After 32 years, I have finally returned to Kathmandu. I left Bangkok about 11 am after stuffing myself with 3 Krispy Kreme donuts and a cup of Starbucks (my waistline hopes they never open a KK franchise in Chiang Mai, the rest of me does). My flight was delayed by about an hour as we entered a holding pattern south of the city, then waited another 30 minutes on a taxiway while waiting for a parking spot. Although my memory has faded, it seems that not much has changed at Tribhuvan International Airport, it is still tiny and rather chaotically ad hoc. The trekking company I booked with had a driver dutifully awaiting my late arrival, and we drove slowly through the dusty, dusty streets, lined by piles of debris and bricks seemingly still leftover from the Earthquake 3 years ago. I arrived at the small botiqueish Dom Himalaya hotel in about 30 minutes. I was warned to tell the front desk 5 minutes before I showered so that the could turn on the hot water. Yes, I’m back in the third world.
With the remainder of the day free, my first step was to find an ATM. Here’s where my adventure began. My transaction went normally until the screen said “take your cash”, then it flashed “transaction cancelled”. My card reappeared, but before I could grab it, the machine slurped it right back inside. Then the screen reset to “please insert your card”. I could almost see that damn machine smile at me for offering such a tasty morsel. To make matters worse, I got an email from my bank in the US notifying me that I had just withdrawn 35,000 rupees or about $340. So now I am standing there with no rupees, no ATM card, and the bank had just closed 15 minutes prior. I was forced to dip into my emergency dollar cash reserve, which I was able to change into rupees at a nearby money changer. I guess I’ll be waiting at the bank door at 10 am tomorrow morning.
I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening getting a local SIM card, and picking up some odds and ends for my trek. Kathmandu is very different than I remember it. Back in 1986, the streets of the city had more sacred cows than cars. Now the cows have apparently been banished to be replaced by a cacophony of sacred cars and motorcycles. One nice thing though, the main part of the Thames area is a maze of walking streets, no cars. That made for a very pleasant shopping stroll amongst the myriad of small shops selling trekking gear. I finished the evening with a fine meal of Indian food at the Third Eye Restaurant.