Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Namaste! An update from Nepal, from Kathmandu!

We boarded our MH170 flight in Darwin early in the morning (we left the hotel around 03.00) and flew to Kuala Lumpur, where we had booked a luxury Best Western Premier hotel. Since we planned to stay only 2 days, we thought, we'd take a very good one and it was actually very good (our room was huge and the hotel had everything you need, including a pool from where you can see the Petronas Towers, a gym etc.). What we noticed is, that food in KL is pretty cheap, but alcohol / wine is rather expensive, so we did not take a bottle for dinner this time... :-(

Dinner view in KL
We did not do much in KL, just a quick stroll through china town, sorting pictures, etc. before we had to leave again. This time, we had our flight to Kathmandu. Once we arrived, we firstly had to get our visas, which you can get on arrival, but we had to wait a long time to get to the counter. The visa fee is 100USD per person, if you want to stay longer than 30 days in Nepal (pretty expensive). Out of the airport, you are suddenly confronted with plenty of helpers (taxi drivers, porter, etc.) and all want to sell you something, but luckily, we got picked up by the hotel so we did not have to deal with them :-) We noticed that Kathmandu is currently covered in a smog / dust cloud; so no special mountain view or blue sky it's rather a dusty here. It's not surprising once we saw, how many cars are driving in Kathmandu, how the roads look like and how the traffic is handled.... basically it's not handled at all, but in general, they drive on the left hand side of the road... mostly... and crossing a street can be a bit difficult with all the cars, motorbikes, etc. Nevertheless, in the first days we visited some of the most famous sights in Kathmandu: Thamel, the tourist area where you can by all fake clothing gear like Mammut, North Face, ... and where you can buy all kind of drugs you need without prescription and where you get breakfast, lunch and dinner for no money (well at least since we were used to Australian prices). Another sight to visit was Durban square with it's temples and shrines all over the place. You can spend quite a lot of time in this part of town.
Hindu God on Durban Square
Palace on Durban Square
Furthermore, we used one day to visit the "monkey temple" in the west of Kathmandu. It's one of the most impressive Stupa's in Kathmandu, overlooking the city. Besides the different temples on top of this little hill, you have also quite a few monkey running around and begging for food. The temples itself are Buddhist and Hindu as most of the people here in Nepal belong to either of these religions.

Buddhas down at the stair to monkey temple
The Stupa of the monkey temple
The monkeys
the stuppa
We finally spent 4 days in Kathmandu before we started our first trip to the mountains: a trek around the Manaslu (one of the highest mountains in the world). It started by getting picked up from our hotel at 06.00 in the morning by Jeep, which took us to our starting point, Sotikola on only 900m altitude. To get there, it took us about 8 hours of driving (it's not far it's just slow driving) due to the traffic and the road conditions :-) Sotikola is "the end of the road" from this point there is no road any-more for the next few days, only a path for locals, trekkers and donkeys which carry food and other things up to more remote places.

find the women
Our trek
The first few days of the trek are not that impressive: It's getting very hot in the afternoon, so an early start in the morning is essential if you don't want to wake when it's 30 degrees hot; but it gives you a pretty good idea about how the life is, when there is no road and no cars (and just sometimes electricity); it's very basic. You see small children getting used to carry goods up with their little baskets and you see elderly women carrying huge piles of wood up the mountain. Furthermore, you get aware where the meat comes from: from animals that get killed in the village (we were able to attend the end of a goat at 06.00 in the morning. It was killed and sliced right on the main square of the village, opposite of our breakfast table; yummy!). This reflects also the menue that you have in the lodges (called tea houses) where you stay. Most of them do not have meat on their menu which is not bad since the food they offer is good without meat as well.
After some time, the path continues to climb steadily so we started to gain some altitude, so the air gets better and cooler and the path winds through small villages, crosses rivers on suspension bridges (Alex: this would be something for you!!) and the vegetation is changing from banana trees to more alpine forest. In some of the villages, we were the big attraction for the children (they beg for sweets or money) but they don't know much English, so they just repeat saying "Namaste!" all the time :-)

Local village
In Namrung (which is about 2'800 m high) we were invited to attend the annual village celebration. It was very unexpected for us to be greeted by the whole village once we arrived there, handing us flower cords and serving us Nepali tea... the games they play are very funny to see: Bow-shooting, horse-back racing and stone throwing and everything is done with drinking local wine... so what they call wine is the result of the distillation of the local beer they brew here and it has absolutely nothing to do with wine... but it comes in buckets and therefore the games were hilarious, especially the "horse back riding".
Neither the horse nor the rider seem to knew what to do, so they were running in all directions, falling off the horses or not moving at all... but at the end, someone was the winner of the race and all seemed to be very happy with it.
Guests of Honour
Horse back racing
The other day, we climbed another 1'000 m in altitude to reach a Samagon, a village on 3'500 m altitude where we stayed several nights. Here, after 5 days of hiking we decided to take a rest day to relax a bit. On the way, we passed several monasteries and we saw our fist yak. Well, it was a special first contact: while we were waiting for our lunch in a small tea house, the owner of the 2 yak's decided to take away one of the calves of the yak and hide it somewhere in the house. This caused mama yak to become very angry and to start searching for it's calf. So we had to get in hiding not to be run over by angry mama yak! All the local ones were laughing, but were also afraid of the yak once it came into their direction. Finally, the owner decided to give back the calve and lock the yak into it's shed to calm down (good decision!).

