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We Did It Our Way--an Unusual 6 Weeks in India & Nepal (long)

We Did It Our Way--an Unusual 6 Weeks in India & Nepal (long)

Old Aug 12th, 2014, 05:08 AM
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Day 17 – Dia, Pushkar

So, ready to leave Samad Sadar Palace, and reading through the guidebooks and maps looking for a location that would fit in our itinerary as we slowly moved north up towards the Shekhawati area, we decided to visit Pushkar. In my initial planning I'd thought about Pushkar, but it wasn't a strong enough draw that it was on my list to be a must-see and a place I would arrange everything else around in order to make it happen. And, I knew from my trip planning that Pushkar is one of those places that people seem to either love or hate. We had so been entranced by the spirituality we found in Haridwar and in Varanasi on our first trip, we thought it would be interesting to visit another holy city on a body of water. Now, having been there, we can say we fall in the dislike Pushkar category.

Pushkar itself is a small-sized city with all of the typical Indian chaos, but for the tourist and religious pilgrims, everything centers around the not particularly large lake. The lake itself is surrounded by bustling bazaars one has to walk through to reach the edges of the lake. There is no natural lake shore; rather, the entire lake is ringed in cement steps/ghats and landings going down to the lake. And, all of this cement is covered with lots and lots and lots of pigeon poop that looked as thought it had never been cleaned up. We had planned to circumnavigate the lake (what should have been a very easy walk because the distance is not far at all even though one has to go up and down and in and out of the various areas to make it all the way around the lake) but gave up in disgust after an hour or so.

Since this is a holy lake people need to remove their shoes and go barefoot or in socks. Now I know we should have had socks with us that we could have just thrown away as bio-hazards after walking around the lake. We walked for a while carrying our shoes with us. Then, we were yelled at by a man with a bullhorn because apparently we weren't even supposed to have shoes near the lake. So, I guess you need to have them in a bag so they aren't visible or just leave them sitting out and go back to them, hoping they will still be there when you return. As I said, this whole area ringing the lake was go gross that when we went to put our sandals back on we wiped our feet (twice) with anti-bacterial wipes before even wanting to put shoes on.

I guess I don't understand why, in respect for a holy lake, religious adherents don't try to clean this up. But, perhaps I don't understand India. I've recently been reading the many articles about the extremely poor sanitation in India and how many poorer Indians need to be educated about why they should use the new government-funded toilets rather than maintaining their preference to defecate in the open fields.

End of digression.

The highlight of our trip to Pushkar was that we had a spacious, lovely room—Aarti—at Dia which is a small, semi-boutique lodging in a quiet part of town. In addition to the room there is a nice private balcony on one side and a common swing on the other. We had dinner (only veg and no alcohol as this is a holy town) delivered to our room from their sister restaurant for a nice, private meal on our balcony. Having the refrigerator in the room was another plus. Although this is a lovely place, it is still in some ways in the category of budget lodging. While there is hot water to the shower, the sink only has cold water. And, the super dingy, once white but now grey towels would never pass muster anywhere. But, at $50 a night including breakfast, I can't complain.

All in all, this is a very nice place to stay in a town that didn't do a thing for us. Initially we were disappointed Dia only had one night available, but in the end were more than satisfied with a one night stay in Pushkar. So, the string of one-nighters continued. Since on a trip of this sort we consider ourselves travelers looking for enrichment and experiences and not people who are relaxing“on vacation”, we'll push on when a place doesn't call to us even if the result means more living out of the suitcase and pushing on is not as comfortable as just staying put.

We finally decided to continue on with our trip for the full six weeks and booked a flight on Spicejet, a budget airline, to Kathmandu for March 12 (four days from now). The price was cheap and was really only about $10 or $15 more than if we had booked much earlier, so it was a bargain. We'd figure out the Nepal portion of our trip and our return flight timing while we were in Nepal, and we'd just start initially with a one night booking at a Kathmandu hotel. How long we'd stay in Nepal was open, and whether we'd spend the entire rest of the trip in Nepal or return for a few final days in India was still a moving target. As should be obvious by now, we are not the type of people who feel that it is necessary to have everything arranged, confirmed, and locked in place when we travel. Even for a really long trip like this, we typically don't even buy air tickets until four to six weeks out. And, we've had success in operating in this manner.

