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February 20, 2018

Nepal day 10 – Kathmandu

Filed under: Trips — pearsey @ 8:36 pm
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3/4/17
So today was a bit of a lazy day, a chance to tidy up a few things, some last minute shopping before I headed to Chitwan and a last chance to look around the Thamel area in central Kathmandu.
Seeing as I didn’t do a whole lot, here’s some interesting facts and observations from my time so far in Nepal and comparing it to Uganda where I’ve just been.

Today they arrested an ISIS guy at the Kathmandu airport. Then they had a leopard on the runway, further delaying flights, including the scenic mountain flights which some of our group were doing. Couldn’t find a leopard in Uganda in the national parks, but apparently there are leopards in Nepal – at the airport of all places!

Difference between Nepal and Uganda
Kathmandu v Kampala
White dust v red dust
Fallen down buildings v unfinished buildings
Loud music at times v extremely loud music much of the time
Hassled all the time instead of mainly at traffic lights
Other religions v mainly Christian
Less crime v more crime
Not constantly looking over your shoulder in Nepal like Uganda, or even other Asian cities for that matter
There does seem to be less evidence of corruption in Nepal than Uganda
Less motorbikes v more in Uganda. Many of the motorbikes here actually have a leg guard at the front of the bike, which of course is often used to carry things.
Bigger hills/mountains in Nepal
Nepal geared a lot more toward tourism
Elderly people – especially men. In Uganda 50% of the population is under 15 and you just don’t see many elderly at all.

Similarities
Same Pepsi signs advertising restaurants
Poor to terrible roads
Traffic congestion in the cities, especially the capital
Rogue cowboy truck drivers
Poverty
Same poor standard of workmanship on buildings
Vehicles in poor condition
Weird things: there were plenty, but I still don’t know why the wardrobe door handles are different heights!
People are friendly in both places, although there seems to be a lot less of a hidden agenda with the Nepalese.

Annoying things

The bell ringing around hindu and buddhist temples. Especially around Bhaktapur in the morning, the historical area. They started at 4.00ish in the morning and basically kept going every few seconds until we left. Of course I tried to get a video of it and there was silence for minutes.
The truck and bus horns on the major highways. It wasn’t just a horn. It played a fancy tune. Every corner, when the driver gets bored, if a car crossed their path 100m in front of them – well they didn’t really need a reason, let’s be honest.
The menu prices that didn’t include 10% service charge and 13% VAT. You never really knew exactly what you were paying till the bill came.

There was one point earlier in the trip when we were buying an ice cream. There were some kids hanging around the shop asking for ice cream. A painful, whiny voice "I want ice cream" coupled with a sorrowful, despairing look while they almost tug on you – yep, so do I and that’s why I’m here. They didn’t look particularly well fed, were pretty dirty but they had their routine which must have had some success. I didn’t see them actually be successful in getting anybody to buy them ice cream, but around the corner is a bin where many ice cream containers (think the equivalent of our little dixie tub ice creams) were thrown. The kids were pulling them out and licking them. It was actually quite horrible to watch, but put in perspective, this is ice cream. It’s not like it’s an essential requirement to actually live. If it was something more essential like water, perhaps you could understand, but it was almost like an addiction to them. For the record, it would be pointless grabbing my container to lick out, there’s never much left!
There’s not as many beggars around nepal as other places – especially india. They do exist though and the same rules apply – don’t give them anything, it encourages them, doesn’t help long term and rewards them for not working.
If you’re after a good works project you can start here, but let’s be honest: we’ll always have the poor with us and whatever we do there’ll still be those who don’t want to work or help themselves.

The good thing is that there are a lot more shops that have fixed prices or signs that say we’re happy for you to come in and look around without being hassled.
We did go to a shop today that helped deaf and blind people. They got them making different woven goods which were actually quite reasonably priced. You don’t mind paying a little more when you know it’s helping people and making a difference in people’s lives.
Met up with a few of the remaining group for tea at the momo hut. Momo is almost a national dish, we would more likely know them as dumplings. They were a little ordinary at this place I thought.

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February 18, 2018

Nepal day 9 Rafting – day 2

Filed under: Trips — pearsey @ 8:03 pm
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2/4/17
At the campsite they are in the middle of putting up some permanent buildings. We were talking to the man doing the building and he was from a different area and got paid I think about 1500 rupee (~$15aud) per day with meals and a place to sleep included (I think, from memory that’s what it was) which is pretty decent and had been working for about 8 days and expected to be finished in about 4. The concrete bench in what will be the kitchen looks like it will be a little dodgy once the supports come out, but I guess that’s how they do things. Slowly they are improving the campsite which will make it a really good facility when it’s completed.

