A quick jaunt around Nepal
Trip Start Feb 26, 2006
48Trip End Nov 28, 2006
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"....I'm going to Kathmandu. Up to the mountains where I'm going to..."
-Bob Seger, If I ever get out of here
We spent a week in Kathmandu and the surrounding valley, where we witnessed an incredible Hindu ritual taking place at the Pashupatinath temple complex next to the holy Bagmati River. While only Hindus are allowed within the temple, we were permitted to explore the rest of the grounds, which included the funerary and crematory sites adjacent to the river, as well as the nearby hills where we encountered Sadhus (Hindu holy men who have given up their family to devote their life to providing spiritual guidance to others). According to Hindu ritual, the body of a deceased person must be dipped in the holy river to cleanse it, then it must be cremated, followed by the spreading of the ashes into the river. All this is to be done on the same day that the person passes away. While we were there, a family had gathered around a deceased person laying by the holy Bagmati River. It was both disturbing and fascinating to see them dip the feet of the body in the river. As they waited for other family members to arrive they said their good-byes, which included uncovering the face to take some last portrait shots of the deceased...a bit eerie since the eyes were still wide open. It seemed like a busy day on the river, as almost all of the cremation platforms further down the river were in use.
Although we've been on safaris in Africa, the Royal Chitwan National Park offers a unique experience with safaris being done on elephant-back...a must-see for us. The land in the Terai region of southern Nepal was once the private hunting grounds of the Royal family, but after having been converted to a National park, the only people on safaris in this area now are tourists armed with cameras. Trudging through the muddy, dense forest on an elephant was a bit nerve-wracking, especially when our elephant had to go down a slippery slope or through a deep puddle and I wasn't sure if the elephant (and us) would make it...all the branches smacking us in the face weren't pleasant either. But it was an interesting and rewarding experience, and we were not disappointed because we saw several endangered one-horned Asian rhinos. We also visited an elephant breeding centre in the area, where we helped bathe elephants in the river and fed baby elephants.
The scenic town of Pokhara is a popular tourist destination as it's the starting point of many treks, particulary to the Annapurna Mountains. Although we weren't interested in doing any treks (most take at least 2 weeks), we still wanted to see the Annapurnas, and Pokhara offers spectacular views of them. We rented a rowboat and paddled around the lake for a nice view, and then hiked up a hill on the other side of the lake for an even better view.
After all the mucking around on a motorbike that we did through SE Asia, we thought we'd test our skills in the mountains. We went up, up, and away - to the peak of Sarangkot, overlooking Pokhara on one side and mountain ranges on the other. What had been described to us as an easy drive turned into an epic ride! Half way up, the paved road turned into a bumpy dirt road that snaked its way up the edge of the mountain, and as we neared the top, the engine kept cutting out because the tank was so low on gas. After pushing the bike the last few hundred metres, we finally made it to the top! So how did we make it down? Well, since we were at the top of a mountain, we let gravity do the work and ended up coasting all the way down on the bike! Lucky for us, when we got to the bottom, there was just enough gas to make it back to the rental shop.
Nepal has a reputation for dramatic scenery and it lives up to it. Throughout our time in Nepal we were continually amazed by our surroundings. Even as we left for India it didn't disappoint us, as we got one last glimpse of the Himalayas from the plane.