These are notes copied from my journal! I find it easier to transfer thoughts from there after a busy day. The wifi has been spotty – but now I am able to share. Enjoy!
February 16th: Arrive in Kathmandu, Nepal
I’m BACK! Just touched down in Nepal and I couldn’t be happier. This place tugs at my soul!
Since my visit last July, it’s been all I’ve thought about. As I exited the plane it all came back, the sounds of the horns on the street, the sweet smell of incense lingering in the air. And the people – the worlds most beautiful people everywhere. We hoped in a cab and drove through the chaotic streets to a small hotel on the edge of Thamel (a rather touristy area of the city). The hotel was hidden down a random side street and I was ready to get inside, sleep and have a full day when I awoke. Before bed, I took a walk up to the roof of the building. I needed to have a good look at the city, pinch myself a few times and curb my enthusiasm so I could sleep! The hotel is quaint and cozy. The staff are typical Nepali folk – will help you with anything, give advice and bend over backwards for you to enjoy your stay. I can’t believe I’m in Nepal again (insert love eyes emoji).
February 17th: Day in the city
I slept like a rock. Something about 20.5 hour flights makes me really tired, go figure. My body has not adjusted – I’m still exhausted and it’s the evening back home. I woke up to the sound of music trailing down the street below. As I brushed my teeth and prepared for a full day, I felt just so thankful to be here. Wow.
Went down stairs to have some classic Nepali breakfast food. Mmm. Also I got to have my first milk tea of the trip. I can not even express how much I missed it. I’d trade any other beverage to have this as the norm in Canada. It’s the most addicting flavour – Nepali tea is made from the leaves of tea (Camellia sinensis) plants produced in Nepal. The tea is unique in its appearance, aroma and taste. Usually combined with milk and sugar to create almost a desert like beverage. I’m so hooked – and I’ve longed for it ever since. I’ll have 1,000 cups before I leave.
Before departing into the chaos of the city, I ran up to the rooftop once more to see the city in the light. A haze hangs in the sky and I can now see the city bustling below.
We left the hotel around 7 am and returned in the evening. It was a very long and full day. We started by just wandering and watching. We needed a good hour or two of becoming completely immersed in the havoc of the city. Watching the cars, bikes, people and animals navigate the streets. Smelt all the smells, checked out some random alleys and then headed towards Durbar Square.
“Durbar Square (Basantapur Darbar Kshetra) in front of the old royal palace of the former Kathmandu Kingdom is one of three Durbar (royal palace) Squares in the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Several buildings in the Square collapsed due to a major earthquake on 25 April 2015. Durbar Square was surrounded with spectacular architecture and vividly showcases the skills of the Newar artists and craftsmen over several centuries. The Royal Palace was originally at Dattaraya square and was later moved to the Durbar square.
The Kathmandu Durbar Square held the palaces of the Malla and Shah kings who ruled over the city. Along with these palaces, the square surrounds quadrangles, revealing courtyards and temples. It is known as Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square, a name derived from a statue of Hanuman, the monkey devotee of Lord Ram, at the entrance of the palace.”
When we entered the square we were bombarded by men trying to offer their services as a guide for the area. We kept saying thanks, but no, to every one. Until Mr. K…
Mr. K (he insisted we call him that) is a small Nepali man with a beaming personality. He has almost perfect english and has worked in that area for years. He continued to walk slowly behind us and offer help for a price that kept changing. There was something special about this guy – who were we to say no? He clearly knew his stuff. So we hired him! And he gave us an incredible tour.
Started by showing us Kumari:
Kumari/Kumari Devi/Living Goddess – In Nepal there is a tradition of worshipping young pre-pubescent girls as manifestations of the divine female energy or devi in Hindu religious traditions. The word Kumari is derived from the Sanskrit Kaumarya, meaning “princess”.
A Kumari girl is selected from the Shakya caste or Bajracharya clan of the Nepalese Newari community. The Kumari is revered and worshiped by some of the country’s Hindus as well as the Nepali Buddhists, though not the Tibetan Buddhists. While there are several Kumaris throughout Nepal, with some cities having several, the best known is the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu, and she lives in the Kumari Ghar.
We got to witness her come out and reveal what Mr. K called her “divine beauty”. He then showed us more temples, shared history and talked about how to recognize quality Nepali merchandise and art from the fake stuff. Told us where to get the best lunch and shared many stories that he knew about the West. He told us he would never leave Nepal – because he wouldn’t want to come back polluted or confused by the culture of other places. I don’t blame him.
In the late afternoon we walked to Swayambhunath Temple (monkey temple). It was a short walk up and the views from the top were amazing! I’ve never seen a monkey before so that was a wild experience! The monkeys are looked at as holy creatures also the Tibetan name for the site means ‘Sublime Trees’, for the many varieties of trees found on the hill.
