Tag Archives: chitwan

Various Observations by Riki….Nepal

Pictures at the bottom!

On the plane from KL to KTM – they don’t have any more beer so they bring me half a cup of vodka (barely any ice)…. Hmmm, thank you I guess?

Nepal First Impressions (Kathmandu):

– Flying into the city was awesome (at 10pm), with colorful flashing lights dotting and blinking all about the skyline (we got lucky with our timing, because we came during the midst of Tihar, festival of lights (the Nepali equivalent of Diwali)

  • Airport is old school and crazy, lucky we didn’t arrive when it was too busy, otherwise I dunno…
  • At the baggage carousel, people be thinking, if I push my cart right up there then I will have so much space to get my bags and it won’t be in anybody’s way… not
  • Dusty drive in. Couldn’t see much but the blinking, colorful lights draped from the buildings. DUI checkpoints everywhere (instead of breathalyzers, the driver just kind of spits in the cops face, or says something in such a way that if you’ve been drinking the cop can definitely smell/feel it…
  • The egg yolks are yellow again!!! They were more neon orange in Thailand and Vietnam
  • Super dusty main streets make for cool pictures
  • These stray dogs are great at crossing the street without getting killed, they must have a lot of practice
  • The shopping (or potential to buy stuff) is the best I’ve ever seen. I want to buy everything, but I don’t have the money, or even a place to put the stuff if I did (here or anywhere)

Tihar (Dipwali) evening observations – colored powder, marigolds, candles (wax and oil), firecrackers, kids going door to door singing for money, lights everywhere…

Nepalese people are amazingly diverse, the kids are really cute, the women are beautiful, and the young men are all “cool dudes”

In general, the cars and bikes in KTM are the worst we’ve seen (most old school and full of awful drivers). Julie was almost hit more times in 4 hours of walking around Thamel than during the rest of our entire trip (and we’ve been around a lot of cars/bikes in Vietnam & Thailand)

Bus trip on the way to Pokhara

This bus is crazy bad @ not causing a traffic jam, along with the other 50 buses trying to get gas at the one gas station on the busiest street around

  • Back seat – we got air at least 10 times (air: whole body lifting off the seat by an inch or more…)
  • They were playing 50 Cent @ a lunch spot, great food, but weird vibe with the music
  • Saw a hemp plant growing on the side of the road, somebody in the bus shouts out “marijuana!”

Festival in Pokhara – great music, and people dancing all day and night (alone, in groups large and small, brother and sisters, etc…)

Cow in the Road – really can do whatever they like – tourists taking photos – one big old German guy tells another, of course, “Holy Cow!”

Me “I think all the dust is finally out of my mouth.” – Julie “They have paved roads here.”

On walk up to Peace Pagoda – we saw monkeys, a whole tribe of them (also we got lost again…) the baby’s were really cute, but there was a moment when we were surrounded, and a couple of the big guys were chasing each other, and it was pretty scary (like the gorillas in that movie Congo), but then I realized I was being a baby…

5 day Poon Hill Trek

  • Brutal if you don’t have a good pack (and shoes cause it gets “slippy”) and if you have a wicked cold (literally woke up in Ghorepani @ 2874M and my lungs hurt when I took deep breaths)
  • Sapa don’t have nothing on the rice terraces here… Btw, I love rice terraces
  • Little kids in towns we pass asking “chocolate” or “photos (for money)” is a little cute, til you think of how many people must be actually giving them chocolate… But when a kid says “medicine?” and is pointing at a lil infection on his leg, it’s a little depressing (we didn’t have any medicine… left it all in Pokhara)
  • So many porters, or just random teenagers/young adults were the friendliest people I have ever encountered (!!), just asking where you were from, how long in Nepal, etc… w/ huge smile, super friendly. Wish I could hang out w/ them more than just a pass on the trek
  • Water Features! Everywhere, just walking up and down little streams that have taken over the paths, must get awful during the monsoon.
  • While trying to fall asleep when it’s nearly freezing in our room: Julie: “Are you comfortable?” Me: “No! I’m wearing a f@#$ing leotard!”

