Nepal - a tale of a boring little town and 2 great cities - Bhairawa, Pokhara and Kathmandu

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January 15th 2010
Published: January 24th 2010
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So the trip to Nepal on the Indian side was very smooth - train to Gorakphur, bicycle rickshaw to bus station - the guy was about 70 bless him, felt like I should offer to give him a lift, then a minibus to the border town of Sunauli.

The mini-bus was about a 30 seater but obviously carrying at least 40 people! I was squeezed into a gap about 6 inches wide on a seat that ran alongside the driver - who didn't get away scot-free either because he had to put up with my backpack balanced on the back of his chair for the 2 1/2 hour trip - there was every chance it could snap his neck clean if it fell on him at any great speed, but all was well and we arrived in Sunauli by about 4.30pm.

A quick in and out of the immigration offices (sheds) at the border and I was the proud owner of a visa for Nepal. So that was the easy bit.

My option from here was to get a bus direct to either Pokhara or Kathmandu - but both would be around 8 - 10 hours and as I'd been travelling since 8am that morning I thought I'd spend the night in Bhairawa, the nearest Nepali town and get the bus the next morning. I had a quick scoot around town - not that there was much to it, and headed to the bus station to get the info on the buses but was told to just come back in the morning when I wanted to take the bus. Back at the hotel I think I may have been the only guest - I went for dinner and was waited on by 6 people!! Well, when I say waited on, I was served and then they all stood at the bar watching me eat my dinner - mostly by candlelight as the power kept failing.

In the morning I was up bright and early keen to get a move on to Pokhara but when I got to the bus station things were ominously quiet, even for 7.30 in the morning.... It turns out there was a national strike on and there would be no buses - not even local buses so I couldn't even get out to Lumbini for the day (birth place of Buddha about 20kms away). I found myself a room at another hotel, a little nearer the bus stand then tried to amuse myself for the day - there was absolutely nothing to do, even the shops and the internet cafes were closed all day. The only things going on were people cycling around, soldiers hanging around street corners, fruit & veg stands, peanut vendors selling hot peanuts (believe me you can only eat so many...). I resorted finally having walked around the town a couple of times to reading my book in my hotel room. Finally about 4.30pm one of the boys from the hotel knocked on my door to tell that 'Nepal is open again' - hooray, although too late for me to do anything. I had dinner in the hotel - where I was hit on by a really creepy Nepali guy and had to scoot back to my room for refuge.

However given this inauspicious start, I was already keen on Nepal - the beds are much softer than in India and the sun was out.

Next morning I was on the bus (another local mini bus) bright and early - the only white face - again! The seats were allocated and I'm sure this guy was supposed to sit next to me because he hesitated and then sat behind me, then had a word with another guy who was with his daughter of about 12 and they did a seat swap and made her come and sit beside me! I don't think I smelt bad but I hadn't had a hot shower in a day or two! Anyway she was sweet and tried to speak to me in very bad English - loads better than my Nepali though. By the time we'd been through a couple of small towns the bus was heaving with at least 10 or 12 people standing down the middle of the bus - even the driver was sharing his seat and at the next stop people started climbing on the roof and if anyone got on with a child the poor wee things were just passed to whoever had a seat so at one point I had the 12 year old asleep on my shoulder and a 5 year old plonked on my lap.

Late in the morning the girl sitting next to me gave me a huge chunk of cucumber with some pickle on it, sorry did I say pickle? I meant toxic, burny, napalm-like hideous stuff masquerading as pickle!! My mouth was on fire for about 2 hours! I gave her some of my cashew nut cookies in return - I think she got the much better end of that deal.

Within only a day or so of being in Nepal a couple of noticeable differences stand out from India:

a) the young guys and girls dress much more fashionably - skinny jeans, converse trainers, north face jackets.
b) in contrast to (a) though they also find it acceptable to wear socks with flip-flops and look like they have Vulcan feet
c) there is something strange going on with the bindhi's on their heads - instead of just being a smudge of colour, some of the Nepali's have huge splodges on their heads - they look like a mass of silly string gone dry - not sure what's going on there, will have to study further.
d) the people are much less aggressive in their sales pitches than in India and everything feels much more laid back.

