Tag Archive: Nepal


Tips for travelling in Nepal

1. If you are planning on going to India after Nepal, get your Indian visa in England or anywhere but Kathmandu.

2. Again, if you are planning on heading to India, wait until you get to Kathmandu to get your Rabies vaccine. The CIWEC clinic, which is on the same road as the Indian visa place (the one you should avoid) and the British embassy, is probably cleaner than Western clinics, and waiting time is much shorter. Most importantly, the price of each shot is a fraction of the cost in the UK, costing around 22pounds. Since you will need 3 shots, you can choose between just under 70 pounds for all 3 or 50 each in the UK…

3. ALWAYS haggle. Bus fares, hotel prices, or anything else you have to pay for (other than vaccines). Places may even tell you the price is fixed and then put their price down, when you walk out without buying anything.

4a. Some useful equipment to bring: earplugs, plastic sandals (for wearing in less than clean bathrooms), a torch (for during the daily “load-shedding”, also known as power cuts), a bum-bag, a water bottle (you can get these in every other shop in Kathmandu and Pokhara).

4b. Padlocks are handy – good to attach bags to luggage racks and for your hotel door.

5a. If trekking the Annapurna Sanctuary, you don’t need a guide (there is basically one path the whole way, and when there isn’t you can ask a local) or a porter (unless you have special requirements).

5b. Go trekking in early December. The weather is  fine, it doesn’t get too cold in the evenings, it is not busy as peak season has just ended, and stuff is often cheaper.

6. You can stay in monasteries. It is often cheaper than hotels, and meals are included.

7. The best parts of Kathmandu are not in Kathmandu. Day trip like a wild thing.

8. If you are inclined to give stuff to begging children don’t. If you still feel the need, still don’t give to glue sniffers in Thamel (a part of Kathmandu) as they will even sell food to buy glue. Giving school pens and paper are really the best option.

9. Antibiotics and water sanitiser can be bought in Nepal for a fraction of the cost of them in the UK. Expect to be ill at least once at some point – this can be alleviated by antibiotics. Tap water isn’t safe, so you have a choice betwen bottled water or water sanitiser in a water bottle. The latter is cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

10. You can get by very easily with English, though it is nice to make an effort to speak Nepali.

11. “Dhanyabad” (thank-you) doesn’t really get said, only when someone goes out of their way for you. If someone gives you a clementine on a bus, thank them, but it sounds weird to Nepali waiters etc to hear “thank-you” all the time.

12. Be prepared for grulling bus rides. Plastic bags (the only thing in the medicine box) are always available for the travel sick, of which there will always be at least one. This is not an excuse however to fly anywhere!

13. Keep hold of your small change. People won’t want to give it to you, but you should always have some for fruit sellers and people who you wouldn’t expect to have much change. You often get people who say they don’t have change, but do really, such as taxi drivers and bus conductors. But at the same time, use some common-sense and don’t expect a taxi driver to be able to change 1000Rs when the fare costs 50Rs. You can change big notes for smaller denominations in money changers if you ask nicely.

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This is an episode from the Ramayana, a Hindi epic, as retold for children by Milly Acharya.

Before that though, some background – so far Ram has been exprelled from the kingdom of Ayodhya by a jealous step-mother and has gone to live in the woods with his wife Sita and brother Laxman. In the forest, Ram has an altercation with a demon-god, and cuts off her ears and nose, which she doesn’t take kindly to. She subsequently asks the  demon-king Ravana to take vengeance. Ravana and another demon disguise themselves to lure Sita away from the safety of the forest so that Ravana can kidnap her. Ram, aided by the monkey-god Hanuman and his troop of monkeys, head to (Sri) Lanka where Ravana is holding Sita. The monkeys have thrashed the demons and the most fearsome have been defeated by Ram and his brother.

Chapter 12

When the last of his valiant heroes failed to return, Ravana [the demon-king] knew his own turn to confront Ram and finally come. Dressed in his shimmering armour of solid gold, brilliant gems sparkling upon his chest and crown, Ravana mounted his war-chariot. Glossy black horses strained at the reins, ready to charge. His battle-flag fluttered in the wind.

