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Trip Report Nepal? Why? "Bistari Didi" wanderings - 5 weeks in Nepal & Bhutan

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I've had so many great tips & entertaining hours reading these Forums, I thought it was about time I did my bit.

Nepal wasn’t on my “trip” list. Nothing against it, just not somewhere I’d thought of going. I’d never trekked, don’t do group travel.

“Come around on Friday night, Lyn’s bringing some pics from her last trip to Nepal ”, my friend said as I was leaving the gym one morning.

About 20 minutes in, I started to think. I needed a stretch. Mind, Body & all that. Bounce myself out of my rut. The Rhodos, the little villages, the countryside. Still, I don’t even do the weekly pole walking class, let alone trek up & down hills. I’m a flat country girl. And I don’t like being cold.

By the end of the evening, people were asking about putting a group together to do a trek – only us. Maximum 10. I just scribbled Lyn’s website down. Too easy to get caught up in the moment. So I waited until next morning, raced downstairs & sent off the application & a zillion questions. I was in.

Next ... The Rollee, Lights on the Lake and the Man in Red

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    Kathmandu – Pokhara- Annapurna/Poon Hill – Chitwan – Bhaktapur. It was terrific. We had a ball. I was hooked.

    Most of my leisure travel, and all of the most memorable, has been on a whim, an opportunity, sparked by a chance remark or something I’ve seen or read. That was March & April, 2012. Three weeks.

    I was planning my return before I went through the Departure arches at Kathmandu on the way home. Women on the right, men on the left.

    NEPAL & BHUTAN. FIVE WEEKS, MARCH & APRIL, 2013.

    “This time,” I said to Lyn over coffee at a local spot one morning, “I’d like to go on my own, just with a guide & porter. P (one of our guides from last year who’d become a good friend), if he’s available. Take a couple of weeks to wander around, staying a couple of nights here & there. See a bit of local life. Sit & do nothing in the sun.”

    “We can do that” … and so this year’s trip took shape.

    Lyn's a great friend, runs Taylor Adventure Travel & was going back for her 40 something trip. She'd done a superb job for us last year & I had no doubt she'd come up with the perfect trip for me this time. She did.


    Here’s the quick outline:

    Sydney-Singapore – Kathmandu- Pokhara, leaving 21st March.
    Pokhara – 4 days
    Kathmandu – Paro. Bhutan with 3 others - 6 days.
    Buddhathum – Remote village west of Kathmandu – 5 days
    Kathmandu 3 days
    Khumbu Region – 14 days
    Kathmandu, Bhaktapur – 3 days
    KTM-SIN-SYD


    SYDNEY – SINGAPORE – KATHMANDU – POKHARA

    I like afternoon flights. When you’re Australian, everywhere else is at the end of at least one long-leg flight, and an afternoon/early evening out of Sydney is perfect for me.

    Check in is smooth and Singapore Airlines allowed me an extra 10kg so I could take some things up to a remote school, and with my Kris Flyer membership, I have 40kgs allowance. So a huge bag of books and another of clothes for the kids hit the conveyor belt with my cricket bag. (Fits my walking poles). 38.4kg Phew!

    TIP: Many airlines will allow an extra baggage allowance if you’re taking goods for 3rd world charities, schools, hospitals, orphanages. Call their Customer Service department as early as you can and follow up with a written request, detailing what you’re taking and the recipient/s. I’ve had extra allowed by Singapore, Garuda & Virgin.

    “We’ll be serving lunch shortly – please put your seat backs up”. And they enforce it. “Singapore Girl, you’re a great way to fly!”

    G & T and peanuts while we peruse the menu. Appetizer of Prawns & lettuce with pasta. Mains – choice of beef, potatoes & vegetable or stir fried chicken, rice & bok choy. I take the chook. Didn’t note the dessert – don’t eat them.

    A glass of red and a nice little cheese platter. From Business or First, I think. I just asked if there were any – and it materialised. On a china plate. With a linen napkin. Thank you very much!

    The colours of my country unfold like an Emily Kngwarreye painting as we cross the Red Centre & head for the NT/WA coastline, sunset glinting on the myriad little islands & poking into inlets.

