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Trip Report Trip Report on Recent Journey to Nepal

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It’s time for this lurker to say thanks for all your help in planning for our recent visit to India and Nepal. Besides the brutal jetlag we encountered upon our return, everything about the trip was excellent. I will forego many details and simply paint the overall picture of our experiences. The entire journey was arranged flawlessly by Amit Nayyar at &Beyond India. We are two couples of “old friends” who have known each other for more than 50 years and who have traveled previously to New Zealand, Tanzania, and southern Africa. We prefer upscale accommodations, private touring, and a good dose of nature, wildlife and birds. We achieved each of these goals. This posting covers only our time in Nepal.

After almost two weeks in India we flew from Delhi to Kathmandu on a mid-day Jet Airways flight. We were me at the international terminal in Kathmandu by our private guide and his driver. After claiming our baggage the guide suggested we go directly to the Pashupatinath Temple area so the following day would not be too demanding and tiring. It proved to be a great suggestion. After entering the UNESCO site we walked along the eastern shore of the Bagmati River opposite the main temple. We were amazed at how many separate temples were squeezed into the condensed area. We then saw the ghat areas along the river where up to 35 cremations occur each day. There were several cremations that were well underway, others that were about to commence and one where the family had just begun their preparations. The air was somewhat smoky. We then crossed the river and walked near the Pashupatinath Temple but could not get too close since the temple is restricted to only members of the Hindu faith. Our guide pointed out several ancient figurines, phallic symbols, and idols which were covered with red powder from a recent festival. In the vicinity of one temple there was a gathering of ascetic or holy men (Sadhu) who were eager to be photographed as long as they were “paid” for the photograph; they were colorful and photogenic. Our last stop was the area where the families of the recent cremations spend time until the soul of the departed has moved on. This was a quiet and peaceful area. All in all we learned many new concepts and practices of the Hindu faith. We then drove to our hotel, Dwarika’s Hotel, which was located near the airport. The hotel was developed to preserve the ancient style of wood carving that is prevalent throughout Nepal. The doors and windows frames and shutters are elaborately carved and stained very dark for a great contrast to the red brick which appeared to be the favored building material. Our rooms and the public areas of the hotel possessed a museum quality to them. Dinner was in the generic restaurant and was very good and nicely presented.

Early the next morning our guide and driver delivered us to the domestic terminal at the airport for a one hour flightseeing trip along the Himalayas. We were lucky that the weather was ideal so we had a smooth flight with excellent visibility of the mountains, including Mount Everest. The windows of the aircraft were not crystal clear but we were able to capture several good photographs of the snow covered mountains. We returned to the hotel and shortly after breakfast we set off for our guided tours of nearby historic and religious sites. The morning traffic in Kathmandu was not much better than the traffic we encountered in Delhi and other Indian cities. Our first destination was the walled medieval city of Bhaktapur which is another one of the seven UNESCO site in the Kathmandu Valley. The old city of Bhaktapur is the best preserved of the three ancient kingdom cities. We passed wells where women were collecting water and carrying it to their homes and we passed shops that were selling a wide variety of foodstuffs. There were numerous temples scattered throughout the old neighborhoods and also around the edges of two large open squares. One of the most impressive temples was the tallest structure in the old city. The tall steps up to the five tiered temple were flanked with pairs of large statues: wrestlers, elephants, lions, griffins, and was topped by two goddesses. The temple was built in the early 18th century and has survived earthquakes that destroyed smaller temples. We wanted to learn more about the singing bowls and stopped at a shop that created hand made multilayered bowls that the owner preferred to call “Energy Transfer Devices” due to their purported therapeutic powers. We also stopped at a workshop for wood carvings and saw the Pottery Square with hundreds of clay objects drying in the sun. We then walked to Durbar Square where we had lunch overlooking the square. After lunch we toured near a temple behind the Golden Gate and on our way to the van we walked past shops selling real artifacts and art work. We could never identify the many temples we saw but it was an interesting four hour tour of the old city.

We then drove to Patan, the third kingdom city, on the other side of the Bagmati River. Patan was smaller and quieter than either Kathmandu or Bhaktapur but just as interesting to explore. The Patan Museum was our next stop and was housed in the former Malla royal palace. From there we walked through Patan’s Durbar Square where there were more temples than we could count! The most elaborate one was the Krishna Mandir Temple which was built in 1637 from grey stone and adorned with 23 golden pinnacles. We observed several areas where individuals were practicing their religious customs from chanting before a sacred figure, to burning tapers or incense, to applying colors to their bodies or idols. Buddhists and Hindus observe and practice their religions as individuals or as groups. It was most interesting to observe. After about an hour and a half we were ready to leave Patan and drive to our final destination of the day, the large spherical stupa called Boudhanath which was located near the hotel. The drive through Patan and Kathmandu was an adventure because every street was filled with cars, bikes, motorcycles, pedestrians, animals, trucks, rickshaws, etc. Our driver dropped us off and we walked a couple of blocks to the stupa which was right in the midst of the city. It was a huge, brilliant white dome with multicolored flags flying over it. Crowds of people, mostly Buddhists, were walking clockwise around its base as part of their devotional practice. The edge of the walking area was lined with colorful shops selling religious items and souvenirs. We went up to the fourth floor of a building to get a better overall view of the stupa and then we climbed to the raised platform encircling the dome. It was a festive end to a very interesting day. Once back at the hotel we feasted on a traditional multicourse dinner in Krishnarpan, the specialized Nepalese restaurant; we sat on very low chairs and tried a wide array of dishes under the watchful eye of a team of attentive servers.