After the temple, we did some more walking and wandering. Finding more beautiful buildings and people. When I got back to the hotel my legs were tired and sore. But I could not wait to get up tomorrow. Tomorrow we would head to Pokhara. How will I sleep with all these excited feelings in my stomach?
February 18th: Pokhara bound
Took the journey to Pokhara valley today. The drive is my favourite – no seat belts, one very windy road and the most beautiful scenery. Passing quaint villages along the way. Being in a vehicle in Nepal always keeps you on your toes – it’s a lot of trust in your driver. The whole process is amazing – complete disorganized chaos. And I love it.
The drive took about 6 hours with only a few stops. The driver took us to a random restaurant along the way. I didn’t even catch the town name because it was in the middle of nowhere. But the food was amazing. And we sat on a small table adjacent to the beautiful, green river. I never got to see the river like this before – because I was visiting during monsoon last time, all I had seen before was muddy, high water.
The rest of the drive was smooth, despite the usual chaos of the basically no rules road system. I love sticking my head out the window and just taking it all in. I love smelling the wind that consists of smells of incense, farm/manure, rain forest, flowers and wood burning. We continued along the winding canyon road, over bridges and around dusty, narrow corners. All I could think was: this country is seriously incredible – the gems you find when you least expect it are such a treat! And the locals totally have your back, they want you to experience real Nepal. To tell your friends of the great time you had and to see you return again. Your happiness as a visitor is so important to them.
We passed about 17 weddings on route (February being wedding season in Nepal). It was pretty great to count them all along the way and see all the happy faces.
We arrived in Pokhara and were welcomed by warmer weather and slightly less chaotic streets. After passing through lakeside, the driver took us straight to our homestay.
This is the part of the trip I have been looking forward to the most – Meeting the Nepali family we would be staying with for 10 days. The first time I was in Nepal, I said to myself I would come back and learn more about the people. I wanted to learn some language, food preparation and jump right into life here. A homestay was the way to go for sure. And I realized that minutes after meeting Bishnu, Laxmi and their two beautiful boys.
We were immediately met with open arms by our hosts. Laxmi, the wife, is the most amazing woman! She is so very sweet and her english is really good. She brought us tea and sat down with us right away to visit. She started by telling us about how sad she is to see less visitors to Nepal since the big earthquake. Then she starting to tell us about when it happened, when she grabbed her two boys and held them until the shaking stopped. When her sons had nightmares for weeks after and they slept in the cattle field because they were too afraid to go inside. And while she told us she laughed, she laughed at herself for being so afraid, for not knowing what to do and for panicking so much. She laughed but we could see the pain in her eyes – remembering what was such a tragic event but being able to see the gift of life her and her family have been given when others have not. Her husband, Bishnu is such a gem! His smile is absolutely contagious. I know we will have a wonderful time here with them.
There are a few others staying here as well, Leis – a wonderful woman from Denmark who is very close to the family and has visited Nepal 17 times. Sandra – from Colorado, whom has been in Nepal for 6 months working with female guides. And an adorable french couple from Bangkok.
After we met, we left to town for some dinner (about a 40 minute walk from here). Classic Nepali Dal Bhat of course (a giant dish with currie, rice, a bread called chapati, lentil soup and steamed greens) followed by a yogurt dish with fruit and sugar crystals!. After dinner we did some shopping and discussed the possibility of getting tattoos haha. Had some hooka, basically adopted a stray dog and headed back home.
February 19th: Settling in
Just woke up to a beautiful morning. The sky is a bit red from all the dirt floating in the air. They are currently building some new roads and the dust hasn’t settled from the digging. It’s okay though – I can see the lake from right outside my door. And it’s so beautiful. I can see the kids heading off to school and some mothers washing laundry in the river. I’m so glad to be here.
We will be spending the next week in Pokhara. Visiting temples and different parts of the city. Today we went to the World Peace Stupa across Fewa Lake. It was a lovely boat ride and one short hike up to the top where we saw the most magnificent Buddhist pagoda-style monument. The Shanti Stupa was built by Nipponzan-Myōhōji, monk Morioka Sonin and local supporters under the guidance of Nichidatsu Fujii, a Buddhist monk and the founder of Nipponzan-Myōhōji. Shanti is a Sanskrit word meaning peace, also widely used in Nepali and Hindi language. And Shanti Stupa means Peace Pagoda. Shanti Stupa is the shrine built as symbol of peace. If you go to Nepal, this place is a must see.
We also flew the GoPro drone up and across the lake. Had to capture the view from the sky – it was far too beautiful of a day not too.
The rest of the day was spent wandering the streets and we finished it off with some cooking lessons from Laxmi. Family dinners here are everything I ever wanted. Watching the kids prepare food with their mom was the best part. They are so patient and careful to listen. Laxmi taught us how to prepare a traditional meal and laughed as we tried our best to replicate her creations.
