We travelled by coach, taxi, elephant, light aircraft, dugout canoe, bicycle, tuctuc and rickshaw. We stayed in two hotels, a jungle lodge, a guest house and a monastery. We walked, crawled, tripped, slipped, shuffled and climbed.
I recently returned from a trip to Nepal and needed another holiday to get over it, but those 12 days were some of the most interesting, inspiring and enjoyable days of my life. I wouldn’t have missed a single minute. We had no tour guides in the traditional sense; instead, we were accompanied by friends and personal contacts of the organiser. The BBC’s Steve Caerrver. My problem now is to condense this remarkable trip into a few words rather than a book! Join me now as I show you some of the sights, and attempt to convey to you a little of what I experienced.
Kathmandu is a bustling city. Taxis, rickshaws and motorcycles weave their chaotic path between pedestrians. Shop after shop bulges with colourful rucksacks, hats and trekking gear. Others are stuffed ceiling to floor with pashminas; puppets hang by their strings and money changers sit shoulder to shoulder in its narrow streets. The air is filled with the heady scent of incense, food and petrol fumes. Above, the sun is blotted out by masses of garish posters and flags advertising everything from schools to massage parlours. Ones path is constantly blocked by street sellers. Purse sir, cheap? Wooden elephant one dollar sir? Shoeshine very very good?
In Kathmandu, we were accompanied by Steve’s friend Surendra, a university professor and historian. He was to be our guide to this fascinating city. He took us high up on a hill to Swayambhunath. There we walked around a 1500-year-old Buddhist shrine known as a stupa. All around were stretched strings of brightly coloured prayers flags and the site was surrounded by spinning prayer wheels.
Later that day we ventured into the tiny courtyard of a diminutive palace. Thanks to our learned professor, we witnessed the sight of the current Living Goddess peering at us expressionless from an upstairs window. At just six years of age she is no longer considered to be a child. It is thought that her body is processed by the virgin Goddess Kumari.
The atmosphere in Durbar Square (every town has one) was totally different. Market traders sit on the ground selling everything from bracelets to vegetables.
Early one morning we left our hotel before breakfast to take a dramatic flight in a light aircraft to see Mount Everest.
Later that day we were taken to Pashupatinath where on the banks of the Bagmati River, Hindus and Buddhists cremate their dead on open fires. It was a time of mixed emotions for all of us.
We saw and did so much in Kathmandu, far more than I can describe here. Suffice to say, it’s a city which excites, enthrals and mesmerises all who visit.
We then travelled to the ancient city of Bhaktapur were we said goodbye to the professor. Bhaktapur is another world heritage site and was the setting for the movie Little Buddha. Within its walls, life goes on at a far slower pace than in Kathmandu. The morning starts with the sound of barking dogs at about 5.30 when the locals rise, and the day ends just after nine in the evening. There are very few cars and motorbikes to disturb the scene. The centrepiece of this beautiful city is the magnificent five-story pagoda devoted to the Goddess Laxmi. In an adjacent square, every inch of space is covered by pottery which has been spun, formed and fired on site.
It was in Bhaktapur that we experienced a side to Nepal that tourists rarely see. Thanks to Steve’s contacts we were handed over to four teenagers who were to give a glimpse of their lives.
They led us down dark narrow alleys where tall houses reached up the sky. We stepped through little doorways, up and down steps until we eventually arrived at the home of one of the children She gave us a guided tour of her home, climbing five red mud floors up to the roof. She showed us her bedroom – not a TV of X-Box in site! With no electricity in the house, it was difficult to make out everything, but it was a fascinating visit.
We were then led out of the back streets and out of the city to be led across lush green fields of wheat and vegetable crops. Eventually, we arrive at a patch of grey mud where the parents of one of the kids were making bricks.
*Since my visit Nepal suffered a dreadful earthquake and much of what you see in my pictures of Bhaktapur has been destroyed
This is perhaps a good time to mention electricity. Nepal has very little manufacturing capacity due to the fact that energy is rationed.; in fact, it is only enjoyed for a few hours each day. We got used to being in our hotel’s rooms or in restaurants only to be plunged into darkness without any warning. If you were lucky, after a few minutes of sitting in the dark you would hear the throb-throb of a generator. It was a constant complaint among some of our group that the power would cut off whilst they were using their hair straighteners and dryers. Not a problem I encountered of course!
