James, Martin and Nicky are up for the 5.30 am bus to the airport. I have an hour extra, then I myself must take a taxi to the airport for the Everest flight. I thought I’d got the journey for 200 Rs, but on arrival the driver demands 300. A misunderstanding perhaps? But the normal fare is 200 Rs. An irritating little man follows me around inside the terminal, constantly pointing out where I am already going (airport tax over there, check-in desk that way), and then at the end has the gall to ask me for a tip. I explain why not as I escape from him into the departure lounge. As I go through, the security search discovers my penknife, which I had intended to leave in the hotel. But the guard is not in the least concerned and waves me through.
Information about departures is a scarce commodity in the chaotic room that lies beyond. People cluster around the centre where someone appears from time to time to shout out the number of the next flight boarding. My flight actually leaves half an hour early at 7 am, the time I was originally given for check-in! It’s a good thing I made sure I was very early arriving.
I seem to have the second-worst seat on the plane. It is a tiny plane with eight rows of single seats each side of the aisle. Mine gives me an excellent view of the starboard engine. But the mountains are nevertheless quite impressive when I have them on my side for the return leg. The hostess is kept busy walking up and down the aisle pointing out Everest to everyone at regular intervals. Above the smog of Kathmandu, it is a beautifully clear sky. We don’t seem to get as close to Everest as I was expecting though. At our closest approach, it is still framed behind two other peaks of a closer range. I’m not convinced that it is really worth the $80, but still, you only do it once.
The return fare to the hotel is a more reasonable 150 Rs from just outside the airport—no haggling required. I collect my luggage from the Royal Singi and walk into Thamel to find myself less extravegant lodgings. The Mustang Holiday Inn is certainly not in the class of the Royal Singi, but it is comfortable nevertheless and the staff friendly. I get the price down from $30 to $15 a night including breakfast. I suspect I could do better by shopping around, but it isn’t really worth it.
The Rough Guide gives me few new ideas for exploration around Kathmandu. I decide to follow the ‘North of Durbar Square’ tour described in the book. The streets around Asan and Indra Chowk are thronging with preparations for Diwali. People are shoulder to shoulder, and there is complete gridlock. A couple of rather aggressive motorbike riders force their way through. The street traders mingle with the temples, setting up shop wherever they can find space.
I have a quiet lunch in a chinese restaurant on the edge of Thamel and then decide to walk back to the Monkey Temple for a second look. It’s quite a trek from Thamel. I get a bit lost passing through a quiet residential area near the Bishnumati River. As I head down a wide dirt track, I hear the drums, cymbals and wailing of a funeral procession approaching from behind.
I approach the temple up the steep main staircase, and spend some time at the top relaxing and playing grandma’s footsteps with the monkeys—it seems to really freak them out. Finally I return to Thamel in a mad-cap tuk-tuk ride.
I think I’ve seen just about everything in Kathmandu now. I have a long search for something suitable to take with me as breakfast on the bus tomorrow. I had hoped to find some canvas shoes to use for the canyoning, but can’t find anything to fit, so I decide to make do with sandals for the rafting and my trekking boots for the canyoning. As I make my way back to the hotel, the overtures of the touts are beginning to seriously grate.
I feel a little better after a shower though, and have dinner at KC’s (recommended in the guide). But it’s nothing to write home about, and exhausted after the long day, I retire to bed.