Nepal

We Wish You a Merry Christmas!

It’s sunny, it’s 60F/15C, we’re in Nepal, and it feels like just about anything but Christmas Eve as we’re used to it back home.

That said, the people of Nepal have put up some decorations to let you know it’s that time of year and through the grace of our new friend John we enjoyed Christmas carols at the British School this evening followed by a wonderful dinner at the Red Dingo.  Local carolers even dropped by the restaurant — see for yourself!

 So from Nate and I in Nepal, we wish you a very Merry Christmas! Et joyeux anniversaire maman!!! 🙂

Patan

Today we started making our way further around the Kathmandu Valley with a day trip to Patan.  Patan is one of three towns in the Kathmandu valley where the Mallas sought to outdo each other with temples and the like, so it’s got quite the rich history. 

We got a late start, only getting the taxi around 11. This because we ran into some fellow trekkers, Scott and Murry, at the Casa de Cafe. We’d bumped into these two on our last day before flying out of Lukla. They were on their way up to Everest Base Camp.  We caught up over lattes and breakfast. I’ve been amazed at how many people from the trek we’ve since seen wandering around Thamel.

The taxi dropped us off by the fair trade stores. Unlike in Thamel, these stores have fixed prices with the added benefit that you can also be sure the crafts men and women are being fairly paid for their work. We walked up and down the street and in and out of many stores looking at the wares and making some small purchases.

Next, we made our way to the Patan City Gate.  We grabbed some snacks at an awesome little Indian eatery called Anmol Sweet. We had a couple samosas and burfis each, along with some tea and a lassi. The food was spectacular and it was the cheapest we’ve had in the valley.

From there we followed the Lonely Planet walking tour for Patan. It’s an enjoyable walk that takes you through some back alleys, from one ornate thing to another. Patan isn’t as busy as downtown Kathmandu so it was a little more relaxed as well.  We ended the tour in Durbar Square (not the same Durbar Square as in Kathmandu. There are a lot of Durbar Squares… it turns out as there is one in Bhaktapur as well) where we wandered around, photographing shrines and temples like all the rest of the tourists.

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How to climb an elephant

Nate demonstrating his flawless technique and making it look much easier than it is easy to climb an elephant from the trunk…

 

Chitwan: Day 2

We got a 5:30 wake up call this morning to start our activities. It was still dark out when we left the cabin for tea at 6:00 and it was damp and misty.

Our first scheduled event was another elephant ride in the jungle. Given the wetness, it wasn’t long before our legs were completely soaked from romping around in the underbrush. Since I’d not brought a hat (dumb, but true. This is the jungle, I didn’t expect it to be cold) I was wearing my Buff (I got it to use for covering mouth an nose in Kathmandu but it serves good double duty) as a hat.  Walking through trees it quickly got yanked off my head by and errant branch. I’d though sure it was gone but the elephant driver turned around and the elephant managed to sniff it out in the undergrowth an pick it up. Pretty amazing really.

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In terms of wildlife, it was another productive morning. We started almost immediately with a wild boar. This was followed shortly with another sighting of rhesus monkeys and to top it off yet another rhino sighting.  Apparently, we’ve been quite lucky so far with two rhino sightings.  Some people come several times before they see a rhino. 

This one was “bathing” in a mudhole when we saw him.  It was quite the effort for him to pull himself out.  And of course it had to mark its territory!  With all the mist, it was really a surreal sight.

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As we made our way back to get off the elephant, the driver let Anne take a turn “at the wheel”. She hopped on up front and enjoyed a couple minutes riding the elephant all by herself!

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The elephant ride was succeeded by a walk in the jungle and a boat ride to see crocodiles. We got a short safety briefing from the guide about how to behave (basically everything here is dangerous and will kill you somehow. For sloth bears you stay together and make noise. For rhinos, you get behind or climb a tree. For tigers… just pray) before heading off. Our guide himself walks with a limp due to a rhino attack. Apparently his party stumbled on a rhino and it tossed him like a rag doll, breaking his collar bone and messing up his leg pretty badly.

Alas, we saw no big game but we did see a nice list of smaller things: intermediate egrets, ruddyshell ducks, white throated kingfishers, tiger territorial markings (from this morning no less), gharial crocodiles (from shore), black ibis, white kingfishers, woodpeckers, warblers, storks, vultures, an eagle, and an osprey. And all this before lunch!

With a couple hours of downtime, we grabbed some masala tea and just flaked our for a while. From the porch of our cabin we can see a large tribe of rhesus monkeys on the other side of the river, drinking and playing. There’re also a couple spotted deer at the rivers edge eating and drinking. It’s quite the jungle experience!

