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Nepal – A Country of Beauty and Harsh Reality

Nepal

Day 1 – Katmandu

The first impression of Katmandu was the strong haze which could even be visible from 5000km above the ground level before we began our descent.

Upon landing, the plane had to wait another 20 minutes of so to get a parking spot.

Once parked, the doors opened the stairs were connected to the plane, but we weren’t aloud to leave.

“M’am please wait, we will arrange buses shortly.” the stalky nepalese attended with pierced ears tells our flight attendant.

“When? How many?” she asks.

“Soon. I am not sure m’am”.

We wait.

The terminal building was a trip, something like a colonial English building from the 60s. 

70s at most.

You had to fill a paper form AND fill in some rather high tech touch screen registration.

There were no pens. Very confused why they wouldn’t combine the 2.

As we stand infront of the immigration officer the electricity to the whole building goes down.

It comes back on in about 15 seconds, but she is logged out of her system.

We end up waiting around 15 more minutes until she can do what she needs to do.

Before we walk out into the hustle and bustle of the hordes of people with signboards outside we decide to buy a sim card.

Its a chaos of them taking your passport copy, a picture which they glue onto the application form that you fill.

It’s all so basic – 1 guy with a stack of sim cards, and another guy with a pc + printer.

We met our friendly driver and made our way to the office.

The first thing that you experience once you drive out of the airport is chaos at its finest.

The 3rd world is instantly upon you.

Ironically, as soon as you drive out, on the right is an idealistic (shabby by Dubai standards) Golf Club which is protected by a fence with barbed wire with high voltage. In Dubai there is barely a small fence around it. Literally a day before this I drove past the montogomery field with literally not fence at all.

There are armed guards at its corners of the one here in Kathmandu.

Right across the road is chaos. 

Dust, people with masks walking everywhere.

Absolutely no markings or real structure to the roads.

ALL kinds of vehicles on the road.

From the airport we were advised to go to the agency to finalize our itinerary.

The parking lot where our driver drove to was quite an interesting site.

In some ways it was similar to some parking lots that I have seen in Russia, but just on another level entirely.

The ‘security booth’ was a shabby little structure made from scraps of metal and some Nepali dude sleeping there the entire team we encountered that parking lot.

After dinner, we were advised to go to Nepali Chulo’ restaurant. 

It was quite a cliche option but we decided to do it anyway since at this point we were just hungry.

When we arrived, we were the first there.

Quite soon people started arriving and we placed our order with the manager who attended to us.

After receiving some of the appetisers we waited a good 1.5 hours and nothing was happening. At this point the restaurant was packed but no food was actually served.

I later understood that essentially they didn’t really have a kitchen that worked as per the orders, it was rather just one set menu that was cooked and served at the same time.

First impression of Nepali food – marginally different from North Indian food.

Quite spicy, less breads – the only base is white rice.

The dancing was a little boring as well – very simplistic dance without much skill or particular patterns/meetings.

During the dinner we had a power shortage, this was becoming quite a regular occurrence.

After the restaurant we left and wanted to roam Thamel for a bit.

I wanted a hand made little shoulder bag to carry essentials around in.

It was the eve of the Nepalese New Year and the streets were packed with people.

Girls looking very dressed up.

Lots of dust, half of the people in face masks.

Construction work late into the evening, surrounded by crowds of people.

Totally insane traffic manipulations.

Generally it was a very friendly atmosphere and most people were very positive.

What was really the problem was terrible

Reaching the Hyatt was like entering a cloud of serenity and tranquility compared to the chaos on the streets.

The hotel has a very colonial feel to it, and overall and excellent holiday.

Day 2 – Kathmandu

The first thing I saw in the morning as I walked out of the room was a take away tray with plate loads of unfinished food.

Just outside the enclave of 5 star buffets was a city in utter chaos, with plenty of people if not starving, but definitely with food on their mind.

We stayed at the Hyatt which is an excellent hotel built in a colonial style. 

It has an awesome garden and a great breakfast.

