Archive for January, 2006

Central Zoo Kathmandu

Thursday 19th January 2006.

 This morning I woke with a headache, the first for the whole trip. After taking a paracetamol and having a good breakfast I was fine. I then had a rumbly tummy for a while but by 10am I was feeling a lot better. I have been surprised that I haven’t had any other headaches along the way and my stomach upsets have been quite mild. With all the different foods I have eaten, some of it very spicy, I though that I may have had more problems.

 Central Zoo, Kathmandu , Nepal

I tried to access my email but all internet access was unavailable. Mid morning I used one of the hotel drivers to take me to Central Zoo. The entry fee was Rs100 (A$2) plus Rs10 for my camera. The zoo in Kathmandu is a sad, run-down affair. It looks tired and few changes seem to have occurred since it was built in the Nineteenth Century. In fact, many of the cages are 19th Century in style with no attempts apparent to bring the exhibits up to modern standards. Despite these criticisms I spent two very pleasant hours wandering around the enclosures. The bars and wire fences made photography a challenge but I managed to get some very good shots.

The main purpose of visiting the zoo was to view the many animals and birds of Nepal I missed seeing in the wild. I was disappointed that they didn’t have any Red Pandas in their collection. This is one of my favourite animals and Nepal is a stronghold of this wonderful animal.


After leaving the zoo I walked down the hill from there for about a half hour. This gave me another area of the city to explore as I went along. Being the only foreigner in that part of Patan I was the centre of attention. Many people at the zoo had also stared at me as well as my expensive looking camera. One man even spoke to me in good English and made his son shake my hand and practice speaking English to me. He was delighted to find out that I was an Australian. At least there is one country where Australians are looked up to and respected. As I walked along the street I was acutely aware of the stench of sewage. Sure enough, looking down some broken parts of the path revealed the source of the smell.

Fascinating Kathmandu

Wednesday 18th January 2006.

This fascinating city of Kathmandu:

This morning I walked in Thamel again, this time with my camera. I could have used the cheap local taxis but I preferred to keep walking to keep up the fitness levels. It is also a very good way to see some of the extraordinary sights in this exotic city. I took several photos on the way to Thamel and many more in the Thamel area itself. I tried to capture life in the raw as it is here in Kathmandu. I also tried to get photos of some of the stupa, the temples and other historic buildings.

Good Lunch

I stopped at Kilroy’s for lunch. I ordered a Sprite and a cheese and tomato toasted sandwich, thinking I only needed a light lunch. What a sandwich! Half the plate was covered in chips! It was more than an adequate lunch and at a total cost of Rs180 ($3.60) it was a bargain. It was also very delicious.

Durbar Square Kathmandu

I wandered in a southerly direction through the Thamel area trying to locate Durbar Square (Kathmandu). At one stage I thought that I had become hopelessly lost. The streets and lanes meander in and out and around and are a confusing muddle, something akin to a plate of spaghetti. I had a reasonable map of the area from the travel agent in the hotel. Trouble was, very few streets are labelled with any kind of signage. The few major streets are often named only in Nepali, which is not at all helpful to foreigners who don’t read the language. Oh well, I thought, just keep the sun in front or over my right shoulder and I should eventually find the main road leading back to the hotel. If all else fails, catch a rickshaw or taxi and for less than $2 I’d get back to the hotel. Every second taxi stops to ask if you want a ride anyway.

Shopping in Kathmandu

I went through some very busy lanes where one could buy almost anything, from very expensive jewellery to a pair of cheap socks. The jewellery shops would not have looked out of place in Rundle Mall, Adelaide, and were complete with their own doorman come security guard. The sock sellers seemed to be everywhere that day. It must have been a special sock-sale day or something. A small cardboard box brimming with socks at very cheap prices carried by very insistent young boys seemed to appear in my face every few seconds.

Colourful shops and colourful characters

Old wrinkled men selling tiger balm in tiny tins seemed to be everywhere too. This is supposed to relieve aches and pains and the only connection with tigers is the picture of a tiger on the lid. Vendors with poorly made miniature wooden chess sets or tiny wooden musical instruments were also in evidence everywhere. Whole shops full of copper plates and bowls and every other possible type of copper utensil glowed in the sunlight, the little copper statues of Buddha giving a stark reminder of the dominant faith here. Every third shop was awash with colour; fabrics and pashminas in all the colours of the rainbow. Fashion conscious ladies were well catered for with beautiful gowns and skirts flowing in the breeze as they hung from whatever point the shop keeper could manage to utilise.

