Nepal is where I almost failed to be let into the country.
Visa? On arrival at the airport, check. Fee? 25 USD, check. Except I stupidly left my US Dollars in my luggage – whereas Nepali immigration is, as usual, *before* baggage pick-up, so I could not access my bag without dollars, and did not have dollars without access to my bag.
No worries – I had already changed my remaining UAE dirham into Nepali rupees back in Abu Dhabi, and had just enough to pay the visa fee. Except that Nepal immigration takes US dollars, Euros, and a bunch of other hard currencies (they would even have taken dirham) – but not Nepali rupees! WTF? What country refuses to except its own currency?
OK, plan C – credit card. Which is accepted – except not today, because the network connection was down. Well, shit.
I started looking around for fellow foreign passengers I could beg to lend me some hard currency for just a few minutes, when I remembered my second, back-up, credit card, and convinced the immigration officer to try that one. And luckily, this one, with no network connection, fell back to accepting just a signature. Phew!
Lesson learnt: You can never have too many ways to access money.
Being in Nepal also means firmly being back in the third world (Nepal is considered the third-poorest country in Asia, just slightly ahead of such shining beacons of development as North Korea, Afghanistan and Yemen) after Abu Dhabi. Which means back to chaotic traffic, rather basic conditions, and general chaos and improvisation.
Luckily, Nepal is somewhat of a home game for me – culturally, Nepal is to India pretty much what Austria is to Germany, so unlike in Egypt, there was a lot of things I was already familiar with, and also a bit of nostalgia for me. (Most Nepalis, when asked, don’t particularly like India, though, seeing it as more of a domineering big brother).
Differences between India and Nepal:
- The religion and culture feels at least as much Buddhist as Hindu. Like those prayer flags above – those were in the tourist ghetto of Thamel (pretty much like Bangkok’s Khao San road – a whole area with nothing but travel agents, guest houses and restaurants catering to backpackers), but they are actually showing up in lots of places.
2. No cows on the road!! Was almost happy to find this single specimen above. Also, the classic Indian “whole family on a motorcycle” scene was quite rare – car traffic seems to have grown a lot in the last couple of years. All the usual South Asian traffic “rules” apply, though.
3. Noticeably poorer. Unpaved roads in the center of the capital were quite shocking to see. And everything, from houses to vehicles to infrastructure, seems pretty worn-out and improvised. (Compared to India – that’s saying something). On the other hand, there was less openly visible misery in the form of e.g. crippled beggars, or slums – although it’s probably not a fair comparison, having seen only the capital city and its surroundings.
4. Somehow more relaxed. E.g. lots of the neighbourhood temples have a more lived-in feel to them, less a sacred place of the gods, and more a community center to hang out in.
5. Less religiously conservative. For example, while you see plenty of women dressed in Saris or even muslim-style whole-body covers, you also see young women in jeans or short skirts just walking down the street. Or, in the photo from a park above, even young couples out on dates (which seem to consist mostly of the couple silently sitting next to each other..)
6. Sadly, lots of damage from the devastating earthquake of 2015. The photo above is from durbar square in Kathmandu – the central square with lots of famous palaces and temples. Unfortunately, a lot of them are either reduced to rubble and being rebuilt from the ground up, or under heavy renovation like those above.
7. Democracy is a new thing. On one of the main roads, there were lots of posters like the one above, explaining to people how elections work. Nepal was a monarchy until quite recently, went through a civil war to abolish it, and Nepali are apparently still complicated.
8. On a lighter note: No auto-rikshaws! (at least in Kathmandu). Cycle rikshaws, which have become rare elsewhere, are still a thing, though.
To finish this post, some similarities:
Kiranas, i.e. small neighbourhood mom-and-pop stores, are everywhere. There are some supermarkets, but most of your daily needs will be handled by a store like this one. Just such a regular thing that I never remembered to take a picture before.
Roadside snacks are the best food. I love Samosas!
And there are so many beautiful things you can get, with some bargaining, for, converted to hard currency, very low prices. Now I even if it’s beautiful I have neither the need nor the luggage space for a large water bowl, but I did buy enough Pashmina shawls, Tshirst and yak wool blankets that I had to send a package by mail – an adventure by itself.