Nepal Travel Journal: Pokhara and Chitwan
|This travel journal is part of a series of journals, which are all written during a long trip between november 2007 and may 2009.|
> To Pokhara
04-10-2008 While traveling not everything will always be exactly like you planned and in the end right that is the charm of it. The past couple of weeks there were many plans, but there were at least as many occurences screwing things up. Loads of power cuts and respiratorial problems for both of us were definately reasons for taking action too late to spend some charity money from Treelo in Kathmandu. The long lines during our three (!) visits to the Indian embassy and a huge fire right across the street of our guesthouse also didn't help much. When you just got scared the hell out of you, since a woman across the street is on her rooftop ready to jump, while the flames are setting her kitchen on fire, helping to estinguish the flames has much more priority than feeding some of the street kids in the city. Even though it's vary sad for the latter.
So today we have our Indian visa in the pocket and our neighbour still has a house to live in, even though it's smoke-blackened on two floors, and we're able to move on to Pokhara with peace in mind. Of course we're leaving Kathmandu in style: surrounded by many loud horns and not until we've passed the right number of traffic jams and chaos.
Many Nepalis are also on the move, they're on their way to their families to celebrate Dasain, thé annual Nepali festival. The Public buses are packed, each one of them is carrying at least a dozen of people and animals on the roof and we're glad we've spent an entire extra Euro for the luxurious Tourist Bus. This means we're at least sure of a seat IN the bus and we don't have to sit with 5 Nepalis on the lap.
In a long train of buses and trucks we're driving out of the city, through an amazing landscape that's much more tropical than we'd imagined. Densely forested hills and rivers alternate with colourful villages and narrow, potholed roads. Everywhere we see kids swinging on handmade, bamboo swings, fabricated for the upcoming festival. We encounter dozens of trucks and buses, their roof packed with goats: offerings for Dasain. The 200 kilometers to Pokhara take a little more than 8 hours, but it's never boring, since there's enough to see.
Unfortunately mid afternoon the sky gets cloudy, so the snowy peaks of the Himalaya don't reveal themselves today.
05-10-2008 Today the mountains stay in the clouds as well and despite the antibiotics we're still not really recovered, so we spend the day relaxing.
06-10-2008 A very early ray of sunlight wakes us this morning and when we look out of our window we're impressed. They are there after all: the snowpeaks.
We quickly get ourselves dressed and we stock up on some foods that, with a little bit of imagination, may resemble breakfast. It takes a while to find a taxi who wants to take us for a fair amount, but then we're on our way to the World Peace Pagoda, on top of a hill, near Pokhara. 5 Minutes later we're there, according to the driver. Well, it really is early, but we're not stupid. This is not the place from where it's a 25 minute walk to the pagoda. After some arguing and grumbling from the three of us he continues and sighing and groaning the tiny car in which we're seated also protests against the holes and bumps in the pavement. After another 10 minutes we reach the place where we'd agreed to be taken and once more the driver disappointedly lets us know this is the Nepali fair we're paying and not the Tourist price. We calculate that even this Nepali fair is almost half of his daily wage for just one ride and now it's our turn to work hard.
The path is going uphill. Soon we're covered in sweat and 20 minutes later we see a huuuge white chocolate teacake rising above our heads. Since this thing is called the World Peace Pagoda we totally understand why there's still so many wars in the world . How ugly this thing is. We're glad to come here for the view and at a steady pace we climb the final stretch. At the end of the path our early effort is greatly rewarded. We're treated on one of the best panoramas we've ever seen. The horizon is filled with mountain peaks, each one of them measuring over 7000 meters. In front of them there are lower hills, Phewa Tal Lake and the town of Pokhara, which seems quite small from up here. What a wonderful sight. And how quiet it is up here. We enjoy this great place and have some food, before we walk the final stretch to the pagoda. From up close the thing is even uglier and as soon as the first tourists show up and clouds gather around the mountains we know it's time to descend.
