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Published: January 7th 2010
this was in the cocktail bar beside Chez Carolina
Our reason for doing the Annapurna trek in 15 days was so that we could get back to Pokhara on the 29th and then Kathmandu for the 30th in time to start a 10 Vipassana meditation course on 1st December. However as we huffed and puffed our way through the Himilayas, we realised how silly it was to be racing back to be serene and tranquil. So, we decided to take our time once we got back and book in for the course starting on 14th instead. While we were waiting, we made plans to explore some of the Kathmandu valley. We did the Lonely Planet walking tour from Thamel to Durber square which is where we met our friend Greg. We had never tried one of the LP’s tours and this was certainly a fun one to do. Literally something to see around every corner - but sometimes you had to know where to look. We found one square full of dentist shops with eerily grinning sets of nashers advertising their service. We discovered that the reason for this location was due to a shrine by the side of one wall - if you hammered a coin there, you would
get good luck for your teeth. If you don’t have a coin though, you can just touch it. I’m not sure how effective it really is though if you need all those dentists… We hopped in a bicycle tuk tuk to get back to our hotel - what a great way to see the city. Despite how packed the roads are with people, motorbikes, cars, mobile food sellers, cows and other random animals, our tuk tuk seemed to be able to weave through it all without stopping, armed only with his hooter which was made from a Fairy Liquid bottle. It was a $1 very well spent!
The following day we took a cab across town and explored the Monkey Temple - a huge Buddhist Stupa at the top of lots and lots of steps. As the name implies, it’s teaming with monkeys who are very entertaining to watch. It had a wonderful view across the whole valley and we got there just in time to see the sun setting across the sprawling city of Kathmandu. We also sampled some Buff Momos from a little hole in the wall shop. These are little steamed dumplings filled with buffalo
A slick looking dude a the monkey temple
in fact I think he looks like one of the characters off Planet of the Apes
meat (for ages I thought they were mis-spelling Beef!) as well as veg and spices - very tasty, you just have to make sure you get them very hot!
On the advice of our hotel manager, we went across to the local Regency Hyatt who were hosting the annual Christmas fair. THis was quite surreal as 3 minutes away from the crazy Kathmandu roads (more about that later), was this quaint little Christmas bazaar full of ethnically (and ethically of course) well heeled NGO workers selling crafts made by local women's and children's groups with Albert Hall carols in the background and very overpriced but tasty food. We spent a good two hours there just chilling and enjoying the peace before heading over to Bodhnath Stupa - a Tibetan Buddhist enclave and a huge pilgrimage spot for Buddhists from all over the world. It has a lovely atmosphere and the streets around here are immaculate.
We then headed to Baktipur for a couple of days. This is a really beautiful little medieval town chockablock with temples, stupas and artisans. This is a world heritage site and you have to pay to get in (about 700 NPR).
The big bonus is that no vehicles are allowed inside the main perimeter so you get to escape the craziness of Kathmandu roads for a little while. We were able to watch the craftsmen and women at work carving wood, throwing pottery and making hand-made paper. A lot of people just go for a day trip as it’s only an hour from Kathmandu but it’s worth spending the night as the city is so full of life in the early morning and late evening. People seem to do everything out on the street from women washing their hair to children doing their homework. We had lots of fun playing with the kids who had finished school for the day. They wanted us to take photos which usually means they want money but when we explained that we had no money for them they insisted as they wanted to see themselves on the screen. They were so thrilled to strike a pose with their friends and then see the picture straight away. I guess I would have been just as excited at their age as there were no digital cameras back then either!
With 5 days to spend before
Travelling in style
Our rickshaw in Durber Square
the 14th, we decided to head down to Chitwan and see what the national park there was like. After a 7 hour bus journey, we were so pleased to finally be able to take off a couple of layers - it was at least 5 degrees warmer there.