Having learned on our first trip my train lessons about the need for making India train reservations way in advance, I was playing the India train game. I've used Cleartrip on both of our trips to make train and plane reservations, and it is a snap (once you get your information coordinated with IndiaRail for security issues). I'm willing to play the India waitlist game with the railroads, and, although it can be harrowing at times watching to see if your name moves up to the confirmed status for a journey, we've been successful in our travels by train. On the other hand, as I am sure is true of all good travel agents, the agent we used in Rajasthan for both trips will not make train reservations unless there are confirmable seats to book because he wants his clients to be certain their plans are a go. I think the one advantage to having an agent book train tickets for you, and I am not 100% certain on this, is that an agent can pull some strings (I think) if he has booked the seats and a change has to be made on a train with no available seats.

I had several sets of different reservations at different locales for the end of the trip. If I didn't want them, I’d just cancel for a full refund a day or two before the date of the departure. One of the locales was the Sikh's holy city Amritsar. The city had been calling to me, and I was trying to figure out how to make it a part of this trip since it didn't happen during our first trip. On the other hand, we would have now spent nine weeks in India without ever visiting India's premier tourist attraction, the Taj Mahal. I'm not saying we'll never visit there, but I don't feel compelled to make a super special effort to get there.
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Old Aug 12th, 2014, 06:49 AM
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Sorry about your flood, but at least there is a silver lining to it and the insurance money will allow you to re-decorate. My understanding re: pushkar is that the primary highlight is the yearly camel festival. Amistrar calls to me as well, but we did not make it there. Enjoying your report still.
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Old Aug 12th, 2014, 10:54 AM
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My goodness! I am seeing how this series of one-nighters just piled one on another! The good news is that you are flexible and don't hesitate to move on if a place is not to your liking.

Looking forward to more.
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Old Aug 15th, 2014, 07:29 PM
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When you flew to Kathmandu did you have a Nepal visa already or did you get one there? We are debating about whether or not to get one before we go from India to Nepal.
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Old Aug 15th, 2014, 09:30 PM
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europe2011. A VOA is v.easy. Here's my experience of Kathmandu (Tribhuavan) airport from March this year...

"TRIBHUVAN AIRPORT. It's a small airport, so unless you're v.unlucky your flight won't have arrived immediately behind a queue of incoming flights. There's no air-bridge, so you'll either get bussed a few yards, or walk from the aircraft.

We got VOA, having printed off application forms online. So we had the forms fully completed, a passport size photo stapled to it, and US$40 fee [30 day] all ready. There are different visa queues that I saw, depending on the length of visa you wanted (15/30/90 days). A 15 day VOA is US$25.

We were staying for 35 days. So we joined the 30 day queue, having 'lied' about our intended length of stay on the visa form. Had we stated our correct length of stay then we'd have had to buy a 90 day visa for US$100, whereas it's less expensive to purchase a 15 day extension either at the Immigration Office in Kathmandu (KTM), or in Pokhara.

It took us 20 minutes from feet on the ground to retrieving our baggage, including changing €20 at the exchange kiosk to the left of the Visa queues. I saw a bloke in front of me reaching the front of the visa queue only to find that he never had a photo, so he had to suck-it and go to the photo machine in Arrivals. The RoE at the exchange kiosk was only marginally less than we got in KTM.

There was no separate queue for Immigration after you get your Visa into your passport. So once you get your Visa you can proceed to baggage reclaim.

So, providing you've done a bit of homework regarding VOA, the clearing Tribhuvan Airport is painless.

AIRPORT PICK-UP. We'd pre-arranged our pick-up with our KTM hosts, he was there, and off we went to start our little adventure. There's a fixed-price taxi kiosk in Arrivals, and you could also walk a few yards outside the airport grounds and flag one down. BUT if you do take a taxi be aware that the vast majority of the [zillions] of taxis in KTM are tiny Maruti Suzuki 800cc vehicles, which will only comfortable take 2 x medium sized passengers and a couple of medium sized suitcases."
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Old Dec 28th, 2014, 02:30 PM
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Well, after a four month break from this trip report, I am back posting again and hope to finish it off.

