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Indian Subcontinent 2008 - 2009

Stuck at the border, a rickshaw crash, Himalayan trekking & an elephant rampage - Welcome to Nepal!

NEPAL | Wednesday, 24 December 2008 | Views [4657] | Comments [5]

We made it! 4 hours trekking and we're at the top! Pokhara Nepal

We made it! 4 hours trekking and we're at the top! Pokhara Nepal

Total road kilometers traveled: 5,255km

Dearest friends and family – and Merry Christmas!

We have just spent an amazing 2.5 weeks in Nepal and have come back to India in disbelief about all the amazing things we did and crazy things that happened to us. Nepal was a very new experience for both of us – we entered via a remote border crossing in Western Nepal without maps, a guidebook or any preconceived ideas about what to see, where to go and how to get there. We learnt that the best adventures are those which are unplanned, and uncertainty leads to more time exploring and less time checking our watches. I am sure we missed the top tourist attractions of Nepal but we wouldn’t have scripted our adventure any other way! We didn’t see a single ‘western’ visitor for our first week in Nepal – so we felt very immersed in the local culture and people – exactly how we had hoped to travel.

Nepal is very poor: 82% of people in Nepal survive on less than ₤1 per day. Females have a literacy rate of 25% - so ¾ of all women can’t read or write their first language. It has a wonderful mix of Tibetan, Chinese and Indian influences on culture, religion and food. The eclectic nature of Nepal was most obvious and interesting to us in its people: you will see the amazing different faces of Nepalese people in some of the photos in our gallery. As usual Fra has some brilliant photos which are hopefully making their way to the gallery soon… we will keep you posted.

Here is a how things unfolded:

Dramas at the border

We last left you as we were about to cross the border into Nepal. It was an amazing thing to walk from one third world country onto another – to be part of such a varied flow of traffic between India and Nepal was a wonderful experience: Tibetan families travelling on horseback from their frozen mountain homes to warmer climes for work, traders trying their luck across the border, and cycle rickshaws staked with boxes, animals, people, food and bales of hay. Most people were on foot as we were. All was going perfectly until we waltzed into Nepalese territory without $US : mandatory is you speak to Nepalese Border Officials, not a problem if you speak to the chiefs on the Indian side. So there we sat stuck in no mans land without the hard cash for a visa. We couldn’t go forward to the Nepalese bank 1km away (tantalizingly close) and the nearest source of $US in India was 7 hours back in Lucknow (nooooo!!!!). So we had an amusing encounter with the Nepalese official stamp man who stared poignantly out the window for what seemed like hours in an oscar-winning performance as he pondered our options. We knew the option and it started with Baksheesh (bribery). What we didn’t know was his price for accepting our Indian Rupees, GB pounds, Euro or even good old New Zealand dollars. Lucky for us his blackmarket money man was in India for a wedding (yay wedding season) so we had to beg for $US from a Doctor who ran an orphanage in No Mans Land. Luckily Cisco is the prince of charm and instead of asking for the cash he spent a lovely afternoon touring the orphanage, meeting his family, learning about operations, and talking with orphans : meanwhile I was killing time back with stamp man. The charm worked and 3 hours later we were skipping across the border in the dark, baksheesh money intact for a rainy day.

Rickshaw crash

Nepalganj is Nepal’s least busy border crossing from India. It only gets 20 tourists a month, most of whom probably wisely get the first bus out of there. Nepalganj is dark, dusty and dreary (think Deliverance Country with rickshaws) – but we liked it. We knew it was something special when we piled onto cycle rickshaws to head into “town” and I couldn’t be sure if it was my driver’s teeth or his eyes which were redder. He quoted me “twenty ruppppeshhhhhhhhh” and it all went down hill from there – literally. Next thing I knew he was careering towards a deep ditch and his slow motion attempt to pull out of the descent resulted in me going one way (onto the road) and the rickshaw seat another way (off the side) and the wheels happily rolling away down the road back to India… Unlike most travellers we got to experience the real Deliverance Country as all buses were cancelled for 24 hours due to a bus crash on the highway and a resulting bus strike…which brings me to…