    Earlier, we’d flown over the Blue Mountains, green paddocks, vast plains of red, green & black; pink claypans & shimmering white salt lakes; blue & brown inland lakes . Red “waves” of the deserts give way to softer country & winding green serpents of the Dreamtime mark rivers, great & small. 5 hours flying – and it’s all ours!

    I’ve flown this route more times than I can count, and I never lose the “wow!”, or the little lump in my throat as we leave Australian airspace. And when I come home. I love to wander around the world, so there’s lots of “comings & goings”!

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    Here are some jottings from the latest little jaunt – a week in Bhutan & a month in Nepal in March & April, 2013.


    If you're looking for a finely detailed chronicle, packed with lots of info about prices, timetables, avoiding bedbugs, where to plug in toothbrushes & warnings about scams, safety & where to find food like home - move on now. I'm not your girl and this rambling tale will drive you nuts.

    Ask me anything you like though. If I can, I'll be only too pleased to help. I've put tips in here & there where I've thought of something I found useful.

    Right - now it's just we 3, let's have a coffee (or a vino if the sun's over your yardarm) & a chat.


    Changi is a great airport. Efficient, easy to navigate and best of all for those on the first leg of two or more long flights: The Transit Hotel.
    changiairport.com/in-transit/transit-hotel.

    Tip : There’s a hotel in each of the 3 Terminals, so book into the one you’ll be departing from. Book early – they’re not that big and fill up quickly.

    My room was a good size, ensuite, with tea & coffee making facilities & a TV. Basic, but perfectly adequate for an overnight stay.

    Tip: The water in Singapore is potable, but if you’re beginning a trip, or have a sensitive system, it might be an idea to start your “Bottled/purified water only” regime here.

    If you’re in the T2 hotel, Cedele is a good coffee shop/bar/breakfast spot. Just under the escalators near the Orchid garden.

    Time on your hands in an airport full of shops can be a trap for young players. Or even old dogs. I vacillated between an ipad & an ipad mini, dodging the bullet by sensibly deciding to “sleep on it”. Would like, but don’t need either. And their prices weren’t all that flash.

    Still had a few SGD burning a hole in my pocket next morning. Bought an extra battery & a memory card for my camera, some chocolates, tee shirts, caps & other things for the kids & friends in Nepal.

    And immediately morphed into a “Rollee”. You know, one of those people we all roll our eyes at in airports.

    The one trying to shove three bags of stuff into a tiny “carry on”. Or pulling out another bag, thereby breaking the “one + handbag” carry on rule. No, the “carry-on” won’t fit into the larger bag. Packing, re-packing … pfaffing about like a demented chook. Sometimes we’re the “Eye Roller”, having a quiet snigger. Today, I was definitely the “Rollee”!

    And then I woke up to myself & went up to the service counter at our departure lounge.

    “I’ve bought too much in the shops here to fit in my bag. Do you think I could possibly book this one through, please?” “Yes, of course. Just give it to the chap at the entry and collect it at the bottom of the stairs as you leave the flight.” And she thanked me for sticking to the rules! I was chuffed. No trying to slither it past everyone, juggle two bags down the aisle, haul both up into the baggage bin and repeat it all at the other end. Sweet!

    More to come ..A Gurkha, Sarangkot sunrise & Pokhara

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    SILK AIR is Singapore Airlines’ regional carrier but doesn’t hold a candle to it in service or facilities. Not on the SIN-KTM-SIN route, anyway.

    The cabin crew are charming, but things like only having ceiling mounted televisions in economy, playing some brain numbing show on a continuous loop, is not good enough by a long shot. No option to turn it off and no option to change the channel, despite numerous requests from disgruntled passengers. Mediocre food with insufficient of each option to give most people a choice.

    Fortunately, it’s only a 5 hour flight and I’d had a good breakfast before our 11am departure, so the food wasn’t an issue for me.

    TIP: Sit on the RHS & get a window. Great mountain views as we cross Nepal.

    My travelling companion for this leg was a charming young Nepalese chap from Pokhara. He’s a Gurkha in the British Army, home on a month’s leave. They’ve been in Laverton (Qld) on a training exercise. It’s his 2nd trip time in Australia and he’s also been to Brunei, UK and twice to Afghanistan. He says the Army is a good career and he sees himself continuing in it. It’s challenging personally, as he’s married and only gets home to see his wife & family a couple of times a year.