The next morning we were back to the domestic airport for the very short flight to Pokhara in the foothills of the Himalayas. The city is less than 30 miles from some of the tallest mountains in the country. We were met at the small airport by a driver and naturalist from the Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge which is located up in the hills and about an hour from the airport. Once again we had an interesting drive through the city and countryside as we climbed more than a thousand feet to the lodge. The final few miles were continuous switchbacks on the narrow dirt road. When we reached the lodge we knew the drive was worth the effort. The lodge was built in 1998 and is beautifully and thoughtfully designed. Each stone cottage has views of the countryside and the views from the main lodge are spectacular. The patio faces the Annapurna Range of the Himalayas and the peaks stretch for 180 degrees. We sat and admired the view while nibbling on cookies and drinks. While sitting there we realized that it was the same view on a photo my mother-in-law sent us from her trekking trip to Nepal almost 30 years ago. She was somewhat closer to the mountains but the view was equally impressive. After lunch we joined our naturalist for a three hour nature walk through the surrounding area and a nearby village. We were fortunate to spot a wide variety of butterflies and birds as we visited several home sites and gardens in the village. Our guide provided a wealth of information about the flora and fauna and interesting stories about living in the nearby village. We also saw many of the agricultural terraces my mother-in-law had mentioned from her trip to Nepal; to us they reminded us of the terraces at Machu Picchu. The walk in the countryside was a welcomed change to the city environments we had experienced. We returned to the lodge for showers, free internet, and sunset. Dinner followed and we had a choice of traditional Nepalese or continental. I should note that the electrical power was off for a few hours late in the afternoon and resumed when the lodge’s generators were started about 5:30pm. Electrical outages are evidently not uncommon in Nepal even though the country has extensive hydroelectric facilities.

The following morning we opted for a driving tour of the surrounding area with a driver and our naturalist from the lodge, but first we were up early to watch sunrise over the Himalayas. The lodge’s swimming pool was situated to reflect the mountains in the still water. Sunrise at such a setting was extraordinary and we witnessed and photographed the changes in light for nearly two hours. This natural beauty was a highlight of our visit to Nepal. After a traditional western breakfast we set off by four-wheel drive vehicle. The ride down the switchbacks was more thrilling the climb up. We drove for about an hour to a ridge where paragliders were preparing their equipment and stepping off the edge of the earth to catch the drafts that carried them over a lake below or towards the towering mountains. It literally was a “leap of faith” in our minds. We were fascinated by the gliders and also spotted some new birds for our sightings list, however we failed to notice that clouds were accumulating over the peaks. We drove up further to the village of Sarangkot and then climbed too many steps up to the Sarangkot Lookout which offered panorama views. The views of the Himalayas were obscured by clouds but the views of the valleys and towns below were very interesting. Every now and then we had a glimpse of a mountain peak. We walked down an abandoned dirt road to meet the van and began our drive through numerous villages and isolated farms. Life was difficult and the work was hard but everyone stopped to wave and smile. Besides the electricity that ran to nearly every dwelling there was no evidence of being in the 20th, let alone the 21st century. Nothing was mechanized and the tasks of carrying wood for fires, water for cooking, rocks for building, etc. all seemed to fall to the women who carried their load by anchoring a strap around their foreheads. Yet, despite the effort they smiled at us as we slowly passed them in our vehicle. We saw women and children bathing and doing laundry in a pond, we saw water buffalo swimming in another pond, and we saw the construction site for a new lodge where the men were cutting the stone blocks by hand with hammer and chisel. We stopped for our packed lunch under a large tree near a hand water pump and a few homes that constituted one of the villages. Soon we were joined by a group of children and adults who told us about their efforts to develop a soccer/football field to which we made a small contribution. The kids were happy to receive the food bundles we did not open but our naturalists wisely did not give them any of the sweets. It was a great experience to share time with a lovely group of people who had no concept of our way of life in the US. The driving tour continued to Lake Fewa and the city of Pokhara which serves as the supply base and setting off point for trekkers. We walked along the lakefront, stopped for beers at a new restaurant, shopped for gifts, and explored the touristy waterfront area of the city. All too soon it was time to drive back to the lodge for another sunset and our final night in Nepal. Our time at the Tiger Mountain Lodge was a perfect culmination of a wonderful few days in Nepal thanks to the wonderful guide who taught us so much about his country.

The next morning was a bit relaxed since we did not leave for the airport until 9:30am. It took longer to drive to the airport than the actual flight back to Kathmandu. We were met at the domestic terminal by our Kathmandu guide and driver, and then driven to the international terminal for our flight back to Delhi. We had a long layover and saw a tour group assemble that was also flying back to Delhi. The size of the group and the chaos they created further convinced us that our choice of a private tour was best for us. Eventually our flight was called and we boarded the aircraft for the 2.5 hour flight to India. Before actual boarding we went through a series of four security checks and pat downs; the last one at the top of the steps entering the aircraft. Airport security was serious business in Nepal. Our short time in Nepal was excellent and added much to the value and experiences of our travels. Details for the India portion of our journey are posted on the India forum.

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