Nothing is more amazing than making decisions that unexpectedly leads to memorable and meaningful experiences. Our journey from Malaysia to Nepal officially began when my wife, Tina gave her elusive green light to travel with me and our 8-year-old-son, Gabby to Kathmandu, Nepal from our current home base in Penang. It came dramatically after I already considered choosing from a handful of fellow Filipino bloggers to join me. When my persuasive skills won over Tina’s anxiety about Nepal’s safety and security, particularly to tourists with kids, I was silently jumping for bliss! I couldn’t explain the excitement I felt down my spine when my lovely and very understanding wife finally agreed to explore and discover one of the places in South Asia inscripted not only in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites but more so in my bucket list. I couldn’t thank her enough. God knows, I was even more thankful to Gabby who had no hesitation with the trip and didn’t even bother to ask me or his mom, if there’s a theme park or at least a branch of his favorite fastfood joint in Kathmandu.
I intentionally planned to stay in Kathmandu for 5 days that coincided with our forced-holiday from work in celebration of this year’s end of fasting season, the Eid. Prior to our August 5 to 10, 2013 Nepal trip, I somehow prepared by reading a travel guide book and online sources; I also inquired some helpful tips and suggestions from a few Filipino travel bloggers who already set foot at our chosen itineraries. Days went by so quickly and before I do another countdown-post on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter about the trip, Tina already packed everything for the three of us. Nice and sweet.
Packed and ready to go!
THE LONG ROAD TO KATHMANDU
Travel lesson number 1 : Never underestimate the traffic jam anywhere. In our case, I did.
If you must know, my family’s middle name is punctuality, so needless to say, we’re rarely late at anything.
Our flight from Penang to Kathmandu via Kuala Lumpur was set on an evening of Monday, August 5, 2013. I told my family that there’s no need to hire a cab from our place in Butterworth to Bayan Lepas in the island where the Penang International Airport (PIA) is, because we could leave the apartment early at 4 or 5PM via bus and ferry rides. Too early in my approximation for our 9:45PM local flight. I was wrong! The moment we rolled our Barney-colored luggages to the bus stop in front of our place, I regret the fact of not leaving earlier. It took us a while to reach George Town via taxi cab and a ferry ride, even worse when I asked my family to hop on the Rapid Penang Bus from Weld Quay in George Town to PIA instead of taking another taxi.
Traffic jam around George Town that day was terribly horrendous. I began uttering prayers silently; asked to ease the road congestion with divine intervention. My entire Sympathetic Nervous System went haywire! Heart beat became tachycardic, pulse rate was bounding and rapid, tension made my breathing fast and deep. While I was seated at the back of Tina and Gabby inside the bus, I was blaming myself the whole time for deciding not taking a cab from George Town to the airport, or better, from our place in the mainland directly to the terminal. Thankfully, my family was there to somehow calm me down.
Aboard Rapid Penang Bus from George Town to Penang International Airport.
It felt forever when we arrived at the airport at 8AM exactly. It seemed like we traveled by bus from Kuala Lumpur to Penang! Can you imagine that? Nonetheless, I was the most relieved upon being at the Departure Area. My worries were eased immediately after the staff at the counter of Malaysia Airlines confirmed our online reserved seats and checked in our luggage directly to Kathmandu.
A LOT OF FIRST TIME MOMENTS FOR US
First time in KLIA too. Our excitement for the trip ruled over the fact that we have a 10-hour-layover prior to our KUL-KTM flight the next day, August 6, 2013, Tuesday at 8:55AM. Say, what?! Ten hours inside the terminal? Yes, baby! First time to have that longest transit time in our not-that-frequent-travel history. And for the record, none of us complained.
Hello, Kuala Lumpur International Airport! Selamat Malam! (Good evening!)
I could’ve paid for a brief but more comfortable accomodation in a hotel within KLIA but my suggestion was vetoed by Tina for practical reasons. Ten hour-layover was spent having dinner and coffee in one of Gabby’s favorite fastfood joints, checking out our social networks and necessary bladder breaks.
Not long after…
Fast forward to the morning after, my family was all-smiles again aboard Malaysia Airlines. The flight took a little more than 5 hours from KLIA to Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu.
