Nepal, hidden treasures

Nepal, wow! And we haven’t even seen the best parts yet I think. As Klaas hit the asphalt just before we entered Nepal we couldn’t do a trekking, which was high on our wishlist.
And also our week of reflection in a nice and quiet place was not meant to be.
But Nepal has enough to offer to still have a nice time for the 30 days we had.

Crossing the border from India was pretty easy. After we had crossed the Banbasa Barrage over the Kali river we had to search a bit for the right offices. But nobody wanted us to open any bags, or asked difficult questions. The Nepal immigration office, where we had to buy our visa, also functioned as a money exchange. That was convenient. The first stop after we entered was the IME office, to buy a SIM. While I was arranging this, Klaas took out his rear wheel. The rear brake had started to make a lot of noise since the crash in India. Crossing borders makes you hungry, so with the wheel back in place and being able to get online again we had lunch at the neighbours. Our first samosa, triangled fried dough with a filling.
After all this we rode to the tiger’s den. We’d found a beautiful, peaceful ecolodge at the edge of Bardia National Park. The Mango Tree lodge would be our holiday spot for the next week.
The 19th of November we didn’t do much. We slept long, had breakfast around lunchtime, enjoyed a book while sitting in the sun with shorts (that was a long time ago!) and in the evening we played the card game Kwatro at the campfire. With a beer. That had also been a while ago.

Doing “nothing” can be so nice! And yet the day goes by pretty fast. In the evening of the second quiet day, again at the campfire, we had a chat with our host Rajen about Nepalese culture and religion and the like. It became a bit creepy, because he told us about exorcism and taking over someone’s body, which he had witnessed. About the pleasing of spirits who can’t cross and have all kinds of demands for the relatives through witch doctors. And last but not least, about snake bites and venom suckers. Which is still believed to be the cure.
We would go into the jungle with him for two days. I was curious what stories would be told at that campfire…
But the two day safari we were going to do had to wait another day. Rajen wanted us to have the best possible experience and didn’t think that would be possible with twenty other people at the campsite. So we had a third quiet day at the beautiful garden of the lodge and I was happy to walk around with my camera. Trying to “catch” some of the huge butterflies. I failed.
For the late afternoon we were invited by Rajen to join dinner at the house of his mother-in-law. Her husband had died 20 years ago and they had to do a ritual to keep his spirit happy. Afterwards they would kill a goat and have a meal with the family. Luckily, when we arrived, the goat had already become a meal. Blessed by the mother-in-law, she put some yellow rice on our foreheads, and with her wish that we would see tigers tomorrow, we came back to the lodge.

Instead of a lazy day, we had to get up early the next morning. Breakfast at seven, loading the jeep at eight and leaving shortly after. It was only a short ride to the national park. We were dropped off together with Rajen and a park ranger, Mahendra. The other guys took the jeep and started preparing camp and dinner.
Because Klaas was still in pain from the crash, we had a somewhat adjusted program. We only had to walk short distances, then we could sit down and try to spot animals. The jeep would come back a little later, so we could go to the next spot. This would be the plan for the next two days. The first day we were really lucky. We’ve seen a crocodile, rhino, python, colorful insects, a monkey every now and then, a jackal, peacocks and some other unfamiliar birds, and a lot of deer. Apparently five kinds live in the park. We saw three and heard the fourth while staring over a wide piece of land, with a river flowing through, close to our campsite. Rajen and Mahendra became focused immediately, because the call we heard was because a tiger came close to this deer. Unfortunately we didn’t see one. Yet.
At the campsite the guys had prepared well. They collected wood to make a few campfires, to keep the animals away. They put up the tents and made our beds. They cooked a three course meal! And we had cold beers. It was a relaxed and fun night. Luckily without any frightening stories. Once again we heard the call of the deer pretty close by, but by then it was already dark…
The next morning we went back to our viewpoint over the river. While we sat on the lookout for tigers, breakfast was brought by one of the guys. I like camping this way! No cooking, no dishes. Just the fun bits.