Through dense forest we descend to the lake, where we're taken to Pokhara in a rowing boat. On the way we make a stop at Varahi Mandir, a temple on an island in the lake, where it's already crowded, due to Dasain festival. Long lines of Hindu people are waiting their turn to make puja, while dozens of Saddhus are given rise and money in exchange for their blessings.
Once we're ashore in Pokhara we go for another haircut in layers for Yvonne. The hairdresser cuts it straight and Peter does the layers, of which they have never heard here in Nepal, or in the rest of Asia. Yet another idea to make money when we're done traveling.
07-10-2008 We explore part of Pokhara on a bicycle and we pay a visit to the Himalaya Eye Hospital, a clinic built by Dutch donations for people who need eye surgery. Besided children who are born blind, there are many people in Nepal becoming blind in later life, for example due to the lack of sunglases in the bright white snow in the mountains. The waiting list is long and among the 2000 people waiting, there are many kids to whom surgery could mean they could (again) go to school to enlarge their chances for a job when they grow up. Surgery for them is more expensive than for adults, because it must be done under general anesthesia. That makes things complicated. For each child 3 or 4 adults could be treated. Treelo has some money left in his money-box and is willing to help. We're considering whether we're able to help and how many children we could help. We do have some time to think this over, since people will only resume working after Sunday, when Dasain festival is over.
> Begnas Tal
08-10-2008 This morning the sky is crisp and once again the Himalayan peaks are an impressive panorama. We drive out of town on rented motorbikes, something that is less simple than one should think it is. It's been a while since we regularly drove around on bikes and the many holes in the pavement and the total chaos surrounding us don't make it any easier. Fortunately we quickly get used to it all and sometimes we even get the chance for a glance at the mountainous landscape around us.
On our way we see many preparations for Dasain. Buffeloes, goats and chicken are being slaughtered, motorbikes, cars and buses are being blessed and both children and adults are swaying on long swings, high in the air.
Eventually we see where we came for, Begnas Tal lake with in it the perfect reflection of... clouds. The past thirty minutes the Himalayas completely vanished and where we saw snow a short while ago there are now clouds. Then something else draws our attention. Two men in orange costumes, and wearing turbans, are making music over a couple of woven wicker baskets: the snake charmers have come to the village! The show starts with three lethal...... uhm... hedgehogs. ?! What a pity we can hardly understand any Nepali yet, now we will never know all the things these men are making the audience believe.
Then the real thing starts and a couple of constrictors come out of the baskets. Last but not least there happen to be three real cobras and everybody moves a little further back.
After a short walk along the lake we return to Pokhara, where it starts pooring with rain in the afternoon. Here the weathermen have a good excuse to be wrong all the time and when there wasn't a word for unpredictable they surely would have called it Nepalese.
09-10-2008 We book transport and a place to sleep for tomorrow, in Chitwan National Park, where we hopefully will spot wild rhinos. We stroll along the shores of the lake and enjoy ourselves watching the big tikas that the Nepalis all have applied to their foreheads for the festivities of Dasain.
> The Bus to Chitwan National Park
10-10-2008 Around seven thirty we already leave Pokhara and until some kilometers before the turnoff to Chitwan it all runs smoothly. Then we suddenly have to stop for a long queue of buses and cars in front of us. Our bus is turned off and the driver creates the impression this could take a while. We hop off for exploration, but after every turn there's a new one. This traffic jam seems to be never ending. Until we suddenly have a clear view of a long stretch of road, the "drive-slowly-one-by-one-bridge", another part of the road and the junction of THE two highways in Nepal. The queue of vehicles seems endless and when we ask an English speaking guy about it we hear the reason for all this misery. Actually it's fairly straightforward: yesterday there was an accident on that junction across the bridge.
Wondering why there's still such a chaos at this moment? The bus driver who caused the fatal accident and the victim's kin and other villagers disagree about the indemnification that needs to be payed. The road will be blocked until both parties agree on a price, since well... this is Nepal. Dissatisfaction is not tucked away either, the bus is bombarded with stones and someone started a fire. Fortunately the police station is right next to the scene of the crime, so the armed men who are trying to restore order don't have to travel far.
