Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Last Night in Kathmandu

I sat in the cafe near my Kathmandu hotel eating a grilled yak cheese sandwich while reading up on Chitwan lodge possibilities and then hotels in Varanasi—my, there are a lot of bedbugs in Varanasi—when my laptop seized up into another of its revolving beachball fits. The laptop hadn't been the same since it flew off the motorbike at the Gabon-Congo border. I waited impatiently for the beachball to stop, and that's when a kitten seized the moment to jump into my lap. She curled up and went to sleep.

That seemed auspicious, so I went ahead and booked Sapana Village Lodge for tomorrow night in Chitwan. I'd been to Chitwan in 1998, and remembered it fondly. You get to ride elephants while searching for rhino. We'd seen a half-dozen rhino back then, both from elephants and from a Jeep and even walking (which was terrifying but fun). Unfortunately a number of the rhino had been poached by assholes during Nepal's intervening years of political strife.

One wishes there were a way to convince users of rhino-horn medicines that 1) their supposed powers are mythical and users are complete fools and 2) even if they did work, the sexual prowess of a rhino-horn-med user is a pretty poor reason to kill a rhino. Can't get it up? So what. You'll live, unlike the poor rhinoceros that was killed for your worthless self.

Sapana had good TripAdvisor reviews and as a bonus, responded quickly to my emails. They'd pick me up at the bus, take me out on excursions, lodge and feed me, and yes, even deposit me on the border-bound bus the following morning. Click. Book. 

Varanasi was trickier. I remembered being unhappy with the general amount of filth and chaos in the city, but also the pilgrims down by the Ganges made for some great visuals. And Varanasi was between me and my goal—Darjeeling, where I'd drink some tea, then launch myself into Bhutan a few days later. I could stay by the ghats and be in the thick of it. But oh, the thick of it in Varanasi! Not my thing. India's north can be a bit much—and while I was a much more experienced traveler now than when I'd been there in 1998, I didn't want to deal with the squalor or bedbugs reported on the hotel-review websites. Perhaps the answer was the Radisson which is next-door to a budget hotel, which I could use for taxis and excursions.

I thought about this as I roamed the alleys of Thamel on my last night in Kathmandu. Thamel was chaotic enough for me, with the clogged roadways and footpaths, the polluted air from all the motorbikes zipping by, barely missing pedestrians, the Tiger Balm salesmen, and the guys who walked around sawing little bows across tiny wooden instruments that resembled local violins. I loved that I could wander around Kathmandu and suddenly come upon a temple or a shrine, but I could do without being nearly run down by motorbikes and rickshaw taxis several times a day.

Still, Kathmandu was a familiar place to me, the kind of tourism I knew after the tourism in Tibet that I didn't know what to make of. I appreciated its familiarity and ease.

Familiarity and ease can be nice things when you are on a long trip, I thought, as I turned a corner and nearly walked into a rickshaw.

"Rickshaw, madam?"

"No, thank you."

"How about hash?" He opened his hand to show me a newspaper-wrapped packed.

"Uh, no, not that either."

I avoided the violin-seller, any more rickshaw drivers, and the motorbikes of Thamel and went back to my room. I had to pack up and fit in all the souvenirs I'd purchased—including what was supposedly a baby-yak-hair blanket—so that I could post them home from India.

Tomorrow was an early morning.

And I'd need a rickshaw to get to the bus stop.

But I was pretty sure I wouldn't have any problem finding one. 

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