Nepal Pt. 1 – Kathmandu and 3 days Rafting the Gandaki River

Theres a place in this world where the heavens meet the earth. Where all the symphonies of colours float upon the breeze and the air is so pure and crisp, yet your forever left breathless. Its a place where the mystics of the world come to discover the great answers and even the grandest of souls is humbled like a beggar.

Welcome to Nepal, Welcome to the mighty Himalaya.

Note about photos – Kathmandu is far from glamorous, its dirty, dusty, chaotic and much of it is steeped in poverty, though its also a place filled with vibrant life. I chose a selection of photos to accompany this piece that I feel capture the realty of the place.

…Im daydreaming staring out the window. Anxious to land and see what its like – its a real unknown. I don’t like to overly research a destination before I go as then

theres some of the mystery taken away. Surely we will be descending soon, we can’t be too far away from Kathmandu and I can see the hills starting to build up bigger and bigger, far beneath the aircraft.

A cloud breaks on the horizon…surely I’m dreaming….it can’t be, I could swear I’m seeing the peak of a mountain level with the plane, far off in the distance. Like Zeus on Olympus – a mystical behemoth floating above the world far below. Its real, the clouds break further and leave me mouth agape in utter fucking awe. Shivers down my spine. My eyes have glimpsed the mighty Himalayas and I can’t wait to see more.

Green covered mountains almost scrape the belly of the plane as we drop suddenly and touch down in Kathmandu. Its dusty, and theres typical 3rd world development everywhere. The 3rd world has a habit of building houses  like mini apartment blocks of the west. Square or rectangle and 2 stories with the rebar sticking out of the roof ready to add an extra layer as the family grows. Ive seen the same in Central America & South America. Funny how they all come to the same conclusion. Either way, Im a fan as building up leaves more room fields and animals in the paddocks beside the dwellings.

Ive seen some pretty hectic cities in my time – La Paz in Bolivia is one, Guatemala City another, but Kathmandu takes the cake. Its probably the dustiness combined with the sheer volume of cows wandering the roads free. 4 lane (dust track) highway either side and cows are just chilling, doing whatever the hell they want and no one cares. Strange way to arrest progress of a city. Its dirty too, but thats nothing new in a third world city and before we know it shops filled with carpets, scarves, silks, knives, art and other tourist items line the road and I know we are in Thamel – the cities tourist district and our base for the next two days.

We check into the Khangsar Guest House and take a minute to savour the city from the rooftop terrace. One thing about Kathmandu is that you can’t really see any of the big mountains from the city. Its dusty, and they are still aways off. We’re only in the foothills here. Pot plants line the roof’s near us and create tranquil escapes from the chaotic happenings 4 stories below. Hunger hits and we find a restaurant and try our first, and only meal of Nepal – Dahl Baht.

Roof top gardens in Kathmandu
Roof top gardens in Kathmandu

Its all they eat, for every meal. Breakfast – Dahl Baht, Lunch – have some more Dahl Baht. Dinner? Well you get the idea. Either way, its a fanatically varied meal – Some curry, lentil soup, yoghurt curd desert, made some fruit and some times cucumber and carrot bits to go with it and of course rice.  Not bad Nepal and the best part is if your hungry, they will ALWAYS serve you more rice and curry.

The next day or two we explore the city – we visit temples, monasteries, stupas, shops, cafes, and speak with guides, shop vendors, holy men, local painters and more. We make plans and scrap them, and make them all over again. We dream big like the mountains surrounding us and indulge in the inspiration of potential the busy city fills us with.

Before we know its time to leave on our first adventure – 3 days rafting the Gandaki river, before heading onto Pokhara. Ive done rafting quite a few times over the years though I’m still quite excited by the prospect of doing it through the Himalayas, though all that excitement vanishes as our van weaves its way along the river – a dirty brown river with very very few rapids.

In a brief summary – the rafting was a total disappointment. One of those expectations vs reality things where our hopes were so high, but the actual experience was only ok. The problem here was that these rivers are the outflow of rubbish and effluent of 10,000 villages further up the catchment stream – so the water is dirty. We both get sick – me with a throat virus and Cat in the stomach, and unfortunately it lasts several days into our time into Pokhara, forcing us to delay our trekking plans.

On the plus side, the rafting did give us some wonderful viewpoints into the day to day life of the Nepalese people in the terai zone (the lower more humid mountains areas). From watching village girls washing clothes in the river, or seeing the farmer lead his buffalo to the waters edge, or watching local children cross the river by wire to get to family on the other side. Real Nepal life at its most authentic.