It all started a few weeks back. In the middle of a usual work day I was suddenly asked to go to Nepal. The only catch was that it was in the middle of December. Though I had been to Kathmandu before, my only memory consisted of a winding road connecting India and Nepal and the steep stairs of the famous Buddhist temple in Kathmandu.
With much apprehension and a lot of excitement I found myself preparing for the trip. Travelling from India to Nepal is fairly simple, especially if you are an Indian. You don’t need a visa and there are frequent flights. It was almost like going to another city in India. However, all this I found out in the course of my preparations. Each bit of news surprising as well as a bit of relief. Though a lot of confusion prevailed: INR can be used but only in 100s; Visa is not required but immigration is; it is a domestic flight but baggage allowance is that of an international sector and so on.
The other concern was the weather. Delhi has been mild this winter, and I am not one for chilly weather. Frequent mails with my colleagues in Nepal revealed that it was very cold there and I had to be prepared. Internet search threw up facts like, some hotels have no central heating, fortunately I was booked in a good hotel.
Finally the day of departure came. It was heartening to see a packed flight: something I hadn’t expected, after all it was winters, but we Indians love to travel. And some of my friends were in Nepal at the same time: working! So it wasn’t just me.
I stepped out of the airport and it was like an anti climax. The sun was shining brightly and my dear host who had come to pick me up spoke Hindi. Since I had been tipped off by my friend, who was already there, to buy a local sim. I bought one at exit of the airport itself. These were easily available and not too expensive. After a pleasant car ride, chatting with my host I finally reached the Hotel. The roads were narrow or under-construction, reminding me of the hills in India. In fact the markets, the people, everything was so familiar that I had to remind myself, that technically I was in another country.
The first thing I did on reaching the hotel was to tear off my layers: my first mistake. But that was to come later. At the hotel I was met with my colleague with whom I was to work along with for the next few days. The first question she asked me, after the general introductions was: “are you scared of bikes?” After a heart beat of silence I almost grinned and said “no”. And thus began my 3 day adventure.
It turned out that the fastest way to get around the city was on these two-wheelers, a mix between a bike and a scooter. Most of my women friends that I met there, happily drove these, exuding confidence and with a complete disregard for the cold. It was exhilarating to sit pillion in the winters and travel in the bylanes of Kathmandu. I got to know the city like I never would have otherwise. I also got to know how scary it is to maneuver a steep hill on a bike and what a balancing act it is. The first time round I thought I would be asked to get off and walk, but my friend skillfully adjusted our weights and off we went.
I finally figured why did my huge overcoat have a double zip 😉
The people who live there locally told me that though winters can be freezing but its worse if the sun is not out. Thankfully I was treated to warm sunshine all 3 days. But its still a good precaution to wear the layers and not be fooled by the sunlight. There were a lot of power cuts during the day due to which, though the offices had acs, they could become freezing, forcing one to wear the jackets even indoors. Also, the moment the sun set, the chill would just hit you.
The first day, after I made the mistake of being overconfident of facing the cold, I was frozen. So much so that despite layers of blankets and central heating back in the hotel, I had to wear all my woolens and sleep. The second day I made sure the temperature of the heating was increased and I wore enough and more clothes throughout the day.
I did not have much time to visit the touristy spots, however travelling round the city for work, I got to see quite a bit. Despite all the construction work, I found the city to be neat and clean. Though the weather was cold, I saw a steady stream of visitors and tourists from all over the world, not only in my hotel but in the city. I wanted to try the Nepalese cuisine, but my hotel served continental, throwing my plans awry.
My hotel was in a good area, which had a lot of tourist shops as well as other hotels. The room I stayed in had no kettle or water but ingeniously, right outside the hotel gate were these small shops selling biscuits, water as well as phone recharge coupons. I even saw waiting taxi cabs right outside the gate. However, my hosts mentioned that they are not the safest way to travel unless your travel company has booked one. Even the hotel did not provide any such services.
On my last evening in the city, my hosts took me to the heart of Kathmandu, called a New Road. It was a beautiful place with cobbled streets and a small square surrounded by ancient structures, very well maintained. One was the residence of the living goddess and there were other structures which I was informed were part of the Royal Palace earlier. Now they had been opened to the public. The whole area had narrow bylanes with small shops selling everything from mementos to local sweets and woolens. There were some neat coffee shops. I managed to buy some local Nepalese tea (I am a connoisseur) and boots! Yes, the youngsters in Nepal only wore boots in this weather and my young friends took me to this mall which sold only shoes and cheap! It was pure heaven.
The square was teeming with youngsters. It was one of the most popular hangouts in the city and one could see it. Despite the chill there was a crowd. But not overwhelming. I bought a local sweet called Laakha-Mari which reminded me of a sweet in India and cheap rudraksha beads which are easily found in Nepal. I even got to eat hot-momos, something that you do not get in India. The spice was truly mind-blowing.
A lot of people were also travelling to neighbouring cities by local planes either to hike or for snow sports.
After a fruitful 3 days it was finally time to go back. The sun was shinning brightly. Precisely at 10:30 am my colleague came to drop me to the airport but my heart was in a pair of boots I hadn’t bought last night. With a smile and in true Bollywood style we zoomed on her bike (my last ride) to the New Road, ran to the shop, and were out with my coveted boots within 1/2 hour. And in the next 1/2 hour were at the airport much to the amusement of everyone.
My India city brain which always calculates 1 hour travel time to anywhere was reeling with joy and shock.
Finally, the airport. After heartfelt goodbyes I was welcomed with a long queue at the immigration. There were people from all over the world. As our time to departure neared, the Indians were separated and sent off fast while others stood in line. After a bit of confusion (the airport is a bit confusing you don’t know which flight is at which gate) we were off.
As I glanced out of my window, or tried to since I had a newly wed couple busy clicking each other’s photos next to me, I could see the Himalayas. They seemed to be the same height as our plane, even taller. Serene, calm, immovable, overlooking all and glistening in the sun. My mind wandered back to my arrival in Kathmandu. I remember glancing out of the window even then and mistaking the mountains for the clouds. Till I looked closer and realised what I was looking at. My trip seemed to have come full circle. They had welcomed me, and now were seeing me off. I bid good-bye to the Kingdom of Nepal.