Nepal arrival, Chitwan National Park, Royal Beach and Kathmandu

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April 16th 2012
Published: April 30th 2012
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It was a short hour or so drive to the Nepalese border from the beautiful (haha) town of Siliguri. I find land borders are often much more interesting places to enter a country than the usual airport in the capital/major city route. While border towns are usually fairly ugly places they do provide a fascinating insight into the people and commodities of a country which is quite different to what you would see if arriving into the capital or a major city by air. Security at the border seemed rather relaxed, indeed we had to search out the Indian emigration building which we eventually found down a small dusty path. Indian emigration was staffed by one man who will not be winning awards any time soon for his dedication to interrogation, indeed he scarcely looked up from his desk. Security was so lax that I’m sure we could have walked unnoticed across the border without ever passing through emigration. One of the reasons that security at the border here is so relaxed is that Nepali’s and Indians have an agreement where they can enter each other’s country without needing to show their passports and without needing a visa, a system similar to that in Europe. The border is also used by relatively few foreigners and is not in a politically sensitive region so there is little need for tough security. Whatever the reasons, crossing the border here certainly beats being grilled by scary airport officials who are seemingly devoid of any sort of humour, empathy or joy.

The process of entering Nepal was once again very similar, immigration was housed in a small non descript building to the side of the road, once again it would have been perfectly possible to simply enter Nepal without bothering with immigration at all, check posts were nowhere to be seen. Then again, I wouldn’t advise anyone enter a country without obtaining a visa unless you like to spend your time in cramped, dark rooms with men of a disagreeable nature, personally it’s not for me, but if that’s your thing fair enough. While immigration was lax I did have a major poopy pants moment when I was told that there was no passport photo machine and the only way I could obtain a passport photo, as required for my visa, was from a man in the market, but this would take 3 days! As interesting as I did find the border town, it was not somewhere I particularly wanted to stay in for 3 days, this was not good news. Fortunately visa rules are reasonably lax in Nepal (at this office anyway) and the man at the immigration office simply told me I would need to pay an extra USD$5 to circumnavigate needing a passport photo, maybe it was a bribe, maybe it was an official fee, either way it was a fee I was more than willing to pay!

Upon completing all immigration procedures and after allowing enough time for me to visit an ATM and get ripped off and short changed by a drinks vendor we left the border town and began what would be a 4 day journey to Kathmandu, stopping at Chitwan and Royal Beachcamp enroute. Throughout the day’s drive I was struck by how the scenery was very different to what I had expected, the soaring mountains, hairpin roads, wild rivers and deep green valleys were nowhere to be seen, instead laid out in front of me was a scene of flat, dry, baron wastelands and many, many dried up river beds. Due to gross ignorance on my part I had not realised that Nepal had low lying flat lands and in all honesty I was a bit disappointed. I had been looking forward to views of the Himalayas and nature in full glory and instead got dry river beds, some pathetic looking bushes and a whole lots of sand, all of which combined to make a very dull view which was certainly not the Himalayan Shangri-La I had been expecting. Still tomorrow was another day.

The following day we began our journey to Chitwan National Park, Nepal’s most famous national park where it is possible to see tiger’s (or so they claim), elephants (or so they claim) and other wildlife (or so they claim). Naturally I had been very excited about Chitwan National Park, I’d sent many clients there in the past and had heard good things about it from them and fellow passengers so was expecting great things. Upon arrival I must say I was disappointed, I had been expecting a remote and lush jungle environment filled with the sound of exotic bird song and noisy crickets, however the landscape was actually very arid and the town rather developed. I should point out that Chitwan wasn’t ugly, it was a very pleasant place it just wasn’t what I was expecting. We only had a half day at Chitwan so we could only do one activity, the choices were an elephant back ride/safari, a walking safari or a jeep safari. Having taken many uncomfortable elephant rides in the past and having spent almost 3 months in Africa in a vehicle looking at wildlife I decided that a walking safari would be the best possible option, the idea of seeing a Tiger at such close proximity filled my body with tingles of excitement and my pants with poo. Our briefing before entering the park on what we must do if attacked by a tiger/bear or charged an elephant/rhino only added to the sense of excitement and anxiety. By the sounds of the briefing a wildlife sighting was a dead cert as was the fact that only half of us would make it back alive while the rest would be left so hideously disfigured that we would be found years later hanging lifeless from a rope after tragically succumbing to the trauma of our hideously deformed figures. Little did I know at this point that the main danger would be the possibility that you may get your feet slightly wet when departing the canoes used to take you to the entrance of the park, hair raising stuff. The quality of the wildlife we spotted that day can be summed up by the fact that the most exciting animal we saw was a wild chicken, if I die now I shall be happy for I have seen it all! While I may have seen more wildlife in the bed sheets of my Delhi hotel, I still did enjoy the experience. It was a pleasant walk through pleasant surroundings with 3 interesting and beautiful Mexicanas who also know how to take awesome photos! I also know from prior experience that wildlife viewing is all about the luck of the draw and today we had been dealt a bum hand. I should also add a quick note that we did potentially see the ass of an elephant disappearing into the foliage, however the glimpse of this was so brief that I cannot confirm it to be true.

