Here we met a young guide who showed us around for a few hours explaining all the sites. Many of the buildings dated back to the 12th century and are still used today as places of worship for Hindus and Buddhists alike. We visited a building built in 1757 which is the home of today's Living Goddess, Kumari. This is a young girl who after passing several tests as a baby was named the living Goddess of Nepal. She is forbidden to touch the ground outside her home so when she leaves she has to be carried. Once she reaches puberty she is then able to return to a "normal, mortal" life but must remain a virgin forever. She lives in a building in Durbar Square and occasionally will make appearances in a gold framed window but unfortunately we did not get to see her this day. Another building we visited is known as the temple that is built from one single tree and supposed to have healing powers. People will rub a wooden post inside to avoid getting sick or to cure them from an illness or pain. I had Clint rub it good (to avoid getting sick again). We were amazed at all the intricate wood carvings and were especially intrigued with the Kama Sutra carvings on many of the temples. In Christianity, sex and religion/worship are so very separate and we would never see images of people engaged in sex in our churches but in the Hindu religion sex is sacred and is depicted on many of their temples. On our tour we also got to sit in the same spot that the Dali Lama sits when he meditates with other monks of this area. We also sat under the tree that Buddha himself apparently sat under and meditated for 10 years (Nepal is the birthplace of Buddha).
Here we took a photo with two Sadhus, Hindu holy men (see photo). It was great having a guide as it taught many things about Hindu and Buddhist religion and also about the history of Kathmandu. The rest of our time in Kathmandu we ate on rooftop restaurants, people watched, and sipped on Nepal Chai Tea, resting up for our tough trek ahead of us.
The morning we left Kathmandu our trekking guide, Ganesh, met us at our hotel and brought us to the bus station. We took an old, small, run down bus (like all of them here in Nepal) for 8 hours to Pokhara. Pokhara is a town located right on a lake with the spectacular Himalayan mountains in the background. It is where the majority of the Annapurna treks start from. After gathering needed supplies (sleeping bags, hat, gloves, scarves) from one of the many outfitting stores we enjoyed a nice dinner and went to bed early. The following morning, after a good breakfast, we headed out with our guide, Ganesh and our porter, Krishna, to the bus stop.
It was a local bus that was completely jam packed with people so we happily climbed on top and sat with the luggage and several other trekkers for the 2 hour journey to Nayapul. This was a good way to see the views and breathe in the fresh mountain air. When we were nearly to our destination, our guide realized that our required trekking permits had fallen out of his back pocket during the ride. We were all concerned because it was Saturday so we would be unable to order new ones and we could not trek without these permits. Luckily, it was only a short delay. Ganesh managed to get the permit numbers from the company in Kathmandu and the check point authorities simply called their office to verify the numbers. Luckily we had brought our passports along even though Ganesh had told us not to because they were also required. We started our first day a little later that planned but all was well. I carried a notebook with us during the trek and took short journals each day so you can refer to the "Annapurna Trek" blog if you are interested in day-to-day notes. Overall, the trek was amazing! There were definitely times, I think by day 2 or 3, when we thought to ourselves: what were we thinking?...we are 2 city slickers from flat Minnesota what made us think we could climb the Himalayas for 12 days! But as the days went on we got stronger and adjusted to the altitude. We were reminded of the power of the human body, mind and spirit! I discovered that I have the knees of a 90 year old woman and that walking downhill can be incredibly painful. In fact, my knees were worse than Clint's who just had 2 knee surgeries. Yikes! We were lucky to be trekking during the start of low season. The weather was still good for the most part and there were not many other trekkers compared to the very crowded high season. It made for a very quiet and peaceful journey. The guesthouses we stayed in were basic but comfortable and the food was actually better than expected throughout our trip. Coming back from our 12 days we felt stronger and healthier. We had pain, altitude sickness, exhaustion and incredibly sore muscles but all of this made the experience even more empowering in the end. We did it!
The first thing we did when we returned to Pokhara was take hot showers, shave, and drop off our dirty laundry!