We walk back to the bus, where we wait for things to get moving. Two and a half hours later there's suddenly some activity around the buses in front of us and our driver comes running back too. We're moving. For four turns to be exact. Then all vehicles come to a halt again and once more waiting starts. After another two hours we're just starting to wonder whether we should turn around when there's some action on the other side of the bridge. At a footpace the giant jam starts moving and to our surprise the old bridge lasts, under the weight of the entire queue, until we've crossed it. There we see a heavily damaged bus and the smell of fire is still in the air. It takes a while before we've left the chaos of the village behind and the next ten kilometers we're only driving slowly, due to the traffic jam on the other side of the road.
So it takes us almost ten hours to cover less than 150 kilometers and just before dark we reach Sauraha. We enjoy some local food, make reservations for an elephant and a canoe for tomorrow and even come along for the show, held in the village. In a small saloon Nepali and foreign tourists are waiting for a performance of traditionel dances. During the different "stick danses", in which a dozen boys rhythmically knock some sticks together the Nepalis go out of their minds.
> Wildlife in Chitwan
11-10-2008 Apparently jungle sounds are good for sleep, since we feel like reborn when we wake up just after sunrise. A jeep takes us to the starting point of our morning activity.
In a local canoe, carved from a single tree trunk, we float along a river. En route we see many kinds of colourful birds, like peacocks and kingfishers. In the water there are crocodiles, waiting for a nice bite that risks itself in their neighbourhood, only with their noses and eyes above the water surface. After thirty minutes we see one of them sunbathing on the shore.
Then we continue our tour on foot and we see more birds, but also a monkey and a large herd of at least a hundred deer. A rhino left its large footprints in the mud last night. Fortunately there's no sign of the animal itself.
In a number of structures on the edge of the woods the Elephant Breeding Center is established, where two young elephants frolicking together draw most of the attention.
By the end of this morning we see the bigger elephants taking a bath in the river and after lunch it's time to climb one of those giants ourselves. In Lampang we both hung on either side of one of those animals, here four people are squeezed in a tiny basket on top. In a large procession we go into the woods, not very much contributing to the feeling of nature. In front of us a Nepali guy is using his mobile phone to call someone and behind us a kid is whining. The little wildlife we encounter today must belong to the deaf part of this animal-forest.
When we take a sidetrack for a moment, to get rid of the mob, we discover a herd of deer. One of them has huge antlers. In the middle of an open space we see a mother rhino and her four months old baby grazing. In the distance we discover another rhino couple. Back between the trees a monkey quickly runs along and up in the trees there are a few more. Unfortunately then it's time to return to the entrance, which also means we don't have to sit cramped in a tiny basket anymore.
By the end of the afternoon we walk around a bit, in the village, where we take a look in the visitors center and at the stables of four park elephants. Whith one of them we play for a while: playing catch with a branch. Then the sun quickly sets behind the trees on the other side of the river and the nightly sounds of the jungle are back.
> The Tharu in Nepal
12-10-2008 We cycle around to explore Taru county. The Taru are the tribe originally living in this part of Nepal. Their houses are made of clay and thatch and they're selfsufficient in many ways. Mats are woven of twigs, food comes from the farmlands and they keep goats, ducks, buffaloes and doves in handmade dovecots. In the Tharu museum we learn more about their habits and customs.
The roads in this area are pretty bad, there's hardly any asphalt. As early as ten a.m. it's really muggy, so after a few hours of cycling we're done. We chat a while with the guy at the bicycle rental and his family, but the rest of the afternoon we don't do much more than relaxing.
13-10-2008 Today we return to Pokhara, where we'd like to get back to the Eye Hospital tomorrow, to see what we can do on behalf of Treelo. Next we'd like to start work at Namasté Primary School, the elementary school, where we'll be helping out with a friend for a while.
Nepal folk music and dance videoThe Nepal folk music and dance video will show here
Royal Chitwan National Park Nepal videoThe Royal Chitwan National Park Nepal video will show here
Click on the films up here to look around in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan almost live.
> More Info
Also check our Nepal info page, where you can find a lot of information about Nepal and come see our Pokhara and Chitwan photos.