After completing the Annapurna cirucuit we felt entitled to put our feet up for a few days and so we headed for Pokhara found a cosy hotel for 400 rp a night and settled in, savouring all the simple luxuries such as hot showers and freshly cleaned clothes that had been so hard to come by in the mountains. After a few days we decided to do some exploring and so rented a scooter and took off towards Sarangkot, which offers superlative views of the Annapurna range. Aside from this, it also happens to be the launching point for the abundance of people looking to paraglide over Pokhara. Bizzarely, a company even offered the oppurtunity to be accompanied during your flight by a real hawk, thus inventing one of the most ridiculous tourist sports I've ever heard of, parahawking. After a morning spent dodging rogue waterbuffalo that had long since grown accustomed to the constant sound of horns accompanying their languid strolls down the road, we felt driving in Nepal was enough excitement and happily kept our feet on the ground.
You can click on any of the photos to enlarge them
|Some paragliders in Pokhara|
|A world peace stupa near Pokhara|
|Andrea trying out our scooter|
|In a very dark cave with lots of shrines|
|This "cow-shed" contained a mechanized cow that when you inserted money dripped milk from its udders, which you then rub on your head and drink for good luck. (I'm not making this up!) :)|
While the roads in Nepal have a reputation for being notoriously dangerous, we hadn't seen a single accident until we rented our own scooter and got out and about. After visiting some local caves we came out onto the main street of the town in time to see a bus driver make such an effort to avoid a group of water buffalo that he instead crashed into power lines, bringing them down in a shower of sparks about 100m from where we stood. Noone seemed particularly perturbed by this, least of all the buffalo, and with more than a slight sense of the surreal, we jumped on our bike and headed off to visit some other local villages.
With Christmas creeping up we decided to move to Kathmandu to apply for our India visas, which took a week to process. Rather than hanging around for another week in the city and brimming with confidence from our experience driving in Pokhara, we decided to rent a scooter for a few days and go exploring the region around Kathmandu. Resisting the temptation to take the motorway up towards the Tibetan border, we set our sights on a more modest target and headed for Nagarkot, a high point ~2hrs outside of Kathmandu famous for spectacular panaromic views of the mountains, including a very distant and misleadingly unimposing Everest. The next day we watched the sunrise over the distant peaks and headed off for the next town, which acording to our map was at the bottom of a nearby valley only a few kilometres away.
Uninterested in following the main route, which lead back towards Kathmandu before swinging around, we decided to take the direct route that was indicated by a rather ambigous looking grey line on our map. Off we went on the packed dirt road finding what we thought to be the right road, proceeding along it for a few km as it progressively worsened and ended up a narrow hiking trail that wound beautifully along one side of the valley, through terraced paddy fields and small villages. It was pretty obvious at this stage that this was the wrong trail and of course we had the choice to turn back, but with a full day ahead off us and never being shy of an adventure we decided to head on.
Things started to spiral a little when I noticed the petrol gauge had plummeted rapidly and was now planted firmly in the red. To add to the drama, our little scooter was now well and truely out of its depth and as we went free-wheeling down a particularly steep and rough section of the trail, while hammering the breaks to slow us down, the casing holding one of the break handles snapped leaving it disconcertingly loose. At this point the way back was no more appealing than the way forward and reasoning that we must be at least as close to the end as the beginning, we decided to go on, although it was obvious we needed a new plan. With plenty of trekkiing down already Andrea had no problem walking with the rucksack while I was left in charge of getting our increasingly worn scooter to the end of the trail, without either running out of petrol or destroying the breaks completely, which meant driving and pushing up the steep hills and freewheeling down, dragging my feet the whole time to save the breaks!! After a few hours of this, where we'd even gotten the scooter through a few streams and mud that wouldn't look out of place in Glastonbury we turned a final corner and could see the town. The last obsticle in our path was a truck loaded with compost, which was being dumped onto the fields. Feeling bad that the kid had to speed up on my account, I grabbed a spare shovel, jumped up with him and finished the job. The truck moved and we rolled slowly down into the town, laughing all the way about our surreal experience. What we thought would take us about 30mins had taken ~6hrs and considerably more effort than we'd planned, but if everything went to plan all the time life wouldn't be much fun, would it? :) Pulling out onto the main road we bought petrol in a local store and laughing giddily all the way drove on to Melamchi, a larger town where we could spend the night. After all this we'd had enough adventures with the bike and so stayed put for two days before heading slowly back towards Kathmandu. Heading back along the main road we came across a road block manned by local women who had dragged trees across the road and lit small fires to ensure no-one could get past. After my attempts to charm our way through the road block failed miserably I, still smiling and Namaste-ing the whole time, slipped through on foot to catch the attention of the police men on the other side of the barrier. One officer came back with me to the barrier and and asked the women to let us though. Unfortunately they had no intention of being reasonable and the police in about 10 seconds 5 or 6 more police, these one's with riot shields and sticks began to move in! Luckily at this point a few of the local men who were watching from the sidelines jumped in, moved the women off the barrier, helped the police moved a few logs and allowed us to weave through to diffuse the situation, at least for now! Off we went again, thinking our little adventure couldn't possibly get any stranger, and that's when we got our first flat tire. The story's too long to put it all down here but over the next 24hrs we were at 4 separate mechanics and, if anyone's interested, I can recommended a few good ones in the Kathmandu valley where you can get a tire repaired for only 40rupees (about 30cents).
