01 Mai My wonders of Nepal
I always had the longing for a place I had never been before: NEPAL.
The country in between Tibet, China and India with some of the most amazing mountains in the world.
Since I made very good experiences with g adventures I was looking for their Nepal offers and then I found this trip created in cooperation with National Geographic.
To say it beforehand: This trip blew my mind and showed me that Nepal has more interesting sides to it that I didn’t know before.
Just after reviewing my pictures I realized what a full-packed itinerary we had. Would I have travelled solo, I would never have explored so many things in the same time!
Of course group travels are always a risk, but I had a really lovely group of interesting and awesome women from different countries (Australia, US, Norway and Ireland) and the best guide we could’ve asked for (Thanks Puskar!).
If you don’t like the extended version of my travel report that is coming, here is my short top 5 Nepal highlights-list:
- Chitwan National Park: a place to adore if you like nature, animals, nice people and a little bit of luxury
- Neydo Monastry: an experience of a lifetime. The astrologer (see day 8) said I would be a spiritual person and at this place it really felt strangly right.
- Watching Nepalese Mountains: Himalaya, Annapurna… it is breathtaking one mountain higher than the other and there are so many of them!! Crazy! And I guess I have to come back to trek in this stunning area.
- Paragliding. Something I never thought I would do in my life. Flying like an eagle in the presence of Annapurna mountains, Fewa lake and accompanied by real eagles.
- The food and the people: I met really nice people, e. g. when a family invited us for the nepalese new years or in Chitwan people came up to us and just laughed because they were happy to see us. I love food and nepalese food is awesome: momos (nepales dumplings), Dhal Bhat and really great western breakfast.
So here is my day by day report on my nepalese adventure.
Landed in Kathmandu, got my visa that I had pre-organised online and I just had to pay and got it at the airport. I was really worried before hand if this would work, but in my case it worked just fine and I had to pay 24 Euros. I only had 30Euros so they gave me 6 US $ back. After I had my luggage (it took a while because there were a lot of Nepali that work in Abu Dhabi, that brought kind of there whole household). Luckily the transport to the hotel was all organised, so I got picked up and brought to the Kathmandu Guest House (KGH is an Nepalese Hotel institution).
My whole group was already waiting there for me. After a short group meeting with a trip briefing we went to our first group dinner at the Krishnarpan Restaurant. Here a 6 course nepali meal was waiting for us. This restaurant is one of the best places for traditional Nepali food. The atmosphere and the food were just great! The service was extremely friendly and took good care of us. The menu was presented to each of us with our own name and the nepalese date. After that really long travel and this giant dinner I was falling asleep right away in my bedroom that I shared with the best room mate: Tash!
Unfortunately day two was a rainy day. But at least it helped to clean the air of Kathmandu city. First we enjoyed our first breakfast in KGH. After that we visited the Boudhanath Stupa. It is the largest stupa in Nepal and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet. Therefore it is the center of Tibetan culture in Kathmandu/Nepal. Here at Boudhanath I realized for the first time the destruction of the 2015 earthquake. The stupa used to be topped with a square tower bearing the omnipresent Buddha eyes. Since the tower was missing there were also no prayer flags. We just saw construction workers on the top, that rebuilt the stupa.
We went clockwise around and could observe the people: praying, rolling the prayer wheels on which was carved the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum. Om is a sacred syllable, Mani means jewel, Padme stands for lotus flower and Hum represents the spirit of enlightment. When a Buddhist spins the prayer wheel it is said, that it has the same effect as reciting the mantra.
The destruction and the weather gave me slightly sad feelings. But it was impressive how many people were there to follow their religious rituals. Therefore I still could feel the importance of this place.
Afterwards we drove to Bhaktapur, a city 13 km east of Kathmandu. The Durbar Square of Bhaktapur is one of three in Kathmandu Valley, and all of them are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This medieval city-state was obtained as the best preserved. Unfortunately the 2015 earthquake has caused a lot of devastation that you can see with naked eye in the streets of the city. It has three major squares full of towering temples.
