Posts Tagged ‘hotel’

Kathmandu – a charming overload of the senses

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

                               January 10

I am sitting on the roof of my hotel, it’s 5:45 pm, the sun has just gone down, and the temperature dropped rapidly. It’s still a lot warmer than the temperatures I’ve had so far on my trip; I have gotten quite far south, but am at rather high elevation.

Yesterday morning we got up and went directly to the border. There we were joined by Marc, the Frenchman from the other day. The crossing went smoothly, and we could see considerable relief on Marc’s face as we’d gotten safely out of Tibet and China, and into Nepal. He is a journalist, and he’s been working on a project to document China’s oppression of Tibet. He was carrying a bag full of camera equipment, and a laptop full of hundreds of pictures of soldiers, police and official buildings in Tibet, and was hence REALLY lucky that the soldier at the x-ray machine looked away from the monitor just as his bags were going through…

The trip from the border to Kathmandu was only about 100 kilometers, but it took five hours… The road was at best only just worthy to call a road, as it snaked along the steep valley out of Himalaya, and at it’s worst the land cruiser was literally climbing over stretches where the road had been reclaimed by the hillside, and all that was left was the rocky landslide, flattened by countless passing motorcycles, cars, lorries and buses with people hanging out of the windows and clinging on to the roofs. As we descended, the temperatures rose and the faces of the people changed from the Tibetan to the subcontinental Nepali, which are darker and more resemble the Indians. Almost everybody speaks English here, and all signs are written in both Nepali and English.

Kathmandu is an absolutely gorgeous city. Walking around down town, I am continuously reminded of the old, narrow alleyways of Rome, and the climate also resembles that of the great old capitol of that ancient empire. The smells are rather different, however. There is an everchanging odour of incense, garbage, food, cow dung, pine trees, and a zillion others that I haven’t the faintest idea how to describe. Walking along the narrow streets, or over the crowded plazas is a continuous assault on the ears. Streets that in every other place I’ve been to would be pedestrian, at least at the busy hours of the day, have cars, bicycles, motorbikes and rickshaws eeking up and down all the time, honking, ringing, whistling and shouting constantly, to make people move out of the way. Last night, and all of today, I’ve just been walking aimlessly around, taking in the city through sight, smell, hearing and especially taste. I really liked the food in Russia, but the food here in Kathmandu has equalled, and sometimes surpassed that cuisine from the northern end of this massive continent.

Tomorrow I am going to stay with a CouchSurfer 15 kilometers from the city centre. He has warned me that his home is not of western standards, most particularly he has no running hot water, but I am accustomed to such minor inconveniences by now, and I’m not letting it stand in the way of getting to know a Nepali family in their own home! My hotel room for tonight is about 1,5 by 2,5 meters, I have a cot to sleep on, a nightstand, a garbage can, and a candle. Electricity comes and goes on a set, but regularly changing schedule, so that every part of the city has electricity 8 hours a day. I’m not sure whether this is because there is not enough energy to power the whole city at the same time, or because the new maoist government is using it to somehow control the inhabitants, but it is just something people here have gotten used to.

Creature comforts

Friday, January 9th, 2009

I’m amazed. I don’t know what’s the most important factor, but I feel SOO good right now. It might be the fact that I’ve just had a nice hot shower. It might be that I’m in bed without thermal underwear, a hat and a scarf. It might be because I’m not at an altitude where walking up a flight of stairs makes me struggle for breath. It might be for any number of reasons, but I feel great! 🙂
DSC00721.jpgThe last three days I’ve travelled quite far, on a very scenic route. I’ve been to altitudes as high as 5220 meters above sea level and I’ve slept at altitudes over 4000 meters. I’ve realized that the colour symbolism of Tibetan art isn’t as weird as it seemed as first. Blue stands for the sky: Obvious. Red is for fire: Also normal. Orange is for earth: Actually true, most of the time! Green is for water: Astoundingly, almost always so! All art in Tibet uses these three, plus white, which seems to be the colour of the gods, and black which is the colour of the demons.