We actually had 10.5kg (23 lbs) of dirty clothes! Next we checked e-mail. It was nice to have a break from technology for a while but we were also excited to hear from friends and family. Unfortunately, the news I heard from my mom via e-mail was heart wrenching. She told me that she had cancer and was having surgery that day to remove a tumor in her tongue. To be away from her and family during this tough time was very emotional for me! My first instinct was to jump on a plane and come home but after talking to my family they told me that that was the last thing my mom wanted from me at this time and that they would keep me updated on news as it came. For the next several days I stayed as close to a computer as I could. Clint showered me with hugs and positivity which was what I needed. I heard that surgery went well and after a few days I was able to Skype with my mama. Thank God for the internet which at least make me feel a little closer to home. Clint and I plan to take one day at a time and continue to send my mom lots of love and strength from afar. If needed, we may come home early from our trip...but we are hoping the worst is behind us and my mom and Ron will be able to meet us in Argentina in August as planned.
After our trek, Clint and I stayed in Pokhara for a few days and relaxed. We got caught up on e-mails and stayed connected with family. We then booked a trip to Royal Chitwan National Park for 3 days. The bus ride which was supposed to take 5 hours ended up taking 10. We were stuck for 4 hours after protesters blocked the road we were on. Apparently, a few days before someone was killed and people were blocking the road to get compensation. The delay got a bit long but the weather was nice and it allowed for good people watching. This is also not uncommon in Nepal so we were not surprised. We arrived in Chitwan at 5pm and after getting settled into our room and eating for the first time that day we went to a Cultural Program in town. It turned out to be a great program of live local Tharu music and dance. The following morning we awoke at 530am to begin our full day of activities. We started the day with a canoe ride down the Rapti river. The canoe was made from a single hollowed out tree.
We sat and enjoyed the views as two men stood at each end of the canoe and pushed us along using long bamboo sticks. We would have had this tour all to ourselves but a guy from India asked to tag along. We were totally fine with this until we realized how ridiculously annoying he was. He was one of those guys who talks constantly and tells crazy off the wall stories trying to convince you that they are true. He showed us a tiny scratch on his arm and said it was from a Tiger. Then he said that by looking at Clint's hairline (I had just cut his hair) he was sure Clint's mom fed him Tiger meat as a young kid. He also said that Americans are so big and tall because we are fed Polar Bear and Whale meat...we just don't know it because the mother's keep it all a secret. I could go on about his stories! Anyway, during the canoe ride we saw many species of birds and even a couple crocodiles. After the river ride we took a 2 hour walking tour through the jungle. The large animals in this area are Rhinos, Tigers, Sloth Bears, Deer, and Elephants. During the hike the guides were very cautious and told us to stay close to them. The explained to us what to do if an animal attacks and assured us that they were there to protect us. At first we thought they were trying to scare us in order to make the walking tour even more exciting but after hearing stories from other people we think they were actually serious. During the walk we saw wild peacocks, bugs, many birds, and a lot of animal prints and other evidence from Rhinos, Tigers, and Bear. We were not expecting to see much else but toward the end of our tour the guide stopped us because he heard animals running and thought it was horses. To the guides surprise, and ours, we saw a mother Rhino and her baby running across a field.
It's not as common to see Rhinos on the walking tour so we were lucky.
On our way back to our hotel we stopped at the river where the elephants were bathing. Our guide said we could bathe with them so we went for it. This was a crazy experience! It's a bit intimidating to be sitting on a huge animal in the middle of a river that has crocodiles in it. The elephant kept moving from side to side making in impossible to stay on her.
After many falls into the river and climbs back up on top of her we decided we had enough fun and let her bathe by herself. After we took showers and a short nap our next adventure was a jungle safari on Elephant back. This turned out to be a really cool experience and far exceeded our expectations. We were on elephant back with another couple for nearly 3 hours. The ride was very bumpy and a bit uncomfortable but it was worth it. We actually saw 6 Rhinos and got within a few feet of 3 of them, including a mother with her baby and a huge male. It was wild! We were told that some of the Rhinos are very comfortable being around elephants which made it easier to get so close to them.
We also saw lots of deer (2 different species) that were mostly bedded down in the underbrush of the jungle, as well as more peacocks, and wild chickens. The combination of the river, tall grasslands, and the dense jungle with mountain views in the background made for some fantastic scenery. We also rode through the town the Chitwan on our elephant. The town is very unique and is primarily inhabited by the Tharu people who came from India in the 1960s. The homes are made of mud, bamboo and grass roofs and nearly everyone has livestock (goats, cows, chickens) living right there next to their homes. They use horse drawn carriages and no one seemed to be phased that there were huge elephants walking through the streets.