The kitchen bench at the camp

The kitchen bench at the camp

It was actually quite cool that morning because it had rained overnight. I wasn’t really looking forward to getting dunked in water if we fell out of the raft. But it soon warmed up and we were under way on day 2 of our rafting. As we went down, we noticed that the other boat was not getting anywhere near as wet as us. Our rafting guide, Dil, the same as yesterday, said with a grin: We’re taking the tiger line, they take the chicken line. I’m glad he was happy to take us on the tiger lines through the rapids – these were still pretty tame rapids, grade 2 or 3 only. There was one rapid called danger, which after the rain last night was now a little higher and rated a 4+. Because it was an included activity in our intrepid trip, rather than something we did optionally, we weren’t allowed to go over it, so we had to clamber over the rocks and go around it. Normally the rafting boats would have just gone through it.
Otherwise, mostly we just ambled along the river and spent more time chatting than having any need to actually paddle through rapids. We had a race with the other boat, of course our boat won!
Back in 2015, I had some friends who were actually in Nepal about to do the rafting when the earthquake struck. I asked our guide where he was when it struck – on the beach at the start going through the safety briefing with a group of rafters. None of them realised the extent of the earthquake or damage caused by it at that point in time, so he offered the option of not going ahead or continuing on. I think he said most continued but as they went down they could tell something big and unusual had happened, especially with the river being different to normal, a lot more turbulent and muddy.
I know my friends said the drive back to kathmandu took a long time after the quake – it took us 6hrs due to traffic (maybe 50-60km), I could only imagine how bad it was directly after the earthquake. The road is ordinary at the best of times, but more on that in a couple of days.
So we wandered/drifted down the river, going through a few rapids and enjoying the scenery from a different angle. We got wet enough as we attacked the rapids rather than drift round the edges like the chicken line boat, so it was still pretty good, but the rapids were often a fair distance apart.

Our make shift change rooms

Our make shift change rooms

Suspended high above the river, as well as suspension bridges, are a series of cables with a cart which they use to pull stuff from side to side. Often they will move rocks from one side to the other, sometimes other goods and sometimes people.
Lunch was on the river bank, our change room was two rafts leant against each other and our shade was a raft held up by paddles. After lunch we headed back to kathmandu, the long drive back giving us time to reflect on our trip, for all of us the last real day of the tour, for some of us, the last full day in nepal.

One of the many colourful trucks on the road to Kathmandu

One of the many colourful trucks on the road to Kathmandu

The drive back was slow, but uneventful, which is what you want.
That evening was our last group dinner, we went to a restaurant next to the guesthouse and recapped some of our highlights of the last few

February 17, 2018

In Christ – above reproach

Col 1.21-22 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.

We are reconciled to Christ. No more darkness, no more distance. When we accept Jesus as our Saviour, we are reconciled to Him. No matter what we’ve done, it’s just a small step back and we are reconciled!!! We’re now blameless and above reproach in God’s sight.
Reproach – the expression of disapproval or disappointment.
In God’s sight, once we are reconciled to Christ, He is not disappointed in us, nor does He disapprove of us, or express that disapproval.
Think on that. In God’s sight, above reproach when we walk with Him.

February 8, 2018

Nepal day 8 – Rafting day 1

Filed under: Trips — pearsey @ 9:17 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

1/4/17
We left Nuwakot and thankfully it hadn’t rained overnight, so the bus was able to take us down the hill. Saying the road was "under construction" is maybe the most positive spin to put on it. It looked like they started some work, got bored there, then went somewhere else to do some work. It’s a one lane, one and a half in some places, bumpy dirt road, with reasonable drops on one side – but at least there were trees there to stop the massive slide if you slipped off the road. This road was a lot like the Mt Elgon road in Uganda, but to be fair, this was slightly wider. Or an Australian equivalent might be the back roads around our snowy mountains. It took a while to get down and you could see why it was preferable if the weather was dry.

The road from Nuwakot to the highway

The road from Nuwakot to the highway

Once we got back to the main road, the road changed. From dirt to asphalt, and just steeper and further drops on the side. Parts of the road we were on the other day, the sweeping river bends, with the rocky river bed and the high suspension bridges joining the two sides.

