The absence of data connectivity had plagued blog updation since departure from Cochin till I met Sandeep in the GoFord service centre in Kathmandu on 23 June. Since then I have been able to find free WiFi locations to get my stuff done on the net. The availability of free WiFi at Hotel Snowland helped me update information, catch up on mails, respond to friends on Facebook and send pictures to UPMA for continued branding. Since we had decided to leave after an early breakfast I got up earlier to complete left over work. I also decided to check out a few things that would be used during the Tibet/China part of the journey such as the electric water heater, the Green Tea bags the jacket, etc. I had not opened the box of publicity material sent by the Kerala Tourism department. Pokhara being the prime tourist destination in Nepal I thought it appropriate to leave some publicity material in the hotel. The box contained brochures about Kerala, tourism and Ayurveda besides CDs of the same. I had been told by Mirus that I would not be permitted to take unscreened CD/DVDs into China. I will have to try and convince people at the border that the material is not meant for distribution in China.
The waiter in the hotel told us that only bread and eggs would be available in time. We settled for toasts and omlette. Even the request for an additional toast was dismissed saying that it would take time, and that we did not have in plenty. I completed the check out formalities and handed over the tourism material at the reception for display in the hotel lobby. Since the day had dawned bright, though not clear, we decided to visit the Phewa Lake once again and also make a brief stopover at Sarangkhot. The lakeside was full of tourists who had come there early for boating and visit to the temple on the island in the lake. We jostled with them for a few photographs; even a film shooting unit was setting up its equipment to take advantage of the morning sunshine. The most fascinating part of the lake view is supposedly the reflection of the snowcapped mountain ranges in the waters; that was not to be since the clouds jealously enveloped most of the peaks.
Then we took the winding road to Sarangkhot. We had been advised the previous night at the hotel that we should leave at a quarter past 4 am to view the sunrise from atop the 2300 meter high view point. Since the weather had played truant we decide against a sunrise view but it being better today we wanted to see how the Lake looked from up there. Fortunately, as we made the drive to Sarangkhot there were not many vehicles plying the road. Therefore, I made it rather easily through the narrow, winding road. At one point we chanced upon the Aastha café that afforded good views. We asked permission of the lady manning the café and were told that we have to order tea to use the view point, which was the terrace of their house cum café. The view was not clear due to the misty overhang. Certainly, on a clear day, it is a vantage point. The lady, who turned out to be the English teacher in the village school, showed us the potted Aloe Vera plants which she explained is the best anti-dote for wrinkles, diabetes and cancer. As we were having tea I saw a few black stones, some broken in the middle lying within the shop. On closer examination I understood them to be fossils and the lady confirmed them as such. She explained why they are as expensive as INR 700 plus per stone; they were brought from some of the mountains of the Himalayan range after 21 days of trekking. The stones contained fossils of snails and other shelled beings. She held a lit torch on the fossil, which gave off a light golden glow, to establish that the fossils are authentic! By this time the husband, who was till then busy with making tea, rather abruptly commanded the lady to retreat into the house. We wondered if this was the ultimate act of a jealous husband or a businessman who saw no value in the selling process?
It is a steep climb from the place where the car had to be parked to reach the viewpoint. By the time we reached the top clouds had completely held in its clasp the mountains and their peaks. We had a sneak at a couple of the snowcapped ones while driving up, but when we got there the clouds just would not let go. However, the view point gave us a good 360 degree view of the valley and the verdant hills. By the time we started descending from Sarangkhot the higher reaches of the mountain were full of paragliding enthusiasts and gawking visitors from India. Tourist buses from UP and Bihar could be seen everywhere.
I read a piece in the morning paper announcing shortage of fuel supply leading to long queues at fuel stations in Kathmandu. I drove into one in Pokhara to tank up before leaving for Kathmandu. With about 140 kms to go to Kathmandu we stopped at a small wayside eatery, where we had boiled eggs and coffee. We had observed in Nepal the tendency of men to roll up t-shirts and vests above their waist. I observed a person in the eatery why it was so. He explained that it was to beat the heat!
We got to Kathmandu just after 3 pm. The agency that was helping us with the Chinese visas informed that the visas would be ready only by tomorrow. Hence, we had a free afternoon. It was decided to explore the ancient city of Bhaktapur. The narrow road lined on either side by brick constructions was an interesting drive. The drive went on and on till we reached Manohara Restaurant, where we decided to have lunch. It was 4 pm! The reason for choosing the restaurant was free WiFi. We had a leisurely meal of NV Russian Salad, Chicken Momo, Chicken Khaja set meal, fried rice and chilly chicken. The Khaja set meal consisted of flattened rice flakes, mixture, chicken curry, pickle, greens and a vegetable dry dish (like thoran). From the restaurant we learnt that we had overshot the old city. Many enquiries later we reached the ancient capital city of the Ranas, which remained so till the 15th century. The temples, the Durbar, baths and squares are all extremely well preserved. They are mostly in red brick with metallic and wooden embellishments that have stood the test of time. Even the pavements are laid out in red bricks.
The return to the flat was marred by an ugly incident in a crowded placed called Dwarko Chowk. The entire city is bathed in dust thanks to the road widening and construction. The stretch from Kalanki to Koteswar is treacherous because of deep excavation. The sides of the existing road has precipitous drop of up to 4 feet. Add to that snaky driving and we have immense opportunities for accidents. One such, albeit a minor scrape, happened just ahead of the above mentioned chowk which is one of the most congested for it has lanes leading to heavily populated residential locations. A car tried to cut in from the left and mildly scrapped the side bumper. We were willing to drive off due to the humongous traffic behind us. But, the driver of the car would not do so; he possibly smelt blood. He stopped the car right there and demanded to get his car painted. Then we too got aggressive and even argued with one of the traffic constables. Another came by and gathered from the position of the scrapes that the mistake was that of the car driver. The latter was also fast losing local support, particularly after Lal dramatically declared that we are guests passing through the peaceful land with a mission of driving a long distance to London! Fortunately, Mohan also called as I was in animated discussion with the cops and the car driver. They then understood that we have local clout too. The matter resolved after nearly a half hour of loud and aggressive discussion. Thereafter it was back home to the coziness of the bed – we had had a long day.