Friday, October 31, 2008


Friday 31.10.08
I woke with a very sore throat this morning; my hunch is that it is the result of cycling through the traffic yesterday. Today I cycled south of KTM to Patan & had a good look around. It was indeed interesting but I think I may have now completed the 'temple tour' part of my journey. I reckon that tomorrow I should 'hit the road' now that I've been 'blooded' into the traffic here. To be honest, it's a little hair-raising in the traffic here, but it should lighten up a tad as I leave the city. And this is predicated on me actually being able to find my way out of town - really, it's not that easy!

What do things cost? Internet at this hotel is 20 NPR (Nepalese Rupees) per hour (= about 37 cents) & it's reasonably fast. A 'standard breakfast' around town is usually about $2 AUD (eggs, toast, butter, jam, fried potato, fried banana (?), coffee), a litre bottle of water is about 35 cents. Lunch eg dhal & rice, coke, coffee usually runs to about $4. The evening meal, depending where you eat, can cost anything up to maybe $16. So, it's all rather cheap (I've had a few extra expenses, like buying another map of Nepal as I left mine at home!). Temples & most tourist sites also cost to visit eg the Patan/ Durbar Square ticket cost 200 NPR {about $3.60), and entry to the museum was 250 NPR (you can work this one out).


Thursday 30.10.08
I've been doing a little cycling over the past 2 days. The day before yesterday I rode out to Swayambhunath, a Buddhist temple about 2 kms to the west of Kathmandu. This place is also known as the Monkey Temple due to the many monkeys there, some of them extremely unpleasant & aggressive, exemplified by one who tried, in a sudden startling swoop, to try & snatch my water bottle. I'm sure it was only due to my years of martial arts training that the attack was unsuccessful. Otherwise, it was an interesting enough place to visit, seemingly comprising of both Buddhist & Hindu imagery & architecture.

My plans for yesterday were to cycle to a place called Pashupatinath and then onwards to Bodhnath (or Boudha). The streets in Thamel, the area where I'm staying, are all unnamed, roads further afield are poorly signposted and there are no signs to the obvious tourist sites around the KTM valley. So, despite having both a map & a compass I became hopelessly lost quite soon after leaving Thamel. I eventually reached where I was heading by asking directions of passers-by (being met by utterly blank stares on occasion suggested that my pronunciation skills are perhaps on a par with my navigational skills). But it was when I hit the open roads, away from the traffic & pesky touts & tourists, that I was reminded of the joys of cycling & why I've come on holidays with my bicycle. Ahh, such liberation! ... the open space, the fresh air, the scenery ... (well, for a few minutes, until realising I didn't have the faintest clue where I was...)

Pashupatinath, to paraphrase the Lonely Planet guide, is Nepal's most important Hindu temple & is also a very important Shiva temple which draws in devotees and sadhus from all over India. I am sure that a good number of the flamboyant & extraordinarily decorated 'sadhus' lining up to be photographed by tourists are really just very entrepreneurial beggars.

I eventually found my way to Pashupatinath by trailing behind a slow moving convoy of cars & motorbikes that, I was told when I enquired, was apparently heading there. Some while later I realised that it was actually a funeral procession on its way to a cremation on the banks of the Bagmati River at Pashupatinath. It also turned out that the deceased was a member of the recently-defunct royal family (the new government here abolished the monarchy shortly after coming to power) and so the cremation was a pretty big deal. There are two main cremation areas at Pashupatinath - one section for the common people and another for royalty (who still apparently retain high status despite the fact of their apparent abolition). After a few hours there, wandering about & watching the various stages of the cremation, I managed with some difficulty, and via an unusually long, convoluted & rather bumpy route, to then cycle to Bodhnath (aka Boudha), the site of a huge Buddhist stupa. It was reasonably interesting, with scores of Tibetans circumambulating (clockwise) the stupa while counting beads & mumbling to themselves. The return route to KTM was rather more complicated than I'd have preferred, but I did get to see some parts of the city that I hadn't planned to.

The big thing in KTM at present is the Tihar (or Diwala) festival. It's supposedly the Festival of Lights but could be more aptly renamed the Festival of Interminable Explosions. The last 3 evenings here have been punctuated by incessant explosions, and during the day there have been sporadic blasts, much like I imagine a war zone would sound like. People are setting off these firecrackers presumably to mark the fact that it's Tihar. Not fireworks (eg skyrockets, colourful displays, etc) but just bangs - sounding like machine gun fire, mortar rounds or hand grenades. Unbelievable!

In stark contrast however, it is astonishingly quiet after midnight until about 6am when a hotel generator starts up, followed by the occasional dog bark, then the birds, and finally people & traffic noise. I've been sleeping extremely soundly.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


well, the most harrowing part of the journey is over - getting here with the bike & panniers largely intact. Checking in at Tullamarine was a breeze - I and the bike were waved straight through, and surprisingly my 15kg bike only weighed 10kg on their scales. I had weight to spare, and could have brought those extra undies along after all. I didn't wrap the bike in plastic (what a dumb idea) but merely let air out of the tyres, removed the pedals & unbolted the handlebars & wheeled it into a large metal cage to be put on the plane.

What was I thinking when I booked a room in Thamel, perhaps the noisiest, most crowded place in the universe? I've been titrating my forays out into the streets, and this morning ventured down to Durbar Square where I had a somewhat cursory look around before returning to the safety of my room. The Square was extremely crowded, with market stalls, tourist guides, phony sadhus, and countless tourists and others. I'm told it's busier than usual as tonight is the start of the Tihar festival (also known as Diwali, festival of lights) which lasts for about 5 days. Everyone seems pretty excited. and there are garlands of flowers everywhere, as well as people setting off some rather large firecrackers. I'm sure that making tourists jump is part of the fun.

And then this afternoon I ventured out onto the roads of KTM on my recently reassembled bike. In some ways this was less oppressive than walking, and I seemed to bump into fewer people. So gradually I'll acclimatise to this place & then hit the road ...

Last night was surprisingly quiet, other than the occasional barking dog, and I slept extremely soundly even though the bed was designed for people much shorter than me. So, after writing this & checking some emails, I'll have some dinner & wander about town for a bit ...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

5 days to go ...

... 5 days before I go & I'm feeling uncommonly jittery & obsessing about minor matters such as ... should I take 4 pairs of undies or 3? I'm pleased that Thai Airways do not insist that I take the bike in a box, although they reckon "... it must be covered by a bag, or something similar" and that "the handle bar must be fixed side ways, tyres deflated & also peddles taken off". I telephoned "Protectabag" at Melbourne airport - they will wrap it in plastic for $35. A daft idea, and of course environmentally unsound, but it will save me a deal of weight & maybe protect the bike a little, and I sort of like the absurdity of it. I thought I'd book a room before leaving and have done so at the Potala Guest house. It must be busy in KTM at present as the first place I tried emailed me back to say they were booked out. The only room left at the Potala GH was "double bed, private facilities" so I took it (US$26 a night - a little more than I was initially planning). Ah, a bed big enough for me and the bike!