10 to 13 October – Flying away to China

I’m pretty sure you will be reading this blog upon my return as research indicates Word Press is blocked by the great China Fire Wall. Likely more effective than the Great Wall of China at keeping out foreign ideas and influences.

Our 11 October 2am Cathay Pacific flight left YVR a little late but nothing like the 14 hour delay that happened the last time I took that flight. We arrived, travel weary, in Hong Kong 13 hours plus a day later. That international date line really does throw me off. Suddenly it is 7am (Hong Kong time) on Thursday 12 October. We spend the hefty price for a four hour sleep in a quiet room and feel considerably refreshed for it. A 40 minute walk and bus ride gets us to our gate in perfect time for our onward flight to Guilin. 

The plane is very new and of course smaller. An hour after take off we land. An announcement is made that all foreign newspapers will be collected as they are not allowed into China. And so it begins – our first sense of disconnecting from the outside world. We are quickly going through Chinese immigration. There are numerous armed guards. I don’t know if they are police or military. There are a couple of uniform types so perhaps both. No different than Vancouver really. I wonder if the armed presence at immigration is now the same the world over.

Dad checked his suitcase so we wait a while for it to appear. Always a relief when checked baggage eventually swings out on to the conveyer. Then through customs. No one checks us and very quickly we are out in a large modern concourse being met by Joyce of Top China Travel. She is the person I’ve been in email contact with for several months now. She’s young, her English very good, and in very short order were being bundled into a newish car, meeting our driver, and setting off down a wide smooth tolled highway into a beautiful karst strewn rural landscape.

What are karsts, you may ask? They are steep sided limestone peaks that jut up out of the surrounding flatter terrain. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of them. They are iconic to this stretch of the Li River here in China and places like Halong Bay in North Vietnam to name a couple of famous karst landscapes. I can’t remember how they are formed, and because wifi seems to not work for much of anything here, am unable to refresh my mind with an Internet search. I believe this may once have been sea or lake bed and the karsts are the result of millions of years of water erosion – but please don’t hold me to that!

Guilin is a large, clean, attractive city. Traffic increases as we approach the center but there’s no horn honking or chaos that we’d been led to expect. Our Lake Side Inn is right by a small lake along a pedestrian only street so we leave our car and walk the last few meters. It’s a funny little place tucked into the corner of a much larger building. The reception and bar/restaurant are one. The owner greets us with smiles and quite good English. We exchange gifts with Joyce, say good buy to her and are led to our pleasant room. It looks over the lake and we can see one of the nearby pagodas peeking through the trees. We have a light tasty dinner at the bar and wash it down with a couple of delicious cold Chinese beers. Then to bed. It’s barely 7pm but we’re both pretty exhausted.

8 April – Farewell Nepal

Our last day. It’s sunny and quite warm in the high 20s. We walked over to the Garden of Dreams and spent some time enjoying it’s European flavour and tranquility. It is an island within the chaos of Kathmandu. We also had salads for lunch. Yummy greens, raw, uncooked, crisp – really good. Western prices though. Always a bit of a shock!
I tried to find one last item on my shopping wish list but to no avail. Just as well, my pack and duffel are getting heavy and very full and my wallet is quite light due to its empty state! I’m already dream weaving my next trip to Nepal. Something a bit more comfortable and easier I think. …. So many ideas to choose from.
On that note it’s time to say good bye. Thank you for joining Marianne and I on this remarkable, sometimes difficult, usually fun, always surprising, adventure. Stay turned for “China with Dave” (my dad) in October.  Mean time Natasha and my garden await me and Jerry awaits Marianne upon our return. We hope to see many of you soon. Despite what you might think – there are yet a few more stories to tell! (Hard to believe!)

This last blog is sent to you from the Hong Kong airport. Due to the international date line we’ll be in Vancouver before we leave here.  Wish it really was that quick!