Trishuli River, from the bridge

Trishuli River, from the bridge

We stopped at one of these bridges. As we were parking, we knew we were reversing back toward a massive drop below, trying to get as far off the road as possible when this loud “bang” of something hitting the bus echoes through the bus. Turns out it was the driver’s helper was banging on the back of the bus to tell him it was safe to keep reversing back toward the side of the hill. Knowing what was below, each bang was a little unnerving and took a bit to get used to. Why didn’t we just parallel park? The only reason I could think of was that it was on a bend where you used the shoulder as an overtaking lane… which isn’t uncommon on that stretch of road.

A long suspension bridge

A long suspension bridge

As we arrived, coming across the bridge were a couple of ladies carrying huge sacks on their back/heads. We asked how much they weighed. I think it was around 55 pounds, so maybe 25kg. One had corn, the other potatoes. They stopped and had a chat to us with our tour leader interpreting. I think they were glad of the rest actually and were in no hurry to leave. Those suspension bridges are actually quite steep, but then, not as steep as the hills/mountains they and others walk up with the same sacks of goods that they had.

Carting the veggies to market

Carting the veggies to market

After we moved on, it wasn’t far to where we were starting the rafting from.
The afternoon was rafting, then we were camping the night beside the river, and doing some more rafting tomorrow.
We got kitted out in life jackets and helmets and went through the safety briefing and instructions. A couple of years ago, when the earthquake took place, I had some friends who were doing the same rafting trip that I was about to do. They said they were standing on the shore getting their instructions about the trip when they felt something a bit weird. They didn’t realise it was the earthquake, or how bad it was, so they went rafting anyway. The guides noticed a few odd things as they went – like landslides that weren’t there yesterday and the river being faster than normal. It wasn’t until later that they realised how lucky they had been and how lucky they were to even make it back to the Kathmandu area. I asked one of the guides where he was when the earthquake happened and he actually gave the same story as my friends, so that was cool!

Rafting instructions!

Rafting instructions!

The water was cool but not too cold, but none of us wanted to go in by capsizing the boat. We hadn’t rafted far when we stopped for lunch, with the rafting guides preparing a quick lunch that had come with us on the catamaran boat that was also carrying our overnight gear.

My boat

My boat

Anyway, today the rapids proved to be fairly tame overall, we weren’t even close to going in, although there were a couple of times we had to "get down", which means stop paddling and get down in the boat. The other raft from our group didn’t have to do that at all. Then we watched them navigate the rapids and figured out why – our boat took the "tiger line" not the chicken line, meaning we went the rough way through the rapids, not the leisurely way around them. I’m glad we did, it was still pretty tame doing that.

As we arrived at our camp (Aves tented camp), you could see a massive storm was brewing. Not the time you really wanted to be camping but anyway. The guides worked pretty quickly to get the boats and tents tied down as the wind picked up. It was really interesting watching the sky rapidly change. I was praying it would go round us and for the most part it did, thankfully we just got the edge of the rain and the wind died down not long after. The tented camp had quite good facilities, they heated some water for us to have a shower/wash and there were reasonable toilets*. Note that means reasonable for a third world country/nepal/campsite. There was no light and the flushing didn’t work, but there were 4 walls and a door!

New building at the camp

New building at the camp

The meal tonight was pretty good: chicken, spaghetti and a tomato sauce, a few other things and cake for dessert. Where we would bring out bread or biscuits and cheese as an appetiser, in Nepal they bring out popcorn. A bit random, but you get used to it. We had a camp fire later on where they cooked some chicken. It looked really good, but we were all full from tea earlier on. Maybe that was their plan, because if we knew it was coming, we’d have saved room.

Camp fire

Camp fire

The camp is perched opposite a sharp curved corner of the highway and the trucks drive like maniacs. Apparently it was fairly common to see vehicles not navigate the corner properly and plunge down the side of the cliff. Nothing happened while I was there, but when I was on the road a few days later, a truck was hanging over the edge.

Trishuli River, the bend opposite our tented camp.

Trishuli River, the bend opposite our tented camp.

January 24, 2018

Nepal day 7 – Nuwakot

31/3/17

Around the farmhouse are a few villages and plenty of hills. We went for a walk around both this morning, but at a much more leisurely pace. There is plenty of damage here from the earthquake, some has been rebuilt, much hasn’t. There are many temporary structures still, houses with tin rooves instead of the usual tiles and houses that were more than one storey now reduced to one. Partial structures that were once homes are still attached to the existing dwellings, but clearly uninhabitable. They are not fixed simply because they can’t afford to fix it. After the earthquake struck, the government gave the people 200,000 nepal rupee each to help rebuild. That’s about $2500 AUD (I guess that is home owners). Even though you can buy more for the dollar here, it still doesn’t go very far. They also toughened building restrictions, meaning many had to start again anyway. Many haven’t in the outlying villages and they still dwell in the temporary buildings.