DSC00649.jpgI left Lhasa on Tuesday, early in the morning, with Gabrielle and Christopher from the US. We took the roundabout route to Shigatse / Rigaze / Xigaze, via Yamdrok Lake. The lake is more than 4000 meters above sea level, and the most brilliantly azure green imaginable. It’s one of the holy lakes of Tibet, it has holy Lama Ducks (feathers the same orange as the Lamas’ robes) floating around on it, and there’s holy fish living there… We stopped in Gyatse, and took in the old temple there. It had been badly burnt and damaged in the cultural revolution, and the monks were not allowed to restore it, but they were at least allowed to use it. There were old prayer books that were burnt at the edges, the paintings on the walls were nearly invisible due to their burnt state, but still it had a feeling of authenticity that the well kept and restored temples in Lhasa didn’t. In Shigatse we stayed in a hotel with two stars on the official Chinese rating. I can’t imagine what one star is like, because there was no running hot water, no heating (so somewhere around -15 degrees in the room, I guess), no toilet paper, no soap, the floor was filthy, and the bedsheets weren’t clean. We asked for clean sheets, and the attendant came with new sheets, neatly folded, that looked even dirtier than the ones already on the beds, but at least didn’t smell like sweat and yak butter.

Yesterday, we started by walking around the main monastery of Shigatse for a couple of hours. It was a great place, that seemed a lot older than the ones in Lhasa, but in a better state of repair than the one in Gyatse. Another good thing was that there were no Chinese military presence inside the monastery. In Shigatse we also got our Travel permits, which allows us to travel outside of the two big cities of Lhasa and Shigatse. At this point they told me that my Chinese visa was NOT valid until Jan 10, but Jan 9! (December has 31 days, I had a 30 day visa, I entered on Dec 11, hence I assumed it was valid till Jan 10. Not so, apparently) This meant that we must leave Tibet a day earlier than planned, even though we’ve already paid for the last day. We still got the permits we needed and got going. We were going to stay at Rongpu Monastery, 7 kilometers from Mount Qomolangma (Everest) Base Camp that night, but that’s at very high altitude, and therefore very cold, so our driver was sure the car wouldn’t start again if we stayed the night there, so instead we stayed over at a hotel in a small town right outside of Qomolangma National Park, called Shegar. The prices were that of a hotel, but this was more like a guest house than hotel. There was no running water, hot or cold, no heat, the toilet was a hole in the floor onto a big pile underneath, the room was probably around -20 degrees, and absolutely filthy. I liked it a lot better than the one in Shegatse, however, as it was quite quaint and rustic, and had a heated common room where the locals came to drink tea and gamble at Mah Jong! We got our Mount Qomolangma National Park Permits, which were 180 NOK per person, plus 400 for the car.

DSC00706.jpgThis morning we left while it was still dark, and went through two military checkpoints before we got to enter the National park. One checked our passports and travel permits, and the other checked our National park permits. We saw the sun rise over the Himalayas from the Pang La pass, 5110 meters above sea level, from which we could see four of Tibet’s five mountains over 8000 meters! We had our breakfast noodles in a village on the other side of the pass, and then went through yet another military checkpoint before we started the climb to Rongpu. At Rongpu we met a frozen river that crossed the road. There was so much ice that it was impossible to get any closer to Base Camp, so we had to turn around, a measly seven kilometers from the first Base Camp. (There are three, at increasingly higher altitude, with exponentially increasing entry fees. To climb the actual mountain costs, according to Gabrielle and Chris, 50 000 American Dollars from the Nepal side, and is definately no cheaper from the Tibetan side…) We still had a marvellous view of the world’s highest peak, and left there only slightly disappointed. After the 97 kilometers of bumpy, dusty gravel road, with hundreds of switchbacks to climb the marvellous passes, back through two of the three checkpoints, the first part of which we had a monk hitch hiker with us, and the second part a soldier from one of the checkpoints, we met a French guy which we were told were to travel with us to the border. He had paid for a land cruiser for himself all the way to the border and we had paid for ours, so he called the agent and said that he’d agree to it if he got half his money back, and we said we’d agree to it if he split the cost of our car for the last leg of the journey. He ended up not going with us, but he was leaving Tibet on the same day as us, so we might meet him again at the border tomorrow…
When we got to the town of Dingri / Tingri, we wanted to stay the night there, to get the last leg of the journey to the Nepalese border in daylight. Then we were suddenly told that people leaving the country on the last day of their visa (which, for some reason is Jan 9 for me) have to leave before 10 am… Which meant, we had to go on to Zangmu, the Tibetan border town. DSC00727.jpgWe had a gorgeous ride, through a valley scattered about with ruins of old Tibetan fortresses and monasteries, walled by mountains in the most amazing shades of bright red, through brown, orange and yellow, to soot black. We crossed two passes over 5000 meters, before ascending into the valley where the town of Zangmu is clinging to the hillside next to the Nepalese border, only a couple of thousand meters above sea level. It was dark when we went down the valley to get here, which was a pity, because it was the steepest, scariest zig zag road carved into the almost vertical sides of the Himalayan mountains, and it would’ve probably made for some great pictures in daylight. In the light of the almost full moon, however, it got a quite eerie feeling, which was also really cool! It’s now past 1:30 am, and I’m getting up at 8:30, so I’m going to try to get some sleep.

