sleep but it was very restless sleep. At one stage I tried to watch the latest “Wallace and Grommet” movie but couldn’t really concentrate on it. Every passenger had an individual screen on the back of the seat in front, with a remote control to choose from a wide range of programmes. I was too tired to even open my book, and besides, the lights were dimmed for most of the journey.

Melbourne Airport

The flight was very smooth except for about twenty minutes just north of Djakarta. I was watching the progress of the plane on the monitor and was disappointed that it was very cloudy over Murray Bridge as we came over. On arrival at Melbourne I knew I had a tight schedule to get through immigration and customs before making the connecting flight to Adelaide. The plane was late arriving, progress through baggage collection was slow but customs only took about three minutes. I then made my way to the domestic terminal and checked in my luggage for Adelaide. In the end I had a wait of about twenty minutes before boarding the plane for the last leg of my journey of adventure. The plane to Adelaide was only half full so when everyone was on board the pilot announced we were leaving a few minutes early.

Melbourne to Adelaide

The flight to Adelaide was very good. I had a window seat and made the most of it as the cloud had largely dissipated. On the way I observed the massive bushfires in the Grampians. The Coorong looked beautiful from the air. I was able to pick out many landmarks in the Adelaide Hills and in the city. On the downside the last ten minutes of the flight were extremely painful. I had an acute pain in my left ear as we landed.

Home at last

It was great to be greeted by Corinne in the airport terminal. I think I talked all the way home and most of the evening. I had so much to share with her. Interestingly, I was able to stay up until normal bed time here at home despite having had so little sleep over the previous 48 hours. It was exciting showing Corinne all of the shopping I had done overseas. She was really delighted with the topaz stone and the batik pictures.

The end of an adventure

So the adventure has ended. What wonderful experiences I have had over the previous month. What amazing memories I will keep forever. I will have fun with all of the wonderful photographs I have taken, sharing them with family and friends.

Kathmandu to Bangkok

Sunday 22nd January 2006.

I had a somewhat restless night which didn’t auger well for the tiring trip home. I showered and dressed ready for my last breakfast in Nepal – for this trip at least. After breakfast I settled my hotel account and did my final packing. At about 10am I went down to the jewellery shop near the hotel lobby. I bought a beautiful blue topaz stone for Corinne. This will be a 35th wedding anniversary present.

Waiting in Kathmandu Airport

I was able to watch some of the cricket from Sydney before the driver came to take me to the airport. Ananta came briefly to say farewell. My passage through the airport didn’t take very long so I had over an hour to wait for boarding. During the wait in the lounge I did some reading. During the time here I have almost finished reading Sean Dooley’s book “The Big Twitch.” Sean, who is from Melbourne, took a year off work to break the unofficial Australian bird watching record. He set out to be the first to see over 700 different species of birds in Australia in one calendar year. He actually saw 703; the previous total was 633 species. I remember reading of his regular updates on Birding-Aus reports on the internet during his quest. The book has been very entertaining.

Another frisking

When we eventually boarded the plane – after yet another frisking on the tarmac – there was another half hour wait before takeoff. I didn’t quite understand what the pilot announced as a reason. Anyway, whatever the reason the flight to Bangkok was very smooth and uneventful. I managed to read a little more of my book and also get a short nap.

Bangkok Airport

Our plane was about half an hour late getting into Bangkok. By the time we had left the plane, completed the long hike through the terminal and been processed through immigration, it was after seven o’clock, Thailand time. I found an internet café in the transit lounge and sent a short email to Corinne, Rose and Simon.

Long wait in the transit lounge

I still had about five hours to wait in the transit lounge before my flight. This is not the most exciting place to spend five hours. There were only about seven or eight duty free shops there with little of interest to me. At about 9pm I had a chicken burger, not knowing when they would serve meals on the flight to Melbourne. At this stage I didn’t feel like reading. I was fascinated watching the monitors showing flights details of planes boarding at this airport. At one stage I counted at least 16 different cities around the world listed as destinations for planes from Bangkok. Some of these included Brisbane, Sydney, Auckland, Singapore, Tokyo, Osaka, Los Angeles, Dubai, Kulkata (Calcutta), Frankfurt, London, Moscow and the list goes on.

Long journey ahead

Just after 11pm I went through security and then waited in the check-in lounge. I tried to read but tiredness hindered my concentration. I still had a nine hours flight to Melbourne, then two hours in Melbourne and then another hour flight to Adelaide plus an hour drive home to Murray Bridge. It was going to be a long journey.