March 9 & 10 – Roop Niwas, Nawalgarh

Days 18 & 19

Since our first trip to India I'd been intrigued by the idea of seeing the painted homes in the Shekhawati area. Many things I'd read suggested that the town of Mandawa is the most touristy place to be located, so we decided instead to stay in Nawalgarh. (Having now visited Mandawa I think I'd choose that instead if I had it to do over because, other than having places to buy tourist-oriented items, it didn't seem overwhelmingly touristy to us.)

As we knew advance, it was going to be a longer drive from Pushkar to the Shekhawati area than most we'd recently had, and we'd stopped for lunch at a small restaurant on the outskirts of this area so it was mid afternoon when we arrived. For lodging we selected Roop Niwas Kothi which is a large estate on the outskirts of the town of Nawalgarh, and we'd booked for two nights (possibly even thinking of three nights). On arrival we were shown two rooms--one a tacky, regular room in the main building and the second in the lower level, old staff quarters area adjacent to the main building. This was despite the fact that there were only three rooms booked the day we arrived. So there must have been other options. Or, maybe all rooms are of this standard.

The rather minimally decorated, large-size room we took in the lower adjacent wing was definitely quiet (a plus) but lacking some basic amenities. And, as more people (a small tour group) checked in on day two the room was no longer so quiet because all of the rooms have screen doors that bang shut quickly and loudly. As we got settled in, we discovered that there was no closet, there were no hooks and there were no hangers. In other words, no place to put your clothes other than to leave them lying on your suitcase. The manager had asked for constructive criticism, and I mentioned this to him but got a non-reply. When I also mentioned to him that typically hotels of this quality level include a complimentary bottle of water in the room, he just replied that they don't. And, on principle, I was quite turned off by the prominently displayed sign posted in the reception area announcing that outside food and drink are banned.

Right after our arrival we decided that we just weren't that favorably impressed by the place and planned to leave after the first night and find a different lodging in the area. The place looks like my grandmother's house that was last decorated in the 1930s or 1940s and doesn't even fit the category of shabby chic. In the softer light of night, the place does look better, and by our first morning we decided it wasn't worth the hassle to move and we might as well stay for both of our nights. It was okay, but the place certainly isn't anything special. And, it definitely has some deficiencies.

The second night of our stay tour groups had come in, and we were not allowed to order off the menu as we had done the night before. Instead, it was a buffet only option, and a buffet that we felt was over-priced. Plus, we are not fans of buffets. If returning to the area, we'd make a different lodging choice.

Upon arrival we settled in a bit and, rather than seeing the local painted havelis, we asked our driver to take us to the nearby town of Dundlod where we could wander around a while and see the murals there before darkness fell. The next day when we set out to drive to Mandawa we discovered that we were taking exactly the same road, so we should have combined those two trips in one. Oh well. Our driver was very experienced and knew all of the roads and back roads in the area, and the drive from Nawalgarh to Mandawa took maybe 45 minutes. In fact, we never ended up at Poddar Haveli Museum in Nawalgarh because by the end of a day of visiting Mandawa havelis, we were both haveli muraled out and opted not to visit.

Our arrival in Mandawa proved to be quite interesting, to say the least. As we were very slowly making our way in through the very crowded and narrow streets in the middle of the town so the driver could drop us off at the epicenter of the havelis, our car was suddenly surrounded by a group of perhaps six or eight men who were loudly shouting in Hindi and gesticulating. We, of course, had no idea in the world what was going on and became quite apprehensive and were very glad the windows were rolled up with the AC on. My mind started racing, remembering all of those things we've read about mobs of people surrounding offending drivers after car accidents and I wondered about trying to call the police, not that I would have even know how to do this.... After a few minutes of this, the driver slowly started to back up around the narrow corner (no easy feat), and we still had no idea in the world what was going on. Then, I happened to glance directly down out of my car window and saw that a donkey was giving birth in the middle of the street not more than a foot from our car. In fact, the baby's head had just emerged. Only in India!

Since getting around the donkey and backing up and out was quite difficult, and since we were no more than a block or two from our destination, we told our driver we'd get out and walk the rest of the way. He wouldn’t hear of it and insisted that he deliver us right to the large, open courtyard parking area in the center of town adjacent to some of the nicest havelis.

When we arrived we learned why he insisted on driving us all the way. There were guides here, and our drive planned to hook us up with one. We vacillated a bit and finally made an agreement with the guide to have him take us around. Despite our apprehensions, and wondering if our driver was just out to make some money for himself off this arrangement (we're sure he did), this was a good decision because the guide was fabulous.

