If your idea of idyll is a tourist brochure paradise with all the comforts of a developed society it’s probably for the best if you don’t come! 😀
However if you have a sense of adventure and wonder for the world, and you can leave a few of your “necessary” comforts on the doorstep, then this could be just the place for you!
Colours of Kathmandu.
For newcomers to Nepal, and particularly Kathmandu, the culture shock can be overwhelming.
Hopefully I can prepare you a little for what’s in store.
Kathmandu can be a beautiful place to visit but it also has some environmental and social problems to which unprepared Western visitors might find hard to adjust.
The first thing to remember above all is that Nepali people are trustworthy and friendly. It is unlikely that you will be ripped off, scammed, or robbed. In fact it is more likely that you will get the better end of any deal! I have been followed down the road after leaving expensive items in cafe’s and restaurants.
And, of course, a smile earns a smile 🙂
When you step out of the arcane Tribhuvan International Airport you will be greeted by a medley of rowdy taxi drivers all vying for your business. If you are pre-booking your accommodation then you should also arrange to be collected from the airport. If not then 500-800NR (US$5-8) should get you in to Thamel (The central tourist hub).
The International Guest House is offering a pre-and-post-race discount to Yak Attack riders and it is a nice place in a good location. The rooms are very clean, it serves a decent breakfast included in the price, a nice garden & rooftop terrace to relax in, has free (but not particularly fast) WiFi, and costs about US$18 per night for a double room with en-suite! (Low season/Slightly more for two people sharing).
The famous Kathmandu Guesthouse is in the prime location but you pay a little more for similar service.
The roads and the traffic may not be what you are used to. The road surfaces are poor and the journey will be dusty and polluted from chaotic traffic. Although it may seem dangerous don’t worry too much, it’s not possible to drive too fast! The constant honking of horns will be the next thing you notice, this is perfectly normal across most of Asia. The drivers honk to make each other aware of their position in the road, unlike in the west where we tend to use it sparingly and for pointing out our displeasure at someone else’s road behaviour. You will survive!
|You might also spot the occasional cow, goat or monkey!
Kathmandu is a noisy place, day and night. You might want to carry a few pairs of soft earplugs to guarantee a decent nights sleep. The constant chorus of barking dogs at night can be a real irritation.
It is also blighted by heavy littering. Even in the most revered of locations you will be subjected to mountains of litter. The sacred Bagmati river runs through the heart of the city, you will smell it before you see it; by the the time it meanders out of Kathmandu it has become an open sewer topped off with thousands of plastic bags and bottles. Do you what you can to be a responsible traveller and use refillable bottles for your water, most hotels have a clean, safe, and free, water chiller.
Cash is King. You can use credit cards in Kathmandu and Pokhara for such things hotel bills and ATM withdrawals. ATM’s are available in the major towns but be aware that many are restricted to a maximum of 10000NR (US$100) per transaction, some of the ones in KTM have higher limits up to 30000NR (US$300) but have a service charge of about 400NR attached. On the Yak Attack route you will be able to withdraw cash in KTM, Gorkha, and Besi Sahar, after that you will have to wait until the race arrives in its final destination of Pokhara.
There are money changer’s galore around Thamel offering competitive, commission-free, rates. They are trustworthy and will often provide you smaller notes if you ask for them.
You will need to carry at least 20-30000NR ($200-300) for the duration of the race in small bills. 500/100/50/20/10/5NR (Nepalese Rupiah) notes are best. You will be able to get these easily from the banks in KTM. Carry some convertible bills in £/$/Euro as a back up, however a $/£20 bill may not seem much to you but it is an awful lot of money in rural Nepal and most places will not be able to accommodate you if you produce one of these! Small denomination notes might help you out in a crisis.
Toilets. Your experience will vary in these considerably.
The better hotels have western style toilets, most places do not. This does not mean that the hygiene standard will be what you are used to. Where the local “Long-drop” toilets are in use you will have to get used to “aiming” at a small hole in the ground whilst holding your nose! Do not put your used paper down the toilet; the systems cannot cope with it and you will cause a blockage, there will be a waste paper basket in which to place it. Some places do not provide toilet paper; the local practice is to wash your “area” with water from a bucket. Currently I haven’t successfully mastered this technique!
In some remote trekking locations all you will have are holes in the ground. These are not pleasant.
Food and drink etc.
Around Thamel there are, quite literally, hundreds of places to eat, they are perfectly safe; even the back street Dhal Bhat and MoMo places.
If you are unsure then stick to the obvious tourist restaurants, they are used to dealing with international travellers and the food will be well prepared and safe. You will find a plethora of local and international foods. La Dolce Vita offers good Italian fare. Fire and Ice do outstanding Pizza. Places and OR2K have excellent vegetarian menus. Other’s include Roadhouse, New Orleans, Friends, Electric Pagoda.
For a quick & simple takeaway-eat The Chick ‘n’ Falafel place on the entrance to Mandala Street is fantastic and costs a mere 210NR!
There are an abundance of options, dive in and enjoy!
