The flight was uneventful and I arrived in Perth with SB there to collect me, 78 days after leaving.
Highlights of the trip have to be making it over Thorung La, visiting Potala Palace and travelling back through India. This trip seems to have last a long time and I am glad to be going home, even if it is just to change into some clean clothes 🙂
I caught the airport shuttle to the airport and as I didn’t have to check back in, wandered through duty free, getting SB some cigars and some moisturiser for myself and a book. I then headed to the gate and checked in and then boarded on time. Finally on the way home.
The taxi arrived on time so I said goodbye to Kathy and hoped that she had seen enough good things in India to not hate the country too much and I headed to the airport for my 4am flight. Getting there and settling into my seat near the gate. There were lots of announcements as the flights started to be getting delayed or cancelled due to fog in Delhi. My flight was delayed as the incoming flight was diverted to Mumbai, which didn’t bode well. Eventually we left Delhi 6 hours late and therefore missing my flight to Perth.
In Dubai we were given new boarding cards for 14 February and sent to a hotel for the night. Emirates were extremely organised, once we got to Dubai, unfortunately in Delhi it was a total shambles and there was just no information or communication.
The hotel was nice and the food was plentiful. However, I was shattered and pretty much slept for my stay.
Last day in Delhi and India, which as usual has me feeling sad and depressed and already making plans to come back.
We headed out to breakfast at Rama’s where Kathy started feeling sick – so I walked her back to the hotel, where she is going to rest up today so she is okay to fly tomorrow.
It is my last day and I drugged myself up and headed out. I walked back down Karol Bagh market and caught the metro (yep SB will be impressed) to Rajiv Chowk and found a coffee day and chilled out making my plan of action. SB has done my check-in for my flight home and I can’t believe I fly tomorrow and will be in Australia on Saturday. This trip has flown by and as usual, there is still so many places I want to see that I could continue travelling but I miss SB, so it is time to go home.
I caught the Metro to Chawri Bazaar walking around Old Delhi towards the back of Jama Masjid past all the tiny shops selling everything imaginable before heading back gthrough an alleyway, where I don’t think they get many toursts due to the stars, this eventually connected through to Chawri Bazaar Road where I wandered through all the paper shops that make the most intricate hand made invitations, along with a vivid collection of hand made papers – that came in every shade and texture you can imagine. I couldn’t decide so took that as a sign that it wasn’t meant to be.
I continued back towards the Metro catching the Metro to Central Secretariat (India Gate) and walked up to the government buildings.
There is a huge contingent of press etc here but am unsure what they are there for, maybe something to do with the Prime Minister who has been in hospital with a heart attack, so continued up towards the Palace which was closed to the public so walked back down the other side of the street before continuing on to India Gate itself.
I talked to a lovely Sikh tuk tuk driver who wanted to know my thoughts on the Sikh Temples, but was disappointed I hadn’t actually stayed in the pilgrim rooms at the Golden Temple, which I thought were only open to Sikhs – he then wished me a lovely day, why other tuk tuk drivers can’t be like that, I will never know.
India Gate was open so I got to have a good walk around avoiding the plethora of photo salesmen.
I had just sat down to take in the atmosphere when I was spotted by a large contingent of schoolgirls who asked all the usual questions, but also focused on what degree I had completed and what subjects were interesting. Explaining about Australia and how everything is measured by how much you spend. They were impressed I had some Punjabi suits but they like to wear jeans not the traditional outfits anymore. I told them they all looked so much nicer in their school uniforms instead of in western clothes, but I think the consumeristic patterns of the west are now deeply ensconed. I doubt whether there are many countries in the world that haven’t been convinced the western lifestyle is ideal, but then I doubt whether many people I know would guy anything without a label and little consideration of its environmental impacts. They were having a day trip to Delhi and although it was a hindi school they attended some of the girls spoke very good english and even attempted to teach me some hindi words. On leaving I was then inundated by a group of schoolboys who wanted to know my thoughts on Indian cricketers, the IPL and the losing Australian team.
I had arranged to meet Kathy at the Museum of Modern Art but she is still feeling ill and just had enough, so I continued on alone, chatting with all the nice people that were saying hello. Most people I spoke to just kept reassuring me that India and particularly Delhi is a safe place which I don’t doubt for a second. I explained that Australia has fundamentalists as well and it is the minority that ruin it for the majority.
I walked back up Janpath and caught the Metro to Karol Bagh stopping at Rajiv Chowk for a quick coffee before continuing onto Karol Bagh where I wandered through the market finding a man doing mehindi so treated myself to having my hands dyed with henna patterns. It is so fascinating to watching it being done, although you have to keep your hands straight and no touch anything for a little while after, which I almost managed to do.
I got back to the hotel and while waiting for my hands to dry, Kathy decided to come out and have dinner with me, so we wandered around and had a dinner at a local western restaurant. Back at the hotel we ensured taxis were ordered and I settled down to watch TV and stay awake and let Kathy sleep.
Feeling a bit better we got in a taxi for the 10km ride to Ajmer. The ride wasn’t far and was certainly slower than the bus. Ajmer has a large lake and many pretty temples, worth a look if you have time.
We got to the station and had a short wait for our train. We boarded our carriage and there were people in our seats who moved. In the meantime Kathy absolutely freaked out as it is a compartment with bench seats and beds above. She was expecting a luxurious 2 bedded compartment to ourselves. I feel terrible she hates India and everything about it so much but I can’t afford the Palace on Wheels and the Oberoi each night, but in hindsight she should of done that and I should have caught up with her during the day. I thought the carriage was clean and we had clean pillows and sheets. It was definately much better than the 2AC from Kolkatta to Delhi which had a small cockroach problem. I slept in my bunk for a bit of the 8 hour journey to Delhi.
We arrived at Delhi near Karol Bagh and got a tuk tuk to our hotel (Hotel Unistar). This hotel in no way resembles the brochure we saw in Agra and the look on Kathy’s face was priceless, I think she thinks she is in hell. On the plus side, the bathroom was clean and it is really only for 1 full night. We had booked a twin room, but had to wait for the hotel boy to separate the bed and re-make them and get the requisite tip.
As we were still feeling very ordinary we got soup and rice for dinner. The place next door does an absolute roaring trade constantly turning people over with both take-away and sit-down meals. The soup was delicious and we ate watching tv in bed.
Another downside of the hotel is that it is constantly noisy, however I slept well until the racket got too unbearable in the morning.
After an awful night things did not improve as we have both been stricken by a stomach bug. So we spent the day in bed or nearby. I managed to get up in the middle of the afternoon to buy some water and then go out again to get some biscuits, but each time was exhausted when I returned and had a snooze.
I arranged for a taxi to take us to Ajmer tomorrow – after the last bus trip Kathy refuses to get back on another one; and it is a long walk when you are feeling shithouse.
From the limited amount I saw of Pushkar, it seemed really nice and laid back, there were no hassles and there seemed a lot to see and do, with several good hill walks. The hotel was nice and quiet, basic but had plenty of space and clean, although not touristy. It is obviously off season as all the restaurants etc we walked by were empty and although there are tourists here they don’t look like the 5 star type we have seen so far on this leg of my trip. You can understand why people come here and drop out – makes me want to grow dreadlocks and join them, not being very realistic am I?
Up and at breakfast earlier, even having our bags packed and in reception by 0930. We checked out and got a tuk-tuk (they all seem to be putting their prices up each day) into Hawa Mahal.
They have a new audioguide so we got one to share and wandered through the building. It was like being in a three legged sack race as the headset cables weren’t very long, so you had to be aware you weren’t pulling each others head off. The audioguide was good explaining the history and the symbols of the Hawa Mahal. This monument is also under restoration and the building will certainly look good when it is finished. We finally handed in our audioguide set and headed outside to get some pictures.
Being invited to a rooftop by a gentleman who, yep you guessed it, owned a little shop that he would love us to visit. The photos taken and Kathy having purchased something from the shop we headed out along Tripoli Bazaar, pricing some tiffin containers, eventually I bought an unusually patterned one for home. We caught a tuk-tuk to the hotel and had a small chill out before we headed to the bus station.
The bus is certainly not “deluxe” but it is a sleeper and there is nobody booked in the sleeper compartments, so we could bring all our bags on the bus and put them above us. The bus left on time at a rapid rate of knots. The journey was meant to take about 4 hours, but we were early. The driver didn’t hang around doing the usual manic overtaking tactics – which scared the absolute pants off Kathy who refuses to take any more buses. So back to trains we go. I suppose I have caught buses before and even though it still is scarey, there is sometimes no other way to get to where you want to go.
At Pushkar we got a tuk tuk to the Peacock Holiday Resort (swmming pool and all). We have a 2 roomed apartment which is clean and quiet, although there is no sign of any lakes. After a drink, we dropped off our bags and decided to walk to Pushkar lake which is in the centre of town and a 5-10 minute walk. After walking about 1 minute, we gave up and headed back to the hotel and dosed up on DEET, there are a million gnats around and you are worried to even breath. We then retraced our steps, finding that the DEET had no impact whatsoever. We found Pushkar Lake and walked around towards the Ghat but there is some sort of festival where you need to take off your shoes and as I only have one pair, not keen on the look of the guy who is meant to look after them, so we decided to walk around the road and duck down one of the other alleys to the ghats.
The town is surprisingly quiet and chilled out. Everyone keeps telling your how you will be hassled, but we certainly aren’t. The big plus for Pushkar there are hardly any cars and only a few motorbikes which adds to the relaxed feel.
There is quite a range of shopping and unbelievably quite a lot of things we haven’t seen so far. The shopkeepers aren’t pushy either and tell you whether it is fixed price – what a pleasant change.
We walked half way around the lake and settled on dinner at Raju’s Rooftop Restaurant for night views of the lake (this restaurant is recommended in the Lonely Planet). The lake is having some serious groundworks and it looks like something is being built in the middle of the lake. I wonder if they are going to also clean the lake which is putrid and obviously a breeding ground for gnats – of course the truckloads of pooing cows doesn’t help. As the restaurant was on the rooftop, there was a nice breeze which kept the bugs at bay and we had a nice meal looking at the reflections on Pushkar Lake. We left the restaurant and wandered back to the hotel nice and leisurely, picking up a few souvenirs along the way.
We headed back the hotel for hot showers and to do some clothes washing. We both really like Pushkar, there seems to be lots ot see and the feel of the place is really relaxed – fairly similar to Hampi for me.
A lovely sleep-in and I was actually awake and up first – a miracle, but then I had been up a fair portion of the night reading. It is nice and sunny with a soft breeze, so breakfast on the hotel rooftop was lovely. As it is Sundays shops open a little bit later here so we had a relaxing start to the day before catching a tuk-tuk to New Gate of the old city and walked through the street stalls and shops making some purchases and having a wander getting prices.
We continued along stopping to have a snack at LMB which was so nice we made a booking for dinner tonight.
We continued up the street, turning onto Chandpol and visiting Jantar Mantar which is obviously undergoing some restoration work as can be seen by all the women sitting there beating the cement to make it smooth. India has a huge population which is involved in manual labour, so although it does make sense to see the women working, it must be absolutely back breaking work.
We went back to the City Palace to visit the museum to find the voucher for the museum was for a different museum not the one in the palace where the ticket was purchased – confused, we were. We left disappointed and also managed to avoid the men playing music to try and get their cobras to stand up – why anyone finds that fun, I have no idea, one of these days you hope the cobra’s turn around the bite the annoying music players.
We decided to walk back to buy Kathy a white top we saw earlier in the day and had not actually seen anything as nice since – miraculously we found the shop and got the top and even more miraciously I found the exact coloured bangles I wanted for Steph and Adelaide.
We caught a cycle-rickshaw to the ATM (it turned out to be quite a way) and I just never get comfortable with the tinniest thinnest man you know cycling me around, sometimes having to get off and push. So we caught a tuk-tuk back to the hotel where we changed and headed back into town to have dinner at LMB, which actually turned out to be a bit disappointing. The service however was fantastic, one of the meals we ordered was a bit hot and Kathy had a glass of water and a waiter from quite a way over the other side of the restaurant saw us and came over and took the dish away, having some yoghurt added and brought it back once it was milder. Kathy is enjoying the food as it is so different to any of the Indian she has had before – not a curry in sight.
Back at the hotel we packed up nearly everything ready for our move tomorrow.
There is breakfast included in the hotel, so I caught up with Kathy for that, but wasn’t feeling too well, so took some headache tables and retired back to the room to leave Kathy to head out to Amber Fort for a tour. After a couple of hours I felt a bit better, so headed to the bus station to buy our “deluxe” bus tickets to Pushkar for Monday.
Kathy did a tour at Amber Fort and really enjoyed the guide who took her away from the main tour sites and she then bought a beautiful painting in the art gallery there.
As we were meeting up at 3pm at the City Palace, I headed into the city a bit earlier and had a quick snack at LMB on Johari Bazaar and wandered to the City Palace picking up a few gifts along the way.
I found the entrance to the City Palace near Jantar Mantar and tried to settle in and wait for Kathy, but there was an endless stream of touts, still I help my ground and after a few missed directions Kathy finally found me and we headed inside. Kathy did the audiotour and I tagged along, more interested in the textile gallery which shows some beatuiful fabrices with real gold and silver embroidery, just beautiful. We had a refreshing drink at the Palace Cafe where the service was absolutely dismal before heading into a new area (Diwan) to look at portraits of all the Maharana’s (although strangely, not their wives). The room was lovely with a massive chandeler (apparently the second biggest in India), it didn’t tell us where the biggest was?
It was getting late so we caught a tuk tuk back to the hotel where we did a quick back-up of Kathy’s photos and then had dinner at the hotel, ordering a glass of wine which turned out to be awful and sweet, I think the waiter me be on a commission as he kept on and on about it. The waiter kept asking if it was okay and we said no, but I don’t think they understood or wanted to understand. The food however was very good, especially the Shahi Paneer (will need to find that recipe when I get home).
Up early and into a tuk tuk to the bus departure point. There was a hotel and restaurant (of sorts) next to it, so we had a light breakfast before catching the “deluxe” bus to Jaipur which was comfy and wasn’t full, so there were seats for all and nobody sitting on the floor or roof. There were a few other tourists, but mainly Indians. The journey was bumpy because they are extending or widening the roads, so the bus had to keep swerving to whichever lanes were open, although if they reduced the manic speeds to something bearable, we would constantly think we were going to fall over.
The landscape is predominantly rural with lots of green crops in the ground. We stopped for a short break before boarding the final leg, arriving into Jaipur only slightly late.
We got a tuk tuk to our hotel after saying he knew exactly where it was and would we like to book him as a guide. Getting into the hotel, we find he has dropped us at the wrong one, so we used the free hotel shuttle tuk-tuk (kind of like a giant golf-cart) to the other hotel – the guy was never going to get us as clients if he has a worse sense of direction than us.
Our hotel is very nice with all the mod-cons, including hair dryer, restaurant, bar, swimming pool etc. After quickly dropping off our bags we got a map from reception and directions to Chandpol to visit the markets. Unfortunately the hotel may be nice, but the reception staff just lack any form of focus, way too busy on their mobiles or talking to their friends who also seem to have taken up residence in the hotel lobby.
On reaching Chandpol we walked up through the street looking at all the lovely vegetables and spices for sale, stopping along the way to have a freshly cooked samosa which was delicious. We walked past mountains of spices and very fresh vegetables and piles of garlic cloves, all set up on the ground along the roadside, at one of the stalls there was even a huge monkey helping himself to some snowpeas – gross I hate monkeys (along with cockroaches, rabid dogs or anything else that may bite).
We walked back down the other side of the street, buying some anklets and bracelets and then decided to try and find the silver area so of course ventured down the totally wrong street, whereas a guy offered to give us directions and of course then offered to take us to a jewellery wholesaler. Luckily I have Kathy here to do all the big shopping and take the hard sell off me, so after a while I headed back to the hotel as I had a cracking headache and was starving and had just seen enough jewellery for one day (never thought I would say that). Kathy did some purchases and then the guy offered to tell Kathy her fortune, so she finally got back to the hotel hours later all stressed about getting back as the tuk tuk driver didn’t know the way and took her to the wrong hotel again – but after a shower, clean clothes and her hair dried with the hair dryer life was better.
We got up early to enjoy the sunrise at the Taj Mahal, which was considerably quieter than when Scott and I were here two years ago. There were some very bizarre security changes i.e. you can’t bring in an ipod and you couldn’t bring in my daypack, but after I got grumpy they changed their mind on the backpack – not the ipods for the girl next to me though. We wandered through the complex and watched the sun rise. This is the second time I have been here and it is still a wonderful monument and awe-inspiring.
Our driver dropped us back at our hotel for a quick breakfast before we headed out to Agra Fort to spend a few hours. There is considerable renovation work being undetaken within the fort and it was very well maintained and nowhere near as much litter as before.
We left there and did the obligatory visit to the marble showroom where Kathy bought two marble inlaid elephants. Next up was a visit to a textile factory where Kathy again did the honours and purchased some shawls. My shawl I bought in Amritsar two years ago and which I paid only Rs800 was quoted here as Rs5000, so that shows how much things have either gone up or they are ripping you off.
