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NepalBackstreets to Back Home

On 25 October 2005 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

Monday was the last day in Kathmandu, and since we had our flight in the evening, it was almost a full day to spend in the city. So after packing my bags, I roamed the backstreets of Kathmandu, with my Lonely Planet in one hand and my camera in the other. Even though it was in Kathmandu and people there are used to tourists, in some of these places I felt like I was the attraction. During travelling, that’s a good thing. I walked all the way to Durban Square, where I watched the activity from a high temple. Afterwards I did some last-minute shopping (got a nice soft-shell fleece jacket).

In the evening the entire group (things had been pretty individual in Kathmandu) went back to the airport, where we checked in. Unfortunately the airline would not label our bags all the way to Amsterdam, so when we got to Heathrow half an hour too late, we had to pick up our bags, go through customs and check in a different terminal. I guess it will come to no surprise when I say that we were too late for our flight. Luckily we got seats on the next bmi flight to Amsterdam, only 2 hours later. From Schiphol to my home town I took the train, and the Dutch railways decided to make my journey even longer by not having trains between Amsterdam and Utrecht. So I had to go through Amersfoort, and missed my connection in Roermond. After 28 hours of travelling I finally arrived home, exhausted from the trip, but full of new impressions and experiences.

NepalMt Everest & Temples

On 23 October 2005 from Kathmandu, Nepal | comments closed

The last long bus trip from Sauraha (near Royal Chitwan N.P.) to Kathmandu was a fine 5,5-hour ride. I’m amazed with the driving skills of our driver, since the roads here are literally packed with almost every mode of transportation imaginable: pedestrians, bikers, rickshaws, 3-wheel minibuses, minibuses, buses, trucks and normal cars. And overtaking traffic in blind bends seems to be the rule rather than the dangerous exception it is in Europe.

The remainder of Saturday I spent relaxing a bit in Kathmandu, and planning activities for Sunday. I woke up in the middle of the night on Sunday, took a taxi to the airport, and checked in with Buddha Air. After sunrise the small plane took off for a mountain flight above the Himalaya. I got to meet the captain in the cockpit, and he pointed out the top of the world: Mt Everest. Then the plane turned around and headed back to Kathmandu. Needless to say, I made plenty of photos.

When I got my feet back on the ground I walked to Pashupatinath, a temple where the dead get cremated. I met Peter there and after exploring Pashupatinath we walked to Bodhnath, a large Buddhist stupa. From there we took a taxi to Bhaktapur, a town with a small car-free centre full of temples and squares. We met a guy who would be our guide, but he only showed us a small part of town, before leaving us at a tourist-trap where they tried to sell us paintings. We listened to the sales pitch, but got out of there as soon as possible and explored the city on our own. A taxi brought us back to Kathmandu.

In the evening I met up with Suzanne and Kim, two girls from the Eindhoven region, who were on the same flight from London to Kathmandu. Both of them are doing 3 months of volunteer work at a hospital in Kathmandu. We had dinner and drinks at a restaurant in Kathmandu and I ate chicken for the first time in 3 weeks, since the meat could not be trusted. But being a vegetarian is not for me, that’s for sure.

NepalElephants in the Jungle

On 21 October 2005 from Sauraha, Nepal | comments closed

Our time in Royal Chitwan National Park has been marked by rain. On arrival on Wednesday it was not so bad and we managed to visit an elephant breeding centre, where little Dombo got out of the enclosure to play with us tourists. Really cool, especially when dumbfounded French tourists were videotaping the elephants in the enclosure, while a small elephant was walking towards them, pushing them aside.

Thursday morning we went downriver in a hollow tree (very unstable) to go for a walk in the jungle. Unfortunately we didn’t see any rhinos in the rain, and – more unfortunately – the thick bushes were sprawling with leeches. I had to pull 2 off me that had already been drinking a lot of my blood. At least salt kills them quite effectively. The elephant ride in the afternoon was cancelled because of heavy rain. But at least I did get a chance to start and almost finish the book ‘Olifantenpolo’ by the Dutch consul-general of Nepal.

Today the weather cleared up a little bit and we went for a 3-hour elephant ride in the jungle, finally spotting 1 rhino. In the afternoon we made a 4WD tour through the 20.000 lakes community forest. At first I thought it wasn’t possible to fit 10 people in and on a small size trooper-style 4WD, but we managed, alalthough it was pretty cramped. Getting back was the funniest part, since the car repeatedly wouldn’t start after shutting down (no clue why they did that in the first place) and on the way back the car made the weirdest noises.

