Nepal is a beautiful country. We wanted to spend New Years in Pokhara, but due to the Maoists protests and road blocks, we were evacuated to Kathmandu instead. Add in Chitwan National Park and it is safe to say we had a blast in Nepal. We are still getting rave reviews on our knock off North Face Parkas we picked up for an unbelievable $5 in trekker happy Pokhara. A visit to Durbar Square in Kathmandu is like walking backwards in time and we can’t wait for a return trip to visit more of Nepal.

"Welcome to Nepal" sign at the Sunauli border crossing from India to Nepal This person is having a bad day, and was probably speeding on the road to Chitwan National Park A Nepalese jingle truck A snapshot of the pretty Nepalese scenery The inviting garden of our hotel, the Safari Narayani Lodge; Chitwan A herd of buffalo; Chitwan National Park An elephant excursion returns; Chitwan National Park (elephants are ideal for safari as you can get very close to Asian single horned rhinoceros, Bengal tigers, deer, monkeys, antelope or even leopards) Children playing soccer on the sandy field at dusk; Chitwan National Park A Nepalese girl carries a bundle of straw through Chitwan National Park Sunset view from our Chitwan National Park viewing platform Sunset over Chitwan National Park Its dusk and our hotel has thoughtfully provided lanterns to assist us in the dark; Chitwan National Park Robby huddles next to the fire at the Safari Narayani Lodge; Chitwan National Park Tharu villagers performing a traditional dance, Chitwan National Park Tharu village scene, breakfast by a smouldering fire A happy Tharu boy smiles at the influx of visitors to his village; near Chitwan National Park Portrait of a Tharu family (interestingly, the Tharu people appear to be highly resistent to malaria, with a rate of 7x lower than other ethnic groups living nearby) This Tharu grandmother enjoyed our visit to her village These two Tharu women smile as they watch the village children interact with us The children of this Tharu village are well behaved, queuing up for a distribution of school supplies A Tharu teenaged mother shows off her newborn baby This Tharu woman's beautiful smile made our day Portrait of a graceful Tharu woman Tharu village scene Cute Tharu boys posing for a photo (one with pants and the other opted to pose without) Playful Tharu children A curious Tharu family checks us out; near Chitwan National Park Photo of Tharu boys living near Chitwan National Park (the Tharu are an ethnic group indigenous to the Terai region, which is the southern foothills of the Himilayas in both Nepal and India) A greater one-horned rhino at Chitwan National Park A Nepalese woman rests on an decrepit boat; Chitwan National Park An ox drawn cart; Chitwan National Park Our trusty guide who navigated us down the river, Chitwan National Park Boat ride at Chitwan National Park A project initiated by the Royal Chitwan National Park in 1981, this center works hard to ensure long term gharial crocodile conservation in Nepal Its cleaning time at the gharial crocodile conservation park; Chitwan Gharial crocodiles have elongated, narrow snouts and are critically endangered. They are also called fish-eating crocodiles and are native to the Indian Subcontinent Becky guiding her elephant after a quick lesson, Chitwan National Park A Nepalese traffic jam (these cows have right of way) Wooden logs packed tightly on the back of this truck; near Chitwan A quintessential Nepalese country scene; near Chitwan National Park Scenic steep terraced hills on the drive from Chitwan National Park to Pokhara A majestic view of the Himalayas; outside Pokhara Caught gazing back towards Pokhara Group photo with Himalayan backdrop Becky showing children their photo, Pokhara An unusual place to find a bus! New Years Street Festival, Pokhara Pokhara street scene just before New Years Fresh juice at Baba Fruit Shop, Pokhara Thanka artist perfecting his craft, Pokhara Road signpost while entering Kathmandu Valley Locals relaxing in Kathmandu Fancy a burger? Kathmandu has a wide selection of western style restaurants and food Kathmandu just after sunset A snoozing rickshaw driver; Kathmandu Interesting architecture as we stumble upon Kathmandu's Durbar Square The temples and palaces of Kathmandu Durbar Square have undergone extensive renovations throughout the many years of neglect or natural decay. This open air museum is definitely worth a visit

