Return to Kathmandu

Those of you who have travelled to Nepal will know that things seldom happen here as arranged.

Our upscale – meaning with good tires, suspension, seatbelts, operational doors, air conditioning etc – was to pick us up at 9 a.m. from Sapana Village. After our seven hour delay leaving Pokhara, I checked this twice with two different people and was confident we’d not be disappointed.

Oh silly me!

A van appeared at just before 9:30. It was obviously not ours as it was clearly not a tourist vehicle. It was small and dilapidated.

Wrong.

It was our van. Jim and I walked around it. It did have four tires and a spare on the roof. It had so many dints, it had a huge crack in the front window, it had no seatbelts, a broken – missing – door handle for the only passenger door. It was filthy. The air conditioning did not work. We climbed in.

The driver was not a tourist driver either. We all arrived in Kathmandu safely and quite a bit quicker than expected. The drivers here are skilled at passing on blind corners and squeezing in between trucks when the oncoming traffic is bigger. They manage to not run over goats and children scampering along the road. Tourist drivers tend to keep the more risky manoeuvres to a minimum. This guy was intent on delivering his cargo of six tourists and their stuff as quickly as possible safely be damned.

He took a short cut around busy traffic on the outskirts of Kathmandu that was similar to an exciting roller coaster ride. We did see a nice bit of Kathmandu’s suburban sprawl.

About 300 metres short of our hotel a police woman pulled him over and took his drivers licence. As far as we can tell this was because he had an illegal cargo of tourists which neither he nor his van were licensed to carry. He was allowed to continue to the hotel so we don’t know the outcome as she retained his drivers license.

Like the fellow who drove us to Lumbini and on the Chitwan, this guy refused to listen to Jim showing him how to get to the hotel. Instead he made numerous phone calls while driving. Finally Binod showed up on his motorcycle and led him the last couple hundred metres. Unnecessary but at least Binod was able to see for himself how badly he and we had been ripped off. Binod had of course paid for the tourist van to pick us up. Someone nicely pocketed the likely considerable difference in price.

Thus it can be here.

We had a late lunch in our Florid Hotel garden restaurant then set off to do a bit of shopping. Claire and Jim were still shopping when the rest of us sat down for dinner sometime after six!

They had not returned by the time the rest of us went to bed! Jim has taken to the art of haggling! OMG can he get a good deal!

Today is a chill day in Kathmandu. Well as chill as it can be in this chaotic city. Shopping and relaxing tops the agenda.

Tomorrow we head off for four days in Tendi’s home village Khamding. There will be no internet there so this is likely the last missive from me until our return.

Tendi has been given instructions to hire a Jeep with seatbelts and tires with treads. We’ll see how that goes!

Elephant or Jeep Safari or Just Stay in the Comfort of the Lodge?

The day before yesterday we enjoyed riding elephants into the jungle. We saw a couple of rhinos, some spotted deer and several birds.

There were also the disturbing sights of elephants loaded down with four tourists per basket. Some of these people were quite loud but thankfully we were able to stay away from them except when gathered around to see the rhinos.

The ethics of the ride remain controversial. At the moment, this is the only way the owners can afford the expense of keeping their elephants. These are domestic animals so unless a sanctuary is created for them, there aren’t a lot of options. One can but hope that one day there will be the will and funds for these animals to retire to an open living natural environment.

The elephants that live here at Sapana Village seem well treated and have ample free time.

We’ve spent the better part of today watching the young bull, in particular, knock down small trees and generally be a rambunctious child. He’ll push a tree over. Straddle it. Walk along it then let it snap back up once he’s clear. This seems to amuse him as he does the same or similar manoeuvre over and over.

Yesterday we ate an early breakfast and left here in a Jeep at 7 am. We waited at a river crossing for an hour while our guide got tickets to enter the national park. We waited again at the river for a dug out canoe to ferry us across the crocodile infested river. There was only one croc in evidence.

Once on the other side we finally climbed onto the back of a pickup truck outfitted with three sets of tiered seats. Thus began a long day of bumpy driving along narrow roads through Chitwan National Park. We drove about 35 kms into the park and were finally rewarded with a black rhino sighting. It was a large beast placidly standing shoulder deep in a pond. Other than that we saw a large snake skin – snake thankfully not in evidence as we were told it was the skin of a king cobra. Made us all look around very carefully when we had our comfort stops!

There were some spotted deer, some spiders, a monitor lizard, a wild elephant and a few birds. The jungle itself was interesting with varied vegetation but it was quite a lot of driving for not much excitement.