NepalRelaxing & Rafting

On 19 October 2005 from Sauraha, Nepal | comments closed

After the Annapurna Sanctuary trek I spent the remaining day in Pokhara relaxing a bit. In the morning three of us took a short boat ride on the lake, and we walked up to the World Peace Pagode, from where the view of the lake and the mountains was absolutely stunning. The rest of the day I walked around Lakeside, doing some shopping and checking my e-mails.

On Tuesday and Wednesday we went for an overnight rafting trip on the Seti river. I would say that the rafting was even more relaxing than the day in Pokhara, as as the rapids in the river were – unfortunately – only class II or III at most, and were few and far between. But it was all made up by the excellent crew, who made great breakfast, lunch and dinner on the river shore. After a short bus ride out of the mountains and into the plains we arrived at Sauraha, close to the Royal Chitwan National Park.

NepalTrekking to A.B.C.

On 16 October 2005 from Pokhara, Nepal | comments closed

A.B.C. = Annapurna Base Camp, located at 4130 metres altitude it was the final destination of our 10-day trekking in the Annapurna range. I won’t be placing a day-to-day report in my blog here, but I’ll write down some things of interest to give you an impression. I think the photos will tell their own story.

The trekking party consisted of the 8 Dutch tour members (including tour leader), and 6 Nepali staff: the guide, the assistant-guide, and four porters. The first day started off nicely with a walk along a river. Patricia, the assistant-guide and I were walking ahead of the rest, and after an hour we decided to wait for them. When they hadn’t arrived in 1,5 hours, we reached the conclusion that we took the wrong route (even though the assistant-guide kept telling us we were on the right track), and we walked back. We reached our first lodge right before dark in rainy weather. Needless to say, no one believed the navigation skills of the assistant-guide afterwards, and during the rest of the trek no one got lost anymore.

The second day we walked to Ghorepani where we had to pay a fee to the maoist rebels. They were unarmed and not very impressive, yet all foreigners were gently forced to pay the 1200 rupees (15 euro). The next morning we got up before sunrise to climb up Poon Hill and watch the sunrise from there. We continued to Tadapani and to Chomrong on the fourth day. This part of the trek was mainly through forests, and agricultural areas. We encountered quite a few locals, some of which looked like they were just going for a stroll, and some were carrying lots of stuff (there are no roads in the trekking area, just tracks). Also we passed lots of donkeys, and the occasional cow on the track.

The fifth day we took the track to the Annapurna Base Camp, where we arrived on the sixth day. Since this track only leads to A.B.C., we encountered more tourists, guides, and porters than before. At A.B.C. the view was amazing, especially the next morning, when the sky was completely clear. We could see Annapurna I (8000+ metres), Annapurna South (7000+ metres), and Machhapuchhre (almost 7000 metres) from an altitude of 4130 metres. Really spectacular.

Luckily no one suffered too bad from altitude sickness, although Pieter did get really ill (still not sure what, he managed to get up and down slowly, but had to be carried the second-last afternoon). From A.B.C. we hiked to Bamboo on the 7th day, where some smart Nepali had started a German bakery. And having fresh chocolate croissants and orange juice for breakfast up in the mountains is really heaven.

The 8th day we hiked to Jihnu, where we soaked in the natural hot springs next to the river, before having dinner at the lodge. The food at the lodges was quite good, not only the local dal bath (rice with ‘linzen’), but also macaroni, pizza, fried rice, potatoes, pancakes (yummie) and soup. Besides the food, the hot showers that were available in most of the lodges were an unexpected convenience. Some also had electricity, but usually only a few hours of the day.

The ninth day Fidel, the assistant-guide, one of the porters and I took a somewhat more difficult path and visited another town. We arrived at Syauli Bazar before the others though, because the ‘easy’ path was not a easy as it sounded. The tenth (last) day was a short walk along the river back to the main road. There the bus to Pokhara was already waiting.

NepalHonk Honk to Pokhara

On 6 October 2005 from Pokhara, Nepal | comments closed

The first day in Kathmandu was spent checking out Durban Square and the monkey temple. At Durban square they fitted a bunch of hindoe and buddhist temples together. The monkey temple was aptly named because monkeys abound at the place, and climb the roofs. In the evening we had dinner with the entire group (8 including tour guide), before calling it a day after two nights in airplanes.

Today we did the 200 km busride to Pokhara in a fast 7 hours. Needless to say, the roads here are not that good, and people drive like crazy (except for our bus driver). It was a very scenic ride though, through the mountains and along the river. Pokhara is nicely located at a lake, and the view is supposed to be great, but the clouds were ruining it today. We did get some rays of sun though, and it gets quite warm when we do.

