Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Day 1 - Arriving in Kathmandu

Before departing for Kathmandu a Nepali friend put me in touch with Devraj Bajracharya. Devraj runs a company that caters to tourists, arranging lights, hotels, treks etc. The name of his company is Mountain Tawache Travels & Tours. Devraj's email address is tawache@mail.com.np

I arranged that Devraj would pick us up at the airport and bring us to a hotel that he had arranged.
The airport transfer was $5 per person and well worth the money if it is your first time arriving in Kathmandu.
It is possible to leave the airport compound on foot and get cheaper taxis but for the comfort of having somebody waiting and avoiding the preying taxi men it is well worth it.

This is Devraj with Mark and Elaine (my travel companions) at the airport in Kathmandu. He greeted us with marigold leis which seem very popular throughout Nepal.

The trip from the airport to the hotel was a bit of an eye opener.

The road was mostly unpaved and we passed many semi-derelict looking buildings like this one. I think what was happening was road expansion and houses and other buildings that stood in the way would simply be chopped an necessary to make way for the road.

The noise level was unbelievable with cars constantly honking as they jockied for position on the road.

As well as organizing hotels and transfers Devraj also too care of converting our money from dollars to Nepali Rupees. You can not buy Nepali currency outside the country so you need to take care of this when you arrive. There are ATMs in Kathmandu and even in Khandbari but with unreliable electricity you can not be sure one will be available when you need it. On the trek to Makalu there is no chance to get money beyond Khandbari.

Between the three of us we converted about $2,000. We wanted small bills as we would be paying teahouses directly and in the remote regions they do not like larger notes. We overdid it a bit on the 100 NPR notes (worth roughly a dollar) but some of the teahouse owners were very happy when they saw our money and asked to exchange for larger notes as they had trouble making change for tourists.
At the time we arrived the exchange rate was 83.50 NPR per dollar for big bills ($50/$100 notes) and 82.50 NPR per dollar for $20 notes. I had brought all $20 bills as I was worried about larger notes being accepted - wont make that mistake again. Another thing to note is that any bills with rips or other deformations will not be accepted. The Nepali notes you receive may be in very bad shape (the bundles Devraj brought were nailed together) but they are very picky about foreign notes being in perfect condition.

Yet another item Devraj took care of was to organize our TIMS trekking cards. I had send photos and passport copies by email and he got the pictures printed and cards organized for $10 each.

We spent our first evening exploring the Thamel area of Kathmandu. It is the tourist region of the city and not really my favourite place in Nepal. We ate mediocre food in a touristy restaurant. We were at the time being very cautious about what we ate as we feared picking up any tummy trouble before starting our trek. We also went for drinks at the Rum Doodle bar. It was a quiet night there and we found the place to be a bit of a let down. Apparently it moved premises a number of years back and lost a lot of its charm in the process.

We spent the night at the Harati hotel which Devraj had booked for us. The cost was $30 for the night including breakfast - significantly cheaper than what is offered on their website. The hotel was a little rough around the edges but perfectly adequate.

I got a spacious room on the top floor. It was in a convenient location just a short walk from Thamel.

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