My Trips: Nepal 2007

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Crossing the border into India at Sunauli

We leave the wonderful Chitwan National Park and head west across Nepal. The landscapes change from hills, valleys, fields and small urban areas. It’s a pleasant trip and the roads are better than elsewhere in Nepal.

We drive through Lumbini, the birth place of Buddha, but Buddha is little celebrated here now. We continue to Sunauli and the border with India. A few kilometres from the border we pass two fires in the road, one in each direction. They are small but deliberate, perhaps being burning tyres, and force all of the vehicles to swerve off the road to pass them. Their purpose remains a mystery.

The area around the border crossing into India is chaos. There is no order, and no clear indication as to what to do. We squeeze by lots of stationary traffic and edge closer to the border. It takes about three hours in total for us to complete the paperwork to leave Nepal and to enter India. All this considered, it’s pretty straightforward, considering that we are a group of 9 people, of various nationalities in a UK vehicle.

After we are clear we only continue a short way before we pull into a large hotel where we intend to camp. The town of Sunauli is a shit hole, with little on offer. We are all tired and everyone agrees on getting hotel rooms, rather than the intended camping. Hugo secures rooms for IRs400, which is not much more than the cost of camping, although the rooms are very basic.

The town is in blackout with the only light coming from those places with their own generators. The staff at the hotel fire up their generator so that we can at least see.

We head out into town for food. There are just a few local offerings. We settle on a place selling a fixed curry meal, served out of large pots on the classic metal dishes. It only costs IRs25 per person. The food is pretty good.

Several of us are keen for a beer, but after asking around it is clear that no one is selling, as it is ‘too risky’ being so close to the border.

Back at the hotel room we all get together in the dining room and the helpful staff distribute mosquito coils.

The night takes a great turn when one of the staff takes an order for beer and heads out. He returns with carrier bags packed with chilled beer, and at a price cheaper than we have been paying in Nepal. Many of us sit at a table in the massive, deserted hotel – reading, writing, talking, laughing and even knitting!

A boring day, of many miles, no real sights, a lazy border crossing and a dodgy hotel has ended well, due to a few beers and good spirits.

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Safari and Elephants in Chitwan National Park, Nepal

Another early start (an acceptable part of such a trip) for a hearty breakfast. After we head to the river and jump in a canoe we float downstream with our very knowledgeable guide, pointing out many of the birds and habitats. The river water is so warm that is steams. but this will not help us spot a crocodile, as the weather this morning is less than ideal for croc spotting.

We float for about an hour, watching the local villagers collecting grasses and bamboo from around the national park. Today is one of the few days the people are allowed to freely collect resources from within the restricted areas of the park. We are about to shore the canoe when our guide spots crocodile eyes, looking just like a twig floating on the surface. The croc surfaces, takes a look at us and glides away. We were lucky to spot a croc today.

Once on shore we get briefed about what to do if we meet dangerous animals. The guides advice is a little worrying, although in the end we see nothing more than a few monkeys, large animal droppings and a chicken! The walk through the jungle is great nevertheless.

After lunch is what everyone has been waiting for – safari on elephant back. We walk down to the elephant centre, along the beautiful river bank. Our elephants arrive and we climb aboard. The ride is much smoother than it looks. Our elephant takes us through some stunning areas of the national park – along tracks, through undergrowth (which the elephant clears with its trunk), and across streams. I’m amazed at the steep gradients that the elephant can climb and descend.

After an hour or so we haven’t seen any rhinos or cats. The elephants have taken us to watering holes, and tracked the rhinos from there, but no luck so far. The ride is great and nobody seems at all disappointed. And then, just as we seem to be returning we see a rhino, with a calf, grazing in a clearing. The mother is cautious because of her baby, and they retreat into the undergrowth. The elephant drivers decide to leave the animals.

As we are making our way back to the centre one of the elephant drivers whistles, and the others come over. A male rhino is sat feeding away on grasses. It looks at us, and carries on eating, unperturbed by the elephants, or us on its back. Cameras click as everyone enjoys the moment. After a few minutes the rhino gets to his feet, takes a big mouthful and wanders off.

We return to the lodge, with a few of us stopping for beer along the way.

I never imagined on this trip that I would ride on an elephant, or that an elephant would take me so close to rhinos. It’s been a great adventure, and I, and everyone else here, loves Chitwan National Park

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Chitwan National Park and the Elephant Breeding Centre, Nepal

Elephant

It’s up early and out the door by 6am, as my trip south through Nepal and across India starts. We catch a mini-van across a rising Kathmandu to the overland truck. We have a quick introduction and hit the road.

We cover some of the highway I had already taken to Pokhara, and then head south to Chitwan National Park. The scenery changes as we get close, as does the general atmosphere – much more relaxed.

We arrive at Rhino Lodge Hotel, de-camp to our rooms and have lunch straight away. The atmosphere in the lodge and national park is great. Everyone is in good spirits after the reasonably long drive.

After lunch we all jump in a jeep and head to the Elephant Breeding Centre. We learn a little about the Elephants and have the chance to feed the younger ones.

I have some mixed views about the treatment of animals, some of which I don’t understand fully myself. Whilst the adult elephants in the centre are chained, so they do not wander off, the baby animals are not as they do not leave their mothers. I consider the elephants in the national park as the guardians and future of the park. Those that are in captivity safeguard the future of the wild animals. They allow some of the stock to be managed, and provide information about the habits and behaviours of the animals, important to understanding the wild animals. The working animals, whether lifting logs or carrying paying passengers, provide financial income for the park, which goes a long way to keeping the loggers and poachers out.

Chitwan national park is a great place. The visitors numbers have fallen greatly since the Maoist troubles, but I hope the tourist return to the park and secure it’s future, and all of the animals in it.

