As we descended down the Friendship Highway, our journey into Nepal was about to begin. We said our goodbyes to Tashi and Dorje, before crossing over the Friendship Bridge and completing the almost too easy process of buying our Nepal visa and being stamped in. We were here – a major tick for us both as Nepal is a country we had both wanted to visit for a while.
We set off and a few hours later ended up in Bhaktapur – an old medieval city that these days almost sits on the outskirts of Kathmandu. It is widely accepted as the best preserved example of a medieval city in Nepal and we could see why. We checked into our hotel and had an amazing view over one of the City’s main town squares. All of a sudden we were not alone – tourists swarmed over the sights by day, as many came on day trips from the Capital. Come nightfall, it was much quieter. We were up early and had a good look around. Dean’s camera was on overdrive as he snapped everything and anything. The architecture was totally different to all we had seen already and with the Himalayas in the background it was perfect.
We left our rooftop room behind and made the short journey to Kathmandu – our base for the next five days. Firstly we had visa matters to deal with. We headed out by crazy taxi ride to the Myanmar embassy and lodged our application. We were then without our passports for three days. A strange feeling really as even though they were in safe hands (and the embassy was so amazingly helpful) our passports were our lifeline to the whole trip and home. We then set about heading out to see many of the sights. Durbar Square was our first stop. We happened to be there for the first time late afternoon, and we went into see the Living Goddess – a small girl who is selected to live and serve her Country until approximately puberty. She appeared for all of about 10 seconds to look down and see all these tourists staring up at her. Whilst there are many trappings that come with this role, as she nervously fiddled with her Red Cardigan, one couldn’t help but feel sorry for her.
We then went out to both Boudhanath Temple and Swayambhunath Temple (the Monkey Temple). Both were very grand Buddhist temples, quite different from each other, but what they had in common was the numerous prayer flags blowing in the breeze, offerings by pilgrims and the now familiar Nepali ‘eyes’ looking at us from the stupa. In particular we loved Boudhanath. As we were there around full moon, there were huge celebrations going on and monks everywhere. One young monk kept waving and smiling at me. I asked if I could take his picture and he loved it. He then hunted us down to wave goodbye on the way out! As the formalities ended, we followed the kora around in circles a couple more times, marveling in the beauty of the sight. It really was so impressive and was a photographers dream.
I have already written about ‘birthdays on the Road’ but this blog would not be complete without mentioning it again! Whilst some trekking does take place over the winter months, many of the popular tracks are closed or offer unpredictable weather conditions and so we made the decision not to do any serious trekking, but instead to focus on travelling around. The Himalayas are such a highlight of Nepal; we couldn’t not get as close to them and Everest as possible. This involved a Mountain flight conveniently timed for my Birthday. I was treated like Royalty the whole way through, from the cabin steward pointing out mountains to me, to being up in the cockpit as we got as close as possible to Everest (not to mention cake on the way back). I loved every minute of it. Such a thrill. The mountains just looked like meringue peaks and really were such a sight.
Throughout this trip we have been eating a lot of momos or dumpings. We prefer them steamed so they are soft packages of goodness! We decided to spend a morning learning how to make them. Initially we went to the markets to buy the ingredients, and then we set to. Not as easy as it looked but the end result was pretty tasty!