Houses on the hill

Houses on the hill

There were plenty of goats in this village and surrounding areas, left here to roam free – nobody steals them either. The villagers live a simple life – there’s no roads to most of the houses higher up, they have water – not running, gathered from a well, an outside toilet and maybe a one or two roomed house. Most have a plot of land to farm, barely subsistence farming. A few have started to establish a bit more of a larger farm, particularly chooks, but it wasn’t so evident in this area. The main difference between the goats here and the goats in Uganda is their end destination. The males are more valued in Nepal and become a sacrifice at the temple and are not eaten. The males in Uganda aren’t worth much and all of them end up as food.

Local goats

Local goats

On top of one of the hills there’s a bit of a lookout tower (actually I think it may be the framework for a temple). It’s not finished, I suspect may never be, but you can climb 2/3 of it and get a good view of the surrounding area. Of course we saw a few hills dotted by villages and a little further in the distance, the usual fog.

Hindu shrine

Hindu shrine

The walk back to the main village and palace/temple area was down hill and fairly easy. We passed a school and hospital at Ashok Batika, the kids at the school more than happy to pose for photos (on the other camera). We all commented on the fact that you could wander through the school, it really had no fences at all and how different it was to home. The main street of the main village used to be a row of 2-4 storey houses. Now it’s a row of single storey houses with tin rooves, interspersed with areas of rubble that used to be houses and shops. The main temple and palace was damaged enough to make it unsafe, but not enough to demolish it. They both sit there until funds are found to restore it, although I think work had started on the temple.
It’s amazing how some buildings remain, some don’t, some get rebuilt, some don’t. I guess whether they’re rebuilt or not could also have something to do with who survived and who didn’t as well.

Main Street, Nuwakot

Main Street, Nuwakot

What was left of the afternoon was spent hanging around the farm house, enjoying the view, their vegetable gardens and having a bit of a rest.
The view from our small doorway was pretty cool and the pink rhododendrons, which is the Nepalese national flower, provided a perfect frame.

Pink rhododendrons at the Nuwakot Famous Farm

Pink rhododendrons at the Nuwakot Famous Farm

January 17, 2018

Nepal day 6 – Nuwakot

Filed under: Trips — pearsey @ 3:56 pm
Tags: , , , ,

30/3/17

Today was a rest day. “Rest”. Just a leisurely drive in the bus a few km down the road (about 100), get to our accommodation and enjoy the scenery and comforts of a restored farm house. What could possibly go wrong?

Rice paddies at the place we stopped for lunch

Rice paddies at the place we stopped for lunch

It was still foggy in the morning, so unfortunately we still couldn’t see the mountains from the NamoBuddah Resort. This was the closest we were going to get to them and seeing them in real life. So you just had to use your imagination. The horizon partly obscured by cloud, but then clearing to reveal jagged peaks in the distance that rose high above the horizon, a light covering of snow, with the morning light causing the peaks to have a soft golden glow. It’s probably not too far off, because I did see the sun rise over the himalayas last year when I was in Darjeeling, just unfortunate that when I was closer and actually in Nepal, it was cloudy/foggy.

We left behind the Namobuddah resort, an almost mountain chalet, with it’s great food and low doorways – so low I even had to duck to go through them. Got stuck in traffic until we were able to get to the highway. We travelled along the Prithvi highway, a road I became fairly familiar with over the next few days. As we came down in altitude, the fog started to clear a bit, giving a view of the steep hills, looking lush and green from a distance, broken up by terraced patches of brown where new areas were being prepared for crops or had just been planted. Where land slides had occured due to the earthquake, clusters of mud brick houses, mostly with shiny new corrugated iron rooves, gathered together indicating a little Nepalese farming village. The road ran alongside the Trishuli River, which we rafted on later on. The river bed was often very wide and rocky, a lot like some of the rivers in New Zealand, but it seemed very low. Guess when it rains a lot, it fills up a bit. The banks were steep hills, suspension bridges often connected the two sides of the hill together.

Hills along the Prithvi Hwy

Hills along the Prithvi Hwy

Because it had rained a bit, the bus (it was only small, we had 11 in our group) was unable to get to the farmhouse at Nuwakot. Our luggage was put on a truck, which would hopefully meet us at the farmhouse…

We got dropped off to begin the walk to the farmhouse. Our tour leader didn’t really know what to expect or how long it would take. It was basically steps almost straight up, we took about 1.5hrs to cover 2.3km – the locals normally take 25 min. The view on the way up was quite good, the steep rocky stepped path lined with autumn leaves (its not autumn here, so are they still autumn leaves?) and as the day grew later, the setting sun became visible through the trees, giving off a soft orange glow. I’d like to say the view was worth it once we got to the top, but the fog was still there at the top, you could see as far as the next hill, the twilight light not helping the view either. This was a tough hill climb and there were plenty of stops to admire the view – so much for the “rest” day! I keep blaming the altitude, but surely by now I should have been used to it. Even my fitness levels should have approved after the last few days… so maybe it really was the altitude.