Tomorrow we’re starting the Annapurna Sanctuary trek, so the next post will be when we’re back in Pokhara.

NepalArrival in Kathmandu

On 5 October 2005 from Kathmandu, Nepal | comments closed

Opposed to my previous post, I didn’t check out Abu Dhabi after all. It was about 40 degrees outside, so even breathing was hard. Therefore the afternoon was spent sleeping, but after the dinner buffet Peter and I walked into the city for a while and we checked out the river. Expensive cars all over the place, a real contrast with Kathmandu, from where I’m typing this post.

The flight from Abu Dhabi to Kathmandu was good. We got a $150 voucher to use as a discount on Gulf Air flights, as a compensation for overbooking the flight to Kathmandu. However, this is fairly worthless compensation, as it only benefits us if we fly with Gulf Air again within the year. Except for the fact that I’m not planning a trip to a Gulf Air destination within the year, I’m also not very eager to fly with them again.

In Kathmandu we were picked up from the airport after a while, and brought to the hotel through all these narrow bustling streets. Definitely Asia: everywhere different smells, lots of people, lots of noises, temples smoking with incense sticks, and shops everywhere. The weather is about 25 degrees, but cloudy. The hotel is one of the highest in the city (7 floors), and thus the view from the rooftop terrace is great.

NepalGulf Air & Abu Dhabi

On 4 October 2005 from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates | comments closed

Somehow Murphy’s Law always applies when I need to get a flight. In this case, first the car wouldn’t start, and when it finally did we got cought in an unexpected traffic jam (German national holiday apparently). Anyway, after illegally crossing some train tracks and catching a train just-in-time, I managed to get to Schiphol airport even half an hour before the tour guide. Worried for nothing, I guess.

At Schiphol I met all but one of the others. 2 couples, another single guy, and the tour guide; all between 31 and 39, so I’m definitely the youngest. Check-in at Schiphol was fine, as was the bmi flight to London. When we boarded the Gulf Air flight to Abu Dhabi 4 people from our party of 7 got upgraded to business class. Unfortunately not me, although I suspect it was because I had my frequent flyer number registered with all passengers.

Once in Abu Dhabi we tried to get our boarding cards for Kathmandu, but were informed that the flight was full, and we got bumped to the next flight at 01.30 tonight. Therefore we won’t arrive in Kathmandu before Wednesday morning. So we went through customs (another page filled in my new passport), and the airline brought us to a hotel in Abu Dhabi, where we’ll get lunch and dinner (too late for breakfast).

After my half-an-hour of free internet here in the hotel, some resting, refreshing, and lunch, I might check out the city a bit, although it’s really hot here, and I’m not really dressed for this weather. So far my impression of Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) is really positive. New 4-lane highways, shiny high-rise buildings, expensive cars, and a lot of construction going on. There’s definitely a lot of money being made in this region, especially with today’s high oil prices.

NepalReady for the Himalaya?

On 3 October 2005 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

… I really don’t know. But it’s now too late anyway. I’m going… today. The flight itself already seems a bit of an adventure: from Amsterdam to London with British Midland, and then with Gulf Air to Abu Dhabi and finally Kathmandu. I’m supposed to arrive there on Tuesday 4 October at 15.55, that’s 12.10 CET (yep, 3 hours and 45 minutes time difference, apparently to tell the difference with India). I’m expecting no problems with the passport check however, as I bought the novel of the Dutch consul general (funny thing to include advertising in the visa application form). The plan is to update my blog every so often when I’m in the big cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara.

For the first time in my life I’m going to do a real organised tour longer than 1 week. The organisation that got the honour is Mambo. The trip includes 11 days of trekking and 2 days of rafting. And that’s the part I’m slightly worried about, as physical education was definitely not my thing in secondary school. However, I really enjoyed the trekking in New Zealand, and I love spectacular mountain scenery, so Nepal is a logical destination. After all, mountain scenery doesn’t get any better than in the Himalaya’s. To prepare I went hiking a few times in the Ardennes in Belgium, pretty much the only area in the Benelux where it’s possible to do a decent hike (with altitude differences), and to drive to and from in one day, as is it’s only a 2-hour drive. I also got some new gear: windproof, waterproof and breathable pants, and a Camelbak to drink while hiking. I just hope I have enough battery power to keep my dad’s Canon Powershot S50 operating, since 5 battery packs is not a great deal when hiking in the mountains for 11 days without electricity. Nepal is definitely a place where I can get out of Western civilization for a while. Wish me luck.