Splashes of colour

Fruit and vegetable stalls abound, each adding colourful splashes to overload the visual impact. The sellers varied from large well set out shops like we have in Australia, through to a person sitting on the ground with say, just tomatoes, spread out on a small ground sheet. Selling bananas and mandarins from a basket mounted on a bicycle was another common sight. The Nepali are largely vegetarian but one still comes across the typical Asian style butcher shop, often no more than a rickety wooden table just outside the door and laden with meat and no sign of refrigeration. Mobile pop-corn vendors are common too, with the selection of different coloured corn on trays mounted on a cart made with four bicycle wheels and complete with its own gas cooker. Motor bike repair shops seem to be everywhere. With so many bikes in the city it is not surprising. I also saw several specialist bicycle shops.

Jostling humanity

I went down many very busy shopping lanes seething with jostling humanity. I also discovered some rather poor and seedy looking back lanes with a very low standard of living. Here the pungent aroma of incense and the occasional part open sewer attacks the nasal passages. I wasn’t worried in these areas; I just kept walking steadily knowing there were always taxis nearby. I eventually found my way to the main road leading back to the hotel. By then I was feeling quite tired so I steadily walked back to the hotel. Over four hours on foot was quite enough exploration for one day. On one corner I saw a small gathering of people listening to a speaker. I couldn’t understand him of course, but I assume he was a political speaker. The police were nearby watching but did not interfere.

The hazards of walking in Kathmandu

I didn’t have any trouble with beggars today, only seeing about four of them who were easily shrugged off. The greatest hazard today seemed to be the birds. I received two great deposits from above, one on my cap and shoulder and the other on my thumb. A bit of washing was in order on my return to my hotel room.

Shopping in Kathmandu Nepal

Tuesday 17th January 2006.

Shopping in Thamel, Kathmandu.

After lunch I walked into Thamel to go shopping and sightseeing. There are many tourist oriented shops in this area. It is now the off season for trekkers and tourists and it shows. There seemed to be very few foreigners and being white (and a little taller than most Nepalese) I stood out like a beacon. Nearly every shopkeeper invited me into his or her shop. Telling them “I’m just looking” only seemed to spur them on. “Very cheap prices” is a very common catchcry.


I ended up buying two photographs of mountain scenes, including one of Ama Dablam. I also bought several more pieces of batik, another notebook and a DVD called “Into Thin Air.” I’m taking a risk on it being compatible with our player but at $5 it’s not a huge risk. Various members of the trekking group raved about this DVD. Along the way as I was walking down a laneway I was approached by three trekking guides. They appeared to be very friendly, with a good command of English and asked me lots of questions. I think they were desperate to get guiding work. When I said I’d just returned from a trek they more or less lost interest and melted into the back ground.

I tried several places for some trousers similar to those I took on the trek. Kane said he bought some for about $12 (compare that with $60-80 in Australia). I couldn’t find any cheaper than about $20, even though I tried bargaining with shopkeepers. I also couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for anyway.

Begging in Kathmandu

Sadly I was pestered by at least four beggars today. They are very persistent but one just has to turn away and walk quickly. Mothers with babes in arms asking for milk for the baby is a common approach. I felt mean but all the guides tell one not to give to beggars here in Nepal.

A different approach to begging

Walking back to the hotel I was approached in a different way. A young lad, perhaps 12 or 13 years old, was leaning on the wall of a building with several friends. He started walking alongside of me and struck up a conversation. I was astounded by his general knowledge of the world. His specialty was capital cities of the world. He knew all of the Australian cricketers and many place names in Australia. He said he didn’t go to school but had learned everything by reading books and using the internet. Then came the sting; he asked me for money to buy a drink. I steadfastly refused and wouldn’t give him a reason, even though he asked several times.

I just kept on walking and gently but firmly told him he should go back to his friends. Eventually he did leave me. Twenty steps on I looked around and one of his friends had been following us. Had I given in there may have been far more to contend with. I didn’t feel unsafe; I was just being very cautious. Lesson learned!

In Kathmandu Nepal

Tuesday 17th January 2006.

Kathmandu Nepal.


I had a very good night’s sleep overnight. I did wake for a little while at 4am and watched about a half an hour of television. I then slept again until 7am but stayed in bed for a while watching the television news. I could get very lazy if we had a TV in our bedroom. After showering I dressed and went downstairs for breakfast. After breakfast I checked my emails and wrote one to Corinne. I came back to my room to watch some of the cricket from Brisbane between South Africa and Sri Lanka. I also checked out the Australian Open Tennis from Melbourne.