Next, well be going on a birdwatching walk. We didn’t bring a pair of binoculars, so the guide’s going to grab us a pair. With the wide range of species around, it should be a great time.

 

Elephants and Rhinos! Oh my!

We just got back from our first foray into Chitwan National Park. As luck would have it, our first outing was an elephant ride into the jungle. I’ve only been on an elephant once when I was a kid and my parents put me on one at the zoo; Anne’s not ridden an elephant at all. The elephant came and we climbed up to the boarding platform. The elephant backed up and we hopped onto a 3 foot square “saddle” that was woven of fire-hose with a wooden railing surrounding it all. We each sat on a side, legs draped down such that the railing was at chest level. On top of it all, it was just the two if us and the driver. So needless to say, it was an exciting start.

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We made straight for the river, and proceeded to cross (another first, I’ve certainly never crossed a river by elephant!). Once in the other side, we pretty much went wherever the driver said, plowing through brush and trees at will.

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It turned out to be a productive outing too! We saw a rhino on the river bank eating and tracked him along until he finally had enough of us and went to the opposite shore. As well, we saw some wild rhesus monkeys playing in the trees and some ruddyshell ducks. In all, an excellent afternoon romp in the jungle.

On the Road to Chitwan

We woke up at 5:45 this morning to catch the bus that would take us to Chitwan National Park and our lodge, the Island Jungle Resort. We’d not yet taken a bus in Nepal, so trying to learn the system was a little interesting.

All the buses bound for everywhere line up on a street (near our hotel it turned out) and you basically wander the line trying to find your specific bus. It actually wasn’t hard, and by the anointed time of 6:30 we’d found the right bus and were seated. Boarding call was at 6:30 but the bus didn’t leave till 7:10, giving us plenty of time to get assailed by street vendors.

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The bus ride itself took us from the hills of the Kathmandu valley to the flatlands along the border of India. It was a narrow and winding road that snaked it’s way through valleys and along the Trisuli river. Nepal driving being what it is, there was of course heroic passing around blind corners, several times I was sure that motorcycles passing us would be turned into hamburger. We did pass a truck that had ventured too close to the mountain side of the road and fallen into the ditch that was the roads shoulder, leaving it high center on the drivetrain with both sides wheels in the air.

We stopped along the way for a quick break. Anne and I were both cold at this point, having dressed for jungle temperatures that hadn’t yet appeared so we were happy to grab some hit milk tea and snack on some hot French fries.

At around noon, we finally arrived at our first stop, the Island Jungle Resort in Bharatpur Heights. Still well over an hour from the jungle, we grabbed yet another set of milk tea and lunch. Here, the temperatures were warm and we soaked up the sun while we waited for the next bus that would take us to the Island lodge.

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Anxious, we were shuttled onto the bus around 1:30 and slowly made our way to the park, passing through flatlands that make up a rich farmland backed by the sentinel hills from whence we had come. Given the proximity to India, the area certainly has a different feel than the Kathmandu valley and the Khumbu. The clothing is brighter and you could probably mistake yourself for being in India if you weren’t paying attention.

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After turning off the main road, we traveled along a small dirt road with what appeared to be mud houses. All the children along the way waved as we passes and we waved back. This carried on for another 20 minutes or so until we finally reached the river bank and saw our boat coming to get us. We made the (thankfully) uneventful crossing and started to the lodge only to be blocked by an elephant on the trail. While it was one that belonged to the lodge, they can still be unpredictable so we turned around and found another route.

Finally, we were at the lodge and ready to start our jungle adventure!

Another day, another temple…

Today took us to Swayambhunath (aka the Monkey Temple) on the western edge of town.  Why it is affectionately called the Monkey Temple should be readily apparent from the pictures below. The monkeys are apparently considered holy because Manjushree, the bodhisattva of wisdom and learning who raised the hill where the temple stands, did not cut his hair and grew head lice which transformed into said holy monkeys. The complex is fascinating in combining both strong Buddhist and Hindu architecture and traditions.

Tomorrow, we head into Chitwan National Park for a safari.  We’ll be gone for 4 days — so no blog updates for a little while…

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Late afternoon at the Bodhnath Stupa

We bumped into a fellow trekker at the coffeeshop this morning who let us know there was a Buddhist festival at the Bodhnath Stupa until the end of today.  So we dropped by this afternoon for this magical experience.  There were hundreds of Buddhist monks sitting around the stupa chanting mantras.  Here’s a collection of pictures from both of us.