When you hire a car and driver from TGS Travel, you are given information that explicitly states that you should not necessarily take your driver's recommendations as far as eating and shopping. This can become a delicate balancing act because, obviously, the driver knows the area and you don’t. Yet, we all know that drivers make recommendations based on their kickbacks or benefits they receive from these places they suggest. On day one we had told our driver that we are not shoppers so he should not recommend places to stop and shop. Other than one time, he never did. And, the one time he did recommend stopping at a place to shop, we just told him we weren't interested.

Interestingly enough not ten or fifteen minutes after the car and donkey episode we walked right past the place where the donkey had been giving birth, and there was no donkey or baby to be seen. We really enjoyed the havelis in Mandwa, and we found Mandawa to be an interesting town to wander around in on our own for a bit after our time with the guide was finished. Just walking and wandering is one of our favorite things to do and have found that these memories are often more interesting than just checking off another must-see sight on the tourist list.

We'd had lunch at a small restaurant in Mandwa, so by the time we got back to our room at Roop Niwas it was mid-afternoon. We'd seen enough painted murals and decided to just spend the remaining few hours of daylight at the hotel. Wanting to access the internet, we settled in to our usual table in a corner of the main hotel guest terraces (the signal doesn't reach the rooms). As we were sitting there, one of the employees came up to us and asked if we would be interested in seeing the daily arrival of the horses as they galloped in to the stable from the fields. If so, we should stroll down to the fenced and gated stable area shortly. I left for the stables with my husband saying he'd follow shortly.

When I arrived in the enclosure, the stable hands sent me off in the direction of a small table where I was shortly joined by a middle-aged gentlemen. It was a magnificent sight watching all of the horses suddenly thundering around a corner and into the farmyard and then into to their stalls. I was offered tea and accepted, and my husband finally arrived having missed the horses' arrival. It turned out that the man I was sitting with was the owner of the estate (whom we saw the next day in a car decorated with flags and who was kow-towed to with much pomp) and we had a very enjoyable conversation on many different topics for least an hour with him.

This personal touch and seeing the stables with the owner was the highlight of our stay at Roop Niwas Kothi and made the experience of staying there worthwhile. And, this reinforces to me once again why we much prefer to travel on our own. These types of serendipitous encounters and opportunities—the ones that make for the best travel memories-- just don't happen when you are with a large or small group.
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Old Dec 28th, 2014, 02:57 PM
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We were surprised by the lack of American tourists, as your were. But I also noticed after our 1st week in India, that when speaking of tourists, that includes huge numbers of Indian tourists. I loved seeing large family groups enjoying the "sights," because it reminded me of a dear friend in the States, who used to tell me she wished she and her husband could just go somewhere on their own, without all the cousins and aunties, etc.
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Old Dec 29th, 2014, 02:38 AM
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<<Then, I happened to glance directly down out of my car window and saw that a donkey was giving birth in the middle of the street not more than a foot from our car. In fact, the baby's head had just emerged. Only in India!>>

Julies, love the story! It is truly an "Only in India" kind of experience!

We also worked with TGS when we were in Rajasthan/Varanasi 2 years ago. In fact, your trip report was one of the ones I used to help prepare for our trip. Did you have Raj as a driver? My husband and I became very fond of him after 2 weeks of travel, and saying goodbye was hard.

Thanks for your detailed report - very enjoyable! I'm looking forward to your trip to the south -- it's definitely a place we plan to visit in the not-too-distant future.

Paule
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Old Dec 29th, 2014, 11:28 AM
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Thanks for your report, julies. I've spent about 6 months in India on several trips and now considering a return. I, too, love the less touristed places but need to be pointed in some new directions and your report interests me for that reason. I will be staying tuned for more.
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Old Dec 29th, 2014, 01:22 PM
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uhoh-busted--I think we may figure prominently in the photos of some of those large groups of families since we were the tourist attraction in some places.

progol--Raj was our driver on our first trip, and we did prefer him to our second driver who was still fine. We'd asked for Raj on this trip, but the timing didn't work out.

MmePerdu--If you are interested in less visited places, then you'll definitely want to read my first trip report.

http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...ited-india.cfm
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Old Dec 29th, 2014, 01:31 PM
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Now, back to the story and moving on to Nepal....