One of the major attractions is Lu Dhowka (The Golden Gate) that is said to be the most beautiful and richly moulded specimen of its kind in the entire world. The door is surmounted by a figure of the Hindu goddess Kali and Garuda (mythical griffin) and attended by two heavenly nymphs. It is embellished with monsters and other Hindu mythical creatures. The gate opens to the inner courtyards of the Royal Palace. Continuing on we got to the main entrance to Mul Chowk, the oldest part of the palace and the site of Taleju Temple, built in 1553. Also damaged in the earthquake 2015, it is still one of the most sacred temples that only Hindus are allowed to enter, but we could still have a glance at some of the wonderful woodcarving (photography is prohibited so no pictures).
What I liked most about Bhaktapur was the pedestrian charme that it had still kept because of its llittle traffic and therefore much better air than in Kathmandu.
After those cultural highlights we drove back to Kathmandu where we visited SASANE the Sisterhood of Survivors project. The project is about human trafficking since it is a huge issue in Nepal, with over 7000 women and girls trafficked out to India each year. Shamrakshak Samuha Nepal or “SASANE” (meaning “Let’s protect ourselves” in Nepali) was established in 2008, by female trafficking survivors, for other female survivors and those at risk of being trafficked or re-trafficked. So those fascinating women welcomed us in their house. First we had to wash our hands because they wanted us to show how to prepare momos: little vegetable- or meat- filled dumplings that are kind of the official nepali dish. You get them anywhere! So we tried to produce some momos on our own. For sure ours were looking like little momo accidents. Afterwards they served us some more tasty food before we heard more about the project while having one of the best nepalese teas on our trip! I think what they are doing is great and very important work for women rights! If you want to help or just get more information, I recommand the planeterra website.
Back in KGH we had the rest of the day freetime. A tour mate and I went to an Ayurvedic massage ($16) at KGH. Probably I will never forget this one, but not because it was so great. To make it short, Jane in I just called it the “refrigerator massage” afterwards since it was so cold in this place that relaxation was just impossible. Sorry KGH but this surely can be improved.
Some of the girls and I went out for dinner. On tripadvisor we found the recommandation for Rosemary Kitchen. Going there at night was a bit scary, because the little street didn’t have much light. I just had a simple dish with vegetables and rice because we had already eaten so much throughout the day. The food was alright, but we have eaten better! But here I tried “Gorkha Beer” for the first time and it is really good nepali beer.
Mount Everest I’m coming! Maybe one day in my life I will trek to Everest base camp in Nepal, but probably I will never be on top of the highest mountain. So I just had to go on a Mountain flight. We got up really early and hoped for clear weather. And indeed it was really perfect. With a small plane (Yeti Airlines), where everybody got a window seat we flew straight to the majestic mountains: the panorama really took my breath away. We flew along the spine of the Himalaya, and we saw many high mountains before we came to the Mt. Everest. It was quite an inspiring feeling and let my wish to trek one day within those mountains grew! After about an hour we landed again in Kathmandu, in fact a little rough (maybe because the pilot also got champagne when we had reached Mt. Everest) but still safe and sound.
After Breakfast in KGH we packed our stuff and headed to Pharping. Since Kathmandu valley is full with religious and cultural places we had to made some stops on the way. In the western part of Kathmandu is a small hill called “Swayambhunath” located. This hill presents itself with a collection of stupas, shrines, chaityas, idols and statues that portrays work of architecture dating back to 400 AD to 750 AD. All over the place are a lot of monkeys, that’s why they also call it “monkey temple”. The main stupa has a large hemispherical structure. Above this is a cubical structure with eyes painted on it, that overlook the city of Kathmandu.The view from atop was great, the valley seemed to be covered with prayer flags and on top of the hill was an religiously active going-on. It was very exciting to watch all those people on this sunny day.
It was the Tibetan New Years and we were invited by a nepalese Tibetan family to join their festivities. This was really a great event. This family was so full of love and satisfaction that I could really feel it. First we made some traditional rituals like throwing rice and eating flower. That really kinda broke the ice. They had prepared traditional little dishes for us. Some were really tasty others were „interesting“: yak butter tea or wine soup really have special taste. They were a family that cared for the traditional way of tibetan weaving. They cared for a project that taught young tibetan women to learn the weaving the traditional way so they could make a living with it. Really great insight experience of Tibetan nepalese life.
