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Round the World Journey

Nepal

NEPAL | Thursday, 19 October 2017 | Views [165]

I wasn't sure if i would be well enough to tralve but dozed up i got out of bed after an extremely restless night at 4am. The flight left slightly early just before 7am and the propellor plane climbed rapidly to climb over the close set mountains that made the flight so extraordinary. We were fortunate - the skies were clear and we were treated to magnificent views of the Himalayas although i am not sure if we saw Everest or not. Either way, the mountains were spectacular.

I transited immigraion, purchasing a 15 day visa through a smooth computer based operation very quickly. Dropping off bags at our respective hotels, I felt well enough to brave the bustle of Kathmandu and we headed straight to Dundar Square and the old royal palace which has a western feel. The square was packed with traders, motor cyclists. The dozens of temples showed the effects of the 2015 earthquake with many under repairs. Still, there was enough to see with some beautiful carvings.

We took another taxi to Swayambhu to climb the steep stairs up the giant stupa. The views of the city were commanding but in truth the temple left me cold with a heavy presence. It was a joy however to see a Christian artist selling works with bible verses and come across a church group from America interceeding.

It is Diwahli and as night fell, I stumbled across a lion mask clad guy undertaking some kind of ritual dance or game. Later, we saw clouds of pilgrims and surrounded by noisy bamds heading in a long procession to a temple.  

My evening slumbers were disturbed by a powercut that put out the light and most importantly the fan which left a somewhat uncomfortbale night punctuated by Diwhali firecrackers, dogs barking, pigeons just outside the room cooing, and late night arrivals in the rooms next door.

I still made it up early, no electricty restored, and took a taxi over to the old artistic city of Patan. It had its own royal palace and Dundar Square which was almost as crowded but not quite, as Kathmandu's version. Patan did have a nice feel and the sidestreets were a bit quieter. I managed to find Gold Temple which was of course richly decorated although spiritually dark. I enjoyed wandering the streets and found a cafe to watch proceedings. Many of the temples are under restoration - again victims of the recent earthquate. The museum was hosued in a lovely building and had some exquisite works although again spiritually i was left somewhat cold.

Another taxi ride to the bathing Bagmati river ghats but only after the taxi driver had gone the wrong way. It took me a time to find the temples and I am not entirely sure I saw all of those listed in the guide book but after a bit of trial and error i did find a lovely pagoda like building adjoined to a crumbling building and a couple of other temples - no bathing in sight. 

I guess that being in Nepal or India during Diwali is a bit like being in Europe on Christmas Eve. Groups of children go from shop to shop with a begging bowl and sing songs. Groups of  youngsters performed dances - some choreographed, others spontaneous. Shopkeepers and lit candles and drew colourful figures outside or inside their shops. Coloured lights decorate houses along with orange marigolds.  Shrines are busy.  Poeple scurry around shopping for last minute feasts.  Still there is a sadness for me that so many are worshipping false idols and strange deities they fear.

Notwithstanding Diwalhi, things tend to go quiet at 10.30 or so apart from the dogs barking - in fits and starts. Still, I got a good night's sleep and only stirred around 6.30 or so.  After coffee, I took a taxi to Bhouda and dropped of my bags at the Eco Lodge.  Another taxi for a couple of hundred rupees got me to the sacred bathing and cremation spot on the riverside at Pashupatinath just a few kms away. The most sacred temples are closed to non Hundus but from the riverside vantage point I could see a golden pagoda built in the 17th century. The 1000 rupees was worth the money despite my grumbles at yet another tourist tax which seems omniprescent, since it was interesting to see the sadhus and cremation plints not to mention dozes of smaller stupa like shrines and a few large temples. The river was also surprisingly clear of litter and silhouetter by the mountains. A great place to sip a drink and observe the rituals of life and death. I gog there just in time since soon after a large, noisy pilgriamge group arrived to complement the dozens of foreign tourists and smaller numbers of locals.

Back to Boudha, another coffee, and a visit to the large stupa which is surrounded by a full crescent like row of shops - almost in the fashion of a Georgian town although rather scruffier. Still the setting was a pleasant one, and as usual lots of Tibetan monks were in attendance, along with Western tourists and local pilgrimes. Prayer flags decorated the large stupa in the middle and we were allowed to walk around clockwise outside on the roof which was being repainted white. I found a good pizza place and relaxed for a while before heading home along the scruffy, durty and churned up pavements/ roads of this town which suffered greatly in comparison with smarter central Kathmandu although not its suburbs.

Eco Lodge was a tidy and nicely presented hotel. I had to call Reception a couple of times to sort the water in the bathroom but in the end they got there. There was no fan or TV but it is an ecolodge. My charitable thoughts dissapated however at 1.30 in the morning after 2 fruitless hours trying to get to sleep due to the racket from a concert next door. The receptionist was filling in and thought i should stay put. I thought otherwise and secured another room which was slightly better. I agreed a 300 rupee reduction the next morning and set off by taxi to Bhaktapaur about an hour away. It is another artistic, religious town with some beautiful pagodas that put me in mind of Japan.  The town had suffered badly from the earthquake and many people live in tents apparently.  I ejoyed the luxury of 2 days to wander the towns in a more leisurly manner than usual and bought a lovely paintaing by a local artist D Ram Palpali who seems to have some provenance for £30. 

The walls on the Golden Gate Tower Lodge were thin and despite an upgrade, the snorning of my neighbour kept me awake again. This time i had benefited however from an afternoon snooze. Oh the luxury or bad habit of travel...