For really good coffee head to Himalayan Java on Mandala Street, they have decent WiFi too.
In hotels and restaurants there is normally an additional fee to pay on top of your bill. The prices quoted in menu’s are subject to a compulsory 10% service charge and 13% tax. Remember this when ordering and paying for your meal.
Fruit can be purchased easily but I would suggest buying only “skinned” items such as Banana’s or Oranges. Anything such as grapes etc should be soaked in an iodine solution for at least 30 minutes.
There are a number of small supermarkets in the area with fixed prices. You can buy any essential items you might need from most of these.
|Himalayan Java’s Double-shot Cafe Latte is delicious!
In Thamel you will encounter a few irritations, please try to remain polite even with the most persistent of pursuers. Most are just trying to make a living.
You will be approached constantly by street vendors, they will be trying to sell you trekking/adventure trips, musical instruments, tiger balm, or other tourist items.
I have even been offered a bicycle taxi whilst riding past on my bike!
Shady looking fella’s will often sidle up to you and whisper “Smoke Sir?” or “Hashish?” amongst other things, do not buy from them no matter how tempted you might be. You will most likely end up with a lot more than you bargained for. A firm “Ho-eena” (No) should do the trick.
Do not be tempted to hand over cash or purchase food items for the street kids and beggars. If you wish to make a genuine contribution it is far better to donate to one of the many NGO’s or charities helping to deal with these social issues. They won’t waste your hard earned money on glue or drugs!
However if you want to have a photograph with one of the brightly painted religious guru’s then please give them something in return; 50nr should be more than enough.
The hub of mountain biking in Thamel has to be Himalayan Singletrack (HST) run by Jenny Caunt and Santosh Rai. You will meet other riders there, and they will be able to service your bike both before and after the race if you require it. Young Yak Attack star Aayman Tamang works there most afternoons, he’s a lovely kid; get to know him.
They have a decent selection of spare parts and also offer excellent guiding around the valley trails, or further afield if you have the time. There are quite a few other bike shops around the city worth looking at if you can’t get what you need from HST.
If you are here for longer and fancy some adventure then in the same side-street as HST are two of the better guiding companies around.
Adventure Aves run by Nikki and Dill Gurung offer superb Kayak and Rafting packages.
I have personal experience with all three companies and I recommend them whole-heartedly.
|Roan and Aayman at Himalayan Singletrack.
Thamel itself is relatively easy to negotiate. It may seem a little maze-like when you first arrive but it is set out fairly simply and you will soon get to know it. Hotels usually have free pocket-sized street maps of the area for guests.
I prefer riding my bike all around the city but if you are a little uneasy about it you can always get a taxi. The prices will vary a little but your hotel will be able to advise you as to what to expect to pay for various locations.
The bicycle rickshaws are fun and cheap but they won’t take you very far and they like to charge on the heavy side for unwitting newcomers. Everyone in Kathmandu can spot a rookie! Negotiate.
There are some worthwhile places to visit:
Swayhambu (The Monkey Temple), The Durbar Square’s of KTM and Patan (I prefer Patan), and The Boudda should all be visited.
Wandering is a perfectly acceptable pastime. Grab your little street map for guidance and go and get yourself lost for a few hours, you will be surprised at the wonders you can find whilst wandering!
|There are some wonderful sights to see around the city.
If you are thinking of purchasing any of your outdoor gear on arrival then there are some official retailers selling genuine equipment. The North Face, Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, and Black Yak are all very close together on the edge of the action. The excellent Sherpa store is about a ten minute walk out of central Thamel, they manufacture all of their products locally and it is excellent.
The North Face store is offering a 10% discount to riders in The Yak Attack, prices are considerably cheaper than in the UK.
Most of the Outdoor stores in and around Thamel sell branded copies at very low prices; you will get what you pay for!
Anyone wanting to purchase mementoes of their trip will be well serviced. There are some excellent shops selling everything from small Prayer Wheels, Jewellery and Art, to Gurkha Knives. The Tibetan Thanka’s are stunning.
Be prepared to negotiate the price, the vendors will usually start very high. Try not to treat it as a battle though, it is a part of the culture, and look to negotiate a price you are happy to pay. Trying to screw down every last Rupiah isn’t Cricket! It’s fun, enjoy it.
Finally: I’d advise all riders to make sure your bike is tip-top, the trails are unforgiving and maintenance will be minimal during the race. Fit new gear cables and a chain before the race. It is also essential to make sure that your Hydraulic Disc Brakes are bled correctly. Any air bubbles in the system will expand at altitude and you will left with brakes that are “spongey” at best!
One final tip (from unfortunate experience).
It is worth buying a few sachets of “Electrobion” from the local pharmacies. This is a rehydrating powder for anyone suffering the effects of diarrhoea, it is very cheap and it is excellent. It is recommended by The World Health Organisation (WHO) . In fact it is so good that I will be using it to rehydrate after each stage of the race.
It is highly likely that you are going to have a wonderful experience in Nepal and will have nothing to worry about. See you all soon!
|Something to look forward to!