On the road again…

Bus travel in Nepal is a risky business. Most guidebooks advise strictly against it. One writer suggested that Nepalese buses are held together by wire, string and the collective hopes of everyone on board. We now understand what he meant. Rickety buses, devil-may-care drivers and poorly maintained and perilous mountain roads means getting from A to B is an adventure in itself and one best rewarded with a cold Nepalese beer to celebrate that we made it through another day. The ubiquitous GOOD LUCK brightly blazoned across the back of every bus in Nepal did little to ease our anxiety as we felt our bus lean and pitch towards another crevasse, burning around hair-pin corners and switch-backs at break-neck speeds But when local buses are the only mode of transport what could we do but say a prayer and hold on tight?

We traveled on about 15 buses through Nepal and each day we passed at least two crumpled remains of buses sitting sadly at the bottom of mountain gorges or still clinging to the side of a cliff. The worst day was later in our trip when we passed within 2 meters of a bus crash which had only just happened – killing 23 people on board. Simply devastating. The sense of danger on Nepalese roads was very real and not something we will miss. Thank goodness we are back in safe old India (never thought I would use the words safe and India in the same sentence but hey, its all relative…)

However- bus travel allowed us to get close to the locals (and their animals) and also to see some simply mind-blowing scenery of the amazing Himalayas

Mud hut villages, Elephants & Buddha

From the salubrious border town of Nepalganj we tested our nerve by taking 3 buses East for 10 hours to Lumbini – the birth place of Siddarth Gautam (aka Lord Buddha) in 623 BC. This was a real highlight as we stayed in a remote village made of stick and mud huts – which we explored by bike and foot for 3 days.

We then ventured further East to a village in Chitwan National Park where we saw elephants swimming in rivers, relaxed in the greenness of everything and started to clean the patina of Rajasthani dust from our skin.

No power!

Nepal is in the middle of winter – and in the middle of an electricity crisis. Load shedding for 12 hours a day (soon to be 18) means that Nepal is a very cold and dark place. We lived by candle light most of the time – which was not too bad as it meant we didn’t see the ice forming on the buckets of water in which we had to wash. I could say all the candle-light made Nepal romantic but at 2 degrees the only thing romantic is the thought of a barrel of rum infront of a hot fire… (sadly none in sight)

We’re in the Himalayas!

We traveled 8 hours north to Pokhara, in the Annapurna Range of the Himalayas. Hooray! What a feeling to be surrounded by so many magnificent snow-capped mountains. Their size is overwhelming. Pokhara is a town on a lake which is encircled by the mountain range – simply breathtaking. Unlike some visitors who train for 6 months to take a 20 day trek to the main peaks – we decided to do a day trek to the nearest mountain on the edge of the lake. Our only preparation for the 1,600 meter climb was a chicken pie. It was a painful (if I am honest) trek to the top but the views were simply – well, no words really sum up the feeling to climb that 23,795th step over the summit and see the Himalayas unfold before you. Something we will never forget…

We love Kathmandu

From Pokhara we caught another bus along the precarious road to Kathmandu – the capital of Nepal. What a fantastic city! A wonderful fusion of Buddhist temples, Tibetan food, Chinese traders and the odd Bollywood song blasting from a rickshaw. We spent my birthday exploring the local markets, drinking Nepalese beer and eating my favourite food (Tibetan Buffalo Momos) at the most rustic restaurant you can imagine (see photo in the gallery) It was perfect!

Sunrise on Everest

We ended our trip to Nepal with a visit to Nagarkot – only 29 km (but 3 hours) east of Kathmandu. This tiny village is perched on a mountain range and from its northern peaks it has amazing views of the Everest Ranges. We woke up at 5am – defrosted – and walked to a peak to see the sunrise across Everest and the entire Himalayan Range. It was a breathtaking experience and the lack of tourists in Nepal at this time (no one is mad enough) made us feel like the only people lucky enough to see such an amazing part of our world. By now we were old hat with local buses so we traveled back down the 7,500 ft mountain on the roof of the bus (usually saved for goats, bales of hay and Nepalese needing to buy the cheapest seats).