  • Buddha temple

We were picked up by our tour guide and the first stop on our tour was the most popular and most cliche place the Boudhannath temple.

Surprisingly the place felt very genuine, not some place kept open for the tourist entrance tickets.

It was the day off the New Year and a lot of locals were in the area, praying, meditating, burning incense, feeding birds and of course spinning the wheels.

The area generally had a good vibe, and the central thesis of buddhism as a sort of ‘circle’ or ‘ladder’ was very constructive in nature.

People had control, or atleast believed they do.

  • Hindu temple

The hindu area on the other had was a little different.

Instantly the first thing that instantly jumps out is the amount of garbage.

There is litter everywhere.

I noticed a similar trend in both Malaysia and in Bali – where the hindu shrines were significantly dirtier than the buddhist counter parts.

Secondly, the general atmosphere or rather ‘aura’ was very heavy and less constructive.

The central thesis of the ‘accepting’ nature of hinduism was really felt here.

Another interesting contrast was that a lot of the elements of the temple were in ruins and unlike the stupa, there was no coherent collective campaign to pool together and restore them.

Eventually we reached the banks of the cremation river.

This was really a trip. It was New Years day and the streets were filled with people and the cremation area was packed.

It was quite surreal to witness the sight that followed.

The relatives of the deceased had arrived and sat around preparing the cremation area, with the eldest son of the deceased getting his head shaved.

Next, the body was brought out.

After some further ceremony and preparation of the firewood, the body was lit burning into a dark and dense smoke.

  • Pollution

Back on the topic of pollution and littering, I have seen the same sight on a daily basis in all parts of the country – when something is discarded, its literally just thrown on the floor or somewhere out of sight.

From moving buses, on motorbikes, while walking etc.

One thing that really sticks in my mind is a scene from our walk along the cremation fire river.

A man had finished with the ceremony and was cleaning the area after himself.

He took 2 of the empty plastic bottles around him and just chucked it in the river.

This person believes in the holiness of this river and this place, and perhaps just discarded the ashes of his dead relative in this river but this has not affected his disdain for the importance of keeping it clean.

Fascinating.

  • Park – fake sadhus

The hindu park is full of fake sadhus – i.e: charlatans who dress up as religious ‘monk equivalents’ and pose for money.

Despite them not being real ‘sadhus’ they are fun to take the occasional picture of.

Being on the streets on new years day was a bad idea as the central area was literally over crowded with people and moving around anywhere was a challenge.

After some further historical and culture lectures by our very knowledgable guide we decided to make it a move.

  • Drive to Nogarkot

Our agent who was organising the trip for us advised us to add this to the itinerary, apparently there were good ‘sunrises’ there.

There wasn’t.

The weather was very hazy and we couldn’t see a thing, and also there isn’t really anything to do there.

Overall, sort of wasted a day.

The drive was quite hectic through a serious serpentine covered by forest most of the way.

Buses and buses loaded with people. Its an insane sight to see a whole bus packed to the rims and another 20-30 people sitting on the roof.

All this as the bus is travelling down a rather steep hill through a narrow serpentine road.

Day 3

  • Flight to Barapuro

I have been on some rather simple internal flights in Malaysia, Thailand and Maldives out of the country most similar that I’ve visited, but this was rather most simplistic.

The airport for internal flights is even more old school and basis then the one for international flights.

The coffee shop there had a big juicy cockroach crawling all over the food.

The flight got delayed.

All in all however the experience was quite smooth.

There was quite a difference in the scenery between Chitwan and Kathmandu.

The scenery was a lot more rural and somehow even more poor.

The resort was very clean and cozy without the big chain hotel generic la la land feel to it.

Our first trip in Chiwan was a ‘village visit’ by ox cart. Very unusual and initially I had not really expected much from it, usually in other countries its quite a fake village with people pretending to live the village life.

Here it was very different, they really were living the village life.

The locals were generally very friendly but it was a little bit awkward for them and for us.

