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dogster Jan 18th, 2010 06:08 AM

Dogster: Kinda Kathmandu
Was it the Singha beer? Was it the desultory public New Year’s Eve he’d endured the day before? Somewhere mid-Teriyaki, over dinner in Bangkok on the first day of 2010, Dogster had an idea.


By 9.30 p.m. he’d booked, by 9.30 a.m. he’d boarded - three hours later he was there.

Dog doesn’t plan much these days.

dogster Jan 18th, 2010 06:12 AM

‘It’s our bible,’ Debbie from Dubai said, ‘Trip Advisor is how we choose all our hotels.’

Over the last five years the Hyatt Kathmandu, a five star megalopolis with three hundred rooms, has gathered one hundred and twenty-eight reviews on Trip Advisor. Since March 2008 the Hotel Courtyard in the tourist ghetto of Thamel has garnered one hundred and eleven glowing reviews, pushing it to the top of the list. For a humble establishment with just eighteen rooms that many reviews is a suspicious amount of praise in a very short time. Either a hospitality phenomenon is going on – or someone is cooking the books.

In a ridiculous David and Goliath struggle, the two establishments battle it out for the top spot: the coveted No. 1 Hotel in Kathmandu - sometimes the princess gets the crown, sometimes the pretender.

In the wonderful world of Trip Advisor, the fact that they are utterly different in every way is unimportant – it’s all about the numbers. As Dogster represents every known minority, he chose the pretender.

Actually, he just wanted to see whether those one hundred and eleven glowing reviews were true.

marya_ Jan 18th, 2010 06:14 AM

Settling in for a good story...

dogster Jan 18th, 2010 06:15 AM

Hotel Courtyard is a very eccentric hotel hidden in Thamel. It’s almost a tourist attraction. If it’s right for you, you’ll know on arrival and forgive all the rest – but if you expect anything faintly resembling five-stars - it ain’t your cup of chai. I could tell you about the rooms – but that isn’t the point. Go look at the pictures. By the time you’ve even made it into one the magic wand will have been waved over your head - even if the floor falls out from under you, you won’t complain.

Check-in can be a lengthy process – some guests cheerfully report gaps of several hours between arrival at the hotel and appearance in their room. One of them was a Mr. Dogster. He arrived at two p.m., made it into his room by six, went out at seven-thirty and finally got back at midnight – already seduced by beer, dinner and conversation with his newest, best-est, instant friends.

The owners have realized the simplest of simple things: travelers like to talk. Our sophisticated western culture has removed the mechanism to meet. All we want is permission, a host, an introduction, a location and the occasion.

Backpackers share hovels and gossip with great simplicity – yet up-market you struggle to meet a soul. Mid-market there’s an interesting crowd that is attracted to the idea of chatting with like-minded strangers in Kathmandu. I had good luck. My fellow guests were flawed, but they were fabulous.

The clientele seemed largely female, fearless, highly intelligent, articulate and fun. There were more solo travelers than couples; in my six days I counted twenty-two visible singles, four pairs and one silent family. Of the singles only six were actually traveling to see Nepal. Fifteen of them were ‘good works fairies’; research workers, advisors-to-be, PHD students, incoming volunteers or their ‘facilitators’. The compassion industry has come to Nepal.

The women of the Courtyard in January 2010 were a formidable alien breed – although from which planet I was never really sure. Wherever it was, it was a long, long way away from here. All were so focused on their ‘projects’ they barely noticed they were in Kathmandu.

Neither, for my stay at the Courtyard, did I.

Hanuman Jan 18th, 2010 06:15 AM

who let the dog out?

Marija Jan 18th, 2010 06:21 AM

I've been waiting for this tail!

dogster Jan 18th, 2010 06:23 AM

More tomorrow.

I'll see if anybody's reading first - you know what a sook I am. I need constant reassurance.

It's bloody cold in Kathmandu.

jules39 Jan 18th, 2010 06:32 AM

we're reading, we're reading!!!!!

moremiles Jan 18th, 2010 06:33 AM

I'm reading and waiting for more.

