A Travellerspoint blog


Himalayan Lakeside Living

Lake, Mountains, Shopping and Politics

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Our journey to Pokhara (Pok-huh-ruh) began at 8am and we arrived around 3pm, it was one of the more enjoyable bus trips we've had. We were up at the front, the scenery was once again distracting and there was a smiley, entertaining bus boy along for the ride.

We both had our reservations about Pokhara based on it being the second destination in Nepal for tourists but it's on the way back to India and for the chance of some mountains views, it was worth a stop.

First impressions of Pokhara are that it is very touristy, in fact the Lakeside area is a designated Tourist Zone and there is to be no speeding and no honking of horns, amongst other things. It is a town at the bottom of a valley, nestled beside the Fewa lake with a range of mountains including Annapurna and the Fishtail a stones throw away. People come here for a bit more of the outdoorsy side of Nepal, you can go kayaking, paragliding, rafting and of course trekking.

As previously mentioned Adam and I are not really looking to indulge in any extreme activities, but would rather soak up the true nature and culture of a place. This is something which has proved increasingly difficult in Nepal, and unfortunately Pokhara is no exception. Therefore we have spent our time here just trying to take it for what it is.

The first day we enjoyed a nice breakfast by the lake and then walked to Damside which as its name would suggest, is beside a dam.
You are meant to get a great view of the mountain range from this end of the lake but as you would expect with our luck when it comes to seeing big piles of snowy rocks, we were once again out smarted by some cloud. After Adam had had a bit of a chat with a couple of local guys we decided to go in search of Devi's Falls, a waterfall which goes underground, apparently it is more impressive in the Autumn and Winter but we decided it was still worthy of a look.

We took the wrong turn along the way and ended up stumbling across a hydro-electricity plant which offered up some good views and we felt a little bit like we'd escaped the well trodden traveller route.
We corrected our previous navigation error and found ourselves at a cave where a priest discovered an idol of Shankhar, who incorporates both Shiva and his consort Parbati as male and female halves of one figure. It attracts a large number of devotees but I myself couldn't really decipher much of anything, but it was interesting nonetheless to see how important it is considered to be, housed in a cage and guarded. Heading a little further underground you are able to view Devi's Fall from below and sit on a rock beside the pool it creates.
It was a little precarious on the way down and one lady slipped over, clearly none of the entrance fee is put towards health and safety. Then again I haven't seen many adverts for India's equivalents to 'Claims Direct' etc so there clearly isn't much of a call for it... yet.

After attempting to see the limited culture that Pokhara has to offer we gave in and went shopping. Although the shops are selling much of the same items you would find in Kathmandu it is all a little less overwhelming as it is mainly confined to one bustling street. I found a necklace I liked which was made of turquoise and garnet beads but the woman wanted too much for it, so we went a little further down the road and found a man who would make it for me in fifteen minutes for half the price!
Adam decided to buy little flags for all the countries he's visited so far and I bought a little handmade drum as a memento.

Once again our plans were altered by strikes/political events in Nepal and due to their being some local elections the border was closed for the day, so our return to India was delayed. It did however mean that we got our first and last glimpses at the peaks of a few mountains, so maybe it was worthwhile.
It would have been fairly disappointing to come to the country with the highest mountains in the world and not really see any.

There was a local fun fair in town while we were there with a ferris wheel and a couple of baby rollercoasters. We never really discovered what it was in aid of but it involved a speaker system which alternated between playing Nepali music, then some long and what seemed like fairly laborious speeches and our favourite, the same guy testing the mike, sometimes for about 30minutes at a time!


The next day we boarded our bus for the Indian border and expected it to take about 4 hours, we were slightly surprised when it took 9 but there we go. Leaving Nepal was just as easy as entering and soon enough we were back on Indian soil, the guy who stamped our passports was the same official who'd stamped them at the airport when we first arrived which was a bit of a strange coincidence!
Unfortunately, straight away we had to get on another bus for 2 and a half hours back to Gorakhpur, and were very pleased to find a bed for the night even if the hotel was pretty grotty.

The next day we decided that we would try and book a train to Mumbai, although we weren't sure whether we would need to get to Varanasi to catch it. As it turned out there was a direct train from Gorakhpur to Mumbai leaving at 7pm and arriving 33 hours later! We managed to get another room to wait around in, there isn't a whole lot to see in Gorakhpur, and we just relaxed for the day.