Travel lesson number 2 : Never compromise eating and drinking on time (despite lack of sleep). We had some bites at the same fastfood for breakfast prior boarding but we welcomed the brunch served 36,000 feet. Who needs enough sleep with such gastronomic feast?
We chased Wau Bulan or Moon Kite (that serves as logo of MAS proudly inked at the tip of its wings) making in Kota Bharu, Kelantan via bus from Penang back in 2011; unbelievably, we’ve flown by the “Wau Bulan of Malaysia” to Nepal! We can’t be grateful enough!
IS THIS MOUNT EVEREST?
A few turbulent episodes, a Tagalog-mushy-movie, and a bladder break after, I gazed out my window and saw the most incredible apparition I had during my flights.
Try to contract your eye muscles and look closely at the center of the photo below, you’ll see a triangular peak that’s too bizaare to be a cloud. Of course, you can accuse me of being overly imaginative anytime. I am guilty. :) Et voila!
To anyone reading this who plans to go to Kathmandu via Malaysia, and would love to see the peaks of the roof of the world, you need to remember a few things. Firstly, make sure, by all means you book your seat on the right side (seats F in Malaysia Airlines); better if you could reserve seat 5F in Economy class, or if you’re in Business class, any seat on the right window side. In our case, my family was generous to let me sit in 20F. That’s located after the wing of the aircraft, nonetheless, didn’t disappoint. Secondly, you may opt to travel to Nepal by the months of October as it’s no longer cloudy and the Himalayan range can be seen to her full glory. In our case, we took the risk of going to Nepal in the middle of its monsoon season; thankfully, we only experienced a few minutes of drizzle. God is so good! All the time!
Located in South Asia, bordered by China up north and India in south, east and west, Nepal is 2 hours and 15 minutes late than the clocks in Malaysia and our country, the Philippines. After we left Kuala Lumpur at 8:55AM, we safely arrived Tribhuvan International Airport in KTM before 11:30AM (Nepal time).
Nepal, obviously doesn’t belong to ASEAN countries but to SAARC or South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, along with Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. So being a Philippine-passport holder, my family and I needed to fill out a Visa Application forms upon arrival, attach a passport photo with white background and pay US $ 25 as Visa fee for 15 days each, and free for Gabby with multiple entry valid for 30 days.
Trips to FOREX counter to have our limited US dollars change to Nepalese Rupees, Immigration and Visa proceedings, plus collecting our luggages at the conveyor belt inside the Arival Aea uniquely built of terracotta bricks, were all done in a breeze. The next thing we saw was our names printed on an A4 paper held by the staff of our chosen hotel in Thamel. I did the hotel reservation online weeks ago.
OUR ACCOMODATION IN THAMEL, KATHMANDU
Staying in Kathmandu at this time was inexpensive and so affordable. Case in point, I could’ve opted to reserve as cheap as 15-ringgit-room per night (US$ 5) but considered comfort, convenience and security of my family. With so many accomodation within Thamel, the touristy area in Kathmandu where most eateries, mini-supermarkets and hotels are located, I decided to reserve a suite room with a king-size bed, an airconditioning unit (Warning : power and internet connection are intermittent in Kathmandu. Choose a hotel with a generator that could support electric supply during brownouts), an ensuite toilet with hot & cold shower, cable TV (a must for Gabby!). The suite I reserved at Thorong Peak Guesthouse, tucked strategically within the laterals of Thamel, away from the noise of the streets only cost a little over RM100 per night with taxes included (US $ 31+). It’s a steal for the rate of a suite that also comes with a balcony, if you ask me.
Restful sleeps in Kathmandu were made on this.
Travel lesson number 3 : Set priorities and know your limits. In our case, we gave importance to our itineraries, considered budget, security, safety, eating and drinking enough fluids (and sleep for Tina & Gabby). So the next important thing to do upon arrival at the hotel is to freshen up! We took quick showers and dressed up and immediately hit the roads to Kathmandu Durbar Square.
Travel lesson number 4 : Be familiar with the place you’re traveling and its transport system. From my religious readings for a few weeks about Nepal, I missed out the data about the taxi cabs and the dusty, terracotta brick roads that could be too muddy after a drizzle. We were a bit surprised when we hailed similar taxi cab that picked us up from the airport to hotel, a small suzuki hatchback that usually run without aircondition on.