Border dramas take two…

To catch our train back to India on the 23rd December we had to travel 10 hours by bus from Kathmandu – back along the same switch-backs and hair-pin corners – to a different one-horse town on the border. Not far from the border we hit a traffic jam. We happily started packing our things ready to go through immigration. After a while of waiting, an insane story got back to the bus that in a village 5km up the road a wild elephant had emerged from the jungle and attacked a village: something we couldn’t have predicted or concocted if we tried.

However we found the story was true and sadly, people were hurt and homes were damaged. The poor villagers had decided to barricade the road until officials agreed to replace their houses. This took some 7 hours. We attempted to walk through the village at one point in the hopes of reaching the border before it closed at 10pm – but were strongly advised that, given the anger in the village, this was far too dangerous and risky for us to try. Finally some agreement must have been made and the road was re-opened. We finally made it to the India border at 8:30pm – hooray! Only to be told they decided to close the immigration at 6pm and we had to come back tomorrow. One more night in a sagging and moudly Nepalese Guest House wouldn’t kill us –so we woke at 5am the next day and after the long and adventurous journey to get there – we almost ran across the border to India.

Final things we noticed about Nepal:

Bottles of mineral water have an ingredient listing and measurement for Faecal Coli (lucky all checked out to be zero…buts its always wise to check)

In 2 weeks we have eaten a whole buffalo. This is the only real meat in Nepal. Our favourite is a “Buff Momo” – our local Momo joint went through 250kg of buffalo meat per day…

Merry Christmas!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We just arrived in Calcutta after an 18 hour train journey from the border– had a warm shower (well, bucket) for the first time in a long time. It Christmas Eve but apart from the odd sprinkling of tinsel around tourist shops you would never tell we are about to celebrate Christmas!

Merry Christmas from both of us and lots of love

Chloe and Fra xoxoxo

P.s off to Bangladesh next after their election on the 29th December – updates to follow…




wow what an amazing adventure - you look like real worldly travelers now - you are both looking so well. so wonderful to receive news from you today on christmas day - looking so forward to speaking to you later. lots of love and big hugs xxx

  Sue Dec 25, 2008 3:43 PM


That is an amazing adventure, within your adventure! Cant believe you are doing all those crazy things - riding on top of bus roof (actually getting on the bus!), and love the stories that unfold. Keep safe, and keep enjoying. Love from us in sunny Wellington.

  Christine and Paul Dec 26, 2008 7:12 PM


You describe your adventures in a way that helps us share a little the many wonderous places you have both visited over the past few months. Now reading about Nepal; the roads, the buses and the food, the icy conditions and not least the Himalayas themselves, suggest something powerful and forboding, yet simple and untamed, in comparison to our safe and predictable way of life here in NZ. We will keep reading with interest...
And before I close off, I am sorry I did not post you a message for your birthday on the 19th dear Chloe, I hope you had a happy day. Also belated Merry Christmas wishes and the happiest of New Years - this is a Festive Season you will never forget!
Take care.
Love,Sarna and Warwick

  Sandra Spence Dec 26, 2008 8:27 PM


Hey Chlo! Wow, what an adventure. Nepal truly sounds like one of the few untouched mystiques of our glorious planet. It's amazing to think that the two of you were the only westerners in such a radius for over a week. That in itself explains just how amazing your journey was. Very jealous that you got to watch the sunrise over Everest! I will be watching your blog closely for many more adventures! Safe travels Chlo, and lots of love from this tiny Island down the bottom of the world...

  Si Dec 29, 2008 6:25 PM


wonderfull and nepal.

  frederick soo Sep 16, 2009 1:22 AM

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