The train left on time and slowly made its way across India from East to West. We got good seats/beds so we were happy and comfortable, we were given free Chi (tea) for being foreign I suppose and I had a nice chat with some of the railway employees.
All in all it was a good journey, and the length was never really a problem. We are now in a very humid Mumbai and our next stop is Goa which we are looking forward to. I will write more soon.

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 08:32 Archived in Nepal Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Kathmandu Part Two

Culture, Cremation and Commercialisation

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We ended up back at Kathmandu View Hotel and in the room we had vacated the previous morning. After a shower we went in search of food and on recommendation headed to Fire & Ice, a pizzeria run by an Italian expat, and we knew we were back in the capital.

This morning we woke up early and packed up, we were off to catch a bus to Pokhara, however as we were going down the stairs a hotel employee informed us that there was a strike today and there would be no buses. We went out and all the roads seemed significantly quieter. So faced with another day here we decided that we had to do something which would leave a good lasting memory and involved some true Nepalese Culture.

Our location of choice was Pashupatinath, Nepal's most sacred pilgrimage site, which is comprised of a cremation ghat and a number of temples.

Due to the strike, the number of rickshaw and taxi drivers had dwindled and so prices were inflated. Finally we got one to take us for a fairly reasonable price, although in the end it turned out he'd only taken us about half the way. We got a little lost but Adam did managed to buy some sunglasses, which we'd been unsuccessfully searching for some time.

When we did finally made it to Pashupatinath, we were not disappointed. We had to shake of a guide who started explaining things but quickly disappeared when Adam informed him we couldn't afford to pay him. The complex of temples straddles The Bagmati River, which is where Hindus bathe and come to be cremated, it is believed to be just as sacred as The Ganges by Nepalese Hindus. In size it is nothing compared to The Ganges though, and this fact probably extenuates the amount of rubbish that has been deposited in it.

That said it doesn't really detract from the the sanctity of the place. There is a strange juxtaposition in relation to religion which I have noticed here and in India, and not really being religious myself it is something that I simply view as an outsider. Religion is clearly very important and apparent here, but as I said the water where they bathe and their ashes are spread is clearly unclean, all around the sacred temples there are people begging and selling bottles of water, crisps, chocolate bars and then there are the sadhus (very religious men, who devote their lives to their beliefs) who pose for photographs for money. This is in no way a criticism, there is something quite enchanting about it, with the monkeys running around, climbing up the ancient walls, it is just different and for me unexpected that the sacred and the more harsh sides of life are thrust together.

We have now spent 6 days in Kathmandu, maybe a little longer than we would have liked, although this really could not be helped due to us both feeling off colour. However today has been enjoyable and really emphasises the contrast between old or rather ancient and the cutting edge of modern, Kathmandu life. It is a place to visit, but perhaps with a clearer idea of what to see and what not to see.

We'll hopefully be off to Pokhara tomorrow if the strike is over.

Update again when we're Lakeside.

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 07:46 Archived in Nepal Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Mountains? What Mountains?

Not big enough to out do some cloud!

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Kalanki Bus Station is situated on a busy cross road on the outskirts of Kathmandu, there doesn't really seem to be a great deal of organisation to it and as a foreigner it's very difficult to make sense of what is going on. None of the buses have destinations on them or numbers, and there is no central ticket office. So when we arrived on Saturday morning we were just hoping that the usual would happen, i.e. we would stick out like sore thumbs and someone looking for some easy money would target us. Then instead of being dumb foreigners we would be stubborn and try and get the best price.

We were still sort of hoping to get a bus because it would be cheaper and I suppose more authentic. However after a bit of back and forth it became apparent that there was no direct bus to Daman and the information we could glean was just to vague to trust. So we tried for the taxi and again the circus starts, a few pull up and then while we're trying to negotiate another driver comes over and talks in Nepalese and the price doesn't come down very much. Finally we managed to get one alone for a couple of minutes and he just agreed to what we wanted to pay (a lot less than anyone else had quoted us) and slightly surprised, we got in and were off into the mountains.