After a while we left for the next spot. We sat for a long time when we heard we had to be there a little longer. The guys had taken the jeep to break up camp, but the jeep had broken down and they were waiting for a mechanic. Bummer, lunch was in that car too! But thanks to modern technology, Rajen was able to call his brother-in-law, who also happened to be in the park. He brought us lunch.
And thanks to all this waiting and staring through the binoculars we were rewarded by a swimming tiger! Rajen jumped up, ran towards us and was really excited, saying “tiger, tiger!” and pointing. I didn’t know where to look, so I asked where? Finally he said, “In the water!” and then we saw it too. It was crossing the water and had to swim. This apparently was very unusual for this time of year, because of the lower temperatures. Once again, we were lucky.
The car was still having problems, but time had come for us to leave the park. So we decided to collect our stuff and started walking. Every time we heard a car we hoped we could get a ride. Finally we got the call that the car was fixed and they were headed towards us. We found each other and went to pick up the boys. They’d been waiting at a watch tower with all the camping and cooking gear. Now we had to drive back, with all this stuff and eight people including the mechanic. It was a fun drive and we only had to stop once. Because one of the guys lost his outside the car dangling flip flop…
Back at the lodge, we had an entertaining evening. First we had dinner with four Dutch students, who did research in the area. Later at the campfire we had nice conversations with a befriended family of Rajen. One of their boys worked in Portugal and was visiting his brother and parents. Together they were traveling in Nepal.
After another calm day at the lodge we had a party in the evening. People playing guitar, singing, dancing and a lot of fun.
On the morning of 25 November it was time to say goodbye to Rajen and the others. Almost all day we rode through, or alongside national parks. A lot of green. And a lot of warnings for elephants, leopards and tigers. We didn’t see any of these, but we did see some crocodiles in and next to a river. And a wild boar with two kids.
It took us two days to get to Pokhara. A little outside the city we found a nice place with traditional clay houses, in between the high concrete buildings. Our first mission was to check out a yoga retreat centre. It was within walking distance from our accommodation. But it didn’t feel right and we couldn’t get there with the motorbikes. So we decided to leave it and try to find another place later. The rest of the day we enjoyed the Phewa lake views, fresh juices and walked around in Pokhara city centre.
Why do people come to Nepal?? To see those massive white giants of course. But it wasn’t our time yet.
We decided to rent bicycles and explore Pokhara for a bit. First stop was Devi’s fall, on one side of the road. The river goes underground at this waterfall and at the other side of the road they build a temple inside a cave. So that was stop number two. Not really impressive, but nice to see. After lunch we went to the International Mountain Museum. This was interesting. A very diverse museum with information about (the first) climbing expeditions, materials they used then and now, but also nature and life of locals and much more. The part that I think was most impressive is about a mountain cleaning expedition. It’s ridiculous how much trash they brought down the mountain. Empty oxygen tanks, empty gas (cooking) tanks, tents and all kinds of other climbing material.
On our way back we bought new mirrors for my motorbike. Even the non-repaired one had fallen off now. We had dinner at a Korean barbecue restaurant and enjoyed an Everest beer. At least this way we could look at the mountain…
On Sunday 30 November we wanted to exit Pokhara and visit the World Peace Pagoda. We had been staring at it for a few days now, standing on top of a hill above the lake. Being higher up, we hoped to see a little bit of the Annapurna mountain range.
We packed our bags, checked out and started riding. Pokhara was still quiet, although a little more than the other days… At one of the bigger crossings we were stopped by the police. It appeared it was election day and we weren’t allowed to go out of town until after five o’clock. What?? Why didn’t our joints smoking lazybones host tell us? I grumbled some angry words while turning the motorbike around. When I looked up I was totally amazed by the view. There they were! These amazingly looking white peaks in a beautiful blue sky. Wow! I forgot everything else. My new mission was taking pictures of this wonder.