The next morning i caught a packed local bus to Changu Naryan, perhced up on a ridge 30 mins or so away. It was a lovely ride through the countryside and I enjoyed snatching a few shots of the local harvesting the rice crops by traditional hand manner. 

On return, a schoolgirl insisted on walking and talking with me and lo and behold she wanted me to spend 2000 rupees on an English dictionary. I gave her some money since this would have burst the budget in a country costing more than i was expecting but on reflection I rather wish i had been more generous. God forgive me. I think her family are living in a tent post eartquake. Hard to tell - so many stories - but later i sought to find an open book shop but failed. I rather think the one we visited had inflated the price. 

Another afternoon enjoying the sights - this time with rather less tourists who had packed the square on Sunday which was the final day of Dwalhi. This was one of the most beautiful and enjoytable places i have seen in Napal. 

My stomoach was playing up again after a dodgy cheese and tomtato half grilled sandwich which i regreted buying the minute i saw it.  So it was another half night's sleep with a 5am start to get the bus at 6am.  The bus was late and that was just the start of it. Two lengthy stops plus an hour lunch break notwiststanding a puncture just beforehand.  The bus was meant to be a tourist special but still rather cramped and uncomfortable.  We eventually arrived over 10 hours later in Pokhara.  I was exhausted so left the camera behind and went straight down to the lake which was soothing and stunning just as sun set. I wished i had taken the camera but immediately took a liking to this popular, laid back place. 

Pokhara is a pleasant town based around a lake and full of welcome facilties, cafes and restaurants so I decided to stay for a couple of days to relax. The days went quickly in an excellent value hotel. With the weather hot, I did little more than explore excursion options and rest. I had wanted to climb Poon Hill but it transpired that it would cost £100 to get there and back following another uncomfortable journey. So I opted for an overnight stay at Sarangkot with a more expensive hotel close to the summit of the hill that provided stunning sunrise views of the Annapura range. Stunning that is when it is not misty or clouded. I hadnt seen the Annapuras at all in Pookhara but on my last, rather rushed morning in Sarangkot and travelling on to Bandipur via Pookhara bus terminal, i caught a glimpse of what i had been missing through the clouds. Still, i had enjoyed a wonderful view from the airplane so I didn't feel too bad.

Bandipur is delightful. Were it not for the ugly telephone wires that look like spaghetti, this would truly be considered a beautiful town. It has been bypassed by the main road and is all the better for it - exquisite architecture from the 19th and earlier centuries and narrow side streets with kids playing football, tailors at work, chickens roosting. Delightful.  

I should stayed in Bandiput for another night but thought i should go and check out Gorkha a couple of hours away by local bus. I was irritated by the touts who promised but failed to deliver a tourist bus directly there and made it instead by tatty local buses without too much trouble and much cheaper.  I lugged my bags the short distance up the steep hill to the Gurkha Inn waving my hotels.com booking only to be told that they knew nothing about hotels.com and had had the same problem with other travellers. The place was empy but i ended up paying too much, the $20 online price, and having failed to find any cash machines that would accept my card had to pay in dollars to stay in the rather tatty and tired room. I was even more disappointed to find that the palace museum was closed since it was Thursday -not that my guide book mentioned that. I climbed up well over 1250 steep steps to the top of the hill and followed the signs to the royal palace. The palace seemed much more of a temple than palace but the whole place was re-located in the 18th century after the new Gurkha (or Gorkha) dynasty took over Kathmandu. Still the views were pleasant enough despite the thick smog which is more than can be said for the atmosphere of the temple which reeked of chicken and other sacrifice.

The bus to Chitwan National Park left at 6.30am and was even more tatty and dirty than usual. The road was generally attrocious so it was a largely uncomfortbale ride and I had to change in a couple of places - pushed by helpful guides into a rickshaw to get me to the right bus station, onto a local bus to Sauraha market, and then after the usual squabble into another rickshaw to the hotel. My day was largely spent trying to fathom out reasonable tour options and in the end I decided i should just rock up at 6.30, pray and hope for the best.

My strategy worked - i got a bargain 1000 rupee jeep ride to the 20,000 lake area which was stunning in the early morning sunlight even though the wildlife that we saw consisted mainly of monkeys, deer and storks. I had better luck in the afternoon jeep ride that took us into Chitwan National Park proper. In the high grassland we saw glimpses of one horrned rhino and then a better view later of one bathing in the river.  Boars jumped right out in front of the car and the view of a stork flying was impressive. Alas no tigers - I think you have to hike to see them but the landscape of the park was worth the ride fee alone, and i had also enjoyed bathing and getting close up to the domesticated elephants that provide tourist rides. Poor things are chained up in the yard when not exercising but seem content enough and well cared for. I certainly hope so.

The bus back to Kathmandu was meant to leave at 7 but predictably left 20 minutes later. There after it got more and more delayed due to road works on the narrow one lane highway that connects the capital with the south. There was no traffic control of course just a general free for all whch gets irritating when smaller vans insist on trying to circumvent the queues inevitable blocking traffic the other way... We saw the debri of the bus that had gone into the water 2 days earlier with the loss of many lives, and another truck that had tipped over. Hardly surprising that accidents happen on these roads which from Chitwant to the main highway (some 1hour 40 mins worth of riding) was truly attrocious and bone shaking. The main highway stretch is not as bad but suddenly deteriorates at the outskirts of Kathmandu. With all the touting, exaggeration of prices and over commercialisation of tourist life, and the dust, i shall be glad to be leaving Nepal tomorrow. I should have made time for a hike and avoided Gorkha but 2 weeks is enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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