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Arriving in Nepal, we were struck by how very calm and relaxed it is compared to bustling India, where we had spent the previous month. The pace of life slowed and we were able to get really excited about seeing my dad who would be meeting us in Kathmandu in a few days. We whiled away the time over a glasses of South African wine of course the infamous Nepali steak. Wow, what a steak it was and it only cost two English pounds for the hunk of prime beef!
Dad was socialising, true to form from the get go - he spent his first full day in Kathmandu with his school French Exchange pal, Christophe and the evening of the first full day having drinks with some people he met at a wedding a few years ago. Good old Rini and Terry entertained us in Mandaps ('ask anyone, they all know!').
After several days acclimatising in Kathmandu and visiting Swyambunath, Bodnath, The Royal Palace (a strange place built in the 50's and never updated) and Durbar Square; we eventually dragged ourselves away from Kathmandu and headed for Chitwan. Based on other wildlife experiences we had had in other countries, we expected it to be quite contrived and full of tourists, like us wanting to ride an elephant and see a rhino in the wild; but were pleased to find that actually it was full of Nepali students on research trips and Indian holiday makers and not many westerners at all.
First on the agenda was a village walk. We met a friendly bee keeper and tasted the honey, before coming face to face with our first Nepali elephants and then moments later a lone four year old wild rhino just wandering around the edge of the village. We washed this impromptu sightseeing down with an icy cold beer and a plate of masala papad (spicy poppadums covered in onion, tomato and chilli) whilst overlooking the river and watching the sun go down.
An early start was in order the next morning with the promise of boarding an elephant to ride through the mist-covered jungle in search of more wild rhino. We were very lucky to see two adult rhino and a baby, as well as jungle chickens, birds, and deer. It was lovely to see dad so animated and excited at this unusual experience. Later in the day we drifted down the river past garial and mugger crocodiles in a dugout canoe and spent the evening watching and then dancing to a traditional Nepali stick dance.
The next day we headed for Pokhara. The main tourist area, Lakeside, is as you might expect, right next to a lake. The lake is called Fewa Tal and is the biggest in the country. It is flanked by distant mountain views and closer hills with paragliders jumping off into the thermals. A beautiful place to spend a few days! We made the most of the scenery by hiring bikes and a boat and waking up at 4.30am to hike to the top of Sarankot to watch the sunrise and see clear mountain views. Unfortunately dad had hurt his knee in Chitwan and the three hour walk back down uneven stone steps made it worse. After long discussions we decided that we should still do the overnight trek to Panchase the next day, despite the sore knee.
With our guide Krishna we set off for Panchase. What a beautiful walk! Flanked by bright fields and a patchwork of blue skies above. We stopped at a bustling little village for lunch and had Tibetan bread and dal – delicious, filling and very authentic. It was after this that dad’s knee really started to ache – he was very brave and we managed to make it to the village where we would overnight.
The stay here was definitely one of the highlights of the whole seven month trip so far – the tea house was a series of small buildings on stilts and a pretty little garden growing all sorts of vegetables for visitors to eat. The man that owned the guest house lived up there alone and was a real mountain man – his dhal bhat was one of the best we tasted and incredibly all 5 dishes were made on 2 hobs on the fire on the floor on the kitchen. Some French people and our guide introduced us to 'traditional’ Nepali songs, with a little western twist, they gleefully repeated the same song (‘Pireedeee, you are a donkey, I am a monkey….’) for what seemed like hours. Eventually we tucked ourselves up in our sleeping bags and went to sleep in our mountain huts.
On my birthday we woke early to more Tibetan bread and fried eggs before a one hour steep climb down to the only bus that leaves from anywhere near there. We needed to get dads to a place where he could rest his leg as soon as possible. We were not sure what to expect of the bus, but certainly not what we saw – it was a party bus in the extreme, the ceiling was surely from the 60’s and there was loud Nepali music pumping out of the stereo, with teenagers, who had appeared from nowhere in the mountain, singing along and greeting their friends with hi-fives and jokes.… it was a very unexpected sight!
When Krishna found out that it was my birthday he insisted that we should all come to his house for a meal that evening. Incredibly, Joe (my boyfriend) had managed to produce a birthday cake (complete with candles and the message ‘happy birtday Emli’) so we took that along to Krisha’s house with some rum and Sprite. As far as cultural experiences go, the evening at Krishna’s is up there with spending a few days in Varanasi. Krishna, his wife and his 5 ½ year old son live in a room at the back of their shop. The one room that they live in is jam-packed with only the most essential of household wares. It has two beds in it, which are also used as the chairs on two sides of the dining table, a little TV on some shelves and a double hob gas cooker, that’s about all there is space for! Krishna’s lovely, warm wife Rita was heavily pregnant and refused any help with cooking, while we played with their son and looked at pictures of their wedding.
The best bit by far was when we showed them the cake – the little boy was SO EXCITED, he was bouncing on the bed and beaming from ear to ear. Krishna told us that Nepali people don’t really have cake for birthdays, apart from in some wealthy families. Rita and the little boy tucked into several pieces and Krishna was clearly happy with his glass of rum and sprite. We left them to it when their son started to go to sleep on the bed that my dad was using as a seat.
We returned to Kathmandu on a long and windy road (so that’s where the Beatles got the idea for the song,) and hopped on a scenic flight over Mount Everest. It turns out that Joe and I had actually seen the mountains on our way into Nepal from India but it was nice to know what we were looking at and which one was the big one!
What a charming, peaceful and spectacularly picturesque country Nepal is. I am sure this will not be my last visit.