Hanging around here today was much more interesting. I’ve already sent pictures of the rascally little bull elephant. He provided hours of entertainment.

Brenda has just arrived – time for happy hour.

11 November – Remembrance Day

We wake to the warmth of a jungle morning and spend it relaxing. Brenda and I while away a couple of hours by the river watching a couple of birds. Then an elephant is brought down to bathe. A couple of young tourists help splash water on him. This elephant is five and he was born just after my dad and I were here five years ago. He’s a handsome youngster with newly sprouting sharp white tusks. He puts up with the tourists with the typical grace of a toddler who would rather be playing somewhere else. While we watch the women in the river with the elephant, we watch a bundle of intestines float past. Whether from a human or crocodile slaughtered animal we know not.

In the afternoon we go for an elephant safari. We have the three Sapana elephants and are two per elephant. Most of the other elephants are loaded down with four tourists per basket. We travel in greater comfort for several reasons. We see a couple of types of dear, peacocks, two rhinos and a croc. Our elephants rumble and tremble over the croc sighting. They are clearly concerned. They also have a rumble fest over something else in the jungle that we don’t see. Brenda and I imagine a tiger sitting on a tree branch above us but of course see no such thing.

We feed our elephants bananas upon our return and thank them for the great ride.

Upon return to our lodge we lay about sipping gin and tonics until dinner.

After dinner we honour Remembrance Day. We recite in Flanders Fields. Sing God Save the Queen and Oh Canada. Have a minute of silence and hum taps. A small tribute in a far away foreign land for brave souls who served and died in foreign lands. We remember them. We honour them. We do not forget their sacrifice.

Good night from Chitwan, Nepal.

Pokhara – Lumbini – Chitwan

Traveling during festivals in Nepal can be difficult because everyone is traveling and no one is driving! Getting a driver to take us to Lumbini is next to impossible. The plan was for us to depart Pokhara at 8 a.m. but due to festival activities and commitments we don’t get a driver until 1:30. The one we do get is a city bus driver in Pokhara. He tells Jim he stepped in at the last moment because the driver we should have had is drunk. He is an excellent driver but doesn’t know how to get to Lumbini. Thankfully Jim has Maps Me on his phone and I have Pocket Earth on my I Pad. On the way to Lumbini, the driver is very resistant to back seat navigation. When we leave Lumbini to go to Chitwan he is similarly directionally challenged but Jim sits up in the front seat and he is then willing to follow Jim’s directions.

We are now safely and happily in Chitwan, but first – about our visit in Lumbini.

It takes us seven hours to get there. Distance – approximately 300 kms. The roads here are dreadful. At one point we stop at a dubious looking place for a relief break and surprisingly the toilet is very clean. So we all have small cooked snacks at the tiny restaurant. Jim also buys everyone bags of salty junk food snacks – really yummy! We devour everything. By the time we climb back in the van it is dark. The road ahead winds up through some hills, there are no cats eyes, there are enormous potholes, the road is narrow, oncoming traffic keeps high beams on….. we finally arrive in Chitwan at 8:30 p.m.

Our Hotel Ananda Inn seems fine at first but Jim and Claire discover unchanged sheets on their bed. Gross.

In the morning we have an early breakfast and meet our Lumbini guide. Tendi gives him a briefing to not talk too much but to let us see as much as possible in the short time we now have. He does a good job. We see Buddha’s recorded place of birth then rent some electric rickshaws with drivers to whisk us to several of the national temples throughout the park. Germany has a stunning complex. Some other nations have nice temples sitting in weedy unkempt grounds. The park complex itself is quite ramble-sham. The potentially attractive canal is bordered by crumbling wide avenues. The area could be outstandingly beautiful but misses the mark due to inadequate maintenance and planning.

Our guide has a surprise. He takes us to the Canadian temple – which is lovely and sits in clean maintained grounds. Here we have tea with the head monk. He has been to Vancouver and Victoria. We have an enjoyable visit and discover Canadians are welcome to stay overnight. The complex has 18 twin bed rooms and I’m sure the sheets are washed between guests!

We return to the hotel to gather luggage from our rooms and have lunch, then climb back in our van to head to Chitwan.

We arrive before dark at about 5:30. The manager Naran is still here and remembers me from past visits. We’re given a warm welcome, our rooms are lovely and we are soon gathering for dinner and beers.

Our itinerary for the next few days is to go on a day long jungle safari, ride elephants and relax.

For now – good morning from Sapana Village Lodge in lovely steamy warm Chitwan.