(Posted from Kathmandu, Nepal)

Xian – ancient city of central China

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

Relaxing after a 90 minute aromatherapy massageThe apartment hotel where I stayed with Thorbjørn in Beijing was a bit of a  step up from where I’ve stayed earlier. I had my own bedroom with a queen size bed, and my own bathroom. In the basement there was a gym, a swimming pool, a steam bath and a sauna, and also a spa that offered massage and aromatherapy at a discount for guests at the hotel. One night I figured I’d go check it out. I spent an hour in the pool/sauna/steam bath, before I had a 90 minute aromatherapeutic massage… I didn’t know an hour and a half could pass that quickly! I actually think I fell asleep there for a while…
The remaining days I stayed there, I went to the pool and sauna every night. 😉 It is most definitely the best way of winding down after a long day of walking around in one of the world’s most polluted cities!

                               On Saturday night I got on the train to Xian. In 11 hours, I went 1200 kilometers headed southeast into central China. Xian is quite different from Beijing. For one, it’s much smaller, only around 5 million inhabitants. If Beijing can be compared to New York, then Xian is probably more like Rome. True, Beijing has a lot of historic sites, but when you’re moving around town, you don’t really notice them, because they’re all walled in. Xian on the other hand, has the historic buildings right here in the centre for all to see. I am in a youth hostel right on the central square, and out the window I can see the old Bell tower and Drum tower. They used to ring the bell at dawn, and bang the drum at dusk. Up to about the 10th century, Xian was the most important city in what is now China. It is the beginning and end of the Silk Road, and as such has had a lot of contact with the rest of the world. One of the museums here has a tablet with a Christian (Nestorian) inscription, dated 781 AD. The muslim community is thriving, and today I visited the Hui (Chinese Muslim) quarter in the city. For                                about a hundred meters down one of the narrow streets, every single shop that wasn’t a muslim restaurant was a Halal butcher! The Great Mosque was also fascinating. All outward appearances are that of a Buddhist temple, down to the Spirit Wall at the entrance, that is meant to keep out the evil influences. The Minaret looked like a Pagoda, it had the typical Chinese arches and architecture, and there were Chinese symbols on big tablets over the arches, just like in a Buddhist temple. The first hint that it wasn’t Buddhist, however, lies in the fact that it didn’t point North<->South, instead it pointed west, towards Mecca. Also there were inscriptions in Arabic mixed in with the Chinese. In the main Prayer hall were the familiar rows of muslim prayer carpets, but the dead give away, however, were the bearded men walking around with their little round hats, sitting in side rooms reading Quran, and kneeling in prayer on some of the mats. They weren’t Arabic, however, so their beards weren’t the full, shiny beards of Arabs, but the thin, stringy beards of the Chinese!:D

Tomorrow I’m planning to go see the sight that this city is definitely most famous for; the terracotta warriors! The first unifier of China, Emperor Qin Shi Huang, is buried with thousands of life size terracotta footsoldiers, officers and even horses! Some claim he was afraid of the spirits of his vanquished enemies, waiting for him in death, but most archaeologists agree
that he simply expected his rule to continue in the afterlife, and he wanted to have as great an army there as he’d had in this life… Like real soldiers, they are lined up in ALMOST (but not quite) the the same position, and like real soldiers, not two have the same facial features! Their weapons were real, and therefore are mostly gone after 2000 years, and some of the horses had real chariots, which have also all but rotted away. More on that later.

I’ve unearthed a couple of American CS’ers that want to do the same tour as me, at the same time, in Tibet. They’d found out that the rule against travellers of different nationalities travelling in a group together is no longer in effect, so maybe we can split the cost of car and guide, so the trip won’t cost an arm and a leg, only a few fingers and toes from each of us…