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Showing posts from April, 2008


Twenty four hours in Chang Mai

Young Karen girl shows off her neck rings After Nepal, Bangkok is thoroughly modern with its skyscrapers, freeways and late model cars and buses, but it's peak tourist season now and a sweaty 39oC. The place is full of Aussies escaping the winter and who probably got the same cheap airfare that I did. The only hotel room I can get is a box with no windows and a very noisy airconditioner. I am not looking forward to spending my last two days here so in the morning I take a VIP bus and head for the hills. The roads are excellent and there isn't much traffic. Although the countryside is green and has attractive flowering trees it is also extremely flat and becomes quite boring after 700 km. Chang Mai is a beautiful city and not just because I have spent twelve hours on a bus. Streets, buildings and bridges are lit up and there is a scent of frangipani in the air. A huge night market is in progress and there are lots of places offering excellent, inexpensive food. Lavish display

Nepal - Last Glimpses and Parting Thoughts

My last and best view of Everest Because of the forthcoming elections on April 10, I am advised to leave the city early. There have already been enormous rallies and huge traffic jams. A five day holiday has been declared for the elections and alcohol and the carrying of sticks have been banned in in the Valley. Just time for one last adventure. World Heritage Expeditions has booked me into a pleasant hotel at Nagarkot for the night, so I head eastwards on a local bus. At Baktipur I change to an even more decrepit bus that snakes slowly upwards. This area is much greener and more prosperous looking than most of the places I have seen. At last I arrive on the top of a razor back ridge which has a whole string of hotels with names like Hotel Space Mountain and Hotel at the End of the Universe. Mine is called Hotel Viewpoint which is certainly apt since its many terraces overlook mountains in every direction including Mount Everest in the east. It also has gas hot water and excellent foo

Nepal- A Close Encounter at Chitwan

I am front left -long curly hair By now I had seen most of the major ecosystems in Nepal except the jungle. On the advice of Ramesh my host at Pokkhara, I now pay a visit to the Chitwan National Park also located in the southern lowlands of the Terai. The region is rich in wildlife and home to many endangered species including the Royal Bengal Tiger, Sloth Bears, Leopards, Sambar and Spotted Deer and around 450 species of birds. Two young elephants attest to the success of the Government Breeding program. This year there were 28 pregnancies of which 8 ended in stillbirths. The only problem was that many of these pregnancies were due to wild elephants breaking in and not the local stock. When these elephants are two years old they will be trained to transport tourists around the park. There are many things to do here, including rides in dug out canoes for the masochistic, jeep safaris and joining the elephants on their daily bath, but time and money are short so after visiting the elep

Nepal - In the Footsteps of Siddharta

This ancient tower in the Secret Garden at Lumbini 700 km west of Kathmandu, marks the place where Siddharta, later Lord Buddha, was born. I felt a vague compulsion to visit this part of the country because a famous uncle wrote the well known book about Siddharta which was later made into a film. After a long journey on numerous unsprung buses and an involuntary stay in Siddhartanagar, I finally arrive at an unprepossessing collection of villages. Lumbini is in the Terai which is hotter and flatter than the rest of Nepal. The people here are quite different too and have long wanted to secede. Here the women wear saris rather than the loose trousers and tops which women wear elsewhere in the kingdom. They look like red hibiscus flowers as they work the fields. Many of the villages have small blue mosques topped with Islam's crescent moon indicating that much of Nepal's 15% Muslim population is concentrated here. The rest are Hindus and Buddhists. Occasionally you see elephant sh

Nepal - Under the Himalaya

Sunrise over the Himalaya The tour company isn't all that thrilled to see me when I arrive back in Kathmandu as they have already paid out the money and can't pay me back for my failed mission. After a few days of abject misery, they send me off on a bus to Pokkhara, one of the most beautiful places in Nepal. It's the well trodden jumping off point for treks to the Annapurna Circuit and the Everest Base Camp. I am surprised to see banana palms and hibiscus flowers all along this route. The rather gothic hotel is beautifully appointed and set near a lake. Although it's rather touristy the bonus is that the town is clean and tidy, the menus are all in English and there is a German bakery. There is even an ATM, the only one outside Kathmandu. This is just as well as convivial host Ramesh soon signs me up for a sunrise glimpse of the mountains and a day's sightseeing on a motor bike. Pokkhara Lakeside The Hotel Grand Holiday. This crazy paving style of decoration, ver

Nepal - In the Valley of the Gods

A parade to honour the Gods in the lead up to Nepali New Year in April. This is in Ason, the old market place dedicated to Annapurna, the Goddess of Plenty and the real heart of Kathmandu View of the Kathmandu Valley from the Monkey Temple. One and a half million people live here and the population is growing at around 4.5% er annum. Much of this is due to inmigration from the surrounding countryside as rural communities are much poorer. Nepal is my third kingdom in as many weeks. It too is about to have elections - the first since 1995 when civil war broke out because of government corruption. After the restrained orderliness of Bhutan, Kathmandu is a real assault on the senses, a riot of colour, smells and noise. Incense wafts from shops and doorways. Amid the roar of the traffic, the blare of car horns and the cheeky chirrup of rickshaws it is not uncommon to hear sacred music or the clack of prayer wheels. Pedestrians compete with bicycles, hawkers, musicians, beggars and sacred c