    The Nepalese have a long, rich & tremendously well respected history as Gurkhas, and only a very small percentage of the thousands of applicants are accepted. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigade_of_Gurkhas

    This clip shows some Gurkhas celebrating Dashain in Afghanistan last year

    www.youtube.com/watch…

    It’s fascinating talking with him about his life, family and the vistas being in the Army has opened for him. He’d not been out of Pokhara, except on a couple of school excursions to Chitwan & Kathmandu, before he enlisted.

    We’re both going to Pokhara & neither of us knows which flight we’re taking – we’re being met at KTM with our tickets & whisked across to the domestic terminal. Amed by his brother & me by someone from Lyn’s Nepalese tour operators.

    In the arrivals hall, the queue for the “Foreigners With Visa” is shorter than the VOA queue this time. It’s no big bonus though. It’s unusual to get out in less than an hour, so it’s just a matter of whether you’re waiting for Visa or Luggage. This time it’s luggage and when mine finally appears, the striped “cheap Charlie” bag with the books for the school is shredded. Just as well I’d triple bagged!

    There are plenty of trolleys – and willing porters – in this area and outside. If someone helps you, he’ll expect payment, so have a few NPR in your pocket. They would probably take other currency, but it’d be a nuisance for them to have to change it.

    Despite Kathmandu’s chaos in so many ways, they have a very efficient and thorough system at their airports. Overly thorough in some areas. In the Arrivals hall, every piece of luggage has its luggage tag checked against the one on your ticket before you can leave. So make sure you have those little barcoded stickers ready.

    Only passengers can enter the Terminal building, so everyone meeting passengers has to wait outside. If someone is meeting you, they’ll most likely be across the road with the Tour Operators, Taxis & others in the car park.

    I spy a sign, wave & we’re off. H’s car is nearby & I’m on the 3:30 Yeti Air to Pokhara. “The cricket bag to the Yak & Yeti, I’ll take the little one & the rest goes to your office storage.” I tell him. We'll take the stuff in storage up to the village next week.

    The two guys who took the trolley from me & wheeled it 20 metres to the car turn out not to be with H as I’d thought & want payment. I can’t find the NPR I’ve carefully put where I could find it in a hurry, so H tips them and gives me the NPR 200 departure tax I’ll need for the Pokhara flight.

    There’s a good start – H doesn’t know me from Adam & he’s down 300NPR in 3 minutes! So much for 3rd world handouts from the 1st world (lol).

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    The same system applies at the domestic airport – pax only past the front door. You show your Passport & ticket to the airport official at the door to gain entry. Immediately past that, there is the usual xray conveyor belt and then through either the “Ladies” or “Gents” scanning archway & straight to a curtained booth for a pat-down. The first of many.

    I’ve just retrieved my bag when along comes Amed – we’re on the same flight & have about 10 minutes to get on it. I mind our bags, he dashes off to pay our taxes.

    Next thing, a lady in a green sari, with 2 gold front teeth & about the same amount of English as my Nepali, grabs our bags, ushers me to the front of the queue & goes back for Amed. She’s an “Airport Assistant” & she’s on a mission to get us on that 3:30 flight.

    There’s no overhead storage on this flight, so I check my cabin bag through & just take my small daypack.

    Yet another xray, security scan and patdown. Less than 20 metres from the last lot. What dangerous thing, you wonder, could you acquire in that distance in a sealed room?

    We’re off! Through the “Ladies” & “Gents” exit doors & run up the steps.

    The Yeti Air plane is a Jetstream 41, single seats down the RHS as you enter, doubles on the left.

    TIP Left hand side for the best views.

    I’m in an aisle seat, but the Nepalese chap in the window seat offers to swap with me & I gratefully accept. He says does this flight often & we chat about Australia & a trip he’s planning next year.

    The hostie offers us lollies, cotton wool balls (for ear plugs) and cool drinks. Remember when they used to give out butterscotch lollies before take-off & landing on all flights? Probably not, I’m older than god & flew with the Wright brothers. Anyway, it’s a nice touch & I take a couple of lollies & pass on the cotton wool balls. Quite a few of the Nepalese people take the cotton wool.

