It’s been nearly a month since I first arrived in Kathmandu. I only spent a few days there pre-trek and will spend another couple before flying to India. It’s a frenetic, depressingly poor city. Kathmandu is no funky banana pancake hangout like Pokhara, but it’s a taste of real Nepal and the realities of mass rural–>urban migration in the developing world. Its one central backpacker ghetto, Thamel, is a crazy place full of outdoor shops catering to both the Everest summiter and the casual trekker, restaurants for the dirt-poor to filthy-rich, lots of beer of varying palatability, hostels and hotels and guesthouses oh my, etc etc.
Despite the mass of people squeezed into tiny streets of endless storefronts, rickshaws, animals wandering freely and pure mass humanity, I heard one unexpected sound three times: My name. Thamel is unabashedly touristy, and every backpacker who visits Nepal passes through here at least once. On three occasions, I was spotted by travelers I’d met in Russia, Mongolia and China, respectively, and my name was called across the crowded streets. I shared a meal with Michiel, who I met on the train from Russia to Mongolia and spent time with in China. The others were just brief, pleasantly surprised hellos and howareyous.
I elected to stay outside of Thamel, instead in the residential and spiritual neighborhood of Swoyambhu at the fantastic Sparkling Turtle Guesthouse. The Sparkling Turtle has many outstanding qualities, the most notable of which is its amazing cook. I had fabulous, expertly dressed salads of fresh vegetables (very welcome after long weeks of fried noodles on the trek), spaghetti with homemade sauce and (buffalo–no cow!) meatballs, and free breakfast of delicious oat porridge with coconut and chopped chocolate–all for $3.25/night. It is owned by a younger-than-me Canadian guy who dresses in traditional Nepali garb. The house mama is a middle-aged Australian woman who mothers the place with love and genuine kindness for all guests. All staff, both Nepali and foreign, always knew everyone’s name and made a point to get to know us as individuals. Laundry costs less than 20 cents per pound and is returned in 24 hours. They arrange bus tickets, cab rides, and are extremely conscientious in providing free mugs of tea throughout the day. The solar-heated showers are warm enough and even communal bathrooms are sparkling (!) clean and include Western toilets. I stayed there pre-trek, post-trek, and will stay again post-Pokhara before my flight to India. Anyone going to Kathmandu must stay there. Another selling point: In the early mornings, monkeys ran through the surrounding streets owing to the nearby monkey temple. I’ve never seen anything like it: Screeching monkeys with bananas, babies or both, running through the urban jungle, dodging both motor and foot traffic like they owned the place. And in a way, they do.
I hear that there’s a Thanksgiving dinner for expats and travelers the day I arrive back in Kathmandu. That would be great! I love celebrating holidays abroad with other miscellaneous travelers and vagabonds. I hear the dinner will have turkey and all the fixins, an unimaginable treat after being away nearly three months. Meghan, my new travel buddy, and I plan to be there–and I imagine we’ll see some other familiar travelers’ faces, too.