COSMO DE’ CAFE, A ROOFTOP RESTAURANT IN KATHMANDU
Travel lesson number 5 : Know where to eat best and eat local. I read that one pleasing experience in Kathmandu is to savor delightful local (and continental) dishes in any rooftop restaurants of your choice. We found one in Cosmo De’ Cafe, just before the ticket booth where visitors pay reasonable fee to Kathmandu Durbar Square.
It’s enough for me to see my family comfortable, satiated and happy.
Tina was looking at this unbelievable heritage site…
LEARNING ABOUT CASTE SYSTEM IN NEPAL
The moment our Nepalese waiter, Dil, welcomed us to Cosmo De’ Cafe, we felt at home in Kathmandu. I, myself, didn’t expect to learn a little thing about Nepal as early as our first lunch. While looking at the windows that intricately framed the sights at Kathmandu Durbar Square with handsome wood carvings and browsing the menu for choices, I asked Dil his complete name.
“My complete name is, Dil Pachabhaiya Magar. I’m 20 years old,” he replied verbally and voluntarily wrote it on a sheet of tissue paper. Dil smartly explained that Dil is his name, Pachabhaiya his surname, and Magar his caste.
Something hit my cerebral arteries that instantly brought me back inside our classroom when we were discussing caste system in India, Nepal etc. way back in my High School days. My goodness. How clock ticks so fast, that it was only upon casual conversion with a Nepalese waiter, that made me remember about the social stratification system observed in Nepal. In this age when almost everything is digital and controlled by a flicker of a finger, people around the globe must be reminded that in certain areas of the world, some human beings are still socially classified by caste system. Admittedly, I had mixed emotions ordering my food from someone living a certain social status.
“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people,
you might better stay at home.”
- James A. Michener
We had vegetable momo instead of chicken momo (others offer buffalo momo) simply because there’s bird flu in Nepal during the time of our visit. How exciting, isn’t it? Going back to momo; We had it two ways – fried and steamed and found it just okay, nothing to rave about. What made it unusual or special perhaps, was its dip compared to the soy and chilies of Chinese.
Tina and I ordered Cosmo Special Noodles that was served with ham and vegetables. Delicious actually! Gabby asked for a Mexican Burrito that came with red beans and cheese stuffings. We washed down everything with Mango Lassi and small bottles of Coke. What made Nepalese cuisine by the way, is also affordable than you can imagine. Big servings at a cheap prices. Burp!
Cosmo Special Noodles. Reminded us of Pancit Bihon back home in the Philippines and Malaysia’s Beehon.
And then the electricity supplying the TV and electric fans died down but not the wifi as it’s connected with the solar energy source. Establishments were seen to have been using solar panels against the intermittent electrical power supply in the city. The brownout signaled we have to be done eating and leave.
KATHMANDU DURBAR SQUARE
We finished our lunch before 3PM and trooped down the road and paid the admission rates (Gabby’s free!) at the very first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Nepal that we visited. The Kathmandu Durbar Square.
With all the 16th century-Hindu temples built in grandeur that we’ve never seen elsewhere, I told Tina it felt like we stepped into another world, a time machine or a Hollywood movie set. It was surreal!
Time, space and life as a whole, within the vicinity of Kathmandu Durbar Square, away from the busy streets of Thamel, seemed like frozen for centuries.
Strolling around the durbar square (or plaza), Gabby found pigeons that delighted him for a while.
Glad to see our own kid enjoying the moment. Surprisingly, he never complained of fatigue, dusty and muddy roads, small taxi cabs, and lack of theme parks. It must be signs of maturity at a young age of 8.
A lot of touts that offered tour guiding within the complex approached us but to be fair with them, they were so courteous and never pushy. They speak fluent English too, however remarkably, the three of us were often greeted with, “Ni Hao!” mistaken as Chinese, or Thai and Malaysian but never Filipinos. One also wrongly asked if I’m Nepalese; because somehow, we look alike.
Basically, Nepalese people are friendly and hospitable. They smiled at us despite a few elders couldn’t express themselves in English. They were warm enough to grant us a greeting of Namaste! And a touristy photo-op.