After that we took off for Neydo Monastery. Our guest house was on the area of the Monastery and it gave me an instant feeling of peace. Maybe also because there were no other tourists. The rooms were very simple but still totally ok. Through out the day we didn’t have electricity but it didn’t really bother me. We walked to the Monastery and found little monks playing soccer or something like boccia but just with rubber bands. Those kids impressed me, because they didn’t have the perfect soccer shoes not even a great ball, but still they seemed to be very happy! When sun set we met in the lounge where we had power and wifi. We drank tea and chatted and waited for our dinner. This evening we played „2 truths & 1 lie“. A great game to get to know each other better.
Before we went to bed we were all a little afraid that it would be a cool night, so the guest house organised for everyone another blanket. And I slept great!
The next morning we got up at 5 am to attend the morning prayer session of the monks. At the beginning it was really dark and cold in the Monastery. We were dressed with lots of warm clothes. The little monks didn’t seem to need that. The ceremony was really an impressive mix of chanting, drumming and reading. After about an hour we walked up the stairs to see the sunrise over the valley. It was beautiful and just fit my feelings perfectly. Back in the guest house we got the perfect breakfast. Eggs the way we liked them, porridge, pancakes, toast and fruits. After breakfast we went for a little trek to the village, to get to know the local life. Pushkar bought some really good sweet and salty pastries that were even enough for our long drive that day to the riverside lodge.
We drove about 4 to 5 hourse that day, mostly along a river. Driving in Nepal is really a bit different, there is a lot of honking and a bit risky passing of cars while street marks are missing.
Summit River Lodge at Brigand’s Bend you only reach by walking over a huge rope bridge to get to the other side of the river Trisuli. Pushkar had organised some people that carried our heavy backpacks for us. First I felt bad, but in the end they can earn at least some money with it. On the other side of the river we still had to walk about 15 minutes to reach the lodge. A really neat and peaceful place. After we all got our rooms, we met back for a hike in the area. Since it was really warm I got my shorts out, put nobite on and had my sunglasses handy. The hike began really steap but afterwards we had a great view over the river. We walked along rice fields, passed some local people that where interested in chatting with us, we stopped at a little goat farm and saw a waterfall. I really started to breath again. Neydo and this place where such a good deed after the tough air situation in the bigger cities of Nepal.
After our return, a nice shower and a little rest we met again for dinner. Before it started we were sitting by the nice fire place. I met some Austrian people that would start an Annapurna Trek the next day. Then our great Chinese dinner was ready. Aside I got an Everest beer. Really good but very strong nepalese beer!
Another 2-3 hours of driving was announced for this day, but first we had to cross the rope bridge again. It seemed easier this time.
We were heading for Chitwan National Park: Chitwan is meaning “the Heart of the Jungle”. When I was planning my trip, Chitwan was the drawcard to come to Nepal for me. It is famous for being one of the best wildlife viewing national parks in Asia. The big Five of Chitwan are: One-Horned Rhino, Asian Elephant, Royal Bengal Tiger, Gharial and Sloth Bears.
I was really thrilled to finally go there and it really turned out to be my highlight of the trip.
On our way to Chitwan the streets get more and more bumpy but then a last curve and the feel good luxury time began.
We were welcomed by the hotel manager of Bahari Lodge and a lot of other staff members. It was warmer down here (it’s only a few kilometers to the Indian border), so we got the perfect welcome drink: a self made cool lemonade. The hotel manager said, that for the time we would be here, they would treat us as royalties. At that moment I felt a little uncomfortable with that. But very quick I just relaxed and enjoyed the lovely athmosphere of this place!
After we had a look in our awesome appartments we met back at the turtle deck and had our first 4 course lunch by the pool. The food was great, the service was awesome and I was so looking forward to the following on the itinerary: the Jeep safari. They had asked us, if we would like to do a little bit of jungle walking, but besides me everyone was afraid so I had to give in to the majority.
Bahari Lodge is located on the edge of the park away from the crowds at Saurah. Since 2012 the government stopped the luxury lodges from operating inside the park. I think this is acceptable.
So we ferried across the river that was separating the lodge from the park and there we got into the Jeep. Vineeta and Jittu were our experienced Jungle guides. Instantly we saw a peacock, some deer and a lot of birds. We got deeper and deeper in the dense jungle: tall grass, parts are like the Everglades in Florida, rivers… We had to pass a lot of registration points of the army, which are important to prevent poaching. Wildlife spotting is of course a bit like fishing, one day you are lucky the other you aren’t. Maybe because of the nocturnal hour, we were quite lucky: we saw different kinds of monkey, aligators, different types of deer, an elephant and also a rhino. After about 2 hours it got late and colder and colder so I was happy about all the wildlife we saw, but I was also looking forward to a warm shower and a great dinner.