The winding drive offered up a feast for the eyes. It was pretty much the perfect antidote to dusty, busy, Kathmandu. The hill sides are full of staggered farming land, and small clusters of houses. We were watched with curious eyes as we passed by and you wonder how often, in these remoter parts of the country, a Western face is seen.
Daman is certainly remote, Adam asked the taxi driver how long the drive would take, and he said about an hour and a half. Three hours later, after the little taxi had taken about as many bumps and inclines as it could we arrived in Daman, which is situated at 7620 feet.

The reason we decided to go to Daman was to see some mountains, a big snow capped mountain range, the highest in the world to be exact. However when we arrived they were almost completely obscured by cloud. Although we did glimpse the top of one. This was something we'd expected though, the guide book had said an overnight stay was obligatory because it was at sunrise that you got a clear view of the mountains. I do blame the guidebook for all that occurred, or rather didn't occur over the next 24 hours, even though it could be forgiven slightly for being about 8 years old.

Daman had two “resorts”, one of which wanted to charge us $125 a night, a little too rich for our blood as it equates to over half our combined weekly budget. The second one, well Adam said it was like something out of Resident Evil, which basically means it was fit for a horror movie. We ended up staying at the Everest Hotel and Lodge, although when we asked for a room they looked at us like we had asked if we could buy a boat full of pineapples from them, and we actually had to point out the hotel sign on the front of the building. In the end we were shown upstairs and presented with one single room which along one side had been divided into three areas with some strips of mdf. The toilet we were informed was outside. It was cheap, maybe not cheap enough really, but for one reason and another we didn't argue and we'd kind of exhausted our options anyway.

Perhaps Daman was once a lively and upcoming place with its two resorts and botanical garden (mainly devoid of both people and plants), but it would appear to have died a death. Even if this fact does fly in the face of the sign to the local hillside temple which claimed it had been very important for tourist development.

We were not made to feel very welcome, and at times people stared at us as though we had committed some kind of heinous crime. That said the peace and quiet was incredibly soothing, and the smell of the woods was lovely, even if it was intermittently punctured with the exhaust of a lorry thundering around the bend. We went hungry in Daman, after declining the cold food covered in flies, we decided a 24 hour fast may be safer with the limited options available. I felt a little bit like an intruder and all the smiles I could muster didn't seem to change anything. We went to bed early.

Next morning we were up at 5:45am and full of hope that we would get a visual overload with a Himalayan panorama and it would make it all worth while. We saw the sunrise, creeping up over a mountain we couldn't see and we waited for it to burn off the haze that was shrouding them from sight, then we waited some more. It never happened, what we came for never materialised.

We quickly got over our disappointment and just became focussed on getting out of Daman. There was no other option than to go back to Kathmandu, and then we planned to go on to Pokhara which is the next big destination in Nepal for tourists. Which does not necessarily make it that appealing but it is by a lake and also boasts some mountain views, such as the Annapurna, an 8000m peak.

We waved down the packed bus to Kathmandu at about 11am and rushed to get on. We managed to squeeze on with our backpacks although I was positioned precariously close to the open door and am very glad I didn't have to stay there for long as a few people soon disembarked and we moved into the aisle. We only had to stand till we reached the next town of Palung, about 15 minutes from Daman. Despite being more comfortable sat down the journey back was long, bumpy, and hot. When we reached Kalanki Bus Station 4 and a half hours later I did not feel too well, especially as we hadn't eaten for over 24 hours, so the thought of another 8 hour bus ride to Pokhara was just too much. Adam would have gone on, although in the end I think he's glad we didn't.

So back in Kathmandu and will update shortly.

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 07:37 Archived in Nepal Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Nepal Newbies

Got the Flu in Kathmandu

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When we left Gorakhpur for our final destination of Kathmandu at about 6am and we both expected to be facing a long day of traveling, however it just turned out to be our most frustrating day so far.

The first bus we took was a local service running to the India/Nepal border, approximately two and half hours away. It was full when we got on and we were faced with the thought of having to stand up for the journey, but then the man who had initially waved us over evicted two men from their seats and instructed us to sit down. We both felt seriously guilty about it but it was too awkward a situation to argue and at that time in the morning I wasn't functioning well enough to. This part of the journey was easy, the time seemed to fly by, although Adam did have to contend with a sack full of pots and pans being shoved in his face by a man standing in the aisle.