Back to Pokhara

While having dinner, Busses full of students (or just lots of young people) pass us by & they are either singing or yelling happily. They do this as they pass each restaurant down the road.

Julie’s calves are wicked swoll right now after the trek

KABADDI (Wave World Kabaddi League)? – some crazy sport on Indian TV that looks like a mix between red rover and wrestling (w/ awfully depressed looking white cheerleaders)

Back to Kathmandu

These trucks are awesome – they just say whatever the drivers favorite thing is: Sports, Playboy, Lionel Messi, Bob Marley, Road King/Viking, Titanic (complete with Kate & Jack painting) – sometimes they have beautiful pictures painted on them (mountain scenery, gods & goddesses) and sometimes just kittens and puppies…

I’ve been offered Hash (in varying discrete ways) an average of 5 times a night every time we walk through Thamel (the touristy area)

The Three Durbar Squares around KTM:

Patan: coolest, most compact, pretty

Bhaktapur: old school, quietest, most quaint

Kathmandu: lived in, busy, most ornate decorations on certain buildings

This one song that is playing @ every music shop will now forever be in my head & Julie hates it (really just me singing it…). I find out later that it’s just Tibetan monks chanting for hours on end.

The dust is completely overwhelming, @ the end of the day, I use a tissue, and everything that comes out is grey/brown/black. TMI.

And the traffic is nuts here, no traffic lights, or even stop signs. These traffic cops must have balls of steel

Also, driving a car here (or bus) is like playing chicken (crazy scary chicken in the mountains), it’s all about who flinches first…

Final Observations:

Bus Travel – one highway b/w the major cities, going through crazy steep hills (what we would call mountains, but they call them hills, because the mountains here are the real deal…)

-On the way to Chitwan, saw a bus with its front section completely blown out, no windows, nothing, and the top half of the bus was leaning @ a 45 degree angle, and they were driving this thing…

-From Chitwan to KTM, saw a minibus fall off the cliff (we didn’t see it actually happen just the aftermath), luckily some dense trees saved it from going all the way down. Also, Julie saw at least 1 almost accident and the others said they saw three

-@ least the busses (for an 8 hour trip) are more comfortable than all the airplanes I have taken this year, and those busses are old school

Scooters Vs. Motorbikes:

Nepal does it right when it comes to motorbikes, real motorcycles (Royal Enfields, apparently these are real cool) w/ protection for your legs & plenty of exhaust. But compared to SEA (where they have scooters or fancy new motorbikes) they are bad ass…

Pollution in Kathmandu:

The dust is intolerable! I love the city, but c’mon! these road widening projects & all the construction for the SAARC summit (which happens Nov 26 & is nowhere near ready) puts so much dust in the air you can’t breathe…

-and I haven’t even started on all the trash they burn (literally, all of it) and the smelly river…

Leaving for BKK @ KTM airport:

The airport is old, so old, like Cuba w/out the organization (especially the domestic terminal where we left for Pokhara)

In the departure terminal: I’m pretty sure it was 95% men in there (mostly Nepalese migrant workers, likely going to Malaysia or the Middle East to be exploited as cheap labor) & I’m pretty sure many of them were about to board their first airplane b/c they were like little boys @ the airport (faces pressed up to the glass, watching the planes go about their business)

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Rhinos, Tigers & Elephants, Oh my….Pokhara & Chitwan, Nepal

Leaving the dust behind, we took a short flight (after a long delay) to Pokhara, the second largest city in Nepal. Riki and I had been here a week before for our trek so we knew our way around. It is much quieter than Kathmandu, but still has its fair share of loud dog gangs. A lot of treks leave from Pokhara, so there are many tourists and many outdoors shops.

