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Trip Report Thursdaysd's South Asian Sojourn

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This thread is for the south Asian leg of my 6 month RTW. I started planning this trip all the way back in April - see http://www.fodors.com/community/asia/planning-in-progress-any-comments.cfm - and left home September 10th. The east Asian leg, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, is chronicled here - http://www.fodors.com/community/asia/thursdaysds-east-asian-excursion.cfm - where there's also some live chat about my time in Nepal. But since the thread is taking too long to load on my less-than-ideal 'net connections, and Fodors won't let me tag a thread with more than five countries, I'm starting a new TR for south Asia. I'm also blogging the trip at http://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com and my (totally unedited) photos show up periodically at http://kwilhelm.smugmug.com/Travel/Round-the-World-2010-11 - the password for a protected gallery is the name of the gallery in lower case. As you will notice from the dates, this is not a live report - I've just reached India, although we'll start here in Kathmandu.

Nov 7 - HK to KTM Spells Culture Shock

I rode the sleek and speedy Airport Express back out to Hong Kong airport, where my OneWorld business class award ticket got me into the Cathay Pacific lounge, right by the departure gate for the Dragonair flight to Kathmandu. Since I'd spent the morning sightseeing I was glad of the opportunity to shower. I had completely forgotten that I needed a visa for Nepal until the check-in agent asked if I was getting my visa on arrival. So after I got cleaned up I dug out the visa application form, the photos and the $20 bills stashed in my back-up money belt.

The flight is a little strange - it stops in Dakka but if you're going on to Kathmandu you have to stay on the plane, and you can't board the flight in Dakka to go to Kathmandu, only via Kathmandu (where you have to stay on the plane) back to Hong Kong. Dakka was a more popular destination then I had expected - almost the entire complement of business class passengers got off there. My seat mate, an interesting and well-traveled young man of Indian origin, said that he spent weekdays working in Dakka, and his weekends with his family back in Hong Kong.

If business class on Dragonair wasn't quite up to Cathay Pacific standards, it was plenty comfortable, given I wouldn't be sleeping (I don't think the seats went all the way flat). The food was good, as were the accompanying Shiraz and port. In short, I had a quiet, clean, comfortable, even pampered, afternoon and evening. Then I got off the plane at Kathmandu airport.

At 10:00 pm the arrivals building was mostly deserted. It was also dusty, decrepit and disorganized. Although I had already completed my visa application form I still needed to fill in an arrivals card, and then maintain my place in line to buy the visa and get stamped in. I didn't see an ATM, but I did change a few HK dollars at the one bureau de change, and was relieved to see a man holding a sign with my name among the hotel and taxi touts waiting to pounce.

The taxi, however, was not an improvement on the airport. In fact, I had doubts that we would make it all the way to the hotel, as in addition to the expected rattles it had a squeal like a soul in torment - given the state of the roads, it would be surprising if a car with any age on it didn't develop rattles and squeals. I had arrived on the last day of Diwali, the festival of lights, and after some dark and deserted streets we started passing buildings with long strings of lights hung from the roofs - in fact those lights had been about all that lit the darkness below coming in on the plane. It was clear that I was back in south Asia - I hadn't been to Nepal before, but I had spent ten weeks in India in 2001.

Despite my doubts, the taxi duly lurched its way to the Courtyard Hotel, in north Thamel (backpacker central). I had chosen the hotel almost entirely because of this thread: http://www.fodors.com/community/asia/dogster-kinda-kathmandu.cfm which many Fodor's readers know and love. So, as the gate to the enclosed courtyard (yes, the Courtyard has a courtyard) swung open, I was intrigued to see how much of dogster's description was embroidery.

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