No sex tourists please, it’s Kathman-DO!

22 Feb


budah stupah
If you’d told me when I was in my  20s that one day I’d be sat in an organic café in Kathmandu wearing a woolly sweater and eating a bowl of lentil soup I probably would have spat at you. Yet hilariously enough that was exactly the situation I found myself in just a week ago.

Unless you’re a fan of tiny ceremonial orange trees and fireworks, getting out of Hong Kong for Chinese New Year is a smart move. Many ex-pats either plump for the wintry ski-resorts of northern Japan or the sub-tropical sex tourist hot spots of Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, but few try Nepal. It’s a shame.

Despite my dhal-a-geddon in the organic café, Nepal was a bit of a bloody revelation actually. I’m no hardcore trecker and harbour something between sneery contempt and point blank hatred for the those who elect to spend two weeks of their hard-earned annual leave getting up at 5am every day, turning their pants inside out for the fifth time and making small talk with complete strangers whilst battling frost bite and intense boredom. In case you were wondering.

himalayas

No, the plan for me was hatched over a particularly fine Nepalese curry on Staunton Street and involved staying at a decent hotel in the Thamel district of Kathmandu – one with Wi-Fi and no blackouts – and making the odd day trip out and about. It worked a treat.  Nepal is sandwiched in between China and India and its links to the UK go back to Raj days and the service of its legendary Gurkha soldiers in the British military. Given Britain’s first mover advantage in the colonial stakes, English speakers won’t feel as out of place here as mainland Chinese tourists obviously were when spotted out and about.

Kathmandu now has Wi-Fi, Angry Bird hats for sale and Sky Sports in bars and bloody motor bikes EVERYWHERE but for all that it doesn’t seem to have changed much in the past 50 years. Cows wander aimlessly down potholed, dirt track roads; sinister looking men sit in shop doorways by huge butchered slabs of dead buffalo; even more sinister looking men sidle up offering hashish; horns honk ENDLESSLY; and just when it’s getting a bit too much a glorious waft of sweet perfumed incense from a nearby shop makes it all better.

There are a LOT of temples. There are views only an hour’s drive away of the Himalayas that took the breath away even of a cynical old bastard like me. There are enterprising dealers who offer marijuana, then up it to opium and on one occasion trump the lot by touting “something”. Something? Seriously, you have “something” to sell? Alright then, I’ll take three bags…kathmandu durbar

Kathmandu is dirty, noisy and crowded, but for a few days away in February you could do a lot worse. There are great curries on tap, especially good if you’re a vegetable-arian, cheap beer, brilliantly friendly locals and, obviously, great hikes. The country’s still recovering from civil war and coping with a political system which is doing its best to run it into the ground, so do your bit and spend your Honky dollar there next CNY.

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