The scenery on the way up was spectacular - with winding roads going up and down the mountains - it reminded me a bit of driving through the Alps in the summer except without decent road barriers or Italian and German men in lycra puffing and panting their way up steep hills on bicycles.

Pokhara is really lovely, it's a pretty big city (2nd biggest in Nepal behind Kathmandu) but all the tourist stuff is centred around Phewa Tal (Lake Phewa) which is gorgeous, especially in the sunshine. All around you is a vista of hills and snow-capped mountains - really stunning scenery.

With only a week in Nepal (my friend Susie is coming out to Delhi so have to cut my time short here) I decided to spend a few days in Pokhara, including a short (3 day) trek and then a couple of days in Kathmandu before flying back to India.

From the lake in Pokara you can see across to the World Peace Pagoda at the top of a hill - it's at 1100 metres. So I got a rowing boat across the lake and tramped my way up through the woods to the top for stunning views of the Pokhara valley and surrounding mountains including the 'Fishtail' mountain - Mount Machhapuchhre. The guidebook said it should take an hour to climb up to the monument but I did in about 45 minutes though my legs were killing me! Still, I felt it was good prep for my trek starting the following day - oh, how naive I was!

The following day I set off mid-morning with my guide Raju - a really lovely young Nepalese guy. He spoke excellent English and was really interesting and intelligent with a great sense of humour too. We headed first to Sarangot, which took us just a couple of hours of heidi-ing up and down the hills but most of it felt like it was vertical! We stayed overnight at a guesthouse there and then got up to see the sunrise over the mountains in the distance - it looked beautiful though it was pretty cold first thing in the morning. From there we trekked across hills and through Nepali villages before heading into the steeper valleys towards the start of the Annapurna circuit - which is a 20 day trek, so not for me on this trip! There were a number of small villages in the valleys - all built on the steep valley sides with terraces for growing their crops of vegetables and rice. We were often stopped by the locals and Raju would chat to the village women who wanted to know how old I was and why I wasn't married! He told me he was explaining that it was different in the UK where you weren't expected to get married at 16 and start having babies at 17, what he was probably saying was that I was an old maid and no-one would have me!!

These women were often running up the hills carrying heavy loads of firewood or vegetables or pots of water on their backs and they shamed me by overtaking me constantly! I told Raju I just wanted to take my time and take in my surroundings but I think the red sweaty face and puffing lungs gave me away as just being completely unfit!

The second night we spent at a guesthouse in Damphus which is just at the start of the Annapurna Circuit and we were joined there by a Canadian chap called John who'd just spent 5 days high in the mountains with his guide and sherpa. He was really interesting, he's UK born but moved to Canada about 30-odd years ago and is a mountain ski guide and also helps train the British armed forces in mountain survival techniques so very fit obviously. They were all lovely and we ended sitting and playing cards (Nepali style Rummy which involves having a hand of 10 cards) into the evening. The sherpa turned out to be a bit of a card shark! The following morning was all downhill - which is murder on the kneecaps - to a village in the valley floor. From there we took a local bus to the outskirts of Pokhara and then walked back through the town to the hotel. The shower once i got back to the hotel was bliss!

On my last day in Pokhara I went to the Gurkha museum which is near the old part of town and came complete with a soundtrack of gunfire and mortar shells exploding and the Last Post being played. From there I decided to walk back to Lakeside, which sounds simple, but I got hopelessly lost wandering around the small, narrow streets that never see a tourist! Luckily after about an hour and half of trying to find someone to get directions from a young guy offered to drive me back on his motorbike. Now it's been years since I've ridden pillion (oo er, Frankie Howard stylee) - and without a helmet! It was great though, think I could quite easily get back into it if only the weather would stay fine. Anyway 10 minutes later I was safely back in tourist central.

The following morning I was up early to get the 7.30am tourist bus to Kathmandu for my last couple of days in Nepal, ended sitting next to a really nice Kiwi girl called Kirsten and ended up hanging out with her for the rest of my time in Nepal. She's also headed to India so may bump into her in Rajasthan somewhere along the line.

