Three days in the Shanker

In between making observations about policemen and tricycles, on Thursday I managed to see no less than 13 apartments. I was shown an odd mix by various people, including:

  • A 4th floor riverside apartment which would have been perfect were it not for the fact that the river is essentially a sewer, and Nepal is pretty earthquake prone.
  • An enormous house which was way above budget, tatty and had servants’ quarters and a volleyball court.
  • A place for about £100 a month which had no hot water, no electricity backup and seemingly no natural light.

…and 10 others. Two of these we could not gain access to, and I am returning this afternoon to look again. Nothing is quite right yet, and I essentially have a week (until Kelly returns from Bangladesh on the 13th) to find the right place for the right money. I think, considering that I have now got rid of the two guys who were just showing me random stuff, that this should be doable. If not, there were a couple of basic but decent places at the low end of the budget which we could go for if necessary.

Since posting the picture of the tiny biscuit I have not really left the hotel grounds, apart from on two occasions, both of which occurred on Friday and involved Louis. He is a chap I met in Sydney and bumped into at Glastonbury, who is now teaching at a school to the south of Kathmandu and was in town for a couple of days. We met for lunch, and rashly picked a place to eat based on the fact that it was nearby when we were hungry. Up some grimy stairs, at the top of a building overlooking a main road we found the Mustang somethingorother Restaurant, where I was served a lemon soda with black bits in, and some warm noodles in broth (allegedly Tibetan Thukpa, possibly just instant ramen).

Louis is out here for an adventure, he just picked a random place and headed out, and is volunteering in a school while he tries to find NGO experience. It was good to catch up, and later in the day he joined us (I managed to get Kelly to leave the hotel, just) for dinner at OR2K in Thamel, followed by a trip to House of Music, where he, Kelly and I concocted our own NGO idea, based on a midnight brainstorm about cleaning up the Bagmati river. I am not sure what will come of this, but minutes were taken so it seemed serious.

Since then, however, I have not left the hotel. Yesterday I spent a soul-sucking day formatting what turned out to be more than 300 pages of Kelly’s thesis, messing about with heading styles, captions, figures and tables, which took up all of my waking hours. It wasn’t all bad though, as I got to do this by the pool – there was some sort of pre-wedding celebration occurring on the lawn, with 70 or so Nepalis in all their finery, celebrating to a soundtrack of such classics as a panpipe cover of My Heart Will Go On. Contrast this with a dozen or so shirtless foreigners basking in the sun mere metres away. An odd contrast – many of the Nepalis were wearing scarves and coats. I think I may have spotted some gloves.

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Observations while walking round Patan

(1) A river view is not always a selling point.

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(2) Policemen sometimes hold hands here.

(2) Riding with no hands is decidedly less gangster on a tricycle.

(3) Allowing the fridge to operate for 24hrs a day is deemed unimportant compared to having a socket to charge things.

(4) Wearing a face mask after consuming a spicy veg roll is not pleasant.

(5) Kathmandu (within the ring road) is not too big, and most places are walkable if you are not in a rush.

(6) I am an XXL in knock-off Chinese sizes.

(7) It is really cool to be able to look up from the dusty and hectic surroundings and see some Himalayas.

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Well I must have done something yesterday…

As you may have guessed from the end of the previous post, New Year’s Day got off to a slow start. My plan was to go to Baluwatur, the area where the Prime Minister lives, and explore a bit. I ended up setting off a little later than anticipated, heading first to a potential place we might stay post-Bangladesh (summary: nice enough, wrong part of town, smelly river outside) and then stopping for roadside Momos while I considered what to do. Part of the purpose of my visit was to check out Occupy Baluwatur, who had apparently been blockading the Prime Minister’s house in protest at the unchecked levels of violence against women in Nepal. All I saw was a small poster and a banner, definitely no blockade.

I then followed the wall of the PM’s compound round towards Lazimpat, but didn’t find much along the way. It was interesting to walk along the little back street, occasionally stopping at a tiny shop to check i was heading in the right direction (I bought mango bites, like sherbet lemons but mango flavoured and with no sherbet). I eventually happened upon Lazimpat road and probably headed back to the hotel to persuade Kelly to take a dinner break. I hung out outside for a while, watching sunset – or at least the sky going a pleasing pink colour.

