If you really want to scramble your brains, then I recommend an overnight flight to Kathmandu via the Gulf, arriving at breakfast time with that vague feeling that your brain isn’t quite what it was the day before. There’s no time to regroup, however. Outside the airport I hand my over-heavy bags – the excess baggage fee was eye-watering – to the nice man from the Kathmandu Guest House, and dash over to the office of agent, Shiva Dhakal. Our passports are taken off us to be swallowed by the Chinese embassy and we briefly plan the next couple of days. It’s all about permits, supplies and those last minute items you mysteriously forgot to pack in the chaos of departure – like the all-important pee bottle.
Then Shiva’s driver drops us in Thamel and we’re exposed to the full kaleidoscopic confusion of South Asia’s premier travellers’ hangout. It’s good-natured and very loud chaos, with motorbikes swerving past you, rickshaw drivers pitching for business, shady looking youths offering hashish and every possible service imaginable for the tourist crammed into colourful but miniscule shop fronts. Back at the Kathmandu Guest House I top up my caffeine system and have a late breakfast. I’ve found the best way to avoid jet lag is not eating on the aircraft and having the appropriate meal as soon as I arrive.
Back on the street the souvenir hawkers are out in force, but there’s no time to haggle. We have to meet Prem Tamang, Julian’s regular expedition cook who I met last year in western Nepal. He’s a mixture of the Admirable Crichton and, when conditions are right, a character from a Raymond Chandler novel – those conditions being a jar of local homebrew. With Prem leading from the front, we find our favourite cash and carry. Last night on our stopover in Doha, we sketched out a rough shopping list featuring enough food for four of us for 18 days in Tibet. Because we’re starting in vehicles, we can afford some extra treats.
As usual, Sudir is behind his counter observing the street. His eyes light up when he sees our list. In just an hour we’ve collected a sizeable pile of rice, flour, oil, lentils, tea, sugar, powdered milk and tins of doubtful looking cooked meat and Sudir’s smile is getting wider. It’s not Tesco’s. There are dogs yapping in the backyard and the noise from the street is raucous. But it’s immense fun as Sudir tries to sell us more stuff, and we chip away at the total bill, demanding ever more ludicrous discounts. Having got pretty much everything, Julian leans across the counter: ‘You do deliver, don’t you?’ Sudir waggles his head in the affirmative. Tomorrow we’ll be packing it all.
Read Ed’s background on the trip