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.
(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.