For someone with horrible sense of direction, like me, Kathmandu was a big maze. The physical topography of Kathmandu’s streets and pedestrian walkways was shaped by temples after temples built by the Nepalese in their up-most random and causal manner; The signs and door plates were totally unrecognizable, each street and roads looked ridiculously alike, and at every street corner there was an identical stupa hosting an identical Hindu God. Good thing was most shop owners, restaurateurs or anyone I ran into knew enough English to direct me to the right direction of Thamel, the centre of the city, the heart and soul of Nepal.
After walking for two hours to cover the less than 2 km from Swayambhunath to Thamel, I decided that I need my Google Map, therefore I needed a phone card. I stopped at the first shop that had an Ncell sign on it, and asked the boss, a middle-aged Nepalese man, if he had Sim card with internet. He understood me without difficulties and took out a box covered by decades of dusts. I asked price, he said briefly:
Fair enough. Though I was told earlier that 200 rupees would be the right price, I was too eager for my internet that I had to relish to bargain. As I opened my wallet only to find that I didn’t have change, only those 1000 rps note with a bunch of elephants walking on them. I looked at him and asked if he could change. Staring at the elephants in my hand he said:
“Sim card, three fifty”
“But you said two fifty…” he waved his hand and shushed me up, “three fifty”, he repeated with solemn resolution.
I decided to give in. it was my first shopping experience in Nepal and I attributed my failure to the lack of experience. I handed him the 1000 note. With a big smile on his face, he gave me back 550 rps.
As a Chinese we were taught to do recite the multiplication table at six, and it took me less than one tenth of second to realise he did not give me enough change. I showed him the money and began to express myself when he shushed me again by saying “go away.”
So I left, obediently, basically because I was overwhelmed by his confidence and my own lack of it. I decided to sit down somewhere, have some lunch, get my phone back to work and then come up with some clues of what had just happened. I found a Momo restaurant.
Momo is the most basic food in Nepal, a bit like steamed dumplings in China. But it is often served with a sweet and chilli sauce which was amazing. there were beef momo, chicken momo, tofu momo or vegetable momo, basically in every Nepalese restaurants.
Most Nepalese restaurants never hesitated to keep their customers waiting for hours, because they only started cooking when an order was made. After I ordered my Momo I began to fix my phone and started my Google Map. Good, the internet started working. I gave a sign with relief as I saw the little blue spot of me showed up on the screen of my phone. It took me forty minutes to wait for my lunch to be served and ten minutes to gorge it down. Satisfied and happy, I left restaurant and started to browse Thamel.
Those darkly clustered shops on the street of Thamel boasted a great variety of goods: cloths, incense, spices, books, masks and antiques. Colourful signs were hang up high over buildings directing travellers to the different assortment of restaurants that serve Indian, Nepalese, Continental, French, Korean and Chinese. Next to them stood bakeries that seduced people with chocolate croissants, carrot cake, lemon meringue and apple pie. Streets were quite dirty, but there were equal amount of vividness and dark smoke in the air, it was indeed fascinating.
But I could not stay long; I had to go back to my hostel located in the suburb, before sunset, because the city was plagued by frequent blackouts, and stray bogs. I took out my phone again, trying to locate myself once more, and found my internet no longer working.
Painstakingly I managed to get back after all. That night I was drinking tea with some other travellers at the roof top of the hostel. The owner of the hostel, a Canadian named Nakash, told me that my phone was out of credit, and the other British guy who was also travelling in Kathmandu, told me he bought his sim card half a month ago for 100 rupees, “ good internet, hasn’t been low on credit yet”, he said proudly.
So, my first deal made in Nepal turned out to be a fiasco. But as I turned back and looked into the Kathmandu Valley, my heart was filled by serenity and pleasure, and nothing could seem to bother me.
- Photo Gallery: Thamel, Kathmandu (bournevoyage.com)