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First 8 Days in Nepal

NEPAL | Monday, 31 October 2011 | Views [1165]

Swayambhu temple

Swayambhu temple

We arrived, excited and cautious, in Nepal on 5th Oct, the place where Dawn has wanted to visit for the last 10 years. Brian had little idea of what to expect, except that he had been to India on a number of occasions and thought it would be similar.

Kathmandu for us (what exotic images the name of the town evokes in the mind of many) started with the airport, where we were met by a taxi organised by the hotel. Our luggage went from us to the driver to a 'gaggle' of porters who trooped along with us to the waiting car. About 6 stood by and watched as the youngest, who had absolutely no spatial awareness, tried with brute force and ignorance to cram our suitcases into the car. After slamming the boot lid down on the cases about 10 times he seemed to realise it wouldn't shut. He then started banging the cases with his hands to try and force them into the available space. To avoid us having to watch any further systematic demolition of our cases we were ushered to the side of the car, where the oldest porter came and demanded $10 because they had needed such a big team to deal with our luggage. Brian was not impressed and gave him an appropriate amount. Somehow the driver got it sorted and we were off.

Now, if you like off-roading, Kathmandu is the place for you. The majority, and I mean majority, of the roads are potholed nightmares and the trick seems to be to miss the biggest holes by swerving. What makes it interesting is that you are then in the path of oncoming buses, lorries, cars and motorbikes that have no intention of giving way. Added to this are the pedestrians, cyclists, hand cart traders, buffalo, cows and dogs that wander along in the road. The lunatics with the loudest horns seem to prevail, except for the buffalo and cows which seem to have right of way.

Arriving at the hotel was a blessing, especially sitting in the courtyard for a few calming beers. Some knowledgeable people that we met during our stay told us that about 10 years ago Kathmandu had character and charm. The influx of cars and motorbikes, with no money spent on infrastructure, has stolen any character and charm it had. Pollution, dust and noise are now the most notable memories of our visit to Kathmandu.

The few things on the plus side are that living is still cheap (even at the inflated visitor prices), there are some very good restaurants, 

the architecture is sometimes breathtaking (even if crumbling) 

and traders do not hassle you too much. But the most telling fact is probably that we were booked to stay in the 'exotic' city of Kathmandu for seven days, but left for Pokhara after only five.

After more adventures at the Kathmandu domestic terminal (but we had learned, so took little luggage, ignored porters and Brian just pushed his way to the front looking important), we arrived in the city of Pokhara. What a contrast..........., tarmacked road all the way to the hotel, much less traffic and a calm, cleaner and less frenetic feel. We both had a strong feeling that we had found the Nepal we had hoped for and so it turned out. People were friendly, polite and welcoming, the scenery (Pokhara is on the side of a lake) was wonderful and that evening as the sun went down the Anapurna mountain range was bathed in light providing a breathtaking scene.

The main reason for coming to Nepal was to visit the school that Dawn had been in contact with over the last 10 years. It was based in the village of Bhalam, just outside of Pokhara, but to get to it you had to cross a ravine by long suspension bridge, which made the village isolated.

Dawn contacted the Principal and he asked us to visit the school the following day at about 10am. We got a taxi to the drop off point for the suspension bridge and crossed into a different world of clean narrow footpaths and no traffic. Polite, gentle people and poverty in a village that had an atmosphere of acceptance and contentment. Nice people just getting on with their lives.

Our arrival at the school was greeted by enthusiastic children ranging from ages 4 to 14. We got deluged with garlands from smiling, happy and adorable children who all started asking questions, mainly about where we came from/lived. We got introduced to the teachers and shown round the school. 

Uday, the Principal, explained the children/teachers were officially on holiday, but with the exception of those who were away visiting family, the children and teachers wanted the school opened for our visit. About 2/3s of the teachers and pupils were in attendance and they were going to do revision (with Dawn) and play (with Brian). At lunchtime we were taken to Uday's mother's house where she had prepared a traditional lunch, cooked on the clay fire oven which has been used for the last 80 years. We then sat on the porch and chatted with the family. People with so little being so content with life gives you pause for thought.

Next instalment in the Nepal saga will cover our trek and the rest of our time at the school.

Very warm wishes

Brian and Dawn


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