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So, you have arrived into Kathmandu early in the morning, either from New Delhi or Doha, and depart the next day late at night on the many late night flights out. Or you’ve just arrived by the overnight bus from Sunauli, and need a quick run in Kathmandu before heading to trek. Or well, you’ve just got 36 hours in Kathmandu. If so, this is what I’d do.

First stop – laze around Thamel, get your bearings. Start your day with tea or coffee at the Kathmandu Guest House. Then wander over to the New Orleans cafe for a proper breakfast. Kathmandu has some of the best bakery on the sub continent, so get some before you head back to the hotel. Wander around, and on the way back drop by the used book shop to find your own gems. Nearby local areas of Chettrapati, Pakanajol, Shrokhuttee should engage your senses.

Morning Band

It’s midday and now time to head over to the Patan Durbar Square for some real action. We first have lunch at Lakpa’s Chulo. Take a cab, to this slightly hidden restaurant in Jhamsikhel. This local eatery has a good take on fusion of some local dishes – like the cheese momo. The mains are excellent as well. Along with the ambience, they have real coffee and tea.

Once your senses and stomach are filled, explore Patan. You can start by walking out from Lakpa Chulos’, through the narrow lane towards the Ugrachandi Temple. After that continue towards the left. Cross the main streets towards the durbar square. There are plenty of nooks and corners to stop by, and getting hold of a map for the walking tour of Patan is helpful.

Patan Durbar Square requires a stop at Patan Museum, and then at one of the local eateries for a tea and to watch the world go by. More adventurous would go get some snack at Honocha’. From the Durbar Square, walk towards the Bagalamukhi and Khumbeshor temple and then walk back to  Patan Dhoka. Walk the alleys, look for ancient houses in between modern concrete buildings. And don’t be afraid to walk through small doors into courtyards, you might be surprised. When you get tired, just take a cab back to your hotel.

Tripureshwor

It’s evening, and the Kathmandu night life is coming into Action. Head to Rum Doodle, not just a pub, but an institutions in itself. In there, write your own memories on the foot of the yeti at the 40000 1/2 feet bar. Order the hot rum punch, and say hello to Yog, the manager and bar tender who has meet all Everest summiteers. Buy the book, but make sure you’ve read ‘Annapurna’ by Maurice Herzog.

Though Rum Doodle has good grub, head over to the Thakali Bhancha, now behind the old royal palace, for some Thakali action. Eat buckwheat roti, and gulp down some jwhai khatte. If it’s the weekend, you can indulge in some late night clubbing at the Attic next door or just go back and sleep.

Its morning again, and you go on the requisite Mountain Flight. Your hotel or any of the numerous travel agents would be able to sell you a ticket. Mountain flights take you amazingly close to four (out of eight) 8000m peaks in Nepal in the Everest Region. It’s worth the money, specially if you are not trekking.

Depending on the weather and time of year, you’ll be back in your hotel for breakfast after the flight. Skip the hotel breakfast and walk over to Asan/Indrachowk through Teuda, Bhedasingh, and Akash Bhairab temples. Enjoy your breakfast of hot jeri swari and halwa. Add the milk tea to the mix, and you’d have enough sugar rush for the entire day.

Asan is full of Life, Always

After breakfast, continue exploring the Kathmandu Durbar Square area, it’s various alleys including the famous ‘hash street’ from the 60s hippy era. Try to bargain for trinkets in the big open square and visit the museum which chronicles the 250 years of Shah Kings in Nepal.

Kathmandu Valley is made up of three ancient districts, Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. You have now done the first two, time to cab it to Bhaktapur. The drive will take you through the core of Kathmandu commercial markets and new developments. Once in Bhaktapur, make a bee line to the Nyatapol Café. It’s the view of the entire square with some hot tea that makes you feel that you’ve left the rush of the valley behind and are just content letting time pass.

Alley in Bhaktapur

Once your feet are rested and you are energized, explore Bhaktapur. If you don’t already have a guide, many of the friendly guides loitering around will offer their services. It helps to have a navigator in Bhaktapur.

After your afternoon at Bhaktapur, try to beat the rush hour traffic and head to Boudha. A clever cab driver will avoid the main roads and take you through the back roads, and let you enjoy the villages and vegetable fields in the heart of the valley.