Klaas was a little more sane and we took a right turn at another crossing. After talking to the police officers they let us through. I took some pictures and we continued towards Kathmandu. It was really special, riding at almost sea level, seeing those 7000+ meter high giants for real and in my new, vibration free mirrors all day long. That evening we slept in a bamboo hut next to the river. Sounds idyllic, and the beautiful colours of the sunset reflecting in the water were. But unfortunately it was disco night for the local youth.
We arrived early in Kathmandu the next day. We walked around the city, with its impressive old architecture that survived the 2015 earthquake. But we have also seen a lot of damaged or collapsed buildings. Everywhere you look in the area, people are still rebuilding. A lot of buildings still stand only because of support beams. It’s an interesting city to walk around, even though there’s so much traffic and motorbikes parked everywhere.
I liked the old building style of the houses, with the small doors at the bottom where little shops are hidden. And you stumble over the Hindu shrines and (Buddhist) temples.
On the morning of 2 December we got up early. We thought we had booked a guided food tour, a walk through the city and in the meanwhile try different local dishes. But somehow there was a misunderstanding with a special twist. Two guys took us to Durban Square (durban means palace). We walked in between the temple ruins, still standing temples and saw the palace of the king. And the guys gave us lots of information. After a while it became clear this wasn’t what we expected and we ate breakfast somewhere on top of a building, overlooking the square and surroundings. Unfortunately again no mountains because they were covered with a thick layer of smog.
After breakfast we walked to the house of Kumari, a living goddess. I didn’t know much about this yet and was excited to hear she would make her appearance at the window today. How many people get to experience this in their life? To see a living goddess? I must say I’m not a believer of any god, and I’m amazed more and more about the, sorry to say this, crazy rituals people make up to honour their god(s), or declare normal things holy. In Hinduism they have 33.000.000 gods! Having said that, apparently this was our lucky day. After waiting for a few minutes, a 6 year old girl appeared at the window. I was in total shock. I’d expected an adult woman… Our guides told us her feet can not touch the ground, so she’s carried everywhere she goes. Not that she goes out a lot, only on certain occasions. And she does not go to school, but receives education in the palace. Let’s hope she gets her first period soon. It is believed that the goddess vacates her body than, and she can start her next life.
After visiting a museum about the consequences of the earthquake, our guided tour was over and Klaas and I finished the walking tour we’d started the day before. In the afternoon we treated ourselves with a 2-hour deep tissue massage.
After a quiet day at the hostel, doing some small jobs on the motorcycle, applying for the Myanmar visa, walking around in the Garden of Dreams and eating pizza with a beer we left Kathmandu the next day.
We know things don’t always go as you expect or hope, but it has been proven again this day. Good things and less good things happen and sometimes even in one day.
Our first mission of this day was buying oil. We have reusable air filters, they suck up dust, so it doesn’t get into the engine. They needed cleaning badly and after, a new spray of oil.
We asked at several (work)shops but nobody had even heard of the stuff. While Klaas was trying at another shop, I “guarded” the motorbikes. A man came towards me and we started talking about our motorbikes and the journey. He showed me his beautifully maintained 1947 Royal Enfield. After a while I asked him if he maybe knew a shop where we could get the oil. He started thinking and then he told me he would go to Thailand the next day. So his next question was: “for how long will you stay in Kathmandu?”. We talked some more and he offered to see if he could buy the oil for us in Bangkok. I asked Vivek why he would do this for a few strangers and he told me it was an honour for him to be able to help us. He was impressed by the fact that we came all the way from The Netherlands on the motorbikes to visit his country. And he knew where The Netherlands are, he’d been there working for a few banks and his wife had done some voluntary work in our country. It’s a small world…
Next on our action list for that day was visiting Durbar square of Patan, just south of Kathmandu. It’s pretty similar, lots of temples, lots of Chinese people, but a lot of miniature wood carving too. Impressive.