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We ended up going to what Tripadvisor claimed was the second best restaurant in Kathmandu, Fire and Ice pizzeria. It was above average, but then I don’t know yet how many places in Nepal have access to anchovies and blue cheese, so maybe with further experience it may go up in my estimation.

Today the apartment hunt continues apace – I saw somewhere this afternoon which was nice, but also quite far from Thapithali (Kelly’s office) and I have about five viewings lined up for tomorrow, all down in Lalitpur/Patan. For now, to be honest, I am quite happy in the Shanker – I sat outside this morning in the blazing sunshine, with the intention of getting on with my PhD corrections, only to have my laptop shut down a few times. A quick search revealed that the likely cause is overheating, so this afternoon some emergency surgery is necessary to reconnect the fan which I may have dislodged during my last operation. If this fails I either need to get it repaired (although Apple stores are rather thin on the ground in Nepal) or only operate it in a very well air conditioned room/ice bath. Oh, and speaking of overheating, I noticed this morning that, while I was on a lounger in shorts and a t-shirt (and a little warm in that, to be honest) everyone else I could see was in at least jeans and a coat – one lady was wearing a scarf and gloves. It isn’t just me being weird here – it was at least 19° in the shade. Baffling.

UPDATE: I was right. I had disconnected the fan by accident. Now fixed and I can finish my PhD. Phew.

Happy New Year!

I spent the majority of New Years Eve wandering about Lazimpat trying to find SIM cards, find a place to live and not choke on the dust.

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I got enjoyably lost, found the SIM cards (for 500 NPR each and later realised that they said maximum retail price 99 NPR on the front – must learn Nepalese numbers soon) and failed to gain access to the British embassy. I did, however, find a shop selling tuna light lunches, tins of ice coffee, Special K and soya milk, in case we yearn for revision/writing up food at any point. So not a total failure.

In the evening we walked back into Thamel to try and find dinner and somewhere to celebrate New Year, however the streets were thronged with roaming groups of shouting men and the occasional scantily clad lady (for Nepal), so we ducked into the Farmer’s Bar for dinner, after some bustly searching during which i asserted that i knew the way four or five times and was wrong in every instance. We tried the streets again afterwards and nothing had improved, so it was decided that maybe there were some less intense celebrations occurring down near Durbar Square. upon arrival, we found these revellers.

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They didn’t seem keen for us to join their party, so we ended up back in Thamel at New Orleans wine bar. There was a chap on the microphone desperately trying to coax the customers into dancing. Nobody took him up on this, it was too cold to do much beyond sit near the fire (or really passionately snog in the back row, as one couple chose to do). We steeled ourselves for mayhem as we headed once more to the streets for the actual moment, and were greeted with…a party popper. Literally a glittery party popper and some yelling from the crowd.

After a failed search for the best Brian Adams cover band (or, as the bars would have it, “live rock music”), our New Year’s Eve ended with us finding the amusingly named bar at the hotel closed upon our return. Or so we thought – as we were going back to our room, the snoggers from New Orleans turned up, also looking to go to the bar. Finding it closed, we were promptly invited to their room for a drink – “we have a suite!”, they claimed. Having thought it through and decided that we probably weren’t being invited to a sex festival, we changed (I got something on my shoes and leg which I would like to think was a tomato, but actually I think it may have just been a tomatoey bit of someone else’s meal) and went to join them.

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They are a couple working in Bangladesh for DFID and USAID, from Pakistan and the US respectively, and they had copious amounts of gin and whisky which they were very keen to share. The Pakistani chap had a lot to say about Kathmandu and the lack of development here as compared to other South Asian countries. A lot to say about a lot of things actually – they were really fun and interesting, and hanging out with them was definitely a good way to start 2013. Come morning, however, it turns out that the gin and whisky were not.

Safety first

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That chap is hammering a spike into the concrete, while balancing on the steel mesh that was within the floor they just removed. Not shown: at least 10 other examples of this sort of thing that I saw today. Are they foolhardy, or are we scaredy cats?

Also, who is buying Angry Birds balloons here?

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New Year’s Eve, things are looking up.

Phew. A quick update – at breakfast, I found this fantastic piece of front page news:

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(obviously the context, deadly elephant attacks, is not amusing, but I like the fact that the elephants are literally unstoppable. Also referred to as “tuskers” throughout the article). after breakfast we were moved from the wet dog room: 20121231-120518.jpg to this palatial one, in which fruit and flowers were provided soon after we moved in.