February 20th: Caves
Today was a furry of being underground. We visited 3 caves – my favourite being the bat cave. We headed there early in the day and I had no idea what to expect. We bought our $1 ticket and headed in. The entrance was just some stairs leading deep down into the earth. And then suddenly, it was completely dark. We had borrowed some glitchy flashlights and continued on with the mission to find bats. I had no idea that in a few short steps we would look up to see thousand of bats sleeping above our heads. The first time I looked up, I felt my heart jump from my chest. I didn’t expect to see them like that. I had a horrified feeling and turned away but then composed myself enough to look up again. And I am so glad that I did. Once I became comfortable with the idea of being inside a small cave with so many of these creatures – it became a really cool and memorable experience. There was something almost spiritual about being in there with them.
To exit the cave, you had to basically rock climb up the back wall, squeeze through a crack and crawl out on your tummy. It was the route the bats fly out at night – It was wild. After we got out we all laughed uncontrollably together – like wait? Did we just do that?
We continued on to two more caves. A very memorable one was the Gupteshwor Mahadev Cave:
“Located close to Davis Falls on the other side of the World Peace Stupa, the Gupteshwor Mahadev cave is Nepal’s most famous cave. It’s also rumoured to be the longest cave in Nepal (2950 meters). The cave is said to be have been discovered in the 16th century. The main cave entrance was not constructed until 1991. The main cave contains two chambers with several shrines located throughout. The largest of these shrines is dedicated to Shiva.”
That place is wild. Seems like you could walk forever – it’s huge! And at the end is the most beautiful waterfall pouring into the cave through a large crack in the rock walls. I was blown away. The energy in the cave was powerful and mysterious. I couldn’t even wrap my head around something so magnificent.
After the caves, we visited a Tibetan refugee camp. That was a really interesting stop
A bit about these settlements:
“Following the Chinese invasion of Tibet, there was an influx of over 300,000 exiles/refugees into Nepal on the way to Dharamala in India. It’s estimated that 60,000 settled in Nepal. 2,500 refugees cross the border every year either to make there way to India or settle in Nepal. There are 12 official containment camps. 8 in Kathmandu, and 4 in Pokhara (Tashi Ling, Tashi Palkhiel, Jampaling and Paljorling). There are several smaller settlements in the surrounding hillsides around Pokhara as well.”
We walked around the settlement and checked out some of the local shops. I loved seeing the women weaving carpets. It was insanely beautiful.
We finished our day with a family dinner and retired for the evening.
February 21st: Old Town
Today was all about walking and wandering again. Getting lost in the old parts of Pokhara and having lots of milk tea stops. Away from the touristy areas like Lakeside. We like to get deep into the cities – find the less popular areas and just explore. There were some very busy streets and a few small ones with little activity. I love just watching and soaking it all up. It’s so different from anything I’ve ever known. The people are so crafty and creative, the buildings are colourful and the noise of the streets is exhilarating.
After our adventures we came back to the homestay for dinner. This is the best part of the trip so far – sitting with the Nepali family and just sharing a meal. I love spending time with the kids and learning about their lives.
We planned some of our trek tonight and I can’t wait to get into the mountains! Bishnu’s brother will guide us and I’m so ready to get moving.
Tonight we will retire early because we get up at 0500 tomorrow to hike up to Saragkot for sunrise. We’re also getting tattoos tomorrow – because – when in rome?
(Italic Info cited from: http://www.thelongestwayhome.com)
February 22nd: Collapsed
Starting from 3 am onwards, this day was a furry of craziness. I woke up to my body experiencing some insane hear exhaustion. Made it through the eve but was very sick.
The next day I was determined to get a tattoo which we had scheduled for late afternoon.
The walk to the shop was extremely painful – sun beating, my body rejecting being outdoors but I made it in one piece! Shows how much I’ll risk for a good tattoo artist haha.
I’ve been wanting a tattoo like this for a long, long time! We found an amazing artist in town to slap it on for me. It is meant to resemble Machapuchare (fish tail), a staple mountain in the Annapurna Himalayas. Nepal was the first overseas place I travelled, it helped me grow and my heart will always be here. I’m excited to get out trekking next week to see the views for myself – but for now I’ll always have a piece of this amazing place with me.
After the tattoo my body shut down completely. I tried to standup and passed out. I’ve never fainted before and it was a pretty wild experience waking up laying down and not knowing what happened at all. Luckily I was fine afterwards and have been since. Good life lesson though – I needed to slow down and listen to my body. Let’s hope the rest of the trip doesn’t involve anymore road bumps.
February 22nd: I’M ALIVE
After a bout of heat exhaustion for the last 24 hours – I’m alive! And stoked for trekking to start in 2 days! Will add more updates this eve.
Heading back to the land of strong wifi – stay tuned for updates on the last half of my trip!