Well I have been in Kahmandu almost a week now, but it has been an immensely frustrating time. It is the end of the road here, I have to fly into Bangladesh as the roads borders are closed, apparently due to bird flu. Getting a flight should be easy enough after all its not that far away, but it isn't. In theory I need an onward ticket out of Bangladesh before I am allowed in, and that is where the problem lies. I now have a visa for Myanmar, that bit was really easy, far easier than expected, so the obvious thing is to get an onward flight to Yangon (Rangoon). Unfortunately there are no direct flights between Bangladesh and Myanmar, so the easiest way is via Bangkok, but nobody here can arrange a flight from Bangkok. Getting to Bangkok is not a problem, but I really dont want the hassle of collecting the bike heading into town, arranging another flight, then heading back to the airport. There are other problems too. The flight to Yangon is very expensive for the shortish trip, the power seems to be off more often than it is on, making booking anything or checking flights an impossible task. Added to that I cant book online with the airlines in this area and I know more about the route now than the agents. They tell me one thing which I tell them is not possible, and when I return the following day when there is power they "oh yeah, you are right. But there was a flight on the route yesterday, but it is not showing today".
To make things worse I also need dollars cash for Myanmar as there are no ATMs there and they don't change travellers checks, pretty much the same as Iran. Unfortunately the banks here wont give me US dollars so I have had to raid the cash machines and get rupees exchanged for dollars.
I have managed to a little bit of sight seeing around Kathmandu and Patan (photo) which is really just a suburb of Kathmandu. The main squares are fantastic, crammed full of temples of all sizes that make the place feel really exotic. Wandering the back streets reveal little alleyways that open out to squares with more temples and stupas.
It has also been very sociable here. I have been staying at the Yellow House Guest House and my plan to stay a week makes me one of the short termers. The longest has been here 3 months and most seems to be here for a few weeks. I have enjoyed the company of Aaldrik and he has had to take me letting off steam each evening as I fill him in with the details of my frustration of flight arrangements, Sonya having gone to Varanasi in India for a few days. He has been useful to talk to and has come up with ideas and suggestions which have been very useful. The people staying at the Guest House fall into two groups, the French speakers and the English speakers, but there is a bit of a cross over. It's good though, no matter what time of day you are there, there is always somebody to have a chat to making it hard to get away at times.
I have even taken my bike into a bike shop here, Dawn till Dusk being a well known stop here amongst the long distance cyclists. My gears haven't been exactly smooth on gear change for a while so I got the very knowledgable guy there to have a look. He replaced a piece of bent plastic that the cable passes through at the gear changer that was restricting movement, carefully straightened the cable, oiled it all and reset the gears. It took him about 25 minutes and he didn't charge me a single rupee. Gear change is now perfect and feels wonderful. I had just got used to it over time and hadn't realised how bad it had got.
Well after 5 days of chasing around travel agents and airline offices and still not being able to get a firm answer of whether I need an onward ticket, I took the risk and bought a one-way ticket to Dhaka. I suspect it is officially a requirement, but something that never gets checked. I know for a fact that it's even more complicated getting a ticket in Dhaka as you don't pay the agent but have to go to a bank and pay the money in and return to them with a certificate. Aint life complicated? Thankfully I have a contact in Dhaka who I have just met through forum pages on the internet and he is going to arrange the ticket and he assures me I will be able to pick the ticket up the day after I arrive. When I am in Dhaka I will get in touch with him and we will have a tea together.
Today has been a good day, the first day that I haven't been chasing around for something or other. Ali, Sonya, a German girl whose name I keep forgetting, and I went out into the valley for a bike ride. Kathmandu is a bit of a sprawl, but its not a massive city so it doesn't take too long to get out into the fields. Before long we were heading for the mountains, but took a loop back along a rough track, which at times turned into grass at the edge of a field. I was mighty thankful that it hadn't rained recently otherwise it would have been a quagmire. To start with we could just see the tops of the high mountians, but as time went by it cleared and we had much better views, though on a totally clear day it would have been fantastic. The company was good and it made a nice change to get out of the city. Later in the afternoon we split up as I wanted to go to the temples and cremation ghats at Pashupatinath and the big stupa at Bodhnath (photo). At various sights they are all too keen to relieve you of your cash when really they are pubic thoroughfares, but they aren't exactly tight on entry as there is normally only the main entrance manned, so a short walk around to a different entrance and you can walk around for free. I don't feel guilty about it as in Durbar Square in Kathmandu cars, bikes, locals just pass straight through as there is a road through the middle and at Bodhnath there are shops hotels and cafe once through the 'entrance'.
Overall I have really liked and enjoyed Kathmandu. It's a very manageable size, some of the backstreets and squares are delightful and somewhat rustic, and I just love the stupas, but they would be even better without all the gift shops, afterall they are religeous sites. The company at the Guest House has been great too, there is always somebody to talk to. Once again I shall be sorry to say goodbye to Ali and Sonya. Today has been the only day I have cycled with them but I am sure we would have got on well if we had travelled together.
So I depart for Dhaka, Bangladesh on Wednesday at 12:15. I am not looking forward to the hassle of the flight, but I am looking forward to a new country and environment and the challenges that it brings, and I really do expect them to be challenges in Bangadesh.