Durbar Square, Patan, Nepal

Saturday 21st January 2006.

After breakfast I checked my email and replied to one from Corinne. Again the connection was very dodgy so I didn’t worry about sending out a general email to everyone. It is very frustrating to spend 20-30 minutes composing scintillating prose only to have the connection drop out before one gets to send the email. This usually results in a lost message.

Durbar Square, Patan

Again this morning I used a hotel driver to take me to Durbar Square Patan. I had to pay Rs200 to enter this area, and for that I received a tourist guide and map. Some of the temples and buildings in that area are thought to be over 2000 years old while others are only several hundred years old. A large part of the city has been given World Heritage Site status. It is a fascinating area and my camera received a very good workout, capturing over 100 images of this area.

Persistent Guides

As soon as I emerged from the car I was besieged by ‘guides’ offering their services. They are very persistent now that the main tourist time has finished. I managed to convince them that I didn’t need a guide. Sure, engaging a guide I may have learned more and seen more of this amazing place, but I wanted to wander at my own pace. I certainly didn’t want to be obliged to enter shops or other establishments at the insistence of the guides. Often these offers go hand in hand with expectations to buy at certain places only. Going at my own pace and where I wanted gave me the freedom to explore out of the way places and see life as it really is in Patan. I wanted to spend time learning of the real Patan and photographing every day life, not just the temples. The highlight of this approach was seeing and photographing four young boys playing marbles.

Washing Day

People were gathered in the square in force. Saturday is a public holiday in Nepal, the equivalent of our Sunday. It also seems to be washing day. Clothes were being hand washed in tubs in many places, and clothing was hanging from every available spot in the sun to dry like so many brightly coloured signs. Hand operated water bowsers were in every street or square and often had a queue of five or six girls or women waiting to fill their copper pots. Gatherings of men talking on street corners and children playing games in groups of three or four were seen often. I followed two little boys, perhaps aged six or seven, who were eagerly staring through shop windows appraising the relative merits of the toys on display. I managed to get several candid shots of these toy experts. They were just as eager and enthusiastic as any Aussie child.

Feral Pigeons

Wherever I went I saw people going about their everyday tasks. Some people, especially near the temples, had set up their food stalls to provide for those who had come to the area. Others had set out their wares on a one metre square groundsheet on the ground. Still others had fruit and vegetables for sale from their bicycles, their old style hand-held scales weighing the amount the customers wanted. Dogs are common in this area and so are pigeons. These pest birds are so common here one could almost come to the conclusion that the temples had been built with the sole purpose of providing the pigeons with perching and nesting facilities. I actually saw one old woman selling seed to feed the pigeons, as if they needed any help.

The Shops of Patan

Even though some shops were closed most were open and their owners trying to eke out a living. Every street has many ground floor shops selling only a few basic lines like groceries, drinks, chips and lollies through to extensive establishments, their wide variety of wares crammed into a tiny space. Many are merely the front room of someone’s home. Some shops included jewellery outlets, tailors, restaurants – including the oddly named “Happy Memorize Restaurant” (sic) – internet cafes, sewing machine shops, more motor bike repair shops and one plant nursery – the only one I saw in the Kathmandu. This nursery sold only large pot plants. Every home with a balcony had at least one pot plant.

Fast Food – Nepalese Style

Just like the Thamel area of Kathmandu, Patan has few butcher shops. I did see one interesting fast food outlet. I didn’t see any McDonalds of KFCs in Nepal, but this tiny establishment was the next best thing. In a small lane off a slightly larger lane I saw a man with a blow torch attached to a gas bottle. He was using the blow torch to cook a chicken! A short distance on I saw a chook market, a line of beautifully woven cane baskets full of chooks for sale.

In several areas I saw groups of treadle sewing machines lined up on one side of the square or on the footpath. The men manning these machines were all idle, patiently waiting for a customer to come and ask them to do some sewing for them.

Taxi Hassles

I caught a taxi back to the Shangri La Hotel for a late but relaxing lunch in the garden. I had walked in Patan for quite a few hours so I was pleased to sit down for a while. The taxis in Kathmandu are required by law to have meters to charge their customers. The one I hailed had an inoperable meter so we haggled over the price of the journey. He wanted Rs300 (A$6) but I knew this was exorbitant for the length of the trip so he accepted my offer of Rs200 (A$4) which was still a little high. To be fair, he took me on a longer and less busy route back to the hotel so I got to see another part of the city.