We took a taxi to Devi’s Falls, which is pretty dinky until you go across the street and down into the cave to see where the falls ends. From there, we took another taxi up to the World Peace Pagoda. Riki and I had done the two hour hike up to it before in preparation for our 5 day trek, but we didn’t have that kind of time. The taxi drivers were not too pleased to go up and insisted on waiting up there to take us down. A good thing too because the road is very bumpy and no other taxis were waiting for passengers. We had lunch at the top and even got a few good glimpses of the Himalayas. That afternoon, we went to the Old Bazaar neighborhood of Pokhara. There was not much happening, but it did have some old architecture from the 1700s, similar to that of the Durbar Squares we had visited in Kathmandu.

 

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On Wednesday we took a van to Chitwan National Park. This was along the same “highway” we had taken the bus on from Pokhara to Kathmandu. We saw the remnants of an accident that had happened more than month ago – a giant truck and a tiny car had collided, caught fire and killed 5 people. Accidents are common along this road and you can often be stuck for hours waiting for an accident to clear, as there are no other roads to take. It is one lane in each direction and people pass each other along curves and uphills in the worst possible places. Many times you are right on the edge of a cliff too. But 4.5 hours later we arrived safely in Sauraha and had much needed beers overlooking the river.

Now this is where it gets awesome, in my opinion. We took an early morning canoe ride in a hollowed out tree trunk down the river. We sat in very uncomfortable little seats in a leaky boat. Pretty sure the sole purpose of our second guide was to bail out water. We saw lots of birds, including some kingfishers, black cranes and ducks from Siberia. When we got out of the canoes, we took a short walk through some forests and saw some large spotted deer. The culmination of this tour was a visit to the Elephant Breeding Center, where they have loads of mother elephants chained to posts and their babies roaming freely. They don’t keep any males here and rely on males from the wild to impregnate the domesticated females. There was a 2 month old baby elephant (already over 70 kg / 150 lbs) who was very playful. In the trees nearby there were three spotted owlets. We had to look hard to find them but once we did, we could very clearly see there big eyes watching us. Very cool. There was also a very friendly cat who followed me all the way around the center. Don’t tell Riki, but I petted it. It looked pretty clean and I can’t resist when they roll over on their backs to be scratched. Oh, and Riki got leeched! (On his stomach oddly enough)

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Elephant Rush Hour

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That afternoon we took a jeep far into the park. We had to take a short canoe ferry across the river – more uncomfortable little seats – and then all piled into an open-topped jeep for the bumpy ride through the park. Despite the noise from the jeep, we were able to get pretty close to two types of deer, two boars, two types of monkeys, peacocks AND 2 rhinos! We were very excited about the rhinos, having been told that we may or may not see them. It is all luck as to what you see. There are over a hundred tigers in the forest, but you rarely see them. One of our guides had seen 4 in the 3 years he had been a guide. We also stopped at a Crocodile Breeding Center, where they have perhaps the ugliest crocodiles. They have long skinny snouts, which are often damaged as they bite each other when competing for the same fish. Don’t worry, they grow back, but slowly. The Gharials are endangered so they have had this center since the 1970’s to increase their population.

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The next day was even better. We got up super early – because thats the best time to see the animals – and hopped on an elephant for a hike through the forest. The theory is that the wildlife is used to hearing elephants stomping around, so you can get closer to them than the jeep. And closer we got. We were within 20′ of a rhino.
It was a bit bizarre though because there were perhaps 30 other elephants all piled with tourists looking for the same things, so when we saw the rhino, all the elephant drivers hollered and raced toward him. He was almost surrounded, but seemed ok about it for the most part. Then we stomped off in search of other animals. There were a few elephants whose passengers were less than quiet, but our driver made a point to split away from them and find another path so we could spot some animals. I doubt those people saw much, as they were shouting to each other the whole time and probably scared everything away. We saw more cranes, deer and a monkey herding some deer.