At one point, I found a chance to do lectures, would you believe? LOL!
Of course, we didn’t let the chance to pass without a class picture with them. Seriously, we’re honored and privileged to have sat and talked with them; we felt so welcomed in Kathmandu!
Kala (Black) Bhairab. Bhairab is Shiva’s 6-armed destructive form; crowned and with garland of human skulls, crushing a corpse, symbolic of human ignorance. It was used ages ago for trial by ordeal, as telling lies while standing in front of this statue will bring instant death.
KUMARI, THE LIVING GODDESS
Yes, I read about Kumari, the Living Goddess in Kathmandu. She’s chosen from a group of girls age 4 to 6 who successfully passed an ordeal and regarded as the Living Goddess until she reaches her puberty. Her menstruation is the sign for her to go back to normal life and leave the Kumari Ghar. It’s also a signal for the authorities to select another Kumari. What we learned from the touts in the square was the time when Kumari will show herself at the window inside the Kumari Ghar. We were told it was 4PM; and so we didn’t miss and had an extraordinary opportunity to have a glimpse of a living goddess!
We had a glimpse for Kumari, the Living Goddess here at Kumari Ghar…
Kumari showed herself at the middle window, uttering somewhat a mantra, while all travelers, tourists and local guides, including the three of us who were there, held hands in prayerful position. Silence lorded for few minutes, then before we knew it, Kumari left the window. A local guide mentioned to his tourists, it’s a good Karma to be blessed by Kumari. We felt blessed even before her blessings.
There was a signage inside the courtyard that photographing Kumari is prohibited, so we were content in showing respect. I just bought some postcards at 10 Nepalese Rupees each (US $0.10) with her image taken probably one of those few festivals when Kumari is carried onto procession outside Kumari Ghar.
Gabby, Tina and I felt thirsty so we bought a liter of bottled distiled water. Then we set foot at Basantapur just outside Kumari Ghar. Nothing was different except for more vendors of exotic souvenirs. At Basantapur, there were also intricately built Newar structures with beautiful woodcarvings. Everything and everyone were still at a slow pace.
Tina told me her heart melts for poverty in front of us at that moment. I told her, we can only be emphatic and it’s not easy to render sympathy. She mentioned that we are still blessed despite we, believe it or not, are still struggling Overseas Filipino Workers. We’re grateful for the chance that showed Gabby the value of appreciating what he has, no matter how little it is.
On a lighter note, we’re also thankful to taste what others considered as Starbucks Coffee in Kathmandu – the Himalayan Java Coffee that has branches all over the town. We had a few blends at Basantapur, before leaving Kathmandu Durbar Square.
At around 5 to 6PM, we rode a taxi back to Thamel, strolled our way down the dusty and narrow alleys of one of the busiest touristy areas in Kathmandu. We found plates that satisfied our cravings for dinner at a restaurant secluded inside Mandala Street.
Served with red wine, this plate of Fish and Chips could’ve been better if not overcooked. We liked the Pineapple juice though (it’s rather rare in Penang!). In spite we’re not that impressed with food we had, we understand It’s not much of the food but our dining experience that matters.
It’s amazing how time spent less than a day, from our trip that commenced in Penang to Kathmandu, had already taught and reminded us so many life’s lessons. Emphaty and sympathy. Beauty in simplicity. History and heritage. Culture and beliefs. Kindness in strangers. Poverty amidst genius minds and artistic and skillful creativity. Respect for diversity. Happiness in little things.
Apparently, there is always something to learn beyond books, particularly from the people we meet and the people we travel with. What we become out of these learnings and experiences is all that is significant.
“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
- Jon Krakauer , Into the Wild.
To be continued.
*A life journey of mine, an epiphany of travel for you, made possible by Malaysia Airlines.
This Nepal Blog Series includes :
- Our Unforgettable Journey From Malaysia to Nepal
- Incredibly Beautiful Bhaktapur
- Patan : The City of Fine Arts in Nepal
- Beneath Buddha’s Watchful Eyes : Boudhanath Stupa & Swayambhunath Stupa
- Nagarkot : Sleeping in Nepal’s 7000 feet
- Our Last Moments in Nepal : From Nagarkot to Kuala Lumpur International Airport