    At Pokhara airport there’s great excitement – turns out my companion is a Nepalese celebrity & I later notice his face beaming archly from advertising posters.

    Amed introduces me to his family – his wife, mother, father & two sisters. “Namaste” & wish each other good travelling.

    From a recommendation on TA, I booked a room at the Sacred Valley Inn and their driver collects me from the airport. Thanks Jean, it’s a gem & I’m very happy to recommend it, too.

    I paid US25/ night for a good sized ensuite room with its own balconies on the middle floor. Two beds, charming colonial shutters on the windows & iron grills for security. Good sized bathroom, plenty of hot water.

    Power outlets in the bathroom & bedroom for charging phones, cameras etc.

    TIP: If you have more than one device to charge or run, take a power board from home. You only need one adapter for the power board & all your devices can be charged at once.

    TIP: Put a bottle of water in the bathroom with a glass/mug to remind yourself not to use tap water to brush your teeth. Someone gave me a little collapsible beaker and it really earned its space in my duffle bag.

    Water: The question of whether to buy bottled or boiled water, use Steripens or purifying tablets is always a topic and we will all have our personal preferences. I used a Steripen last year, it had a fault that I didn’t pick up & I paid the price. This year I used Aquatabs and occasionally bought some boiled water.

    A ziggy bottle full of hot water makes a good foot or hand warmer on a cold night.

    I was pleasantly surprised with the Aquatabs as they didn’t leave a taste and only took 30 minutes to purify a litre of water. 50 tablets in a packet, bought them in Australia. Light, convenient, effective & did the job.

    There’s a large roof terrace with views to the Peace Pagoda & mountains, but my favourite spot is the covered balcony on the middle floor.

    The Sacred Valley is an oasis just off the main street, opposite the Lake & not far to walk to the centre of town. There’s a little café attached to the hotel and it’s licensed.

    A big bottle of beer is NPR 275, wine 350/glass. Quiche & chips, 310. Delicious & goes down well with a frosty Everest beer. Dinner at the end of a long day. It’s nice to be back in Pokhara!

    TIP: Beer is a lot cheaper and generally better than most wines on offer in Nepal. (And Bhutan). I’m not much of a beer drinker at home, don’t care for fizzy soft drinks at all, but quite like Asian beers. My liking increases with the ambient temperature & the coldness of the beer!

    My first breakfast was French toast on the balcony, with freshly ground, organic locally grown plunger coffee. Heaven! http://www.sacredvalleyinn.com/

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    Over the next few days, I visited some places I’d missed last year, re-visited others.

    Walked along the Lake (Phewa Tal), took a boat trip around it. Bought some things I needed for my trip and some gifts to take home. I’d walked up to the Peace Pagoda last year and hadn’t even brought sneakers this year. This was really just a relax, shop & absorb the Nepali atmosphere preamble to Bhutan, the village & our wander around the Khumbu region. I’d have plenty of time in Kathmandu between & after those trips.

    First stop: The money changer. Rates are always better in Kathmandu, but I got 88 NPR/AUD from the guys next to the hotel. No time to change any at the airports. There are ATMs near the exit at the International. As elsewhere, you’ll get a better rate from money changers on the streets than in the Airports, so if you need some fast cash at the airport, use the ATM.

    Rates on the board in Pokhara on 25/3/13 were:

    AUD: 87.58 USD: 84.22; EU: 107.94; GBP: 127.37; CHF:89.15. Banks open at 11 & the rates are set then.

    Tip: It’s a good Application & useful for quick rough calculations & references when you’re travelling.

    Just while we’re thinking about money: “Dirty Money” has real meaning in Nepal. Those paper notes can be really grotty. Use the hand wash before you pick up that spring roll or momo. I hate the stuff too, but I hate the trots more! Just a bit of risk minimisation.

    It’s easy for me to mistake one note for another, too. I can be a clutz with unfamiliar currency and you can bet your bottom dollar I’m more likely to hand over 10,000 or 100,000 than 1,000 if they’re all green & I’m paying a taxi in a hurry or a restaurant in low light. So I get a set of the currencies I’ll encounter before I leave home. Yes, I played “shop” as a kid.