Our driver took us to a travel agent as we have decided to change the first class train ticket tomorrow night for a morning bus, so we arrive in Jaipur in the middle of the day and get extra time there to see the markets. We also got the travel agent to book our train ticket from Ajmer to Delhi and the hotel in Delhi. The travel agent also told us where the local Indians get their shawls etc, so we had our driver take us there and the savings were fantastic, even I splurged and bought a silk shawl. Luckily Kathy is there to ensure that the economy here in Agra is well and alive.
We headed back to the hotel as it was getting late, dropped off our stuff and headed out to the internet cafe to finish up some things before finally having something to eat.
A very early morning start to make out 06:15am train to Agra. We had a driver from the hotel who took us to the New Delhi Train Station and then there was some confusion over the internet booking etc, but that was all sorted and we found the train platform, not that you could miss which train we were catching as it was full of tourists. The train carriage was like a plane, food, papers, water, reclining seats etc. Very luxurious and the trip flew by.
We arrived in Agra to be collected at the train station by a driver sent from the Maya Hotel.
We arranged for the driver to also take us around Agra from the next two days (including I am sure all the obligatory factories and shops so he gets his commission) and checked into the Hotel and had a light breakfast. The hotel, although on a main road, is near to the Taj Mahal and has a lovely shaded courtyard.
We headed off on our sightseeing for the day. First up was Chini-Ka-Rauza, which is a persian-style tomb of Afzal Khan (member of the court of Shah Jahan of Taj Mahal fame), the tomb would have looked amazing when it was built and still had all it’s tiled mosaics, however, it is slowly being restored. Next was the baby Taj (Itimad-Ud-Daulah) which is still lovely and well maintained and one of the highlights of both my trips to Agra. We went across the river to get a view of the Taj from behind getting right down to the rivers edge, along with the camel touts or kids acting as touts.
Our driver then took us to the obligatory western style indian restaurant complete with dancing child and music – expensive and just so awful, but you have to put up with the good and bad. Of course then came the carpet factory – groan, but once I explained I was an unemployed uni student, I was soon left to while away the time by myself while Kathy selected a carpet for home. From there we were whisked to a gem place where again I did the student thing, leaving Kathy to purchase some gem stones and silver jewellery.
After our driver dropped us at the hotel, we ventured out on foot and ended up at the Oberoi Amer Villas. We wanted to have a look inside, but due to the security situation, we had to hand over our passports while they made many phone calls at the front gates to see if we were worthy of entry. Eventually we were escorted to the bar area and advised our passports would be returned later, so we settled in and ordered a glass of wine. We met a lovely couple from Scotland who were retired but had also just been to Nepal and did the Poon Hill trek. The view of the Taj at sunset was lovely and the hotel complex is just another world.
After two lovely glasses of wine, we caught a cycle rickshaw back to our hotel, where I am sure the cycle rickshaw wallah was hoping for a massive tip, but I am just too tight to worry about that. We ate at the hotel and had an early night as it had been a long day.
We did a quick pack for me and an almost 100% pack for SB and moved down to the room that Kathy and I will be sharing checking out of SB and my room. We headed up to Rama’s for our last breakfast together.
First up today was the Red Fort and a wander through the fort complex, which has deteriorated considerably since the last time SB and I were here, with less areas open or able to be walked on. We spent a few hours walking around the fort and grounds as the marble carvings were still impressive and you can only imagine how splendid this setting would be in the 1700’s. We headed back towards Chandni Chowk, stopping for Kathy to buy some handmade paper from the same shop as yesterday which SB is going to take back as hand luggage. We had lunch at Haldirams (where we had lunch yesterday).
We caught the Metro to Rajiv Chowk (Connaught Place) before getting a tuk-tuk to Jantar Mantar, the observatory which we had not visited previously (mainly because we couldn’t find the entrance last time). There is a similar observatory in Jaipur. This one, however, was interesting as you were able to climb the exhibits and get some interesting views, although there were no guides and the explanations on the signs were open to some interpretation, mainly due to the language.
As time was ticking by we caught the Metro to Rajendra Place and headed for the hotel so SB had plenty of time for a shower and a change into clean clothes, so he doesn’t stink the plane out and so he could get organised before his flight. He is taking home most of my cold weather clothes so my pack is lighter and more manageable, leaving some space for the shopping I hope to do.
SB finally left in a taxi at 6pm for the trip back to Perth leaving us to fend for ourselves for 2 weeks – he did look a bit worried, but he is glad to be going home. We ventured into Karol Bagh and had a look at the stalls with Kathy starting her shopping frenzy. Dinner was at a local South Indian restaurant and an early bed as we have the 4:30am train to Agra tomorrow.
Rudely awoken from sleep we called for a taxi at 1:30am and headed down to reception.
We met an Iraqi gentleman who bought SB a beer and as he only spoke Arabic we gathered he came from Baghdad, liked Australians and Barrack Obama, didn’t like George Bush and his baby was killed in the war. Apparently he is here to see a doctor as he has a heart condition, although from the amount he smoked and drank not sure how serious it is. The taxi finally arrived at 2am and we got to the airport 40 minutes later as there wasn’t much traffic on the road. We got into the aiport and Kathy’s flight was early and she was waiting for us.
We headed back to the taxi and back to the hotel to have some sleep ready for a new part of the adventure and a hopefully an eye opening trip for Kathy.
We left the hotel at 09:30am and headed to Rama’s for the traditional breakfast before getting a tuk tuk to Connaught Place where Kathy changed some money and SB then had a look through some bookstores where he purchased some books and we caught the metro to Chandni Chowk and walked to Jama Masjid as it was lunch time it was closed to non-muslims so we waited and had a wander around and bought some bangles – let the shopping commence, thank goodness SB is taking home most of my stuff. They wanted to charge us to enter the Mosque and when we questioned the guy, it was changed to being a camera charge, so SB waited outside with the bags and we had a wander around.
We went to Chawri Bazaar where we looked at all the handmade papers which Kathy bought some samples of some absolutely beautiful paper. Chandni Chowk was still the absolute maze of people and some fascinating examples of electrical cabling we remember.
We walked to Haldirams for a snack and cold drink before getting the metro back to Karol Bagh and a rest before dinner. The weather in Delhis quite hot, but nowhere as humid as Kolkata.
SB woke up feeling a bit better but I woke up with a very upset stomach so I stayed in bed and SB headed out to Connaught Place to look at some bookstores but things were shut off as they were filming a Bollywood movie, so he returned to Karol Bagh and had a late lunch bringing me some curd and rice.
After a while we went for a walk around the block, heading back to the hotel for more drugs. I then headed out and bought water and we ordered some extra pillows.
After another snooze I went to dinner with SB and came back for an early night as we have to get up at 1am to meet Kathy.
Instead of arriving at 07:50am we got into Delhi at about 09:30am and got a taxi to the Hotel at Maurya Heritage in Karol Bagh, the room is small and our requested window is actually blacked out and you can hear the pigeons roosting just outside the window on the air-conditioning window and as our room is at the base of the stairs we can hear everyone coming and going.
Still we headed off and got something to eat at Rama’s and had a wander around to get our bearings before having a nap at the hotel.
We had a repack as SB is taking home my heavy thick clothes and some souvenirs.
We then headed out for dinner.
We had an early night as still tired after the train and SB is still really sick.
After a fairly sleepless night as SB has develloped an horrendous chest infection – never seen so much green snot come out of one person and it is really worrying, but going to a hospital in India is not on our list. We got up and left the hotel and managed to get a taxi straight outside. Thought we would have to walk a bit through the morning sounds of all the local mosques.
We got to Howrah and sat in the saiting area for our train to arrive. As usual the general class tickets had formed a massive queue all under the gaze of many armed army guards, but our carriage was more organised, so we boarded and locked away our bags. the conductor checked our tickets and we have the two upper berths, and the lower ones aren’t being occupied until Allalehbad which is during the night – he also reminded us to keep bags locks etc, obviously there has been issues on this train.
We settled in and SB went to sleep on and off for the remainder of the journey.
The scenery near Kolkata is all fields of rice and banabas etc, but as we go gradually inland this changes to corn and mustard etc. We are in an AC compartment as that is all we could get, so although it is sunny outside it is hard to judge what the temperature is – some people are rugged up in scarves and jumpers and some are in shorts and t-shirts. There is a food service available on the train which is okay, nothing fancy and means we don’t have to try and get food from the platform, we can just sit back and hope SB starts to de-snot. We have started him on some super antibiotics straight away, so hopefully they will weave their magic.
We both slept until being woken in Allahabad when some people got on and turned the lights on, but we managed to go to sleep again.
Last day here in Kolkata, so had a bit of a lie in.
SB decided to join me on my visit to the Indian Museum which should have been so good, it was a beautiful building from the outside, but inside it is just rundown and badly in need of maintenance or even just a good clean and relabelling or the items on exhibit. There was some large exhibits but the lighting was so poor you could hardly see them. Some of the areas were closed for renovation, but when you have a sticky beak the areas look like they are beyond help. Considering the history here in India, it could be a magnificent museum showcasing these things instead of what has happened. We also expected a very large display on textiles or tribes here but couldn’t find that. However, in the very small painting gallery there were some-ones pen doodlings – so maybe I have hope of being exhibited one day. Bengali’s (Tagore etc) are famous for their artistic talents but there was nothing highlighting this. We left there a bit disappointed.
We had a snack and ventured to College Street via the subway and wandered through all the book stalls. There seemed like thousands, selling or attempting to sell textbooks back from the dark ages. There wasn’t anything SB particularly wanted, so we headed back to Park Street and had a browse through the Oxford Bookstore, but nothing grabbed SB’s attention so we detoured to the hotel for a quick pit-stop before hitting the road again. By now it was about 3:30ish so we walked to Hogg Street near New Market to try a Koti Roll at Nizam’s but it is definately not as good as the Koti Roll store on Park Street.
We decided to take a tuk tuk to Victoria Memorial for some sunset pictures, but no-one would take us. The traffic here does an about turn, not seeming to help but confuse the situation, so we legged it, making it into the Victoria Memorial grounds just in time for some sunset pictures. We sat on the lawns enjoying the relative peace and quiet until the guards started clanging the bells and blowing their whistles indicating it was time to leave. The guard nearest us let us take a couple more photos but that was it.
We joined the throng leaving the park and went back to the hotel.
In my madness today I had worn thongs as I didn’t think we would be going for such a long walk, so we went back to the hotel as I had to wash my extremely manky feet. We also sorted out our hotel as we have an early train tomorrow. We headed to the supermarket to get some supplies for the train and then headed out to a restaurant for dinner which was nice but not outstanding, finally arriving back at the hotel to pack and organised for the train tomorrow.
Kolkata is surprising, certainly not the city of abject poverty you expect or imagine. Yes there are people sleeping in the streets, but there is also a huge population. They are certainly clean as all you see are people washing at stand pipes or in the river and somehow they manage to portray privacy and decency, it is just different to our expectations. The level of beggars that we have seen is no greater than other countries, we have visited. People just get on with their lives. Outside the hotel in the late afternoon a guy picks through and sorts/separates the rubbish, don’t know where it goes but it isn’t left to rot on the side walks, so it must go somewhere.
Kolkata may not have the stunning sites compared to Delhi and Mumbai but it has a varied history that is seen in the different migrant populations. Westernised style here is also much more prevalent in clothing – it is unusual to seea teenager wearing tradditional dress – it is all jeans and t-shirts, not necessarily for the better as I sometimes think India has the worst jeans styles you can imagine.
After a hot, bothered and noisy night we gave up trying to sleep and headed out sightseeing.
We caught the subway to Rabindra Sarovar to a lake ringed parkland (according to the description in the Lonely Planet) whereas in reality it was a urine filled lake ringed garbage heap, talk about disappointment. We did a quick loop and gave up. I don’t understand why Indian men have to urinate next door to a pay per use public toilet which is clean and doesn’t leave the area with the acrid smell of urine. Same goes for the constant spitting even when there are signs “no spitting on walls” which are covered with spit.
So we got back on the subway (here is some good ideas with sections of seats just for ladies) and headed to Kalighat and the Kali Template. We were helped there by one gentleman and before you knew it we had a guide, who just wouldn’t go away. We made a hibiscus offering to Kali, after we left our shoes with a paid minder, buying flowers etc on the way. We passed the sacrifice point where goods are beheaded, and by the number of goats around, this is a regular event. Apparently this is to sate Kali. We then gave blessings to our families etc, and yep that was another donation. As we aren’t hindu’s we couldn’t visit all the temples nor take photos. However, it was all the usual manic rush and I don’t want any momentoes of the visit, the sad queue of goats all garlanded up for sacrifice and the huge number of cockroaches I stood on are etched in my memory just outside we had a snack of aloo and puri’s.
We did not visit Nirmal Hriday closeby which is Mother Theresa’s home for the dying destitute, due to the pollution, noise and heat we both feel and look crap so don’t want them to take pity on us.
We bit the bullet and continued sightseeing catching the subway all the way back to the other side of Kolkata to Belgachia station and the Jain Temple of Digambar Mandir which was an oasis of greenery and birds and five other people in the whole complex. These Jain Temples do not have a plethora of spooky eyed statues like in Ranakpur, but still the trademark beautiful marble carvings. It has a tall tower, like a lighthouse, next to the main temple complex which houses a statue. We discarded our shoes and ventured inside, where SB also had to leavethe backpack (no water) and his belt (no leather). Jains do not believe in killing any living being even insects.
We caught the subway to Dum Dum station with the plan of getting the overland local train to Dakshineswar Kali Temple, but at the train station the booking officer suggested it would be easier to get a bus from outside the station. Only snag, there were no buses due to some strike (and police action – 2 killed), so we had to walk to the next major road which was a heavily polluted walk in the searing humidity. Finally getting to the main road and with the help of a pliceman only a local bus that was hot but not too packed. So instead of Rs200 in a tuk tuk, it was only rs10 on the bus. The conductor dropped us off and another passenger showed us the entrance.
The Dakshineswar was built in 1807 and was where Ramakrishna started his spiritiual journey. The complex was undergoing some major paving reconstruction, but worse still there were monkeys. Anyway the temple was closed for the obligatory lunch break so we sat in the shade watching the queue getting longer and longer with people standing there with their flower sacrified. SB thinks they have a midday break so they can collect up the flowers and re-sell them in the afternoon.
We caught a riverboat to Belur Math. The boat doesn’t leave until it is full and I mean squished like sardines, full to the gunwhale, we couldn’t move, but finally got going. Thankfully spending the majority of the trip close to the shore not that you wouled want to go in the water – holy or not – it is just mankey and must be so polluted it makes your stomach heave just thinking.
We disembarked at Belur Math, the very swish and spotless headquarters of the Ramakrishnan Mission. No hoicking up gobs of flem or urinating anywhere you feel like it. There people do their worshipping in silence and style. It was therefore disappointing that there were huge signs everywhere saying no photos. I gave SB my smelly skanky socks and shoes and headed inside the main temple which is lovely and a beautiful complex suited to the ideals of Ramakrishna for unity of all religions. Built in 1938 the complex uses all styles of religious architecture without looking garish.
We left the main gate and boarded another local bus for the absolute bone jarring ride to Howrah, where the conductor again pointed us in the right direction. We caught a ferry to Babu Ghat and then SB finally let me splurge on a taxi to a restaurant for a cold drink and a snack of vegetable pakodas.
We headed back towards the hotel grabbing and eating a paneer and vegetable koti roll from a streetside stall and then we shared an icecream with fresh fruit before retiring exhausted and very dirty.
Breakfast at Radhini’s for basic but tasty Bengali food to start the day.
We headed back to Victoria Memorial to go inside the museum and look at the history of the British in Bengal and how the city developed. It was interesting and laid out in a rleatively easy to follow date order. Although you don’t get to see much of the architecture of the building inside as all the exhibits are on large partitions. We also wandered back through some of the gardens.
The day is starting to heat up already and feels like it is going to be a hot one.
We headed down Shakespear Sarani and found the Park Street Cemetary. It is strange to think that this was once the very outskirts of Kolkata. Originally opened in 1760’s it was closed about 40 years later as it was full. It is currently an area in need of some serious restoration. A lot of gravesites have crumbled until there is nothing left and this happens more and more after each monsoon. However, it is leafy and more importantly shady. There seems to be a lot of graves for young women who came to India and hardly survived more than a year here. You can only imagine the difference between Calcutta after it has just been founded and their home lives in England.
We left there and had a cold drink andcoffee in Tea2, which looks stuck in the victorian times, but had lovely high celings ensuring it stayed cool without a freezing air conditioner. We decided to call a halt to sight seeing and had a hot Koti roll from a hole in the wall stand, which was fantastic. SB had vegetable and I had paneer. We then went to update the internet and reformat some memory cards as yet again the camera has spat the dummy. SB headed back to the hotel for a lie down while I finished emails etc.
I wanted to see the Victoria Memorial at sunset, but by the time we got there it was over, so we had a streetside bel puri
and waited for the lights to come on and get some photos.
We headed back to Chowringhee we popped into a supermarket where I bought some water and then had a bengali dinner which was more spicy than flavoursome. I bought some banabas on the way home – Rs20 for 12 bananas.
Monday, 26 January 2009
We were at Howrah Train Station at 0802 to get our tickets to Delhi and there was already a long queue which did not appear to be moving. SB queued in one line while I tried our luck and joined the VIP queue and low and behold actually got served and we got our tickets to Delhi. We are leaving Kolkata on the 30 and 24 hours later will get into Delhi.
We had a lazy walk back to the hotel. Most shops are closed and there are lots of people on the streets with the Indian flags and obviously preparing for celebrations etc. Back at the hotel we had breakfast in the dining room – which is akin to a prison cell, very strange set-up. Oh well, we ate and packed and changed hotels. Due to the weird one-way systems, our taxi dropped us off about a block from the hotel where we walked the rest. We dropped our bags off and SB called the cooking school, but there has been a change and they can’t run the classes at the moment, so we have now got an extra unplanned day here in Kolkata.
We left the hotel and went to visit the Victoria Memorial, along with the rest of the indian population. I couldn’t be bothered with queueing, so went to the front of the queue, bought two tickets and then went to the front of the entrance queue, where a security man saw us and escorted us through the entrance gate, I think we would still be there otherwise. The Memorial is closed and only the gardens and parks are open. The memorial is very imposing and on a grand scale and the gardens are well maintained. Today it is overflowing with picnicking families – although the sign outside saying no plastic has obviously been ignored by everyone. We were confused why indians would come here on Republic Day, after all it is a monument to the extravagance of the british who were at the same time bleeding the country financially dry and caused the deaths of millions during partition. We walked around the perimeter of the memorial before managing to get out through the throng back onto the streets.
We walked around trying to find the entrance to St Paul’s Cathedrial, which we eventually found near the entrance to the Birla Planetarium, which also had a massive queue. The Cathedral was the usual catholic paranoia, all closed off to the public and surrounded by barbed wire – you don’t get that in buddhist or hindu sites. The Cathedral was built in 1847, but most of the inside was barricaded off so you couldn’t get anywhere near the altar.
We left there heading back towards the hotel stopping to have an extremely overpriced and ordinary cold drink and snack at Flurries, why anyone would want to come back is unthinkable.
Leaving there much poorer, we had a siesta (remember it is hot here) and organised ourselves. Heading out for a late dinner at Teej’s which was packed with large tables of indian families. This was also expensive, but the food was nice and the service was good. So today we have “pushed the boat out”, back to reality tomorrow.
After dinner we walked back towards the hotel, the restaurant next door was also full, having a line out the door and chairs set up outside for prospective customers. Restaurants here seem to be absolutely chockers or totally empty. We stopped off at a large bookstore for a browse, before calling it a night.
Sunday, 25 January 2009
We left the hotel at 0900am and headed off to the church service at the Armenian Church. This was built in 1707 and is the oldest church in Kolkata, however, there is a grave there dating from 1630 which historically means the Armenians were the first trading people to establish in this area. In fact so highly respected were they for honesty and loyalty, this continued up to Independence where uncertainty drove a large proportion to leave. The Church though is heavily financially patronisedand really well restored and maintained. It is surrounded on all sides by a mouldering city. On watching the service for a while we left and walked around the outside meeting a lady who is passionate about the history of the church and Armenium culture here in Kolkata. It was nice to hear the stories of the church and how this small group of people had so integrated into the area.
We delved back into the local streets and found the Mullick Ghat Flower Market – talk about colour and fragrance. There were huge mounds of garlanded marigolds etc, constantly being moved in huge bundles on mens heads. Everywhere you looked there were flowers making for a colourful and sensory overloaded spectacle.
We eventually left the market and walked across the Howrah Bridge which is 700m long and crossed the Houghly River and although built at the beginning of the century is still packed with traffic.
We decided to visit the Howrah Train Station (another edicifce to British Archite ture). Built in 1906 this station is still packed with what feels like millions of passengers. We finally found the area to book tickets to Delhi and got prices and train time information. We then decided to head to the Chowringhee area to find a different hotel (hopefully cheaper) etc, so caught the ferry from Howrah Ghat to Babu Ghat.
This provided the best view of the Howrah Bridge but due to pollution it is extremely hazy. It is also much more humid today. We got off at Babu Ghat which is near the Maidan where we walked yesterday. Today the walk was made a bit more difficult due to heaps of baricades put up for Republic Day celebrations tomorrow.
We found Sudder Street and had a walk around finding a small Dhaba for a late lunch and also looked into several hotels, finally booking into Sunflower Guest House. We then walked around the block and found an internet cafe and booked the Bengali cooking classes for the 27th and got a price for flying to Delhi and decided to get the train, so re-traced our steps to Howrah Train Station to find that as it was Sunday the booking area had closed early.
We gave up and went back tothe hotel. SB looked like he had a tan, but after a hot shower it turned out to be dirt – gross.
We ate at the hotel restaurant and then had a walk around the area again, but as it is a public holiday tomorrow, it looks like everyone has closed up shop early.
Saturday, 24 January 2009
We slowly started pulling into Kolkata but instead of 6am, it was 9am, apparently due to the heavy fog, which I had presumed was pollution. We pulled into the quiet and cleanliness of Sealdah Station, making our way to the exit and taxi pandemonium (we have never seen so many taxis in our lives) finally walking to the prepaid taxi booth in an attempt to escape the touts, looking to get you into their taxis.
We drove a fairly shortish distance to our hotel (Hotel Himalay). Our room was ready, so we checked in. I had a shower and SB then dropped down our laundry and we headed off to find something to eat. Finally coming across a small Dhaba and had what everyone else was eating – paratha and sabzi which is a potato dish and was lovely.
We headed on a walk to The Maiden.
Eventually stopping to catch the Metro which is a true subway and is cheap and you didn’t have to wait long and even better, because it only has one line, even I couldn’t get lost. We got off at Esplanade and walked around that area seeing many of the heritage buildings (Raj Bhavan, Courts, Treasury Building) stopping at St John’s Church to see the Mausoleum for Job Charnock (founder of Calcutta) and also seeing the monument to the black hole of Calcutta.
We also found a gravestone for Peter Pan.
We followed the tram tracks through the market area near the mosque and before reaching the hotel we found the local fruit market where fresh fruit were being auction to local distributors, it was just amazingly manic with people, fruit, fruit carriers all squashed together. We ended up wandering around the area for ages, trying whatever people gave us.
At the hotel we had an afternoon nap. Kolkata is very humid and mid-afternoon is the hottest part of the day – good excuse for a siesta we think. The hotel gave us instructions for a local bengali restaurant which we headed off to past, a huge range of shops, stalls and people toing and froing. Finding the restaurant (Aahar) where we obviously ordered the most complication dishes off the menu, whereas the constant stream of people all seemed to just get whatever was being given out. Our waiter wasremarkably like Basil Fawlty. The food, however, was great, really tasty.
We wandered back into the streets fulland walked back through the throng of people setting out their homes for the night to the hotel.
Friday, 23 January 2009
We had a local brekkie and went and packed at the hotel, leaving our luggage, so we could wander around until closer to our train departure time.
We ventured to the Hong Kong Market walking up and down the streets, stopping to have a snack. The Market was nothing flash, lots of really badclothes and shoes.
Heading back to the hotel we hung around chatting before getting a cycle rickshaw for the most uncomfortable ride to the main train station (NJP) which was a lot further than we anticipated. We found a seat and settled into wait but after 10 minutes were moved on by a very tall MP as we were in the army seating area, so we found a first class seating area and although we didn’t have first class tickets they let us sit and wait.
We eventually headed out to the train platform and had a thali when our train arrived, so we grabbed our bags and found our carriage. There had been a change of seating allocations, due to India Rail cramming in another bunk and seat, just to make sure everything was even more squashy. We sat in our new seats, but when the conductor came around, nearly everyone else had to change as it appears nobody can follow instructions. Unfortunately we ended up in the shorter bunks, so it was a cramped night reminiscent of a coffin. SB thought that even the submarine was more spacious and that is saying something.
We managed small amounts of sleep before getting numb and having to move around.
Murphys Law, we woke up this morning to a relatively clear sky and much improved visilibility. SB quickly went back up to the Mall to view the eastern vista; unfortunately the hills in the distance were only just shadows in the mist, so no real improvement on previous days.
We finished packing and went downstairs in the hotel to enjoy another breakfast of aloo dum, puri and milk coffee. After finalising our bill, we walked through Darjeeling to the train station. The visibility was slowly improving allowing us a view of the distant mountains to the north west (we guessed it was some part of the Himalayas, but didn’t bother identifying any particular peaks). We boarded the diesel toy-train and awaited its departure.
Whilst we were waiting on the train, our decision to leave Darjeeling was becoming vindicated as the cloud and mist began to close in again.
The diesel toy-train left the station pretty much right on time and we began the long, slow and bumpy ride down the mountain. The road we came up and the train tracks basically run parallel and cross each other many times, so TH wasn’t seeing any new scenery (remember, she was in the front seat of the jeep on the way up), so SB was enjoying the new views. The train was painfully slow, covering the 82kms in about 7 hours. We were traveling “first class” meaning our seats were slightly better padded than those in second class, but for the most part, they were still uncomfortable as the train bumped, rocked and jerked all the way.
Eventually we arrived at Siliguri Junction station and walked to the Conclave Hotel, which wasn’t going to offer any discount and would only provide us with their most expensive room (it’s off season and very quiet everywhere, so we’re guessing we might have been their ony guests so they were going to try and screw us for every rupee). So we went next door to the Conclave Lodge and got a twin room for a reasonable price.
We dumped the bags and headed onto the streets in search of a place for an early dinner. Many shops and restaurants were closed (at 17:00 on a Thursday?) So we walked some distance before finding a nice Bengali cafe. We are three dishes we hadn’t tried before (getting experimental/adventureous) all were delicious and only cost AUD$6.
We wandered back to the Lodge along the main drag, which appeared to be more active now than before, although not as chaotic when we were here only a few days before.
The Lodge didn’t lie when they said we had hot water in our room, we just expected it to last more than 15 seconds. Cest la vie.
An early night with a couple of books was needed.
Wednesday – 21 January 2009
SB woke up early to look out the window of the hotel only to be dismayed that the cloud and mist appears to be a permanent fixture at this time of year. LP says the best time to visit is October/November and mid-March/May, we knew it wasn’t going to be perfect, but we were hoping for just a glimpse of the tea plantation covered slopes with maybe a Himalayan mountain or twoin thebackground. Sadly, this will not be the case, so over a hotel breakfast of sweet milk coffee, aloo dum and puris, we discussed alternatives if today we discover there isn’t much more to do/see here, or if today we do/see all there is.
We walked to Observatory Hill which was just above the main part of the mall, depositing our shoes and walking around the Buddhistand Hindu temples/monastery’s, keeping an eye on the monkeys and stray dogs. Not many places in the world where two religions have important sites at the same place and there is no conflict. The area is very quiet compared to Tibet and Nepal. We visited the cave that honours Mahakala, but didn’t got in due to my dislike of monkeys. We retrieved our shoes and decided to book train tickets etc for tomorrow as the view is still totally obscured and you get the impression that Darjeeling is above everything.
At the train station the chaos was hampered by the fact that of the 2 windows open only one at a time operated due to lunch breaks etc. So we filled out our form and both got in different queues to see who was the quicker. SB won and we booked our toy-train and Kolkata tickets – after an hour of waiting not bad going.
We walked back through the Chowk Bazaar which was a bit disappointing not as hectic as other chowks. We decided to walk through the back streets and see where they took us. We stopped for an afternoon snack of Dosa at Frank Ross Cafe -the filling was nice but the Dosa fell apart.
We continued our wander, stopping at an internet cafe to book some accommodation in Kolkata and also sent an inquiry regarding some Bengali Cooking Classes. We headed back to the hotel and advised we were leaving in the morning and organised breakfast.
We headed out for dinner and the restaurant we originally were going to was closed so we ventured into Hotel Chanakya for some Bengali Food. We had a veretable feast for RS84 (AUD2.50), leaving there stuffed and walking back to the hotel the long way around and did a quick pack ready for tomorrow.
The mossie coils did their work, sowe weren’t bothered at all during the night. We woke up and started getting our things together when there was a knock at the door to advise that breafkast was ready. So we ventured to their dining room at the back of the hotel where a waitress with limited English asked us what we wanted. We thought we had ordered our brekkie the night before, so were disappointed we had to re-order different things this morning. Still when it came, it was very nice and worth the change.
We went back to the room to grab our bags and check out, heading across the road to where their was a collection of jeeps heading to Darjeeling. With some interesting hand gestures and a bit of rearranging, we managed to getTH a front seat in the next jeep to depart, with SB sitting at the very back of the jeep.
We weren’t sure what all the difficulties were all about until just before the jeep departed people appeared out ofnowhere and piled in. Nothing like 13 people crammed in a jeep together. There was even one guy on the back of the jeep hanging on to where the share tyre should be. The luggage and very bald spare tyre were all on the roof. We tore through town and into the road up the mountain, seemingly racing some of the other jeeps heading in the same direction, similarly packed as our jeep. The roads were just pot-holes connected by gravel and the occassional blob of broken tarmac. We stopped for a short reprieve at a roadside shop with toilet, then all packed back in for the remainder of the journey.
Down in Siliguri the air was hazy, smoggy and polluted; the higher we went, the visibility didn’t improve as the smog was replaced by cloud and mist. We were still hoping that Darjeeling might be above the clouds and offer some sort of views!
We continued the journey to Darjeeling, stopping at places along the way to let people out of the jeep and replace those disembarking with new passengers so the jeep was always full. We stopped at Ghoom next to the toy-train station to replace a flat rear tyre with the exceptionally bald spare, and continued with very little regard to the paper thin rubber on the rear. Eventually we made it into Darjeeling, still shrouded in cloud, mist and haze.
We were sort of hoping that Darjeeling would be similar to Simla where we visted acouple of years before. We discovered there were similarities but it is still quite different.
We grabbed our bags off the jeep and started climbing up through town in search of a hotel, asking for some directions along the way. With the aid of a localg entleman we found suitable lodging at Hotel Darjeeling Palace. The hotel is quiet, with only a few other guests staying here. We aren’t at the top of the hill, nor at the bottom, so hopefully being in the middle should give us the best of both worlds?
We went for a quick walk around the crazy streets, slapped onto the mountainside, eventually finding the Mall which is the “centre” of town. Again, this off-season is proving to be very quiet, a combination of the economic crisis and the recent events in Mumbai? Have we mentioned it is also very very very very cold up here?
We had a thali each in a nice restaurant that at another time of the year would have magnificent views but at the moment visibility is about 1km if that. After lunch we went to the train station to find out about the toy-train down the mountain to Siliguri and then onwards by rail to Kolkata, but the train station booth shuts at 14:00, and we arrived at 14:03. We wandered around town some more, looking at all the Nepalese and Tibetan stalls (not buying anything) and ducked into the Oxford Bookshop for some more reading material.
It was getting colder, sowe headed back tothe hotel for a hot shower and to catch upon the news on telly (dominated by Barrack Obama’s inauguration) before stepping out for dinner.
We shared a fantastic pizza at the La Casse Crute only a few doors from the hotel. The cafe was small and cozy, made warm with the pizza oven. It was a real multi-cultural affair, italian pizzza cooked by a tibetan in a french style cafe, serving Australian, Korean and Indian patrons.
We went back to the hotel, got some extra-blankets delivered and tucked into bed and some cable tv.
Monday – 19 January 2009
Finished the last minute packing and had a light brekkie before paidng the hotel bill. We had just brought down our bags when the taxi arrived, so we said goodbye to the Hotel Himal Ganesh for the last time and headed to the domestic airport past the still festering piles of garbage.
We arrived at the domestic airportand checked our luggage onto Buddha Air flight for Bhadrapur and ventured into the departure hall which was very disorganised with announcements being made over each other. We moved closer to the one gate and waited for our flight. Which was on time. We caught a bus to the plane and boarded a new aircraft, which was small, but most importantly had two working propellers. We took off for the 45 minute journey, which must be one of the most spectacular flights in the world, following the Himalayas with views of Everest etc. We landed at Bhadrapur on time, which was very reminiscent of Kerala and there was definately no need for my down jacket. Unfortunately then having to wait nearly 45 minutes for our bags to make a very short distance, but they both arrived and we left the terminal and got a taxi for the border at Kakarbhitta, along the way the driver asked where we were going and then gave us a price to take us the whole way to Siliguri. So we agreed – lot easier than Taxi, rickshaw and bus. We progressed through Nepali immigration at Kakarbhitta and across the river to the Indian town and immigration of Panitanki where we also sailed through the immigration process and continued on the journey to Siliguri where the driver dropped us close to Hotel Hill View where we got a basic double room with attached bathroom (no hot water) for Rs450. It is basic but the manager is helpful. Only problem is the mosequitoes which seem to be everywhere, so we dropped off our bags and bought some mossie coils and then ventured in search of food (it has been a long time since breakfast). We headed towards the bus/train station where there were loads of foodstalls, settling for some dosa’s and walking back to the main street, waiting while some freshly made puri’s were cooked for us. We had a walk around the area and then went back to the hotel to light the mossie coils which didn’t seem to make a difference so we headed back out in the other direction finally coming across a small shop selling Mortein “quick Kill”, so we went and fumigated the room and then had to sit out on the verandah while the smell and smoke dissipated to something less radioactive. We went to Eniment Restaurant (no chicken or eggs due to the Bird Flu outbreak) which is in the hotel next door. We retired after a long day of travelling, hopefully our room will stay mossie free. The streets are still very busy and noisy so we hope it quietens down a tad as well.
Sunday – 8 January 2009
After a good nights rest we breakfasted on curd and fruit and planned the day whilst reading the local paper – all very sophisticated. We had wondered why there was somuch rubbish on the streets, apparently since we left for Tibet the rubbish hasn’t been collected due to problems at the rubbish dump site – the outcome being that rubbish is in giant festering piles on the streets for the last 13 days. With the warm weather, it iscertainly smelling none too good.
We headed to Thamel and sorted and backed up photos and caught upon emails, which took some time. We caught up with Suresh and updated him on the trip and then had a cup of coffee before hitting the shops for the final time.
First on the list were some new clothes for SB. We seem to have lost quite a bit of weight in Tibet, so now things are very baggy. We found some that he liked (a miracle for anyody knowing SB’s hatred of shopping) and also got some t-shirts. They only had the one pair of trousers, so decided to try some of the other million trekking shops in Thamel. Picking up momentoes of our stay as we wandered around. After visiting the million trekking shops, we gave up on trousers. We dropped the shopping back at the hotel stopping on the way for SB to have a shave at the local barber as he is starting to look like a woolly mammoth. The guy next to SB was having the full treatment – hair colour on head and eyebrows -very funny. Anyway SB’s trim finished with a head, neck and back massage all very vigorous with lots of manipulation and pulling/pushing, even his eyebrows got a workout.
After starting to pack, we headed to a tibetan restaurant for dinner (yes I said I would never eat noodles again), but this restaurant does good mexican food and also picked upour laundry.
We finished packing and thought we would actually settle down and watch a movie when surprise, surprise, the power went off as usual. Living here would just be depressing sometimes and everyone depends on little portable generators to fill the gaps of 16-19hours per day of no power.
At the hotel there is a large generator but that sometimes either doesn’t work or has no diesel, so it is candles and torches always at the ready.
We leave Npeal tomorow and no electricity or garbage collection will not be on the things we will miss. Not that India is any better, but as Nepal is selling them the majority of their electricity here is hoping we won’t have power cuts.
After a surprisingly good nights sleep we also had a good breakfast and then drove the final distance to the border. We progressed through the departure system much easier than the arrival system and all the many of pieces of papers were all stamped and our passports returned when we said goodbye to Lobsang and headed into no-man’s land.
On the Nepalese side of the border we had a thorough bag search and then continued down the chaotic street (so different to the Chinese border) we went into immigration and after lots of pushing and the wrong forms, we were passed to another officer who got excited we were from the home of Ricky Ponting and we got all of the stamps we needed and headed outside.
Our driver and guide were not there so SB headed to the phone but there wasn’t any answer, so we walked a bit further down and waited for about 15 minutes when Ram (our guide) arrived and we headed off for the 90km drive to Kathmandu and due to the bad road conditions we only managed a maximum of 30kph.
We had a short lunch stop in the sun which was lovely, it is so nice and warm here and also seems to be crop planting, clothes washing and people washing day, so there seemed to be people everywhere.
We finally made it back to the chaos and noise of Kathmandu.
We were offered an upgrade at the hotel but choose faithful room 303 as it has the best bed and best shower (SB fixed the shower on our first stay here). We had a quick shower and changed into some clean clothes and packaged up the washing and dropped that off, exchanged some books and changed our unused Yuan and SB dropped off his unused down jacket.
We returned to the hotel and chilled out before deciding to have an early dinner (there is a 2 1/4 hour time difference between here and Tibet) and headed out for an Indian – so nice to eat something with flavour and even had a glass of vino to cap off the end of another leg of our trip.
We didn’t do the kora today, it was too cold and we just couldn’t be assed. SB is feeling very monasteried out.
The breakfast at the hotel has to be the worst I have ever had in my life – never been a big spam person.
Today is a long drive, so we set off early and put the peddle to the metal. We drove along the Friendship Highway – there was no requirement for us to stick to the 40kph speed limit today to we stayed around 120kph. We only had q quick fuel fill up before getting to Tingri and the same hotel we stayed at last time and had lunch before getting back in the car.
The scenery is of mountains, mountains and more mountains and the road soon deteriorated from tarmac to gravel and even then sometimes you could hardly tell you were on the road it just disappeared altogether. To say it was bumpy was an understatement and felt like it went on forever, at one point to save driving through all the switchbacks we just drove off the road and straight down the middle – as there was a track it obviously wasn’t the first time this drive had been done. We finally started dropping in altitude and noticed the ice and snow on the roads and trees. There are some major roadworks along this stretch of the road which just makes the ride even worse.
We finally made it into Zhangmu at bout 0630pm ish and checked into our hotel – The Gang Gyen Hotel and a wonderful dorm room overlooking the street. Hmm not impressed.
We headed straight out to dinner knowing the Tibetans penchant for either not opening or closing early and had dinner at the Karma Restaurant which was nice and the guy there even spoke English.
We headed back to our crappy room and retired to the sounds of trucks and deafening squealing brakes of the trucks, hoping that as the border is now closed the trucks will also stop for a few hours at least.
We will certainly miss the people here in Tibet, their colourful attire and total devotion. Although SB is of the opinion that being part of China has brought some benefits I am not convinced they are all for the better. However, Iam mightly impressed with the sustainability efforts here – solar cookers, solar hot water, recycling bins and signs everywhere about protecting the environment and biodiversity (not of Tibetans though). I hope the Tibetans can find a voice – the 2 child policy is in place and they are able to continue their way of life.
Another pre-dawn wake up to complete another kora. This time we circambulated the Jokhang monastery with the thousands of faithful who also brave the pre-dawn freeze. As we approached the Jokhang, we noticed a queue had formed; we later discovered the queue to enter the monastery was several hundred metres long and was under constant observation from the PLA snipers on the nearby rooftops.
We made comment to ourselves, we thought christian religions would be exceptionally jealous to see the number of people who will queue in the freezing dark to get into their monastery to make substantial cash donations.
It was cold and the light was not favourable for good photos, so after a single circuit we headed back to the hotel, stopping to buy some local fried breads for brekkie, which were eaten plain when they really needed anything to add flavour. We finalised our packing and waited in the foyer for our guide and driver.
We left Lhasa for the final time just after 10am and again noticed an increase in the number of military and police on the streets as we drove out of town. Chinese lunar new year is just over a week away and may be the reason for the increased presence?
We stopped at one of the checkpoints where we were lucky enough to be chosen to receive a speed/time ticket. These tickets are used to monitor the average speed between checkpoints on the Friendship highway; which has a 40kph speed limit. Of course no-one sticks to these limits, so we had to stop short of each next checkpoint to allow time to elapse so that we passed each place with the requisite average speed for the leg.
We were planning to get to Shigatse just after lunch, but because we were restricted to the speed limit we did not arrive until 1700, even having to stop at a small town for a large bowl of noodles.
When we finally made it into Shigatse, we were met by a chap who would be helping us with our visa extension. He took us to the”Service Office” (which if you didn’t know it was there, you would never be able to find it). We were told to wait for about 10 minutes, after 40 minutes we changed offices, where a police man gave us some forms to fill in, took our photos and after another 40 minutes we had our visa extensions; and got our passports back.
We were dropped off at a different hotel from the first one we stayed at here, it was definately more luxurious, although hot water is still ata pemium. We decided to “push the boat out” and visit the bar where SB had a local beer and TH tried the chinese wine (absolutely disgusting is one word for it). We adjourned to the room and tried to order room service and after many phone calls and visits by staff were told there was no food. So we just gave up and went to bed.
SB and I left the hotel in the dark and headed to the Potala Palace to do the Kora, joining the pilgrims that were out and about at this early hour.
The circuit runs around the base of the Palace. At the back of the Palace there are large sections of prayer wheels and also large burners for juniper branches. By the time we finished the first kora it was lighter and there was now a larger stream of pilgrims, so we did another kora to take some photos, calling an end to our walk after the 2nd kora and because were were frozen. Back towards the hotel there is an increase in military presence, particularly at intersections.
First up today is Drepung Monastery (founded 1416), which used to be the largest in the world and was also left relatively unscathed during the CR and currently houses about 600 monks. It was used by DL’s 2-4 all are entombed here. After the 4th built the PP and moved there. There was a constant stream of pilgrims so we joined the flow, the murals throughout the monastery are particularly beautiful and the sheer quantity of Buddha’s and other monastic statues, thangka’s and wall murals is literally gob-smacking and your head just spins. The sad thing is that most of the monasteries we have visited, behind the facades are in need of restoration or other works to stop them falling into disrepair. You can only imagine what this monastery would be like with 10,000 monks and a staff of at least 20,000 to just work the lands to support the Monastery. After leaving the Ganden Palace we ventured into the monastic kitchen which was medieval with huge cauldrons next to modern rice cookers. We went into the main assembly hall which is so atmospheric with 180 columns and thangkas hanging everywhere. We wandered back to the car for our next monastery.
Next up is Sera Monastery (founded 1419). Straight away this monastery was busier than any so far with large buses of pilgrims and lots of stalls. We headed up to the monastery and got our tickets. The monastery is really a town with lots of sections and used to be famous for its debating monks, but they have recently stopped as they don’t see any point continuing. We walked to the Sera Me College and then saw the line, it was huge. As usual we pushed our way to the front – Buddhism here is quite physical and even the oldest lady will push you out of the way. We got to a gate where the way forward was jammed with pilgrims, so we climbed over a side gate and headed through the back way and made it through to the front of the queue.
We walked around the main hall and then it happened – a chapel women can’t visit, so even Buddhists are perpetuating the sexist myth that men are better! We also visited the Sera Ngagpa College which is meant to be the oldest structure at Sera. We then quickly entered the Sogchen main assembly hall to be met with the monks chanting which was just magical and almost brought you to tears – we were allowed to film and record the monks so it was a real honour. The room is huge with many thangkas and it has 3 chapels at the back. We visited one chapel where you make a wish and the monk pushes a stick to your head – hope mine comes true.
So after listening to the monks we ventured back to the car tired and hungry. We were dropped off near our hotel and headed out to a restaurant overlooking Barkhor Square. From our window we saw a massive western tour group complete with a lady at the front with a large sign – what a nightmare. We walked back around the Barkhor Circuit, doing a bit of shopping and taking photos of the very colourful locals.
Back at the hotel we got a phone call to say there was a problem and we had to head to Shigatse tomorrow to try and get our visa extended – bugger.
We had a late start and met Labsang in the lobby. Champo is having the car fixed so today we are relying on taxis. First on the agenda was getting our visa extended so we got some money from a bank, had some photos taken and handed everything over to an agent to arrange – hoping to see at least our documents in the not too distant future.
We then headed through the throng of pilgrims who still prostrate themselves, into Potala Palace, the last home of the Dalai Lama here in Tibet. We were the only tourists – different to summer where you have to go into a quota system for tickets into the palace. It is an eerily quiet place as it is no longer used and there are only a few monks left to maintain the relics. After climbing what felt like a trillion stairs is the ticket office and once through security and x-ray machines were were into the courtyard of the white palace which was used for festivities. There are then a set of stairs (one side up, one side down, middle only for the DL). from there we followed the walk for the White Palace and Red Palace. Most of the rooms were open but apparently they are opened and closed sporadically, so this may be the reason there is no actual audio tour. There however a lot of restoration work happening which is a good sign.
The palace is magnificent and just dominates over everything else around it. We were lucky and able to wander through at our own pace (in summer you are only allowed 1 hour).
After spending the morning here, we walked back to old Tibet where we had a milk tea en-route to the Jokhang. Now if Potala Palace is eerily quiet, the Jokhang is the opposite and is the most revered structure in Tibet and is heaving with people. Again we did the VIP thing and bypassed all the queues.
The Jokhang was originally dated to 639AD and was built to house the dowry of the Kings Nepali and Chinese wives. The Buddha image from Wencheng (Chinese wife) is the most revered Buddha image in Tibet and after going into the chapel and seeing it, it is just awe inspiring, not that you get long to take in everything that is in the chapel as the monks ensure everyone keeps moving at a very hectic pace. the whole place is just abuzz with life – there are prostrating pilgrims everywhere and considering a lot of the template was restored since 1980 (go the Cultural revolution desecration again) you can’t really make out what has been restored and what hasn’t. The Jokhang has a myriad other chapels but unfortunately they start to blur after a while and it becomes harder to recall who is who, but the whole experience is fantastic, definitely the highlight of the trip after the Potala Palace of course).
Lobsang left us here after helping us buy some prayer flags. We joined the pilgrims kora, this time taking in a more overall view – it is just amazing everyone in traditional dress with prayer wheels etc. After our first kora we bought some beads – managing to negotiate a fair price we thought.
We dropped our shopping at the hotel before venturing out past the yak cheese vendors to a supermarket where I bought shampoo and conditioner after much charades with the staff – nobody here speaks English and there is no English on any of the bottles. We also bought some chippies for later – yum. Back at the hotel the chippies were very disappointing – oh well. Our washing also arrived back so even more clean clothes are at our disposal – all this luxury.
Close to sunset we rugged up and headed to the square opposite Potala Palace for a sequence of sunset and nighttime photos, at one time drawing a crowd, but as it got darker and subsequently more bloody freezing we were left to our own devises except when SB sat down on the ground and this soon drew the attention of the army who marched over and signaled for him to stand, but we could stay and take photos. By the time it was completely dark it was only 8pm and we were frozen, only to find out that most restaurants close early, so we found the only available place for noodles and tea.
Back at the hotel I tested by shampoo and conditioner – so nice to actually brush my hair.
It was still freezing this morning -4c in the hotel lobby.
We headed out to Gyantse towards our ultimate destination Lhasa. We stopped at Mt Myugying Kangsang (7191m) and its adjoining glacier (Jojin – Kangtsang) crossing Kara La (4960m) and having lunch in Nangartse before continuing around the outside of Yamdrok Tso one of Tibet’s most sacred lakes and now one of Tibet’s largest hydro power plants – don’t really think they go hand in hand somehow.
We approached Lhasa entering the city from the Chinese side which is all large gleaming buildings, but not many people. Lhasa is big with huge highways and a lot more traffic than we have seen so far on the trip. We turned into old Lhasa and arrived at the Yak Hotel which is located just near the Barkhor area. The hotel is very swish with all mod cons such as hot water – what a luxury.
We headed immediately out of the hotel to find a bank, but it appeared to be closed, so we followed the old town walking tour in the Lonely Planet to get our bearings. The weather doesn’t seem so cold here, I even ventured out without my down jacket. We walked through a continual stream of little shops that only had a pool table, but they were obviously popular. The Muslim quarter was busy but non Muslims aren’t allowed into the mosque so we continued on finally getting caught up with the flow of pilgrims from all over Tibet all doing the Barkhor Circuit. It was fascinating seeing everyone praying etc whilst they were also buying things from the continual circuit of shops selling everything you can imagine – prayer flags, yak meat, cheese!
Outside the Jokhang there were hundreds of pilgrims prostrating themselves. We did another 1/2 a kora to find out street, going back to the hotel for a very very hot shower and even some clean clothes. We wandered around for a restaurant, settling on a place near the hotel, where the food was nice and a change from noodle soup. We retired happy, fed and clean back to our fancy hotel.
Lhasa is much bigger than we both expected and there is also a large military presence everywhere, particularly in this older part of town. I think the chinese have realised they can’t stamp out Buddhism so have started restoring some of the monasteries destroyed during the cultural revolution as it is also a major tourism drawcard – who would come to Lhasa if they couldn’t see any of the history.
We headed early to the Tashilhumpo Monastery which was given to the Panchen Lamas (PL) by the 5th Dalai Lama (DL). We visited the first chapel and as today is a special day in the Tibetan calendar to say there was a queue was an understatement, it was like going to a rock concert. We were luckily given VIP passes and headed to the front of the queue only to meet an actual scrum to get through the actual door at the Chapel of Tampa to view the worlds largest gilded statue (26m) of the Maitreya (future Buddha). There is a ridiculous pricing scheme making it too expensive to take photos inside the chapel. The whole chapel was beautiful with gilding and not to mention the massive oil lanterns and offerings that everyone was bringing.
From there it was to the tomb of the 10th PL whose picture appears everywhere, not sure if this is in part because you can’t have photos of the DL. This was a beautiful chapel as it is fairly new (the PL died in 1989). We then headed to the tomb of the 4th PL (1570-1662) which was only of the original and only tomb chortens not to be destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. It was dark and you could only just make out the painting on the walls due to centuries of burning yak butter candles. This chorten led us to the main assembly hall, but there weren’t any chanting or music playing monks at the moment. This is a huge hall and dates to the 15th century and holds all the scriptures. The room is dominated by the throne which is only used by the PL and sadly that may not be used again.
The last chapel we visited was the tomb for the 5th to 9th PL and was built to replace the tombs destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. From there we headed into the main courtyard which was full of people and monks doing monastic business.
There were two koras running around the monastery, one side the monastery and one that takes you around the town. Although the skies are blue it is freezing here, especially in the wind so we wandered through the many lane ways before heading to the car and starting the drive to Gyantse.
We passed lots of Tibetan villages and some new Chinese styles villages, but there were loads of fields, greenhouses and sheep. We finally reached Gyantese and dropped our bags at the hotel which again looked flash but we soon realised there was no water, suppose you can’t complain about no hot water, the pipes are frozen (apparently).
We headed to a local restaurant where you choose what you want in a bowl and it comes back to you all turned into a giant veggie soup.
We headed into the Pelkon Chode Monastery, through the usual throng to get to the main chapel. The Pelkor Chode was founded in 1418, but your eyes are drawn to the Gyantse Kumbum which is huge and largest chorten in Tibet, housing 100,000 Buddha images. In the monastery assembly hall we listened to the monks chanting and the main chapel holds statues of the Sakyamuni and flanked by past and future Buddhas.
We escaped the throng and climbed the stairs of the Gyantse Kumbun which was 5 stories high, giving view of the monastery and the Tibetan part of the town below. We headed down for a wander around the complex before heading back to the car and the hotel.
SB and I decided to explore the town on foot eventually buying some fruit and also looking at the vegetable and meat market. We headed back to the hotel to rug up as it was absolutely freezing – SB even has his beanie on in bed and is still cold.
We were ready for 9am breakfast, but no-one else was so we made plenty of noise dragging our luggage downstairs and plonked ourselves where we sat yesterday even with the sleeping person and about 0919 Lapsang appeared and we had breakfast. SB had Tsampa a Tibetan breakfast of roasted barley flour, tea and butter if you wanted, you mix it up to slurry.
We left the lodge at 0930 and started a very long and windy drive up to a view point for Everest and surrounding mountains. We continued climbing up and through another pass to Gyatso La (5100m) before finally starting to descend. We continued the drive stopping at Lhatse at a fairly westernish Chinese restaurant, although the town was quite large we got a lot of stares and waves and hellos. The town is a mix of the old and new and we left down overtaking horse/carts and tractors/trailers, all packed to the brim with people and goods and highly decorated with flags etc.
We continued the drive to Narthang Monastery (12th century) and was able to go into the hall to hear the monks chanting and playing musical instruments. This monastery is famous as it held the printing blocks of the scriptures, although only about 8000 remain, some are still hidden and the remainder destroyed during the cultural revolution. About 130 monks sill reside at the monastery and there is also a nunnery beside.
On arriving into the outskirts of Shigatse a car in the centre of the road decided to turn right straight into us, and even weirder, into my passenger door; weird because today I swapped sides with SB. There were suddenly lots of people mulling around, but we were okay and only superficial damage to the car, so the other guy paid some cash and we continued our journey to our hotel (Yak Hotel) in the Tibetan side of the town. It was flash on the outside, but the room could do with a clean and a vacuum and the 24 hour hot water really only meant slightly warm. Still I had a shower and washed my very grotty hair.
We wandered into the town and the entrance of the monastery before heading back through some very persistent beggars who try to get into your pockets, we physically had to push them off.
We had dinner at Gongkar Tibetan Restaruant and called it an early night. On returning to the hotel, SB managed to get a piping hot shower – so not fair.
See the TV ad: Diamox, brought to you by Bastards Inc. Who else would make a product that you only take at high altitude; altitudes where t is freezing; a product to help you sleep if feeling the onset of AMS; a product which also happens to be a diuretic so you have to get up several times during the night to go out into the freezing cold to pee in a Tibetan hole in the ground!
The night was the coldest temperature either of us have ever experienced. At the start of the night, the sheer weight of blankets and doonas should have been enough to crush a car, but we were still cold. Slowly, we started to warm up, enough tot get an interrupted (thanks Diamox) high altitude sleep.
The integration of Tibet into China meant that all clocks were set to Beijing time. When the sun finally rose at about 0900 we were having a “typical” breakfast near the warm stove in the dining room. It was still bloody cold outside, probably in the vicinity of -15c or colder with a breeze that just went straight through the umpteen layers of clothing. Maybe it was the cold or the restless sleep, but TH wasn’t feeling too flash and ate very little of her Tibetan bread, flatbread and omlette; coffee was good though.
We paid our bill for the dinners and put our bags into the Landcruiser. We took the first turn off after town, turning onto a track that was barely adequate and for the most part only describable as “shithouse”. The drugs TH took to try and ward off AMS and travel sickness allowed her to (somehow) snooze through all but the worst sections. At one point the single track was blocked by a broken down tractor and cart. So we all got out and heaved, pushed and pulled it off the track so we could be through. After about 4 hours we finally arrived at our intended destination – Everest Base Camp, Tibet.
At the final approach to the actual camp there is a huge expanse of flat ground which in the summer climbing season becomes a tent city. In the winter the area is completely deserted and only a plethora of small piles of prayer rocks remains. the actual base camp is of course controlled by the Chinese Army, who allegedly establish quite a sizable presence there in the summer, but even now it’s too cold to be here. We wandered around the site and took some photos to remind ourselves how cold it was in the shadow of Everest.
With the camera starting to play up (at 5200m and minus lots of degrees who can blame it), and our hands beginning to freeze, we climbed back into the Landcruiser and began the journey along the same trail to our next destination. We briefly stopped at a town we passed through on the way to EBC, Rongbule where there is a monastery. A few more happy snaps and we were again on the road.
Fortunately we turned off the track a few miles later onto a much better track which took us through the landscapes to our stop for the night – Zhaxizong Village.
Our family run guest house is very much like the previous night’s accommodation. The dining area has a warm stove and the small cold rooms have a car crushing quantity of blankets and doonas, and some decent pillows too!
After tea and some more tea, followed by some noodle soup and more tea, we wandered through the little village. We were the centre of attention, especially for all the kids who came running up to us with their hands out asking and begging for money – we are the wrong ones to ask for that.
We headed back to the lodge where I went to bed and read as it was warmer than anywhere else. SB came and got me at 8pm as they had lit the fire and by the time we got back downstairs the room was baking hot and we had dinner and more tea and then retired early.
On getting back to our room we realised we had the room with the neon sign outside it and a noisy group of tibetans below us. Anyway we were warm and toasty and had a better sleep expect for the horrible night time toilet breaks.
Wandering Bears Have Been Here
A friend with whom we went sailing in the Beagle Channel and through Tierra del Fuego in 2007/2008 has left home in the UK to go travelling in Peru. He had always been a keen traveller and has visited many parts of the world. Imagine our surprise when, whilst we were waiting for the delivery of food and even more tea, TH was perusing the notice board in the guest house to spy this:
The card is of course from our friend Andrew Dare (aka Wandering Bear). What is even more surprising is that, if memory serves us correctly, the photo was taken by TH using Bear’s camera at the foot of a glacier in South America?
If you want to read some amazing travel and adventure stories, have a look at Bear’s Blog at : http://www.wanderingbear.info/
Got up early (0445) and by the time we finally got downstairs our guide (Ram) and our driver were there to collect us. So we loaded up the warmest gear we had and headed off. The ride was scenic and through valleys and gorges with the dawn coming through the mist. We stopped for breakfast in a Nepali breakfast of curry and puri’s and a very very very sweet tea.
As we got closer to the border the number of trucks expanded exponentially. We got dropped off at the Nepalese border where we cleared customs/immigration by the time I had a wee, amazingly fast – obviously they weren’t interested in matching my passport to me.
We then continued walking through several gates – we are the only Westerners here. We finally made it onto the Friendship Bridge and crossed to the Chinese side after my bag was searched by a guard who didn’t have a sense of humour, one of the Nepalese locals explained to him we were from Australia and he then let us through. We then entered the very flash and super organise customs/immigration centre on the Chinese side, where both our bags were now searched. Meanwhile people were unpacking trucks and hauling the goats through the immigration line. We had our own immigration line where all our papers were seriously scrutinized then Ram was allowed to get our Tibetan guide who had even more paperwork for the Chinese officials to check, my passport scanned and processed but SB’s wouldn’t so the lady officer rushed off somewhere and did something and finally all was well and our documents stamped, we then made it through customs with only another bag scan and we were through the doors into Tibet.
We said goodbye to Ram and headed off with our new guide (Lobsang) and driver (Chambo). We drove into Zhandmu and had tea in a local tea shop where we changed some larger Yuan to smaller notes. We then went next door and had lunch of thukpa (basically noodles and vegetables in a soup). We then talked about the itinerary and decided to drive through to Tingri tonight which will give us more time at Everest tomorrow and more time in Lhasa.
So we jumped in the LandCruiser and started a phenomenal climb over a road that was good and in some places really bad in others. We were surrounded by pine forests and lots and lots of thick ice, making the roads very slippery – always great when you are driving up a cliff. In a short distance we arrived in Nyalam which was meant to be our stop for the night, but we only filled up with fuel before hitting a dirt like road track and the scenery changed to glacial scree, no trees and very sparsely populated areas. Although there were yaks, sheep and fields which apparently grow wheat and barley as well as radish and potatoes.
We stopped at La Lungla Pass (4910m) and then Yakri Shong Pass (5050m) just to think we started the day at 1400m in Kathmandu.
The road continued on bumpy and dusty, passing some locals that were rugged up, again we emphasize how cold it is expected to get.
We finally arrived in Tingri just before sunset and walked into a lodge straight out of the movies. There were benches all around a central fire which kept hot water constantly coming. Obviously we are the highlight and talking point of the locals, they were just as amazing to us all wearing lots of fantastic beards in their hair and the most fantastic hats. The women as usual worked tirelessly keepng them fed and watered.
We went to our room and did the usual bed shift and they kept giving us more and more blankets and duvets, apparently we will need them in addition to our sleeping bags. We got out our things for tomorrow and then ventured to the toilet – well how do I explain that. There is a room, one for boys and one for girls, these are closed off by a half height door. The toilet is two planks of wood with a gap, luckily it is so cold you can’t smell anything. SB had the bad experience of his toilet paper blowing back at him – gross.
We headed back to the dining area that was toasty and warm with our dinner ready – thukpa again. Luckily by now the locals had moved on so it was quiet and we could eat wthout anybody staring at us. After dinner we had a plate of roasted nuts before venturing back to the freezing room and trying not to sufficate under the pile of blankets.
I still had a cold so had a light brekkie and headed back to bed. SB set off into Thamel with his list and managed to get everything, including my fleece jacket from the laundry which I had given up for good.
He came back and dropped everything off and I then headed out with him to swap my books and have a light lunch. We ambled back to the hotel and had a hot shower before heading out into the cold to catch up with Suresh and go through our booking and information for Tibet and pick up our flight tickets for the trip back into India (Darjeeling).
We then headed back to the hotel to pack adn pay bills ready for our 5am pickup tomorow – groan.
Woke up with a cold, great just what I don’t need. We had brekkie and checked our money before heading out to Indra Chowk where the locals shop and after a wander around bought two rugs and a warm woollen beanie for the next leg of our journey. The markets were busy and you can buy anything and everything here, wish we had more space in our bags. We wandered back down some different lanes and came out at the back of Thamel where we had a late lunch that was meant to be pumpkin soup but the look, texture and smell couldn’t confirm what it was, which was a shame as I had invisaged it would actually contain pumpkin. I then opted for an apple strudel from the bakery which was full of fruit and SB had a huge plate of steamed momos which he rated very highly.
We headed back to Thamels main square so SB could hire a down jacket for our trip, so we had to wait while a couple of different jackets came from somewhere else. He selected a North Face Jacket and we then wandered back to the hotel so I could dose up on drugs and have a snooze. On the way back we stopped at the Pharmacy to top-up the medical kit – no issues getting sudafed here.
After my snooze we headed to a local place for dinner – El Mitho, which was packed and we ordered Dahl Bat which when it finally came was huge and really tasty. The whole bill came to $6.
We headed across the road and got our laundry, but back at the hotel we found that my large zipped fleece was missing, so SB headed back there but no luck as they were closing up, we need to go back tomorrow. What a bugger, I can’t afford to lose a fleece at this late stage of the trip.
A late start and as SB feels much better we had a l.eisurely breakfast. We did up our budget and checked funds – not good news, we are way over, so will need to cut back on late nights drinking cocktails.
We dropped off our laundry an mpressive 5.5 kgs which will be ready tomorrow, amazing considering there is no electricity for 12 hours a day (soon to be up to 16 hours a day). We caught up with Suresh and due to not getting a seat on the flight back from Lhasa, we are now overlanding back to Kathmandu – this is becoming an epic voyage. he has booked our flight to the Indian border and we will then get a local bus/taxi to Darjeeling due to the high costs of a private car and our rapidly diminishing budget.
We had coffee in one of the rooftop cafes in Thamel, where SB got computer envy as it felt like we were the only ones within an EEPC. We then headed to the internet cafe to take a copy of all our photos due to the ongoing issues with the Olympus memory cards.
I had a wander around soaking up the noise and pandemonium of too much traffic and not wide enough streets.
We had a late dahl bhat lunch at Nameste Garden. I have been testing out my down jacket today as both my fleeces are in the wash and it is incredibly warm, hope it handles Tibet. We headed back to the hotel where I had some time to read “himalaya” by Michael Palin who has doen a similar trek to us and it is interesting and funny to read his notes on the journey to Lhasa – he encounters freezing temperatures and the worst toilets in history although the LP also comments on how bad toilets are in Tibet, they must be awful considering how bad Nepalese ones are.
We had a lovely hot shower after SB fixed the sproadic showerhead. We had dinner at the hotel due to the freezing temperatures and our laziness to go outside.
Another early start at 5:45am when I got up and headed out into the cold jungle for a nature walk. SB is feeling better but not enough to come with me (light weight). We headed into the jungle and learnt about the local flora i.e. get stuck in the jungle and the sap of the Blackberry bush taken with water twice a day stops the runs – could be handy. We also learnt that the park is open in January and July for locals to harvest different flowers and shrubs. We walked through the jungle for about 45 minutes before heading back to the resort, where miracles occurred and the mysterious blue-eyed bunny arose and slowly ate a piece of toast.
We left on our canoe at 8:45am to get our bus to Bharaktpur Heights Transit Resort wher we waited for 20 minutes for the bus to kathmandu. We were seated at the back of the bus and my seat back was broken, but the bus was packed so we had no option to change. the ride was the bumpiest I have ever encountered, the Nepalese roads are in shocking conditions, not helped by the volume of trucks etc on the roads. As usual the scenery once we on the main Pljkhara road was of people living in shacks right next to the road and of a constant stream of litter.
We got dropped off where we had after the trek and escorted a few people back to Thamel as they didn’t know the way.
We headed to our hotel where our reservation was fine and collected our other luggage and had a hottish shower and got into our last clean clothes and had dinner in the hotel. I put SB to bed after raiding the spare duvet in the main areas as it seems incredibly cold here in kathmandu.
Rudely awakened at 5:45am we headed off on our dawn nature walk. We had only been going through the jungle for about 10 minutes when we found ourselves with eleephants on either side and a rhino straight ahead not sounding the happiest soul in the world so we all kept running after it. SB managed to get a video before it ducked away into some denser undergrowth. We also saw what looked like a bear and a few other native species before heading back to the main resort for breakfast – what a strange way to start the morning.
Straight after breakfast SB started getting sick with cramps and nausea, so I checked with the resort and they didn’t have any medication or means of getting any until later in the afternoon – hmm not very good when you are a toursit hotel. Anyway I rustled up a variety of pills from other guests and put him to bed and I headed out on another nature walk/crocodile river canoe ride.
The walk didn’t see any animals, although we saw a lot of rhino prints and huge piles of poo. There are apparently 15-20 rhinos in the park, but only 2-3 tigers, who are nocturnal so the likelihood of seeing them isn’t much good. However, we did get to see prints and scratchings and tiger poo – how exciting. We walked out of the jungle and to the river where we saw 2 crocodiles who disappeared as soon as I go the camera out – typical, I am not usually in charge of the camera so am feeling the pressure. There were also a plethora of wild birds that stay in this region on their migration from Siberia. The walk ended with a boat ride back along the river to the resort. The current of the river was so strong that the oarsmen didn’t need to even paddle.
Next activity asn’t for a while, so I checked on SB who is worse, so I left him with more drugs and sat in the sun reading my book, skipping lunch and enjoying some peace and quiet. There was an elephant talk at 2:15, so kathryn (on the the other guests) and I were late so decided to try and find it and had a walk through teh jungle finally finding the elephone homes and the talk. When that finished we watched the elephants for a while and got to feed them. They were all bred in captivity and ranged from 25 to 40 years old. They just look so majestic it would be interesting to know what they are thinking.
I wandered back to see SB – no change and headed out for birdwatching which really wasn’t my cup fo tea, so I bailed and went and found a doctor and more drugs for SB, so fingers crossed these help him a bit more.
I headed back to the main area to watch the stick dancing show, which wasn’t too bad, but you feel trapped and have to look interested. Although as soon as it was over, there was a stampede to the dining hall and as the resort appeared to be packed, anybody that dawdled had to eat their dinner outside. Dinner was exactly the same as the night before, so a tad disappointing. It appeared that all the tbles had a reserved sign, so Kathryn and I joined with another group of 4 and made that a bit larger. There are a lot of large Nepalese family groups who sit up drinking and partying late into the night, so the resort isn’t exactly the quiet experience we were hoping for.
It was still dark when we headed from the hotel through the back steets of Kantipath. We did realise that Kathmandu does have a garbage system other than burning it in smouldering piles, no idea where they take it, probably dump it in the river cnsidering all the rubbish in and around that.