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Bodnath Stupa, Nepal

Still feeling a bit rough today, so I take it easy in the morning with some reading and writing.

At 3pm I catch a taxi to Bodnath Stupa, the last temple I had on my list for this visit. It’s a beautiful temple and more grand than I had imagined. I am surprised by the surroundings though, it is cramped, and I had imagined the spacious surroundings of Swayambhunath.

After buying camera batteries, I start the clockwise rotation around the stupa. There are few other tourists, and a large pilgrim presence – waiting until the late afternoon has really paid off. After circling the temple a couple of times I head to a roof top cafe for Nepali tea.

I grab the same taxi back to Thamel, without having to pay the waiting fee as the driver suggested on the way over. He’s a nice guy though and I do give him an extra NRs50 at the end of the trip.

I have only eaten a croissant today, with a less than perfect stomach, so I stop at a store to buy sugary items and bump into Lucy who I met in Pokhara. We chat for a minute and I head back to the hotel.

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Power Cuts and Petrol Shortages, Nepal

Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal, both regularly suffer power cuts. Pokhara seems to have one every night, Kathmandu, so I’m told by a waiter, has 4 hours a week, but it seems much more. These power cuts are state enforced and almost always between 6 and 8 pm. I’m not sure why the power cuts occur, I can only guess the state use the power for something else. It’s quite a nice sensation, as a visitor to a region, when the power disappears. Shop vendors fire up their little generators, and restaurants and hotels light up dozens of candles.

Over the last few days in Nepal there had been a huge shortage of car fuel. Normally the major fuel stations get deliveries twice a week, but apparently this had been reduced recently. One couple mentioned that they had seen massive cues of cars at the fuel stations, and a taxi driver had waited more than 4 hours in the cue.

It’s such a shame that a beautiful country like Nepal, that offers so much to visitors, has so many setbacks. The ongoing political and royal problems, along with the Maoist terrorist problems continually cause setbacks to the tourist industry. There are a lot of people offering great tourist deals in Nepal. From great family run hotels, to the worlds best and cheapest trekking, rafting and kayaking.

I hope the powers in Nepal can address these issues and further grow Nepal into the holiday destination it should be.

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Nepali Belly, and a day in Bed

I have just spent the last 24 hours in bed. I woke up yesterday at 4am with very bad stomach pains. After emptying my body of fluids, I spent most of the day in bed. Thankfully I had splashed out on my hotel, and had a TV, shower and balcony.

I had eaten in good places that day, and have no idea where I might have gotten ill.

I was supposed to catch a bus to Nagarkot yesterday, but was no way well enough. I might catch the bus today. I am feeling much better, but the journey is 2 hours over very rough roads.

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Nivea whitening

I have noticed several adverts on Indian and Nepali TV for face whitening products. One is Nivea Whitening, the others is Be Fair, or something similar.

How strange it is that many Indians are conscious to whiten their skin, whereas most westerners are conscious of darkening their skin. The grass is always greener,… more maybe people just want to stand out… or maybe it’s just fashion.

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An interesting chat with an Israeli travel writer, Kathmandu, Nepal

I headed down to the Roadhouse cafe, which despite the name, serves fantastic wood fired pizza. As I about to leave a woman I chatted with briefly on the bus from Pokhara came an and we said hello. I joined her and we chatted.

She was worked as a tour guide for many years, and now guides tours into Tibet. She has a website, www.yafakfir.co.il, which I think is in Hebrew only. She (I didn’t get here name!) is a lecturer, writer and photographer also. I an keen to see her website, which I have not done yet, as I write this from my hotel room, having just got in from the restaurant and bustle of Thamel. I loud second rate band are playing nearby. It’s nice to be in a reasonable hotel room though. This room is better, albeit more expensive, than my room at the Hotel Encounter Nepal.

The Israeli lady also mentioned that she had received reasonable discount at many place by saying she was a travel journalist. This has prompted me to get some business cards printed, as she and John, who I met at Swayambhunath and in Pokhara, both asked for my business card. I noticed many places in Delhi offered a business card service, but none here in Kathmandu. I will look more closely tomorrow.

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Pokhara, and the long bus ride back to Kathmandu, Nepal

Annapurna

I beat my alarm and get to the bus stop with plenty of time. The view from my seat on this trip is not as good as last time, so I try and sleep. I chat with a few people over lunch, which is good.

The road between Pokhara and Kathmandu seems much rougher this time. Maybe we are driving more quickly, maybe I am less numbed by the charms of Nepal. I think Pokhara is the epicenter of Nepal for me.

As we near Kathmandu city we get stuck in a number of big traffic jams. The weather is hot and the pollution is bad. I notice Maoists with their heads covered with scarves waving communist flags, and I’m supposing collecting donations. They are close (maybe within 2kms) to the city center. I could do with a cold drink and a shower.

The bus drops us off in Thamel and I start fending off the touts. I am tending to ignore them now. I ignore quite a few as I try the Acme Guest House, in the thick of Thamel. The second room I am shown is really quite nice, and a little more expensive than the Hotel Encounter Nepal I stayed at last time. But I will be spending quite a few hours here before I depart tomorrow for Nagakot.

I nip down to the Wayfarers travel agents and buy a return ticket to Nagakot tomorrow, in the hope of seeing Mount Everest. I am planning on two nights there, with some day hikes and a lot of writing.

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Not spending enough money!

I’m an idiot. For days I have been watching my money, saving rupees here and there. Today is my last day in Pokhara, and I realise there are a few things I didn’t do that I wanted to. The main reason I didn’t do them was because I am being too thrifty. I decided not to rent a motorbike for US$7, because I was being careful with my money. What an idiot I am. Where else in the world can I rent a motorbike for US$7 in such amazing scenery?

I have just learnt to relax and enjoy myself. 🙂