|My favourite Buddist proverb: Budda calming the drunken elephant!|
|On our way to Nagarkot|
|The view from the top|
|At this point we realized we'd taken a wrong turn|
|Getting ready to free-wheel down another hill|
|Taking a break|
|I ended up grabbing a shovel and helping this fella unload|
|Relaxing after a very long day|
|Lighting our advent candle :)|
Back in Kathmandu, we'd the good luck to meet Min, an Irish-Nepali who was back in Nepal for a holiday and who invited us to stay with him and his girlfriend, Primella for a few days. With them as our local guides we got to taste the best of the local cuisine, far from the tourist trail. After a great few days we headed off towards India, stopping off in Lumbini, the birthplace of Budda for a few days of peace and serenity, which we didn't expect to find much of in Delhi! Amazingly we arrived at the start of a big gathering, with hundreds of monks of all ages who met in a large pagoda to pray for, among other things, world peace. Thinking we'd add our haypenny worth, we crept in quitely to join them to one of their prayer sessions. In front of us were hundreds of monks all aranged in rows seated on mats, with more senior one seated on a dias with microphones leading the prayers. Trying to keep a low profile, we stayed at the back where there were no mats and simply sat on our shoes but within a minute we'd been spotted and instantly joined by a group of shaven headed kids in monks robes who lined up beside us so we were at the head of the row. There we sat completely contented enjoying the peaceful atmosphere offering up a few prayers to whatever god was listening, before sneaking back out after around half and hour. Unfortunately we never take photos of these moments because we didn't think it was appropriate, but it's something we wont forget anytime soon :)
|Back in Kathmandu, enjoying some local doghnuts :)|
|A few presents|
|Some monks praying in Lumbini|
|A giant Budda statue, Lumbini|
|I've no idea what this statue was for...it's in the Chinese monastery!|
From there we crossed the border into India and had our first taste of real Indian rail travel with the 5hr journey on an unreserved train from Gorakpur to Lucknow. As the train arrived at the station we crammed ourselves into the unbelievably crowded unreserved section, barely making it in the door and with a few more people still hanging out the door behind us. It was standing room only (even the luggage racks were full with people!) so anyone who wanted to go to the toilet couldn't simply shuffle down the aisle but instead had to climb their way along the aisle using the luggage racks and the odd unfortunate shoulder for footholds. We were a bit of a novelty for the locals and they somehow managed to squeeze Andrea in on an already overcrowded bench while I stayed at the door with the bags, having a laugh with a few locals (none of whom spoke English, but this situation was so ridiculous it didn't need words!) and watched the countryside go by.
After an overnight train from Lucknow, where we enjozed the luxury of reserved sleeper berths, we arrived in Delhi and headed out to meet Guarav, an Indian friend of ours we know from Germany. We stayed with him and his family who spoiled us rotten every day with delicious home cooked Indian meals, which was the perfect introduction to real Indian cuisine. After a few days of looking around Delhi we headed for the Taj Mahal, which believe it or not, we could barely see because of the weather was so bad! The whole region was covered in fog, which disrupted trains, grounded flights and made us very happy we still had our thermal gear from Nepal. After feeling our way around the Taj, we headed out to see the Fathepur Sikri. Aside from the worlds largest door, there was also a few very dapper looking goats who'd been thoughtfully dressed up against the cold by their owners!
|Our first Indian tuk-tuk|
|Andrea and Guarav with some tasty food|
|At the big mosque in Delhi. They insisted on Andrea wearing a curtain.|
|Only in India do you have to find a tailor before sending a parcel|
|It took two days but in the end we managed to send the parcels!|
|A very stylish goat at the Faterpur Sikri|
|If you look hard you can see the outline of the Taj Mahal!!|
|At least it wasn't crowded!|
|A look from the back|
|Andrea in Haus Khaz, a big park in Delhi|
Back we went to Delhi where we had a great Christmas with Guarav and his family, with a Christmas tree, Santa hats, Christmas carols, traditional treats (like pumpkin soup and walnut bread, which Andrea made) and lots of Indian treats :) After that, we met up with another friend from Germany (Malvika...but we don't have any photos!!) and headed off after a great week in Delhi in search of some warm weather in the Rajastani desert.
|Me sporting my new 60rupees haircut at the India gate|
|Some tasty treats|
|A very Delhi Christmas :)|