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November 21st 2008
Published: November 28th 2008
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Day 38 - November 17, 2008
Namaste Nepal

We left Bangkok at 10 AM to Kathmandu. We met our guide, Ammar, at the airport. The airport seemed to have been neglected in the 1970s. We saw some Nepali men cutting grass with chisels. The elevation here is 4100 feet with temperature about 75 deg F. If their airport was old, so were everything else - the cars (70s model), the roads (half-paved), the houses (crumbling), the river (filthy). If traffic here was worse (than any other), the drivers were the worst. Gim said that the drivers’ fingers are always on the horn, ready to honk at minute provocation. Being mainly Hindu and Buddhist country, there are cows lounging in the middle of the road as if they own it.

We finally reached our hotel, Moonlight Hotel, after inhaling all the dust along the way (cars have no AC). Ammar has been commissioned by Gim months before we came here to arrange for all our tours, lodging, and transportation (includes the hotels, breakfast, airport transfers, Tibet tour and airfare but excludes lunch, dinner, and entrance fees to every place we go to). He was very helpful and very informative, our personal tour guide.

We went around Thamel, a very touristy area in Kathmandu. They got a lot of trekking shops and winter clothes and accessories. We passed by a bookstore called Barnes and Nobles (doesn’t seem to be a branch of our beloved Barnes in the States though). I got some more Paulo Coelho books for about $5 each (new) - The Witch of Portobello, The Valkyries, The Devil and Miss Prymm.

We passed by a “Thangka” shop. Thangkas are Buddhist paintings, and one that caught our interest is called the kalachakra mandala , meaning "the sacred residence", also called the “Wheel of Four Doors”. It has a very intricate and complex pattern, and the salesperson, Ashal Lama, patiently explained to us the concepts involved in its design. It is believed to help strengthen one’s concentration and is therefore believed to be very good for meditation.

After browsing a lot more shops, Ammar took us to Kilroy’s restaurant, which is also recommended by Lonely Planet. We got a Nepali set dish, which usually consists of rice, lentil soup, vegetables, a curry dish, and a piece of thin and crispy bread. Dumplings are surprisingly very popular here. The Nepalis and Tibetans call them “momos”.

While dining, there was a blackout, and so the dinner ended up to be a candlelit one. We found out from Ammar that, as part of an “energy conservation program”, the whole country has scheduled blackouts everyday, at around 3 hours per day (different times for different days of the week, like a sliding schedule).

We walked a little bit around Thamel, then we went back to the hotel. Gim started surfing the net, while I read one of my books (I am having premonitions of our life together). We took Diamox after we both started having headaches due to the high altitude.

Day 39 - November 18, 2008
Exploring the town with our guide

We woke up early to go shopping around Thamel. I made some money off my books. At 11, we met with Ammar for the tour around Kathmandu. We found out from him that we can go to Tibet. We were very excited.

First we went to Bodhnath. 6 km from Thamel, this is one of the world’s largest stupas. We spun prayer wheels and walked around the stupa 3 times. Ammar informed us that Buddhist and Hindu temples often coexist in the same ground, proof of Nepali religious tolerance. Then we had lunch on a rooftop restaurant. The view was, of course, amazing, with some snowcapped mountains peeking among the clouds.

Then we went to Pashupatinath, Nepal’s most important Hindu temple. According to Ammar, this is the “Mecca” or the “Vatican” of Hindus, and a lot of Hindus from India visit this sacred place every year. Along the way, we passed by the holy Bagmati river, where we witnessed some corpses being cremated. The ashes are usually washed off to the river. Downstream, there are people bathing and washing their clothes.

This is also the place where ten members of the royal family were cremated after the very controversial “Royal Massacre”. The Crown Prince Dipendra allegedly gunned down his whole family during a dinner in 2001. Some suspicions lead to the new King Gyanendra and his son, Paras. However investigations were very sketchy and inconclusive.

