19.04.2012 - 20.04.2012
Nepal is a bit like a fusion of India and China, and not coincidently, it lies between those two giant countries. When it works well it combines the best aspects of both of these great cultures and makes it into something uniquely Nepali and wonderful. When it works badly, it can be truly irritating, combining the Indian scams with the Asian “saving face” mentality means it’s very difficult to get to the bottom of things.
When we arrived in Kathmandu we took a taxi into the city and immediately there was a “tour guide” included with our ride. Apparently some tour agencies pay taxi cab drivers to allow their agents to jump into YOUR taxi taking you to town so that they can be the first to try to sell you a packaged tour. However the sales pitch was nowhere near as persistent or irritating as the ones we heard in India and once the guy realized we didn’t want a tour he still made sure the taxi driver took us to our destination. We also immediately noticed on our way how much cleaner Kathmandu was than any of the Indian cities we’ve been to. No mounds of garbage or cow dung everywhere! This is not to say that Kathmandu is a clean city by any means, it’s just that in comparison, it actually seemed like a breath of fresh air.
We got to our hostel, the Elbrus Home, and were greeted by a very friendly guy who spoke limited English so he asked us to sit down and wait for his boss to check us in. When the boss showed up he was very friendly and he told us “your room is on the other side of the street, the boy will take you there”. Thinking maybe this hostel is split between two buildings we followed across the street into a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT hotel that looked nothing like the room we booked on-line.
We immediately went back to the office but the “boss” who we found out is also the owner had conveniently left for the day by now. It was a rude awakening that while Nepal is certainly very friendly it’s still a country where you must stand up for yourself, or people will take advantage. We refused to leave the hostel office until we got the room we booked. The boy who was there finally called the owner and got me on the phone. At first the owner tried to play it off like nothing was wrong, but after he realized I wasn’t going to take that accommodation, he started making all kinds of excuses as to why our room wasn’t available. Clearly he gave our room away to someone else who had just come from the street and booked 3 nights while we only booked 1 night on-line and a week ahead of time. He figured he would get away with sticking us anywhere for just one night and we wouldn’t bother complaining. Finally he offered us accommodation at his other property called Avalon House. I had to ask him several times how far the other hostel was and I made the boy point it out on a map before I finally agreed to at least look at the room.
The owner promised us a cab to the new property, but as we went downstairs, and one of his guys kept going with one of our bags, it became clear he had no intention of waving down a cab. It was a good 10 minute walk with a very heavy backpack on my back.
The room itself was OK and much closer to the quality we originally booked. It even had a pretty nice view from the nearby terrace. However, this was definitely not a very favourable first impression and a very general lesson for Nepal as we would find out later. The lesson was DO NOT BOOK AHEAD OF TIME anywhere in Nepal unless you are really travelling at the absolute peak of high season. Booking ahead of time gets you a higher price and a good chance of your room being given away to someone who just walked off the street while you get stuck with the crappiest room in the entire establishment, or perhaps in a different establishment.