I’m not sure if I did the right thing, but somehow I felt that leaving some money would be appropriate and not disrespectful.

After all, we were intruding on their life.

It was a pleasure to see the money being distributed equally amongst all the members of the village that were present.

The village was rather typical of the region with absolutely not infrastructure available at all.

Gas and petrol were brought in by trucks.

Day 4 – Chitwan

  • Car safari

I have been on quite a few safaris before, with the most notable being in Borneo, and somehow I wasn’t expecting too much from Chitwan national park.

Our guide was a friendly young local with decent English and a passion for photography.

We had taken a private car to take our time with pictures and not be rushed by anyone.

Getting out of the car is strictly forbidden and as our guide has told us, there have been deadly incidents involving tourists and the wild animals, which is why they had stopped going on walking tours through the park.

There are only a couple of major roads going through the park and you are quite limited by what you are able to see.

Spotting the animals is a little bit tricky and if they are not close to the road, is impossible.

First we had spotted a peacock, rather elusive but very pretty.

We have seen quite a lot of different birds in Nepal and Chitwan had quite a healthy population.

Secondly we ran across a rather large crocodile that was near the main road.

Next, we saw rhino.

The first encounter was very far and all we could see were balloon like tops rising out of the grass.

We could only see the tops of their backs and could not really come closer nor leave the car for a better shot, so we carried on.

A couple of times along the way we say deer/antelopes but they were rather quick and elusive.

Next, we came to a large opening on a river bank and saw about 15-20 monkeys quite some distance from us.

A little later on we had spotted a rhino with a child near the road.

We had stopped and the guide was urging us to be very still.

The rhino was watching us and we were trying to let it stay calm and approach us closer.

The guide was rather agitated this whole time and later on she had told us that there have been incidents in the past with rhinos attacking cars etc.

Eventually we drove off.

Towards the end of our drive we had another very close and rather lucky encounter with ANOTHER rhino and child. This time they had crossed the road behind our car, very close by and we had a much clearer view of them, and our tour guide was even more nervous.

The only major animals we did not see at this point were tigers (extremely rare) and wild elephant which are less rare but still not an every day occurrence.

After the morning safari we had returned to our hotel and had an elephant safari booked for the afternoon.

I was a little skeptical of the trip and almost wanted to cancel it – probably because I felt it was another one of those touristy attractions but I was wrong.

Riding elephants is surprisingly not smooth or comfortable.

The first little while was boring but then we started to see crocodiles along the river which we followed along.

At some point we crossed that river and entered a rather thick forest within which was a rather big clearing. All of a sudden, 2 rhinos walked out right into the centre of this clearing.

This time, the atmosphere was completely different.

Our guide/elephant driver was completely at ease and was infact chatting with the other elephant drivers etc.

There were probably 8-10 elephants with each having 2-4 people, but the rhinos never ran away. They were completely oblivious to us, unlike our encounter on car – which was rather weird.

Infant everything changed once we were on elephant back.

There must have been dozens of deer and monkeys in a next clearing that we entered after we left the rhinos.

All in all, it was a great trip and although the car safari was more comfortable, the elephant safari was definitely a better experience in terms of sightings.

Besides the safaris, there is only canoe riding and some other not so interesting activities. We decided that 2 days (1.5 rather) was enough for us and decided to continue onwards the next day.

Day 5 – 17th Temple Tree

  • Drive to Pokhara

The next morning, we woke up and began the journey from Chitwan to Pokhara.

Google maps showed me 132km, but around 5 hours travel time.

That means around 25km/hour. 

The locals told me 7 hours is more realistic.

I was very confused but soon enough I understood a lot more about this country.

Approximately 10 minutes from our hotel the driver closed up the windows without a word, turned the A/C on with internal circulation and we entered the mad max zone.

The road is under construction and as a result is a THICK layer of dust that covers the road and its vicinity.

The road is extremely bumpy, sometimes literally being thrown around inside the car.

On top of all that, the actual driving is absolutely suicidal.

Its a rather narrow 2 way road with literally every means of transport available.