Kathmandu Durbar Square is one of 3 Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu Valley (all of them are UNESCO world heritage sites) Kathmandu Durbar Square (sometimes referred to as Basantapur Durbar Square) is the plaza in front of the old royal palace of the Kathmandu Kingdom Winged angel, Kathmandu Durbar Square Souvenirs for sale in Kathmandu's Durbar Square Colorful textiles for sale; Kathmandu Durbar Square Tree roots have overtaken this Hindu temple; Kathmandu Rickshaw for hire; Kathmandu Durbar Square Intricately carved doorway, Patan Durbar Square Despite the steep entry fee hike to visit Patan Durbar Square, it remains a highlight to any visit to Kathmandu and should not be missed Patan Durbar Square is one of three Durbar Squares in Kathmandu Valley, and is a gorgeous area to wander around admiring beautifully carved temples, shrines and monuments A pool of water (which locals use for drinking, cooking or laundry); Patan Durbar Square An early morning mist over this souvenir stand; Patan Durbar Square Entrance to a temple in Patan Durbar Square Women washing laundry in Patan Ornately carved wooden figurines, Durbar Square; Patan A peaceful scene in Patan Durbar Square A woman sweeps the main entrance to a temple in Patan Durbar Square Patan Durbar Square is in the middle of Patan city, (or Lalitpur), and the ancient royal palace of the former Patan royal family can be found here A Nepalese vendor wanders through Patan Durbar Square in search of a place to sell his goods Patan Durbar Square is a center for Buddhist and Hindu culture, and is full of temples, monasteries, and places to worship Souvenir vendor; Patan Durbar Square Patan is Nepal's 3rd largest city and wandering its back alleys is a delight Prayer wheels at a temple in Patan Durbar Square The Golden Temple (Hiranya Varna Mahavihar), built in the 12th Century by King Bhaskar Verma, is located just north of Patan Durbar Square Candle sellers outside a temple in Patan Durbar Square An early morning view of Patan's produce market The 5 storey pagoda of Kumbeshwor is one of the oldest temples in Patan Durbar Square. Built in 1392 and dedicated to Lord Shiva (the only other 5 storey pagoda in Kathmandu Valley is Bhaktapur's Nyatpola) A sadhu wanders barefoot in Patan A local wading through a pool to collect water, Patan Durbar Square Becky marvels at the amazing aura of Patan Durbar Square A Deity atop turtle, Patan Durbar Square An elderly Nepalese man smokes a wooden hookah; Patan Colorful spices for sale, Pashupatinath Temple Complex View of UNESCO world heritage site Pashupatinath Temple, one of the most significant Hindu temples of Lord Shiva in the world. Only Hindus can enter the premises Another view of Pashupatinath Temple, located on the banks of the Bagmati River in the eastern part of Kathmandu The Pashupatinath Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu. The nearby Bagmati River is also considered sacred, and is used by pilgrims as a ghat (bathing spot) Fertility Temples of  Pashupatinath; Kathmandu Carving at Pashupatinath Temple Complex, Kathmandu One of the largest Buddhist Stupas in the world, Boudhanath Stupa. This site is akin to Mecca for Tibetan Buddhists. Every year, tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over the Himalayan region visit this stupa Robby strikes a pose near Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu Prayer wheels at the base of Boudha Nath Stupa, one of the oldest and the biggest Buddhist monuments ever built in Nepal Bhaktapur schoolboys playing around in a field Entrance to Bhaktapur's Durbar Square, a spectacular open air museum Detail of a Hindu Goddess; Bhaktapur Durbar Square Standing in the middle of Bhaktapur Durbar Square. This area is considered one of the highlights of the entire Kathmandu Valley A guard stands beside the Golden Gate in Bhaktapur Durbar Square. The gate is the main entrance to the courtyard containing the Palace of 55 Windows Men relaxing at Bhaktapur Durbar Square A boy straddles the entrance way to one of Bhaktapur's numerous temples Two men transporting goods through Bhaktapur View of Bhaktapur's Lion Gate, which dates from 1696 A.D.; Durbar Square Posing in front of the Nyatapola temple, a 5 storey temple that was built in 1702; Bhaktapur 5 pairs of matching figures on the terraces of this temple in Bhaktapur A friendly Nepalese man grins at us; Nyatapola Temple in Bhaktapur View of Potters Square, Bhaktapur Hundreds of clay pots laying out to dry at Potters Square; Bhaktapur Another view of Bhaktapur's famous pottery square (the kiln in the middle is fueled by the nearby hay) Pottery is a family affair in Bhaktapur, where the famous pottery square can be seen Detail of a unique masterpiece of wood carving, the Palace of 55 Windows in Bhaktapur Durbar Square Bhaktapur Durbar Square scene Bhaktapur temple scene Mandarin oranges for sale; Bhaktapur A happy silk purse vendor; Bhaktapur A young boy shows off his climbing skills; Bhaktapur foto gallery lightboxby v6.1

(The First 7 days of the trip were spent in India. The Nepal portion of the trip started on Day 8.)
Day 8: On our first morning in Nepal we had an early start, driving east, parallel to the mountains, until we reached Narayani lodge and Royal Chitwan National Park, just shortly after noon. We had a sumptuous lunch buffet awaiting our arrival. In the afternoon we were whisked away on elephant back to view the local wildlife. Highlights included rhinos, buffalo, deer, peacocks, and the silhouette of an imaginary tiger. This park was the former royal hunting ground and was set aside as a conservation area in 1973. The Park covers an area of 540 square kilometers of the terai. In the evening were were entertained by a group of Tharu local villagers performing a series of traditional dances. The Tharu were among the few people who could live here, having a limited natural immunity to malaria. They claim to be descendants of Rajputs and originally migrated to Nepal from the Indian State of Rajasthan. After the dance, we ate a dinner buffet before retiring to our huts sans electricity. Thankfully, kerosene lanterns were thoughtfully placed outside our doors so we could make our way around.

Day 9: The day’s itinerary included an early morning elephant ride to view more wildlife, a dugout canoe ride to the a Gharial crocodile breeding farm, an afternoon walk through the local village, a lecture on elephant life at Chitwan (thankfully a lot more humane than those at Amber Palace), and a nature walk though Chitwan park just before sunset. In the evening we were fed well with a buffet from the lodge restaurant, which offered the best food on the tour. After dinner, Pauline gave lessons on reflexology, while Raj benefited from everyone’s tutelage. Unfortunately, we missed the lesson but begged Pauline to offer a repeat lesson before the end of the tour.

Day 10: We started our journey to Pokhara along the deep gorge of the Narayani River and in the foothills of the Himalayas. The scenery changed dramatically from the forests and farmlands of the Terai to steep terraced hills, and as we got closer to Pokhara we begin to see the formidable Annapurna Range. Machhapuchhare, the ‘Fishtail Peak’, dominated the skyline. Pokhara greeted us with a street fest in progress to bring in the new year. Unfortunately we were notified that we would have to depart a day earlier than planned to avoid getting stranded for several days due to roadblocks by the Maoist and student demonstration activities. We were deeply disappointed of the news of having to leave before we had a chance to do some in-depth exploration, but we still found time to muse over Pokhara’s great bargains on North Face fleece, loads of trekking gear, thankas (traditional paintings), and various other touristy items.

Day 11: The Pokhara curtailment began with a long drive to Kathmandu, along the Chinese-built road running parallel to the main Himalayan range. The distance is only 200km but it was a slow climb through the mountains and the journey took most of the day. The views, however, were stunning as we follow the Marsyangdi and Trisuli rivers, passing numerous villages and terraces stretching thousands of feet up the hillside. We arrive in Kathmandu in the late afternoon. Surprisingly we made great time and got there in plenty of time to ring in the New Year. Jenny was able to link up with her daughter and briefly get a rundown on what Kathmandu had to offer, which she graciously shared with the group (Jenny’s daughter had been independently backpacking around India, Nepal and Tibet and the two of them were off to explore Bhutan after our tour).

We started our evening with a hotel-provided buffet dinner and cheesy dance show. The food was less than appealing (the only disappointing meal we had) so we ditched the hotel in search of a rowdy pub, though Raj was insistent on something much more mellow. He feared that one of us might get into some trouble with the drunken locals or something of that nature. However, we persisted and in the end, compromised for a Thai restaurant/bar that offered blasting live music from the open air third floor, overlooking the Thamel District. The New Year passed without much of a bang, although not for lack of effort in locating the party! We did have the pleasure of hearing Gail, one of our talented group members, on the drums. But, one of the local singers turned what was suppose to be live music into what sounded like tortured cats. As bad as it was, the locals continued to dance to the very awful version of Shakira’s “Whenever, Wherever”. The music lost its charm and we eventually wound our way back to the hotel.

Day 12: (New Year’s Day) Still suffering from the music ringing in our ears, we had breakfast and jumped into a taxi to Patan’s Durbar Square. We were able to explore the temple complex before the morning crowds arrived. Becky fed some stray dogs at a temple and they mistook her kindness for wanting to adopt them. We literally had to make a run for it to escape from them unscathed. After Patan we headed to Baktupor where we had to pay a steep $10 per person for entry into the old city. However, this was money well spent as we gazed in awe at the massive five pillar temple (Nyatapola temple), the truly charming potter square, and various other palaces and temples. We ended the day with a visit to the Tibetan Refugee camp where we purchased a hand-woven Tibetan carpet, beautifully woven and surprisingly reasonable. When we returned to the hotel, we were informed that our flight from Abu Dhabi was changed to one day later with no details as to why.

Day 13: The morning began with the whole group disputing the unexplained flight change. We insisted on paying Gulf Air’s local office a visit to find out the reason for the sudden change, so we delayed sight seeing for an hour. Richard educated the group that Gulf Air was trying to get out of compulsory compensation for overbooking our flight by “bumping” us off our originally scheduled flight. We all became extremely irate as we never got a straight story on our flight. We were basically told that there was a “technical” problem and we were rebooked on a flight the next day. We requested that they do what they could to change our flight back and give us the results in the evening. Trying to get the flight issue out of our minds, we visited the most important Hindu temple in the Kathmandu valley at Pashupatinath and one of the largest Buddhist Stupas in the world at Bodnath. Our Kathmandu tour guide was the best local guide yet. On the bus we sat mesmerized by her details of local customs and daily life in her family’s home. After the tour, we convinced the group that for the best pizza in Kathmandu, we should dine at Fire and Ice Restaurant, which did not disappoint. After lunch, we split from the group and spent the remainder of the day exploring Kathmandu’s Durbar square & freak street. We met up with the group in the evening for bowling. Barry kicked our butts at bowling with Sara taking a high score for the ladies. Afterwards, we decided on a late night dinner at the only Irish Pub in town.

Day 14: Last Day in Nepal! We made one last attempt with Gulf Air to get our return flight corrected with no success. With only a few hours left, we had lunch and did some last minute shopping as we waited for our departure back to reality.

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