    I have enough opportunities to look like a twit without adding “impecunious” to the description!

    Did I mention a little retail therapy? Found some stunning pashminas at Zaroo’s shop. Modern designs & the finest fabric. Mine has dark green camels on a pale cream background. I slung it around my shoulders at the theatre last week and had 3 compliments from strangers. This chap is a seriously talented designer. I love the traditional designs – but this is really something special. I bought a wonderful grey, black & vivid cerise one for my cousin. Art Deco with an edge. Can’t find his card or remember the name of the shops at the moment, but there are two shops, both with modern fit out & big windows. Opposite side of the street to the Lake.

    Had to have some more water bottle carriers, purses and bags from the Womens’ Skills Development shop.

    http://www.handmade-link.com/?page_id=9 The smallish bags are fantastic for mobile, small camera, tissues etc., & slip over your shoulder for easy access when you’re trekking. Or just going for a walk at home. My friend used one when she had a broken foot – saved her running for the cordless phone every time it rang.


    I like to support these women and it’s easy to do because they make attractive, useful products at a very good price. Some of what I buy will be sold to by two schools in Australia to raise funds for a couple of schools in a remote village in Nepal. Goes around, comes around. Paying it forward.

    Bought some ear rings & pendants from a Tibetan lady by the lake. Other bits & pieces from one of the jewellers. You need to negotiate & know your values and I was happy with the result. The recipients have been very chuffed. A nice selection of things in the “Christmas” & “Birthday” repository. Some may even be given, if I don’t raid it first!
    There are lots of museums & interesting places. These are two of my favourites.

    Gurkha Museum . http://gurkhamuseum.org.np/


    International Mountain Museum: http://www.internationalmountainmuseum.org/

    The Tibetan Refugee camp was closed, so I couldn’t see carpets being made as I’d hoped. But oh, what a treat instead! There was a ceremony at the Monastery and we could go in. I was enthralled at the chanting, music and prayers of the assembled Monks. It was such a memorable thing, to sit quietly & absorb everything. I was the only non-Nepalese there. The opulent, detailed, exquisite paintings, colourful robes & rich tones. And the deepest, deep throat singing of the leading Monk. Goosebump stuff.

    Little Monks giggling and a European doing prostrations to the side of the Altar. I lost count at 150 and wondered, irreverently & irrelevantly, what on earth he’d done to require such atonement.

    Something strange happened and although none of the Monks missed a beat, the change of energy was palpable. A bearded man in a red “hoodie” came into the Monastery & walked very slowly between the seats and the last row of Monks. Imagine a “U” shape, with the Altar at the top, the entry door at the bottom & 3 or 4 rows of monks forming the long arms of the “U”. A metre or so behind those arms, were low “pews” & cushions for people attending the service. This man walked very, very slowly along one side, between the Monks & pews, behind the Altar & down the other side, glaring at the Monks with what could only be described as an extremely baleful countenance, and I felt quite uncomfortable.

    For the 2nd time in my life, I thought I might be “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

    I wasn’t , but the mood lifted the second he left the building. One of life’s mysteries, I guess. My Driver, Depak, said he’d felt it too & was tossing up whether to get us out just before the man left.

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    One morning Depak & I went up to Sarangkot for sunrise. His English is excellent, he’s a great guide to Pokhara, pleasant & interesting person, so any time I needed a car I called him.

    Left the Sacred Valley just after 5 and were there ahead of all the tourist buses & other taxis. We walked to the highest building & were the first on its rooftop terrace.

    Warmed by a hot chocolate, we had the best seats in the house as we waited. It was one of those hazy mornings that clears as the sun rises & we had magnificent views of the sun striking the faces of the Himalayan mountains. Magic!

    There is nothing like that red sun of Asian sunrises & sunsets. Yes, I know it’s because of smog/smoke. I see the sun rising out of the ocean from my deck every morning – and this still takes my breath away. That’s not quite right – it drops my breathing rate in the same way that scuba diving does. Or coming home around a familiar bend … aaahhh . Everything’s perfect with the world

    You don’t want to be behind all those buses and cars tracking back into town, so make sure you leave before they do.

