Kathmandu, Pokhara, trekking the Ghorepani circuit, Bhaktapur and Patan.
yeti sightings - 0, currys eaten - 2
I've been obsessed recently about the possible but improbable existance of the Himalayan Yeti. Maybe I can be the first person to find conclusive evidence that its not just a mythical creature but so far on this trip the Yeti is proving to be elusive, its early days yet though and to be fair Doha airport is unlikely to be their preferred habitat.
We have a long wait of 9 hours here in Qatar until our connecting flight to Kathmandu, there are flights sooner but in my search for the cheapest deal possible thats what I had to book. So we've got a bit of time to take advantage and experience a bit of middle eastern culture....... so far we've wandered around the duty free shops and soaked up the atmos in the airport cafeteria......
Monday 14th November
Cows seen on streets - 3, powercuts - 1
Well we're here! First experiences of Nepal mostly involve confusion. All the taxi guys are waiting to pounce outside the airport and because I didnt want to be mithered I just carried on walking up the road as if I knew where I was going, I dont know why because we do need a taxi and I definitely don't know where I'm going.
Anyway we ended up in a taxi that possibly wasnt a real taxi with two lads, one drove while the other tried to sell us things. The "big traffic" as the driver described was a free for all with no street lighing, no traffic lights, make your own rules while dodging bikes, potholes and cows.
Reach the Kathmandu Peace Guesthouse where we thought we'd booked a room, they seemed to have copies of my emails but didnt have a room for us. After a confusing hour of waiting in the dark due to a powercut it turned out there was now a room for us, however just to make things a bit more weird the manager called us into the office, sat us down with tea and coffee (in the dark- still a powercut) and started by apologising for having had "a few beers", he just wanted to sell us excursions but we've already got plans. Everyone is so so polite that its difficult to moan about anything, one of the staff even guided us to the restaurant we wanted to eat at so we didnt get lost. Had some dal bhat at a place called Thakali Kitchen and a Gorkha beer (comes in a giant 660ml bottle). Went back to get some sleep ready to start exploring tomorrow, have hardly slept in 24 hours with all the travelling. First impressions? this is gonna be a crazy adventure!
Amusing anecdote of the day
The fella's name at the guesthouse is Rat but he pronounces it "Raart" a bit like Mrs Bucket in that 90's comedy show who pronounces it bouquet
Tuesday 15th. In the morning
Currys eaten - 1, momos eaten - 19, yeti sightings - 0, rickshaw rides - 1, times lost -1
Went to a rooftop cafe called Helenas for breakfast, Bec had pancakes and I asked for an Indian breakfast not knowing what I would get although correctly suspecting curry. Yum, curry for breakfast with chapatis and roti bread, great way to start the day.
Went to find out how to get to Pokhara tomorrow which turned out to be easier than expected, bus tickets are 500 rupees which is about £4 and its a 7 hour journey starting at 7am.
Guided ourselves on a walking tour through the medieval looking streets of Kathmandu old town passing by rows and rows of little shops, temples and shrines with incense and butter lamps burning, holi men covered in red and yellow paint, scabby stray dogs chasing past, rickshaws rattling along and people carrying ridiculously large loads strapped to their heads. It feels like there's too much stuff for my eyes to look at, its a visual feast and my brain is gorging itself.
Right now as I'm writing this we're sat on a rooftop overlooking Durbar square eating vegetable momos (a plate of stuffed dumpling type things) and I have to say this delicious taste sensation may start a new obsession.
After having walked through old town and some local streets today coming back to the tourist centre of Thamel feels like being in Blackpool. Its a shame that the influence of Western tourists eventually rapes the local culture out of town and leaves it looking like......well Blackpool really. Don't get me wrong though, I already love this country, warts n all.
Went out at night to the Thamel Restaurant, a Nepalise restaurant where upstairs they had low tables and floor cusions. It was about twice as expensive as where we'd eaten before but it was a good quality place, nice setting, friendly service and although I was pulling a face at the bill coming to 1500 rupees I need to get things into perspective and realise that its still only £12. Went for a drink in Full Moon bar after, it says in our travel book there beer is 175 rupees, however this was written 2 years ago which is enough time to cotton on to a mention in Lonely Planet being worth putting the price up to 330 rupees. There we go, I'm moaning about money again, so time to stop witing, go to bed and wake up a bit less cynical tomorrow. Tomorrow we're off to Pokhara.....