Gpanda Jan 18th, 2010 06:36 AM

Ruff, ruff. Keep it coming.

kmkrnn Jan 18th, 2010 06:46 AM

I got a box of dog biscuts if you continue this tail

dogster Jan 18th, 2010 06:52 AM

‘Meryl Steep or Kate Winslett?’

We were discussing who would play her in the upcoming movie.

Margaret was a marvelous killer-babe from London, a barrister, an enthusiast, political-insider, innovator, wild ideas woman with connections everywhere. I liked her enormously.

Quite what strange force dropped her and her team into the middle of Kathmandu is still a bit of a mystery to me. She spent a lot of time enthusing about some Nepal-enhancing scheme, a God-given technique that aimed to build the leaders of the future, corrupt them on the way up the ladder then exploit them at the top. The elixir of success? Debating skills.

‘It doesn’t matter, as long as they’re poor,’ she snorted, waving a bejeweled wrist vacantly over the table, ‘poor and smart.’

In a deliciously candid pitch of the pitch, she regaled me with the raison d’etre for her sudden, energetic arrival in the library of the Hotel Courtyard. That none of it made any sense at all was beside the point. She could sell sand to a beach.

‘It’s not the debating… it’s the top one or two percent. They go on to be the members of parliament, prime ministers…’

That she was talking about the U.K. was of no importance at all. Margaret believed with all her mouth that Nepal would be exactly the same.

‘We only want the best of the worst; kids from the most destitute of the poorest rural areas of Nepal. We can transform lives!’

She was brilliant. She could pitch like a Yankee, hurtling spit-balls of wisdom, candor and enthusiasm into the crowd with wild energy. Of course these days, in the time-starved days of Very Important People, a great pitch and a personality are all you need. I was getting a one-on-one demonstration of hers. The barrage left me greatly enthused.

It was a great show, right down to the tremble in the voice, the clasp to the breast, the life-changing moment, the ‘I gave it all up to do this’. To all intents and purposes, judging from the names she dropped, everybody from the Pope to David Beckham supported this luvvie-friendly, good works enterprise. No wonder. She was like a pinball machine on speed, endlessly pinging your P.C. buttons, lighting the light in your dumb punter eyes.

Having exhausted the condescension, she cut to the chase.

‘I’ve been negotiating the screen rights,’ she stage-whispered, ‘it’ll be ‘Sherpa Slumdog’ meets ‘My Fair Lady!’

Was she serious? Things were very intense. Conversation raged around us as if we were in some SoHo loft, everybody was showing off, wild and wonderful tangents led us both on and off track. Some people were drunk.

‘…And the book rights,’ she was saying, ‘the merchandising, the musical - it’s all ready to go.’

What did this have to do with Nepali debating? Was I in an episode of ‘Absolutely Fabulous’?

‘Meryl Steep or Kate Winslett?’

It had to be Meryl.

Of course, Kate will get the job.

dogster Jan 18th, 2010 06:53 AM

The lady with the fly-away hair sat in the corner looking slightly bewildered. Auntie Esme had slogged twelve hours by bus to get to Kathmandu from a tiny village that starts with ‘B’, somewhere south in the borderlands. Within ten minutes of arrival, she was propped up by cushions, sitting back on a red velvet sofa with a beer in her hand, having her first conversation in English for months. She had the sweet reticence of someone who had just spent a long, long time alone.

Oh, and a broad, enigmatic smile.

She wasn’t a handsome woman, nor had she ever been a pretty girl – but to my eyes she was the most beautiful thing in Nepal. She had what we used to call ‘horsey’ features – with time her face had collapsed in an innocent crinkle, illuminated by kind, easily hurt eyes. Shy, sensitive and self-effacing, she’d moved into retirement without remembering to collect a life for herself on the way. Aunty Esme still had a lot of love left and no one to give it to.

