Nepal and Tibet

Travel time: June 2002  |  by Denise Sullivan

A really nice trip through countrysides of Nepal and Tibet.


Kathmandu, from the air, looks wonderful - like no other city I've ever seen before. It is nestled in a beautiful green valley surrounded by mountains. The city is a jumble of buildings which look, from the air, like bee hives. Soon we swoop down between these "bee hives" and land at a rather unsophisticated looking airport. We are warned by our Australian guide that our first culture shock would be formalities (or the lack of them) at the airport ... and it is! We scuttle from one desk to another in the quest for a visa and other immigration paper work but we finally emerge into the bright Nepalese sunshine, to run after the luggage trolleys to check that ours are amongst those being hauled up onto the roof of the bus that is to take us into the city. Our local guide and his mates present each of us with lei of tiny orange marigolds in welcome, before we are herded onto the small bus, where we crush, like sardines in a tin, for the short trip into town.

Boy, what an eye-opener! I always love the drive into town from an airport. The saying "the first impression is a lasting impression" rings true for me. We have noticed in many countries that people living in poverty seem still to be happy and just so in this place - poverty and smiling faces make an impact on us as we drive the short distance from the airport to our hotel. People run businesses from what appears to be little holes in the wall rather than shops as we know them. Cows stroll across the streets and everyone gives way to them reminding us that we are in a Hindu country.

We pass the palace and remember the tragedy of twelve months before, when the heir to the throne, Prince Dipendra, the twenty-nine year old son of King Birendra and Queen Aiswarya, shot dead eleven people including his parents, his younger brother and sister and other family members after a dinner table dispute over his choice of bride. Soldiers carrying rifles, their fingers on the triggers, heavily guard the palace. As a matter of fact, we see soldiers doing the same all over the city. It appears that the soldiers are used as security guards. With the recent troubles in Kashmir to the northeast of the country, security is sure to be high.

We drive through the business district of Kathmandu with its wide streets. We pass many modern buildings, hospitals, schools and sports stadiums. The streets here are quite wide but finally, we arrive in Thamel, one of the oldest areas of the city. We slowly manoeuvre our way along narrow, narrow streets, blowing the horn at children, cows and chickens as we make our way to the Garuda Hotel which is right in the centre of this historical part of town. The Garuda is a Tibetan run hotel and we are greeted very warmly with "Tashi Delai", the Tibetan welcome.

We are starting to jell as a group even before we really start touring as we have just spent the last twenty hours together in close proximity. There are seventeen of us in all, all intent on seeing as much as possible in the short time we have. The tour is only two weeks long and there is much to see and experience.

We have been warned that the Garuda is a simple hotel but in a great position. The hotel is in one of the very narrow streets of Thamel in walking distance of Durbar Square and many of the major historical attractions of this ancient city. The hotel is indeed simple but it is clean and safe with very friendly staff. After such a long time travelling we rush to have a shower and change before setting out on a walking tour with our Australian tour guide, Fran in the lead. It is a long time since I have experienced culture shock but today I see poverty like I've never experienced before. Beggars, lepers, drug sellers, pushy salespeople, men, women and children all fill the streets. It begins to rain so we have to negotiate puddles as we make our way towards Durbar Square. The architecture is different from any I have ever seen. The timber shutters covering the windows are intricately carved timber, which would make the houses dark and cool in this sub-tropical climate. Kathmandu is relatively low, nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains so the summers are hot and wet. The doorways in the old brick buildings are surrounded by opulent carving too, which tells of more wealthy times past.

We are surprised by the touches of modern living we see amongst the old. We see an Internet café where women in gorgeous coloured saris are communicating with the world but not far along the street, we see a primitive butcher shop on a corner. There is a door on the front and one on the side. The front door is blocked by a table serving as a counter and at the side door are tethered goats, waiting to be slaughtered, which apparently happens in the courtyard next to the shop in full view of the public. There is no refrigeration so, I suppose, this is the only way to ensure the meat stays fresh. Power lines overhead, are a relatively recent addition to the area. They are nothing more than a jumble of wires attached to the connections on the poles in knots. It is unbelievable that we actually have power in our rooms at the Garuda. Down a little side street, we find a hidden square, which is dominated by a Tibetan stupa. Tibetans build stupas anywhere someone of great significance has appeared or spoken publicly. They indicate a Buddhist holy place.

Three storey houses surround the square. On the ground floor of one, through the open doorway, we notice a tailor's shop, the tailor at work, sewing machine racing against the clock. Thousands of feet, over the centuries, have worn the stone step at the entrance to the shop. Through the open shutters of the rooms above, we are intrigued to see a cock, roosting on a rod across the window with one of its legs tied with a cord so it cannot escape. Perhaps the animals live on the second floor. So does the family live on the third floor?

We see families out for a stroll, the men wearing the traditional garb of loose knee length shirts over tight-legged trousers, khaki in colour, often with a white brimless cap, the women in saris of vibrant colours trimmed in gold. We notice that the men hold hands or walk arm in arm, quite acceptable practice for all Nepalese men who are never seen holding the hand of a woman.

© Denise Sullivan, 2005
You are here : Overview Asia Nepal Nepal: Kathmandu
The trip
Start of journey: Jun 01, 2002
Duration: 15 days
End of journey: Jun 15, 2002
Travelled countries: Nepal
The Author
Denise Sullivan is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 18 years.