Alex: From the Delhi Hustle to Relaxed Nepal
Woke up at 3:30AM to catch a 6:30AM flight to Nepal. The Delhi airport was hectic, and we really doubted we were going to catch our plane with all the crap that we had to go through to get checked in and through security. As a funny side note, the characteristic of Indian drivers to act like they know where you want to go and then drive around and ask directions was not absent at the airport. The shuttle that took us to our plane stopped and asked which plane was going to Nepal to some people on the runway.
The flight was only 2 hours and the Nepal airport left a great first impression on us. It was really laid back, uniquely decorated, and easy for us to get through customs and get our luggage. We got a free visa because we were only staying three nights, and the customs officers were genuinely patient and friendly. The first unsmiling face was the man at the money-exchange who stood behind a sign that said "We Value Your Smile." Note: Don't get money changed at the airport because they take commission and give a bad rate. Second note: 500 and 1000 Indian rupee bills are "illegal" in Nepal, so don't do what we did and bring these expecting to exchange them.
Our cab driver hooked us up with a Hotel we really liked (despite our distrust that he only cared about commission), and we got a double with a balcony overlooking the city. There is a school right outside our window where we can see about 5 floors of classes being held, hear kids singing, and distract some of them from paying attention. Other sounds of the city also pleasantly make it to our balcony including birds and mystical eastern music. We spent the first day wandering around the main market for tourists, where one can find any kind of Tibetan art, religious tools, fabrics, musical instruments, and outdoor sporting equipment. Kathmandu has a really neat feel that is much less industrial and filthy than most cities we've seen in India. The shopping area is much more oriented for foot-traffic, and there are endless small shops, restaurants and hotels.
In most Indian cities, there's a Café Coffee Day on every corner, as well as McDonald's, Sony, Adidas, and all kinds of chain stores. The pizza we had for lunch was also the closest to American-style food we have had for a month, and it tasted GOOD! We're now in the process of seeing if there's a way to extend our trip in Nepal.
Though we were exhausted, we barely slept last night. Probably because we were sad to be leaving Nepal today. We watched the beginning of "Be Kind, Rewind" and half of "Into the Wild" on our rented DVD player. We had breakfast on the balcony again, which consisted of delicious fruit pancakes (mango and banana mixed into the batter), fried eggs, fried potatoes, and coffee. I cut another fresh mango up with my pocketknife for dessert. After casually packing up our things while the school kids outside did their morning games and chanted the Nepali pledge (we think), we went out around 10 to get some last-minute shopping done and exchange some of the crappy DVDs we bought for better ones. We had bought DVDs from a shop close to our hotel, called "Roadhouse," for 150 rs (about $2.50) each, and found that the ones that were still in theaters, like the new Indiana Jones movie were recorded in a theater. The older movies were real DVDs, but a little bit scratched. The nice shop owner let us exchange whatever we wanted. I bought a prayer wheel, and a few things that were more difficult to find in India, then met back up at the Hotel to check out. I hastled with the desk a little bit to give us a better exchange rate for our Indian rupees and a free ride to the airport. Leaving Nepal was not quite as relaxed as comming, and there was a 1356 nepali rupee charge to leave. We were frisked and had our baggage scanned 3 different times (even once on the runway just before boarding our airplane). I forgot to put my mango-peeling pocketknife in my checked bag, and the security was very glad to keep it for themselves :( . The flight was only 40 minutes to Varanasi.
Sarah: India Power, No Sleep No Shower
We left nepal with sad faces yesterday and are now in Varanasi. It's really hard to sum up several days in one blog. We went trecking (hardcore hiking?) outside of Kathmandu and I got a wicked sunburn-which is shockingly turning into a tan. weird. it's that himalayan sun. Of course it was totally beautiful etc. , and we were totally wiped out by the end. The next day was a whirlwind tour of Kathandu. The first stupa we visited was pretty amazing. We got lost in a Hindu cremation site full of scary monkeys with the crazy eye. Then we had dinner outside of the biggest stupa in the world with a guy from washington state. One of our friends met him in delhi. He's going to school in nepal, and gave us the tour of the campus/monastary. I'm seriously thinking about sumer school there next year. It's really cheap.
It started to pour (early monsoon) and of course there was no power. I think they do organized power outages every day. We ran and splashed through giant puddles of nastiness in the dark to a hole in the wall for some chang. chang is a milky white alchohalic substance that is fermented in a rag and then squeezed out into questionable looking buckets stored on the floor. We sat at our table with one single candle for light while our server juggled his crying baby and our cups of chang. It was actually not that bad. If you didn't think about the rag it came out of. I offered to hold his very unhappy little girl while he made some kind of concoction on the stove. She was the cutest thing ever.