    Breakfast at the Pokhara Beach Club, right on the lake was the icing on my cake that morning. http://www.pokharabeachclub.com/

    Watching the boats on the lake, and all the hang gliders & ultralites like flocks of birds swooping down from the hill just added one more element to a perfect venue. Fresh juices, fruit & coffee.

    I went back there for dinner one night and that was just magic, with lantern & candles in the restaurant & fireflies lighting up the drop between the restaurant & the beach & house lights reflecting on the lake as the sun set.

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    Every place has interesting sights, unique features – but isn’t it often the people you meet that you remember? The chance conversations you strike up. You might never see that person again, but every now & again you’ll have a perfect picture of them, the moment & your conversation. Occasionally, that chance meeting turns into a lifelong friendship.

    Two I’m thinking of just now are:


    • An English woman who works in Saudi with a women’s collective. She lived in Nepal for 3 years, comes back every year, but a dicky knee put a stop to her trekking. Her tip: Wash your toothbrush in mouthwash & keep it in a Ziploc bag. Don’t eat leafy green things after monsoon, no matter how well the restaurant tells you it’s washed.


    • The English couple, who came to Nepal 10 years ago, asked a friend what they could do to help. Now retired, they raise funds in the UK to replace fuel burning stoves in remote villages & spend 3-4 months a year there. Did you know indoor smoke inhalation is a major cause of death & disease in Nepal & other 3rd world countries? Or that 20 quid in the UK can morph into a new stove for a family in a remote village with UK tax refunds? I didn’t.
    practicalaction.org/smoke-indoor-air-polluti…


    I was peering in the window of the Bong Shop. I'm the right age, but didn't get into any of the 60's & 70's "Agriculture", so am fascinated to see this collection. It's still illegal in Australia. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vuk_aNImJsk

    "Window shopping, Didi?" An arm draped around my shoulder & I whirled around to see TB grinning at me. One of our guides from last year,he'd become a great friend, and I'd be visiting his village next week.

    He'd been on a trek with one of Lyn's groups and they were in Pokhara for their last night.

    It's always a party night, with a dinner, celebratory cake and the Guides & Porters are paid their tips/bonuses. Lots of laughter & reminiscances of the trek. The tips for the Guides & Porters are pooled and each person receives an envelope with his name on it. The envelopes are distributed amongst the trekkers and each person makes a little speech to the the Guide/Porter whose envelope they have. Often funny & usually moving, the connections made on the trek are evident in both parties' words & voices. The Porters often only have a few words of English and they're often very shy - but love the genuine applause & affection with which they're showered. And the NPR is soooooooo much appreciated.

    Oh gee, tears rolling down my cheeks just writing this. Those Bhais (boys) are amazing. They carry our gear, always cheerfully, up hill & down dale in all weathers. Greet us with a grin & a cuppa when we struggle into a tea house. Get out their drums, pipes & sing & dance at night. Great dance moves, too!

    The Guides show us things we'd never see on our own, help us when we need it and let us see so much more of their culture & wonderful country than we ever would on our own.

    If you've ever trekked with a group of Porters, this will zap you straight back to Nepal, no matter when or where you hear it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wupWHgg9lng

    "Come tonight at 6, Didi" Lyn had left a message at my hotel, but TB found me first. It was a great night, with her group including a Swiss, an Austrian, a couple of Italians and 3 Australians.


    Of course I had to buy a new duffle bag to fit all my purchases in & found one for a good price.

    I’d bought 2 pairs of trekking pants, 2 shirts, waterproof & fleece pants, gloves & a microfiber beanie. All of which I could probably have bought cheaper/better in Kathmandu. But the difference in price & quality wasn’t as important to me as having a few days in Pokhara & picking them up away from the bustle of KTM.

    Time to head back to Kathmandu, pack my bag for Bhutan.

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    I know this is an old, very old post but I couldn't resist from replying to your wonderful experience in Nepal. Reading the whole story makes you wanna get the similar experience. Photos would have been nice or maybe you should put a website up and share other traveling experiences and photos.

    Cheers! and Happy New Year everyone

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