So, we decided to take a brief detour and come to Nepal for a couple of weeks. We had an amazing flight with Thai Air on an enormous plane and we even think that we saw Mount Everest out of the window!
Getting through immigration in Kathmandu took a while but it was nice to be in the cold and actually be able to wear a jumper for the first time in ages. We were picked up by a guy from the guest house who did a superb job of navigating us through the crazy streets of Kathmandu without killing anyone. Not a small achievement, it takes a special set of skills to drive on Kathmandu roads as they also function as pavements and markets. The pollution is very bad not to mention the dust which all makes you feel a little breathless, like you are in a smoky room. We got to our guest house through the madness and had a lovely cup of Masala tea which tastes kind of like rice pudding and is delicious.
On our first full day in Kathmandu we decided to just have a wander around the streets and walk to the Durbar Square. There is so much going on and so much to see that it is hard to describe the atmosphere of the place. Stray dogs, rickshaws, fruit sellers, litter, touts, shrines, prayer flags, spitting men, kids chucking water bombs at you from first floor windows, the odd holy man trying to paint your forehead for money and Namaste (hello in Nepalese) from every angle. Completely overwhelming but brilliant at the same time. We got quite lost, but managed to find the square in the end where we got hassled for about 20 minutes by a charming and persistent guy who wanted to sell us a guided tour. We managed to get rid of him and then sat on the steps of one of the temples to watch the world go by.
The next day we were up early and on the tourist bus to Pokhara with our guide Shambhu who was going to look after us on our hike in the Annapurna region of the Himalaya. The bus ride was an eye opener. Away from the tourist areas the poverty in Nepal becomes even more apparent. I swear that I saw someone barbecuing a couple of puppies and one woman who looked like something from a nightmare. Totally emaciated, barefoot, dressed in dirty rags and hunch-backed shuffling along in a ditch of foul water.
The shear amount of litter was also astounding. We drove past a river on the outskirts of Kathmandu which was basically landfill. A mass of plastic bottles and bin bags piled high with a foetid dribble of water winding it´s way through the filth. There were also some beautiful sights though, the Nepali ladies sat outside their houses brushing their hair or washing clothes or preparing food. Beautiful fields of cabbages and wheat hemmed by blue wild flowers and earth being ploughed by buffalo, lots of baby goats and chicks and all the school children immaculately dressed in their uniforms.
We only stayed one night in Pokhara before heading off on our hike with Shambhu. Not a lot happened but I did feed my dinner to a stray dog who looked like it had rickets (we called him Ricky). We started our trek at a large village called Naya Pul and walked four hours to a little place called Tikhedhunga, stopping for lunch at a tea house along the way. Despite Shambhu telling us that day one was an easy day, we both found it quite hard work. The steps in particular were challenging and left me quite out of breath. The countryside was stunning though and the people were very friendly. It was very nice to get out of the city, away from the traffic and into what I was expecting to see in Nepal. The little, traditional villages were so pretty and even though they are mainly devoted to tourism now with tea houses to accommodate the thousands of trekkers that pass through each year, you still felt like you were seeing a little bit of Nepalese culture. The first night we stayed in a cute guest house owned by an ex-Gurkha who had a really sweet little boy.
Day two was hell and no, I am not exaggerating. We had to ascend 1300m in total, 800m of which were up steep steps. We worked this out as the equivalent of walking up your average staircase about 300 times which roughly equates to a lot of f**king steps! We were stopping about every 2 minutes. It was at this point that we decided that our preparation of lying on a beach in Thailand, eating and drinking lots was perhaps not the best regime. Then I was almost killed (maybe a slight exaggeration) by a shepherd who was lobbing stones at his goats and missed me by inches. We eventually made it to Ghorepani after about 7 hours, completely knackered. There were totally breathtaking views of the Annapurna range and after we had recovered a bit and warmed up by the fire we were glad that we had made the effort. I also had a roast chicken dinner that was brought to me on fire!
The next morning it was up at 5.30am to walk up Poon Hill (3200m is a hill in Nepal, much like flat is actually slightly uphill and slightly uphill is nearly vertical) for the sunrise, another 400m up steps. I nearly didn´t make it and it took a lot of encouragement from David and a lot of stopping, at one point I think I exclaimed “this is madness!” in a rather dramatic fashion. But I made it without vomiting which is more than can be said for another poor girl who was collapsed on the grass. Again, it was worth the effort for the amazing views and a cup of Masala tea restored us. Then it was back down to breakfast before heading off on a five hour walk which involved more steps both up and down. There was quite a bit of snow about and some of the downhill sections of steps were really treacherous with thick ice, not so fun when there is a giant chasm on one side, it was quite scary. We arrived unscathed in Tadapani, but not before having to scale another mountain of steps which left me totally broken and swearing that if I saw another set of steps I would gnaw my own legs off to avoid having to walk up them. At this point, however, we saw a very hairy Langur monkey with little white socks and all was good. That night I felt ruined and really sick, I think we were both totally exhausted and were in bed by 7.30pm but kept awake all night by a yapping hound who was either mental in the head or protecting us from leopards. Either way we wished he would shut it. David even considered taking the Swiss to it but that would have involved using his legs.
Day four was heaven, all downhill and only three hours which was well needed, although major leg pain after walking down all the steps. We stayed in a great hotel and had our own bathroom and hot shower. Our last day was again downhill, 5 hours walking and no ice. Still, we were well and truly pooped by the time we got back to Pokhara. We decided to stay a couple of extra days in order to recuperate, eat a lot and use the internet.