After lunch we left for our week of reflection somewhere in the hills of Nagarkot, east of Kathmandu. Klaas found a nice looking website, contacted them by phone and we were optimistic and enthusiastic about this place. They told us to look on google maps for the right address. Obviously we didn’t prepare well enough, because when getting closer there were four locations with the same name. About eight kilometers apart, in mountainous area, with not very good roads. The place wasn’t to be found at the first two locations. The frustration grew, while the sun had started to set. After some difficult telephone contact and vague instructions, we decided to look for another accommodation for the night. By that time it was already dark. We ended up in Bhaktapur where we visited another Durbar square in the evening. Because the websites (yes, there turned out to be more …), telephone numbers, locations and offerings of the company were unclear, we decided to leave it for what it was. Disappointing, because I was really looking forward to a week of meditation, walking and eating healthy in a mountainous area with beautiful views on these magnificent mountains (if the clouds would finally leave again).
So now what?? Our plan for a week had disappeared. The next morning I woke up with a headache, feeling like I was going to be ill. We didn’t want to stay where we were and we didn’t have a new plan yet. We checked out and went to a cafe around the corner for breakfast and some inspiration. In the end we decided to first find a spa and after look for a place to stay closeby. Around lunch time we arrived at an apartment in North Kathmandu. Nobody was there but a friendly neighbour called the owner for us and we were allowed to park the motorbikes inside the gate. The house wasn’t locked, so we could also choose a room and put our stuff inside. Another strange thing at this place, the room wasn’t cleaned yet… So we took the sheets from another room and put it on the bed ourselves.
Afterwards, we walked to the spa. I was feeling better than that morning, but was still looking forward to this day of indulgence.
When we came back to the apartment we met the owner. Friendly guy, and after we asked if it was possible to do laundry the monkey came out of the sleeve, like we say in Dutch. His wife was on holiday in Japan and he didn’t know how to operate the machine. We drank some tea together in his apartment and I explained to him how he could surprise his wife when she came back (read, how to operate the washing machine). We went to bed early and I was really looking forward to the next day. A day where we wouldn’t have to do anything else but relax.
So that’s what we did. Sauna, head- and shoulder massage, a facial with yoghurt, rice, honey, lemon, cucumber and some other funny natural things (Klaas had a hot-stone massage), and again sauna. It felt so good to finally be thoroughly warm again. Even though it didn’t freeze, temperatures weren’t that high, houses aren’t heated, or well isolated and restaurants leave doors and windows open…
On Saturday 7 December we made some new plans for the next few days. We put some chairs outside the freezing cold house, in the sun and started thinking. I didn’t feel like we were making the most out of our visit to Nepal, while I had been looking forward to visiting this country for 20 years. Because Klaas didn’t want to and couldn’t hike, I decided to go by myself. First we found a nice place on top of a hill where Klaas could stay for a few days without being bored. I could do a hike there. Than I found another hotel where I would stay one night and do another day hike.
I felt energized again and just before sunset I decided to get on the motorbike and visit Swayambhu Maha Chaitya, a Buddhist monkey temple overlooking Kathmandu. I enjoyed being on my own again for a while and was looking forward to some more of this in the next few days. The temple was crowded with people and monkeys, but I liked walking around at my own pace, with the camera. When I left I got treated with a beautiful pink orange mountain top in the distance.
We left Kathmandu again, for Dhulikhel. On top of a hill south of this town we had a beautiful view on the surroundings and finally saw the mountains again. We didn’t close the curtains and from our bed we watched the sunrise the next morning. We could also see the birds of prey floating around. Amazing.
That morning I took my camera, water and snacks and started walking. Via small villages and through the hills, towards the monastery of Namobuddha. It was so nice to do some exercise again. And at the same time watch the village life of the Nepalese from close by. I was greeted regularly with a friendly namaste. The monastery was a nice and quiet change from the noisy Hindu temples. When I came back to the hotel I’d walked about 20 kilometers.