Boudha is rich with Tibetan heritage, and your place to understand Thankas and have a afternoon snack of Tibetan momos. It’s also your place to buy Tibetan music and prayer beads. Go around the Stupa for a good measure and have salted tea on the teashop around the stupa. Wait until it gets dark for the candle lightings and light a few yourself. You can then take a short cab ride or even walk down to the Pashupati temple and immerse in the evenings pooja sounds.

It’s your last few hours in Kathmandu, and so you want a nice dinner after all that hard walk. So indulge by going for dinner at Krishnarpan, a restaurant at the exquisite Dwarika Hotel. Over a course of 22 course dinner, you’ll get served with various staples of Nepali food and entertained with cultural dances from different parts of Nepal.

Open Fields in Kathmandu Valley

Now that your time is nearly over, time to head over to the Airport, happy that your time has been well spent, and you’ll sleep well on the plane. I’d grab a beer at the Radisson run Airport Restaurant before boarding. Bon Voyage.
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I have travelled a lot. i don’t dispute that. I have travelled extensively within Nepal – possibly been to more than 70% of the country. And then since 1999 travelled many parts of the World. But it was in 2003 that I did rather large amount of International travels, and eventually got my Frequent Flier Gold status by May 2003.

One of the most interesting trip I did that year didn’t include any Star Alliance carrier until I was on my way home. This was possibly one of the longer trips I had taken at that point, almost three weeks. Destinations wise I went to Kampala, Uganda; Nairobi, Kenya; and Kabul, Afghanistan.

The first segment of the trip was on Gulf Air. I distinctly remember this flight. It was what they called ‘Gulf Traveller’ aircraft. So, there was no business class, but they had the front section empty and only few passengers in that segment. I think given my ticket was in a higher booking class, I was in the front section. While I was treated well enough, I was appalled by the treatment meted to the other passengers though. The majority of the passengers were people headed to the Gulf region to work, and clearly for them this was possibly their first time on an aircraft. Their English was non existent. And clearly, the Flight attendants were not interested in helping the passengers, but more inclined to despise them. I thought I’d not be flying Gulf Traveller ever in Future.

The second segment was rather unique, now that I think of it. It was from Abudhabi to Dubai in Gulf Air proper. I didn’t realize until we were airborne and landed that the flight lasted like 20 minutes, and the two airports were 116 KM apart. There was also a special bus service between the two airports, but since I couldn’t figure out the visa regulations, whether the airport to airport bus was airside or landside, I had asked the travel agent to put me on a plane. This flight was good for what lasted. There wasn’t anything to report. The flight took off and then landed. Must be one of the shortest scheduled flights anywhere.

Third segment was also my first flight on Emirates. I flew Dubai (DXB) to Entebbe (EBB). The plane stopped in Nairobi, where they cleaned the plane with all the continuing passengers onboard. This was my first trip to an AFNOG. AFNOG was in Kampala. The airport to the city drive is about an hour or more, and at the airport you can clearly see signs of the civil war that had ruined Uganda for many years. It was also at Entebbe Airport that Israeli Commandos had stormed a hijacked plane and rescued its citizens. So there was history. Interestingly, the laptop i was carrying drew attention of the customs officials there, and so I resorted to flashing my UN identification, which was still valid. That cleared all ways automagically. I do have to add that I got visa on arrival, though a month earlier I had spent time and effort and lost about INR 2200.00 in trying to get a visa for Uganda in New Delhi.

But otherwise, Uganda was good. Kampala had nice variety of foody joints, and we even managed to find time to go and watch the 2nd installment of the Matrix Series. I think the Indian Restaurant at the Mall was rather good and we went there a few times. Later, a group of us went on a tour of Lake Victoria – the source of the Nile River. We went to the exact source, and also stopped by in the town of Jinja. Jinja is a interesting place. It used be a major trading hub dominated by businessmen of Indian Origin. But Idi Amin one day in 1972 decided to throw them all out. They all left, most went to UK, I am told. The town somewhat reminded of the older houses in semi-urban India – definitely there was Indian influences in those houses. Interestingly, during our trip there we also found out that MTN- the pan-African Telco was laying fiber from Kampala towards Kenya. So on the road to Jinja, we could see the progress being made. During the conference different groups of people were going to Lake Victoria each day, and so we even measure progress per day on the laying of fiber.
We all went to the source of the Nile river.
After Kampala, the next stop was Nairobi. Flew on Kenya Airways. First time to Kenya for me as well. Given that I had been advised that Nairobi was better known as Nairobbery, I was cautious. But then I had good company. We were 3 people who flew from Entebbe, and Bill Woodcock and I were in the same hotel, it was smooth. Apart from visiting the KENIC, KIXP and bunch of other ISPs, we took one day off to go visit the National Park. It was great experience in the open Jeep. And of course, when in Nairobi, you are eventually taken to the ‘Carnivore’. It’s a restaurant near the National Park, where game meat is served alongs side regular meat. If you don’t eat meat, this is probably not the place to go. Though, in later visits, I realized that they did have non-meat items of the menu.

