Friday, June 22, 2012

Nepal: Lakes, Monks and Snow-Capped Mountains

After our two weeks in India, we spent two in Nepal. As soon as we crossed the border into Nepal we felt instant relief. It was less populated and less dusty--we could breathe again!

The village of Ghandruk--our trekking destination.
We spent one night in Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, but actually didn't make it out to the famous sites like the sacred garden. The next morning we took a bus to Pokhara. We paid for a tourist bus, but ended up getting tricked into riding the local bus. We probably paid 50 times more than the other people on the bus. No other tourists ended up getting on.

It started out okay. We were some of the first people on the bus.

More and more people got on, and they began to load up the top with crates of food and animals. I saw two huge cockroaches crawling around my feet at one point. We were driving on windy mountain roads in a packed bus. From my aisle seat, my face had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with many passengers' butts that encroached into my space. This was not the worst bus experience (that goes to Vietnam), but it was definitely up there.

View from my window.
Ahhh, Pokhara. The long bus ride was worth it. We ended up spending a week in Pokhara at the Little Tibetan Guest House, a place I highly recommend. Pokhara has a beautiful lake, excellent food (Olive Café and Moondance) and and great shopping. It's also a nice jumping-off point for trekking in central Nepal.

Phewa Lake
One day we rented scooters and went to the Tibetan settlement Tashi Palkhiel, where we visited the temple and hung out with a monk.

The monks "disrobed" for soccer practice!
Friendship bracelet.
No, we're not in the Haight District of SF, despite appearances.
Tibetan antiques for sale in the village.
The second time we rented scooters in Nepal, we drove to the base of the World Peace Pagoda and hiked to the top. It was incredibly hot and I ran out of water on the way up. At the top, I soaked my head in water from the fountain and bought a big bottle to chug.

The sole of my shoe came unglued along the way and started flapping around in the front, (shoddy workmanship by the guy in Hoi An) so I used my hair tie to hold it on.

Serene scene.
Then we rode to Begnas Tal, a nearby lake.

We packed in two days of trekking at the end of our stay in Pokhara. It was absolutely gorgeous.

Our Sherpa guide, Monica and Jenny.

Passing through villages made of stone.
We ran into a group of Americans who were hiking with their sponsored students in a small Nepalese village.


Little one, all by himself.
Waiting for the goats to cross the bridge.
Crossing the river.
Finally, we made it to the village of Ghandruk. It was a pretty intense hike with lots of ups and downs, rain, sun and wind, but totally worth it. Mules passing by us kept things interesting on the less-captivating parts of the trail.

The next morning we had breakfast before hiking back.

Preparing for the journey back.

We took the local bus back to Pokhara from the end of our hike. I made friends with a goat sitting behind me!

Then the bus got a flat tire...

Luckily we had a pretty spectacular view from the breakdown location.

We left Pokhara and headed to Chitwan National Park for a safari.

I must admit, this is very unique.
Hemp (?) all over the place, growing wild.
In a museum in the park.

We took a Jeep ride out to the river.

Then we took a lazy trip downstream in a boat like the one below.

We saw crocodiles!

Next we took a hike through the jungle.

Gorgeous purple flowers covered the ground.
Our guide pointed out paw prints from a young panther.

There were many of these crazy dirt sculptures all over the place. I think they are termite mounds.

Then things got depressing--we visited the Khorsor Elephant Breeding Center. The elephants were chained up so tight that they could barely move. They looked incredibly unhappy. Many of them were bobbing their heads back and forth due to what I think is some form of neurosis. I don't know why the elephants are being bred here, but I want this place to be shut down.

We then hung out with some happier elephants, who went swimming in the river. (These elephants had nothing to do with the breeding facility.)

We bought three bananas for around $1 USD. Had they been cheaper, we would have bought more. The elephants ate them in two seconds.

The presentation of the dish.

The next day we went out for our main event: the safari. Chitwan is known for its rhinoceroses, but they couldn't guarantee we'd see one.

On the way to the jungle.
Daydreaming about rhinos?

We ended up seeing many types of birds, a few deer and a snake. But no rhinos!

Local bar in Chitwan.
The day after the safari, we made our way to our final destination in Nepal: Kathmandu.

I wonder if people actually buy bus tickets at the toilet...
Sitting in the front of the bus, a chill lounge-type area. Chill, that is, until it was packed with people.
Almost every truck had some sort of saying on the back. I took photos of a lot of them. This one was pretty good:

"No life without wife."
The drive from Chitwan to Kathmandu.

Just before arrival, it started raining.
We stayed in Kathmandu for three nights, which was a good amount of time. We walked around a lot, did some shopping, and hit up some good restaurants.

Croissants and coffee.
I guess people window shop for teeth here.
Scary electrical wires.
Buying a shawl for mom.
There are pigeon houses throughout the city. It seems like people enjoy these birds, and even go out of their way to feed them and keep them around.

Cute school kids. The colors of their uniforms go so well with the colors of the city.
We went to an antique market in the center of the historic part of the city. Pretty much every vendor was selling the same things.

Caught you (and your dog) peeing on an ancient wall!

I highly recommend a trip to Nepal, if you can make it out there one day. I liked the people, the landscape, the history, the architecture, the hiking, the shopping... And I think I would have liked it even more had I not been desensitized from all the prior traveling. Nepal was our final "exotic" destination, and concluded our time in Asia. From Kathmandu, we flew to Delhi (10-hour layover) and on to London.