2 to 8 April – A few pictures from the past week 

Changing the jeep’s flat tire on the road between Tumlingtar and Hile

The remarkable road between Hile and Kathmandu 

Waiting out a traffic jam on the road to Kathmandu 

Beautiful serene Boudhanath Stupa restored 

Marianne sitting on our deck during a hail storm in Pokhara 

Hailing away in Pokhara 

The Japanese Peace Pagoda above Pokhara 

Garden of Dreams in Kathmandu 


Our good Karma – why we didn’t get to Chitwan.

7 April – A long journey back to Kathmandu 

Have you noticed that all our vehicle trips are defined as LONG?Please trust me that this is no exaggeration.

We left Pokhara this morning at 8 am on the dot – a very punctual departure. We arrived in Kathmandu at about 5:15, and not at the designated bus stop. The bus driver finally gave up on the traffic and stopped the bus saying “This is the final stop.” Thank goodness for the accuracy of Pocket Earth. We hopped off the bus, did a quick confirm of our location (where I thought we were as it turned out), told the hovering and ever hopeful taxi driver we didn’t need his services and walked less than 10 minutes into Thamel and to our hotel. There were several tourists somewhat stranded by this sudden departure from the anticipated arrival place. No doubt delighted taxi drivers will have sorted them out!

So here we are back at the Hotel Florid. Rooms acquired in very short order. A young man sent to get our stored bags who got himself locked into the storage room…. but was rescued. A cold beer ordered and consumed, a second beer met a similar fate. Dinner shared with our trip organizer Binod Mahat of HikeNepal.com. Good conversation and a recap of the highlights and hilarious moments of the trek. He seemed somewhat relieved that we survived the ordeal! 

And now turned in for our last night in Nepal. For me this moment is always charged with mixed emotions. I love being here most of the time, but some things such as the dreadful traffic that held us up for hours today is frustrating and not much fun. The scenery on the treks is extraordinarily beautiful but sometimes the accommodations are less than comfortable. The lack of indoor heat when it’s cold outside is challenging. Nothing is simple here. Everything requires a bit of added effort and forethought.

Going to the loo for example.

At home we get the urge and we go into a nice private room or cubical equipped with toilet, a functional seat on toilet and loo paper. We do our deed, wipe, flush, wash our hands in running water with soap and dry. So easy.

Here it goes more like this….

One needs a “go bag” in which there is a supply of tissues and hand sanitizer of some sort.

One might also need a head lamp as not all facilities come with a light that works and some have no windows either.

There is almost never anywhere remotely clean to put anything down on so one does one’s deed – usually over a squat toilet while clinging to clothing to keep it out of the way and off the floor and gripping the go bag and anything else such as backpack, camera or shopping bags. Being of course very careful not to let anything touch the ground or worse fall into the hole.

The flushing is usually a scoop of water from a bucket. One should always check availability of water before using the facility.

Paper needs to be left in a basket or box or bucket if there is one. If there isn’t – well fold it up and bring it along to the next place where this a rubbish bin. No I’m not kidding about that. Paper can’t be flushed.

Last is the sanitizing or, if one is lucky, hand washing at a near-by tap generally using a well used bit of Dettol soap.

The entire process is always something of an ordeal.

Most toilets are reasonably clean, but not all. There are some which emit odours which are truly horrendous. So one can add breath holding to the antics of relieving one’s self!

On this note – good night from Kathmandu.

5 April – A visit to Pokhara’s Peace Stupa

Today we hired a guide – who’s name is Raju – and had a soft pleasant adventure. Funnily enough the day unfolded as anticipated. A guide isn’t required for this short walk but we felt like contributing a little to local employment and one always discovers wonderful gems of information from guides.

We took a small boat across the lake. Believe it or not, Raju, Marianne and I were required to wear life jackets. Even more surprising, they were in good condition. A boat man rowed us along from his seat at the back. There were several other boats out on the water doing much the same thing. This is a typical Pokhara outing for Nepalis and tourists alike. Once on the other side, our life jackets were stowed back on the boat, the boat man rowed back to Pokhara and we hiked for just under an hour up to a Peace Stupa/Pagoda built by the Japanese. According to the sign, the Japanese have set out to build 100 such monuments around the world in response to the devastation of Hiroshima. Presumably with the goal that such an event is never repeated. 