From Kenya, I flew Kenya Airways to Dubai. I think some aspects of service was better on Kenya Airways was better then Emirates. In Dubai, I had a bit of a tricky time trying to find out where my United Nations (UN) flight to Kabul departed from. Finally, found out that it went from the other terminal. Found the bus that took me across, and then spend the time in the small terminal. It was in this terminal, I found a Nepali Guy working the counter at the Sandwich shop. In the past, I had rarely seen any Nepali worker in a position dealing with customers. Generally, it’s the Filipino in the customer facing roles, Indians in mid-management/supervisory roles and Nepalis/Bangladeshis and the rest in the backroom. While this probably still the overwhelming case, as more experienced Nepali workers go abroad due to domestic conflict, I have seen more and more in front office roles. A few years later, checking-in to hotel in Qatar – everyone from the hotel security, checkin to bellboy were Nepalis.

I’ll write about the visit to Kabul some other time. But, two weeks after departing Dubai, I was back there again heading towards Kathmandu. I was flying Thai through bangkok. I had just attained Gold Status with Thai the previous month. But I didn’t have the card, so I brought a print out of the site. This was going to be my first visit to the lounge. This was a small lufthansa lounge. I had arrived quite early around Four in the afternoon, for a flight that departed almost around mid-night. I went to the lounge, talked to the guy at the counter. He was indeed very friendly, and called up Thai to verify that I was indeed Gold. Once verified he let me in and I was happy. Later around eight, I went out and got my boarding pass. And was back home the next day in the afternoon, after about a month.

I find Japan charming. It’s got its quirks, and the language doesn’t really help, but people make up for it. My recent visit was the fifth since 2003, and third in as many years.  First the visa – of the many countries and embassies that I go to for visas, Japan is unique that it requires original letters of invitations. printed or e-mailed ones are not acceptable. They need the paper with the squarish red stamp on it. But once you get that piece of invitation, it’s kinda straight forward. No questions asked. I think being the fifth time they weren’t as meticulous as they’d be on a first time visitor though.

Flights to Japan are non-incident in general. But if you fly Thai Airways, you can be sure that the flight to Tokyo possibly gets one of the best planes on the fleet. When i flew last week, it was the latest 777-200ER that they leased from Jet Airways. Given that this was Extended Range (ER) air-craft meant to fly India – USA non-stop, the seat pitch even in economy was really good. So, it was indeed a good flight.

Arrival in Tokyo is fun. They land on the never finished runway with a farm right there in the middle.  The well known story is that the farmer who owns that piece of land didn’t like the way government officials mis-using imminent domain rules to expand the airport that he fought back and the courts ruled in his favour. Meaning that the government can’t force him to sell it. so, the runway remains far shorter then it would have been. you can see this picture http://www.airliners.net/photo//0874120/M/.

The charm of Japan is in its service standards. Even before you hit the Immigration official, you’ll pass through at least two other ‘helpers’ who will check if you have the forms and another one who’ll come walking the queue to see if your forms are filled correctly. I believe that this does save time eventually, but also helps visitors, who has been confined to the airplane for long hours. Even frequent fliers tends to make mistake after being in the sanitized air of an air-craft for longer hours. A little bit of help, does help.

Sometimes the Japanese can overdo the ‘stewards’ bit though. It’s common to walk through a conference or an event in Japan with two stewards standing every corner and every hallway with signs. I’d rather believe that most people attending these events are more than capable of finding their way.

Japanese food is another of its charm. You can get equally interesting boiled, fried, baked and even raw stuff. I prefer shoba noodles to ramen. This time around I got to try some interesting Ekonomi-akai Osaka style- in tokyo. Though for some reason, I didn’t eat any sushi. Time was well spent on other foods.  Even at Narita Airport, there are some good food places now in the Airport Mall. And my highlight was the Hagen-Diaz icecream vending machine.