Wednesday 16th. Bus to Pokhara
Yesterday I rang some prayer bells at a shrine somewhere in kathmandu old town, praying to the god of this particular shrine is said to be beneficial to your eyesight. Excellent I thought, took a moment to mumble a little prayer and rang the bells.....
I woke up this morning relieved that I hadn't disposed of all my contact lenses.
Up bright and early to get the 7am bus to Pokhara. Had to wake up Rat the guesthouse manager so we could pay our bill, oops maybe I should have settled up yesterday. Bus journey takes around 7-8 hours, its a bit uncomfortable with the road being so bumpy but the magnificent scenery more than makes up for it. Arrived in Pokhara and the manager from Hotel Nirvana who I had emailed in advance has come to pick us up from the bus park, Its probably partly to make sure that the gaggle of hotel touts waiting for the bus dont steal his customer but maybe also because he's a nice man. The hotel is good and we have a room on the 3rd floor at the top "with mountain views" which I imagine would be lovely if it wasnt so cloudy, seems a bit silly to be paying extra for it but maybe we'll wake up to blue sky and mountains in the morning. One thing we do have though is almost warm water, so what? you might think but it was impossible to shower in the ice cold water in the last place (normal due to powercuts etc.) aaaahhhh a slightly cold nearly warm shower, lovely!
Went for a wander and got food at a place called the Lemon Tree, had a dal bhat type Nepalise meal which consists of a heap of rice on a metal tray served with lentil soup, veg curry, sweet yoghurt and a spicy sauce, i really like it and even better is its customary with Nepali food that they offer you second helpings, apparently its rude to decline so obviously I'm polite as can be.
Went for a beer at a Tibetan place called the Rice Bowl, its a sit on cusions at low tables place and feels really cool, will maybe return tomorrow.
Nipped back to the hotel, gonna get them to arrange a guide etc. for trekking, there's not much haggling to had on price but I trust them to organise stuff for us, you can quote me on that when our guide has robbed us and left us stranded in the mountains with a family of yetis.
Went to the Lhasa Tibetan Restaurant for tea (yes we've spent the whole day eating and drinking). The place is decorated with prayer flags and has Buddhist chanting music playing, the waiter is funny, we chat and joke with him and he brings me a glass of tongba to try which is a warm cloudy beer made with fermented millet seeds served with the seeds sill in the glass. Just to lower the tone now thought I'd mention I had my first truely Nepali style poo tonight on a squat toilet, not the kind of thing most people would write about but if anyone ever reads this diary i suspect they've given up by now so sod it. They have no paper in the toilet but there's a tap and a jug to use for cleaning yourself, its usual to use your left hand to do this dirty business and that's why Nepalise only use their right hand when eating. That's your cultural toilet fact of the day.
Thursday 17th - Pokhara - World Peace Pagoda
boat trips - 1, cost of meal for 2 in rupees - 135, yeti sightings - 0.5
Thought I spotted a yeti walking through Lakeside East today, an unlikely sighting which did turn out to be a false alarm, just a very hairy man who's probably just got back from a long trek and not shaved.
Went to Devis Falls next, a big powerful waterfall hat has carved a deep vertical hole in the rock. On the way back to lakeside we took a walk through some rice fields where we found medieval fairytale like scenery complete with workers harvesting by hand, thatched huts, schoolchildren skipping by and a little red temple on a ridge overlooking the fields. The path then leads us to a high rope bridge over the river which swung about when we walked on it, Bec didnt want to walk over it but sorry Bec its the only way across!
Dark by the time we got back, spent a bit of time haggling in the tourist shops for a backpack for Bec to use when trekking, had momos and curry for tea then bed to get rested for trekking tomorrow.
Friday 18th - Trekking begins
Nayapul to Ulleri
Met our trekking guide Ram in the morning and chatted before we left, he's been a guide for 20 years so think we're in safe hands. Taxi to the start point along bumpy hilltop roads, i say its a road but its crumbling so much its better described as a collection of potholes linked by occasional strips of tarmac. The walking starts quite easy and gets progressively steeper and steeper. I'm sat right now at the Meera Guesthouse in Ulleri about 2200m high in the hills, its been misty today so no views of the high mountain peaks yet and now the fog has settled in we're literally in the clouds with visibility up to 10-20 metres max. On the route up here we passed through stepped rice fields, little farm settlements, footbridges, crashing waterfalls, men herding donkeys with packs, locals carrying loading baskets on head straps, forests, shrines, children scampering home from school and some awesome awesome views across the hills and valleys. It really is impossible to describe how picturesque and amazing it is up here.
