We conducted our visa application business at the Indian Embassy, on Monday morning. It is a lengthy and largely pointless ritual which involves the Kathmandu embassy faxing the Indian Embassy in the applicant’s home country to ask for permission to issue the visa – naturally this embassy never replies as they receive hundreds of these faxes, and therefore the Nepalese branch assumes that if they haven’t heard back after 5 days that means it’s OK, and issues a three-month tourist visa.
The whole process therefore takes three separate visits over 5 days and involves lengthy queuing processes – the first day we arrived at 8.15, queued until the embassy opened at 9.30, then got our numbers, queued some more, then went to hand over our telex forms, at which point Everitte’s was approved and he went to queue once more for payment, while I was refused because I had an expired 5 year visa in my passport, something only available to non-resident Indians, and had to wait two more hours while two separate security officers questioned me about my Indian family members and my many Middle Eastern stamps.
Eventually stage one was completed, however, and we set out for the hill station of Nagarkot, only 60km from Kathmandu, but 3 hours away by bus due to Nepal’s joint problems with poor roads and heavy traffic.
Nagarkot is a small hill station which these days consists mainly of cheap guest houses due to its reputation as the best place close to Kathmandu from which to see spectacular views of the Himalayas, including mount Everest.
Unfortunately in order to see the snowy peaks you need clear whether and when we arrived and checked into our rather nice hostel, the Himalaya Heart, clouds were obscuring what would in theory have been the spectacular views from the window and little stone balcony.
The next morning was beautifully sunny, though still misty on the horizon, sadly. While Everitte nursed is toothache and worked on some calligraphy designs I decided to go for a walk and headed up the mountain in the sunshine to look for the elusive views.
I passed a chicken herding her clutch across the deserted dirt road:
A ten-minute walk brought me to the Viewpoint Hotel, about which we had heard good things but which was way out of budget at $20 and upwards a nigh. Once I saw it I realised this was actually a remarkably good deal – I can’t think of a nice place to sit and have coffee in the morning than this garden:
After admiring the views and wishing I was rich I wandered back the way I had come and went for a walk in a little pine forest which turned out to be full of beautiful birds of prey. I am not particularly well versed in ornithology and couldn’t decide whether they were eagles or kites, but they were very elegant soaring through the trees and let me get very close to them before taking flight.
In the afternoon Everitte and I decided to follow the advice of a local shopkeeper and walk over the hills to a nearby viewing tower, 5 or 6 km from the town. We set out with some water and bananas and spent a lovely couple of hours wending our way along the road in the sunshine.
We were getting hungry, and coming to a small roadside stall built of corrugated iron and blue tarpaulins we decided to sample some of their cold food – a selection of spicy potatoes, delicious firm chickpeas and salad. The stall was perched on the edge of the narrow road and looked out over all this:
The food was delicious and spectacularly cheap, only 10 RS a plate. The man working in the shack told us that his wife had cooked it and said that if we came back that night after dark she would cook us a whole meal of traditional Nepalese food. The hut was only about 1km from the town, and though the road was completely unlit the stars and moon provided enough light to see by that evening after sunset as we made our way back through the woods in the dark.
When we arrived the shack was lit by candle-light and full of local Nepalese workers and their families. We enjoyed a sumptuous meal and rice and dahl and cauliflower with a truly delicious side of goat meat, while drinking their homemade rice wine, which was lovely and delicate. None of our fellow diners spoke much English, but one characterful man whose pigeon English was very basic in some ways and surprisingly developed in others (where did he learn the word for tsunami?!) spoke to us for hours about him and his wife and rich and poor people and Nepalese politics, much to the other diners amusement. We couldn’t always understand him and he was very drunk, but it was a lot of fun eating with such friendly humorous people in the near dark, and nice to get away from tourist restaurants for an evening.
The following morning I woke up to watch the sunrise from the room of the hostel – sadly once again the clouds obscured a lot of the best part of the view, the snowy peaks, but I did glimpse them occasionally among the swirling mist.
We were sent on our way by this little girl, who I think Coca-Cola should seriously think about recruiting for their next advertising campaign: