A Travellerspoint blog

Escaping to Kathmandu

sunny 25 °C
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Today we woke up not knowing whether the roadblocks where still in place. Our every cheerful, strange and annoying guide soon told us we wouldn’t be able to leave today and there was no chance in the near future of us getting to India overland. However later in the day he did explain that there was an option for us to trek through the jungle for 2 days to reach India. I briefly thought this would be good fun but then the thought of running from rhinos with 25kg strapped to our backs soon ruled out this option.
We spent the day relaxing in the gardens outside our room and down at the river watching the few tourists left in the region bathing elephants. It was great fun watching different peoples’ reactions to the soakings by the elephants. It as apparent that no one pulled such horrified faces as me!
It was good to have a day of doing nothing especially as we knew tomorrow would be challenging.

In the morning as we expected the strike was still on, I don’t have any sympathy for them as I’m sure most only strike so they can sit about all day. Found it increasingly hard to reply to the locals cheerful ‘hellos’ as they sat on strike thus causing us so much trouble.
The lodge said they would arrange a horse and cart for us at a good price so we paid up front and waited for its arrival. The problem came when only two carts turned up and 3 sets of guests had paid to depart. The situation got quite tense as the management said we could all fit onto the carts which was totally ridiculous especially as the horses were only the size of a great dane! After telling them what we thought of their plan we got our money back and stormed off to get our own horse. Unfortunately this proved impossible, they had all been taken!! It was a 25km walk to where we could get a bus from to Kathmandu so with no alternative we started walking. As you can imagine moral wasn’t particularly high! But after an hours walk we found a man with a cycle rickshaw who took us to the makeshift bus station.
Making it to Kathmandu was a big relief and booked flights to Delhi without any hassle so celebrated with cocktails at ‘happy hour.’
After dinner Gem went to the toilet, nothing unusual until I caught a glimpse of someone locking her in and then he went into another toilet. Quickly let her out and locked him in. The toilets were in a remote area and absolutely stank so hopefully he stayed there awhile!

Posted by AndyGem 07:52 Archived in Nepal Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Living on the Wild Side

Day Two in Chitwan

sunny 25 °C
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Consoled from our inital frustrations the spectacular animal sightings yesterday have me grinning, Cheshire Cat Style, even in my sleep. Dilli-The-Dunce still raises irritation within us when he appears, always at meal times, starting conversations when we have a mouthful of noodles, but we cope with laughter. He is off on another walk in the wild with new guests ("good luck!") while we partake in the first activity of Day Two - An Elephant Sarfari in the 'Jungle'.

Large, spiral staircases leading to no-where hang mysterially in fields and courtards and we discover their purpose as our rotund, 13 foot, 4 tonne transport reversed his rear next to the top. Wobbling onto the wooden saddle it feels foolish to perch on such a huge mammal. Did he flinch when Andy got on I wonder? The name of our gallant steed is Bilbo, he's a 45 year old Indian Elephant (hathi) with slight flatulance. As we go to collect two more guests from a nearby resort I marvel at his height, his rough, leathery skin, his bumpy, bristly head and his floppy, spotty ears. Such a character! By contrast our driver is very petite, who must match Bilbo's age, and sits behind his huge lugs directing him with nudges and repetitious calls. He carefully lifts the low lieing elecriticity cables with his stick before they nearly strangle us. I am slightly disturbed by the metal, sharp-hooked tool he carries, is it intended for discipline when Bilbo buckaroos?, or for restraining the grumpy rhinos?, or just to 'pursuade' us to give a good tip? Gladly, it goes unused and the more favourable bamboo stick is waved to get Bilbo going, or a quick tap on his head to make him turn.

Two German women in white trousers join us on the wooden frame and Bilbo saunters into the 'buffer zone' - which is a secluded area just outside the actual park that we are told contains the same jungle life. From this tall vantage point it is so much easier to sopt the creatures before they scamper off; the shy spotted deer sticks around longer and even the elusive langur monkeys made an appearance.

Most visitors to Chitwan take this safari ride and because there are no wild elephants I wasn't surprised to see other tame elephants with tourists on their back - although, I was dissapointed the rustling I heard was not a crouching tiger. Without these other on-lookers however, we may not have got the jungle gossip..."Rhino Ahoy!". Top speed by trunk-travel must barely be 5mph and due to the dense forest vegitation there are no quick manoeuvers, but Bilbo took us to a small clearing just in time to see the most precious scene.. a mother and baby rhino, eating leaves together. They both seemed placid and undisturbed by our presence, even though we were in spitting distance. I would have thought Mummy Rhino would have been protective and aggresive but she just stood there, munching away, she even had a wee - as you do when people are gawping at you. When she finished off they went, marching into the shrubs, military style. Ohhh! I wanted to watch them all day!