“Be warned!” he thundered, “for today I shall put an end to you  all. No longer will you menace the soil of Lanka!” The forest-folk [the monkeys] sent showers of rocks and trees at his approach, but these merely rolled off his body. He answered with flaming darts that felled thousands of the monkey-people and drove terror into their hearts.

Laxman rushed to assist his loyal friends. As Ravana saw him he vowed, “You, mortal prince, shall bear the full force of my fury!” An earth-shattering thunderbolt knocked Laxman sensless to the ground. Seeing his dearest brother in a pool of blood and barely alive, Ram lost all heart for battle. The forest-folk gathered round quickly to protect Laxman, while Ravana growled and threatened them. For he was surer now of his conquest than he had been since Lanka was beset with these puny invaders.

The monkeys whispered to Ram, “We know of medicinal herbs which restore life, but these grow only on a mountain-side far away in the snow-capped Himalayas.” Who would go such a great distance and return while there was still breath in Laxman’s body? Hanuman! For he was fast as the wind and swiftly he flew off to the lofty mountains. Before he knew it, he was standing on a rocky slope among the clouds. But he was bewildered by the number of different plants which grew there. “I am no wise healer,” he mused. “If I return with the wrong herbs, I will unable to help Laxman.”

But where Hanuman’s wits failed him, his great strength saved Laxman. Wasting no time, the monkey hero lifted the great mountain upon the palm of his hand and carried it to the plain where Laxman lay lifeless. The wise forest-folk selected the right herbs and ground them into a potion while Hanuman returned the moutain to its original place. And no sooner did Laxman inhale the vapours of the herbs than his wounds began to heal.

Now Ram’s courage returned. He sprang from the ground ready to do final battle, fearless of the monster’s ten heads and countless arms. Both the combatants had powerful weapons which were blessed with magical properties. Each was skillful and valiant. And neither one had ever tasted defeat.

Soon the sky was ablaze once again with heat and flames from the clash of arms. Tremors shook the earth, the ocean churned gigantic waves, the heavens darkened ominously. All living creatures trembled with fear; their howls echoed through the island forests. Ram and Ravana fought with all their might while on both sides the other warriors stood by to watch the awesome combat.

Ravana’s weapons released ferocious animals. The heads of lions, crocodiles, vicious serpents and snarling jackals hurled down through the air. But Ram merely froze these beasts into ice which broke into pieces the monemt they touched the ground. Ravana aimed tridents filled with deadly venoms, but Ram’s poisons were equally potent.The twang of his bow could be heard for miles as he drew the string back to his ear and discharged a storm of arrows straight at his foe.

The  demon’s eyes blazed, he breathed smoke through his nostrils, his mouth twisted in rage. His twenty arms wielded twenty weapons at once! “I am no mortal,” the Demon-King reminded Ram. “The gods in their heavens fear me. Do you dare test my superhuman strength?” Ram cut off Ravana’s head in reply. Another head instantly replaced it, and when he cut this one off as well, a new head appeared in its place. The monster was impossible to defeat! Of all the magical arms that Ram posessed, none had any effect on Ravana.

It was then that Ram remembered the one weapon he had never tested. The time had come to use it – the most deadly weapon, the missle which was the gift of the Lord Brhma himself. No being on earth could endure its destructive might. It could tear open the skies or dry up the oceans.

Ram repeated the chant that would summon it, and there in his hand it gleamed in the waning sunlight, invisible to all but Ram alone. He blessed it silently, then hurled it with full force at his enermy. With a thundering roar, Brahma-astram exploded into the depths of the earth, crushing the mighty Ravana on its way. The spot was deeply gouged, like a great wound upon the ground, and poisonous fumes rose thick and fast from its dark crater. Neither tree nor grass nor weed would grow here, and for many years the land remained stubbornly barren.

Their leader was dead! With panic in their hearts and fear in their bones, the defeated demons turned and fled, easily routed by the exbuerant monkey-army. Very soon the field of battle lay empty and silent. The skies cleared, the sun shone cheerfully, gentle breezes cooled the air, the earth ceased to shudder, and the waves were calm once more.

Ram and his friends were safe; Lanka was quiet and serene. Ravana’s brother Vibhisana, who had helped Ram achieve his victory, was now crowned the new ruler of Lanka.

(From The Ramayana for young readers, retold and illustrated by Milly Acharaya)

Friday 1st June, 2001. The Narayanhity Royal Palace, Kathmandu, Nepal. Circa 2100hrs.

