Sunday, October 17, 2010

Day 3: Singapore to Kathmandu

Waking at 4:30AM in a fit of coughing, we struggled through the jet-lag induced haze to board the MRT for the airport. Even at this ungodly hour we were sweating like sieves 10 minutes in, loaded to the gunnels with bike boxes and packs. The train didn’t arrive for 30 min, so we wiled away the time in air conditioned comfort.

Changi airport is the best I’ve come across so far in my travels, with a full range of services and some great architecture. Our flight was on Silk Air, and with none of the high class trimmings of Singapore Airlines I scalped a copy of the excellent Financial Times newspaper for entertainment. Inflight entertainment consisted of soundless repeats of funniest home videos which kept Michi in stitches.

Bikes dwarf our taxi from Kathmandu airport
On trying to pass through immigration we were informed that our money was no good for buying a visa, and only the almighty US dollar was valid. Sneaking ahead Michi enlisted the assistance of a tourist police officer and a trekking guide who kindly offered to lend us the visa money. Given I’d recently been the victim of a taxi scam in Chile, I was acutely aware of our vulnerability. No such scam eventuated in Nepal and our friend helped us out of the kindness of his heart. He even covered our taxi fare, found us a hotel after the place we’d booked denied our existence and sorted us out with permits for the trek. We’d be staying at the Hotel Blue Diamond, one of Kathmandu’s finest at $20 USD a night!

Ducks, dogs and children get down in the Kathmandu garbage
Arriving in Kathmandu and the contrasts with Singapore immediately hit us. While sterile is the word I’d use to describe where we departed from, filthy came to mind in Kathmandu. A raucous cacophony of honking horns and hazy smog greeted us in Thamel.

Traffic chaos and the web of a giant electrical spider
The streets blended foot traffic with cars scooters and bikes with no designated lanes making for an initially harrowing experience. Once we learned to hold our line and emit an air of staunch, walking about was pretty trouble free.

Stocking up for the trek we scored some sweet Foakleys and a genuine Mammut puffer jacket for $5 and $60 respectively, but not without some cut throat bartering with plenty of use of the threat to walk away. They are going to send us the warrantees. We also sourced a box of muesli bars and a roll of TP each from the supermarket, both western luxuries which we’d struggle to find on the trek.

A frenetic dusk ride on the bikes fulfilled our thirst for adventure; some of the scenes put NY’s famously reckless couriers to shame.

Our first Nepalese meal was a curry from the dodgy hotel restaurant, and with 170km on the cards tomorrow we hit the hay, stoked to finally be escaping civilisation.

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