I’m not sure where it was, but one evening our friend Mary fancied an Irish coffee; she’d had one on our first night in Kathmandu. The waiter seemed a little unsure about her request so between us we attempted to describe what it was. He went off and returned a few minutes later with a dish of instant coffee granules, a pot of sugar and a tot of whisky!
We had a very long drive to Chitwan National Reserve, about eight ear popping hours on our coach along mountain roads with sheer drops to our side. The vegetation became greener and the temperature rose as we headed south.
At Chitwan, we booked into a jungle lodge a few steps away from the river bank where the elephants bathe. It was a beautiful tranquil place and we sat an enjoyed a chilled Everest beer whilst the sunset deep into the jungle. The next day proved to be far from relaxing! We kicked off with a trip down the river on dugout canoes. Later we disembarked then set off on a jungle walk.
Later we were to mount elephants and head into the jungle in search of Rhinos, deer and crocodiles. Sadly we were not to catch a glimpse of the ever elusive tigers! I have to say that it was the most uncomfortable form of transport I’ve ever used, but what we saw more than made up for the pain.
Our eighth day took us to Lumbini, another world heritage site. By now we had been joined by a friend of Steve’s who is a Buddhist monk. Losan, his name. He was to be our guide to this ancient and revered place. Our accommodation was in a monastery were boys as young as nine train to be monks. Lumbini is the location of Buddha’s birth and a place of pilgrimage to devotees from all over the world. There we saw the actual spot where Buddha is said to have been born. And under a huge tree, we witnessed monks and worshipers sitting in quiet meditation.
There are several temples surrounding the area the most notable that built by the Chinese. There we were to watch monks chanting in prayer. Before we left, Losan sat with those of us who wished to meditate.
bOur next destination was Pokhara. This has to e the nearest Nepal has to a resort! At its centre is the wonderful Lake Fewa home to boats birds and snake charmers. There are at least 150 bars and restaurants many of which sit on the edge of the lake.
I remember one particular evening. I was sitting with Myra enjoying the peace and tranquillity as the sun began to set over the mountains. The bar had a little resident dog which lay contentedly at our feet. On the bank just in front of us a man sat on a rock contemplating the scene. The dog rose to its feet and stretched. It then sauntered over to the man, cocked its leg and peed all over him. Then it strolled back and lay down again – a picture of innocence. We could hardly contain our laughter, unlike the hapless fellow who could not believe what had just happened.
Whilst in Pokhara, a few of us visited the Gurkha Museum. We left in awe of those brave selfless men who have played such an important role in many a war or conflict.
Late one afternoon our friends Chris and Mary thought they’d like a trip out onto the lake in a rowing boat. Chris being all man turned down the offer of an oarsman preferring to row himself. Unfortunately, soon after they embarked the weather changed and a fierce wind appeared. Before long they found themselves travelling in the opposite direction to the one in which was frantically paddling. Minutes later they had a narrow escape when a boat carrying ten Indians almost caused a catastrophic collision. Happily, they were rescued by an experienced rower who was able to bring them safely back to shore!
The next morning we went up a mountain to a small mud house where a friend of Steve’s was to lead us in the preparation and cooking of a typical Nepalese meal. Before we set off we visited a market to buy ingredients.
Our journey most of the way was by minibus, but when the road ran out we were abandoned to continue uphill on foot! It was quite a climb! Once there we washed, chopped, sliced and crushed our vegetables and herbs and in no time at all the wood stove was lit and the most wonderful smell filled the air.
The meal was a huge success. Soon after we had finished, dense clouds began to envelop us. Then black clouds started scurrying past illuminated by a display of lighting. Suddenly we were in the midst of a ferocious thunderstorm with lashing rain and buffeting wind. We all retired to the house for shelter.
The storm soon passed and we started our slippery and muddy descent down the mountainside.
Then it was back to where we started. Our flight to Kathmandu was to be with the unlikely named Yeti Airways. We were wondering if it actually existed, but it did and we flew back enjoying our in-flight meal of peanuts and coke!
On our final evening, we all joined together for a farewell dinner in the converted stables of the King’s palace. It was a wonderful multi-dish Nepalese meal, and we were entertained by traditional dancing.
I ‘ll leave you with a few pictures of people!