We’ve finally had the call we are heading back up to basecamp tomorrow, weather permitting. Hopefully because we are being transported in helicopters even slightly bad weather we can go in, the fixed wing planes won’t go but hopefully a few of the more maverick pilots will get us up to where we need to be and then once in basecamp we await the brief for the final stage of the expedition to stand on top of the world!
I’ve enjoyed the rest break in Kathmandu, a city with a core population 850,000 people living in 105,000 households and nearly 3 million people in the wider urban region. It sits at an altitude of 1,400m in the Kathmandu Valley in central Nepal and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world, founded in 2nd century CE and was the royal capital of the Kingdom of Nepal with palaces, mansions and gardens of the Nepalese aristocracy and today is the seat of government of the Nepalese republic.
In April 2015 it was severely damaged by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, some buildings have been restored but many remain in a process of reconstruction or just a pile of rubble but it still remains in the top tier of cities to visits in Asia as the gateway to the Nepalese Himalayas and is home to several world heritage sites.
I’m staying in the Kathmandu Marriott whilst here, a modern functioning oasis in the middle of the city chaos that gives us a welcome rest place, fresh food and very comfortable sleeping accommodation but you only have to step a few metres from the hotel entrance to start to see the real Kathmandu. Pavements during the day are an obstacle course with deep potholes, cables hanging down all over the place, rubbish piled up and kerbs so high they’d need a handrail in the UK - at night you take your life in your hands trying to navigate the foot way with no street lights. Roads are beyond chaotic with little mind given to any sort of Highway Code to regulate it, mostly traffic stays on one side of the road but not always and its more of aiming for the gaps and just getting past the car in front is the objective, motor cycles with whole families aboard weave in and out of the traffic and mini-buses overloaded with passengers travel up and down seemingly stopping (or just slowing) anywhere as people jump on and off somehow getting to their destination but I’ve no idea how it operates.
Roads and footpaths navigated we head into the Thamel district, a labyrinth of streets so narrow in places you can barely fit two people side by side but taxis, cars, cycles and motorbikes weave their way through somehow, driving through impossibly small spaces beeping their horns and trying not to get stuck in the roadside potholes, drainage runs and stalls set up along either side of the streets - stalls sell everything from climbing equipment to Himalayan rock salt and a fair few temples sit nestled in between it all with candles lit for prayers covered in cables strung up to try and contact power and date to each street. Its a chaotic beauty that I find fascinating to walk around, amazed at the number of pharmacies, literally every other shop is one and then its spices, salt, singing bowls, blankets, Gurkha knives - everything you can think of.
Bars and restaurants occupy many of the upper levels of the bigger buildings but every knook and cranny is utilised to sell something, a shop doorway, under a set of stairs or just a bowl on the floor in the street. As night falls it gets dark as many shops have no power, water is scarce and it’s becomes an almost candle light shopping experience occasionally populated by some bright neon lights strung up by one enterprising bar or another trying to entice the many tourists in to drink and party in their establishments.
Its a sensory overload, it’s wild and exciting and fascinating to wander around and to delve deep into the district wondering what each next street will offer but it’s also a relief to hop into a taxi, navigate a seemingly impossible way out of the labyrinth and pass through the gates of the Marriott back to the safety of my hotel room.