Last day of our trek then a day in Pokhara

It’s always sad when a trek comes to an end. Our bodies have become used to the trail and are feeling fit – except for sore knees. We are in tune with the rhythm of our nomadic life. Now a different reality awaits.

Our porters sit down to eat at their table while we’re still finishing up our breakfast. This is a rare occurrence. Usually they wait until we are done then enjoy a peaceful meal to themselves without our clamorous demands for more tea, hot milk, another coffee, hot water, a spoon, a knife, is there jam?

Jim – instigator that he is – decides we should serve them the way they usually serve us. So the two of us go over to their table and start asking them what else they need. At first they have no idea what’s going on and try to jump up to attend to our needs. But we convince them to stay seated and they get into the mood by asking us for teas. We go into the kitchen where there is some surprise but the staff quickly understands what we are doing and they too enter into the fun. We serve our porters and remove their plates. They are a bit dumbfounded and amused but accepting none the less.

Doug and Joanne walk a bit slower than the rest of us so this morning they set off early so we will all end the trek together.

On our way down a seemingly endless flight of 2000 some odd stone steps – Nepali steep – we come to a tea house on a terrace. I’m not sure how it starts but soon Tendi and Jim are dancing a Nepali dance and the owner turns up the music volume. The rest of us sit and kibitz, egging them on.

Not long after we descend to the road, and our trek is done.

Always sad.

We have a van meet us and take us back to Pokhara. Once there Tendi takes us all for a Nepali lunch. We had planned to take Tendi, Lakpa and crew but that was not to be. We eat in a small delightful hole in the wall local place and enjoy delicious dhal bhat with our fingers. Food tastes so good when scooped up in ones fingers!

We then sing a song Jim has written for the crew to the tune of This Land…. we do a pretty terrible job of Jim’s wonderful song but the thought is pure and the guys seem to like it. Then distribution of tips for jobs well done and all expectations exceeded. We all developed excellent rapport with our porters and this of course adds to the joy of a trek.

We saw so many overladen porters struggle along the trails bent double under two large duffle bags – one porter per two trekkers. An obscene and unacceptable abuse. Our porters each carried one back pack. We hired one porter per person. Our guys walked with us, they sang as they walked, we shared laughter and learned about each other. They served us with grace and generosity and we treated them with respect.

We spent the afternoon checking out the shops, then went to a new and excellent restaurant for dinner. We ate pizza. I know – odd. The manager is Italian – it was really good pizza and the Italian wine was divine.

Yesterday was a day off. We wandered and shopped. I somehow found myself with yet another down jacket…Nepali North Face. $35.00. Irresistible. I’m a hopeless case.

Today is the day for sisters to honour brothers. The last day of a five day national festival. I honoured Tendi by wishing him long life and health draping a monk blessed a Khata around his neck and giving him a set of chimes. He’s given me a lovely jade and silver bracelet. Oh my.

At noon we will leave by van for Lumbini, Buddha’s birthplace.

Will try to send more pictures but internet remains inadequate for numbers of people on line.

Cheers from Didi on a lovely warm sunny morning in Pokhara.

Day 10 of our Trek

We walk to Dhampus (1650 m) today and it takes a little less than two hours.

An easy walk once again, mostly downhill on laid stone trail, a short bit on the dusty road.

A highlight of our walk is arriving at the top of a long sloping meadow. The grass is cropped low and tidy by animals no longer in evidence except for some dried poo here and there. The meadow is long and tree lined. It looks like a golf course fairway.

Jim, who is always up to something, drops one trekking pole and begins taking golf swings with the other. This is too good an opportunity to miss. I try shoving a small stick into the ground to make a Tee, Nima has no idea what we are doing but obligingly hammers it in with a stone. Golf balls? The dried poo is a perfect substitute. Jim and I place poo balls on our sticks and begin sending them sailing. The porters, not understanding golf etiquette, dash around trying to catch the flying poo. Nepali Poo Golf is born! A few serious trekkers come striding by, intent on some distant destination. They give us the stink eye as they go by. We continue to cavort and wack poo down the fairway with our trekking poles.

Claire took some pictures so eventually I hope to send a couple.

We’re at our guesthouse before noon. I’ve stayed here twice before but don’t let on to the others that we have the possibility of en-suite bathrooms. After the disappointment of Forest Camp I no longer want to generate false expectations. We are not disappointed. Our rooms have en-suite bathrooms and hot water comes out of the showers! Hair is washed! Clothes are washed and hung in the sun along our balcony. We spend a sunny hot afternoon in our usual pursuits which include a few cold beers.