March 11, Day 20 – Patan Mahal, Patan

We'd finalized our plans with a flight to Kathmandu from Delhi in mid-afternoon of March 12 and had intended to go directly there from the Shekhawati area, but after consulting with Nikhil from TGS and the driver we realized that we did not want to try to push it and have to make a very, very early departure in the morning in order to be certain we'd make our flight from Delhi. And, since we knew we were done with the painted havelis (there is haveli overload just as there can be church overload in Europe), we decided to look for a place closer to the airport to spend our last night of this portion of the trip in India.

After some research on our own and discussion, I contacted Patan Mahal and made a reservation. We were given the prime room/suite on the front of the building with a balcony overlooking the gardens. We weren’t looking for activities; we were looking for a nice relaxing place to spend an afternoon and evening. And, we found it here at Patan Mahal.
Lovely! Fabulous! What more can I say? Beautiful grounds with a nice pool. Quiet and relaxing. We walked the grounds, sat on our balcony and read, went down to the pool and had a snack and beer and might even have had a swim if a rain shower hadn't blown in. The adjacent town looked interesting for a wander, but we didn't even attempt that wanting to relax instead. The day ended with a relaxing dinner and preparations to leave the next morning for the airport and Nepal.

March 12 (day 20) – Hotel Courtyard, Kathmandu

This day was completely consumed with travel. It took longer than we'd anticipated to reach Delhi airport from Patan, and part of it was because traffic completely stopped for 30 to 45 minutes due to some road construction and some truck breakdowns. We'd liked Patan so much that we'd contemplated returning there for two days of relaxation at the end of our trip before flying home to the US, but this drive made us realize that we did not want to do that again. We decided that perhaps plane or train would be the best way to arrive in Delhi at the end of our trip.

Throughout our trip we'd reinforced to our driver that whenever he needed a break he should take one. Driving is so all-consuming and stressful in India that we wanted to make sure he was as fresh as possible so we'd all be safe. During the journey to the airport, he'd made a stop at one of those typical tourist-oriented roadside restaurants where all of the tour buses and private drivers stop because they get a free meal as compensation for bringing their passengers there. We just used the toilet and walked around while he ate; I'm sure the restaurants aren't thrilled when this happens, but so be it. Our driver had assured us that even with this stop we'd have plenty of time to reach the airport, so I was getting really annoyed as shortly after this stop we later ran into the huge traffic jam. I was extremely worried about making it to the airport on time. In fact, if we'd missed our plane because he wasted time stopping for his free meal, I think I would have been very tempted to forgone giving him his tip (and it was a very generous one).

But, all was well and we made it to our flight on time and even discovered that somehow we had booked premium seats on the plane. This basically meant we got a free soft drink and cookies. We spent most all of the fight having a fascinating discussion with an American doctor who, tired of his twenty years as an ER doc, moved to Afghanistan to work for a medical NGO. According to him, as soon as the US finishes it final pull out the Taliban will be back in control, and they had already overrun several areas.

It took quite a bit of time to clear customs and to get our visa at the Nepal airport. In our perspective, their visa scheme is basically a way to get money, and we'd have been just as happy if they didn't make us go through this farce of a process and instead just quickly asked us for the money and let us proceed. Since our plans were completely up in the air for Nepal because of our disaster at home, and because we had three weeks remaining until our return fight to the US, we decide to opt to pay more for a month-long visa rather than just the two week. This turned out to be a wise decision.

When we finally emerged from arrivals and had stopped to get some cash from the ATM, we found the driver we'd arranged with a sign with our name. I'd gotten this guy's name from someone over on Trip Advisor who’d said he is a nice guy who works independently as a driver/guide and who could help us out with transportation for our entire Nepal trip.

We hopped in his rather beat up car (one with no seat belt latches in the backseat) and headed to our hotel—the Hotel Courtyard in Kathmandu. It was tight quarters in the car with the two of us, our two suitcases and two daypacks, and two guys in the front seat. We had no idea who the second guy was, but it turned out he was supposed to be the guide for our trip, something we hadn't even thought about since we'd been led to believe that the driver would also act as a guide. Kathmandu is very polluted (one of the worst places we've been for air pollution), but the streets are nowhere as dirty as those in India, and there aren't all of the animals wandering around.