I was a bit disappointed as it is not a very attractive Stupa. A somewhat clumsy, straight sided, tall, circular dome topped structure which lacks the curving grace and dimensional balance of traditional Nepali Stupas. On a clear day its hilltop location would command a phenomenal view across the lake and beyond Pokhara to the mighty Annapurna peaks. 

Today wasn’t clear. It was sunny and very warm where we were, but the mountains remained shrouded in cloud. We spent a relaxing couple of hours at a small restaurant near-by the stupa awaiting potential clearing but in vane. 

While we waited for the view, Raju told us of his experiences during the April 2015 earthquakes. He was at Everest Base Camp during the first powerful shaking and his story is compelling. For four days his family had no idea if he was alive or dead. They feared dead. He was uninjured but was witness to much of the mayhem during the actual quakes and in the immediate aftermath. He described having to sit on the ground and brace himself with his arms and legs to avoid being knocked flat. He described the massive roar and blinding snow cloud of the avalanches that swept through the base camp. Eventually he evacuated himself and his shocked client down to Lukla for flights to Kathmandu. They walked through the night at one point as there was no place to sleep. Injured people need all bed spaces available as they were moved down to lower elevations. When they finally arrived in Kathmandu he was further horrified by the destruction there. Until he saw the fallen destroyed buildings he’d been unaware Kathmandu had also been damaged because communications had been down. The emotion in Raju’s voice as he described what he encountered is still quite raw. 

Every personal account I hear about that terrible time fills me with respect for the resilience of those who endured. Of course the conversation also turned to the delays in rebuilding which are due to political discord and corruption.

Upon our return to our comfortable deck we cracked a cold beer and are now sipping while watching another electrical storm take place around us. Right on schedule here comes the hail, slamming down and bouncing a foot or more off the ground! There is a strong wind accompanying today’s storm so we are going to have to retreat indoors.

These storms have been creating havoc and destroying crops. Young rice and wheat plants have been smashed. Poor farmers! There seems to be a never ending litany of troubles facing this little country.

4 April -When seemingly bad Karma is actually not bad at all

A couple of you have commented on the bad karma that seems to be dogging Marianne and I on this journey. I was inclined to agree but here’s a different take on that idea. 
Today’s paper “The Kathmandu Post” carries an interesting article about yesterday’s land slide on the road to Chitwan. Several vehicles were involved with only two fatalities (not five as I reported yesterday) and a couple of injured people. It happened at 10:30 am – barely five minutes before we’d have been in that location had we been further ahead in the slow moving line of traffic. So I’d say that’s about the best karma one could hope for. Funny how one’s viewpoint on a situation can swing 180 degrees with such swiftness. Perhaps rather than lamenting not being in Chitwan, we should be celebrating not being victims of a landslide. Perspective.

Now about our day in Pokhara. We slept in. We ate a leisurely breakfast in the morning sun. Yesterday’s violent thunder and rain storm had cleared the air. We sat on our comfortable deck reading the paper, journal writing, answering e-mails, listening to bird song. Enjoying the stretch of an un-encumbered day ahead.

We spent the afternoon absorbed in some minor shopping therapy. This included buying a small bottle of rum to enjoy on our deck this evening. We returned to our hotel just before the sky became dark and a mighty thunder, lightning, rain and hail storm unleashed itself! It was impressive. (Still is actually.) Both Marianne and I have lived in Ontario. We know what a thunderstorm can be like. This one takes the prize for loudness, closeness and duration. There was barely one second between blinding flashes of lightning and the roars and crashes of thunder! The original fury of the storm lasted less than an hour but it’s now after dinner and rain is still deluging, lightning continues flashing brilliantly and thunder is rumbling ominously! Very odd weather for this time of year in Nepal. We’ve spent the past hour sitting on our deck, sipping that rum we bought earlier and watching the storm rage around us. It’s good to know we don’t have to go outside to an outhouse tonight! 
Good night from comfortable Lake View Resort in Pokhara.