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Three of the group headed back to Kathmandu and the rest us arranged for a long afternoon hike through the forest, in hopes of catching sight of more animals. The hike began by crossing a small river in our bare feet, which we were less than thrilled about as the water in Nepal is not very clean. But we made it across and were in an area where we would see no other people for the next 4.5 hours (except for one person, more later). The rule of the park is that you have two guides no matter how many people are in your group. We only had four, but we had one guide in the front and one guide in the back. I thought this was a bit excessive, until 10 minutes into our walk when the guide in front holds up his hand to stop and we hear loud rustling in the grass ahead of us. Turns out, about 50 feet in front of us is a mother rhino and her 6 month old baby. These are very dangerous as the mothers can be very protective. So we were ordered back and I’m picking out the closest tree I can climb in case things go wrong. But the baby catches our scent (good noses and ears, bad eyes) and goes tramping off in the other direction. Soon the mother does the same and we continue along our intended path. The guides take us to a watering hole, where they have once seen 14 rhinos bathing at the same time. We only see one so we get a bit closer to get a better look. We were up on a bank, so its pretty safe because the rhinos are slow in the water and when they are bathing, they are very relaxed and just want to bathe. Not likely to chase you. So we get closer and another rhino (large male) emerges from the water. The guides get very excited and then we see another one. A tiny baby! Maybe 2 months old playing in the water behind his mother. This was way more than we could have hoped for and we spent a significant amount of time taking pictures and watching the baby play with its mother. All the while, the second guide is checking behind us to make sure the other rhinos are not going to come up and surprise us.

After about half an hour, the mother and baby head back into the grass and we move on. We are walking through a flat, open area where deer come at sunset and I’m thinking about how I can’t wait to tell people about the baby rhino when we are stopped dead in our tracks by a very loud, very close, warning growl. The guide in front immediately signals us to be quiet and wait. I am straddling a log and thinking we are about to see a boar come running out at us. So I picked out another tree to climb. This wouldn’t have done me any good as what we heard was a tiger about 20 feet away. Apparently, we had woken him from a nap and he was making sure we knew he was there and wouldn’t disturb him. So we backed up and waited to see if he would come out. The head guide pointed to the brush where the growl had come from and told the younger guide to go check it out. He was kidding.  The young guy wasn’t amused. Tigers are not as dangerous during the day though. They are usually seen patrolling their territory during the day and mostly feed at night. He didn’t come out so we found another path and continued on our way. We went through some thick underbrush and appeared to go in circles for the next few hours.  At one point we heard wood cracking and the guide shooed us back as he thought it might be a wild elephant (can be dangerous).  Turns out it was a domesticated one with a rider collecting firewood, lucky for us. We saw more deer, two mongeese (mongooses?) and some peacocks. Riki got another leech, on his ankle this time. On our way back, walking through some tall grass we were again stopped in our tracks by the guide because just ahead in our path was a very large rhino. Our lead guide took a large and banged it against some grass and when that didn’t work he threw the stick into the grass in front of us to make sure the rhino went the other direction. He stomped off and so did another rhino, which was didn’t see, only heard. They are usually solitary animals, so it was a bit strange for there to be two together and not just bathing. We made it back to the river and removed our shoes again. My dad discovered a blood-soaked sock, as he had also gotten a leech and I found a red tick on my knee.

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Checking for wildlife
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Tiger meal

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All in all, a very successful few days. Tiger spottings are incredibly rare and we were lucky to have even heard one. We took the tourist bus back to Kathmandu the next day and proceeded to do all our touristy shopping (Mom & Dad have an extra suitcase for our stuff) in Thamel. We found a place that uses recycled trash to make all sorts of things. I got a purse made out of woven cotton and inner tubes and my mom bought some ornaments made from Ramen packages, whose profits benefit women. On our last day we went carpet shopping and picked out a green (shocking) hand woven Tibetan one that is small enough to fit in the suitcase. We had a goodbye dinner with the family who arranged a lot of our travel in Nepal and then booked it for the airport for a midnight flight back to Bangkok. The security is bizarre in Kathmandu – they barely look at your bags, but we got patted down three times.

And now we will begin our adventure where we intended to in September, going to northern Thailand and meandering around to Laos, central Vietnam to south Vietnam, and over to Cambodia. Suggestions for after that are greatly appreciated!