The first is motor bikes who are whizzing in and out, the riders covered in an inch of dust, with red shot eyes and dirty masks, or none at all.

The second is enormous trucks carrying petrol, water, goods and more that can honestly only break on occasion and are covered in the most insane designs that often follow absolutely no logic. For e.g: a picture of a scene from the Titanic.

Thirdly are buses. Buses packed to the rims with people and even another 20-30 people riding on the roof.

Its very scary to imagine what would happen if the bus got into any kind of accident.

And lastly is a large mix of various different cars, pick ups and jeeps.

All this mix of cars is panically and frantically taking over each other at every convenient spot with absolutely terrifyingly close encounters.

Whats worse is that I have literally seen a giant truck over taking a motor bike.

The whole experience was really uncomfortable and we were enormously glad to reach Pokhara safely.

Pokhara was something like a mix between chitwan and Kathmandu but with beautiful hills around and an awesome lake.

During our first evening we decided to stroll over to OR2K which was rated as the best restaurant in Pokhara on TripAdvisor.

On the way to the restaurant we stopped by a tiny music shop blaring one of my favourite Jimi Hendrix songs. The speakers looked like they could have been from the 60’s and the shop was technically selling DVD’s.

One of the guys was playing guitar and I walked in to look around.

It was a real trip of how much this little shop was a time machine.

Music CD’s, DVD’s and even some tape players were lying around.

At OR2K it felt very much a cliche hipster joint with loads of lattes, cheesy yoga pants and superficial conversations.

Decent food, nice selection on the menu and overall a nice design – just not my cup of tea.

Day 6 – 18th Temple Tree

The next morning began with a trip to the hindu temple in Pokhara.

It was quite similar to the other hindu temples stylistically.

The main temple itself was rather small and had a large line around it.

There was a wedding going on and the vibe is very positive generally although not to much of interest.

Next, our guide took us to the ‘cave’.

Also, there was a rather wishy washy story about how they found the shivalinga, or a fallic symbol which photographing is strictly forbidden around which the main shrine was built and essentially the importance of the entire cave derived from.

The cave is rather clean and overall worth a quick visit.

  • Davis fall

Our last stop inside the actual city was the ‘Davis Fall’ named after a lady who died in the waterfall by the last name Davis.

Very underwhelming ‘waterfall’ and generally not really worth the visit.

  • Trek to peace pagoda

Finally, we left the main city of Pokhara and began our trek to the peace Pagoda – a buddhist shrine/temple built in a very scenic place on a rather high hilltop.

The trek was quite challenging despite being only about 45 minutes but very interesting.

There is a nice view from the top and the pagoda itself is very peaceful and symbolic of the buddhism philosophy.

It was definitely the highlight of the day, especially having a coffee at a little cafe nearby which opened up one of the most beatiful views I have ever seen in my life.

On our way we had encountered a very interesting and friendly man.

He had this very serene peacefulness about him and was sitting on a ledge with an excellent view smoking a cigarette.

We had sat down for a rest next to him and struck up a conversation.

“Where are you from, he asked?”

“Russia” I answered. “How about you?” I replied jokingly.

“Over there” he said very calmly and pointed towards a village nearby.

We sat with the man for a couple of minutes and moved on.

Somehow we managed to run into him another 3 times along our trek.

  • Spa salon

At the end of our long journey we returned to Pokhara and our feet were buzzing quite literally, and not in a good way either.

I got the idea to go to a spa for a foot massage.

Oh boy, this was hilarious.

We walked into one, they took our money, sat us down and about 5 minutes later came in, apologised and told us that they didn’t have a second masseuse available.

Took our money and went to the next decent looking one.

It took a while, but we found something that looked rather decent.

They walked us into a room with 2 massage beds and we sat there for atleast 15 minutes.

Eventually the masseuses arrived.

They were chatting to each other the whole time which was really annoying and at some point one stopped to pick her nails.

Nasty experience, dont do massages in Nepal.