The autumn leaves, but it's not autumn!

The autumn leaves, but it’s not autumn!

By the time we made it to the top, there wasn’t much time left for much more than getting our room and enjoying our evening meal. We’d been warned the place was lower than the previous night – it was. We didn’t think it was possible but it was. All the doors were lower, to both the room and bathroom, but so too was the ceiling height lower. One guys room was so low he couldn’t stand up straight at all. The older Nepalese people are shorter, but I don’t think that explains the low doorways. We had a traditional Nepalese meal tonight, which generally consists of rice, curried chicken and then vegetables cooked in varying styles.

Glowing through the cloud

Glowing through the cloud

January 15, 2018

Nepal day 5 – Namobuddah

Filed under: Trips — pearsey @ 9:24 am
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29/3/17

As I awoke this morning in Balthali, something was missing… not much, just a little ray of sunshine. Our view was rather limited by fog, the village a short distance away and visible yesterday through the clouds was nowhere to be seen. As we ate breakfast, the fog showed no signs of lifting, the sun was still nowhere to be seen and the rain started falling. Despite that, it wasn’t freezing cold, but it was cool enough for longer pants and a jumper.

A questionable plant at the resort - that grows in the area!

A questionable plant at the resort – that grows in the area!

When we left our accommodation in Balthali to go on a little 3-6hr hike, it was also still raining, although only light rain, but enough to start out with wet weather gear. We weren’t entirely sure how long it would take, but we pretty much had all day, so it was more likely to take 6 or longer. I think our guide was playing it safe with us and letting us know that we had plenty of time and could therefore take our time doing the hike. It turned out that way and we had plenty of time to rest (which you needed at this altitude) and enjoy the view.

Wet weather gear!

Wet weather gear!

We started out easily enough, down the hill, through the potato crops, down a bit more to a swing bridge. The swing bridge crossed a shallow rocky river, the noise of the fast flowing water over the rocks making the river sound immensely impressive. Of course when you go down, you have to go up. As we climbed higher, the view got more impressive, until again, it became obscured by fog.
We walked, or ambled, along, taking our time up those hills (or mountains to those of us from Aus).

Fog and rain clearing

Fog and rain clearing

As we got closer to the monastery where we were going to have lunch, there were a few ladies digging in the paddock. They stopped and had a little chat to us; they were weeding and digging the ground over to get it ready for the next crop. They did invite us to join them, I think they would’ve loved that, but we had a lunch appointment! I guess you would get used to working at that altitude, but walking was hard going for those of us from Australia…

The ladies digging near the monastery

The ladies digging near the monastery

Surprisingly there was meat available for lunch at the monastery and the meals were quite cheap. The Namobuddah monastery is a training place, where they train the young boys in buddhism and to become monks. They live on site, away from their families and most are sponsored to be there. The actual training room, or shrine hall, had about 200 desks and was easily the most oppressive place I’ve been in for a long long time.

The temple training room

The temple training room

The next part of the walk to our resort accommodation for the night was relatively easy compared to the morning. Along the way though, we saw a group of Tibetians, dressed in national costume and singing and dancing. They were on a pilgrimage tour and were at the local shrine to give their offerings.

An observer

An observer

Our resort for the night was Namobuddah Resort. From the resort, you were meant to have great views of the himalayas. We could see plenty of fog… The accommodation here was quaint, kind of like cottages you’d find in Europe in the snow areas. You had to duck your head to get through the doorways and the ceilings in general were fairly low, although you could walk normally no worries. We sat on low seats with a low table in the dining hall, I was short enough for my knees to go under the table, but most weren’t! My room was like a chalet, with an upstairs and downstairs. It had an indoor toilet, but a separate private toilet and shower room. We were welcomed with the room heaters turned on, which gives you an indication of how cool it is here (they stayed on all night).