Its very cold now its gone dark so we're wrapped up trying to keep warm. We've met a Dutch girl called Sanne who is very nice, she is in Nepal for 2 months by herself and is doing a 10 day trek to Annapurna Base Camp alone with no guide, very admirable. I told Bec I like the idea of travelling by myself but she doesn't understand why I would want to go without her. I enjoy travelling with Bec for the shared experience and although maybe I'll never do it now I understand why travelling alone would be a different adventure and an experience of real independence.
Enough writing for today, I'm tired.
Trekking Ulleri to Ghorepani
By mid afternoon we reach Hotel Snowland lodge and whilst sat with Bec, Sanne and Ram in the warm sunshine enjoying a some mint tea we watch the clouds drift away to reveal snow topped mountain peaks. We decide to climb Poon Hill to see the sunset, it takes about 45 minutes to the top taking us 3250 metres high and rewarding us with brilliant panoramic views of several of the worlds highest mountain peaks. Its cold up there but really peaceful, the air is the freshest I've ever breathed and the scenery some of the most incredible I've ever seen. We watch the sun go down painting the sky red behind a silhouette of trees and then race back down to the lodge to warm up with a big pot of mint tea. We're sat right now around the chimney stove in the middle of the lodge keeping warm with the family who run the place. Can the day get any more perfect? actually yes, I forgot to mention the mesmerising night sky lit up with thousands and thousands of bright stars, its too cold to stay out for too long but I've never seen anything like it, no light pollution, no air pollution and no cloud tonight, i could stare up there wondering all night but my fingers, toes and other bits were going numb.
Trekking Ghorepani to Ghandruk
snowtopped mountain peaks - 8, tigers encountered - 1, goodbyes - 1, fresh yeti poo - 2?, hours trekking - 8
We will be parting ways with Sanne shortly so we decided to buy her a gift, a bracelet and some woollen sock slipper things to keep her feet warm at Base Camp. I will miss Sanne, it feels like we've known her for 2 weeks not 2 days. When we reach Tadopani we say our goodbyes, Ram gives Sanne some advice and directions and she heads off whilst we carry on to Ghandruk.
There's no other trekkers on this trail, only us, the forest now becomes more like jungle, the vegetation thicker, more sound of life, lots of birds, monkeys swinging through the trees and then completely unexpected Ram hears something and stops staring into the undergrowth "ssshhhh, a tiger, i see it". There's a strange deep growly purring, sounds a bit like a motor ticking over, I got excited but Bec got really nervous and ran on ahead. to calm Becci down Ram tried to persuade her "maybe it wasnt a tiger, there's no tigers around here". It was though.
We reached Ghandruk and wrapped up warm to watch the sunset behind the mountain peaks at the guesthouse with a nice big pot of mint tea.
Trekking Ghandruk to Dhampus
After nearly 9 hours of walking we reached Dhampus on a quiet hill overlooking a valley with views of the mountains. We arrived after walking the last few hours in the afternoon along a hilltop through what I described at the time as ancient enchanted forest. Really quiet apart from chirping birds, cool air with beams of sunlight peeping through between the trees, hardly any other trekkers just the occasional villagers passing by carrying baskets, elves meandering between the trees and druids collecting herbs for their potions.......ok so I made that last bit up but there's a unique magical atmosphere about the place, I really wouldnt be surprised to see a unicorn wander past.
Began the day in Ghandruk walking down to the bottom of the steep valley past several millet farms. We cross a river at the bottom then its a steep climb up the other side of the valley, its hard going and the hot sun has me sweating a lot and lagging behind a bit but Bec seems to finding it no problem. Eventually reaching the top I'm relieved to hear the next hour or so will be flat or as Ram describes it "Nepali flat" which means not too steep. Its a long winding ridge path across the side of a deep valley passing through stepped rice fields and traditional farms. When we stop for our dal bhat for dinner its blazing sunshine with a cool breeze blowing through the valley from the mountains, 8172m high Mount Dhaulagiri is watching us everywhere we go, its never out of sight.
More steep hills into a more wooded area, the going is tough again and kind of follows down, cross bridge, up, down, cross bridge, up. Its a bit more shaded though and around every corner is another amazing view so its not hard to keep motivated. Next we pass through the magical forest as previously mentioned and arrive at Dhampus. Last day of trek tomorrow but Ram has worked out an extended route for us so we can make the most of a good full day before heading back to Pokhara.