During a party to which almost all the royal family had been invited, Prince Dipendra, who had been taken to his room early for “misbehaving”, burst into the dining hall and shot and killed everyone there, with the exception of Prince Paras and 4 other people, who hid behind the sofa. He subsequently found his mother and brother outside of the Palace, where he killed them, taking his own life moments later.

A dark day for all Nepali royalists, other than the barbers, who made a killing in haircuts as shaving one’s head is a demonstration of grief.

As with so many events of this or a similar nature, numerous conspiracy theories have grown-up around it. One of the dominant ones is that Gyanendra, the now dead Kings brother, who before the massacre was 2nd in line to the thrown after the King’s son, orchestrated the whole event. With the apparent suicide of the Prince, Gyanendra took power (only to be later toppled by the Maoist “revolution”). At the time of the massacre, he was out of town (in Pokhara) and his wife and son were 2 of the 5 people who survived. Until he died, the Prime Minister maintained that the massacre had been a “grand design”…

While details are not clear, it is suspected that Prince Dipendra never in fact fired a single shot. Tests from the dining room suggest that shots were fired by what seems like more than one person, from several different guns. A story which is supposed to be based on the eye-witness account of a maid who survived claims that there were two masked men posing as one Prince. There are suggestions that, while Prince Dipendra was left-handed, the shot that ended his life could have only been fired from his right hand, or by that of another. On top of all this, there were no post-mortems, as the entire family was rushed off to Pashupatinath to be burned.

Duh-duh-duuuuuuuuh. Conflicting stories, but nevertheless entertaining. Oh, and of course tragic.

While we were in Nepal we read/heard quite a few nice stories which we would like to document and share.

A Taxi, a Fence and a Bowl of Ice-Cream
or
How to Empty Your Bank Account in Under 12 Hours

One evening, Ben, a young volunteer, was returning home after an “exerting” night out. So far, the day had gone well, but things were about to change.

Deciding that the distance home was too far for his weary legs, he flagged down a taxi for the 100Rs journey. However, the taxi driver did not think it was a 100Rs journey and insisted on 300. Considering the other option was walking, Ben agreed to this inflated price and off they went.

It was after 45 minutes of what should have been a 10 minute journey that Ben asked the driver if he knew where he was. In a similar fashion to how many Nepalis answer questions, the man waggled his head from side to side.

“Yes yes. No problem.”

Unconvinced, Ben started looking for landmarks and by the time he recognises one he asked to alight here. By this point, Ben’s taxi had gained an extra passenger who seemed to be a friend of the driver.

“500Rs,” demanded the driver.

“Look, its not my fault if you got lost, we agreed 300.”

The man in the back of the taxi, who up to this point had remained silent, leaned forward.

“You pay 1000Rs.”

Feeling like this might be an opportunity for him not to get mugged, Ben reluctantly paid, and walked the rest of the way. First unpleasantry of the night.

Unfortunately, when Ben returned, all the doors and windows, some of which he had deliberately left open, were now locked. This he only discovered after scaling the fence and the building and in the process ripping his trousers. Unpleasantry number 2.

Number 3: having recently moved houses, Ben returned to the empty old one, which he had previously had great success in “breaking” into. But, to Ben’s dismay, the doors had been replaced and the windows had all been locked. He had nowhere to go.

It was now 1am. He collected his thoughts and returned to town in the hope of finding a room. To no avail. All of the reasonably priced places were either full or closed, so Ben turned his sights to more luxurious destinations.

After checking various Ritz-like hotels, Ben was forced towards the 2nd most expensive hotel in the whole of Nepal.

“The only room we have available is the Ambassador’s Suite.”

“How much is that?”

“800 dollars.”

Ben proceeded to give the man a made-up sob story involving girl friends, abandonment and volunteering, and the man at the desk agreed to give him the Suite for just under 200 dollars. Unpleasantry number 4.

Slumping into his 200 dollar bed, Ben had that feeling that we have all had at some point after a night out. He was hungry. So hungry in fact that there was no way he was going to get to sleep without eating. This, he thought, called for room service. A bowl of ice-cream was delivered, which Ben later told us was “remarkably reasonably priced”.