The couple of days were spent visiting the sights local to Kathmandu - Thamel is the big backpacker district here and although we're not in high season and there aren't many tourists about, the winding little streets are packed with bars, restaurants, bookshops, trekking shops, travel agencies, tat shops, tiger balm salesguys, rickshaws etc.

We went away from the centre of town to see one of Kathmandu's more famous temples - Pushupatinath where they had two sets of cremation ghats. One set was reserved for the wealthy and this is where the Nepali royal family were cremated after they were were massacred in 2001 by Crown Prince Dipendra - all over the love of a woman apparently. The other set is for the poorer people - these were in full use. Because the ghats are smaller we were able to get much closer to the 'action' than in Varanasi, and it was quite distressing to see the body of a relatively young guy being prepared for cremation - they remove all the shrouds and clothes with the exception of one shroud, unlike in Varanasi where they are cremated with all their shrouds on.

The place was also crawling with monkeys so you had to keep a tight hold of your sunglasses, bags etc. From here we walked through the town to Bodhnath where there is a huge Tibetan Buddhist stupa and lots of monasteries. The place was full of colourful fluttering Tibetan prayer flags and loads of people were walking the base of the stupa spinning the prayer wheels. We made an attempt, but got pretty bored after getting only about a quarter of the way around - not nearly devout enough....

We managed to get a peep in one of the monasteries too when this monk stopped to chat to us. He talked a little about his monastery and told us that he was from Tibet. He was also really obliging about letting us take photos of him and the monastery. The he blessed us and draped manky white nylon scarves around our necks (I think this marks us out as having already been hoodwinked). Then he launched into his sales pitch about the school he runs for orphans - all of which I'm sure is true, but honestly it's a bit much when they use religion to try and beg money from you. He handed over a book of 'donations' where people have signed their name alongside varying (usually huge) amounts of money they've donated. I did a terrible thing then and lied to the monk and told him that I'd already put some money in the donation box downstairs (which I hadn't). He said that money didn't go to the children, it went to the monks! We made a hasty exit but I felt so bad at having lied that I did actually put some money in the donations box retrospectively - although it was the smallest denomination I had and probably converts to about 30p!

My last day in Kathmandu was spent at Swayambunath, a series of Nepali and Tibetan Buddhist and Hindu temples set on a hill overlooking Kathmandu. The place is also known as Monkey Temple because it is crawling with the naughty creatures, they'll snatch food out of your hand as soon as look at you!

It was really lovely up there, busy with lots of people walking around turning the prayer wheels, offering prayers and sacrifices and generally having a nice day out. I went to get a bite to eat in the rooftop cafe there and there were some guys who were flinging raw meat into the air and the eagles were swooping down to catch it - it was amazing, at one point there were at least 7 or 8 eagles flying only about 20 metres above us.

So it was a brief visit to Nepal, but it's a beautiful country and one definitely to come back to at some point. Later today I fly into Delhi to meet my friend Susie for a tour of Rajasthan which is the one place in India that I've always wanted to visit - so it has a lot to live up to given how much I've enjoyed the other places I've visited. I'll be practising my Princess Di pose for that bench in front of the Taj Mahal - my sister Lorraine says I'll never manage to look that coy - so we'll see how I manage in the next blog!

Problems uploading images from my memory stick from Kathmandu, but will hopefully sort it out for next time.

Keep the messages and e-mails coming - they're very gratefully received.



24th January 2010

Just spent a good hour catching up on your travels....sounds amazing, and bringing back some memories of india of my own. I've definitely decided that you should travel and I'll find out about the world via you....I couldn't do what you do and go without my home comforts and luxuries - just thinking about the "loos" again fill me with horror, and they weren't on a 10hr train journey! A quick update from me: I've been to my NCT classes and there is such a things as too much knowledge so feeling nervous, scared and excited in equal parts. Bump is growing but I wish it would stop - it's becoming really difficult to do stuff and I'm getting tired easily. I finish work in two weeks which will help. Lots of Love! x
18th March 2010
very nice picture i like it lady on bote is very beautiful

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