We saw some members of the Baba tribes. Gim took a lot of pictures. They asked for 100, our tour guide told Gim that we can either give them $100 USD or 100 Nepali Rupees. Why always 100, we don’t know. Gim gave them rupees 😉

Then we went to Patan Durbar Square. We saw a lot of Hindu and Buddhist temples, as well as the Royal Palace built around 14th-15th century. We just breezed through most of these structures since we were running out of time. We saw some Thangka painting schools and admired more paintings.

Then we went to Kathmandu Durbar Square. Blackout came so we had no choice but cut our tour short. We arranged with Ammar to take us back here after the Tibet tour.

Day 40 - November 19, 2008
Chitwan? Or Royal Chitwan?

We woke up early for our 6-hr bus ride to Chitwan and Sauraha. Chitwan is used to be called “Royal Chitwan National Park”, but after the monarchy has been dissolved and replaced by democracy in 2006, the words “royal” are now removed in a lot of establishments, including the now-called “Chitwan National Park” and “Nepal Airlines”. We reached our guesthouse, Shiva Guesthouse, in the early afternoon. It is situated near the park grounds and just within the Tharu village of Sauraha.

After our late lunch, we walked around the Tharu village. It is a very rural place, with a lot of potato and mustard fields, windowless houses made of clay (because of malaria), animals in the backyard (dogs, chickens, goats, cows, water buffalos), women (literally) knitpicking each other’s hairs, men and children walking barefoot across the dirt road. Then we visited an elephant camp, watched the gorgeous sunset by the Rapti river, and then headed back to our guesthouse for dinner.

After dinner we went to see the Tharu cultural show, notably the “stick dance”. It was very interesting to note that the dancers are all males, and whenever they needed a female dancer, the male with the longest hair wore a long skirt and played the female part. Just like in the old English plays.

Day 41 - November 20, 2008
Searching for Rhino

Today we woke up at 6 am on a foggy, chilly morning. Watched sunrise on the hotel rooftop while having breakfast. Had a canoe ride along the Rapti River. Saw a lot of fowls (egrets, storks, St. Martins, kingfishers, Siberian ducks), and some gharial and marsh mugger crocs sunbathing. There was a thin fog eerily blanketing the river surface, giving us the impression of a thin smoke slowly coming out of a mysterious river.

The jungle trek came next. We went through an area called grassland with grass three times taller than the average human (and five times me), which the guide called “elephant grass”. The vegetation was dense in the area the guide called “river and forest”. We took a break in one of the watchtowers. I felt a prick on my left foot and was scared to death when I saw something move when I took my socks off. A freakin’ leech! Hence the bloodcurdling scream that resounded in the forest that day. Just kidding. No scream, just a mere squeak.

After the trek, we went to the riverbank to watch the elephant bath. Yes, elephant bath. Some tourists bathed with the elephants. They sat on top of the elephant and were sprayed with water by their trunks. A game usually followed where the elephants threw the tourists off their backs into the river. Gim and I decided not to do it as we saw a bunch of floaters, bowling-sized ones. These elephants, they just poop everywhere and anytime, even while bathing.

After lunch, we went on a 4x4 Jeep Safari ride. We saw one-horned rhinos (rarer than 2-horned ones)! Three of them! One was taking a dip in the lake (quite far we had to use binoculars, we weren’t just imagining it, I swear!) then as we were heading back, we saw a mother and a baby rhino. Much nearer this time, but the encounter was brief, as they moved out of our sight right away. We saw monkeys, deers (musk and spotted), birds, bugs, frogs, more marsh mugger crocs (can eat humans), and the nicer gharials (they have breeding grounds as they are currently protected because of their dwindling numbers), which eat fish only as they have very narrow snouts.

Day 42 - November 21, 2008
Back to Kathmandu

Today we went back to Kathmandu. We dropped by the elephant breeding grounds on the way to the bus terminal. We saw cute baby elephants, which are really huge babies! On our way, we saw rivers, mountains, waterfalls, and tourists rafting (looks so exciting, we will do this next time).

We had laundry done (we had to pay Rs300 per kg instead of Rs 50 because it’s rushed). Went shopping in Thamel to prepare for the harsh Tibetan climate.

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