An expensive night…

The bus driver to Tansen (and sorry if any kids are reading this) was a complete dickhead. He initially tried to charge us too much, but that is quite standard practice. We then stopped and I jumped out to ask if there was time to pee.

“No.”

I ignored this and found a loo, which several other men had also found at the same time(!), returning rapidly to a bus which sat stationary for over 10minutes. Lucie was in a bit of a situation as she also needed to pee, but thought she did not have time. As the minutes ticked away frustration grew…

At the next available opportunity, Lucie jumped out, asking the bus driver if there was time to use a toilet. He nodded, so she dashed off. During her pee time (not long), the driver got bored and started to leave. It was only due to my pee companions and myself, that we managed to stop the bus from leaving Lucie with her pants around her ankles!

Then there was lunch.

“20 minutes” we were told when we asked how long this break would be. Enough time to get lunch. However, as soon as our chow mein arrived in front of us the bus started to move. We stuffed our noodles into plastic bags and then waited another couple of minutes for the bus to actually leave.

The icing on the cake was that we had paid to be dropped in Tansen, not the town at the bottom of the enormous hill that Tansen is at the top of. Bastard! Someone could have at least told us this before we started off up the road, oblivious to the huge climb ahead of us.

Once we had huffed and puffed our way up tiny windy paths, we finally reached the actual Tansen bus stop. Tansen is the steepest town I have ever seen (probably even steeper than Durham). At the very top is Shreenagar Hill where there are more great views. Other than that, its almost the lack of anything to do which makes it so pleasant. This is very real Nepali town, with lots of interesting Newari architecture – the windows are covered in ornately carved wood. Being a real town, there are no touts trying to sell you anything, but also no places to eat anything but Daal Bhat, apart from one bakery/restaurant.

After 3 nights in Tansen, we woke up at stupid o-clock and caught a bus to Lumbini, the birth place of the Buddha in 563BC. On what is now the site of the Mayadevi temple, his mother (Maya Devi) bathed and suddenly went into labour – it’s been proven that he was definitely born here. Maya Devi is supposed to only have had time to grasp the branch of nearby tree before the Buddha was born in a stance reminiscent of the John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever (only more wise).  Since then, it has been decided that Buddhist temples from countries all over the world should be built in the “Lumbini Development Zone”. There are the more obvious ones such as a Japanese temple and a Chinese temple, but then there is also a German temple and French temple…

Lucie commented that Lumbini reminded her of going to visit Legoland as a kid. Many of the rides were not yet open as the site was still under construction, and whilst there were a few exciting things, what she remembers most clearly is the jacket potato she had for lunch. Lumbini may not have been quite the same, but it’s the holiest building site I’ve ever seen. It’s fulfilling the “Master Plan” of a Japanese designer from the 1970s – gradually, as donations come in, more bridges are built, more water features created. Some temples are spectacular – the Chinese temple looks like they borrowed it from the Forbidden City, and the German (!) temple could have come straight out of Tibet (if Tibet had more money). However, the majority of the temples are still in their bare concrete form, which is quite interesting in itself.

It was one of these concrete temples that housed us: to rival the Chinese temple, Korea (presumably South) is building its own spectacle across the road. At the moment, it is entirely grey – yet to be painted or tiled, the concrete is quite brutal! Regardless of this, we thought that given we weren’t going to be celebrating Christmas, we should do something “religion connected” for the occasion. So we woke up on the morning of the 25th to the sound of the breakfast gong in a Korean Buddhist temple, which rings far too early in my opinion.

The rest of our Christmas day would be taken up by traveling into India. On the way to the border,  in a massively over-crowded jeep, Lucie had the pleasure of having a man sit on her lap, while I was repeatedly offered drugs – not exactly what you want to be carrying when crossing a border..!

So at 2pm on Christmas Day, we entered India. Onwards to Varanasi!

Pokhara – Lakeside

In Lakeside we indulged in some flagrantly touristy, Western-oriented
things. Given that the town has gotten so big, it seems, purely
because of the tourism trekking to Annapurna brings, it is
unsurprising that there is little to do that isn't touristy if you do
not have time to get involved in a proper project. We found pool
tables, free movie showings and visited a few sites. A good way to
recover after a hard week's trek.

