The land of the Himalayas

Trip Start Sep 02, 2007
Trip End Sep 01, 2008

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Where I stayed
Hotel View Point, Pokhara
Tibet Guest House, Kathmandu

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Monday, February 4, 2008

From Johannesburg we flew to Kathmandu, Nepal and arrived just in time to enjoy the New Years celebrations which was an awesome experience. It was colder than we anticipated and having arrived from hot and sunny South Africa we ended up wearing all our layers that night in an attempt to keep warm. We headed to Thamel, the busy central part of Kathmandu where all the tourists tend to gather. It was very busy, the narrow streets were crowded with people, lots of the bars and restaurants had live bands playing music and people were filling the rooftop bars and streets below dancing. We ate at one of the rooftop restaurants and there was a great atmosphere, it was cold but hey we Ansells are good at sitting outside in all weather!

Kathmandu is a crowded place, quite dirty and smelly - a mixture of rotting rubbish and incense if you can try to imagine that. The streets are very narrow so it's a squeeze to fit all the pedestrians, motorbikes, cyclists, rickshaws and some small cars (mostly taxis) down them, you have to be alert to make sure you don't get mown down! The shops in Thamel were a mixture of stores selling fake named trekking brands, pashminas & Nepalese tea shops. People seemed to spit a lot, everywhere you went you'd hear people hocking it back then they'd spit at your feet (not quite but it felt like it!)

The hotels we stayed in had no heating and were absolutely freezing, we lived in multiple layers of clothes (plus we bought coats!) pretty much the whole time we were there. In the summer the heat is apparently unbearlable and it gets very humid but we could not imagine that as it was so cold. The Nepalese food wasn't all that thrilling - Dhal Bhat being the staple food, basically a spicy lentil soup with rice. However, because it borders India the curries were incredible, we made the most of that!

Whilst in Kathmandu we visited Durbar Square (Palace Square) where there were many Hindu temples which had been built by various kings, check out the pictures - they were pretty impressive. We also visited Bodnahth Stupor which was a Bhuddist temple - a large white dome like structure with eyes painted on the top. There were many Bhuddist monks walking around.

We spent 5 days trekking in the Annapurna Himalayan range. We picked a good time to go as it was so clear and there was no rain - we had incredible views of the hills and Himalayan mountains. It was so peaceful up there, it was not peak season so although we came accross a few other trekkers there were not too many which would have definitely taken away from the remote feeling we had. We stayed at teahouses along the way. These are small guest houses, usually built of wood which line the route. They serve Nepalese tea and make great stops to rest every so often as well as being good places to sleep. It was a lot harder than we expected as we spent most of the time walking up and down the huge hills and not walking along the side of them. Imagine spending all day from 9am to 4pm walking up and down your stairs at home and that'll give you some idea of how tiring it was! We hired a guide to take us along the route and a porter to carry our bag, who turned out to be the guides brother. On the third day we got up at 5am and walked up Poon Hill (3200m above sea level) to watch the sun rise over the Annapurna mountain range. We had been at 2800m so it was an 400m walk straight UP, very hard work but worth the effort for the beautiful views. Most of the villages we walked through were about 2500m up in the hills, there are no other ways to get there except to walk. Everything that is in these villages has to be carried up by porter or donkey. That doesn't seem too bad when you are just thinking about the can of coke you purchase but when you really start to think about it a LOT has to be brought up - most of the food (there is only a small amount of things that can be grown at that altitude), bottled drinks, building materials, toilets! Along the way we saw porters carrying baskets full of stuff attached to their head and shoulders, we could not even imagine how they can do it, we found it hard just carrying a small daysack and we weren't covering the same distance that they would in a day.

After trekking, we spent a few days in Pokhara. It was a relaxed place, next to a really large lake. It was nice to have a couple of days to rest, reading our books at cafes overlooking the lake (still wrapped up in all our layers!) It was a good place to get western style food especially after the local food we'd been used to whilst trekking.

We had arranged to visit James & Sandra Chinnery, friends from church. They work for an organisation called INF (International Nepal Fellowship) and are based in Surkhet (in western Nepal).We found out that James was also in Pokhara and travelled with him to Surkhet in an INF vehicle which was much more comfortable than using local transport. It took a whole day to get there beacause of the distance and the winding roads leading through the hills. James told us they nickname it the vomit comet beacause the fast driving and windy roads are not a good mix! We were both ok though thankfully. Our week with the family was fantastic, we played games with David who is 6 and Tom who is 3. Little Tom loved the fact that there was another Tom and we had to call them 'little Tom' and 'big Tom to aviod confusion! Katlyn is only 3 months old and very cute. We attended their church on Saturday (Nepalis have church on Saturday instead of Sunday), we took our shoes off at the door and the women sat on one side and the men sat on the other side. We also had the opportunity to visit the INF clinic in Surkhet where they treat people with Leprosy. It was good to see the amazing work the organisation is doing but sad to realise that Leprosy is still very stigmatised in Nepal, and many people do not go to get treatment as early as they could. If caught early enough Leprosy can be treated and physical signs of the disease avoided.

Nepal was a fantastic country to visit and we found the people there really friendly and helpful, next stop Hong Kong!
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