I made it to Nepal :)
Things here got complicated about 15 minutes after I entered the airport (we landed at about 3pm local time). I wanted to buy a visa, but the ATM at the immigration wouldn't accept my card. After waiting for about 20 minutes, they wrote me a permit which allowed me to go to Kathmandu for 2 hours and find another ATM; they obviously kept my passport.
Upon exiting the airport, I was approached by a trekking guide, who offered to help me sort things out, if I'd be willing to go and see his trekking offers afterwards. It seemed like a good deal to me, so he arranged a taxi for us and off we went.
Off we went into the most chaotic form of traffic I've ever witnessed so far. People just randomly swerve all over the road, honk all the time, and between all those vehicles there's motorists, bicyclists, rickshaws and pedestrians trying to find their way through. Most of the roads are also not paved and since it's really dry here, there's so much dust in the air that you can actually taste it sometimes.
They got me to some other ATM and I was able to withdraw money at last, and we turned back towards the airport again. They said they'd wait for me outside while I sort things out. I quickly thanked them and ran back in. After spending a couple of minutes explaining the police why I want back in, and being searched (although I must say at this point that the officers were incredibly nice and relaxed, we even had a few laughs), one of the officers went with me back to the immigration.
I stepped up to the counter and got the papers, but when I wanted to pay I was surprised to find out that they don't accept the Nepalese Rupee and that I have to exchange it in USD. Luckily the exchange office was just next to the visa place, and I sorted it out fast enough. A 30 day visa costs $40, for anyone wondering about the price.
There wasn't much people at the airport, so all the bureaucracy didn't last long. The taxi driver and the guide were men of their words; they actually waited for me. We got back in the car and headed to Kathmandu to the guide's office.
His name is Prakash Khanal, you can find him on Facebook under this name, his company is called Adventures Leader Nepal. He made me an offer for 7-day trek, guide, transportation and accommodation included, I just have to buy my own food, for $300, but i had to decline, since my budget doesn't allow it. So I thanked him and went back to the street, where the same taxi was still waiting on me. He finally took me to my hostel, and I paid him a little bit extra, because the time was 7:30pm at this point; the guy was sticking with me practically for the whole afternoon.
The hostel was really bad; there was no hot water and the rooms weren't too clean, but the worst was the state of the bathroom. I'm not even going to mention the name of the place. I just went straight to bed. Upon waking up in the morning I instantly booked another hostel nearby, canceled my reservation and got a taxi. This next hostel is amazing by what you get for your money - clean rooms, clean bathroom and even hot shower! - plus, I met a bunch of Portuguese students who very kindly accepted me in their midst and we're going to Annapurna Base Camp together after spending christmas together in Pokhara. It was really nice meeting them, I made some new friends :)
But I'm getting ahead of myself :)
The day after we met, we went to Thamel together as we all needed to buy some additional equipment, sim cards and some other stuff. We decided to take a minivan, one of the forms of public transportation in Kathmandu. I'll just say that at one point there was at least 20 of us crammed inside, we literally couldn't move. They dropped us off at Thamel, and we spent the whole day haggling the prices and snooping around, there's so much different stuff on sale you can easily spend a few hours wandering around. Here's a couple of photos to get some perspective:
The next day we wanted to go see the Durbar Square, one of the three Durbar Squares in Kathmandu valley all of which are under UNESCO World Heritage Site protection, but the entry fee was too steep for us to enter. We were waiting for the other half of the group to join us and I took some photos around the place:
After we got together again, we headed off in the direction of the Swayambhunath or Monkey Temple. Calling it a Monkey Temple really doesn't do it justice, since it is one of the oldest religious sites in Nepal as its first establishments reach all the way back to 3rd century BC.
It is possible to reach the top by walking a long and steep stairway (365 steps according to a man I met at the top) or via road from the other side of the hill. I strongly recommend taking the stairs, because you walk literally in the middle of the monkeys. Photography heaven :)
When we ascended, and old man offered to take us around and explain some history and also take us up to the best view point - all free of charge. The view was amazing but spoiled by all the dust and smog in the air. when we started to go back, one of the Portugese guys noticed this graffiti on the wall:
I was pleasantly surprised, and once again happy I met my new friends; I'd miss a lot of interesting stuff by being on my own.
After stopping and having a quick lecture about mandalas on our way back down, we wandered around the temple for a bit more and then headed back towards Thamel. We went through a shortcut in the woods, where I spotted a tree that looked like the Grim Reaper:
On our way back I tried to make some shots of people on the street, despite the fact that I don't really like to push my camera in random people's faces:
I also made some more 'artsy' photos:
Aaand this about describes my first three days here. In the next day or two we are moving to Pokhara, the second biggest city in Nepal, which is only 200km away from Kathmandu, but the bus ride is supposed to take at least 6 hours nevertheless. I'll chime in with more stuff soon, until then - have a great day :)