After our trek, we returned to the same hotel as before to be told it
was now more expensive. Excellent. The one good thing about getting
back was that because it was about 4 in the afternoon, the solar
heaters had gone to work on that day's water to produce luxuriously
hot showers. It was a the-smell-wafts-off-you-in-clouds situation
after seven days of trekking and only one freezing cold shower in that
period! Then we headed to Lumbini restaurant, a little
hole-in-the-wall where you can get amazing Middle Eastern food (!) -
we ate so much shakshuka, falafel and hummus in that week! Topped off
with ginger tea, what more could you want? A Palestinian man called
Mohammad whom we had met in Kathmandu bumped into us again in Pokhara
and introduced us to the place. He's also going to put us up in the
United Arab Emirates when we get there, which is very kind of him!

The lake is lovely to row across, and being rowed across it is even
better, particularly as the sun goes down, shafts of light break over
the hills, and the swallows (or swifts, I'm not sure) dip and swoop
around you catching bugs from the water's surface. On days when they
aren't wreathed in cloud, you can see the mountains totally clearly,
and often the sky around them is dotted with paragliders or hawks or
both. There is even a sport called 'parahawking' where a trained hawk
guides the glider to the best currents in the air! Nearer the water,
in the sunshine, brightly coloured butterflies flit above the surface.
I don't know what's in it for them, maybe they're incredibly vain,
looking at their own reflections. I know peacocks like to look at
themselves in windows, maybe it's similar for butterflies. Sadly it
seems that many butterflies get too close to their own reflections,
too enamoured to take personal safety into account, and end up
floating on the water, buffeted by the oars of passersby. As you
paddle, tiny whirlpools are created in the water, and Sean span us
around full circle just watching them swirl.

One of the most enjoyable bits of being in Pokhara was getting mopeds.
I was on the back of Josh's, and Sean had his own. We were fully
equipped with the half-face helmets that my stepdad has always warned
against - 'If you crash and hit the side of it, you can break your
neck in a second'. Pushing that to the back of my mind, we embarked on
manoeuvering our way through the manic Nepali traffic. We drove out to
a much less manic, more peaceful lake called Bagnas Tal, where we
walked around until we couldn't walk any further where we found
ourselves at a restaurant. It faced right onto the lake. We ordered
daal bhat with fish curry ('Is the fish fresh?' asks Josh.
'Obviously!' replies the owner, sounding offended), and it was
incredible. The man who runs the place (it's called Sanu Lake on D
Water), Rajan, studied Food and Beverage at university, so his
flavours are carefully studied. He wants his food to be different from
anyone else's - if he finds anyone using cumin with their spinach
he'll change the recipe - and it is all locally sourced. Even the rice
tastes different. Definitely recommended.

After that we wanted to put the 'peds to the greatest use, so we took
off towards the Tibetan refugee settlement. These people either left
Tibet in 1959 or later, or were born there to parents who left.
Tibetans really don't have a good time of it - I don't know what it's
like in India for those who escaped that far, but in Nepal they cannot
get official residence, so they cannot get jobs. Instead they are
confined to camps and the streets of Pokhara where they try to sell
their wares to tourists. We found a Tibetan flint-and-steel set for
Sean - you strike the metal attached to the ornate case against the
stones you keep inside. Unsurprisingly, the monastery at the
settlement was not as grand as some of those we have seen as it has
very little funding, but it was nonetheless filled with a thousand
statues of the Buddha.

After Sean left to go back to Kathmandu, Josh and I rowed over to the
path up to the World Peace Pagoda, and trekked up the hill to see it
up close. It was funded by a Japanese buddhist monk who met Mahatma
Gandhi and was inspired by the ideas of peace. He was appalled at the
bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and decided to spread the message
of peace throughout the world by building pagodas in many different
countries, starting in Japan at the two bombing sites. Over eighty
have been built, and the Pokhara one was completed in the nineties
after some controversies over planning permission and a forcibly
terminated attempt in the eighties. There are several statues of the
Buddha, and awesome views

We had picked a perfect time to go trekking – just after peak season so we had the trail to ourselves most of the time, the sun shone every day, and it did not get too cold at night. It being off-peak also meant that rooms were mega-cheap, and there were always spare ‘blankets’ which are actually duvets. Basic comfort levels, check.

