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Published: February 2nd 2012
After the intensity of India, I was ready for Nepal. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I knew Nepal was going to be different. Whilst I did like India, Nepal has a special something. Maybe it's the clean(er) air, the kind and friendly people, the snowcapped Himalayan backdrop or the numerous colourful prayer flags adorning every street. Maybe it's because everybody greets gives you with "Namaste
" with a slight bow and hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointed upwards, in front of the chest. Roughly it translates to "I recognize your presence and existence in society and the universe".
My friend Amy had returned back to New Zealand, and I ventured onto Nepal. I started in Kathmandu
with a much needed shower, room service and sleep after my very long and stressful last day in India. My first proper day involved sightseeing in and around the city. First sight was Swayambhunath, a Buddhist temple on top of a hill and nicknamed 'Monkey Temple' because of all the monkeys running around, sliding down stairways, and acting like shopkeepers (see my photo). The prayer wheels and flags were great, as were the views of Kathmandu.
Kathmandu's Durbar Square
- the plaza in front of the old royal palace of the Kathmandu Kingdom - was really interesting. The square has been in active use since the construction of a palace around 1000 AD and it contains lots of temples, shrines and palaces. The one that intrigued me the most was the Kumari Che palace - the residence of the Kathmandu Kumari. A Kumari
is a small girl is believed to be the bodily incarnation of the goddess Taleju, and is the Kumari until she is around 12-13 years old when another girl replaces her. The living goddess has been worshipped in Nepal since the 17th century. I bought a book, From Goddess to Mortal,
written by a former Royal Kumari to find out more. When we visited the palace, the Kumari came to her window to look at us.
Nepal has a lot of festivals, and this day was no exception being the Maghe Sankranti
festival. Maghe Sankranti is one of the important festivals in Nepal and is a time of family reunion and celebration. The festival is mostly marked by Nepali Hindus by taking ritual bath in confluence of rivers and offering worships in various temples, and eating special
delicacies like chaku (hardened molasses). I bought some chaku but it was very very sweet and I couldn't eat it all.
We visited Bhaktapur
next - a preserved ancient city with traffic-free cobblestone streets and again many temples, courtyards and monumental squares. We had lunch at a rooftop restaurant and watched the world go by, including musical processions as part of the festival. We finished the day with a visit to the Pashupatinath temple - Nepal's most renowned Hindu cremation site. Very similar to Varanasi in India, where bodies are ceremated on ghats, and ashes swept in the river which will join the Holy Ganges eventually.
The next day we travelled to Bandipur
- a charming hilltop settlement that seems locked in time, with cobbled streets, orange orchards and the friendliest people. We went on a 2 hour walk around the town and got a good view of the Himalayas and meet some lovely people. My favourite was a little 3 year old boy that came running out of nowhere with a huge grin on his face, his arms extended for a hug, and saying Namaste. So gorgeous. Dinner here was delicious and I was stoked to find
out that Nepali tea was as delicious as masala tea in India.
Our next stop was to the beautiful Begnas Lake. We caught a boat, on the crystal clear waters of the lake, over to our hotel. We went for a walk around the surrounding area, which was clean, green and peaceful. We had views of the neighbouring Rupa Lake and when the clouds cleared we could see some of the Himalayan snowy peaks. Temperatures at night were very low, but luckily the hotel put hot water bottles into our bed at night.
After Begnas, we spent 2 nights in Pokhara – the third largest city in Nepal and the starting point for many treks. Our hotel was on the other side of the river and we got to it by a rope drawn pontoon. Over the couple of days we had there I visited:
* Devi’s Falls – waterfalls which disappear into a cave;
* Gupteswar Mahadev Cave – with a temple of Lord Shiva at the bottom;
* Tibetan Refugee Camp – visited a monastery and watched carpet weaving in the all-female carpet factory;
* Sarangkot – on top of this hill
for sunrise and spectacular views of the Himalayas, especially when the sun started to rise and gave the snow on the mountains a pink hue;
* the World Peace Pagoda (Shanti Stupa) - designed to provide a focus for people of all races and creeds, and to help unite them in their search for world peace; and
* Phewa Lake – took a boat ride across the lake, which had mirror-like water.
I also went paragliding off Sarangkot, on a tandem flight. I have previously done 2 bungee jumps, a sky dive, and hand gliding, and have also wanted to add to the list by going paragliding and Pokhara was the perfect setting. It was a pretty amazing 60min flight. After running off the side of a cliff, we used air thermals to climb up really high. We even circled around following a hawk for a while (till the hawk changed direction!), whilst having a great view of the mountains, lake and town. Towards the end I was allowed to have a job at taking over the reins and steering, and then my tandem buddy got the adrenaline pumping by doing some dives – fun!
After a great
time in Pokhara, we went into Chitwan National Park – the first national park in Nepal, established in 1973. In the park we went on a couple of elephant-back safaris and saw birds, deer and a mother rhino (one-horned Rhinoceros) and her baby. There are only about 3,000 one-horned Rhinoceros currently living in the wild and are under threat from illegal poaching for their horn, which is exported for traditional Chinese medicine. We also took a canoe ride along the Rapti River on the park's boundary, where we saw many birds. We also went on a walking safari and saw 7-8 crocodiles sunbathing on the banks of the lake, and the manager of the lodge also gave us a lot of information on the park and the different uses of the plants and trees.
The lodge where we stayed had a pet mongoose, who was actually adopted by the bar owner’s cat after the cat’s kittens were killed. The dramatic twist to this story is that the mongoose actually killed the kittens. And the cat doesn’t even know! Nevertheless they are best of friends and could often be found wrestling each other.
We also had the
chance to visit the elephant stable and be briefed on their life, welfare and diet. I was pretty convinced that they are well looked after, but I was upset at seeing them chained up.
After flying back from the jungle, my last night in Nepal was in Kathmandu. We had dinner in the tourist sector, Thamel, and did some last minute shopping.
Clearly thinking 3 flights in a row was enough, on the morning before I flew home I went on the “mountain flight” - an hour’s flight worth of spectacular Himalayas scenery. The flight was well worth the money and sitting around waiting for the flight (it was delayed 2 hours). We even flew past, and got a good view of, the mighty Everest. We were allowed to move around the plane and even visit the cockpit (for better views).
Overall, Nepal was amazing and it sits up in my top 4 countries (out of the 39 I have been to) – with the others being Ecuador, Morocco, and Kenya. I am also keen to return very soon to do some trekking through the mountains and visit the birthplace of Buddha. Also so I can eat
momos and drink Nepali tea.
I will return Nepal!
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