At Namobuddah Resort

At Namobuddah Resort

January 13, 2018

Nepal day 4 – Balthali

Bhaktapur. Durbar Square. Morning. Still dark. The dogs hadn’t stopped barking most of the night. At around 4am the bell ringing started. Give or take a bit. It sounded like it was literally outside my window – even though I was on the second floor. It was actually on the street right below. It never ended (except when I tried to make a video of the endless noise). I’m not entirely sure why they need to ring the bell in hinduism; I know in buddhism it’s something to do with letting their god know they’ve made an offering for their sins. Perhaps it’s the same. If that’s the case, how come their god doesn’t know already? Get a real God! The God who created the heavens and earth just requires an offering of praise from us – Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice and offering for sin once and for all. Saves a lot of animals! And bell ringing…

Stop ringing the bells!!  The bells outside the Bhaktapur hotel window.

Stop ringing the bells!! The bells outside the Bhaktapur hotel window.

So after the bell ringing and dogs woke everyone up early, it meant we had plenty of time to enjoy the views from the roof of the guest house and watch the city come to life. Fresh fruit and vegetables were available from the nearby stalls, shops were beginning to open, school kids heading to school and other heading to work. We started the day with another good breakfast, then headed out of Bhaktapur for Balthali village.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square goods for sale

Bhaktapur Durbar Square goods for sale

The first stop was a huge Hindu statue, the world’s tallest statue of lord shiva at 143 feet. The bus (large minivan) did well to get up the hill to it, then when we did get up it, we had some great views of cloud covered hills and the nearby adventure park.

Tallest lord shiva statue, 143 feet

Tallest lord shiva statue, 143 feet

Near the top were some shops selling buckets of red stuff, possibly a lolly type thing. I don’t really know what else to describe it as. I know we had a name for it, but I can’t remember what it was called. We came across a couple of ladies working there, making some kind of paper and these red lolly type things. The paper was hung on boards to dry, then taken off that and left to dry a bit longer. The lollies were all made by hand, mostly a bright red plum colour, then put outside to set, where the bees could also enjoy them. It was interesting talking to the ladies about how they lived and worked, and they were happy to chat (through our tour leader) while they worked.

Trays ready to eat

Trays ready to eat

A bit further on we stopped at a small town on the way, a little farming town, and took a walk through, observing daily life, which wasn’t that exciting… they were just doing what normal people would do (who’d have thought hey?) – watching with curiosity as the visitors walked through. There weren’t many people around, I guess they were all at work or school, or just staying away from the circus. They have a lot of farming industry around here, ducks, chooks, rabbits, vegetables and mushrooms.

Ducklings

Ducklings

A short drive down the bumpy road we left the bus for a "short walk" to our accommodation. The hills here are enormous, we would call them mountains. The altitude of where we were staying tonight is around 1730m. In comparison, our highest mountain in Australia is 2228m! They have huge swing bridges here, easily at least 70m long, crossing high above the river, joining the two sides together without the need for a 30 min walk down and back up the hill. The “short walk” to get to our accommodation was not really short at all and those “hills” certainly weren’t easy either. I think you can get a 4WD into the place, so that may be an option if you’re just in the area to stay and not interested in walking. But it was good to get out of the city and finally see some countryside and enjoy the fresh air. The locals are all very friendly and the kids all greeted us with a wave.

Passing years still bring a smile

Passing years still bring a smile

After we’d reached our accommodation at Balthali village, which was in the process of expansion and being rebuilt after the earthquake, we went for another short walk over to the next village – this one actually was short! I’m not sure how many people live here, but when I say little village, it is. There may only be a hundred or so at most living here, perhaps 30 houses tops. They are perched on the side of the hill (mountain), little goat tracks wind through the village, leading from one house to the next, which are almost on top of each other anyway.

The small village near Balthali

The small village near Balthali

The people here are a little shy, apart from the kids, but were happy with us winding our way through the village. Many villagers have goats here, not to eat, but to keep as an offering to their gods on a certain day of the year. Male goats are worth more, as they can be sold for more. Often the ladies will have a couple of goats each, sometimes in a nice pen attached to the house, sometimes tied up on 3 feet of rope out the front of the house. In this village, they (the goats) eat what is brought to them: dried mustard plants were common, branches, anything. Contrast this to Uganda where they breed the goats to eat and they can be tied up on the side of the road to eat whatever is there and the female goats are more valued. Most villages have a little hindu shrine and here was no exception. Guess it’s the equivalent of our little country churches 100 years ago.

Building a little outhouse

Building a little outhouse

Around this village were many temporary buildings to replace what was destroyed in the quake and also a surprising number of intensive chook farms, built since the earthquake. Wheat is a common crop, tiny patches of 3-4sqm in some places. A common water tank was at the top of the hill for the entire village to use as well as the usual pump like many other villages.