Shortly after departing Chitwan the following day we hit the foothills of the Himalayas which appeared somewhat out of the blue while I briefly paused to reflect on the finer points of quantum physics. Yes, all of a sudden we were in the Nepal I had imagined and very pleased I was about it too. The road climbed steadily, clinging to the side of the valley wall, for such a small and precarious road it was very busy and loaded with noisy, black smoke belching Indian trucks. This however could not take away from the sheer beauty of the place, the valley below was deep and green and the river a wild torrent of grey/blue/turquoise water which had been tinted to an almost artificial colour by mineral deposits, the colour is somewhat reminiscent to that you see in the clay tip lakes in Cornwall. This was exactly what I had expected to see in Nepal and I was very glad to finally be seeing it, my faith had been restored.

After a few hours we reached our destination, Royal Beach. A beach in Nepal, but Nepal is land locked and has no sea, how can this be?????!!!! Well my friends there are in fact many beaches in Nepal but they are located on the banks of rivers and not by the sea as per usual, what a fantastic idea god! Royal Beach is a camp site which offers white water rafting and all sorts of other super awesome, narle activities. It became very apparent that we were in adventure sports land when we met the resort staff who were very much your stereotypical super narle, extreme, way out, awesome adventure dudes. It is strange phenomenon that the staff at these adventure places whether they be rafting, climbing, skiing etc are always staffed by some of the most arrogant in love with themselves MEN on the planet and occasionally a token butch lesbian type. Is there a training school or guidebook somewhere that teaches this special blend of machoism, arrogance and dudeology? Those of you who work in the industry, who are probably nodding in agreement or saying that’s not right dude (depending on whether or not you are the above stated stereotype), please let me know how this strange phenomenon occurs. Apart from being super cool awesome dudes, the staff at Royal Beach were actually very nice and easy to get along with. Saying that, I know Noelle did not get on too well with our canyoning guide who was in fairness being a bit of a nob, his flirting technique was similar to the favoured technique of primary school boys whereby you push or hurt in some way the girl you like, and as such not particularly impressive or effective.

As you may have now guessed, while at Royal Beach we went canyoning, if you hadn’t guessed this then please do pay more attention, I know it’s amazing that those ape like beats on Jeremy Kyle managed to produce children let alone 7 but please give my blog just 10 minutes of your day. Anyway I digress, it took us about 1 ½ hours of walking to reach the start point for the canyoning, the final 30 mins of which was up an extremely steep, narrow slippery mud path. On many occasions we had to haul ourselves up by holding onto the roots of branches of nearby tree’s, these often rotten branches regularly fell apart at the most inappropriate times leaving us millimetres away a sheer cliff face which dropped for 20+ metres off the edge of the narrow path. This was one of those moments when it was best not to look down. As for the actual canyoning, we started by lowering ourselves by rope down a very steep and slippery muddy path, which of course involved the obligatory fall on your ass and slide ungraciously into the bush moment. After this we abseiled down two waterfalls, one about 20 metres the other 10, before having to swim through freezing cold pools to dry land. The abseiling was fun as always, especially with the challenge of the water from the falls splashing in your face and also making the rock surface super slippery. The swim through the pools whilst cold was also fun, as was abseiling into water, something I hadn’t done before. It was not the best canyoning experience I have had given that it only involved 2 abseils, no climbing and no jumping, however I did enjoy the experience especially as the Jungle scenery was fantastic and the company even better. When we finally returned to camp we noticed that there was a massive traffic jam trailing for as far as the eye could see on both sides of the road. We would later learn that a bus or lorry had hit a minibus killing most of the people in the minibus and causing a traffic jam until well after 19.00, a reminder of just how lethal these roads and the drivers who inhabit them can be.

Tonight was the last night that the whole group would be together so inevitably ended up in a massive piss up, the biggest on the tour so far I dare say. I have noticed over time that there is something about being at a campsite which turns even the most sensible of people into beer guzzling party monsters. We all had a great evening, my personal highlight of the evening was what Noelle referred to as a ‘dork off’ whereby Noelle and myself battled b-boy style to see who was the most god awful, cringe inducing dancer. I don’t wish to blow my own trumpet, but I think the crown of super dork was mine that evening although I must also say that one should not underestimate the size of Noelle’s dorkiness! For those older British readers who are perhaps unaware of what a dork is, it can perhaps best be described as someone who acts in an unconventional/unusual manner and is a bit of a social misfit.

Tomorrow would be the last day of the tour, we would be bidding farewell to our truck Kristina and a fair few group members and most upsettingly to free accommodation!

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