We went out for breakfast on the second morning in our nice clean clothes only to be pelted with coloured water by a small boy who David rather diplomatically called a ´little bastard´. It turned out that it was the Hindu festival of Holi, which as far as we could work out involves smearing colourful paint all over each other, chucking water at each other and generally having a laugh. So we went and got changed into our least favourite clothes and got totally covered in paint. It was brilliant fun and the kids totally love it – when else can you smear paint all over adults without getting told off? David had a paint fight with the little boy at our hotel and then he wouldn´t leave him alone after that. I want to introduce it to Farnham but David thinks that the Brits would get carried away, get too drunk and it would all turn into fisticuffs. He´s probably right. Even in Pokhara there was a heavy police presence, but we are not sure whether they were just there to be fun killers as it all seemed very good natured.
Then it was the bus to Chitwan in the lowland area of Nepal. I was in a foul mood, not sure why but was forced to cheer up when we realised it was Holi number two. The first clue was an entirely pink horse. It turns out that the lowland and highland areas celebrate Holi on different days. It is hard to be in a grump when you have red paint all over you and kids are throwing paint bombs at you. David was hit a good´un with a pink concoction all over his nice clean t-shirt. We then went and saw some animal poo and a few bear and tiger penises at the local “museum” and got menaced by a potentially rabid horse. We also went to visit the elephant breeding centre and saw lots of chained up elephants. One little one was particularly stupid and just kept trying to reach his hay over and over again even though he couldn´t because his chain was too short. It was quite sad really. There was even a loose one who people fed biscuits. Not sure that they are part of a balanced elephant diet but it definitely liked them. Then David made me drink a bottle of red wine.
The next morning we were slightly hungover which is not how you want to feel before an hour and a half long elephant safari. It´s kind of like being on a boat in rough seas but weirder. We did manage not to sick on the elephant though. It was actually a very peaceful way to get up close to the wildlife after we´d lost the 60 or so loud American teenagers that were on a school trip. We got really close to a Rhino mother and her calf which was cool but she did start to get a little pissed off after a while so we left. They are huge! We were glad to be so high up. Then a stag tried to start on us, a very brave or very stupid thing to do, I´m not sure which.
In the afternoon it was off for a dugout canoe ride down the river where we saw lots of birds (kingfishers, storks and even a hornbill) and three crocodiles (Marsh Muggers). One of the crocodiles was massive and we felt a bit vulnerable in our little canoe. We escaped without being eaten and walked back to our resort through the government elephant stable. The elephants kept there are for work purposes rather than tourist rides and they are mostly adult males with massive tusks and just general hugeness. I realised that I am quite terrified of elephants, my god they really are massive. One of the bigger ones was sick so the vets were out to see him and we got to watch the mahouts working with them. They have some very vicious looking equipment, sticks, sticks with hooks on the end and even axes which I´m guessing are for use in an emergency. I´m not sure that they would be much use against a crazy elephant though.
The following morning we went out and had breakfast by the river (which was pretty disgusting, the breakfast not the river) and watched the elephants being bathed. They are beautiful from a distance and seemed to be very happy playing in the water and so obedient too. You are able to join in the bathing and there were a few people doing it but we decided against it and were happy to watch. It really would only take one wrong move or a slightly cantankerous elephant to result in serious injury. They could so easily hurt you without intending to. In fact , the day before we arrived two people were hurt and one seriously injured when they fell of the back of an elephant into the river and hit some rocks. Don´t forget, we´d seen the size of the crocodiles too. It was really nice to watch though and some of the mahouts put on a bit of a show, one in particular was quite the poser (see photo).
Then it was back to Kathmandu. We spent a couple of nights in the Patan district in a beautiful restored mansion house near the Patan Durbar square. We went to the very interesting museum which is housed in the old palace and learnt a lot about Hindu gods and Buddhism. Then it was back to the Thamel district of Kathmandu.
We decided that we were going to walk to the Monkey Temple but got a bit lost on the way so asked two young boys for directions. They ended up showing us the way (up hundreds more steps which brought back bad memories) and giving us a impromptu tour of the temple. They were very sweet and gave us coins to throw into a pot in the middle of a pond (kind of like a wishing well). If you got the coin in the pot Buddha grants your wish. We didn´t quite make it but it was good fun trying. The boys also gave a really poor woman some money to buy a cup of tea and she spent it on fags so they were a bit upset about this. Then they took us to lots of places which we probably wouldn´t have gone to. Our exciting tour took us past a dead puppy in a ditch, several manky monkeys and a man selling birds and baby rabbits which he kept in tiny cages. I tried to convince the boys that they wanted a rabbit each but no joy. The man insisted I should buy them and set them free on the streets of Kathmandu but I wasn´t convinced that they would last too long given the traffic and packs of stray dogs.
There were several interesting topics of conversation as we ambled along like Women’s Day which meant that it wasn´t alright for David to beat me on Monday. I tried to explain that it was never alright for David to beat me but I´m not sure how much it sank in. Then there was the conversation about animals and how all dangerous ones should be caged e.g. tigers, because they eat people. They also told us about how the smaller lads sister had committed suicide 2 months ago which was really sad and then asked me all sorts of questions about why people commit suicide which I couldn´t really answer. Then they asked if we wanted to go and watch a DVD with them which we politely declined. It would have been interesting but I´m not sure how I would react if my 13 year old son came home with a couple of 30 something tourists to watch a film. So we parted company and gave them a couple of quid because they had spent 3 hours walking around with us and given us coins to thrown in the pot and been taken for a ride by the fag woman, bless em. They seemed chuffed which was good. Oh and on the way back I got a photo of the river of shit as we like to call it, and not the worst bit either!
We are now back in Bangkok, but off to pastures new tomorrow.
Sorry about the gargantuan blog!
Lots of love Sian (and David) xxx