Chook sheds

Chook sheds

At Balthali Village Resort, our room had a great view of foggy mountains, which it had been like all day. We even had a balcony to enjoy the view from, but the workmanship of the building was poor overall, if the finishes were anything to go by. There were gaps between the window frames and the building, lines marking power points, the door didn’t close except by bolting it – and numerous other things. But the place was new and the beds were really nice and comfortable and the shower nearly had hot water!

January 10, 2018

Nepal day 3 – Bhaktapur

27/3/17
Headed to the historical area of Bhaktapur, within the Kathmandu Valley, and really not that far from the center of Kathmandu. It’s a short drive, I’d almost call it another suburb of Kathmandu, but apparently it’s one of the top 3 cities population wise within Nepal. We didn’t even pass any open space to get there! I guess after all this time visiting Asia I should expect that city boundaries aren’t as defined there as they are here in Australia, but I’m still not used to that.

Welcome to Bhaktapur

Welcome to Bhaktapur

At Bhaktapur, unless you’re a local, there is a charge to enter the area. This area was fascinating for looking at the damage from the earthquake. Because it was so old, the damage was easily noticeable, even nearly two years later (quake was 25/4/15). Many buildings have huge cracks in them, walls at weird angles or piles of rubble at the bottom of them. Many houses that were a few stories high are now single story, some buildings are standing while right next door there is nothing but rubble. The back streets are so narrow it would have been a nightmare after the quake trying to get around.
We spent time walking around the back streets, observing daily life, the kids going to school, the women working on the household chores and every now and then some building works. Every day, it is the woman’s job to be up around 4.30am to make an offering to the hindu gods; there’s trouble from the men if they don’t.

Offering bowls at one of the many temples

Offering bowls at one of the many temples

It seems a strange place, almost circular, radiating from the central square (it’s probably not, but it seemed that way). Plenty of temples and historical buildings are destroyed or partially destroyed thanks to the earthquake. The major difference in Bhaktapur though is that there’s evidence of building and restoration works under way and salvage works on some of the materials that were part of the original.

Salvage works

Salvage works

We saw pottery square, which has a kiln in it, but doesn’t really seem to be a square (more an area) and in Durbar Square Bhaktapur was the royal palace with 55 windows, because supposedly he had 55 wives. Next to the palace was a temple where some had just made live offerings – small birds (the birds had obviously been killed to be placed as an offering). So glad I don’t have to do that.

A potter in Potter Square

A potter in Potter Square

Dropped in to the Sweet Home Bhaktapur restaurant where the meal wasn’t too bad and the toilets were clean. Also in the restaurant were a group of possibly Japanese tourists. I’m using the toilet, had only just entered, when one of them starts almost bashing the door down (what was wrong with the other empty one?). I half thought of just letting them in instead and waiting, but that would probably have taken longer. But it continued, which is a little unnerving when you’re in a reasonably vulnerable position… Anyway, they can bash as much as they like, because two can play at that game. I knocked on the door back, but they kept going, so I just took my time – check the hair, clean the teeth, they had a great washbasin and mirror – and our group all had a good laugh after – they were harmless enough (just impatient).

Well in the city

Well in the city

The predominantly vehicle free streets are paved with bricks, cost is 25 rupee for street bricks, 50 rupees for building bricks. 50 rupees is about 65 cents Australian. Found an ice cream shop at Durbar square, where they just sold ice cream. There were a few young boys hanging around the ice cream stall, just waiting for people to buy them ice cream – basically begging. If they hadn’t had any for a while, they’d go around to the bin and grab the empty containers and lick them. Perhaps it was a ploy to get more ice cream, because surely if you were that hungry you’d be hanging around the restaurants for real food rather than ice cream. Again in the shops around the area you could buy anything – knives, swords, clothes, hardware etc and I’m sure they had a special price for tourists! The area has plenty of people living there and calling it home – vegetable gardens, shops and washing on the lines abound.

Veggie Patch, Bhaktapur

Veggie Patch, Bhaktapur

Our accommodation that night was at the Bhadgaon Guest House in the center of the city overlooking the hive of activity around the temples in the square below. Unfortunately “hive of activity” during the day translates to “hive of activity” at 4am in the morning… but that’s for tomorrow’s post! They do have nice meals at the hotel restaurant here – some sizzling chicken was my choice tonight.

Chicken and veggies

Chicken and veggies

Had a walk later on that evening and accidentally took a few steps (literally, that’s all it was) outside the old city limits. I’m sure the guy watched us leave, just so he could ask us where our tickets were. Our guide hadn’t given them to us, but thankfully I had the hotel key and showed that to him.
And no. I don’t want a chess set, but thanks for asking. 500 times.