An Offer I couldn’t accept

After lunch I walked into Thamel yet again to do some final shopping. Large squads of armed police and soldiers were in evidence everywhere. I had yet another new experience this afternoon. I was approached twice by men offering to sell me marijuana. When refused I was then offered a massage. I didn’t hang around to find out what kind of massage!

Shopping in Thamel, Kathmandu

After exploring for over an hour I found two clothing shops where I could bargain the price down to what I was prepared to pay. I bought two pairs of trousers for Rs1200 (A$24) and two t-shirts for Rs800 (A$16). The trousers were similar to those I used for the trek. The t-shirts both had the same design with mountains and the caption of Kathmandu, Nepal. One is grey and the other is navy blue.

Kathmandu in Lockdown

Friday 20th January 2006.

Kathmandu in lockdown mode:

The city here is in lockdown. Overnight the government – really the king – declared a city wide curfew from 8am to 6pm. This was an attempt to thwart the opposition parties, a seven party alliance, from holding a rally and protest today. Since the weekend there has been a curfew from 11pm to 4am. This latest curfew is not directly related to the Maoist attacks of last weekend but an attempt to quell any opposition to the king’s handling of the situation. It means that I have been stuck in the grounds of the hotel all day. Darn. I had to watch the cricket from Melbourne, Australia v. South Africa.

Arrests

Overnight about 150 opposition leaders, student activists and union leaders were arrested or put under house arrest. Many had their mobile phones disconnected. After breakfast I spoke to the manager of the hotel and he was most apologetic. He has especially put on a series of movies in one of the restaurants for the hotel guests.

Dodgy Internet

On a positive note the planes are still flying. I am unsure at this stage if the curfew will be extended beyond today. I shouldn’t have any trouble on Sunday as I would be able to get a special travel pass if the curfew is still active. Either that or leave before 8am for the airport, but that would involve a six hour wait in the airport lounge. Yuck. After breakfast I spent an hour typing some emails. There were short ones to Corinne and Rose that went okay but a much longer one to everyone failed to go. The connection here in the hotel is so dodgy it is very frustrating. This could be a side effect of the curfew; most people are at home using the internet to find out what is happening.

Peace in the midst of Turmoil

Today is a glorious day with a clear sky, about 23C, gentle breeze and no pollution, either air or noise. The roads are almost deserted and so there is no incessant blaring or horns. It is very peaceful here as I write this in the hotel garden. One almost forgets the trouble in this country, until an armed police squad appears through the door to check us out! During lunch here in the garden I observed several domestic flights take off and an international flight took off as I write this. All good signs I feel.

Dinner Conversation

Later: I just came back from dinner. During dinner I sat with and had a long and interesting discussion with a very interesting couple. He comes from New Zealand, and his wife comes from Finland. He has expertise in agriculture and hopes to use his skills here in Nepal to help the local farmers. The main reason they have just today arrived to live in Kathmandu is because she will be working in the Finnish embassy for the next three years. Her last posting over the last three years was in Bosnia so they like living on the edge a little. They were a very interesting couple and insisted we look them up next time we are in Kathmandu, providing it is in the next three years.

Shopping in Patan, Kathmandu

Thursday 19th January 2006.

Shopping in Patan.

My main purpose in revisiting this part of Patan again was in response to an email from Corinne. Rose and I had visited the Dhukuti craft outlet last week before I went to Chitwan. This time I went a little overboard with my purchases. Well, not really. Corinne had by this time seen what Rose had brought home and asked me to get some more, so I bought another 18 pieces of batik featuring scenes around Nepal. I also bought a woollen beanie for her. I didn’t feel too bad about my purchases, seeing they were all on sale this week. Some items were 50% off.

 Great views of the Himalayas

On the way down the hill I had some great views of the surrounding snow capped mountains. Today it was about 25C and the air was the clearest it has been since I’ve been here. There was quite a nice breeze as well, so that probably accounted for the clear air; all the pollution had been blown away. Ironically, I probably could have flown easily to Bhairawa and the driven on to Tansen. (Postscript: the political events of the next few days may have prevented my return to Kathmandu, so in retrospect, I made the right decision.)

 Pleasant evening

After dinner in the hotel restaurant this evening I sat for about an hour in front of the open fire in the lounge next to the bar. I have taken to one of their special non-alcoholic drinks served here. It is called a Mango Dango and consists of mango juice mixed with other fruit juices. This was one of the few occasions while away that I was not able to initiate a conversation with anyone. Instead I enjoyed the lovely fire, the pleasant atmosphere, the delicious drink and the inestimable pleasure of my own thoughts.