Dhampus to Sarangot
Another change of plan, we decided to trek to Sarangot, stay the night there and return to Pokhara tomorrow. From the hilltop of Sarangot there'll be more panoramic mountain scenery as well as a birds eye view over Pokhara and Phewa Tal lake. Even after a decent 9 hours sleep I feel tired today, my legs feel heavy and I feel like I'm trudging along, I was reluctant to go to Sarangot so maybe that's partly why, but I keep telling myself every moment is different, cheer up and be positive. As we get closer to civilization the scenery becomes less impressive but then that's understandable in comparison to the last 5 days.
A group of schoolboys follow us because apparently they think I might be an Indian movie star, I play along with it whilst daydreaming about how a better suntan could blag me into Bollywood. They show Becci a cute little letter they have written in English which says their youth club needs money to buy footballs and equipment, I gave them 50 rupees which maybe they'll spend on sweets but even if they do I still admire their entrepreneurial spirit.
We reach Sarangot at about 3.30pm and although I didn't enjoy todays walk so much maybe it was worth it for the views once we're here, the whole of Pokhara layed out below us surrounded by rolling hills and then the mountain tops in the distance, the views are good but its a shame most of the hill has been concreted over. Ram has brought us to a place called Lake View Lodge which without wanting to be negative again we're not that fussed on so we go for a walk around the corner and find a nice friendly little family run place called Tourist Lodge, sat there with an Everest beer watching the sky turn different shades of red behind the shadowy hills.
Overall the trekking has been brilliant, an amazing experience that I'm hoping to do again but now we've finished I'm keen to get back to the city, Pokhara tomorrow then back to Kathmandu and on to Bhaktapur and Patan, or at least thats the plan anyway........
Yeti news update
I have photographic evidence of a large footprint in the mud. Despite contrary reports it was definitely already there before I came by. Conclusion - probably a yeti
Back in Pokhara
Tibetan refugee camp and monastery
Wow! and interesting day taking in lots of different places. We got back from Sarangot, had some breakfast (Tibetan bread drizzled with honey is our new addiction) then hired bikes to get us about for the day. Bikes were 250 rupees for the whole day so didn't bother haggling the price. We cycled the dusty roads along an obstacle course of pot holes to old town Pokhara where I naively expected to find quaint traditional streets a bit like Kathmandu old town but after cycling around trying to find it we realised we'd already seen it. There's not much in the way of attractions and landmarks but its still interesting to see local life away from the tourist trappings of Lakeside.
I ate some dodgy food from a little fly infested cafe near the bus station, a samosa and some lukewarm chickpea curry, its a miracle I'm still alive to write this! The meal cost 30 rupees so for 24 pence i could afford to eat there everyday for the rest of my life and never work again although this calculation is made much easier by my significantly reduced life expectancy. Becci wisely didn't fancy anything and went hungry all day.
Back down the road we reach the monastery just in time for the afternoon prayer chanting. We are able to go inside with a small handful of other tourists and sit at the sides while they chant. As they chant their mantras two big booming drums are beaten and every few minutes long horns are sounded and bells are rung, the chanting goes louder then softer, faster then slower. There are other goings on which are hard to fathom, its an unusual but very fascinating experience.
Having flogged ourselves in the hot sun cycling up here its now downhill all the way back to Lakeside, wwwwweeeeeeeeee!!! No need to pedal as we bomb down the hills and somehow roll into Lakeside without getting lost. Found a place called the Asian Tea house down an alley off the main strip which must be the last place in Lakeside that has resisted inflating their prices for the tourists, we fill up on pokoras, fried momos and spring rolls, all very tasty and very cheap. Couple of beers at the Rice Bowl then back to pack our bags for Kathmandu in the morning.
Pokhara to Kathmandu to Bhaktapur
tourist bus Pokhara to Kathmandu - 500 rupess, local bus Kathmandu to Bhaktapur - 25 rupees
About 8 hours on the on the bus back to Kathmandu then we wanted to get a local bus to Bhaktapur rather than the easy option of a taxi not just to save money but also for the experience of doing what most tourists don't do. We walked across the city, map in hand to a local bus stop and jumped on what was hopefully the right bus getting in everyone's way with our backpacks. I'm sat literally next to the driver with my face pressed up against the windscreen and Bec is sat nice and comfy a bit further back. The bus is absolutely packed full but it still keeps stopping to let more and more people on. After about an hour we arrive in Bhaktapur and go in search of a guesthouse, we've spent all day travelling and its getting dark so we don't mess about and plump for one of the first places we come across. The staff at the Himalaya Guesthouse seem really friendly, they show us a room which is perfectly good and we agree a price of 1000 rupees, more than we've usually paid but its still only £8 and the room is good and has hot water. As I said the staff are really helpful and friendly and one of them, who calls himself Robin Hood, is hyperactively happy, when I sign the guestbook he says I write like a sparrow(??).