We found our bus very easily and departed at 7am, even with people still trying to get on, not sure why they bother to get you to arrive at 06:30am.
The bus ride was the same way we also took to Besi Sahai/Pokhara and wasn’t too bad considering the state of the roads here in Nepal. At least this journey won’t involve walking up a mountain, although I did keep looking at the hills knowing I could climb them if I wanted too.
We had a breakfast at a sort of tourist spot but we just stretched our legs.
Finally arriving at what we thought was a pre-arranged spot, to find there was 9 of us and a little taxi with 3 seats, so we did a ferry system arriving at a hotel, which in no way resembled the inforamtion we had been given and wasn’t even in the National Park but inside the town. On further questioning of the receptionist, this place is the transit hotel where we have lunch before the final drive to Jungle Island Resort. Whew thought I would have to go balistic at this. So after a very ordinary lunch we boarded a smallish minibus which took us through some very rural areas where the housing was very similar t Jaisalmer – houses made of dung and polished so much you could eat off the floor.
The road soon turned into a dirt path and we finally got off at a sort of jetty where we were met by a wooden boat and ferried across the other side of the river. We disembarked and walked along a forest trail to a very basic lodge where they have power from a generator between 3:5pm and 9pm.
Our room is clean and simple, similar to the lodges on the trek. So we got organised and headed back to the meting place at 3:30pm for our elephant ride. We got on the elephant the easy way via a set of stairs into a Howdah and on the elephants back. There were 3 of us, I was wedged behind the driver and SB was on my left with a very hard wooden pole between his legsl.
We headed into the forest and almost immediately stumbled onto a Rhino which we followed for a while, before continuing along some other tracks seeing wild boars, deers and a hornbill. The ride was lumbering and you are so high it gives you a different perspective. After 1 1/2 hours we headed back to the lodge for some R&R as dinner wasn’t until 7pm. SB retired to the bar area and I stayed inside the room where it wasmarginally less freezing than outside, but only marginally. We joined a table containing mainly Americans for dinner, but they were probably the best travelled Americans we have ever met.
After dinner we retired as it was cold and I mean cold and we had a nature walk at 5:45am to get up for.
We had a lie in and eventually made it to breakfast after 09:00, the hotel dining room was very busy due to an influx of tourists and a few having a late night.
We walked to Kantipath to time how long it will take to get from the hotel to the bus stop the next morning for the trip to Royal Chitwan National Park. On the return trip we detoured to the travel agency where we were told we should get our visas for Tibet by 06 Jan, so our trip departing Kathmandu on 08 Jan and returning by air on 17 Jan is still on; although we will have to get our visas extended whilst in Tibet because although they haven’t been issued yet, our original plan was to only be there until 14 Jan and it is far too hard to get changes made between the travel agent and the Chinese embassy. The travel agent also helped with our post-Tibet plans to get from Kathmandu to Darjeeling – we can fly to the Eastern end of Nepal then his brother can drive us across the border as we need to get to Darjeeling in one day from Kathmandu.
We did a bit of shopping and had a very ordinary coffee at the Pumpernickel Bakery, which for some reason unknown to us, is heavily frequented by tourists (maybe like us, they all thought the coffee there was good – why would everyone go there otherwise?) On the way back to the hotel we bought another metal water flask (useful as a hot water bottle, also these don’t tend to freeze in the cold as quickly as the camel packs we also have, and Tibet is going to be freezing; -10C to -30C there now according to local reports when the January average is a positively balmy -2C). We wandered slowly through Thamel back to the hotel for another lunch in the garden with Kirsty and took the opportunity for our favourite afternoon siesta.
We started packing for the bus trip tomorrow and put what we weren’t taking with us into the hotel store room, and settled our bill before heading back into Thamel for last dinner with Kirsty and Emily. At Tom and Jerry’s Bar we had a few cocktails and plundered their free popcorn (if you don’t want us to eat our body weight in popcorn then don’t give it away for free!) then made our way through the very-quiet-compared-to-last-night-streets to Yin Yang Thai Restaurant for a really nice meal. The restaurant was very busy which is in complete contrast to the streets and everywhere else we have seen tonight. We said our goodbyes to Emily (continuing on to India a couple of days) and Kirsty (heading home to NSW in two days) and went back to the hotel to complete preparations to leave for Chitwan the next morning.
Last day of the year; and what a year it has been!
We had breakfast at the hotel as TH is feeling a little better than yesterday. We headed into Thamel and picked up our bus tickets for the upcoming trip to the Royal Chitwan National Park, then wandered throught Thamel watching the activities there.
We spent the afternoon sitting in the sun in the hotel gardens, chatting with Kirsty who has also checked in here (the Kathmandu Guest House was just too noisy and the local touts camped just outside the hotel gates too agressive.) We are catching up with the remnants of the trekking group at 19:00 for NYE dinner, so as the sun went behind the close-by buildings and shade drew across the garden, we adjourned to the room for a quick siesta and made preparations to go out.
Whilst in the room we received a telephone call from the travel agent who informed us he couldn’t get the visas for Tibet until 06 Jan at the earliest, so we have changed the trip and will depart Kathmandu on 08 Jan, driving overland to Lhasa and flying back to Kathmandu.
We met up with Kirsty and Emily at the Kathmandu Guest House. The streets were very busy; there were a few tourists out and about, but by far the majority of the crowds were locals; it seemed like everyone at the north end of Thamel was heading south and those at the southern end heading north. The central junction was just a complete fiasco of people, rickshaws, taxis, cars and motorcycles with no-one in control. We headed to La Dolce Vita (which conveniently is directly across the road from KGH but it still took ten minutes to get there!) for an Italian meal and treated ourselves to a few bottles of imported Chianti. The food was pretty good, the first bottle of wine was OK but the second tasted better. From the restaurant first-floor windows we had a birds eye view of the streets packed with revellers still trying to swap ends of Thamel. After dessert we decided to brave the streets for our return to the hotel (it was nearly 22:00, a very late night for us). It was manic. Everywhere was in complete gridlock and no matter how many times the local traffic volunteer blew his tiny whistle, the gridlock just stayed, well, gridlocked. Once we were out of the main part of Greater Thamel things were a little less chaotic, so we could wander back to the hotel in relative peace and quiet. When we got back to the hotel there were still a few souls up and about, but the power was off so things were mostly quiet.
We retired for our final sleep in 2008, looking forward to the prospects of 2009.
We have a plan: We are looking to leave for Tibet on 06 Jan 2009 and are now just waiting for the visa. We spent some time with the travel agent and getting dates organsied, and had lunch back at the hotel. We relaxed in the gardens for a while as TH seems to have picked up a bit of a tummy bug for last night’s dinner (?), so an easy afternoon. We had dinner in the hotel, and an early night.
We met everyone at breakfast to say goodbye to Russell, before SB and I packed up and headed next door to book our trip to Tibet and getsome information on Chitwan.
We then booked into Hotel Himal Ganesh and headed to the bank to get money to pay for Tibet to find we needed our passports, so had to go back to the travel agent and get back our passports and then head back to the bank etc. We had afternoon tea at the hotel where the bank called and actually came to see me to get another signature on their form, something do with their paperwork.
At 6pm we headed out to catch up with everyone from the trek and had a few beers etc before having a relatively late night and walked back to our hotel in tthe dark, due to yet more nepali power cuts.
An early start to Kathmandu. We were waved off by those staying behind and started our 6 hour bus ride. The road was extremely bumpy and we took on some locals to fill the few empty seats on our bus.
We stopped a couple of times along the road for breakfast and lunch. I got some sleep and thank goodness for an inflatable pillow which at least stopped my head being constantly rammed into the window.
We made it into Kathmandu, which we now realize how big it is, from entering the outside, i took approximately another 25 minutes to make it to the bus stand and into the fray of “you want hotel”, “you want taxi”. We strapped on our bags and headed to the Kathmandu Guest House and went straight to our room to do the most important thing sort out the dirty washing as we have absolutely no clean clothes. After dropping off the laundry and sorting out some additional accommodation and wandering through Thamel, which seems a lot quieter than when we were here a month ago.
We caught up for dinner with those remaining and had a few drinks to celebrate the fact that we did the whole trek, no mean feat.
We attempted to party hard but early nights seem to now be the trend, so we all retired early again. A hard partying lot we are.
We got up early and had breakfast and then headed off on our last trek to the bus. Everyone was a tad sore after yesterday’s trek downhill. We wandered slowly to the bus station and boarded the bus for Pokhara.
the bus ride was uneventful and took about an hour. We arrived in Pokhara at the offices of Himalayan Encounters and had a hot drink and then headed to the hotel to drop off our bags.
SB found a barber-wallah and had a shave, we also dropped off some washing and then found the internet to check the millions of messages that seem to accumulate. We wandered through Pokhara and found a place to have some lunch with Steve and Kevin.
We didn’t do much sightseeing as it was cloudly so the view is not great and fairly cloudy.
I went back to the hotel for a snooze and SB headed back out and caught up with Emily and Miranda who were on a shopping frenzy.
We headed out to dinner with the guides and porters at the local office and had a great dinner in a tent where we had some drinks. The stereo was wheeled in and music started along with the prerequisite dancing. We were all shattered so called it an early night. It is sad that the trek is after, even looking back on how hard it was things seem a bit dull now.
The morning was cloudy so we didn’t get the 5am wake-up call we were expecting and by the time the clouds cleared SB and I couldn’t be bothered trekking up another 500m to see Annapurna 2, which we have seen heaps already and it was so cosy and warm in the bed. We finally got out of our snug bed into the absolute freezing with lots of ice on the ground.
We headed off on the path to Birethanti – going the opposite to most of the other people we have seen – lightweights, after all we have just trekked up and down mountains at altitude.
Of course the walk was excruciating as it was down stone steps for approximately 1600m down. I thought it was never going to end and was in huge pain by the time I reached the lunch break as my Achilles heel which I thought was heeling is now worse. So after a bout of tears, SB took my day pack and almost carried me down the rest of the way. The only good bit being the uphills, at which I am definitely getting fitter.
We finally got to our lodge where I had a hot shower and changed into some relatively less stinky clothes. We chilled out with the others playing cards and enjoying our last night away from civilization.
An early start in the dawn light meant a constant uphill walk. We had our first break at the top of the steep climb with the weather heating up. After about 4 hours we had a lunch stop which ended all too soon before yup, you guessed it even more uphill at an even greater incline. The walk was across valleys with no memorable level or downhill steps.
Purna and Indra stuck b y me on the long slow haul. We finally got close to Ghorepani and the weather started to get really cold and darkened considerably. SB had already made4 it to the lodge, when he came and walked back to motivate me and get me across the line.
The lodge was huge and very full as this was the crossing place for those changing over to the Annapurna Sanctuary and Poon Hill treks.
The room we had was freezing so I jumped in the shower and Scott ordered some blankets while I waited for my bag to arrive. As usual Scott’s bag was the first to arrive as Purna is always the first porter to get to each lodge.
We headed to the dining room to order food and had some great popcorn. There were quite a few others starting to gather so we grabbed a large table and started to have a few Christmas drinks. Miranda spotted a bottle of Bombay Sapphire and due to the lack of tonic we resorted to a bottle of sprite to help with the massive gin portions and by the time dinner arrived we were all on the way to being merry.
The Japanese contingent started off the festivities with a Christmas carol and huge supply of balloons. The music was then turned on and our table of Australian/English were the loudest and caused much amusement to the porters who hadn’t really seen us let our hair down so far. After such a huge day of walking it was nice to relax a bit.
SB and I waited and celebrated Xmas on Perth time before heading to bed. Missing out some of the action later and judging by the loud singing it wasn’t such a bad idea.
After an excellent quiet and restful night we awoke to the magnificent scenery around the hotel and had a lovely breakfast in the warm dining room. We set off, full of food and enthusiasm for the longest day on the road of the trek. We walked through mountain valleys; crossed streams, passed through dense pine forests and watched herds of sheep being driven along the road by a shepherd with a very dubious leg.
Morning tea was taken at a local cafe where the tibetan local inhabitants (traders fromj Upper Mustage) just stared at our group in utter fascintion and bemusement. Our guides eventually shuffled them inside where they continued the observation of our group through the window.
We left the cafe to continue our passage through the forest along the riverside by following the roadway; which was undergoing some well needed maintenance.
We noticed a considerable increase in the amount of traffic along the road (despite its condition) and had to accept that we were arriving back into civilization after so long in the mountains.
Lunch was taken at Guithe at the foot of a large waterfall (Rupse Chhaharu), which despite its large fall was not supporting any hydroelectric power plant.
After lunch TH left with Indra B and Purna ahead of the others to try and get to Tatopani and rest her leg. The others followed at a more leisurely pace. The road was fairly flat with lots of roadworks and even worse local buses and the belching exhaust fumes with spewed.
We made it to Tatopani and everyone ordered dinner before heading down to the hot springs, which is really just a concrete pool – but we soon became a sight for the locals. I left early as it was baking hot and was escorted back to the hotel by Purna – lucky really as I am sure I would have got lost. I had a hot shower and was joined by SB and made ti down to dinner at the prearranged time.
We called it an early night as we head to Goripani at 7am tomorrow.
Nearly everyone awoke feeling refreshed despite the previous nights celebration. Steve A had picked up a tummy-bug was wasn’t feeling too flash.
After breakfast we headed off through the village and down onto the flood plains along the muddy river. The morning was clear and crisp affording all brilliant views of the mountains and pine forests. We eventually left the immediate riverside to enter Larjung where the dal baht was very good and served by a very sprightly elderly Nepali lady who mastered getting up and down the stairs with plates of food with easy.
After lunch we basically followed the road, with an occasional period along the river or another track to eventually make it into our home town of Kalopani for the night.
The basic lodging included marble tiled bathroom with warm shower and western toilets, great beds and huge thick blankets, an impressive bakery and excellent views of Annapurna I and its surrounding peaks.
The dining hall was heated and dinner served was excellent. After dinner and the evening briefing we had a few rounds of cards and snuggled into our warm beds for the best night sleep of the trip.
TH woke up in the middle of the night (again) while S slept through (as usual). We had our morning wake up call to signal the start of yet another trekking day.
We had our breakfast after singing happy birthday to Emily B and then set off through another moonscape scene.
We left town by following the road then stepped down into the river flood plains. The going was rocky and somewhat dusty. There was plenty of foot traffic on this road with burdened yaks, donkeys and other tourists. Our supposed 4 hour walk was over in 2 1/2 hours when we arrived in Jomson, the largest city in the region and the regional capital. We ordered our lunch and then went for a saunter while it was being prepared. There wasn’t a lot to see as most of the city where we were in is shut for the off season.
After a mediocre lunch we immediately set off for Marpha. The track followed the road and the river, and was very dusty.
The dust, the rocks and the wind played havoc with TH’s re-emergent cold and caused her a strained Achilles tendon. As usual with the intrepid trek our hotel was on the far side of the town and we arrived to find that we have a lovely double room with western toilet, geyser shower and a clothes drying rack.
The afternoon gales made clothes drying easy so SB and Russell decided to have a beer; soon joined by nearly everyone who partook in a beer, apple brandy or apple cider.
Dinner was served and was very good (not sure if the drinks had anything to do with that decision) and afterwards Emily B was presented with her birthday cake which was eagerly shared by all. This celebration was supported when Indra A shouted a bottle of whisky, lter supported by more apple brandy and beer, dacing, music and singing. This late night of revelry finally wrapped up at 21:30 when everyone retired for the night happy and replete.
There was an early morning knock for those that wanted to visit the monastery, SB went and I took the opportunity to hve a lie in. Callie and Steve also left the trek to head to the Annapurna Sanctury.
The monastery had a lot of taps that if you ran your head under it absolved all your sins, so Scott is now all sinless. The area was a hindu/buddhist monastery nd they get monks and saddhurs from all around the world. The water around the base of the taps was totally frozen.
The views of the mountains today are very cloudy and apparently there was snow on the pass, so we wouldn’t have been able to cros the pass if it had been the same yesterday – hmm not sure if I would have been happy with that.
We had brekkie and headed off on our walk which is level with some down hill. The scenery on this side of the mountain is a lot greyer and bleaker, kind of moonscape.
After about 3 hours we arrived in Kagbeni, which doesn’t look too much, however, we have actually seen our first motor vehicle since starting the trek and getting off the main route.
We had lunch at our hotel and then went fora walk into the town to the monastery. The town is medieval in feel and it reminds you of a set from an Indian Jones movie. You just can’t imagine how hard it would be in winter. We then walked to the black gate which is the entrance and border to Upper Mustange (guarded just in case you wanted to do a dash across the border).
We headed back to the hotel for some R&R and played cards and a few of the group had their first beer.
After a rude morning wake-up call at 4am, we quickly packed and rugged up in nearly all the layers we could find and had a light breakfast at 4:30am and left the lodge at 5am. It was still really dark so we had to start the climb with our headlamps on, making a very strange sight with all the headlamps going up the mountain.
We started walking uphill, uphill and more uphill in what seemed to be a never ending trail uphill. It was also freezing, especially with the wind chill factor, so our sweat turned to ice on us, hmm a nice feeling, not.