It was time to move on again and we took our first of the Nepali buses. This time we were heading out to Chitwan National Park down south. With 125 tigers we were hopeful to see one, although if the truth be known they are so hard to spot our guide had only seen them six times last year and waking tours are so popular in the park that our changes were slim. The lodge itself was a little haven by the water, and no sooner had we arrived but we heard calls of ‘Rhino, Rhino’. Our first sighting only thirty minutes after arriving! We spent the next couple of days trekking on foot, elephant and in a jeep. We saw several rhino, species of bird, monkey, crocodiles, deer and wild boar but the elusive tiger evaded us. There was a small part of me that was quite pleased about this as I didn’t fancy meeting him when I was eye-high to him! Now I should add here that I did something on this trip that I’m not proud of, was against my principles and still doesn’t sit well. Back in 2005 having volunteered at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand and seen the damage riding elephants can do to these magnificent creatures I vowed never to ride one again. In Chitwan elephant safaris are the norm and it just what you do, so reluctantly I went along with it as ultimately the revenue from riding them goes towards their food, but no sooner had we got on Sara our amazing lady, I felt bad. By then it was too late. There has been lots of work to improve the conditions for the great creatures in the park, but it still felt wrong and I wanted to get off as quickly as I could. When we had the choice to do it again later in the afternoon we declined and took the jeep instead. It was noisy and totally unsuitable for wildlife spotting (although ironically we saw much more despite breaking down twice!) it wasn’t harming anyone. Lesson learnt, never forget your principles.
Our next journey took us down to stunning Pokhara. The backdrop here is the Annapurna range, and we could not have been blessed with better weather. The ‘Fishtail Mountain’ was in clear view the whole time we were there. It is a holy mountain, and as such cannot be climbed. I had read about two museums that I fancied. Neither of us are museum people, but going out to these two proved an excellent decision. The first was the Mountain Museum. Whilst the exhibits themselves were very good, the jewel in the crown was the view over the Annapurna range. Stunning and not a cloud in the sky. The next was the Gurkha museum. Every year thousands and thousands of Nepalese queue up for the grueling selection process to join the Gurkhas. Perhaps the most interesting exhibits were the profiles of those Gurkhas who had been awarded the Victoria Cross and the various photographer displays tracing the history of the regiments.
Pokhara is set along Phewa Lake – the second largest lake in Nepal and makes for an amazing backdrop. We took a rowing boat out (with mixed success!) and a journey over to the World Peace Pagoda, but one of the key things to do in Pokhara is to ‘fly’ near the mountains as well as landing over and alongside the Lake. How could we turn down this opportunity to Paraglide? Dean will tell you more about it separately, but needless to say it was great fun. You could feel yourself flying like a bird with the hawks soaring nearby and the views were amazing.
As our journey through Nepal drew closer to the end, we took our penultimate bus journey. We wanted to get form Pokhara to Lumbini, via Bhairawa. The first leg of this journey should have taken five hours. We selected a journey over a scenic mountain pass and made an early start at 6.30am. Now at this point I’d like to introduce the characters in this soap opera. Firstly there was the driver. He liked to go incognito, wore a hoodie all day and either had a VERY heavy right foot (thank goodness for breaks) or was on a go slow. He systematically made half the bus sick. Then there was Mr. Suave. Mr. Suave only broke a smile once during the day. It was his job to collect money… oh and above all look cool. Finally there was bag boy. He was up and down on the roof like a yoyo storing luggage, as well as hanging out the door trying to muster up more passengers. He gave the shouts to the driver – one bang on the door to go and two bangs for him to screech to a halt for new passengers…. Now with our knees under our chin and a metal bar between our legs we set off on the five hour journey … or so we thought. This was supposed to be a long haul bus… instead we stopped (at bag boy’s request) every ten minutes to collect / drop off more passengers. At times our driver was racing round corners quicker than the best GP driver. All this resulted in was making several of the passengers’ ill… thankfully I was not one of them. Eventually we rolled into Bhairawa at 3pm…. Simple maths will tell you that this five hour journey had taken eight and a half hours. Worst still we weren’t even at our end destination! We had to catch another journey to Lumbini! We made it and it was worth the long haul. The sight where Buddha was born was a little underwhelming, but well worth going to. The temple complex there (where different nations have their own Buddhist monasteries) was fascinating as each was a reflection on the host country. We especially like the Myanmar one. After going to so many Buddhist temples it felt important to go to this sight.
So our journey through Nepal came to an end. The mountain scenery here was stunning and whilst we haven’t had the chance to trek this time, we vowed to come back and trek on another occasion. We have unfinished business at Everest Base Camp so see you sooner rather than later Nepal!