Dal Bhat power, 24 hour! (Nepal)

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March 17th 2019
Published: March 17th 2019
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Reflecting a bit on the past few weeks in Nepal we can conclude we have not fallen in love with the country. We do love the spectacular nature and we find it difficult to pinpoint but there is something lacking. We feel Nepal is somewhat like India but without the colourfulness, the spiciness and the fun loving people. And yes also a little bit less chaotic and noisy. ;-) The Nepali people we do meet because they work in tourism are friendly and maybe the Nepali are just a bit more timid and not as extravert but we generally enjoy the small talk with curious random strangers we so often meet in a bus, train or on the street and this does not happen to us in Nepal. We had some totally unnecessary unfriendly encounters which we had not expected at all. A large part of Nepal is still rebuilding after the earthquake now almost four years ago and large parts of the country and its cities are basically construction sites. It has been a very cold winter this year and it’s still cold and extremely dusty everywhere which does not help. We love momos so we can eat them every single day and we did like the Nepali dish Dal Bhat and this is what they eat every single day (twice) so foodwise it quickly became quite boring and we were happy to eat some Indian food and even pizza and burgers in Kathmandu because we had had enough Dal Bhat. We missed out on the trekking experience because it was still too cold and some tracks were even closed so we do realise this is what a lot of people go to Nepal for so maybe if we plan it differently we’ll be back another time in a more pleasant season.

We entered Nepal overland from India, walking from the Indian immigration office across the border to the Nepali immigration office, getting stamped out off and in to the country and with a local electric powered rickshaw we got ourselves to Nepalgunj. This is quite a typical border town, not very exciting but a good place for us to get our first try of the local dish Dal Bhat because that’s the only dish our restaurant served, to withdraw money and to buy a local sim card which is typically one of the first things we do nowadays when entering a new country. The next day we found a shared minivan that was able to bring us to Thakurdwara at the border of Bardia National Park. We settled ourselves at Mr B’s Place where the whole family took very good care of us. The next day, after Mr B's personal instruction how to climb a tree in case of a Tiger encounter, with one of the sons of Mr B we entered the National Park on foot for a whole day of walking safari. This was the first time for us walking in the bush without the protection of a vehicle and knowing there are wild elephants, rhinos and tigers in this area felt a bit awkward and scary. Unfortunately we did not encounter any of the wild animals so the next day we went with a safari jeep so that we would be able to go further and deeper into the jungle. Again we were not lucky and we did not see any of the big wild animals. This is nature and nature does not always show itself but we were a bit disappointed. Still both days were quite nice and exciting anyway because we did see a lot of signs like fresh footprints and poo, the natural environment was beautiful and we did see some deer and quite a lot of special birds (and an extremely cute baby elephant at the elephant breeding centre).

With some local buses we travelled a long 14 hour day from the mid western low lands to the city Pokhara at an altitude of around 1500 meters above sea level in the Himalayas. Pokhara is very touristy and not very Nepali but convenient and friendly. We spent one evening and the next day in town while it was raining and cold but the next day promised to be much better. As this year’s winter is one of the coldest in a long time and the temperatures high up in the mountains were way too low for us ‘sunny beach loving people’ we decided not to go on a trekking in the Annapurna Range for which Pokhara is the base and the reason for most tourists to visit. We crafted our own low altitude 3 day / 2 night hike from Pokhara to Astam, then onwards to Dhampus and via Australia Camp back to Pokhara. The weather was improving as we left Pokhara on foot and we got very lucky with beautiful sunny weather, perfect blue skies and very good views of the mountain range around us with some perfect views of the famous Annapurna and Fishtail mountains. We stayed one night in a very nice Eco Village where we made friends with a Dutch couple and a German couple and with the local owners around a very welcome (and most needed) fire. The next night we stayed in another small family run guesthouse from where we had an incredible view on the Fishtail mountain around sunset.

From Pokhara we continued together with our German friends Marie and Hendrik. Again with a local bus we drove to Bandipur, a small historical hilltop settlement where a lot of the old buildings are well preserved. We stayed in one of the old typical Nepali houses which now is turned into a guesthouse. We bought some bottles of wine which we drank with our European friends sitting on the balcony overlooking the medieval looking pedestrian street. From Bandipur we walked through the hills, over centuries old footpaths with traditional resting places for the porters to a small very traditional village; a beautiful hike and a beautiful village.

Next we went to Gorkha, a town once the center of the Kingdom of Gorkha and connected historically with the name of the legendary Gurkha soldiers. We hiked a whole day visiting the well preserved palace and some hilltop temples we had to climb hundreds of steep steps for.

Quite an easy ride with a shared microvan brought us to Kathmandu. The first two nights we stayed in Thamel a tourist district that could have been anywhere in the world except this is also the epicentre of mountaineering with hundreds of shops selling all you would need for a serious trekking. The city itself at first did not seem very interesting to us while we walked around ugly buildings, a lot of construction work, along very dirty and dusty, foul smelling streets, but as soon as we walked around a bit further visiting the big Monkey temple and stupa and later walking through Old Kathmandu’s busy market area and touristy Durbar square we got to enjoy the city a bit more. We then moved to the Boudhanath area in the outskirts of Kathmandu where is one of the largest spherical stupas in Nepal. This was a quieter and more beautiful area but again a lot of dirt, dust and construction in the streets surrounding this area and on the way to a monastery not too far away.

Because we were not really too thrilled about Kathmandu we left after three nights to Bhaktapur, a smaller city where since a long time the local government has pushed the people to preserve local culture and heritage architecture. Many of the old original buildings remain and almost all new buildings are built in the same style especially with a lot of fine woodcarving. The whole old town is a heritage site and an entrance fee needs to be paid, which at first seems a bit annoying because it’s all public spaces we are visiting. But it actually is more like one big open air museum and there are so many very interesting and pretty small and big temples and buildings so that it ended up being quite worth the money we paid. As a bonus we got to fest on the local specialty juju dhau, or ‘king of curds’, which was very yummy.

On we went to Nagarkot, not too far away, but first we dropped our big bags in Dhulikhel so we could walk from there lightweight. We found some great tracks and after half a day of fairly strenuous uphill hiking we reached the highest point of this area where there was a viewing tower from where we could see some very high mountains. The next morning we woke up early to see the sunrise, the whole surrounding mountain range and that was the first moment we could catch a glimpse of the Mount Everest far away. We walked all the way back to Dhulikhel via a different and again beautiful route, through some valleys and again crossing some ‘high’ passes. All in all we walked around 32kms in two days! We stayed an extra day and night in Dhulikhel because suddenly there was a nation wide strike and no transport at all so we got to walk around the old centre and found some small local eateries for momos, chaat and buffalo milk yoghurt.

We wanted to break our journey to the eastern border so Janakpur seemed like a good place to stop. After the strike we took another microvan to Janakpur in the east of the country. We had to wait for the transport quite long and arrived quite late in a very shabby hotel with the dirtiest bathroom in our whole trip but we had no choice so we had a great dinner elsewhere and got enough sleep to continue our trip the next day to Kakarvitta. Kakarvitta is a border town, but maybe the most relaxing border town ever, not like we are used to. We had a nice dinner overlooking the river and looking into India, which is on the other side of the river and into which we walked the next day. It always is a romantic feeling to literally wak across borders into a new country.

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20th March 2019

We didn't fall in love with Nepal either. More specifically Kathmandu. We enjoyed it once we got out in the country but never fell in love. Thanks for taking us along on your journey.

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