Kathmandu, Kathmandon’t?

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Before leaving Pokhara our guide referred to the drive to Kathmandu as a death drive, with steep drops and hair raising bends around the mountains, not to mention landslides. His attempts at persuading us to take an apparent lifesaving short cut by flying instead were thwarted. We had grown fond of scenic road trips and the thought of the drive was more exciting to us than scary, plus we had the utmost faith that our driver would get us to Kathmandu alive. Up we climbed around the bends that we had been warned about, past goat herders and their four legged entourage, and school buses, bicycles and lorries. The mountains were covered in green and yellow ripples dotted with the bright red, pink and blue saris of the women as they collected their bounty. At the highest point on the pass, slightly deaf from my ears popping, I looked down at the valley below and thought to myself this is definitely not somewhere you want to be if an earthquake or landslide hits. So, our guide may have been right about the dangers, but we were also correct to place our faith in our driver as we made it to the city alive and well.

As we approached the busy streets of Kathmandu I was filled with a sense of nostalgia, gone were the lush green mountains and flowing rivers, our rural scenic adventures in Nepal had been replaced by traffic and pollution. I hadn’t left the vehicle and I already wanted to leave. Maybe our guide sensed my reluctance to be in urban surroundings as, rather than taking us straight to our hotel, he de-toured to the Monkey Temple, Swayambhunath, and if anywhere in the city was going to change my mind it was of course going to be one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Kathmandu. Entering the temple the thoughts of the mountains were pushed to the back of my mind, prayer flags and monkeys taking over my attention. When the earthquake hit I had imagined that I wouldn’t get to see Kathmandu’s famous sites however, despite some damage, the stupa was still glorious and a sight to behold. I managed to walk around the grounds with only one attempted robbery by a monkey. After he grabbed the bottom of my trousers I told him I had no food and he let go, others however were not so lucky.

After an early morning alarm we made our way to the airport to get up close and personal with the mighty Everest. We had booked a flight with Yeti airlines and had been warned that delays were possible because if the mountains weren’t visible then we wouldn’t take off. An Everest flight without seeing Everest was obviously pointless. Luck, it appeared, was on our side. I guess the mighty mountain wanted to show off her beauty to us because our flight departed on time and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky as we faced her head on. Relaxing on the flight with a glass of champagne may seem like cheating to those hardy mountain climbers, however, not all have the skill to climb those dangerous peaks, and going to Kathmandu without seeing Everest just felt wrong. So, I gazed out at the summit of the world’s highest mountain, filled with bubbles and happiness, and feeling extremely grateful that I was seeing something that many people in the world dream about seeing.

We came back down to earth with a soft thud and headed back to the busy streets of Thamel where we wandered around taking in the sights, smells and sounds of the city. Kathmandu Durbar Square had been badly damaged from the earthquake; however we had expected to see more destruction in the centre. It was when we visited Bhaktapur, however, that the extent of the damage was evident, with the ancient buildings being held up by wooden beams and piles of rubble scattered across the area. Yet despite the beautiful and interesting buildings around Kathmandu, my soul craved some peace, so I said goodbye to the wonderful people I had been travelling with on my tour for the past 15 days and headed off, alone once more, to the hills overlooking the city, for some rest and relaxation at the guest house of a Tibetan Buddhist monastery.

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