The dinner was again 4 courses: classical nepales dishes. I remember that the lights turned off several times, but it didn’t bother us too much anymore. We were already pretty used to it. Pushkar had bought nepalese rum for the night so we drank rum coke and we had again a fabulous night.
Before heading back to my little cabin, we were sitting in the library where we had Wifi. We were all updating friends and family, but we also were talking, e. g. about the american primary elections in the U.S. and a lot of other topics. So we liked to call it our “Quality time”.
When I wanted to go to bed a little golf car was waiting outside and the driver asked me if he could drive me to my cabin, first I said no, but then I decided to enjoy myself and not to resist any longer. When I entered my room, my room mate Natasha was already thrilled and told me that they had put a hot-water bottle in our beds. Of course it was a little chilly at night but I still had to laugh. They really made me feel like a royalty!
That night a little gecko got into our room. They are actually very cute but they make annoying sounds. So we called “911” and the staff saved us from the gecko. I slept very very good that night and I was looking forward to another day in Chitwan-heaven.
On day 2 we drove to the village nearby. We visited the Tharu museum to learn more about the local tribe. Tharu is an indigenous ethnic group of the Terai region. The Tharu define themselves as a people of the forest. In Chitwan, they have lived in the forests for hundreds of years practicing a short fallow shifting cultivation. After the museum we visited a school and it was awesome to meet those young Tharus that were so friendly and excited to meet us. Some girls gave us flowers, some boys were singing the nepalese national anthem, another guy was showing us his singing and entertaining talents. It was a great start of the day with local people. After that we headed back to the lodge because our next dates were waiting: the Elephants.
We were not riding them, but we made “Elephant sandwiches” that we could feed to them. Jittu was explaining something about the connection between the elephants and their mahouds. Even if I already touched an elephant before in Thailand, I had completely forgotten how crazy it feels to touch their skin! First you think “yack” but after a few seconds when they look at you with their lovely eyes you are seduced. It is amazing how much security this majestic animal radiates. I am more afraid of meeting a cow or a horse than being. It is amazing how elegant and gentle this hugh animal is! But I loved elephants since my childhood so it wasn’t hard for them to convince me.
In the late afternoon we met again at the river. This time for canoeing down the river. Again we saw quite a few animals. We really got close to a bathing rhino. Just for your information: rhinos can become very fast. When you should ever meet a rhino in the jungle they advice you to run zick zack because they can’t see very well. We ended our boat tour on a perfect spot for seeing the sunset. The lodge had already sat up a little bar, some deck-chairs and little snacks. So we sat back during sunset with some wine and enjoyed. It was all a bit unreal but still pretty awesome. After the sunset we headed back to the Barahi where we attended a Tharu cultur programm. We got clothed to their traditional dresses that reminded me a lot of the ancient greek clothing. Than we sat around fire places, had again good food and watched their traditional stick dances. It was impressive! At the end they wanted us to join and we did. And we had a lot of fun!
Before it was time to say goodbye to Chitwan, we had another awesome breakfast with the best nepalese tea ever! I could have stayed easily another week here in the lodge with this great nature and super friendly people! But it was time to move on.
We drove again north to Pokhara. A city west of Kathmandu and close to the Annapurna mountains. This city awaited with a spectacular scenery, fun activities and a layed back charme! Still it was hard for me to switch from Chitwan nature atmosphere to city life again. But it is a really relaxed place with its beautiful Fewa Lake and the great mountain scenery. Especially at sunset time it is irresistable!
We stayed at temple tree Hotel. It was quite ok, but the next morning they started with construction work at 5 a.m. in the morning. Nothing any traveller wants to pay for!
We got up early anyway to see the sunrise over the Annapurna mountains! And what can I say: seeing one of the most beautiful sunrises ever at such a special place in the world on Valentines Day… I just felt grateful and happy! Afterwards we went back to Temple Tree for breakfast: yummy Waffles and scrambled eggs.