Activity Two was a bike ride to the 12,000 Lakes in a conservation area and to our great delight Dilli would escort us there, hurrah! ? When our rickety cycles arrived, with non-adjusting seats, we laughed like hyenas as our knees came up to our ears at every peddle. Joviality was prerequisite today because everyone was celebrating Holi Festival, which meant all ages were out throwing bright, coloured power and squirting water at passers by. As we cycled through the villages and into the farmland we were not spared from the sabotage and Andy got stopped and smothered in bright pink powder - his favourite colour! :)

We escaped the onslaught as we rode into the parkland and we started a pleasant trail by the waterside...which didn't last long with Dilli around... Once again he abruptly turned and told us to hush, dismount and walk back quickly. Assuming it was a farce we rolled our eyes in jest, not another sprint for our lives?! But, no, he was right.. wading waist deep in the middle of the river was another Rhino; Rolf, filtering through the algae. We climbed a nearby tree to get a better look and most importantly to stay safe - we must have looked so silly splashed with various colours hiding in a tree. A Spanish guy who we met on the way into Chitwan was also riding past completly covered in red stuff, so we waved him down to come see. Wow! Thats's SIX rhinos in 2 days, How lucky are we!!

I got pelted with blue on the long ride back, so I looked reminiscent of my dressing-up days as a smurf. Even back at the lodge the waiters were waiting to ply us with red! Exhausted from the ride, covered in rainbow colours and beaming from our rhino encounters we slept like logs.

Posted by AndyGem 07:09 Archived in Nepal Tagged animal Comments (0)

Just Another Day in the Jungle...

Our first day in Chitwan

sunny 20 °C
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A 6am wake-up call was how we started our first "real" day in Chitwan and with omelette's in our belly we were ready to face the fearsome Jungle! The three Japanese ladies we shared the rickshaw ride with yesterday also met us by the 'Rapti' River, and in our own dugout canoe we all floated down the misty water while the golden, morning sun emerged. Dilli pointed out the array of wild birds and lent us his rubbish binoculars, which were about as good as looking through swimming goggles. Goggles weren't needed to peer into the shallow, crystal water though, and the beady eyes of a spiky, fresh-water crocodile were spotted towards the bank. Warm blooded, these reptiles have long, thin snouts, and are a lot smaller and less vicious than their Australian counterparts - but not the stroking kind either. Kingfishers, Herons, Cormorants. All birds seemed to have three types accor.ding to Dilli.. "small", "medium" and "large". Hhmmm, Interesting. Gracious 'Love Birds' glided above our heads, who typically live in pairs through their life, and if one dies the other also gives up the ghost. Now thats romance for you!

The river is so peaceful at this time with only a few woman doing a spot of washing and the humming, ribbetting and tweeting sounds to accompany us. Reaching a large, sandy bank we disembarked and stood to attention for our Jungle Brief on the dangers and perils we may encounter. Our canoe driver was already off chopping down bamboo which is used to build houses. With Dilli infront and myself and Andrew a few paces behind we barely set foot into undergrowth before we were told to hush and stay still. I thought he was just being dramatic but then I caught a glimpse of a large, tank-like object.. Roger the Rhino had come to greet us! Then his friend Robert was following behind. What an amazing sight! Their thick, overlapping skin really does look like armor!

As the ladies and I zoomed in with our cameras agitation was rising and the beasts were coming towards us. In a race against a Rhino a human is the sure-fire loser, and it isn't wise to stick around to fight. Rumblings and confusion rose amongst the group, shouts of 'get down' and 'move' ensued panic, and as I tried to check the animals whereabouts Andrew practically pushed my down the steep bank, followed by the other visitors. The canoe man, now engrossed in his daily task, was not aware of the frivolity even as the guides whistled and hollered at him, concluding he was deaf and in the danger zone. Roger charged down the bank and splashed into the river so the current splurged with waves of water from his weight. We all scrambled back up the dirt, grabbing roots and vines to pull us onto higher ground. One of the woman lost a trainer and frantically tried to shove her foot back into the shoe for what seemed like a decade. As with most uneasy situations I had a fit of nervous giggles, mainly at the sight of Andrew's wide-eyed, white face.