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We have booked in for a few more days, until Kelly goes to Bangladesh on the 7th – the Internet is faster than it is at home, they have a generator and the breakfast is good. This is not the adventure yet, this is thesis finishing time. Bear with us.

Arrival, things not going exactly to plan.

This flight was a lot more sedate than my last trip to Kathmandu, which involved drinking as much whisky as they would permit, stopping when I asked for another and found myself unable to speak, falling asleep and almost immediately being awoken and served a breakfast curry.

No whisky this time, we were seated in the central block of seats, the chairs didn’t recline and my screen didn’t work, which meant that my main task was to stay upright so that Kelly had something to lean on while she slept. It was a long 8 hours. On the upside, I got to eat two helpings of dinner.

At Delhi I (yet again) had to unpack my hand luggage as I had put a small bottle of wine from the plane in there, reasoning that it would be the last I would have for quite some time. Despite the fact that the water and toiletries in my bag raised no eyebrows, the wine caused a full search and a delay for everyone else behind us. Oops.

The next flight had two pleasant elements – a delicious breakfast curry, and my first glimpse of the Himalayas…

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Closely followed by the sight of this welcome vehicle.

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At this point I informed Kelly that we were staying in the Shanker Hotel, a converted palace where she attended a conference last year. We were picked up and escorted through the dusty, noisy, busy streets of Kathmandu, and checked in to a small, damp, wet dog smelling room at the back of the hotel. Displeased, Kelly went down, dropped some names and we will be moving into another (hopefully better) one the following morning.

All this business sorted, we walked into Thamel in search of dinner, and thoroughly over ordered at OR2K – Italian salad, pad Thai, houmous and babaganoush. A thoroughly Nepalese dinner, all for about £9 (with drinks). After all this, we walked home and were tucked up in bed by about 9pm, ready for some exploring (for me) and working (for Kel) tomorrow.

Also it appears to be Christmas in Thamel, with lovely trees like this one stuck up about the place.

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En route!

Well that was an ordeal. The day went pretty smoothly for the most part, moving stuff about and checking out of our house etc – I even managed to chill out on the sofa at Charlotte’s for an hour or two – and Clare and Austin very kindly drove us to the airport, and we even got away with checking 5 bags (probably 85kg of stuff). However, it all went downhill from there.

We had a quick drink with C&A before going through security, whereupon our bags were taken assisted for searching. Confident in my innocence I told Kelly to go ahead to the gate, assuming I would be along in a minute.

However, this was not to be the case – after waiting for the incredibly slow lady to search all the other bags before ours, mine was searched and nothing was found. On further X-raying I was told that I was concealing a lock knife. I was sure this was not true, but lo and behold there was a small (3 inch blade) knife lurking in one of the internal pockets. I had bought it in Guatemala a few years ago, and it was seemingly up to the lady whether or not it was a restricted item. Somebody higher up the chain of command informed her that it was prohibited, and I had to come over to security while the police were called. Shocked, I protested that I did not know that this knife was illegal in the UK (as it apparently is) but this persuaded nobody.

Kelly had rung numerous times, the final boarding call had occurred and they had informed the gate that I was delayed. Up sauntered two policemen, who started by asking if I had been arrested before. Nope. They then informed me that I was carrying a prohibited weapon, and that this was not acceptable. I said I had been on the farm over Christmas with the same bag, and that it must have just caught in the lining (mostly true, although I have been carrying it about for the last couple of years almost all the time).

The solution to all this? Google. I was asked the name of the farm, and upon receiving the information one policeman turned to the other and said “You couldn’t google that for me could you Pete?” One swift search later and I was being quizzed on the details of the farm.

Somerset. Pigs, cattle and some horses. Pedigree pigs. RBST stuff. Maddaford herd.

That last one did it. I was given a stern warning not to do anything like this again, and sent off to my flight – I ran at full pelt (in a massive coat, untied boots and carrying at least 20kg of bags) down to gate 11 where I was the penultimate person to board – the ultimate one begin Kelly, who had been sent off with a member of staff to find me. That was not a good start to the journey.

Still, we are on the plane (somewhere over France), I think I will probably be forgiven for my foolish mistake, and there is whiskey and curry on the way. Phew. Also I shall leave time for fuck-ups in future.