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Back in Kathmandu

Annenate

We’re now back in Kathmandu after our 20-day trek through the Khumbu region.  We’re both in good shape besides a persistent case of the so-called Khumbu cough.  We visited both the Gokyo Valley and Gorak Shep area in the course of our trip, and climbed Gokyo Ri (5,357m/17,575ft) and Kala Patthar (5,545m/18,192ft). 

We’re now indulging ourselves in Kathmandu for a couple of days before heading to Chitwan National Park in the Terai area of Nepal where we’ll be on the lookout for Bengal tigers, one-horn rhinoceroses and various other jungle creatures.  We’ll be back posting about our trekking adventures in the days/weeks to come…

Day 20: Flight to Kathmandu

The alarm was set for 6:30 this morning but like most of the mornings on the trek, we didn’t need it. We’d set up for tea and a Mars roll at breakfast before our 8:30am flight and wanted to make sure we were prepared to go. As it turned out, it was really a rush for nothing. Weather in Kathmandu was preventing (or at least significantly delaying) flights to Lukla.

We waited around, the sort of patient nervousness that accompanies you when you’re not sure exactly when you’re going to need to bolt. The man running the lodge we were at, an uncle of Dorje (Dorje has so many uncles in the region I actually wonder if it was the word he used to describe any sort of general family relation), worked for the airline so as it turned out we were almost the first to know that flights were starting up. It was about 9:30 before we left for the airport where we waited till almost 11 before finally getting on the airplane. Since Dorje knew the system so well, or at least manipulated it to his will, we walked right into the terminal and put our bags first in line, cutting significantly in front of a huge pile of luggage that was headed back to Kathmandu from an Ama Dablam expedition. While waiting, Dorje would walk in and out of the terminal and onto the tarmac drawing a stark contrast between the security at airports in the US and that of the Lukla Airport.

Flights were coming and going in waves, stopping only long enough to unload and load before taking off again. Indeed, the turnaround was so fast that the planes only ever turned off the engine on the passenger side. We hustled out, first in line again, and boarded a Dornier 228. Looking at flights leaving, it appears almost like a carnival ride at takeoff. The airplanes sit at uphill end of the runway, spool up the engines as high as they’ll go, and then launch over the threshold to the 12 degree slope. It reminded me in no uncertain terms of the first drop most rollercoasters have, the slow buildup to the precipice.

What looked somewhat frightful really wasn’t, as we sped down the runway and took off with smoothness that was simply uneventful. The flight was a little more fun since we traveled at relatively low elevation, whizzing past hilltops at barely 200 feet and experiencing the jolts that came with the wind patterns as they blew over the hills. The scenery was great and since there are really no FAA regulations I was able to pull aside the curtain between me and the cockpit and see everything that was going on.

30 minutes after takeoff we’d landed in Kathmandu and now I was wondering how we’d get to the hotel without a trip through Dorje’s living room for tea. AS we picked up our bags and made our way towards the taxi stand, Anne took the lead and told Dorje that we really just wanted to go back to our hotel. He made minor protest so Anne and I figured it would be best to part and make our own way back. We broke out the tips and gave them to both Renche and Dorje. Apparently relieved, Dorje lit up and took off to try and find us a taxi.

No long after, we were back in Thamel where we dropped off Renche (it turned out that Renche lived close to Thamel so he shared a taxi with us) and made our way back to the Hotel Ganesh Himal. We managed to score the last open room, something we’d not figured would be a problem. The room was a deluxe room, with a large King bed and a tub, so by our standards we’d scored big! We had some immediate errands to do, so we ran out to return the sleeping bag Anne had rented from Shona’s, gorged on Mexican food at Northfield Café, grabbed some treats (Mars and Bounty bars and some Pringles), and hustled back to the room where we took hot baths and lounged around for the rest of the day playing on the internet.

All up, it was a great trek. We saw great mountains, had some wonderful cultural experiences, and really just had some good times. Though to make it all roses wouldn’t be right. It was hard too. The altitude takes a toll and the food left something to be desired, especially at higher elevations. The dismal bedding makes it hard to sleep comfortably. Anne and I are both worse off for the wear, hacking and coughing and generally just having some miserable cold like conditions. So we’re really happy to be back in civilization where we can get hot baths, throat lozenges, and toilet paper. After being in teahouses for 20 days, it makes you really appreciate the things you take for granted at home. While I know we’ll eventually lose that sensitivity again, it’s nice to be able to see it so clearly right now.

We’ll take a couple days to recover before we head off for our next adventure, probably taking some time to see the city before we head to Chitwan to try and see rhinos and tigers.