The next day I left Klaas behind for another adventure on my own. I went to a hotel close to Nagarkot, a little above Dhulikhel. Hoping for an even better view of the mighty mountains. The ride to get there was a challenge. I turned around regularly, if the trail became too difficult. I didn’t have Klaas to help me lift up the motorbike! In the end I decided to take the long way, which was mainly tarmac, but still quite an amount of sandy roads full of stones. Finally I arrived at the hotel. My first impression wasn’t the best, but I came for the views. Fortunately first impressions aren’t always the right ones. Almost immediately I got into conversation with a couple (American/Thai woman and Nepalese man). When it became cooler and darker a campfire started and people came from everywhere (3 young Nepalese couples, a Japanese man and an American from El Salvador, Andrew). It was a pleasant evening with nice conversations and we all danced to get warm.
In the morning I woke up early, peeked through the window to see if it was worth it to get out of bed for the sunrise. I decided not to and closed my eyes again. After breakfast, with my book outside on the terrace, I started walking along the road until I reached a nature trail. I enjoyed the silence the forest provided. After a short break in the sun I walked back up the hill along the road. Back at the hotel I ate a pancake and chatted a little more with Andrew. He’d also walked and was enjoying a soup. Then finally, just before I had to go back to Dhulikel the clouds started to sink and we could vaguely see the contours of the white giants on the horizon. Because I still had to climb the unpaved, really bumpy hill in Dhulikel I wanted to be back before complete darkness, I had to leave. But I failed. I got lost, was really enjoying riding a curvy road through the forest, which ended in a sandy path. This wasn’t the way I came the day before… Luckily I was able to turn around the motorbike without dropping it. Big plus was, I could do this nice road again! Big disadvantage, I had to climb the hill to the other hotel in darkness anyway. But I made it, without any trouble!
The next day I gave my body some rest. And put pictures of Pakistan online. And the 13th we descended our nice and quiet hill. We had an appointment in the Hyatt Regency in Kathmandu! Vivek had given us a phone call. He’d found the oil we needed for our air filters in Bangkok and was attending a conference where we could meet. So we did. We were allowed to walk to the hall where he would be. All business people of course, chic buffet, white tablecloths. We arrived with our muddy feet wearing a dirty wet rain suit with a runny nose! I felt a tiny bit underdressed. Yes, it rained that day. Quite a lot. Fortunately I was able to keep the motorbike up straight on the slippery mountain path that morning…
We talked for a while and then we left with the plan to ride a beautiful mountain pass. But because of the continuous rain we decided this could wait another day. We found a nice homestay outside Kathmandu, where we got spoiled with milktea and popcorn. Dinner was homemade and grown in their own garden.
Rain was gone the next morning, a little sunshine came through the clouds and we continued over the Tribhuvan Highway. It was still slightly muddy and also a bit bumpy here and there. So we were careful in the corners. But the views were rather nice. Even the white peaks showed themselves for a while. They’re so high up in the sky, I caught myself a few times, looking for them too low on the horizon.
We climbed to 2500 meter altitude and it became quite cold. Only 6 degrees Celsius, brrr. We saw a mixture of pine forest, terrace agriculture and loads of small villages where we crossed the lives of the people. Fires were lit to stay warm, the dishes, clothes washing and often even showers are done at the central tap on the street, with ice cold water…
And we grumble if we don’t have hot water in the hotel again… At least we can shower between four walls, without the whole neighbourhood being able to watch you. And every passerby.
Talking about that, they often use solar water heaters here. Is very handy! Hot water when it was hot outside that day and cold water when temperatures are low. Works a bit the same as motorcycling. In the summer you melt away from the heat of the engine. In the winter you don’t feel any of that warmth as long as you ride…
We were moving eastward again and after getting help from another friendly man, finding some Buddhist prayer flags for us, or actually for a friend at home who can use some support, we left Lahan and crossed the border to India again on 16 December.

Nepal gave us a mixture of Hindu and Buddhist culture, friendly and interested people and I walked through the small villages to see the everyday life in the countryside. We rode some beautiful winding roads in the green jungle like hills where, instead of goats and cows, we saw a lot of monkeys.
We have to come back, when the skies are more clear, and we are fit enough to get higher up on these impressive white giants.

Originally posted: February 24th 2020

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