So she became a volunteer in Nepal. Aunty was at the coal-face – as uncomfortable, as cold and isolated as a human being could be, volunteering for a cause that still escapes me in a village that didn’t want her there.

Her martyrdom appeared to be for the stolen circus orphans of Southern Nepal. Child life in Nepal, particularly female, runs cheap these days. You can buy a child – from her father - for 1,200 rupees. Bought or spirited away for a life of trapeze and sin, these utterly naïve children are used up and discarded. Preventing children being stolen for the circus was a noble cause, but to my eyes, kinda specific. However it works, it’s all achieved with mosaics.

‘I don’t go out very much,’ she whispered, ‘everybody stares…’

‘How long have you been there?’

‘Four months…’

dogster Jan 18th, 2010 06:55 AM

Room 406, three a.m. Dogster’s bladder demands attention. I reach for the light - nothing. The heater is cold. It’s freezing. Power cut – there seems to be a regular one between two and eight a.m. Decide now, Dog – bladder or warmth, warmth or death – go-o-o-o bladder!

Out of the burrow. I heave the doona off me and sit on the edge of the bed, head still swimming from Everest Beer. It’s colder than death and pitch black. I get up and walk directly into the wall. I feel along, along and find the light switches.

Click, click - nothing, nothing; click, click, click - nothing, nothing, black nuttin’. I’m lost. Fumble left and find the door. No, don’t go there, that’s the corridor. Go left, bathroom is left. Like a blind mime negotiating a plate-glass window, Dogster ventured forth.

A blast of frigid air yawned at me from the bathroom. The tiles are like ice. Freezing. Complete blackness. I can not see my hand in front of my face. Bladder. Bladder. Bladder. Where is the bloody toilet? Bladder. Bladder. Bladder – right now!

dogster Jan 18th, 2010 06:55 AM

Alice was in her Wonderland.

‘I’m here from C****** University to co-ordinate and lead a Multi-task force starter group to advise on Marketing and Manufacturing techniques on the bio-fuel industry and feeder production in the Nowheri region of Nepal,’ she blurted, thrusting a leaflet at me.

Well, something like that.

Alice was reciting the grant application, a gobbly-gook of politically correct catch-phrases rattled off in rapid succession - whatever it all meant she believed in it with all her heart. She rolled on with her spiel, an enthusiastic academic finally in the field, brimming with emotion.

It turned out to be a marketing plan for a community-run, equal-opportunity, village-based hand-made paper ‘factory’ run by a lesbian dwarf.

Well, something like that.

This co-operative produced brick shaped lumps of something they called Bio-Erk which, when drowned and pounded into lumpy bits of sludge, eventually dried and was called ‘Ethnic Hand-Made Paper’.

So, did these guys apply for a grant from C****** University?’

‘No-o-o-o-o,’ she replied gaily, ‘we just gave it to them…’

All she needed was somewhere poor, somewhere on the sub-continent - anywhere would do. All she needed was a place that ticked the P.C. boxes, somewhere picturesquely deprived, some photogenic urchins with running noses, lives soon to be transformed with wealth and cyber-expertise, courtesy some ‘good-works’ target in some ‘good-works’ budget of some good-hearted University in Somewhere Good, U.S.A.

Dogster wasn’t the only one pissing in the sink.

dogster Jan 18th, 2010 07:06 AM

That's enough for today.

It's great to know you're reading. [There'll be a secret lurker looking in, too. The management of Hotel Courtyard worked out I was the fabulous dogster within hours of my arrival - so much for anonymity.]

And to all the lesbian dwarves reading, I'm sorry. Maybe I should have said 'gay whale'.

Hanuman Jan 18th, 2010 07:14 AM

I using google translate to read your story in Thai.

Hanuman Jan 18th, 2010 07:15 AM

Quite funny in Tha!

Hanuman Jan 18th, 2010 07:17 AM

oopss. that's suppose to be Thai not Tha. Damm google translate.

Nywoman Jan 18th, 2010 07:25 AM

Glad you are enjoying yourself again!

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