First impressions of Nepal

Trip Start Jun 09, 2005
Trip End Jun 08, 2006

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Monday, July 4, 2005

We fly out of Delhi with mixed feelings of sadness to leave the beauty of India behnid us but also some relief to move on somewhere hopefully less congested and polluted. At the airport it is strange to bump into Alex Norfolk, the son of the Canadian lady that we visited earlier. It seems already that the world is a smaller place.

The flight with Jetair takes only 1hr10mins and although our view of the Himalaya is mainly masked by clouds, Rachel enjoys her two servings of chicken curry served with rice and a Kingfisher beer so much that she hardly notices. It feels very satisfing eating meat again without the fear of food poisoning.

As the plane descends into Kathmandu airport I am surprised to see a green city with terraced fields below us. We whizz through customs and despite fears of spending the day applying for a visa, it takes only 5 minutes. Before we know it, we are in a taxi riding towards the Ambassador hotel.

This is my first trip to Nepal. Kathmandu is a strange fifteen minutes ahead in time of Delhi and perhaps it is true to say that this is true not just in the literal sense. The city appears to be far more western and John is amazed to see the changes that have occured over the past 13 years.

On first impressions, although the streets are still busy with cars, everything seems to be a LITTLE more cleaner, fresher, cooler, quieter and slower. There are a few street stalls, but there are also many cafes serving anything from black forest gateauxes to some of the tastiest udon noodles I've ever eaten. Alert policemen holding armed rifles or ferocious looking wooden sticks can be seen almost everywhere as are women, with most wearing jeans and T-shirts. We soon notice that there are very few westerners here. Maybe this is because the monsoon season has arrived which makes this time of the year the off peak season or maybe it is due to the current political situation which includes the murder of several members of the Royal family, the dissolved parliament and the Maoist muders and kidnapping of locals (no tourists to date, so we should be safe).

We relax in Kathmandu for a few days with a little sightseeing. This is the meeting point for our overland trip which has been booked with the Exodus group. During this time we apply for a group visa for our trip through Tibet and the silk road in China.

One of the first places we visit in Kathmandu is Durbar square. This is the cultural and spiritual heart of the city. Busy alleyways open into large squares which contain intricately carved wooden temples of various sizes. We sit at the top of one of the pagoda type temples and watch the world go by. Busy traffic intersects in the centre of this paved area and many street vendors set up their vegetable or momo stalls. We join in with the locals and tuck into some delicious fresh momos. These steamed vegetarian dumplings are served in special biodegradable bowls made out of leaves and come with a hot spicy sauce for less than 20p.

The next day we share a taxi with an Australian girl (Catherine, who we met at the hotel)to Bodhnath. In an narrow alleyway I catch my first glimpse of the largest Stupa in Nepal and I get a fright to see two huge blues eyes staring down 38m from above. The stupa has a white/ yellow circular base which is surrounded by many prayer wheels. There are several tiered levels rising up towards a white square tower which has two large eyes painted on wall. Colourful prayer flags flutter in the breeze against the blue sky as we circle in a clockwise direction. We also enter a small buddhist temple which is painted in the traditional red and green. It houses a prayer wheel which rises upto the ceiling and we see another framed photo of the beaming Dalai Lama.

We walk a further mile to Pashupatinath. Here there are hundreds of temples and monuments. This is a place of pilgrimage for many Hindus and although many areas have restricted access we could still walk to the Bagmati river and observe at close hand the ghats. Here it is hot and smokey and a crowd of people watch in silence as dead bodies wrapped in orange cloth are brought forward by mourning families and laid onto wooden funeral pyres. Offerings and prayers are conducted before the bodies are lite. They burn for over three hours after which the remaining hot ashes are washed away into the river.

In the evening we return to the hotel for our first meeting with our group. Outside the hotel is our Mercedes truck. It seems gianourmous with the flap down windows reaching the height of the first floor of the hotel. The truck will take us from Kathmandu across the Tibetan plateux, through northern China and following the great wall it will eventually end in Beijing. Our guides introduce themselves as Nick from Essex and Helen from New Zealand and provide us with some housekeeping and safety tips for our trip. There are 13 of us in our group, it is hard to remember anything about anyone but we have 4 girls and 9 boys, 1 Irish from Galway (who naturally knows a friend of our friend Deidre Lyons), 2 students under 20, 1 professor above 60 (I think), 1 Dane, 2 Scottish, 1 American, 2 teachers and 1 other couple.

Nick tells us about our first week which includes bungee jumping or canyoning (both optional - thank goodness says John), crossing the Nepal/Tibet border (an interesting way to spend our third wedding anniversary) and reaching Everest base camp. John and I have been travelling for just over three weeks and it is hard to imagine what is going to happen in the next six weeks ahead of us.
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jddj on

Keep up the great reports
Everytime you leave me looking eagerly forward to receiving your next post. Excellent writing, great photos... It is the closest thing to being there with you without abandoning the daily chores of this (far more boring) life you have managed to leave behind for a year. Keep enjoying, and take care!


Juan Diego

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