Our hearts returned to normal as Roger plodded away over the river and Robert retreated into the darkness. How we all laughed and sighed! I really thought our Japanese companions would be horrified but we all beamed at the surviving the situation having got such great snaps! It was no Steve Irwin moment, but hair raising non-the-less.

We didn't hang around for long and continued our journey deeper into the trees. Dilli mentioned it was mating season and therefore the male Rhinos in particular were more aggressive at this time, which made us wonder why we would tempt fate on foot through the wild? The guides laissez-faire approach came across as arrogance and although on the one hand it was an amazing experience, we felt a bit uneasy about the amatuer-ness.

From a watch tower we marveled at the expanse of flower and fauna, and spied on spotted deer as they timidly dispersed. Andrew and I were then taken on a different route to the gang and we ducked through entwining undergrowth, bypassing giant cobwebs and lots of scurrying creepy crawlies.Our second guide at the rear suddenly instigated silence and then instructed us all to run like the clappers. Unsure why were legging it we tried our best to dodge the sticky obstacles and keep up speed. It felt like we were on the set of Jurassic Park 5, or it is 6, but this was not movie with mechanical dinosaurs. Stumbling and puffing we ran for about 5minutes before finding the big path. They told us a Rhino was chasing us, but surely we wouldn't be able to out run that mean machine? We rejoined the others a little out of breath and enjoyed the rest of the walk back to the start point - just glad to be alive once again. What an unforgettable experience!

Back on the riverbank we were just in time to see a group of elephants being scrubbed. Every day at around 10:30am the local, long-nosed residents come to be bathed and it didn't take any persuasion for us to help out. We jumped on one of the Jumbo's back and he waded in ready for a wash. With shouts from the 'driver' the rough-skinned Nellie sucked up the water and sprayed it all over us, then slumped into the waved to tip us off before starting again. Tourists would watch from the bank above and holler and laugh at our screeching and whooping. I could have played all afternoon, the marvelous, floppy-eared creatures fascinate me and I really hoped they were having as much fun as we were.

We returned to the riverside later that day to watch the sun set and just as we settled down to a beer and basket of popcorn Andy spied Roger in the distance, coming down the river. Maybe her was coming back for a second shot at us? But no, he was just happy to saunter with no intent to come too close. This was certainly a rare occurance for a Rhino to come so close to the village and locals gathered to marvel at the sight. Roger trudged along and almost mechanically maneuvered back into the park.

The bright orange, red, yellow sky signaled the departure of the day in the jungle. Seriously, I could die happy tonight with such wonderful sights we've seen!

Posted by AndyGem 03:27 Archived in Nepal Tagged animal Comments (0)

There May Be Trouble Ahead

Journey from Pokhara to Sauraha in Chitwan

sunny 13 °C
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Our overdue bus departure from Pokhara to Chitwan was both on-time and trouble-free....... until.... Da da daaaa!

Suddenly the road became empty and as we noticed a congregation of trucks by the side our bus made a sharp U-turn, halted by the other vehicles and deposited us and its passengers. Unsure exactly where we were or what was happening we gathered it was something to do with the strikes. We were told we were only 3km from the intended destination but as we started walking we realised it was a lot further. Rickshaw drivers were cashing in on the situation and we bartered for a ride down to the main bus station - although at the time we were unaware of where we were heading. As we clambered onto the wooden seat and balanced the heavy bags on our knees I cringed for the poor chap who was attempting to cycle with nearly 200kg of cargo. It seemed like the longest, slowest, cycle-ride in history and with every peddle the rickety seat cried out in pain.

I was not sure how long my legs, the seated contraption, or the driver could last but we were all relieved to finally arrive to somewhere with a street sign. Unfortunately, we were then able to establish that we were over 20km from our hotel in Sauraha Village and as midday approached the sun was hotting up, along with our tempers. We attracted a lot of attention and the atmosphere seemed a bit hectic so Andy called our lodge for backup, fat lot of help they were! Other guides from neighboring hotels came to rescue their stranded guests and we decided to just pay for another rickshaw so we could travel with them - safety in numbers after all. The road blocks were still in full force and although they were burning tyres of any motor vehicles that tried to pass they were allowing cycles and tourists to proceed. A large procession of protesters shouted and marched past us, with banners and sticks - but they seemed to be smiling and laughing so it was pretty tame. In fact, we were not met with any violence, and the only thing disrupted was transport, everyone else just got on with every day life.