The altitude was not too much of a problem as we have been acclimatising for the last week or so going up slowly.
The climb was hoendous and never seemed to end, everytime I thought we were close to the top, it still seemed so far away. The dawn finally started to come over the stupendous mountains, although unfortunately I did not fully appreciate it as I was totally knackered and the climb seemed to just continue tortously and I began to think that I wouldn’t make it – this is where Scott decided that he was going to drag me up there no matter what.
It started to get even colder and our water bottles and camel packs turned to ice. We stopped a couple of times for a longer break and trying to catching my breath. Scott was either pushing me or dragging me by that stage which can’t have made it easy for him, but he was not going to give up.
Finally at9:15am we reached the Thorung La Pass at 5416m and had a couple of photos taken. The marker for the highest point on the pass is just surrounded by millions of prayer flags. I can’t believe I made it, it is the hardest thing I have ever done and it is hard to explain the emotions that you feel, so after a few tears and before we froze, we started on the track down the otherside of the pass as our destionation (Muktinath) is at 3800m, so we had a long way to go.
Unfortunately the walk down was absolutely bone jarring and rocky and it took over 2 hours just to reach the teahouse for a rest and drink. The walk was almost as exhausting as the walk up. After a well deserved drink at the teahouse, we started on yet another downhill slog to Muktinath which is a monastery town and by the time we got to the hotel I was absolutely exhausted and jumped into a hot shower to try and ease some of the aching muscles.
We had some lunch and then I had a short walk around the town centre with Miranda and Emily, not that there was a lot to see.
WE all had an early dinner and retired to a very early night fter our mammoth walk for the day. I am still in amazement that I did it, SB of course wants to do it again – he is not picking next years holiday activities that is for sure.
We were allowed a small lie in and left the hotel at 9am and again it was uphill. Why am I constantly surprised by this. We were happily plodding along when we started encountering a lot of ice which was very slippery. We then continued on and rounded a corner and there was a huge almost impassible ice flow where the guides and porters were waiting for all of us to help get us across as it was extremely tricky and any slip involved a very long splattering fall to the river bed below. Hmm not the way I woul want to end the trip.
On the other side of the ice we went down a tircky downill zig zag to cross a bridge, which the porters all ran down wearing all our packs – amazing. At the bottom we had to yep – you guessed it – go back uphill. This time through a landslide area which just added another dimension of adventure.
As there were no teahouses open on the way we cotninued through to the lodge for the night, which is very basic.
SB did the acclimatision climb which went partially up the track we will go tomorrow, I took the easy option and had a rest and read my book.
We all had an early dinner and contemplated the trek tomorrow which I am not looking forward to.
At breakfast Kathryn told us she was definitely leaving the trek and we left Soonam (guide) with her.
The early start was freezing and immediately into an uphill slog which at least warmed us up. We had a short stop at a local stupa where a local lady had set up a shop where she had a few sales (Miranda on a shopping frenzy).
We continued on an uphill slog – why is everything uphill?
we stopped at a local tea house for some drinks and a sit in the sun before heading off again.
the walk wasn’t’ too bad and we headed straight to Yak Kharka where we were housed in what looked like Swiss Chalets and a double bed with a big blanket.
We had a quiet afternoon and SB went for an uphill walk and I had a lie down.
Finally getting organised and heading out to the dining room and watching Forrest Gump!
We headed to the upstairs restaurant where there was a pathetic heater and played cards until our early dinner arrived.
Heading back to our chalet where we were toasty and warm considering the outside temperature was -3C.
Acclimatisation day – groan. We got up a bit later than the usual crack of sparrow fart starts and headed out on our walk above the lake. It was approximately 300m up and we stopped at a Stupa before continuing up to another Stupa overlooking the whole valley.
It was an incredibly hard climb, but the views were great. We then headed down which was hard going as it was slippery and rocky, but we finally made it back to manage in time for yet another good lunch and then headed to the local cinema to watch Blood Diamond.
The cinema was made up of long benches covered in yak hides. There was meant to be a heater but it was crap and we froze. Still the movie was good.
After the movie we headed back to the heater at the lodge, spending the rest of the night, eating, reading and playing cards.
Scott and I decided to take the lower (or southern) route to Manage as we were a bit knackered.
The views were fantastic surrounded by massive mountains. We passed some and the walk wasn’t that bad, passing some great stupas and villages.
The walk was a long steady incline and by the time we reached morning tea Kathryn had spotted a plane and was ready to leave. We convinced her to come on to Manang and make a decision there, not based on emotion. We went past some stupas so high on the mountains but there were prayer flags and wheels everywhere. We walked through Bhraka which is a Tibetan village built into the mountainside.
There were loads of eagles soaring above us with the most incredible blue skies and white snowcapped mountains. The walk itself was not too bad although altitude is getting higher, but so far we are only as high as Cusco, Peru.
The hotel is far from basic. We have a room overlooking the Annapurna ranges and it also has an attached bathroom, so no need to run outside during the freezing night. There is also a great hot shower and they have a laundry service and when you consider where you are this is like 5 star luxury. The food is also great and so much choice. We had a lovely veggie burger with fresh salad before heading off to look around the village, also looking at the Gangapurna glacier and lake below it. It isn’t much of a glacier at least compared to South America, but still you can get quite close.
There are a lot of shops and small lodges, even a mini cinema, you can only imagine in peak season this place is packed and people had to camp outside.
We get to spend 2 nights here to acclimatisation so it is nice to relax and not have to worry about packing for a night.
The weather is quite cold, but the lodge has a dung fuelled fire which heats the room. This is an amazingly efficient way of heating and surprisingly doesn’t smell and much more environmentally friendly than logging the forest. It is nice to hand out and relax. It is also busy with other groups of travellers.
Another early start made worse by the fact that we didn’t hear Scott’s alarm so we had to rush and pack.
The morning was uphill through forests so everything was icy – you know it is cold when event he rivers are frozen. The surrounding mountains are just bleak and you can see where the glaciers came through.
We walked through pine forests after morning tea which was cool and uphill as usual. The views were of Annapurna II and Pisang Peak (Jong Ri).After lunch at a lovely lodge before heading off again. The walk this afternoon wasn’t too hard and we stopped along the way to look at the massive eagle.
We arrived in Lower Pisang at our guesthouse. Although the accommodation on this trek is mean to be very basic, the last few nights the rooms have been really nice. Again tonight we have joined the sleeping bags together and have cracked open another Japanese heater pad (thanks so much Daisuke and Margot).
The food has also been great so far, although getting more expensive.
I had a rest while SB trekked to Upper Pisang to see the Monastery which was closed when they got there.
The houses are very basic wood and local rock some of which we saw being carried by the locals – it is such a hard life.
Everyone of the locals has massive ruddy cheeks as it must be so cold here in the off season and you need to be totally self sufficient.
Scott got back from his walk cold but with some lovely photos.
We got organised before heading to dinner and a lovely heater.
After a very cold night, breakfast was porridge yet again – getting over it already.
Straight away into a climb which seemed to last forever and I didn’t do much sight seeing, mainly looking at where I was going.
Finally making it to the morning tea break and a well earned Sprite.
The trek was rocky but once you got going it wasn’t too bad. We had a lunch break sitting in the sun – lucky as once you are in the shade it is freezing.
After lunch the walk was through pine forests which showed signs of logging and deforestation. You also got lots of views of Annapurna II.
Making it to Chame at about 2:30pm. Chame is the capital of the Manang region and there are a couple of shops which are well stocked and even has an internet and ATM, so we stocked up on supplies which should see us through to the end of the trip.
The hotel has a large room but it is very cold. We have got some washing done, but don’t think it will dry in our lifetimes it is that cold.
There are loads of Buddhist prayer wheels which adds to the serenity of the area. The people here also look much more Tibetan as well. There isn’t a lot of farming except animals, maybe due to the harsh climate.
There is however a lot of horses, which I am now looking at to see where they could hold me.
I got my exam results and passed, so had a wander through town with Miranda and treated myself to some thick socks for relaxing in the lodges with.
We left Chamje at 8am and had another long walk on very rocky trails. We passed a lot of small villages with no idea how these villages get supplies or survive in the winter months it is an extremely hard existence, although they do grow vegetables in every available space plus have small herds of goats, chickens and cows. Everything that gets to these villages must come on donkeys or by being carried on your back.
We stopped for lunch before heading off – almost straight away going uphill for a hard long slog. We crossed several long suspension bridges and gorges with some lovely scenery. All the fields are terraced and have a good variety of vegetabels and crops, in fct all the hillsides are terraces, in itiself an amazing feat of human engineering and are either hoed by hand or buffalo.
The trek finished at3:45pm and I jumped straight into a warm shower, clean clothes and relaxed. Scott is finding the going much easier than me. Oh well.
After a horrible night with hardly any sleep we left Bhulbhule at 8am and walked through terraced farmlands almost always uphill which was extremely steep and hard going with limited chances to stop. At one point we had to turn around and walk back and find another trail as the trail was being dug up and turned into a road for the next generation of trekkers in buses and cars.
We are still following the river and cross some very dubious looking suspension bridges.
We stopped at a local place for lunch which took ages to get served and our meals to arrive. We then set straight off for Chamye with an altitude of 1430m, which is still quite low so lots more uphills to go but we are surrounded by valleys and lots of hills all going upwards 🙁
We finally arrived at Chamye at about 4pm after a really long hard day. As usual I was nearly at the back of the pack but I made it (yeah for me). I was greeted by Santosh with a Sprite this now being the treat I am constantly craving.
We had a cold shower, the downside of arriving nearly last and after the sun has started to set, but we put on warm clothes and headed to the restaurant area which was enclosed.
We had a warming dinner and a couple of games of cards before retiring for the night.
We had a reasonably comfortable sleep, surprisingly enough, considering how thin all the walls were. We arose early as you couldn’t laze in bed and listen to all the coughing and spluttering of the locals and the sharps and guides.
We all mustered at the guest house cafe for breakfast, and then headed off.
The trek today was supposed to be about 4 hours of walking through Nepal flat terrain. However, by the end it was only a couple of hours. Most of the trail was pretty sedate, rambling through the countryside, watching the local villagers watching us as we passed through. At one small village, our trekking party picked up a hitchhiker, a local man who was purportedly a maths teacher. The man followed us along the trail and rested when we rested, this wouldn’t be so bad except this guy was just freaky! He followed the girls quite closely but didn’t talk to anyone’ he was wearing long trousers and a leather jacket (despite the heat, we were all sweating profusely) and carrying a laptop computer (well a laptop bag anyway – we had no idea of if he actually had a laptop inside).
Eventually the nepali flat countryside gave way to a long rocky climb to the day’s destination. This was the first “test” for the group – the racers raced off in the front, the plodders set their pace in the middle and of course there was the rear echelon (Tracy and Kathryn). Despite how far the group spread out we all arrived in Bahun Danda within about 15-20 minutes.
We spent the afternoon wandering in the town and sitting in the wonderful garden eating and drinking and got in some washing and hot showers.
After a simple but lovely dinner we received our briefing for the next day and with the time fast approaching 19:30 we retired to the night.
Breakfast on the balcony overlooking the valley which was enshrined in smog or mist, however, we could see the snowcapped mountain tops of the distant ranges – hope we don’t have to climb them!
We headed off to the bus where we left Bandipur and drove for a few hours to Besi Sahai and had lunch. The restaurant and guides put us in the indoor dining room, but it was lovely and sunny outside so we decamped to where the locals were, much to their amusement, and had our lunch outside. SB and I shared a Dhal Bhat and after lunch the trekking started with the porters going ahead with the main bags.
The walk was along a trail that was also used by cars and was very dusty. It wasn’t long before the group spread out with me bringing up the rear as I was trying to take in the scenery. We passed through a few villages all with lots of animals, even seeing a couple of white rabbits – I think they may be destined for the pot.
We finally arrived at our accommodation, which is very basic with twin beds.
Outside it is very warm and sunny so everyone took the opportunity to sit in the sun or do some washing and after having a hot shower we all sat around chatting and getting to know each other. The garden area was surrounded by flowers and trees affording views of the local area, very surreal.
Although the guest house was basic the food was varied and filling, even though Santosh forgot to order our meal and it finally arrived way after every one else’s, but we aren’t expecting a 5 star trek.
We woke up early (as if we had been asleep). We are both not feeling well and wishing we could have another day of R&R. As we did not have enough money for the trek we tried to get some from the local ATM but that wouldn’t dispense any cash so we will need to be careful with our budget as apparently there isn’t any banks until Jomson which is the other side of the pass.
Our group assembled in the foyer and our guide (Indra) joined us. We had a short walk through Thamel to our bus which would take us to another town just short of where our trek will start (Bandipur).
The bus ride wasn’t as scary as some of our previous trips in India and South America but the country roads are still of poor quality and the drivers take some very risky maneouvres – we passed several head-on accident sites (luckily none of them looked too serious).
There were a few checkpoints along the highway; another opportunity for the government to collect revenue, but at least someone is keeping some sort of eye on who is arriving and departing the city.
We stopped for morning coffee in a small cafe on the edge of the cliff overlooking at fast flowing river and a long way below. There was a table of local young men just sitting, casually drinking their tea with a garbage bag of marijuana by the table!
Shortly after leaving the cafe we stopped in a little town for lunch; a popular truckstop that served pretty good and fast food.
Eventually we arrived at Bandipur and walked a short distance up the hill to a lovely and well restored guest house “The Old Inn” that was partially owned by the trekking company. Bhandipur was on the main trade route between Tibet and India, but 50 years ago the route swapped to Pokhara and Kathmandu and the town started to fall into disrepair. The town is being slowly restored and is very strict on development and is basically a traditional town that has not allowed tourism to spread uncontrollably as in Thamel. There was also no cars which added to its beauty.
We were warmly greeted with tea and coffee and eventually shown to our small, but very nice rooms. Ours has a double bed (we are the only couple of the trek after all) and a view over the valley below (if it wasn’t so smokey we might have even been able to see some of it!) After a short break, the group went for a stroll to see this small town and the lookout points. It was still very hazy, so you could do little but imagine how magnificent the view would be in less polluted conditions.
We arrived back at the Inn in time for a lovely buffet dhal bhat dinner and a briefing about tomorrow’s activities. Although a few left and went to bed straight after dinner, some of us pushed on and stayed up longer, eventually deciding to call it a day at 20:00.
During brekkie Scott helped out some of the other guests with camera issues. The problem with the new Olympus is that the cards and batteries just aren’t up to scratch.
We finalised our packs and left the hotel to move to the Kathmandu Guest House to join the rest of our trekking group.
The hotel has nice gardens but the rooms are very dark and not as nice as where we were.
At 1pm we met the rest of our group and our tour guide and got some very unexpected news – we don’t have to carry our whole packs, only a day pack and we have a porter carrying our main packs and I paid too much for the local payment and got a refund of USD200. Not a bad meeting after all.
So after the talk we raced out and bought a bag to fill up with stuff to leave behind and caught up with the rest of the group at 3pm to visit KEEP which is an organisation that is attempting to reduce the negative impacts of tourism and try to introduce sustainable initiatives – an uphill battle I think seeing what kind of mess the country is in.
We headed back to the hotel to re-pack the rest of our bags and then caught up with everyone for dinner at a steakhouse. It was strange that the meet was imported from India and the potatoes imported from Bhutan – why can’t people just use local products.
After dinner I started to feel a tad queasy – not sure if it is the food or the thought of the trek and Scott has a cracker of a cold.
Today we have to get organised as this is our final day in Kathmandu as we start the Annapurna Circuit tomorrow. Yes those four weeks of gym have paid off – not. However, we are expecting amazing scenery and great food. Now just to find someone to carry me – apparently Scott isn’t keen, honestly 🙂
Today is also the day where we downsize out packs to bare minimum and let’s face it, I hadn’t packed large in the first place, but I am determined to reduce it by half.
The weather is so nice I also got a chance to sit out in the sun reading a book while Scott pottered around spending the afternoon talking to a lady who had just finished a 3 month Buddhist retreat where she didn’t speak – I am considering that next year. She had a fascinating life and was interesting.
We had the traditional afternoon nap before heading otu to dinner at a nepalese restaurant in Thamel.
So after a day of doing nothing we had an early night, but we figure this will be the last relaxing day we have for quite a while.
Today is shopping day for Scott. So we wandered through Thamel and he bought a scarf, North Face Goretex Jacket, Mammut reversible fleece and some Oakley sunglasses. The two jackets were only AUD$70 for both, not sure if they are real (probably not) but they are made well and exactly what he wanted for the trip. I bought nothing (yes I know shock). I will be doing my shopping when we return to Kathmandu.
We had lunch at one of the rooftop restaurants in Thamel taking in the warm sun which is lovely. Amazing that it is so warm here.
After lunch we caught a cycle rickshaw from Kathmandu Durbar Square to Patan which is an old Buddhist town originally on the trade route from Lhasa to Kathmandu, although now it is a part of Kathmandu which is a huge sprawling city. Patan was one of three independent kingdomes in the kathmandu valley, but now is a suburb of Kathmandu. The Durbar Square is made up of temples, palaces and golden gates and massive scultpures. As Nepal was never colonized there are no western influences. The temples are not for show and are actively used by locals.
