When people ask where to travel in Asia, I list Nepal as the best destination.
South of the Himalaya, Nepal is a land of sublime scenery, time-worn temples, & an engaging history. It’s a poor country, but rich in the western imagination.
I’d wanted to go since E de la Nord told me of his Freak street experiences back in the hippy days. 🙂
I was convinced the girls & women of Nepal are the prettiest in the World. Many are exotic with traces of China, India and Thai.
Many Tibetans look AmerIndian.
Kathmandu is wonderful, popular with tourists. I stayed at Tibet Guest House in Thamel for $6 / night. Excellent!
I hung out mainly at the Blue Note jazz bar.
But Kathmandu is a polluted, congested mess. Frustrating at times.
The city is in an unusual, isolated valley in the foothills of the Himalaya. It almost never snows here.
Kathmandu’s city structure is a series of interlocking public squares. In places nothing has changed for hundreds of years.
Times were still tough. Life expectancy in Nepal was 52-years in 1996.
Mountain people sling woven baskets suspended from jute headbands. Valley people suspend loads on bamboo poles. Tourists sling packs from their shoulders.
It was tough to find a good e-mail cafe in Asia in 1996. The best I found was in Kathmandu.
There seemed to be only 1 bank available for tourists.
A store had recently installed the first escallator in Nepal while I was there, quite the attraction for Nepalis. I watched with amusement as people happened upon this most amazing invention. Many were too nervous to ride it.
Bhaktapur was my favourite square; timeless, clean, spacious. Back lanes filled with kids and monkeys, brick makers, potters, laundry. Dyed bright yarns hung out to dry.
I cycled there.
Kathmandu is close to the Himalayas, but you cannot see the big mountains easily. I was keen to get closer.
I first saw fascinating sadhus, Hindu holy men, at Pashupatinath, a busy pilgrimage site, one of the holiest places for Hindus.
Here too I saw my first burning ghat, the corpse covered with wet straw to slow the burn.
Surreal. James Brown played on a public address system.
The smell of sewage overwhelmed the smell of burning flesh.
The same day I first visited the great stupa of Bodhnath, an impressive Buddhist shrine. It too is a pilgrim spot of Buddhist Tibetans, Sherpa and other highland peoples of Nepal.
I shopped for Buddhas here too — but eventually found the one I wanted at the Golden Temple in Patan.
Mount Everest was a big draw.
I had just started reading the first of dozens of mountaineering books at that time. I picked up several in Kathmandu. Just weeks later the May 1996 Everest climbing season turned to disaster. Krakauer’s book was read & discussed ad nauseum by just about everyone I know.
I signed on for a US$99 flight seeing tour to Mount Everest. We were slightly disappointed in Everest — the black pyramid quite distant. Other mountains more impressive from our vantage.
On the other hand, flight seeing was an amazing experience and one I would recommend. You get personal with the highest mountains in the world.
Pokhara, Nepal. Wow. I could live here.
I was disappointed not to have time to hike Annapurna which I had first heard of from EG. The Annapurna Circuit is possibly the best trek in the world.
I vowed to return one day … and did. 🙂
Pokhara offers wonderful hostels and restaurants. I stayed at Garden Rest House though everyone was sick there. Seemed to be water related. A nurse told me the most common way to get sick is to drink drops of water on the rim of a rinsed coffee cup. I’ve been very cautious ever since.
Pokara is a surprisingly quiet place on a tranquil lake.
Royal Chitwan National Park in the Terai was my next stop, perhaps the premiere park in Asia.
To get there I survived the most dangerous bus ride by far I’ve ever suffered. At least half the passengers vomited en route.
Poorly maintained vehicles, terrible mountain roads, suicidal over-taking manoeuvres, animals, children, cattle and unmarked roadworks. You name it. Seemed like a nightmare.
Signs implore drivers to Use Horn Please.
I was psyched for the rhino search on elephant back. Cool!
(I was reading the book Travels on my Elephant at the time.)
I am so impressed with elephants. What a marvellous, useful beast.
Due to cost they are being phased out all over Asia, unfortunately.
Up to 4 tourists sitting in Howdahs set out with cameras looking for Tiger and Rhino.
In 1911 one hunting party here killed 39 tigers and 18 rhino in 11 days.
One guide had only seen 2 tigers in 6 years working in the park! He saw more rare sloth bears than tigers.
I saw a mother Rhino with baby. And later this male who had been wounded in the rear end — punctured by the horn of another male, no doubt.
The park was terrific. I nearly sat on a scorpion, went early morning birding with a guide & learned the marvels of dung and straw as a building material. It sets like concrete.
Another day we went rhino spotting on foot! Our guide had trained us to scramble up a tree if we came upon a rhino. They are dangerous.
When I spotted one about 20m away, a British doctor in our group refused to climb the tree as instructed. The guide threw his body on top of the doctor to protect him in case the rhino charged.
The doctor was most ungrateful when it turned out the rhino did NOT charge.
Nepal is one of the last great places on Earth. I’ll go with you any time.
It lingers in your dreams long after you leave.