The trek was amazing, although both Adrian and Josh suffered quite a bit. Josh at times claiming that he didn’t believe long walks were for him. From the very beginning, the trek wasn’t quite what we had expected as we began by climbing a massive flight of stairs. This was to continue for most of the trek (other than the down bits). The steps up to Chhomrong were pretty ruinous, but the chocolate cake at the top (with custard of course) made it all a little easier.

We had had great ambitions for filling the 10 days with a quicker trek and then visiting some natural looking (rather than just concrete holes in the ground) hot springs. Unfortunately, Josh’s knee screwed him and those plans, so we returned to Pokhara a few days early. Sean made the trip from Deurali to MBC and ABC, but we stayed down, avoided the altitude and knee strain, and played cards and drank hot chocolate until Sean came down.

Adrian stayed with us till the beggining of Chhomrong, but his was a spur of the moment decision to trek and he had only 4 days free so he turned around to go to Kimrong, Kumrong and Ghandruk by himself. This was the route we took several days later.

On the way back, Josh decided that we needed to take it all a little bit easier and stop to enjoy ourselves a little bit more. We stopped at a stream, took off our shoes and socks and dangled our toes in the water. Across the valley there were monkeys in the trees. As we walked along the path later on, there were crashes above us, so we stepped back to let the monkeys pass overhead – slight danger of falling branches.

In Ghandruk, Josh and I decided to celebrate our anniversary by getting some local wine – Raksi. It wasn’t the best of decisions. Totally clear and made from millet, this Raksi at least tasted like watered down vodka.

Some highlights:

The best card game experience was in Deurali where we sat in the corrugated iron and mud eating area warmed by the oil-can stove and joined by the proprietor’s mother

The highest sense of achievement was definately after climbing the steps to Chhomrong. The guide book calls it “a stiff climb”. Understatement!

A close second is climbing over 12,000 steps (down) in one day.

The best pancake (a trekkers breakfast is an omelet and a pancake) was in Ghandruk where it came smothered in chocolate sauce. We ate them on the roof of the guest house with a view down into the whole valley and up to the Annapurnas.

Perhaps the oddest experience was watching the mist roll up the valley and over us as we sat at a table in Deurali.

We won’t be scrambling up and down mountains again any time soon, but it’s definitely not an experience to be missed if you get the chance to go.

We had picked a perfect time to go trekking – just after peak season so we had the trail to ourselves most of the time, the sun shone every day, and it did not get too cold at night. It being off-peak also meant that rooms were mega-cheap, and there were always spare ‘blankets’ which are actually duvets. Comfort levels, check. 

As my mum left Kathmandu, our friend Sean arrived in Kathmandu, though not quite when he intended. He flew with Air India – a very bad idea – and after waiting 3 hours on the plane in Heathrow was told the plane was not going anywhere that night as there had been “technical difficulties” (a problem he also experienced when trying to leave Kathmandu – lesson don’t fly with Air India). So the next day he returned to Heathrow and we met him the same day at Kathmandu airport. While we thought that Sean would pack light, it seemed odd that he had arrived without any bag at all. In turned out that Air India had believed that half an hour was long enough to transfer all the passengers and their bags from one flight to another when they changed in Delhi. However, they had been wrong and so while the passengers had boarded the plane, the bags had not. So the following day, Sean had to go back to the airport to retrieve his bag.

With him and his bag now in Nepal we began to enjoy ourselves – well, as much as possible in Kathmandu. We got into a lengthy chat with some camping shop worker. He told us how when a stupid rich westerner came in and asked if they had any better quality items, they would go into the back of the shop, get exactly the same as what was at the front of the shop in a different colour, and then charge 4 times as much. He wondered how such rich people had become so rich. An age old question. We then chatted about the difference between relative and absolute wealth, while Sean explained how beautiful the mountains are, a subject upon which he had a tendency to wax lyrical when he was in Nepal.

Unfortunately, bad things tend to come in threes and within 48 hours of arriving, Sean had come down with food poisoning which we believe was gained in a Korean restaurant – I would not like to say whether it was from the North or South…

As good friends should do, after giving Sean lots of water and biscuits, we left him to throw-up and headed for Bandipur.

However, getting there proved harder than expected. Given the load of bags we had, we decided to catch a taxi to the bus station.