We found a good hotel called the Riverview which is right on the bank of the river where the elephant handlers come to bathe their elephants every morning. We were delighted when we found out that for a few rupees tip, you can jump in with them and help to wash them. I thought I’d just watch and take some photos of Matt but when he finished I decided to be brave and I’m so glad I did - it was so much fun! Over the next few days, we explored the area and did an elephant back safari where we saw two rhinos and lots of birds and deer as well as a walking tour through the jungle. Unfortunately no tigers this time (well maybe that’s fortunate actually, I’m not sure what we would have done if we had seen one while on the walking tour). We met a nice Dutch
lad called Frank who had just finished some volunteer work in a school. He had lots of great stories and the three of us hired some bikes and explored the nearby countryside, ending up at the elephant sanctuary where we watched a very entertaining game of elephant soccer!
So, on the 14th we said goodbye to Greg and checked in at the Vipassana centre in the city before getting on their bus to the Dharmasringa centre about 45 minutes out of the city. I first heard of this method of meditation about 6 years ago from a friend of mine who attended a course in the Blue Mountains in Australia. She had been going through a a rough time and after 10 days she returned tranquil, happy and full of the joys of life. She said it was a bit tough but worth every minute. At the time I thought “wow, good on you but no chance of me doing it” - 10 days without talking, no food after mid-day and whole days spent sitting cross-legged and meditating….surely you would go mad?! Anyway, 6 years later - here we are about to put ourselves through the same thing.
I had since met another couple of people who extolled the virtues as had Matt and we decided that as we had the time and the interest, we should give it a go. I’ve written about it in more detail but I'm not including it here as it’s really hard to do it without droning on! Let me know if you want info and I'll email it to you. The upshot is that after a fairly grueling but totally fascinating 10 days, we came out on the morning of the 25th feeling really peaceful and full of goodwill towards everyone. It was a great way to start Christmas day. We went straight to our favourite café - Gaia where Matt proceeded to order every meaty breakfast item available! Later on that day we decided to splash out and go to the very delectable Chez Carolina with Greg and two new friends that we had met on the course - Rob and Lea. We ordered the 6 course Christmas extravaganza and had a wonderful afternoon of eating, drinking and de-briefing on the previous 10 days.
We were very sad to leave Kathmandu. It's such a likeable city even if
Last day of the Vipassana
we were finally able to talk and see each other again
it is a bit nuts. However, onwards to our last destination before leaving Nepal - Lumbini, the birth place of the Buddha. After that, India!
Some Recommendations: Sleeping
Eating and Drinking
- We stayed at the Sacred Valley just beside Thamel (opposite Hotel Fiji if you're looking in the LP). It's a new place so is absolutely pristine there's good deals to be had. It also has free wi-fi, hot water and a roof top cafe. The staff are super helpful and knowledgeable and happy to book any trips for you (a word of advice though - don't book a through ticket from kathmandu to Varanasi in India from anywhere - more on that in the next blog). You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Shiva Guest House in Baktipur - clean, cheap, good food and right in the middle of all the temples
*Gaia Cafe. It's just around the corner and is by far the best value food in town. wonderful staff and ambiance too.
*Dolce Vita. The best Italian food I've eaten in yonks
*Kilroy's. The food is overpriced and not as stunning as they'll let you believe but
I tell you, it was gripping!
you've got to hand it to them, the ambiance is just brilliant and they've got a lovely big open fire to cuddle around on a cold Christmas night
*The Buddha Bar. Loud music, very stong cocktails and mellow apple Sheesha - lots of fun
*OR2K - an Israeli psychedelic chill out bar with great veggie food
*Chez Carolina. The Christmas menu was astronomically expensive by Nepalese standards (worked out at about $70 per head) but it was well worth it for a real treat. I believe their normal menu is not quite so exy Doing
*Shop til you drop!! I'm not a big shopper generally but I loved browsing in the shops here. Beautiful handmade things to wear, give as gifts and display in your house. They also do pretty good knock off out door gear (shop around though - we found a great shop called Shona's that sells excellent quality down gear - no fake labels. Unfortunately with a bag that's already the size of me, I was only able to pick up a couple of tiny trinkets but i think I'll come back here again with the sole purpose of shopping!
definitely worth a visit (we were told not to bother as we wouldn't see many animals) - it's a very peaceful place even if you just hang out by the river and don't do any safaris.
*stay in Baktipur if you can, it's well worth it to see the town at it's best -the light is so lovely in the evening
*Buy some Handmade paper from one of the wholesale places while you're in Baktipur and ask the owner to show you the workshop too.
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