Munch (Hollo, hollo, hollo, ich bin ein ...)
Stupa on the way
From Samagon, you have already a good view to the very high mountains surrounding the village once the weather is good, but unfortunately, it was often cloudy and windy when we were here and in the night it was very cold. The tea house we stayed did not have a heating so, we were wearing our thermal clothing for most of the days up here.
After an acclimatisation trip to the base camp of Manalu (we just went to the first snow on about 4'200 m) we headed up to our last stop before crossing the 5'106 m high pass. The night in Darmasala (4'400 m) was not the best one, since the building, toilet and food of the tea house was more than basic (the "toilettes" were actually very disgusting so we decided not to upload the pictures of it to the blog, but if you want to see it, let us know, we'll drop you a mail with it...) but we met 2 other Swiss guys up there (Mario and his sister Daniela; both fast hikers!) so we had a very interesting evening there.

On the way to Daramasala
Mountain View in Samagon
Next day, we had splendid weather: we started hiking at 05.15 (after we had to wake up the kitchen crew to prepare us breakfast!) when the sun started to rise. Perfect blue sky, high snowy mountains, great scenery and white snow to walk on in the higher areas! Just perfect. On the pass, after 4 hours of hiking, we encountered the yak transport coming from the other side of the pass which made the whole experience even more special! After about 7 hours, we finally reached the little town on the other side of the pass where we got lunch (even more important: cold beer) and chatted with our Swiss friends (they made the way in about 6 hours, and it took some of the Russians which were in the same hut between 9-12 hours to cross the pass). So this perfect day was paying off the time freezing on the other side of the pass!

On the way to the pass
Pass view
Yak transport
Yak transport
Pass view
Manaslu North
Manaslu North summit
From the small village, it took us another 2 days down to the Anapurna circuit, where we reached the new road, so we took a local transport to get back to "civilisation" (the road can easily compete with "Bolivias Death Road") and from there back to Kathmandu. The other side of the pass is very different and so we had a great walk around Manaslu.

Nepali Dead Road...
In Kathmandu, we started to cure our little problems (stomach / cold) and we booked our flights to Bardia National Park. So we switched the cold thin air from the high mountains with the humid heat of the Nepal low lands (about 40 degrees every day). We flew to Nepalgunj from where we got picked up by Mr. B who took us to his lodge right outside of Bardia National Park. The lodge is simple but very nice and well kept and Mr. B and is wife do a great job to entertain the people in the evening and the food was very good as well! The main attractions of the park are: Elephants, Rhinos and Bengal Tigers! But there is also an Elephant centre where they keep "domesticated" elephants and a crocodile breeding centre. So we went on Safari (but we had to stay the first day in the lodge due to a still not properly working stomach). The next day, we decided to do the "Jungle Walk" which consists of walking through the park with guides... some important information: if a Rhino attacks: run away in Zig-Zag, drop your bag and / or climb an easy tree up to about 5 meters. If an elephant attacks, run and hide behind a big tree (if there is one) and don't worry about the tiger: he's a very shy animal and just dangerous in breeding season.. :-)

But to make the point clear: The most important thing you do in the park is... waiting... waiting... waiting... we waited from about 08.00 to 15.30 to see our first Rhino this day! :-)

Rhino in Bardia
Mr. B told us, that this is the best season to see a tiger due to the heat, it is leaving the forest and it's searching the water for cooling off (yes, although it's a cat, a tiger can swim and it's doing it!). So next day, we did the Jeep safari which gets you to more remote places in the park, but the core thing you do is... waiting again... but this time, we did not just see a Rhino, we also saw a male elephant in the morning and a herd of elephants in the afternoon (pretty impressive) and some more Rhinos as well, but still no tiger. So we did it again next morning (the day where we had our flight back to Kathmandu) and this time we were lucky: we saw one tiger in the early morning! Pretty big and impressive animal! Great! And besides the Tiger, there is also a lot of other animals in the park: Birds, monkeys, foxes and a lot of different deer as well which are easy to spot in comparison with the Tiger!

Elephants crossing
Elephants and Rhino
Monkey in Bardia
Tiger's Track
Bengal Tiger
So, after a quick shower, we drove back to Nepalgunj where we boarded the small Yeti plane again before we took off back to Kathmandu. During the flight, you have a good view to the Himalaya range with it's high mountains as long as the view is good and finally, we got back to our hotel. Now, we stayed 2 more days here to organize our next trip which is a about 10 day hike in the mountains close to Kathmandu. After this, we plan to go to Pokhara for some days (close to Anapurna) before we definitely leave Nepal mid of June (when the WM starts!!!).

View from the pass
View from the pass
View back to the pass
Bardia National Park
More Rhinos
Elephants crossing
Elephants and Rhino


Anonymous said...

Very cool!!! ! Grüße vom Hollo hollo ich bin ein... Beat;-)

Anonymous said...

Sieht super aus! Und ihr wisst ja, die wirklich gefährlichen Tiere sind nicht tiger oder Rhinozeros sondern AFFEN!
Lg, Barbara und Co