17 July 2008

Week 44: The Nepal sampler: a week of trekking, rafting, and sights

44th-1st in Northeast India 7/2

Arrived at the Bangladesh border around 6:30 in the morning. Border didn’t open until 9am, so they had everyone hang out at the bus company’s office there. They had beds, so I laid down and napped for an hour.

Border crossing was a long process. On the Bangladesh side, because we were foreigners, we got interviewed and were the last of our group to be allowed across. On the India side there were four different places we had to go, some twice, to be finally allowed to enter (this was for everyone.) In all the whole process took the whole bus 1.5 hours. We got to Siliguri around lunchtime. What impressed me immediately about India was the simple infrastructure that Bangladesh lacks. There were many bridges where roads crossed over other roads. There were traffic signals that people followed. It was evident that there was more money for development of infrastructure in India.

A quick lunch in Siliguri. We decided, for good, not to go to Darjeeling because of the security situation, but also because we’d rather have an extra day in Kathmandu than have one in each place. So the decision was made, we were off to Nepal!

This involved a one hour bus ride to the India/Nepal border. We had been crossing India at the thin point between Bangladesh and Nepal, only three hours to travel across. At the India side we only had to sign out at a single office, then we had to walk across the border. It was about a quarter of a mile to Nepal over a bridged river and up a short hill. In Nepal, Travis and Emily got there visas, we all got stamped and then looked for a bus to get across the country overnight to Pokhara. Despite a bunch of touts trying to lead us this way and that (tourism country!!) we found a bus that was reasonably priced and that was leaving soon. (pic: Emily/Travis on our bus through India to Nepal)

We sat down, and all of a sudden a man came on telling us to get off and go on another bus, saying this bus wasn’t where we were going. I got off to verify, and found that we were on the correct bus. He kept telling me to come to another bus; meanwhile a bunch of people around us were grinning. I figured he was just another tout trying to trick us. I went back on the bus that Travis and Emily were still sitting on and asked some other passengers where the bus was going, and they verified for me it was Pokhara. Not in Nepal for more than 30 minutes and already almost scammed! My trust was a bit shaken and I spent the rest of the bus ride alert to make sure nothing else happened.

The trip, before the sunset, was very nice. We were traveling in the flat part of Nepal called the Terai. It looks just like Bangladesh just with hills in the background. (pics: Terai of Nepal, sunset over the Terai in Nepal)

44th-2nd in Pokhara 7/3

The bus stopped many times on our 17 hour journey across the country. A few times were at restaurants where we could get food and use the toilet, other times it was just to pee, and other times it was to unload things off the roof. Apparently besides the baskets of chicken we were carrying, we had several thousand pineapples strapped to the top. (pic: putting the chickens on the roof of our bus)

Arrived in Pokhara in the morning and went to a hotel. We chose a trek for tomorrow, got some lunch, walked around the very touristy part of town but its dead empty because it’s the off season. Place must be so packed during October. We went and saw Devi’s Falls, a waterfall that plunges underground what looked to be about 50 meters. Then we visited Gupteshwor Cave right across the road which has a stalagmite which is worshipped as a Shiva idol. (pics: Pokhara's tourist strip, Devi's Falls plunging underground)

From there we trekked up to the World Peace Pagoda on a hill that looks over the surrounding area. It was about a one and a half hour climb in nice weather. Just as we reached the top rain started, not too hard, just enough to make us put our jackets on. But it paused later to give us a great rainbow. (pics: Travis approaching the World Peace Pagoda, Emily/Travis in front of the World Peace Pagoda, rainbow on the rainy trip down, looking down on Travis and the trail and the valley below)

That afternoon the monsoon clouds parted for about one hour, and in that period the peak of Machhapuchhare (Fish Tail Mountain) was visible, as it usually would be in the dry season. It was incredible to see a peak of the Himalayan range poking above the city. We snapped so many photos and couldn’t take our eyes off the snow-capped peak. It was that much more special because we weren’t supposed to be able to see it in this season. (pics: our glimpse of Machhapuchhare)

In the afternoon we met with our guide, Deepak for our two-day trek to Panchase. He seemed like a great guy and gave us information on the trail we’ll be traveling on, and the place we’ll spend the night.