 Four more days in Kathmandu

At about 10:30am I went down to the travel desk. The agent there was very apologetic because he couldn’t change the day of my flight home. Neither of us had realised that there was an inscription on my tickets stating that they were valid only for the dates shown. Oh well, we tried. That means I have another four days here in Kathmandu. It forces me to get out and see things around this amazing city. I then had to book my room for the rest of the week. This was done personally by the manager himself. I asked him to quote the price per night and being a Peregrine customer he gave a special discount price (US$77 compared to US$130).

 Farewell to Kane and Jade

At just after 11am Jade and Kane came down with their luggage. Ananta also came to the hotel to see them off at the airport. I told him about having to stay until Sunday and he offered to guide me wherever I wanted for no charge. I think I’ll take up that offer. After Jade and Kane left for India I went to my room and watched the end of the Lleyton Hewitt match. I also ordered a pizza via room service.

The Road to Kathmandu Nepal

Monday 16th January 2006.

Hazardous is an Inadequate Word

After passing through Bharatpur we began the steady climb up through the mountains towards Kathmandu. If I had thought that the road was dangerous previously I was much mistaken. Hazardous is simply an inadequate word. Travelling soon became simply suicidal. There were constant twists and turns, switchbacks and blind corners. Numerous signs, often every hundred metres or so, warned of falling rocks for the road was cut out of a steep cliff. The left side of the road – we were on that side – plunged 200 metres to a raging river below. It was a perfect white water rafting river with many boulders and looked icy cold. Very few barriers separated us from potential disaster. The barriers that existed were mere tokens – 30cm high at best and so infrequent to be almost useless.

White Knuckle Driving

If that wasn’t enough, the driver was determined to get to Kathmandu as quickly as possible. Overtaking the many vehicles now on the road on blind corners and crests was the norm. He was very skilful at avoiding an accident but we came very close on several hundred occasions. White knuckle driving I called it at the time – not so much from fear, thankfully, but merely to stop from being thrown around. I was sitting at the back and the handle on the backs of the two seats in front of me received a thorough workout with my clinging on for dear life. The van’s brakes also received severe testing on several occasions.

Toilet Stop

Half way along we stopped for a ten minute toilet break. The driver also needed a coffee. I didn’t drink anything during this trip; I didn’t need a bursting bladder in traffic like that! I did, however, manage to eat some of the food provided – and keep it down! Actually, I didn’t feel at all car sick despite the rough ride. Jade, however, was feeling a little jaded at times (OK – that’s a terrible pun and I admit it!).

Army Checkpoint

The journey of 140km normally takes about 4 hours. I though we were making very good time as we approached Kathmandu. At 16km from the city centre the traffic crawled to a stop. We had reached the queue for the army checkpoint. For over an hour we only moved about a kilometre. There were many slow moving buses and trucks as well as many private cars. Several times we saw male passengers get off the bus and go to the edge of the road and relieve themselves. On reaching the checkpoint at last we saw why there was such a long wait. The soldiers were asking all bus passengers to disembark, collect their luggage from the pack rack and line up for a bag check.

“Where are you from?”

As we pulled up near one of the buses a soldier opened the sliding door of our mini van. He ignored the driver and the hotel manager in the front seat. He looked at me and asked, in good English, where we were from and where we’d been. I told him we were all from Australia, we’d been to Chitwan National Park to see the animals, that we’d seen lots of birds and rhinos but no tigers. He laughed, closed the door and waved us on. He didn’t even ask to inspect our bags. Obviously he did not consider us a risk.

Nepal – the political reality

Less than a kilometre further on we witnessed the reason the army and the police were being more cautious than last week. We passed the police station that had been attacked and bombed on Saturday night. The Maoists responsible for the attack had come into Kathmandu by bus, hence the thorough checks of all bus passengers and their luggage. Reports of the incident were sketchy but it seems that at least a dozen police were killed.

Safe Arrival

We arrived at the Shangri La Hotel at 11:30am, an amazing time of five hours considering the roadblock and the heavy traffic. We checked in after talking to Ananta and Dorjee who were there to meet us. I washed and changed and then met Jade and Kane in the restaurant for lunch. After lunch I spent an hour sending a long email to Corinne and another to everyone on my mailing list. This latter email was all about my experiences at Chitwan.

I tried to meet with the hotel travel agent to ask him to arrange for me to fly home early. He was at the airport and so I didn’t get to see him until 5:30pm. I have asked him to try to get a seat from here to Bangkok and then to Melbourne on Thursday. This will give me two more days to explore Kathmandu.

During the afternoon I also rang Alexa McArthur in Tansen. We had a lovely ten minute discussion. She was very interested in how we had gone on the trek. She agree with me that it would be too difficult to get to Tansen this week and that there are no guarantees of getting back here in time for my flight on Sunday.