The time finally came to wave goodbye to India, and Nicole and I took a flight from Delhi to Kathmandu in Nepal. Our friend Adam had flown in from England the day before and had already checked into a hotel in the capital, where we looked forward to catching up with him.
We boarded a small plane and sat down next to a Nepali man who was very friendly. The hour long flight was spent talking to him about the best trekking locations, Nepalese food and Scotland, where our newly acquired friend desperately wanted to take his wife on a visit of the beautiful hills.
Waiting at arrivals was a beat-up old mini-bus that our hotel had sent to pick us up. What followed was a very bumpy ride all the way to the hotel over the not-so-smooth roads that paved the city.
One thing that we immediately noticed about Kathmandu, was that the traffic seemed to obey some semblance of normal law and order. We were in fact, mightily impressed with the lack of honking horns and near misses that became a standard part of any journey across India. Another well received difference, was just how clean the streets were, litter was for the most part absent, and whilst a few stray animals can be found on the roads, the vast legion of cows were nowhere to be seen!
Our first day out in the city was an absolute joy. We decided to stay in the middle of a district called Thamel. Around our hotel wound narrow lanes and crumbling old buildings with intricate wooden facades. Throngs of people team these small alleyways as merchants sell a wide variety of colourful wares from the shops, each stall giving off its own distinct smell. The scent of leather mixed in with the whiff of cheese, and the fragrance of chillies and flowers followed you, as you weaved your way down the road. Occasionally you would have to make way for a motorcycle or a pedal rickshaw, and jump up to the steps of a shop so that they could pass.
We visited Durbar Square, which houses large palatial buildings, and we stopped for dinner on a rooftop overlooking the square. Momos are the main item on most menus here, so we ordered up some of these small, dense buffalo dumplings and gave them a try. They were amazing; tasty, rich and filling to boot. I shall definitely be having more as we travel further into Momo country.
Rising up over the west of the city was a large hill with a golden stupa atop. This is known colloquially as Swayambhunath or Monkey Temple to the tourists, and this impressive structure has a white dome with Buddha eyes watching you as you climb the steep hill. On top of the white dome is a golden tower which glints in the midday sun. Trailing off of the tower were festival ribbons and at the foot of the structure stood rows of prayer wheels which you could spin on their axis, and large bells which devotees would give a good clang. The most jaw-dropping aspect of this brilliant location however, was the view out, over the city. Looking east you could see the whole of Kathmandu laid out in a natural bowl, flanked to the north and west by snow-capped mountains and sheer rock faces. Atop the walls of the stupa, tourists stood enthralled by the view, as the orange robes monks in the background went about their daily duties, maybe never knowing, just how lucky they were to live in such an incredible place.