Waking up in Kathmandu was surreal.
The trip planning had taken months. The flights had been long and tedious. Our arrival felt more like a hazy dream than a monument marking the start of the journey. Surreal, indeed.
Taking my first glimpses out of the hotel window in the daylight, I snapped a photo. I had no idea what I would see beyond the glass – but this visual would be one I kept with me.
Boyce and I met in the lobby to walk to a cafe down the street. We picked a seat in the open patio and welcomed the opportunity for a hearty breakfast following the previous day’s barrage of airport junk food.
The airy morning was lovely despite the exhaust and smog that lingered through the tight streets after every passing car.
We walked around a couple of blocks, snagged some questionable samosas from a street vendor, then scurried back to hotel to meet our ride for the day. In the whirlwind of it all – I remember the magic that came with walking beneath the rows and rows of prayer flags and banners. The colors fluttered in the breeze – seeming to celebrate our arrival with all the possible joy you could offer a stranger.
Thanks to an exceptional exchange rate – we secured a private driver for the day. (Genuinely, I have no idea how the details of this epic day didn’t make it into my trip journal. I was tired. Like, way tired.) We climbed into the back of the tiny vehicle – seats wrapped in frilly covers like something straight out of my late grandma’s Crown Vic.
The driver rushed us through the city to see four temples:
- Swayambhunath Stupa (Monkey Temple)
- Pashupatinath Temple
- Hanuman Dhoka
- Boudhanath Stupa
The stories of each temple are ones I will have to share in additional posts. They were so unique and so incredible – I couldn’t do them justice here. What I can do just to is the traffic.
Holy deity-of-choice, that shit was bananas.
Imagine a world in which there are streets, but no lane markings. Some streets are narrow – generally just one lane, but cars still attempt to go down them both directions. Some streets are wide – in which case, cars go all directions at the same time and the idea of lanes is loose. This, friends, was traffic in Kathmandu.
As I watched the scooters, bicycles, rickshaws, trucks, carts, cars and more whirl around us, I could only begin to describe the scene as “water.” Each intersection flowed together – many free of traffic lights. The many paths and the vehicles that followed would meld together for a brief minute before dividing again to go their separate ways. Each faux roundabout was cause to hold my breath while each brush with disaster would, once again, restart my heart.
All the while, clouds of dust billowed around us. Thick smog and exhausted settled into the car at every pause. I quickly grew accustomed to covering my face with my hiking mask – filtering the air as I inhaled.
I still remember seeing my first Nepalese cow – fence-free – eating grass along a sidewalk.
And the monkeys.
To truly marvel at the monkeys, you have to also, first, understand that the power lines in Kathmandu appeared to be spectacularly dangerous. Dozens of thick black lines would swing from pole to building and back again – all along the roadsides. The cause of their chaos was clear. At some point, electricity was needed somewhere and a new line was strung to accommodate the demand. The problem and solution seem sensical until you see the heavy result lingering just overhead – tangled in the sky with prayer flags and aging plastic signs.
The monkeys, of course, would swing from them like “no big deal, guys.”
We soaked up so much that day – every piece of the city was something to be adored. And yet, the planned adventure was still ahead of us.
Back at the lodge, Linda had arrived. I met my roommate as she settled in. We gathered with the trekking group for an introductory meeting. Boyce and I – true to style – walked in with beers. To be fair, the meeting was well after happy hour and I still had plenty of nerves to calm.
It was mid-meeting that I realized my passport was in the pocket of my jacket – and that my jacket was on the back of my chair in the hotel cafe where we’d ordered the beers about 20 minutes prior. Those drinks caused more unnecessary panic than I care to admit. As I sprinted out of the room and into the cafe, I couldn’t help but think I was officially trapped in a third-world country without identification. I did get it back in a matter of seconds – crisis adverted. I promise you that passport didn’t leave my sight through the rest of the trip.
Linda and I spent the rest of the evening repacking our gear into the official trek duffel bags. Another moment of truth – we were limited to carrying 23 lbs of gear in the bag, plus 10 lbs of gear in our own day packs. In total, 33 lbs of gear was the limit.
I don’t know if you’ve ever considered the weight of the items you use in a day – but I promise it’s greater than that. One bag – unnecessary items – would stay locked at the hotel while my trekking duffel would bring along the most critical of those things on our hike. Underwear. Socks. Layers. The journal.
The decision between what stays and what goes is always the hardest. Even for a mostly Minimalist, choosing the most minimal of minimal gear as it relates to survival is a legit challenge. In the end, I chose well – but certainly not with confidence. The things I didn’t end up using? Spare shoe strings and the first aid kit – must haves.
That night, I slept with my body in a knot of nerves. In the hours leading up to my alarm, I woke up frequently.
It was really about to happen.