To get there we had to cross the Bagmati River which just seems to be a total swamp these days, with the slums only being divided from the river by small community gardens. The river levels have dropped to such a low level that the hydroelectricity plant can’t make enough electricity so power here is only available for about 45 hours per week and that is at random intervals.
The cycle rickshaw driver dropped us close to Patan at the bottom of a hill, obviously thought it was too hard to push two lardy ass Australians up to the top.
On arriving at the Patan gate we had to pay a tourist fee to visit the city – very strange. Anyway it connected with a walk in the lonely planet, so we headed off in the usual wrong direction, however, stumbled across a golden temple (Kwa Bahal) which was beautiful. Although to get in, that was additional – start to get the idea about Patan, everything costs entry fees.
We continued wandering through Patan which has a lot of beautiful Newari architecture, something has has gradually been demolished in Kathmandu except in the older parts. Patan itself is a world heritage site, so there are extensive works continually keeping everything maintained.
We wandered into Durbar Square which also contains the Royal Palace. This square is stunning, it is full of temples, stompas and shrines. It was built at the start of the 14th century and yet again it required an entry fee, but we managed to avoid it. Kathmandu’s Durbar Square is very touristy, but Patan’s Durber Square is a working square and is the main commercial district for the area so it makes a change to see it as a working square full of local people.
We finally finished wandering around as the light started to fade so we caught a taxi (given up on cycle rickshaws) back to Kathmandu and then wandered back to the hotel where we got organised and headed back into Thamel for a lovely dinner of thukpa and momo’s (Tibetan food).
After a restless night (too much food?) we woke up early and headed downstairs from our room for our hotel breakfast. Over the morning coffee we made our plan for the day, then decided we had better get moving!
We planned to take a taxi to a local Buddhist template then walk back to Thamel (about 6km). We found a taxi for the right price who took us through the peak-hour traffic through some shonky looking backstreets in order to avoid the worst of the traffic. Eventually we arrived at Boudhanath Stupa, a beautiful centuries old place of Buddhist worship and the largest in Nepal.
We drew parallels between the Golden Temple in Amritsar and the Stupa; there was chaos, noise and maelstrom outside, but inside was serene and very peaceful. We walked the circuit around the Stupa a few times, soaking in the atmosphere and hopefully topping up our karma points.
The stupa is 138 feet high and painted white and is surrounded by Tibetan shops, restaurants and hotels, all with a view of the stupa. There are prayer flags from every available space and the blue sky against the white stupa highlights the flag colours and just looks amazing.
We climbed to one of the many rooftop cafes for a lassi and coffee, an opportune place for some more photographs with sun gleaming on the white dome. We wandered around the circuit a few times, visiting the monastery (the Tsamchen Gompa) and was given a short tour and blessing by one of the monks, we exchanged donations; rupees for him and a traditional white scarf for SB. With our karma back in balance we left the peace and went outside.
We couldn’t get a taxi to Patan as we would have liked, and we believed we had absolutely no chance of ever finding our way back to Thamel on foot, so we reluctantly took a taxi towards Thamel. The roads were less furious than the morning, but still pretty hectic. The taxi dropped us at the start of Thamel and left us to our devices to figure out where we were. We started walking in the direction of where we though we were, keeping our eyes open for any familiar landmarks. Eventually we figured out we were in a section of a day walk described in Lonely Planet, so by following the route there, we ended up back in Durbar Square (luckily we still had our tickets from yesterday). We took the opportunity to head up to a rooftop cafe for momos and pakora (steamed dumplings and friend vegetable patties). We we knew where we were, finding our way home was easy.
Siesta beckoned – some traditions die hard.
After another lengthy power cut (frequent here as the river level has dropped there isn’t enough water pressure for electricity generation and with no other option means no power). The hotel has a generator but for some reason that didn’t kick in.
We headed back into Thamel for a Nepalese dinner but due to a power cut we could only have snacks – hmm nice but not what I was expecting.
We found an internet cafe but just as SB was starting to sort out photos it froze – our karma hasn’t been flash as we are having memory card problems and have had to buy two new cards here in Nepal. We arrived back to the hotel with the power still off.
Brekkie in the hotel for an early start. The breakfast is nice, but service is extremely slow, although it does mean you don’t rush the start of the day.
We headed off to Durbar Square, which is located in the old town and shows off the tradiditonal architecture. The square is made of several buildings based on terraced platforms which used to be the Royal Palace (until 100 years ago when it moved). It was hawker heaven, you couldn’t stand still without someone trying to sell, beg or provide some service you didn’t need, particularly on Maya Deval when they just wait for you to descend with no escape route available. The “holymen” were doing their best to convince you that you needed their photo, for a price of course. Still it was a fascinating place. Even though it is a world heritage listed site, there appears to be little restoration work going on and in some places it sorely needs it.
There was an exhibition of photos showing climate change (we just cannot escape it!) which showed the differences between the 1950’s and now. The Nepalese glaciers are melting at 6 times the global average. This actually put a lot of things into perspective, mainly how hard these first trekkers and climbers did it.
We got our tickets to the Square extended for a few days so we can come and go as we please, so we can watch the different people and happenings.
From the Square we walked across the River Bagmati which flows into the River Ganges so all the waste from here continues down to India. We headed to Swayambhunath Stupa, which is a gigantic Bhuddist temple at the top of a very steep hill. The steps here beat Jacob’s Ladder in Perth hands down! We made it to the top past all the hawkers and mini stupas without having heart attacks (good signs for the trekking to come) (Tracy thinks that her personal training sessions might have paid off). The Temple is also known as the monkey temple, evident from the plethora of monkeys inhabiting the temple; our thoughts returned to the fact that we chose not get the rabies innoculations before we left Australia. This temple was originally built about 2000 years ago and was definately worth the climb (the view from the top, through the haze, is also worth the effort). We spent a few hours meandering through the different temples surrounding the stupa then finally descended the tricky stairs. The Nepalese have small feet, even I had to walk down at an angle.
Walking back into Thamel (the main tourist area of Kathmandu) for a lovely plate of steamed momos and coffee to get rejuvenated for a hike through Thamel to check out some prices for the upcoming trek. Things here are sooo much cheaper than at home and if you cannot find it, you can have it made and have the genuine logo placed wherever you like on your new designer-brand jacket! We can get “genuine” Oakley sunglasses for AUD$16 without even bargaining, not to mention all the North Face gear which is everywhere. We headed back to the hotel for an chill-out and siesta before heading out before sunset.
We wandered back to Durbar Square to try to get the photos in the afternoon light that weren’t that good in the morning light. Weaving our way through the afternoon rush-hour traffic we finally arrived at the Square in the first shadows of sunset; we will go back earlier in the afternoon tomorrow to get the photos. The Square was a little less hyper-active than earlier in the day although it was still pretty hecttic. We wandered back through the main part of Thamel to find a place for dinner; settling on a little place tucked away off the main street. As we were waiting for the delivery of our food we discovered our little restaurant had a pretty good review in the Lonely Planet for its Nepalese-Tibetan cum world food. We have missed the foods of Daramsala (India, 2006) so we tucked into steaming bowls of thukpa (Tibetan noodle soup) and Kotay (half steamed/half fried vegetable dumplings); this food is always good. Full to the brim for only a few dollars, we wandered back to the hotel for an early night. A quick check of the email (would be made quicker if people actually shared the limited internet resources) and then its another early night before another early start tomorrow.
We got up earlyish and ventured back to Ramas for a last south Indian breakfast. The south indians certainly know how to do that.
We headed back to the hotel and finished packing and got our driver to take us to the airport, whcih strangely was less than the usual adrenalin rush. check-in was also orderly and smooth – something never experienced at an Indian airport before. Also note that you can’t take more than RS100 notes into Nepal and you can’t buy Nepalese currency at the airport.
The plane left nearly on time, but as the flight was only a couple of hours it wasn’t a big deal. My vegetarian meal was on the plane – except it contained chicken? So luckily the main meal was vegetarian so I did a swap with Scott.
The scenary was very mountainous on the way – all looks a tad hilly for my liking 🙁
Kathmandu is also a huge sprawling city, not at all what we imagined.
We whizzed through immigration, already having got our visa from Australia. Only to be held up waiting for our luggage. I had truly given up on ever seeing my backpack again, but it finally came through. Whew. We struggled through the hoards of taxis and foudn our name (2 out of 2 for airport pick-ups). The drive from the airport to the Hotel Ganesh Himal was amazing, just so much to try and take in. There is a mix of fancy western style houses next door to slums.
We got our room and ventrued stright back into the fray and found an ATM taking out what felt like a million dollars – sometimes the exchange rate isn’t too bad.
There are so many shops, trekking companies, shops, trekking companies, it makes your head spin. I am already thinking of what I can ship home.
We found a small place for an Indian meal, which was nice, but nothing fancy before heading back to teh hotel in the now pitch black and with my sense of direction at its best we got lost and had to backtrack – Note: take torch next time. The weather isn’t too bad, warm during the day and a bit chillier at night to we don’t have to sworry about rugging up too much.
We finally made it back to the hotel in one piece and the hotel seems fairly quite and has a huge garden – all very tranquil. especially considering the noise at the end of the street of horns from all the competing traffic.
After another fairly good sleep, we headed back to Rama’s for breakfast where Sb had his Idly and I had paneer uttapam, both delicious.
We headed back to the hotel to pay for our dirver on Saturday night – simple tsk we thought – apparently not. By using HostelWorld the email and hotel details are actually not the hotel, but an agent, so we had to wait for the agent to come and take us to their offices where we had to wait some more to pay – what a hassle. Anyway we then decided to see some more of the local area nad headed away from the main streets. It is a fairly good area and a lot of construction taking place – we were followed by the obligatory rickshaw and tuk-tuk drivers, all showing us where Macdonald’s was, not understanding our desire to walk. We found a place and have coffee etc before deciding to head to Fatepuri Masjid and the old part of Delhi.
We now wanted to get a tuk-tuk, but not one in sight and the couple we fianlly tracked down were charging extortionate rates. So we cuaght the metro to Chandni Chowk and walked from there.
It is hard to describe Old Delhi, it is just heaving. We found the old Spice Markets and ventured down the alleys which were full of huge spice bags all being carried in out and out on the heads of people. The roads were sheer pandemonium, trying to cope with every type of tranpsort you could imagine. We were happily watching the hoardes go by when we lost each otehr, but after a few minutes of panic. I spotted the red Oracle cap (knew it would come in handy one day). We contineud wandering the streets, at one time being accosted by a man who wanted to be the Prime Minister of Pakistan and blow up the US, except Las Vegas which he thought was brilliant and he would like to move there – weird.
Again we had trouble getting a tuk-tuk back to Karol Bagh, but on finally securing one we discovered Delhi peak house and where the traffic was just out of control, only outcome by the fumes of all the vheicles. Finally gettingd ropped off at the end of the makret which was in full flow and for some reason we looked like people who needs a life time supply of foil wrap!
Back at the hotel we continued the siesta traditiong from South America before finally arising and heading out for yet more food. Finding a restaurant for dinner and because the manager’s brother in law was from Sydney that was close enoughf ro us to have free desert.
We headed back to the hotel and booked a driver etc for the airport tomorrow.
We got up at 08:30 after a lovely night sleep and headed to the bank to get rupees, finding a nice South Indian restarant enroute. We stopped in for breakfast as Scott had a hankering for all the foods he missed since the last trip here in 2006, idli and vada while Tracy had poori masala (both great meals at very reasonable prices).
From there we headed to Karol Bagh Markets and wandered up and down. It was still early so all the stalls were in theprocess of setting out i.e. sweeping the dirt onto the next persons patch. Delhi is even more polluted than we remebered, but the people are still friendly.
We caught the Metro to Connaught Place which was deserted. We were blown away by the lack of people. We had coffee and pakoras for snacks at the United Coffee House. Catching the train to Chawri Bazaar and took the back way to Jama Masjid and then found all the people, it was packed plus everyone seemed to be taking the goat out for a walk. It was manic and great – this was the Delhi we loved. We walked to Red Fort to see what had changed, but there wasn’t a lot different except much much much less police around the place.
We headed off down Chandni Chowk and back into the noisy, throbbing sea of people. Wandering around and getting lost before finding the back way (in other words gross way) into the metro to catch the train back to karol Bagh. The Metro is still super efficient and the easiest way to get around.
Walking back to our hotel we stopped at the Puhnjabi Sweet Corner for a couple of Samosas which were great, the place is just packed all the time.
Finally getting back to the hotel for an after noon snooze. After which we headed off to find a thali restaurant for dinner and coming across a great all you can eat place (Rajistani and Gujarati) for $14. We had to have a walk about afterwards to try and compact some of the food we had eaten and watched as people set up their homes for the night on any empty space of land. Quite amzing consdiering during the day everything is packed up and cleaned.
We finally headed back to the hotel full of good food, our ears ringing form the noise and our eyes sore from all the smoke of kitchen fires – brilliant.
We didn’t get much sleep last night; packing, checking, re-packing, re-checking. Craig picked us up from home at 03:00 when we said our final farewells to the cats and the chickens for the next three months.
Perth International Airport was its usual sleepy self. When we arrived only a few counters were open attending to a smattering of travellers, our counter was not open so we had to sit and wait. Eventually our Emirates check-in opened and the man shuffled some seating allocations to ensure we got an exit row. It happened to be immediately next to the lavatories but none-the-less it was nice during the flight to stretch out your legs to their fullest extent, even if you did end up kicking some poor unsuspecting person waiting to use the toilets in the shins!
Dubai Airport was huge! We arrived 20 minutes early, so had well over three hours to explore and wander through the plethora of duty free stores. Eventually they all started to look the same so we went and sank into the lounges near our departure gate and watched the masses wander by. We started counting the Westerners flying with us to Delhi, this was easily achieved with the fingers on one hand. Were the recent events in Mumbai to blame for this?
The flight departed spot on time (2/2 on time departures with Emirates; QANTAS take note) This time the flight was more crowded and was a lot like some sort of flying creche with a load of screaming babies and kids running up and down the aisles (the only time this stopped was when a very large Muslim man layed out his prayer mat in the aisle to conduct his devotional prayers and bowing. As soon as he was packed up, the kids were back in the aisles). The flight arrived early (QANTAS take note again) and our taxi driver was waiting for us on arrival to take us directly to the hotel.
On the way from the airport we noticed a few differences from our 2006 trip:
1) There was much less visible police and security presence in the airport and surrounds and given the recent events in Mumbai and the State elections we weren’t too sure this was necessarily a good thing.
2) The amount of construction that is going on in preparation for the 2010 Commonwealth Games is phenomenal. The amount of time, effort and money being spent must be huge. With all the work still going on at night, we bagan to wonder if it would all take shape and e ready in time.
3) Things just seemd much more quiet than last time we were here? Maybe we were better prepared? Maybe we were just used to it?
We made it to the hotel and our bookings were all correct, so we went up to our comfrtable room and went to bed. It took a little over 21 hours since leaving home and we are finally back in Delhi, exhausted but here.
We have three days in Delhi, flying to Kathmandu on 02 December 2008.
Yes that dark line above is the circuit we are taking around Annapurna.
On 7 December 2008 we will be starting the Annapurna Circuit which is a 22 day trek around the base of the Annapurna ranges in Nepal. The trek covers about 300km or so in 22 days. Part of the trek will take in Thorung La Pass (elev. 17,769 feet or 5,416 meters) Putting this in perspective, Mt. Kosciusko (the highest mountain in Australia) is 7,310 ft or 2228 meters; Mt. Everest is 29,017 feet or 8,844.43 meters.
Day 1: Kathmandu Environmental Education Project – a NGO aiming to minimise the negative influences of tourism by advocating and promoting ‘minimum impact’ trekking. Its aims are two-fold: to provide impartial and independent information to travellers; and to ensure the future ecological and cultural prosperity of Nepal through positive-impact tourism and outreach project work. At the organisation’s information centre we will get practical advice about conservation, trekking, mountain safety, causes of deforestation, ecotourism, and the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of Nepalese society.
Day 2 – Bandipur
Day 3 – Khudi-Bulbule (840 m)
Day 4 – Bahun Danda (1310 m)
Day 5 – Chamje (1430 m)
Day 6 – Bagarchap (2160 m)
Day 7 – Chame (2710 m)
Day 8 – Pisang (3300 m)
Day 9/10 – Manang (2540m)
Day 11 – Manang to Yak Kharka (4018 m)
Day 12 – Phedi (4450 m) – the downhill trek starts, thank goodness (well hopefully)
Day 13 – Muktinath (3800 m) – this is where the day will include a climb up to Thorung La before walking down.
Day 14 – Kagbeni (2800 )
Day 15 – Marpha (2710 m)
Day 16 – Kalopani (2530 m)
Day 17 – Tatopani (1160 m)
Day 18 – Ghorepani (2785)
Day 19 – Birethanti (1025 m)
Day 20 – Pokhara
Day 21/22 – back to Kathmandu for some very well earned relaxation.
Well, it’s getting serious now. It is one month to go until we get on the plane and head out of Perth for our annual “adventure”.
This year we are heading to Nepal for two months trekking through the Himalayas and then heading down to India to cover some ground we didn’t see in 2007; Tracy is also meeting up with Kathy in Delhi at the beginning of February 2009 for a two week shopping excursion (so I’ll probably head back up into the mountains again!)