Departure proceedings in Japan are fairly straight forward, and the ANA lounge was great. I was invited into the first class section by my friend Mr. Toyama. Irrespective of which lounge you are – ANA possibly are the only airlines which has a proper kitchen in the lounge and you can get your choice of noodles at the noodles bar.

Before ending, just so that you don’t think I was in Japan to just have fun, I was there for a reason. I was speaking at a major Japanese Internet Conference -  Interop-Japan. One of the founders of the event Toru Takahashi from IAJ had asked us to be part of a panel on Internet Exchange Points around the World. I was speaking about IXP Trends in Asia Pacific Region. While I didn’t go to any other sessions, as most were in Japanese, the exhibition was enormous. I’ll spare the details, but the highlight was a 100GigE circuit between two Cisco CRS-3. Now beat that.

I suddenly felt the urge to write about an older trip today, while I am waiting for my next flight to Tokyo.  One of my favourite pastimes at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport is to check out the departure screens for flights to destinations that I can’t pronounce in a single go. The many times that I have flown through different airport, I haven’t seen flights to such unique destinations from one locations.  Where would you find flights going to Yekaterinburg, St Denis de la Reunionn, and Tashkent on a display screen. I find Bangkok unique in that aspect. On a broader scale, of course lots of flights to secondary cities all over Asia and to major cities in Africa.  And there is variety too. A few years ago, I counted that I could fly almost a dozen airlines from Bangkok to Singapore or Hongkong.

But now, back to my flights from a few years ago. It was August 2005. I did a crazy routings of flights. In the first phase, I went to Karachi – my first time to Pakistan. It was fun. The PIA experience – I was given a seat in business class in the Kathmandu – Karachi sector,  – but with economy service. It was one of their A310.  Of the five people who actually were going to Karachi, I was one. The rest were all connecting to destinations in the Gulf.  The details of my security escort in Karachi is a story for another day. But I did enjoy the food and the people I met in Karachi and we setup the ground for hosting the first SANOG in Pakistan in 2006.

After Karachi, I flew PIA to Delhi. I spent about 12 hrs in Delhi. While I was expecting hassle at IGI, it was as smooth as it could get. I could see that the Immigration guy was relieved to see a non-Indian or a non-Pakistan passport. Less work for him, I believe.  My 12 hrs in Delhi was spent visiting friends and eating lunch and dinner. I had a car pick me up from the airport, go around town all day with me and then drop me off at the airport again in the evening. Delhi can be intimidating for first time visitors, but definitely it’s fun , if you know your way around the system there.

In fact, I had no real reason for being in Delhi – other then how my flights got done. I was en-route to to Ulan Bator in Mongolia. If you use the Great Circle Mapper (http://gc.kls2.com), you realize that Karachi to Ulan Bator is about 2670 miles or roughly 6 hrs flight duration. But then I was booked Karachi- Delhi – Singapore – Seoul – Ulan Bator, turning it into roughly a 33 hours long run.

The flights themselves were not that interesting, but I had a misconnect in Singapore, but SQ were so good that when I arrived, they had already moved me to a later flight and prepared new boarding pass to Seoul – Incheon. From Seoul to Ulan Bator, I flew the Mongolian Airlines (MIAT). It was a nice new 737 Aircraft. Of course, my bags didn’t make it to ULN that night with me. It arrived the next day. I never figured out if it was left in Singapore or in Seoul. The bag was tagged with so many pieces of paper that it was a jumble.

After a week in ULN doing BGP Multihoming with the good Dr. Smith, the return was not eventful at all. Korean Airlines (KE) to Seoul. Both Philip and I thought we had business class seats, but then there was no visible difference from the Economy class.  I flew back to Delhi on Singapore Airlines from Seoul. Bags made it with me.

But this was not the end. A few months before this trip, I had a trip to Mumbai cut short  due to massive floods in Mumbai. It was now time for me to finish that trip. So I flew the excellent Jet Airways to Mumbai and back. And finally back to Kathmandu.

On this one trip, I had flown on 5 Airlines, flew 7,300+ miles to cover a distance of 2670 miles, had misconnected, missed bags and was now back home in about 3 weeks.  I had visited 3 countries, and transited through two more.