After our arrival at the hotel we met with the two guys for about 15 minutes to discuss their services and what we wanted to do for the remainder of the trip. After they left, we finally checked in and, since it was close to 8:00, decided to try to find our way to a local restaurant in Thamel where we couldn't get too lost trying to find our way back to the hotel in the dark. We chose Yin and Yang, a Thai restaurant, because we wanted something different than we'd been eating for the past three weeks; it was good food and was only a couple blocks from the hotel.

When planning our trip I really had hesitations abut staying in Thamel because I understood it was tourist (and young backpacker) central. It is, but in the end we were glad we'd decided to stay there. Set off the end of a small alleyway off the main streets, the Hotel Courtyard was nice and quiet and very convenient. I'd only reserved the first night, but we kept extending our stay for one more night and finally ended up with four nights there.
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Old Dec 29th, 2014, 04:13 PM
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Julie - glad to see you are finishing this. Our travel style is very similar to yours, although in recent years we have prearranged hotels. Can't wait to see what you come up with for southern India as it will help with our own planning. Looking forward to hearing about the rest of your visit to Nepal.
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Old Jan 1st, 2015, 02:06 AM
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sounds you had a great time. thanks for sharing it!
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Old Jan 1st, 2015, 08:20 AM
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Julie - now that you've piqued my interest again, I hope you won't give up on the end of your trip report! Waiting for the rest of the story.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2015, 03:05 PM
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Yes, I'm back again as I simultaneously try to wrap up this trip report and plan for this year's upcoming trip to India. So back to the report......

Day 20 – Hotel Courtyard, Kathmandu

Afterwards we kept referring to this as our day with Mutt and Jeff, or the Two Stooges. We had thought we were hiring a driver and guide for the day, but we soon found out that these guys were more like the Two Stooges and were in no way qualified to guide. We basically got screwed for the $50 we paid them for the day, and we were so glad we'd done this as a trial day because we would have really been upset if we'd planned to use them for the entire trip.

In my e-mail communication with Mutt (I thought I was just getting a driver), I'd specifically asked if the car has seat belts in the backseat and was told yes. When they picked us up at the airport, I couldn't find the lower latch to the seat belt but decided to just wait until the next day to make sure it was really there. It really was missing when I looked for it in the daylight the next morning. I know some people would say that I shouldn't be so hung up on these types of car safety details when traveling in a developing country because that is the way people there live. But, the fact that I also know about the high accident rates and the poor availability of emergency health care in these countries make me want to do everything I can do to ensure my safety. So, this was a major strike against using this guy as our driver during our trip.

After spending a day with them, I think we may have been better off without them and just relied instead on our guidebooks and hiring taxi drivers to take us around. Having read about Kathmandu, and knowing what we'd be interested in seeing, I was the one who was coming up with the ideas of where to go and when. And, they couldn't get it straight what we wanted to do when. I told them at least four times that we wanted to go to Boudanath around dusk because it is supposed to be most interesting then. Of course, we ended up there around 1:00 pm.

We started out with a visit to the Swayambhunath Temple complex and found it fascinating to just wander around taking it all in. We'd assumed these guys could explain everything to us, but they were useless so I was extremely happy I'd read up on this beforehand.

Then, we said that we'd like to go to some other monasteries in the area, so they took us up to a place called the White Monastery. It was an interesting drive, but when we got there we found out that that the place only admitted visitors on Saturdays. Of, course today was Thursday, and any guide worth his salt would have known this.

What did compensate for this though was what we observed at a medical complex close to the monastery. There was a whole busload of older people who must have come in from the villages perhaps for cataract surgery. At least that is what we are assuming they’d had since they were all older with at least one eye bandaged. Some had two eyes bandaged and were being led around by family members.

So, we then set out for Boudanath (in the middle of the day despite my telling them we wanted to go at dusk) where they once again proved themselves to be totally clueless. We were so fed up with them that we finally told them to just meet us in 45 minutes because we wanted a snack. Plus, this was the only time we'd had to talk about them and their services because they were hovering all of the time and we couldn't even have a private conversation. I realize there are differing standards about personal space in different cultures and perhaps this was a part of it, but it was too much for us.

After our snack when we met up again we talked about visiting Pushpatinath, but after I read more about it (and we discovered that the admission was quite pricey for what would be quite a brief visit) we decided against it. We had just come from India where we had seen plenty of temples (and the main temple in Pushpatinath is not open to non-Hindus anyway), and we have seen cremation ghats a couple of other places.