We go for a wander around in the dark, the streets are narrow and paved with red brick, the buildings have wooden shutters on the windows and overhang the narrow streets. The Durbar Square looks eerie and haunted in the dark, there's no street lighting here and Bec is too scared to walk across the spooky looking square with all its old temples and imposing stone statues. Everywhere closes early here, you need to have eaten by 8pm or you'll go hungry so we find somewhere quick then get back to the guesthouse to sup some lemon tea and try some of the curd Bhaktapur is famed for, its a lot tastier than it looks. So off early to bed and we'll explore properly tomorrow.
Bhaktapur and on to Patan
Up and out to explore Bhaktapur by 8am before all the day tripper tourists arrive in a few hours time. We started off in Durbar Square and checked out the impressive buildings, temples and shrines whils having to repeatedly brush off the wannabe guides
"I can give you all the good information"
"I will guide you for only 200 rupees"
"We dont want a guide so tanks but no"
"Right now you are in Durbar Square and infront of you is the palace built in...."
"No! stop following us! We dont want a guide!" etc. etc. etc.
Late afternoon we collect our bags from the guesthouse (along with more hilariously confusing conversation with the genuinely nice but totally insane 'Robin Hood') and head off to the local bus station. local bus for 25 rupees or taxi for 500 rupees? gotta be the bus with the locals, its easy to do and i like seeing a bi more of real everyday life. Just like yesterday the bus is quite crammed but still a fella hangs out of the door shouting "Kathmandu, Kathmandu" and bang the side of the bus for the driver to stop so he can pull more and more people on, its amazing how many people you can actually fit in a bus if you try! Patan is a short journey just south of central Kathmandu, its dark by the time we get there which makes the task of finding a guesthouse a bit more difficult, we find a place near the centre called Cafe de Patan, they show us a room by candlelight due to a powercut just as we arrived, it looks fine in the dark and we're not too fussy anyway, just glad to find a room. Tomorrow is the last full day then we fly home on Sunday.
Walked to an area called Pulchouk to find some cafes and restaurants we'd seen on our map, it seems a more affluent area with places serving European food, a popular place for expats apparantly. We have a cup of tea and a snack in the most typically Nepali style place we could find, a place called 'New Orleans'. The bill for snacks is more than any of our meals since we've been here. We check out a couple of places to come back and eat at tonight but I complain to Bec that they are too nice and don't serve enough Nepalise food, I'm like a reverse snob, I'd rather eat in a dark little cafe where I cant understand the menu but with it being hard to find places to eat in Patan we end up at a place called Yala Layeku Kitchen overlooking Durbar Square, a bit of a Nepali themed tourist restaurant but a good compromise. We had a Newari set meal which turns out is dal bhat on posh plates, its good food but doesn't beat the dal bhat we were eating up in the mountains. I was going to say its pricey but Bec reminds me its about £15 for a meal for 2 including beers and quite rightly tells me not to get hung up about it on our last night. By about 9pm nowhere is open and nothing is going on so there's not much else to do except go to bed.
Paws for thought
For all the stray dogs on the streets you'd think there would be canine chaos with barking, biting, chasing, fighting and pooing. Infact the dogs just calmly mooch about or sleep on the roadside. Tonight I watched 5 dogs casually strolling around together occasionally stopping to chat, looked like they were whispering at times, maybe planning something. A doggy revolution is brewing, the scabby dogs are plotting to take Kathmandu.....
Haggling our way through Patan
Today we fly home so the morning was spent emptying my wallet of all remaining cash. We haggled hard for wood carvings, bought woolley hats, masala tea and incense. Got some dinner at a place just outside the city gates, turns out to be another one of these 'posh' westernised places. There's a group of Nepali teenage girls there, rich kids spending daddy's money and talking to each other in English. I suppose its naive and a bit ignorant to think that everyone here is poor, where there are poor people there will always be rich people too!
So the adventure ends in the afternoon with a taxi to the airport.
We've had a brilliant 2 weeks, have really enjoyed doing everything off our own bat and having the freedom to turn up somewhere with a backpack and change our plans as we go along depending on where we fancy staying. The trekking was the highlight and my only regret is that I would like to stay longer!
link to some photos on flickr