“Bus station for Bandipur” we told the taxi driver

So after travelling for a couple of minutes our taxi drivers suggests he could take us to Bhaktapur for a friends price.

“Bandipur, not Bhaktapur” we reply.

So we continue for a another few minutes and then the driver again suggests he can take us to Bhaktapur. A problem seems to be developing. So the taxi driver drops us at what he hope is the bus station for Bandipur, but of course, its not, though buses to Bhaktapur do go from here. Luckily, we meet an incredibly helpful local who takes us via foot and bus to the correct bus station and doesn’t even ask for any money (though we still give him some).

We negotiate a price for the bus to Bandipur (no bus prices are fixed) and set off. However, half way through the journey the ticket inspector asks us for 3 times what we agreed to pay. Another unwanted hassle, but to their surprise we don’t budge.

So eventually we arrive in Bandipur and everything looks a lot brighter for us (if not for Sean). Bandipur is a one road Newari village set in the hills between Kathmandu and Pokhara. While the village caters for tourists, it is by no means a tourist town. The guest-house we stay at is a old Newari building that was built by the grandfather of the woman who now runs it. She insists on calling us ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ and tells us to call her mother ‘mother’. When I needed to get the key she instructs me to go downstairs and say “Mother, give me the key”. Amazing!

The view from our window is incredible. As far as the eye can see there are rolling hills, while on the other side of the house there are the mountains – quite different from Kathmandu where we could see a building site, although to be fair there were mountains behind that.

One of the highlights of our time in Bandipur was watching the sunset from the hill just above the town. The sunset was so lovely in fact that we ran straight down the hill (after running up it in fear we would miss the sunset) and emailed Sean informing him that he must come here and watch the sunset the following day, which he did.

Now being with Sean, and Adrian (a Dutchman Sean had met on the top of a jeep), we all headed into the jungle below Bandipur to seek out the caves. In my usual fashion, when we arrived at the caves, I argued with everyone that we didn’t need the guide that was waiting at the entrance. But after making 3 mistakes within 30 seconds of entering the cave I changed my mind. Lucky I did to as these caves were massive and unsurprisingly, very dark. Sean, Adrian and I had never been in proper caves before, so the entire experience was new and fascinating. There were enormous chambers (which we climbed to via a rickety ladder), glistening ceilings, pure white rock formations and bats. I don’t think we would have found our way out very easily or with all our ankles un-sprained without our guide!

We left the caves with an appetite and continued down the hill to the village below for veg chow mein. Not wanting to walk back up the hill to Bandipur we tried to hitch a ride and within a couple of minutes found ourselves on the back of a tractor which was carrying massive chunks of rock for a building site. This wasn’t the most comfortable of rides, but was pretty spectacular. We also got laughed at quite a lot my local people as we slowly drove past.

Having had a brief break from city life, we left the over-whelming beauty of Bandipur and headed off to Pokhara, with Adrian becoming the latest victim to food poisoning.

Browsing facebook you might stumble across a group called ‘The Kathmandu Indian Visa Line Club’. While it only has 26 members, all of them are united in having experienced the embassy from hell.

After returning from our trip to Dhulikhel we hoped to pick up our Indian visas. Retrospectively, this seems a rather silly thought, especially given our initial encounter with the embassy.

We arrived at the embassy at just before 8.30am – our first mistake – and took the obligatory ticket. We were A16. This didn’t seem too bad, given we thought there must only be 15 people ahead of us since there were about that many other people also waiting. However, 4 hours later we had discovered that the system is not that logical. As are also randomly interspersed with Fs, and Cs.

Eventually, at just before 1pm, we joined another mini-queue in front of the ONLY counter (by this point there were at least 60 people in the waiting room!). We paid our 300rs to Telex our forms to England and left, being told to return in 5 working days.

6 working days later, returning from our blissful trip, we hoped for a relatively hassle-free pick-up. We arrived earlier this time – around 7.45am – and were almost at the front of the queue. We again took our ticket, this time being C13, which seemed very unreasonable given that there were only 5 people ahead of us, and, already clued up about this process, went to go and get drinks and investigate jabs. We returned an hour and a half later, checked the number on the board and left again for half an hour.

When we were finally seen, we were told that the Indian Embassy in London had not confirmed that we aren’t mad terrorists (or whatever it is that they do) and so we could only get a 3 month visa. After a little dispute, we filled in the Telex form again (not having to pay this time) and were told to come back 2 working days later.