3 April – A long SLOW Toyota Corolla journey 

OMG what else could possibly run amuck on this trip? Please no one go there – the potential for further calamity it simply too great! This is actually beginning to seem like some sort of never ending farce! 

Yesterday we had a fun busy day in Kathmandu power shopping for gifts and mementos. After shopping in Thamel we took a taxi to Boudenath Stupa. Of the seven UNESCO heritage sites in Kathmandu that were damaged by the 2015 earthquakes, this is the only one to have been repaired. This happened with no government assistance. It is heartening to see this beautiful monument restored to its gory! We went to the temple and got all our prayer flags and ourselves blessed. The usual chanting, rice tossing, smoke wafting, water tossing. I love the ceremony and the delightful conversations with the monks afterwards. We took Tendi out for dinner at Thamel House. This is a long standing favourite restaurant of mine. I used to take evening sanctuary there after teaching before returning to the hostel where I stayed. They have some serious renovations going on so my table is no longer in existence. Never the less we had a lovely evening and it is always nice to touch base with my Kathmandu friends.
Now let’s get to today’s adventures. Not so enjoyable.

 We were going to Chitwan for our much desired R&R. Dream on Kim and Marianne. Dream on.
 We were advised to leave Kathmandu by 6am due to planned road closures. The road to Chitwan is being widened and so is closed for all traffic from 10am to about 2pm daily.

We left almost on time. We weren’t ensconced in a jeep as we expected, but in a small Toyota Corolla. Our driver was the most cautious driver in the country. SLOW. Regardless of our glacial road speed we did arrive at, and pass, the constitution area in good time. Things were looking really good! I was dreaming of the Chitwan bliss an hour or so away!
Barely 40 kms from Chitwan all traffic stopped. A long line of buses, trucks, tourist vans and our mini Kathmandu taxi. What’s going on? Our driver got out and went to investigate. Turned out there had been a land slide which killed five people sometime yesterday. Perhaps a second landslide this morning. Accurate details are sketchy. Many people had spent the night in their vehicles. The engineers were working on reopening the road but a time-line was really vague. What to do?

I talked to Binod on the phone several times, he talked to the traffic police involved in the incident. It looked like the road might reopen with in the next two to three Nepali hours which could actually mean anything. We made the hard decision to abandon our dreamed of vacation in Chitwan. We retraced our journey to the junction with the road to Pokhara and turned west. Here we are – over nine hours after leaving Kathmandu we pulled into a very pleasant hotel – Lake View Resort. I’ve stayed here before. It is upscale. Our room is really nice. Hot water, towels, bath tub, did I mention bath tub. We’ve had a delicious dinner. We’re in the process of re-establishing our equilibrium with a coupe of stiff drinks. Then there is the hot water and the bath tub….

Oh, just to add interest to this otherwise mundane day – there has been more torrential rain off and on (mostly on) all afternoon and evening with amazingly huge thunder! Earth shaking thunder. The weather gods must be upset about something! Of course this means further possibility of more landslides.

Tomorrow will be another day.

31 March and 1 April – A long jeep journey 

We’re back in Kathmandu at the lovely Hotel Florid. A flushing en-suite toilet, sink with running water, hot shower, towel and toilet paper provided. Perhaps even better than that, the warm reception and feeling of home coming. This little hotel is certainly my home in Kathmandu.
The trip getting here from Tumlingtar was epic.

Our first jeep which took us from Tumlingtar to Hile was probably several years past it’s best before date. The back tires had treads and looked pretty skookum, not so the two front tires. Those tires had no trace of treads, smooth as a baby’s bottom. 

I think the driver had spent more money on a massive speaker secured partially under the back seat than he had on any form of road worthy maintenance! This damn speaker protruded into the foot space for any one sitting in that seat just far enough to ensure they had no room to put their feet flat on the floor. Marianne, Dendi and I switched seats several times to ensure equal opportunity of discomfort! We three sat on the back seat while Tendi and Puri crowded into the front. Puri gets horribly car sick so he rode with his head out the window while Tendi straddled the gear shift and cooked his feet over the overheated engine. 

