Monday, September 16, 2013

Couchsurfing in Kathmandu

This is Day 9 of Nepal Travelogue (May 21, 2013)
Mikael Enjoying the Hospitality Exchange

Following an eventful jungle expedition at Chitwan National Park, we came back to Kathmandu last evening and stayed at the same Budhanilkantha Family Kitchen for yet another night. The same room which was alien and ghostly just one week back was giving us a cozy vibe, partly because of the repeat experience and partly because of the caring Buddhist family; Sonam, his mother and sister. They even especially bought a kiddies’ bedsheet for our last night there and when we were leaving the whole family came outside to see us off!

Otherwise also, we generally found common Nepalese friendly and openhearted. One such person was Shally, a kindhearted Couchsurfer, who arranged to drop us personally to our next second home – Kathrine’s family where we would stay for the next few days – courtesy again Couchsurfing.

Had it not been an infringement in privacy, I could have dedicated this whole post to kind Kathrine, sociable Zaeem, and their equally lovely son Ryan who quickly accepted Misha and Mikael as his friends and was not hesitant in sharing his toys!

The expat family, who was living in an upscale Kthamandu neighborhood around Patan opened their hearts and doors for us and walked extra miles to make all of us feel comfortable. From the Swiss coffee to the mint flavored water and from those sumptuous dinners to arranging for rides around the town, they raised the hospitality bars too high. We also tried to reciprocate that by taking Pakistani gifts and then Urooba also prepared Chicken Karhai later on, but obviously this was no match of their generosity.

Apart from shifting from Budhanilkantha to Patan, we did nothing much today and no photography. From tomorrow, it will be the beginning of Part 3 when we would explore the Kathmandu valley, attend the Budha Jayanti festival in Bhaktapur, and visit the Nagarkot hill station till Day 14.So stay tuned for a another bunch of colorful posts.

Today’s Bills – in Nepali Rupees

200 Gifts Honey
110 Food Milk, etc
80 Grocery Including beard trimming!
430 Gifts For local friends
100 Telephony Mobile recharge
130 Gifts Sweets for BFK staff!
50 Logistics Microbus - Budhanilkantha to Koteshore
600 Accommodation Hotel Room Charges
500 Food Hotel Food Bill
2200 Total for May 21, 2013
27640 Total as of Today

Traveler’s Tip # 17: Hospitality Exchange
Friends often ask how could we manage to travel frequently? Especially the money thing – because traveling is considered an expensive endeavor. Some even suggest that we should rather save this money and perform Hajj first. So let me share the secret; this is the online Hospitality Exchange communities, especially Couchsurfing, which has enabled us traveling without getting bankrupted. Idea is simple; you host members of the community in your hometown, for free, and in return the community members welcome you at their place, convenience permitting.

Initially, I was a bit skeptical of the idea, due to security concerns mainly, but our first experience, when we hosted a French honeymooning couple on their Round the World road trip, was helpful in removing some doubts. Now after some more experiences, of both hosting and surfing, I can say this is not only a great way to save money while traveling and travel more but also an authentic source of cultural exchange.

This is, however, not as easy as it sounds, especially when you are travelling. First you need to invest time in searching and reading profiles of potential hosts before you start traveling. Second, you send requests mentioning your travel plan and why are you interested in staying with a particular host. Finally you patiently wait for a response, which is negative more often than not.

As everybody has their own preferences, we prefer surfing with family friendly hosts only, which limits our option so we often take resort to family run guesthouses. Even then, extensive network of these communities is helpful to get insider tips, before or during the trip, and if you are luckier you get in touch with someone who may show you around!

Traveler’s Tip # 18: Beware of Touts and Tourist Traps
While looking for some help at Couchsurfing Kathmandu forum, I noticed that most of the group members were there to find customers, which was a setback for me as this community is built with the spirit of mutual support without seeking commercial benefit.   

These touts were not limited to the internet as we were bugged almost everywhere in Nepal  by touts selling their touristy propositions hard. At times, this became unbearable. However, I would not blame Nepalese alone for this menace because this happen at every place which is a tourist target.  

So if you plan to go to Nepal, be aware of these touts. Try collecting information about your trip before you travel because this is the information gap which leads to a tourist trap. Always believe in your instincts and don’t lock-in to a deal without haggling around. In the meantime, try to be respectful amd responsible and as don’t throw away money just because you feel that your currency can buy a hell lot of local Rupees!

We did not encounter something dangerously bad; however, it is more about touts forcing you to go to their preferred outlets or they will try to charge you more than the market or try selling a souvenir at a ridiculous price. Whatever they do, they will be really compelling and so you need to be firm and determined.

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