More colours are available in Uganda!

More colours are available in Uganda!

January 7, 2018

Nepal day 2, Kathmandu

26/3/17
Went for a walk around the Thamel area again today, but there didn’t seem to be that much that we doubled up on from yesterday. Every now and then I saw a street or a sign I recognised from yesterday but it wasn’t often. Amazing that walking around the same area two days in a row didn’t see too many repeats. Either that or I wasn’t taking enough notice, which is possible, but I don’t think I’m that bad.

What's Pesting Pocketing?

What’s Pesting Pocketing?

The maze of streets and alleyways took us past tangles of electricity wires, strange english signs and everyday life of inner city Kathmandu residents. Maybe once, a visit to Kathmandu Durbar Square would have been a highlight. But the place is overcrowded with hawkers, rubble and flying rats (pigeons). It looks uncared for and what our entrance fees (to a public square) are spent on remains to be seen, because it’s not restoration of the buildings or care of the area. There’s plenty of scaffolding up and plenty of props holding up walls, but other than that, it seems like not much is being done.

Flying rats!

Flying rats!

We saw the royal palace and there were some before and after photos of the buildings which showed the damage from the quake. There were definitely buildings you didn’t want to enter (and weren’t allowed to enter) and I found myself looking up to check out the building before I entered. Parts of the palace were at a fair angle, not sure whether they were going to try and restore it or not. To be fair, even before the earthquake damaged it, the area looked like it would have needed some attention. All you could really do at the palace was walk around the buildings – you weren’t actually able to enter any, possibly due to it being unsafe. They did have a few historical information boards on the outside and some passable public toilets.

Royal Palace walls, propped up

Royal Palace walls, propped up

We saw the Kumari Gar, a building (supposed to be a palace, but a poor palace) where the royal kumari of Kathmandu lives. You are allowed in the courtyard of the building, but not inside. It’s always interesting being in a crowd of people and not speaking the language. You really have no idea what is going on, so you tend to ignore a lot of it until something in English comes up. This time in the crowd there seemed to be some excitement building, but I really had no idea what. But then, the kumari girl actually came out! Wow, the effect on most people was interesting as they turned to look – well stare really – at her. I’m not sure what her significance is, apart from being revered as a Nepali goddess, but you can’t take photos of her and she’s pretty much a prisoner in the building and is not allowed to leave it. She is only young, perhaps 9 or 10 years old. Apparently she only comes out once a week, for a few seconds and we got to see her sad face. She really didn’t look at all happy, like somebody forced to be there, doing what she had to do out of duty rather than enjoyment. But really, what could be enjoyable about doing that job? You’re a child and can’t leave the building to go out and play, but would be able to hear the shouts and laughter of children in the streets nearby. You’re held up as a display to gawking tourists and worshippers. You’re separated from your family. If you do happen to get out of the building, you’re carried around in a procession (I may have read somewhere that she was evacuated during the earthquake). You know that once your time is up as Kumari girl, it’s unlikely that people will want to marry you, so you’re destined for a life of loneliness. Yep, all of that could explain the sad look.

Inside Kumari Gar

Inside Kumari Gar

Bodhnath stupa was next on the itinerary – big white and dominating the skyline in that area. Really, a quick wander was all that was needed there, but we had a bit more time, which included lunch in the Boudha Stupa Restaurant and a visit to an art studio. From the top of the restaurant you got a good view of the surrounding area and nearly all the rooftops had solar panels and water tanks. I was noticing that because that’s one thing we were looking at for Mike when we were in Uganda. Again there were plenty of flying rats in the area and worse still they’re encouraged to be there by all the people feeding them. This area is especially significant and draws a lot of worshippers, evidenced by the abundance of surrounding shops selling everything related to offerings and worship – candles, spices, prayer flags, flowers, bells etc.

For the offerings, Boudha Stupa

For the offerings, Boudha Stupa

Pashupatinath is the central hindu temple in Kathmandu and one of the hindu sacred sites. I don’t remember too much of the outer courts, except that there were some restoration works happening here and monkeys everywhere. On the main temple side of the river is where the cremations take place and while we were there, quite a few bodies were brought down for cremating. Interesting the rituals that they do – take the body to the edge of the Bagmati river and wash the feet, walk around it, bless it then take it to the site for cremating, a little further downstream. It’s a little weird watching it, even though we were a fair way away – on the opposite side of the river.
From there we headed back to the guest house, just in time for an evening meal.

Preparation for cremation

Preparation for cremation

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