Our driver was friendly and extremely competent. The road was horrendous! A deeply rutted often steep up or steep down, hair-pined, very muddy narrow track. Considerable skill needed to drive in the conditions. 

We had a co-driver who we nic-named the “knock-knock boy.” Buses, trucks and the like here often have this assistant riding shotgun. Their job is to knock on the back or side of the vehicle to indicate that there is clearance between the back, side, front etc from other passing vehicles, cliffs or whatever other hazards might present themselves. I hadn’t experienced a knock-knock boy on a small vehicle before but this young fellow turned out to have another job as well. He was an extraordinarily quick tire changer. Yes we got a flat tire – in a muddy quagmire, on an uphill slope. Not one of the bald front tires either. One of the nice rear tires sprung a hissing flattening leak. From the moment we stopped until we climbed back in perhaps ten minutes passed! Impressive. Now we proceeded on three bald tires! The tire changing knock-knock boy and his friend (who seemed to serve no purpose related to our trip) rode in the back of the jeep, nestled among our back packs, but bouncing nearly up to the roof every time we hit a particularly large bump or hole in the road.

We arrived in Hile about noon. We would have liked to go further but the local jeeps are only licensed to travel within their designated areas…. complexities.

Marianne and I naively enjoyed a foggy afternoon – me blogging pictures from the trek. We had no idea what was to come.

Yesterday we left Hile bound for Kathmandu in a much superior jeep. No need for a knock-knock boy. Better tires, much more comfortable to ride in – thank goodness. We took 13 and a half hours to get here! As long as our flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong. Yikes what a tip! 

The road was paved the whole way – bonus. There were of course sections of potholes and random mystery bumps and debris. But the road was seldom more than one lane wide. Although it was straight and flat as we drove through south eastern Nepal along the Indian border, it was for the most part extremely windy with hair-pin turns that defy belief! Much of the mountainous portion of the road was engineered and built by the Japanese. It is the most amazing road I’ve ever been on! Switzerland has nothing that comes close! We climbed way up one side of a range then plunged down the other. The jeep swayed this way and that as our incredible driver geared up and down and kept us away from precipitous edges, avoided oncoming traffic in our lane and passed slower vehicles with barely inches to spare! 

We stopped at what appeared to be a really seedy place for lunch – I figured it would be dreadful and was completely wrong. We six ate together (a pleasant change from the usual) and enjoyed the best dhal bhat I’ve ever had! Being close the the border with India seems to have spiced up the food a fair bit. There were several mysterious vegetables to add to the mountain of rice. I’m not sure which ones were so hot that my mouth was on fire – but I had seconds of everything! Can’t judge road side stops by their outside appearances!

There was a monumental screw up as we took a one lane detour around a landslide. On our way to Khamding this area had been well organized. Traffic was held and directed to proceed one direction at a time. This time there was a break down in communication and we ended up meeting oncoming traffic. It was extremely difficult to ease by large vehicles and backing up was required in both directions on several occasions. There was a police man standing at about the central point with a radio in hand but to what purpose we have no idea. It was a great relief to get that section of road behind us.

As we finally approached Kathmandu – near Bhaktapur – traffic became hopelessly snarled. We inched along. There had been a violent wind and rain storm just a few minutes previously and it turned out that a large tree had fallen across a vehicle and half the road reducing a busy and sole access to the city from this direction to a dysfunctional mess. Why not work on clearing the tree? Can’t answer that. But no doubt the matter was being discussed as there were a great number of people standing around looking at the mess.

Our out-of-town jeep was not permitted into the inner city of Kathmandu so on a dark corner we all piled out, said a too hasty goodby and thank you to Dendi and Puri who now set off on their own ways. Dendi home to his family here in Kathmandu. puri to Tendi’s place where he will stay a could of days before returning to Khamding. Tendi, Marianne and I climbed into a small local taxi and continued to our hotel. We said goodbye to Tendi, he will join us this evening for dinner. A good meal and two beers later we were really more than ready for bed. I fell asleep last night lulled by the rumbling and flashing of a tremendous electrical storm.