Getting over the border was also simple, we had to deal with Indian immigration, then change some money from Indian to Nepali and then walk over the border and get our visas for Nepal.
It was now about 9am and we were hoping we could find a bus to Kathmandu and although it was likely to be a long and fairly uncomfortable ride there were meant to be great views, so I was looking forward to it. Unfortunately this is not how things worked out. Once over the border we were informed that there was only one bus to Kathmandu and it would be leaving at 8pm, a whole 11 hours later. The road was closed due to political problems (not really a new thing, the Nepalese guy who sorted out our visas said “This is the Republic of Nepal, always problems”) and would only be open this evening. So we bought our ticket and were then directed to a roof top restaurant, we were also informed that there was a curfew between midday and 7pm, so we had to stay inside.

I have never been so bored in my entire life. We sat and had some food, sat in the sun till we got too hot, sat inside on a hard wooden bench till our bums were numb, realised that people were wandering around outside despite the supposed “curfew” (or ploy to get you to spend money in their restaurant) so went out and bought cokes from the little hut style cafés. What made it all worse was the thought that after all the waiting you still had a 10 hour bus ride ahead of you. Finally at about 7pm we were called down to get on a bus and we managed to nab the front seats, so we could put our feet up a bit, looking back though I'm not sure it was the best idea. The bus didn't go anywhere for over an hour, but when we were finally moving it was a big relief to just be on our way.

I didn't sleep much, just dosed off now and again, it was too uncomfortable and in the end cold as my window kept opening on its own and the driver had his open the whole way. Poor Adam's nose started running as soon as the key turned in the ignition and didn't stop the whole way. Of course it was pitch black outside so all those beautiful views were lost in the darkness, suffice to say it was the worst journey of our trip so far.

We arrived at about 7am and allowed ourselves to be jumbled into a taxi and driven to a hotel. It was relatively clean and we fell asleep for a few hours after having a hot shower, the first really hot one of our trip. After that we went out to explore Thamel which is the touristy area of Kathmandu. The first thing you notice is that it is much cleaner than India, and also much more Western. What you begin to realise over time though is that most of this is for the benefit of the tourists and although it was a welcome change it isn't really why we've come away. We have been scoffing chocolate doughnuts and apple danish's for breakfast, and in a way you feel a bit like a cheat. All the streets are lined with shops selling supposed native, handmade nik naks and jewelery, felt bags, t-shirts with pictures of Everest on them and as I said in the beginning it feels good to be somewhere which makes a little more sense to your Western brain but after a while it's too much.

The next day we moved hotels because the first one was too expensive and too cold, after a bit of a mix up at one place we found ourselves at the Kathmandu View Hotel, a little bit away from the centre of Thamel and quieter for it. After we were settled we took a taxi to Patan, which was once the capital of Kathmandu and had a look round the Durbar Square. This is where the Royal Palace is (although no longer occupied) and several temples.
The Nepalese architecture is very intricate and the wood carvings are especially impressive.
You get far less hassle in Nepal than India, and the people are very welcoming, the only slightly annoying thing is the hidden tax which they add to everything. This really bumped up the price of my lime soda and Adam's large coffee (or bathtub) at the palace museum cafe.
We didn't visit the museum despite being told “you can't allow yourself to miss this museum, it is the best in Asia,” we were just feeling too stingy and distrusting.

By this point Adam's cold was really starting to take hold and we headed back to the hotel, which is pretty much where we stayed for the next day. I also began to feel a little bit off colour and just made short trips to stock up on rations and frequent the internet shops.

Having just got to grips with traveling in India we were now faced with wanting to leave Kathmandu. We have avoided all the touts who have offered us the opportunity to do some trekking, which does not appeal to either of us, but we do want to get up higher and see the Himalayan vista. Trying to do this ourselves has proved fruitless, we visited two bus parks and got no where, much to our disappointment because we'd rather take local buses than join some organised tour. So tomorrow we are going to try standing on the street, hailing a taxi and see if they will take us 2-3 hours up into the mountains to a place called Daman which is meant to offer wonderful views and some much needed tranquility.

I'll let you know how we get on!

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 07:28 Archived in Nepal Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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