So we did, having called the embassy in London ourselves to make sure they would reply. This in itself was not as easy as expected as I had to explain to the man on the other end of the phone that I wasn’t “in the pool” as he thought, but “in Nepal”. Luckily, we’d found a mind-bogglingly cheap phone. We went through the whole morning rigmarole (see above), this time being told we had been granted a 6 month visa. Brilliant. Of course we then had to join another queue in order to pay.

One would think that an embassy taking tens of thousands of rupees each day, would have the fore-thought to have some change. No. The annoying man told me to go away (this being after queuing for a total of over 10hours) and get change. I think it was not unreasonable to try and rip his head off…it worked. Well his face certainly changed shape and colour, and I left with change and a smile.

The smile withered in the next queuing process we had to endure. After being told to return at 5pm, we started queuing at about 4.30pm. 5pm came and went. 5.15, 5.30, 5.45…the end of the queue in the mean time was almost out of sight. After asking what the problem was, we were told that the passports had not arrived yet! Eventually, once it was dark, an old man in a wooly jumper took two suitcases out of the embassy and around the corner. It was after 6pm before we were even let into the insane asylum. However, the arbitrary ticket system was this time not even in use, so the 2 and a half hour, carefully collected queue dissolved as people took their seats.

It was another 20mins until the old man (who happily hadn’t been mugged) returned and Lucie fought her way back to the front of the “queue” where we had begun. Finally, finally, we picked up our visas, never again to return.

Lesson of this story: If it is possible, get your Indian visa anywhere other than the Kathmandu Indian Embassy!

Okay, so it's not really Kathmandu, but it's in the Valley, and it's
like we've got a Kathmandu mini-series going on!

Dhulikhel was stunning. We stayed at a guest house along a dirt path,
past a Shiva temple covered in pink and red paint and marigolds. From
the rooftop, where we ate and sat in the sunshine, we could see the
Himalayas - every day they became clearer.

One day we walked the long way around (inadvertently, but 'scenic
route' would be true, not just a euphemism) to the Kali temple. In the
end we never found the temple itself, just the picnic spot nearby,
where a Maths teacher and his pupils were having a day off - there was
a gas stove and an enormous pot of curry. They were joined at one
point by some evangelical Christians, and it was like something out of
a Louis Theroux documentary, minus the gangly man politely questioning
his way through the process. I've never seen someone in the flesh
believing they were casting the devil out of a person. I don't think
the poor Nepali guy they were trying to help had either! We were
joined by the maths teacher, who was also interning at a tourist
agency, who enthused about Pokhara and the need to return to Nepal in
2011 - the 'year of tourism' - they are trying to get one million
visitors to Nepal with the tagline 'once is not enough for Nepal'.

The next day, we left Merilyn to recover from her bout of food
poisoning, looked after by the extremely friendly and helpful host,
and walked up the thousand steps on the way to Namobuddha. We met
Dorothy, an Australian woman in her later fifties, who had recently
cycled the Rockies and was fresh from a trek to the Annapurna Base
Camp. The walk was pleasant, and although the stupa at our destination
wasn't that interesting this was redeemed by the monastery which
towers in full resplendence above it. The one room inside that we saw
was one of the most extravagant we have seen. There was scaffolding
around the walls, paints crushed in pestles and mortars, and the
elaborate sacred paintings on the walls were half-finished. Depictions
of the Buddha were as yet undetailed, the heads of vanquished foes on
the garlands around protector deities' necks were uncoloured - that
was interesting. Dorothy decided to stay at the monastery, and Josh's
knee was a bit sore, so we bid farewell and went to find a taxi back.

When we returned, Merilyn was well and sat in the kitchen with our
host, hostess and a German man who had just come from India. The daal
bhat was tasty, made using mostly homegrown vegetables. Nepali people
always find it funny when we eat with our hand (right hand only - left
hand is for use only in the toilet). After any meal, we could follow
it up with freshly picked mandarins from the trees! The woman was
surprised, insisting that they weren't ripe yet, but they were really
sweet - I wonder what they taste like now they're 'really' ripe!

We headed back to Kathmandu to meet Sean, while Merilyn went on to
Bakhtapur to begin her mini-trek.