Again the duration of the ride was crippling and we even broke the material strap which was carrying our heavy load. Andy surprised the driver by offering to take over at the helm, and he managed to help out peddling for a while before loosing control and carrearing into the ditch.. much to our amusement. "It's hard to steer" apparently! Ha!

Arriving at the Gorkha Hamlet Lodge two hours later was both a relief and a disappointment, because although lunch was immediately satisfying the 'welcome talk' was a bit disconcerting. Our guide Dilli, is a strange fellow, who can't be more than 25, and for some reason instantly unlikeable. Upon describing our activities for the next few days, with dramatic pauses and wry smiles, we surmised our 4-day-Jungle-Adventure comprised of only one 2-hr walk in the actual Chitwan Park and we had just spent the first day on a bumpy rickshaw which we had to pay extra for! According to our itinerary our first day was supposed to be a leisurely walk into the Tharu village and a museum trip, but Dillli insisted we had time for everything and we should rest after our tough journey! Although we had prepared ourselves for interruptions and disruptions we couldn't help but feel cheated and vowed this would be our first and last package deal!

Defying Dilli we took a stroll into the town ourselves and wandered to the river side and the visitors centre. The place was quiet and calming and we soon perked up when we saw three monstrous elephants grazing in their giant barns. After inquiring with other tourist agents about their excursions and prices we felt better about our itinerary and as we were tied to Gorkha Hamlet for the next few days we relented to sit it out and enjoy the ride.

Posted by AndyGem 03:00 Archived in Nepal Tagged transportation Comments (1)

Pokhara, Pagoda & Protests

Chilling in Pokhara

sunny 13 °C
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Back to Pokhara for a hot shower, cold beer and a cushion to soothe my bruised-jeep-inflicted backside. Ahhhh! The mountain air must have had a calming affect on Andrew because I managed to persuade him to spend the WHOLE day by the lake; chilling in the sun, writing notes and reading books - I have never seen him sit him silence for so long. Bliss!! In return I did allow him to indulge in his greatest pleasure.. BBC News! *sigh*.

Our customary post-trek ritual is to consume till our hearts content, although Andrew's overindulgence has recently cost his stomach dearly. I am duly sorry to always harp on about our daily food consumption but when you are deprived of such simple home delights you too would become obsessed. It seems practically every restaurant in Nepal boasts an extensive menu containing every type of fayre you can think of, Nepali, Mexican, Italian, English, Indian, German...the list goes on. Choice in abundance! Which you may argue is a bonus, however, quantity does not ensure quality and we have been disheartened on many occasions - e.g. finding one or two tinned mushrooms in my 'Homemade Funghi Pasta'. It is not all bad of course and we have been delighted by some of the great places we have dined in. Above the fasted-internet-cafe in Pokhara there is a smashing restaurant called Almonds, where you can stuff yourself on the Vegetable Set Menu for only 1 Pound 40! Three types of Curry, Rice, Chapatti, Spinach, Salad and a Poppadum. Bargain!

Interspersed with our lazy-ing around and menu scouring we also found time for a spot of sightseeing. We took a wander into the hills above the Phewa Tal Lake to the brilliant-white World Peace Pagoda. There are three paths up to the pagoda and we took the more interesting, scenic route across padi fields and forests. At times as we traipsed alone through the dense, 'sal' forest I imagined wild, rabid monkeys flinging from the tress to bite us, or falling into giant traps set by tribal cannibals, but thankfully we only encountered one far-off chimp, several birds and a squatting yeti.. oh no sorry, that was just Andrew.

Constructed by Buddhist monks from Japan the World Peace Pagoda is used to promote...yes, you guessed it... world peace, hence it's name! Marvelous golden statues of gods adorn fours sides of the temple and from the top we could see far into the valley despite the low lying mist. When it is perfectly clear it is possible to see far into the snowcapped mountains. Luckily we were not encouraged to join the UN but we put a generous donation into the wooden box to do our bit.

Ironically our encounter with the peace process parallelled violent protests in the Terai region of the country - just where we were planning to go. From newspapers and travel agents we established that blockades were in force on the roads by the Tharu people who want their voice represented in Government. Our sights were set on the Royal Chitwan National Park in Central Terai and after one more day of waiting for the strikes to subside we we told it was safe and buses were running again. Whoo Hoo! Elephants here we come!!

Posted by AndyGem 04:46 Archived in Nepal Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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