Right after that we headed to our next activity: paragliding. I never thought I would do something like that, but I couldn’t resist to do it because it was too stunning. If I would ever do something like that than this would be the place. So we drove with our paragliding buddies up the mountain and I got a little nervous but not to bad. I was allowed to jump with Krishna, a pretty good looking guy that spoke very good English. 😉
Well after being buckled up, he explained to me that at the start it is very important that I support with running up to the point where he would say I can sit down. I just imagined jogging down a street and this way it worked out easily. It was such a great feeling. Next to us flew an eagle and I felt so free. Flying in front of the Annapurna down to Fewa lake on a sunny day. Perfect!
The Chinese invasion of Tibet caused an influx of over 300,000 refugees into Nepal on the way to Dharamala in India. About 60,000 settled in Nepal. 2,500 refugees cross the border every year either to make there way to India or settle in Nepal. There are 12 official containment camps: 8 in Kathmandu, and 4 in Pokhara. Of course we visited one of them. To support them, we had lunch there and bought some of the jewellery they make there. I really learned a lot about China, India and Nepal during this trip!
After the refugee camp we made a little trek to the Pokhara Shanti Stupa, which is a Buddhist pagoda-style monument on a hilltop in Ananda hill. Shanti is a Sanskrit word meaning peace, also widely used in Nepali and Hindi language, and Shanti Stupa means Peace Pagoda. The shrine is build as symbol of peace, situated at the height of 1100 meters on the Ananda Hill. It was chosen by a Buddhist monk and he laid the foundation stone as well with the relics of Buddha on the hilltop in 1973. Nepal has two of the eighty peace pagodas in the world: Shanti Stupa in Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha and Shanti Stupa in Pokhara. Pokhara is quite famous because it provides a panoramic view of the Annapurna range, Pokhara city and the Fewa Lake.
Afterwards we went boating on Fewa lake with the famous colourful doongas to get to the other side. Pretty hungry we went to a lakesid institution and a lonely planet tip: the moondance restaurant. On the menu was not only good nepalese and indian dishes, but also pizza, pasta and burgers. And After a week of nepalese food I was graving something different, so I got a great BBQ Burger with fries! And it was delicious. After that the coolest girl travel group went for a last party night in Nepal.
Flying back to Kathmandu, again with Yeti Airlines. On this point of the trip we had to say goodbye to our driver Harry. He was a nice guy, so this was a bit sad.
By the way, the outdoor waiting zone of Pokhara Airport is the best: a terasse with the most incredible mountain view! And then up in the air I could enjoy Annapurna one last time from above. So I had to say goodbye to the big mountains and I got a little sad that I didn’t really take the opportunity to do severe trekking!
Back in Kathmandu we stopped at an astrologer, because Natasha and I wanted to know more about our future. It was an interesting experience. It was scary how much he knew about me and it was positively exciting what he predicted to me and how many nice things he had to say about me. So this was really an experience and I’m looking forward to think back on this preditction in a couple years.
Before we went back to Kathmandu Guest House we drove to Patan city where we visited the Holy living goddess “Kumari”. The word Kumari, derived from Sanskrit Kaumarya meaning „PRINCESS“. In Nepal it is a tradition of worshiping young pre-pubescent girls as manifestations of the divine female energy. We met her in her house and we kneeled in front of her so she could bless us with the popular red spot. The power of the Kumari is perceived to be so strong that even a glimpse of her is believed to bring good fortune. So I guess I am covered: astrologer that predicted a good future + Kumari on the same day. No need to worry anymore.
After that we had a last group dinner, of course momos. This time fried and with a really spicy sauce plus a good Gorkha beer. And then it was time to say goodbye to our great guide Pushkar. It is weird how close you can get in 9 days. He was so nice and made us feel safe all the time. He even offered those who would stay longer to call him in any emergency case. Maybe one day I come back and we track to Annapurna Base camp or travel to Tibet! Would be great!
More and more goodbyes were following the next hours. So our little girly-group got smaller and smaller.
Some of the girls and I spent the last hours with good breakfast, some shopping and nepalese tea. In the afternoon I left KGH to head to the airport. Waiting for my flight I realized how much I had experienced the last nine days and how many interesting and wonderful people I got to know. And even when it was a short trip, traveling always makes me feel completely alive. Maybe our group will reunite in 2017 in the US and Jane will make the guide of our US West-Coast trip. But any of those girls is very welcome in Berlin too!!!