44th-3rd in Panchase 7/4

In the morning our guide met us at our hotel and together we walked to the bus stand to grab a bus to the trailhead about 1.5 hours away. Just as we got to the bus station a cab came by and offered to take us for an incredible price (he had to go that way anyway.) So we said sure and jumped in, despite just walking about an hour across town to the bus stand.

The trail was never really steep, and we had great weather until the last bit of the hike when it started to rain a bit. There were views over the surrounding valleys and mountains. We passed through one village on the way up to Panchase, but passed many people on the trail. As we got higher up, the mountain became more jungle-like, and we saw more and more water buffalo. Visibility as we got up was less than 100 meters as clouds rolled in.
(pics: Emily pointing to where we will hike up to, myself on the Panchase trek, water buffalo inspecting Emily up on the mountain, clouds roll in as we got closer to the peak)

One thing we had to watch out for the whole way was leeches. We were warned that there are a lot during this season, and sure enough, I finished the day pulling fifteen off my clothing, luckily none ever got to my skin. One got Deepak and he had to bandage the spot where blood was leaking. (pics: leech on my shorts, leech trying to grab someone from a plastic chair)

We stayed at a teahouse close to the peak of Panchase. It rained hard from the moment we arrived, so there were no views. We played cards, backgammon, and Uno. Dinner was rice and lentils, some chicken, and a variety of curried vegetables. We slept very well, very tired from the hike.

44th-4th in Panchase 7/5

Today is 10 months!

After a breakfast of millet pancakes, we hiked to the peak of Panchase, one hour extra of hiking from the teahouse we’d stopped at. Deepak was great to do this with us, considering he knew we wouldn’t see any views, but still led us up. At the top there were some temples, a lookout, and many prayer flags. Visibility less than 50 meters. The way down from there was a bit slippery as the rain had battered it all night. We had to take the same trail from yesterday back as the other route we had planned to take was apparently very bad due to recent rainstorms. (pics: myself and the 50 meters of visibility at the to of Panchase, Travis in front of temple on the top of Panchase, Travis and the one village we pass through, Travis/our guide Deepak/myself/Emily after the trek was finished)

We got a bus back to town, showered, and ate a good dinner. Travis and Emily did some gift shopping while I got some Bangladeshi flag patches made.

In Pokhara, the few days we stayed there, I had several sandwiches from the nearby sandwich shop, and had several baked goods too, such as cinnamon buns. Nice to have these treats after a long time.

44th-5th on the Seti River 7/6

Again we got up early today, to be picked up by the company we had arranged to go rafting with. We had chosen to raft the Seti River, one of only two rivers that are raftable in Nepal during the monsoon season. We had a 1.5 hour bus ride to where we would launch. In our group were three other girls from Germany and New Zealand.

I was skeptical after they told us on the riverbank that our two day trip would only have 30 minutes of rafting the second day. I couldn’t fully understand the guide’s English, but he said something about dangerous water conditions. I thought they’d cut our trip short and hadn’t warned us beforehand, nor adjusted the price accordingly. Later I realized that the trip was naturally shorter. Typically eight hours of rafting in the dry season, our trip was down to five because the water was moving so quickly because of the high water levels. Even without paddling between rapids, we moved faster than we would in dry season paddling like mad. So our trip consisted of blasting through rapids then relaxing as the current took us quickly to the next one. It was a unique experience. So in fact, our trip was the normal distance, just in a shorter amount of time, that I thought was cool.
They told us to jump in to swim and the water was warm, but moving very fast. Quickly we were far from the raft, and I couldn’t get back to it without the assisting kayaker’s help. He was great at always picking all of us up. I was a bit skeptical of the trip as we clearly weren’t following the basic 3-boat rule, but there really wasn’t anything I could do about it. I saw one group rafting the river, just a raft and no kayaker with them. I’m sure during the low season the groups are larger, but now during monsoon, the companies will take what they can get and run whatever trip they can. (pics: Travis on the river, the scenery we rafted through - this shot is of the Trisuli, myself on the river, Emily on the river)

Our day of rafting ended just after our river, the Seti, merged with the Trisuli. The Trisuli’s waters were much colder, and much dirtier. It was neat to feel the instant temperature change. Our campsite was just after the confluence, some old tents that didn’t breathe very well in the monsoon heat. A sweaty night of sleep.

