Published: October 6th 2009
October 5th 2009
It's been a rough week and a hectic schedule, but we made it...
So we're sitting in a lovely lakeside restaurant in Pokhara, Nepal. There is a pretend religious man trying to get money from us. Or maybe he isn't - it's hard to tell over here sometimes. For the last week it's been a constant barrage of men (it's always men) selling, scamming or otherwise getting all up in our collective face. Personal space is a concept which doesn't appear to have made it this far east - Yesterday Ben shared his bus seat with a rather bemused, snotty nepali kid and an old woman who sat on his feet, puking into a plastic bag. Not exactly luxury travel...
Ever seen those old airplanes from the 40's? Like in Indiana Jones? Take the wings off one of those, cram it full of people to whom personal space is non-existant and drive it up hazardously winding roads for 9 hours... not forgetting to stop at every opportunity to jam ever more people in (and hanging out the door, and on the roof, obviously) and you've got a pretty good approximation of yesterday.
On the other hand, we
had 9 hours of stunning views and local culture, so it wasn't all bad. Still, let's just say we were happy to get off. Especially as we found ourselves in some kind of mountain paradise, complete with picturesque lake, the friendly nepalese locals and the nicest (and cheapest) room we've had so far... not that the competition has been that hot! (will post seperately about our sumptuous accomodations later... for now I'll just mention that our last room looked something like a squat in downtown Basra).
On route to Nepal, various events have occured. We traded the insanity of Delhi for the equally unsavoury vibe of Agra. Being the 'home of the Taj Mahal' it's pretty touristy, which in India means you get hassled. By everyone. Despite this, visiting the Taj at sunrise was worth it. There's a stark contrast between the hectic streets of India's Cities (equal parts rabble and rubble) and the Awe-inspriing monument in their midst - and that's not just tourist brochure-speak either, it really IS that good. It was also quite unnecessary (it's basically a really big tomb), but that's all part of it's charm. The Taj was built by Shah Jahan (not by
himself... he had help - about 20,000 of his mates apparently rolled up their sleeves and helped out, for about 23 years. We're not sure if he bought them beers as a 'thank you' but probably not).
Anyway, we were picked up by our temporary friend/rickshaw driver 'Mike' (not his real name, actually) before dawn. We sat and took in the early morning air while mike slaved away up front, eventually arriving - at the wrong location! A few quick course adjustments later and we were at the west gate of the Taj where we had to wait for the place to open. Monkeys provided some entertainment and a grasshopper landed on Ben's face. Karnit became center of attention with her Mosquito fans and the sun threatened to rise at any moment. Finally the gates opened and we found outselves in the impressive grounds. Our first glimpse of the building was through a distant archway but even then it looked just grand! I won't ramble on about it. No pictures can do it justice, but you should check them out anyway!
After a pitched battle with our alleged tour operator, we arrived victoriously in Varanasi, home
of public cremation. It's also known as Hindu's most sacred city but we were more interested in the charred corpses floating down the river. Unfortunately we didnt see any of that action, or much of the city at all, except when Ben got lost in the dark, labrynthine passageways of the old city - eek. It's definitely somewhere we'll visit again.
Having unsuccessfully attempting to get cash from several ATM's we scraped together just enough change for our Nepali visas, leaving us only $1 USD for two days' food. Between us. Subsisting only on rice and a couple of cereal bars (thanks sharon/mum) we survived the arduous bus journey to the border. The maniacal driver's constant horn abuse and non-traffic-respecting ways were entertaining for about ten minute, we had it for nine hours. One of which was spent backed up in stinking traffic, as you can imagine we felt some annoyance, which soon turned to guilt as we drove past weeping relatives clutching the hands of their lost loved one. Despite the tragidy unfolding, some local boys found the time to congregate around the bus, learing at our female contingent. (this isn't uncommon, in fact, this appears to be
the asian man's favouite passtime)
The border crossing was pretty chilled out on both sides of the fence, and we were soon let loose into the kingdom of Nepal, and the previously mentioned warzone-like hostel room. (Don't miss out on the pictures, they are hilarious!)
We thought we'd had it rough to this point, obviously we hadn't forseen what was to come when our Nepali bus rolled into town the following morning (see above).
Come to Nepal. Despite everything, its worth it.
This afternoon was spent (by us) casually paddling ourselves around the lake here in Pokhara. For a couple of quid we hired an old wooden canoe for 4 hours and spent the time swimming, relaxing and generally just enjoying being free. Amazing. See the pics at the bottom of the page - this place is really beautiful.
We're currently hatching plans for the near future and may not update for a week or two, but our next post is sure to be bulging with adventure!
Shanti for now,
There are more photos below