I then came up with the idea of visiting Kopan Monastery, a Tibetan monastery that is based on the teachings of the Dali Lama. They knew where Kopan was but nothing else about it. We headed up there and were so glad to have made the visit because it was fascinating to see all of the child monks in their school setting and to listen to all of the monks chanting. There were carvings on the outer walls with some of the Dali Lama’s quotations that we really appreciated reading. Such a wise man with so many insights. It is too bad that his guidance (not just spiritual but also political) is not more widely followed.

To us it was incredible that so many parents had given their children at such young ages and committed them to the monastic life. But, our guess was that the parents felt they were doing their children a favor and providing for their future by setting them up in a place where they'd be fed and would receive an education.

Day 21 – Hotel Courtyard, Kathmandu

Before we left home we’d debated and debated whether to take on the challenge of a multi-day hike while in Nepal. Our final decision was that we’d instead find places where we could do day or half-day treks and then return to a decent lodging. I’d already arranged a stay at Balthali Village Resort for when we were done in Kathmandu.

But, we needed to make a plan for the rest of our trip and decided to devote the day to getting this done. At home I’d done some research on places we wanted to stay (not necessarily for trekking) and found that Himalayan Encounters owned several accommodations we wanted to stay in. And, we knew they have a good reputation, something that is very important to us after an experience we had on our first trip to India with an agent in Uttarkahrand. (At the end of our trip through Nepal we felt really good about our choice because Himalayan Encounters did everything just right for us.).

It did take longer than we'd anticipated because after a late, leisurely breakfast in the Hotel Courtyard (included in the room price) we strolled through Thamel and sat down with an agent and discussed our possible plan for about an hour. Then, after getting their proposal we wanted to go back to our hotel and research some of the lodging options they'd proposed for Chitwan National Park.

After our meeting at the Himalayan Encounters office (located in Thamel only a few blocks from our hotel) we decided to try to find the Garden of Dreams we'd heard so much about and have lunch there. The Garden itself is not that large and charges admission of $2 per person even if you plan to have lunch in the restaurant there. The restaurant is on the pricey side because it is an offshoot of Dwarika's Hotel, but we decided to eat there anyway since the garden was such a peaceful and lovely spot. Plus, after three weeks in India I was ready for some different kind of food than the Indian style food we'd been exclusively dining on. A salad nicoise with some nice homemade rolls hit the spot, and it was the last thing I ever thought I'd find in Nepal.

Our final decision was for Himalayan Encounters to book the two lodgings—The Famous Farm for two nights and Bandipur Inn for three nights—and the car with driver. For the five nights (complete room and board and local guides when needed at the inns) and two weeks of a private driver we were charged $1100. We didn't think this was bad and was cheaper than the driver and car in India. But, of course, our India car was a bigger, fancier Innova small mini-van, SUV-type car while this was for a smaller car. On our own we booked three nights for some day hiking at Balthali Village Resort. This resort also arranged transportation for us to their resort from Kathmandu. So, we'd start using Himalayan Encounters' services after our stay at Balthali was completed.

We were glad to have the decision finalized as to what our itinerary and schedule would be. One thought we'd originally had was to spend time in Nepal and then return to India for the last three days of our trip. Putting it all together and looking at all the places we wanted to visit, we decided to just spend the rest of our trip in Nepal and return to India the day of our night flight home to the US. Now all we had to do was research and find our own lodging in the three other places we wanted to visit in Nepal--Pokhara and Chitwan and Gorkha.
julies is offline  
Old Jan 3rd, 2015, 04:16 PM
  #36  
 
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So glad to see you continuing with this. I don't know where you are finding the time to write a report and to research your upcoming trip, but I appreciate your efforts. Looking forward to hearing the rest of your story. Hope you return from southern India and report back more quickly as I'll be anxious to hear about that trip as well.
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Old Sep 13th, 2016, 03:54 AM
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I too, spent nights at the Courtyard. I thought it was a very nice and relaxing place after the noise of Kathmandu ;-)
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Old Sep 13th, 2016, 11:46 AM
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I was rereading this report after seeing it pop up again. It seems to have ended before the end, and I'm wondering, though it's been a while, will we reach the end? Or is that all folks?
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