Day 7 – 19th Temple Tree

  • Full day walk through the hills

The next morning we got picked up by our tour guide and went for an hour drive into the mountains.

From there, we started our trek.

We walked for the whole day, and it was then that I realised the main reason why anyone and everyone should at some point visit Nepal.

Despite not being in ultra remote areas the terrain is just stunning.

The green is insanely lush and the rolling hills are an incredible hiking terrain.

Our guide did not take us on any preplanned touristic trails and rather we just roamed, often passing through villages.

The villages are extremely basic with no electricity and seemingly not even gas. I am not sure where and how they get water and based on what I observed firewood is used for cooking.

‘Standard of living’ isn’t even particularly applicable.

Its simply an another age.

Regardless, the people were extremely friendly and welcoming.

We encountered old men, old ladies and lots of children. 

I began to understand.

We had practically not seen any young men – most likely they have left for work either to the larger cities or abroad, like for example the supermarket in my building in Nepal.

Despite the natural beauty the struggle is very real.

Growing crops on rolling mountains is really difficult and you can tell that these people were in survival mode.

Once we arrived back in our hotel my wife had taken of her shoe and we found an enormous leech that had been sucking her blood for what it seems the entire day and had grown to 10 times its normal size.

Disgusting.

Day 8 – 20th Sarangkot

The next day we were taken from Pokhara to Sarangkot, a sort of village up in the mountains with a lovely little hotel.

The highlight of the trip there was definitely a huge amount of eagles that were circling a crop field right next to our hotel.

It was incredible.

There was easily 20-30 eagles that were most likely attracted to a dead animal somewhere on the field but we had spent a good hour observing them and trying to get good pictures of the experience.

Later on we had made the walk from Sarangkot down to Pokhara by foot and it was quite a journey as we were without a guide this time.

Day 9 – 21st

This was the day before our departure and we were supposed to make the flight from Pokhara to Katmandu.

The 5 hour delay at the airport was another reality check about the difficulty of living in that country.

Shockingly, Pokhara is only about 200km or less from Katmandu, however the drive takes over 7 hours apparently.

Its insane.

Just a single good road would literally change the country upside down.

We had spent most of the day in Pokhara airport waiting for our fight and then transferred to the hotel in Katmandu.

Day 10 – Singing Bowl Therapy

On this last day, right before our departure we had decided to try out a healing bowl ceremony.

Our guide had found us a very authentic and experienced healer who was the owner of a factory producing the bowls.

The ceremony lasted about an hour.

Essentially you lie down and close your eyes and focus on your breathing. What happens around you is left to the imagination but essentially there is an orchestra or different size/pitch bowls that are played around and on you.

About 15 minutes into the ceremony I began to feel sick, like literally ill.

My body temperature began to go up and it was extremely unpleasant.

More over, for the rest of the day after that ceremony I was extremely weak and felt sick, which was quite a struggle on the fight back to Dubai.

Once I had arrived back home, I had the worst stomach cleansing I had experienced.

I had purged things that I did not know were compatible with human life and despite the pain and suffering which the experience caused me, what came out was worth it.

Without going into any unnecessary detail, my faeces was not normal and clearly it was a deep cleansing.

They had a very metallic smell and literally stained my toilet almost permanently.

Definitely recommend this, but be ready to take a pause from life over the next 2-3 days.

Final Thoughts on Nepal

The first thought is that I definitely want to go back.

The second thought is that I definitely never want to stay in any city in Nepal longer than necessary and want to immediately go trekking.

As for the country, it is truly shocking to see how on its knees a country can be without basic infrastructure.

Without roads, gas pipelines and basic water infrastructure everything must be transported by trucks and buses including gasoline.

This makes things 3-4 times the cost of what they would be.

The inherently stoic and kind people of Nepal are amazing for being friendly despite living in such conditions.

My heart goes out to them and I’m glad I was able to support the country in a small way by spending my money there and definitely will do it again.

Your sincerely.
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1 Response
  • Mr WordPress
    August 31, 2017

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