The next morning, before getting on another bus to Kathmandu, we visited the Elephant Breeding Center. Here we got to see TWIN 6 month old elephant brothers. Twins are very rare with elephants so this was a treat.
A few of the young elephants came to the fence where we were standing so we got to feed them grass and pet them. We also got to see a 17 day old elephant. So little! So cute! She was near her mother and 2 year old sister. She also came to the fence but when I touched her hairy head she got spooked and clumsily ran to her mom to nurse. Adorable! It was a little sad to see the mothers and some of the older baby elephants chained up. Our guide says that most are taken to the jungle to graze daily but the babies have to wait until they are strong enough to do this. We were also told that instead of bringing a male elephant into the breeding center to breed they bring the females out to the jungle and usually they are impregnated by a wild elephant, not a domesticated one. Other times the wild male elephants will charge through the electric fence at the breeding center and do his duty there.
After the breeding center we made our way to Kathmandu on another long uncomfortable bus ride. Our trekking guide, Ganesh, met us at the bus stop and guided us to our hotel that he recommended. He then invited us to his home to share dinner with his family. We went out and bought fruit to bring to his wife and then was picked up by Ganesh by 630pm. We had the pleasure of meeting his beautiful wife and sister in law as well as his two son (ages 11 and 9). They provided us with delicious BBQ chicken, curried goat, and Dahl Bat (the typical Nepali food of rice, lentils, curry vegetables and chili salsa).
We ate the Napali way; with our hands and enjoyed a few beers with Ganesh. We felt honored to be invited into his home. For the last couple days in Kathmandu Clint and I bummed around, worked on this looooong blog, shopped, and enjoyed our last of Nepali meals. Yum! We have really thoroughly enjoyed Nepal and can see ourselves returning to this area to explore more of Nepal as well as Tibet and Bhutan. We would recommend Nepal to anyone. We always felt safe, the Nepali people were so great, the natural beauty is stunning, it's relatively cheap, the food is great, and it is full of unique culture. Come see for yourself!
Tomorrow (June 5th) we fly out of here and head to a new continent, Africa! We take 3 flights from here to Nairobi, Kenya and will arrive early on June 6th. We are planning to stay with a friend's parents in Nairobi which we are really looking forward to. We can't wait for new views, culture, food, and wildlife safaris! We will be in Kenya during the Wildebeest migration so we are lucky! Until next time...For future travelers to Nepal:
If you are looking for a reliable company in Nepal to use for trekking and other excursions we highly recommend using:
Asahi Treks and Expedition LTD.
P.O. Box Thamel Kathmandu Nepal.
Contact: Ganesh Adhikari (our guide) at: Heroganesh@hotmail.com He would be happy to customize a trek to fit your needs and would even pick you up from the airport and book accommodations for you if needed.
We arrived at Kathmandu airport to nice, cool air, a welcomed break from the hot, humid, SE Asia weather. We were corralled into a crowded triage area where officials checked travelers for swine flu (asked where they came from, took temperatures, etc.) We got our tourist visas and headed out to the crazy, chaotic outdoors to find a taxi. It was this time that a hail storm started. We were surprised to see this and hoping this was not going to be the typical weather during our stay in Nepal. Luckily it was not. Our taxi took us to our hotel in the center of Thamel. Nearly immediately we met with a tour company representative who gave us information about Himalayan mountain treks. We were not planning to book through a Kathmandu company but after doing our research, looking at photos and reading reviews we decided to go for it. We had a day and a half in Kathmandu before we would head to Pokhara to start our 12 day trek. We enjoyed exploring the loud, busy city. The streets are very narrow filled with heavy traffic, bike rickshaws and lined with handcraft and jewelry shops in old brick and wood buildings. The smell of incense and curry is everywhere. The people are so friendly and greet you with smiles and "Namaste" as you pass them. The majority of women have their noses pierced and a lot of the older women have their septum pierced as well. They wear beautiful, colorful Nepali outfits made of silk or satin accented with jewelry and a red dot or tika on their forehead. They are beautiful! Many of the men wear traditional Nepali hats (Topi ) with tika on their foreheads as well. In addition to walking the streets Clint and I also took a bike rickshaw to Buddhist and Hindu temples and to a place called Durbar Square.