44th-6th on the Seti River 7/7

To supplement the measly half hour of rafting we had, they brought us to a mountain stream that fed into the river for all us to play in the cascading waters. The guide told us to slide down the streambed, which he called canyoning. The half hour of rafting was very tame, a simple float down river. After getting out, they fed us lunch, and got us on a bus passing by to Kathmandu. This was the most cramped bus I’d ever been on. The three of us got the back row, Emily in the middle with her bags on her lap. Travis and I sat on either side behind the rows of seats. The rows were much too small for our legs to have any way of fitting, so we sat sideways for the four hour bumpy trip. We were all pretty glad to arrive in Kathmandu.

Emily found her friend John on the street, a guy she met in Kolkata and also ran into in Pokhara. We hung out with John for the remainder of our stay in Kathmandu and he even transferred to our hotel on our last night.

We stayed in Thamel, the tourist area of Kathmandu, with endless restaurants, gift shops, bars, and bakeries. We had dinner at a roof top restaurant, and later tried an alcoholic drink called tongba made from fermented millet. They serve the millet in a giant jug, and you pour hot water over it. Then sip. We each poured once, and although you can go again and again, once was enough. (pics: Emily unsure what to make of our beverage choice, Travis pondering the tongba)

44th-7th in Kathmandu 7/8

Today we walked from our hotel to Swayambhunath Temple, nicknamed the monkey temple, just west of the city. It was a 45 minute walk to the base of the hill that the temple sits on. From there you have to go up a very steep staircase. The nickname is earned by the many monkeys which live on the hill, and which like to terrorize the visitors; both Travis and Emily got grabbed at. The view from the temple allowed you to see all out over the Kathmandu Valley. The temple’s main whitewashed stupa is surrounded by some Hindu shrines and other smaller Buddhist stupas. (pics: Travis ascending the steep staircase to Swayambhunath Temple, myself/Emily in front of the stupa, monkeys hanging around the hill and temple, Swayambhunath temple complex, Emily/Travis in front of the Kathmandu Valley)

From there we walked to Durbar Square, the center of Kathmandu, where the empire that ruled the region governed from. The king used to live in his palace here, and also one of the buildings houses one of Nepal’s living goddesses Kumari Devi. We roamed this area for awhile, sitting on the steps of the some of the temples and watching as people passed by. There was a lot to look at, neat details everywhere as each temple was completely different up close. (pics: house of the Kumari Devi, Durbar Square of Kathmandu with Travis wandering through it, myself in Durbar Square, view of Durbar Square from above from our restaurant)

We had lunch at a roof top restaurant next to Durbar square. From there we went back to the hotel, where Travis spent the rest of the day. Emily, John, and I walked north in Kathmandu to see what was there, with a rough aim to see the US embassy. We must’ve passed it on our long walk, and ultimately took a bus back down south. They got off and I continued on alone. I got off in front of Parliament, and began a circular walk around the middle of the city, just exploring. Saw the national stadium, a few complexes of temples, the road to the airport, the main city park, the city’s largest tower, the city’s biggest mall, and a fake McDonalds. I had a snack of Nepali (specifically Newari) food, and then headed back to meet my friends at the hotel. We had dinner with a friend Travis knows from Lehigh who is currently in Nepal.(pics: Nepal's parliament, Kathmandu's main city park and mall area)

My favorite part of Kathmandu was how the city seemed so small, easy to get around. I liked seeing the temples, shrines, and pagodas at many of the intersections. It was also a well designed city in terms of transportation. The bus stops had signs saying where the buses go, and there seemed to be excellent traffic flow.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was nice to nice a foreigner visiting my country and writing such beatiful things. You recalled my good old memories with those pictures and places.... have a good day man!

-Sumit Bajracharya
Nova Southeastern University