I know how I ended up with this complex routing. For the non-regular travelers, it may not make sense – but it does if you look at it deeper. The choices of flying to Ulan Bator were limited, either I had to fly through Beijing or through Seoul.  Flying back to Kathmandu from Karachi would also have resulted in another set of flight that would have taken me to Beijing or Seoul via Bangkok. So, in terms of absolute number of flights or time – it wouldn’t have really made a difference. On the other hand, I still had the un-utilized Delhi-Mumbai- Kathmandu portion of my ticket from the aborted trip a few months earlier. Thus if I flew to Delhi from Karachi, I would have the return already covered. In the short of it – by going via Delhi, I saved myself one Kathmandu – Delhi Flight. Make sense, doesn’t’ it.

Even if it doesn’t, don’t worry  – now you can fly direct from Kathmandu to Seoul on certain days, and hopefully the non-regular flight between ULN and BKK will become regular one day.

Safe Travels !!

On my recent trip to Europe, an amazing confluence of travel and technology made it a lot more fun. I travelled from Kathmandu to Kosovo via Abudhabi, Frankfurt and Vienna. Abudhabi and Vienna were uneventful and were only transit stops. Frankfurt, I had some work to finish off, so was a proper stop. That is where it was interesting.

For those of you who travel a bit more then usual, Dopplr.com is a site that I’ve been using for a while. I think I got an really early on invite to the site – and then have been using it. Nice thing is once i update my Dopplr account with my travel data, i can subscribe the feed to my calendar.  Of course, like any web 2.0 application, you add friends and links and networks in Dopplr and then connect to it  from Facebook. The Facebook linkage is fun. Dopplr, once you give it permission, will send nice updates to your Facebook wall with your travel plans and a map.

So, this trip to, my Facebook Wall was automatically updated that I was traveling to Frankfurt. A friend of mine, whom I haven’t seen for a few years was traveling from Vancouver to Cape Town – also through Frankfurt. Once in Frankfurt and on the Internet, he spotted that I would be in Frankfurt Airport as well and send me a message.  I wasn’t in the Airport, but then got the message and then we meet up for beer and dinner at the Airport. How Cool.. !!

This is not the first or the last time I guess combination of different online social networks will help us socialize more,  but do concede that I was amazed at the speed which this interaction took place.

More about this trip on a later blog..

So, it’s been a while I haven’t been on an international flight, 21 days to be exact.   The last time I nearly got onto one – but didn’t –  it was unusual (my travel agents words, not mine), it ended up good, as the subsequent flights and my return flights got cancelled due to the Icelandic Volcano, which of course like everyone else, I can’t pronounce or spell. Going back into this trip, I had to cancel going to Riyadh, because the visa didn’t come through on time. So, from being on a trip that would have taken me to Riyadh, Frankfurt and Brussels, I stayed home all the time. -well not really – I went to Pokhara.  The turn of events was, I agree, unusual. I was going to fly Etihad Airways for the first time – that has to wait too now.

So, how is it to be not on the ‘road’ for almost a month. I think not much different. But, all the time you spend traveling, you end up doing other stuff.. which might have taken a back seat. Like this blog setup. All it needed was a few hours to tweak around. I hadn’t had the time to do that for more than two years now. That brings to the next question – was I being more productive just because I had lots of time or  because most people thought I was on the road, and had no expectations of me in Kathmandu ?  I have no idea. But at least the first 3-4 days after I was supposed to have flown out – I didn’t get any calls other than from my Travel Agent.

Anyway, it’s getting around the time for lunch, so let’s talk about food. I think when I am in Kathmandu, I do go to a fair number of foodie places. So, sometime in the last thee weeks, I did manage to go the not-so-new anymore Pizza Hut in Durbar Marg. The pizza was pretty good, I’d say.  And also this new place called ‘Caferina’ – which is in Sherpa Mall – the food is hit or miss. But, Lakpa’s Chulo in Jhamel still wins hands down on both food and ambience. The service is also great. I also found out that Rum Doodle has moved locations within Thamel. The new place is large and airy – but quite not the cosy atmosphere from the old location. Rum Doodle still has the best Rum Punch in town and that’s what matters more than the location.

What else.. being in Kathmandu, I had my scooter repaired, upgraded RAM on an older Laptop, found time to look through some old backups to get them onto this laptop and so on. I also found time to upload pictures to Facebook. Quite interesting to see that I had people commenting even before the entire album was uploaded.

The world is connected even if you are not on the road.