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Published: December 27th 2011
Buddha is all around us
On the way up to the top of Swayambhunath
I looked out of the airplane window excitedly. This was my dream destination and I was actually almost there. We were flying high above the clouds with nothing but the odd Himalayan peak breaking through their fluffy looking mass. It was one of the most inexplicably beautiful sights I had ever seen in my life.
I spent the first couple of days trying to get my head around the craziness that is Kathmandu. I don't think road rules exist but if they do, they're certainly not followed or enforced. Every taxi and bus trip is a white knuckled ride and I was not always confident that we would arrive alive. The one thing all drivers do without fail is honk, when they're passing another car, when there are people on the road, when another car isn't going fast enough, when they feel like it. After 2 days of honking and being asked if Madam would like rickshaw, taxi, trekking, tiger balm, I give you good price, best price, I decided that a change of scene was in order.
I spent a week at a yoga and meditation retreat in the hills around the Kathmandu Valley.
Stupa at the top
The doc who runs the retreat was a little unusual (talked to himself a lot, stared into space frequently and didn't answer your questions for long periods) but 7 days of yoga, meditation and vegetarian food did me the world of good! I met some great people and was even ready to face Kathmandu again. This time, I chose a hotel outside the tourist centre of Thamel. It was only a 5 minute walk from all the action but already a million times less stressful. I saw some sights - Swayambhunath aka the monkey temple, a beautiful stupa situated on a hilltop surrounded by a forest filled with monkeys and accessible by 365 steps; Bhaktapur, a historic, walled city with cobblestone streets and amazing architecture; Boudhanath Stupa, an unbelievable stupa where Buddhist piligrims complete a kora (clockwise walk) every morning and night; Kopan Monastery, a 2 hour hike from Boudhanath. This gorgeous monastery occupies several buildings on a hilltop high above Kathmandu and is home to hundreds of monks and some of the most peaceful gardens I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
After the sun went down, I saw the inside of many a pub, bar and restaurant.
Wandering the streets of Bhaktapur
My favourite part about Nepal is that happy hour is everyday from 3/4pm - 8/9pm depending on the bar/pub. In these 4 hours, we try and make the most of the 2 for 1 cocktail offer, by drinking as much as humanly possible. Yes, it has been a hard 4 weeks!
I got a little over Kathmandu a couple of weeks ago so I decided to head over to Pokhara (a serene, lakeside town at the foot of the Annapurna Ranges). The 8 hour bus ride on third world roads was interesting but the scenery more than made up for it. It was love at first sight. Stepping off the bus in Pokhara was like entering another world. The lake stretched out flat for kilometres and was ringed by green, forested hills, dotted with the occasional village. The tourist hub of Lakeside was just like Thamel after a lobotomy and 54387584 valiums. I decided to splurge and check into a nice hotel and found one for 700 rupees per night (or about $9). My room was on the top floor, had a huge marble bathroom and views of the Himalayas (weather permitting) from one of my three windows. As
it is now monsoon season, the views were far and few between but what I saw was breathtaking. I spent my days seeing the sights - Devi's Falls, a waterfall that drops 100 metres underground and doesn't reappear for half a kilometre; the World Peace Pagoda, a steep 1 1/2 hour hike from the lake with views over half the country (or so it seemed!); Tibetian Refugee Camp and the Buddhist Monastery on the same grounds. We were lucky enough to go in the afternoon when all the monks were chanting.
A couple of French people I'd met asked me to go with them to Chitwan National Park in the south of the country. I had nothing better to do so I booked my tour and we headed off. The scenery totally changed as we drove towards the Terai lowalnds. Everything got dustier, drier and hotter and the mosquitoes tripled in size. Day one began with a canoe ride on a crocodile infested river, followed by a jungle walk (Chitwan is one of the few places on earth where you can explore protected jungle on foot with a guide) where we saw rhinos, elephants, elk and deer.
I was hoping to see the rare and elusive Bengal Tiger but we weren't that lucky. Our guide said he has only had 11 sightings in the past 3 years. We topped off the afternoon with an elephant safari in the jungle and it was probably one of the most amazing things I've ever done. The skies opened about 10 mins in and an epic thunderstorm followed. I got absolutely drenched and I loved every second of it! After a couple of days at Chitwan, I was ready to go back to the peace and quiet of Pokhara. I spent another week by the lake before deciding to come back to Kathmandu for my last week before heading to Europe.
Have spent the last few days exploring Kathmandu on foot - it's really interesting to get lost in little alleyways and discover all the things that aren't listed in Lonely Planet. I’ll now spend my last few days shopping and relaxing before the next leg of the journey - Budapest.
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