Nepal : In the laps of the Himalayas
January 1, 1970
by Anuprita Chendke
Summers are pretty hot in India, so my husband and I thought of taking a trip to the mountains to Nepal for a week from Pune, India. Those who wish to run through the itinerary, please check the footnote. To know more about my wonderful experience, read on…
We took an early morning flight to Delhi and then a connecting flight to Kathmandu and reached Kathmandu hotel (Hotel Backyard) by 3:30 PM Nepal Standard Time (NST). Indian passport holders do not require a visa to enter Nepal, however, if you are going by flight, you go via immigration where your passport gets stamped. So you better carry your passport with you.
We stayed in an area called Thamel. Thamel is the most congested and vibrant area that I have ever lived in. The buildings are so close to each other that it felt like candy sticks. Each building has either a restaurant, a hotel, tour and travel agent shop or a souvenir shop or all of it. It’s lively and glittery in the evening. It is the best place to shop for tourists. You’ll get everything here from souvenir to books, from clothes to trekking gear, from shoes to purses. you name it and you’ll find it here. If you love shopping or are good at bargaining, then Thamel is the place for you!
The first thing we did was to get a local SIM card. Getting a SIM card is very easy and cheap. Just carry your id proof with you. Foreign nationals (other than Indians) need to provide their passport. The shopkeeper takes a copy of the passport for reference. The SIM is activated minutes after the purchase; so don’t bother with international card/roaming pack.
Our next destination was Chitwan. Chitwan can be reached by local bus, private taxi or domestic flight. Since the road to Chitwan is bad (not great) most prefer to travel by flight – and we did not get seat bookings in a flight. Left to travel by road – which was a gruesome 8 hours journey. Also, the road to Chitwan was closed from 10 am to 4 pm NST because of the road widening work. Private Taxi option was very costly. We were looking for means of transport which was cheaper and quicker. Upon then, our travel agent suggested that we travel some part by bus and some by rafting! This way we could at least kill time rather than sitting on the bus, just waiting for the road to open. This cost us 2500 INR each (including lunch).
On the way to Chitwan:
The decision to raft some way to Chitwan was rather impulsive. We slept that night completely unsure as to how our next day would pan out. But, to be honest, it was worth it! When we enquired, different travel agents gave us different costs, so make sure that you have quotations from different agents before you book any journey.
We left early at 7 am by a bus from Kathmandu and reached the rafting point close to 11:30 am. We were, in all, 8 people and 2 rafting guides. We were going to raft in the river Trishuli. We had done rafting once before in India, near Mumbai, but that was in the river where water comes from a dam. But here, it’s a free flowing river with a continuous flow of water. The experience was completely different! The Rapids were lovely, the water was refreshingly cold and our guide was amazing! Rafting was immense fun!
There was a 10 meters high cliff on the bank of the river where the water was calm and 3 people from our group (including my husband) jumped from the cliff into the water! Whoa! That required some guts! I could not muster the courage to do that but was awestruck to watch them do it!
Post that we all got into the water. It’s no fun if you don’t get drenched during rafting. It is so peaceful to float on your back holding the raft in the cold water.
Rafting here is pretty safe. You get life jackets and hats. There is one guide rowing next to your raft in a one-man kayak boat. The guide is well trained and experienced. You can do rafting even if you don’t know swimming.
We finished with the rafting close to 3 pm. Had our lunch of traditional Nepali thali. The food was delicious! Traditional Nepali thali has rice, lentils soup (dal), green veggies sorted in oil and mustard seeds, vegetable/chicken curry and Indian styled spicy pickle. It is very close to Indian food. We had Chinese, British and American national folks with us for rafting. Some of them had already tried Indian/Nepali food and loved it. Some found the pickle and vegetable/chicken curry very spicy and so after burning their mouth decided to stick to just rice and lentils soup.
The guide arranged for seats for all us on a bus to individual’s destination. We left for Chitwan around 4 pm and reached our hotel around 7:30 pm. The road was horrible. And what with the road repair going on, it was very dusty.
Chitwan has a national park which is shared with India. India side of the national park is called “Valmikihi national park”. Because of its proximity to India, the weather was very much similar to India, hot and humid.
Since a lot of time was spent in traveling, we had effectively only one day in Chitwan. There are many tours and travel agents who’d arrange for safaris through the forests but we decided to stick with what our hotel offered. We had stayed at Landmark Forest Park
There were 3 safari options: Jungle safari (via an open jeep), Canoe ride and Elephant safari. We could only do two because of the limited time we had. So we picked canoe ride and jungle safari.
Post breakfast we started our canoe ride in a river. Canoe ride was a short ride across a river around the edge of the jungle to see crocodiles and birds. We had a guide from the hotel who accompanied us on the canoe ride. He pointed out different birds and crocodiles for us. Crocodiles can camouflage themselves so well in the muddy water. If not for the guide I wouldn’t have seen most of them, and they were so many! My! They are lovely creatures, in their own way, with their sharp teeth and scaly bodies. One of the crocs tried to come near our canoe but the hotel guide was ready with a nice thick stick, but thankfully, our ride went smooth when the croc decided not to follow us.
After the canoe ride, we went to the hotel for a quick lunch and headed back for jungle safari. The safari was in an open jeep. We were 11 people including a guide and the jeep driver. The best part of the whole ride was seeing the tiger up close around 200 feet away! Our guide told us that we were very lucky; it’s rare to spot a tiger. We not only spot a tiger but the animal crossed the jeep road and moved away in the bushes giving us a clear view. After that, we saw many animals including a bear. But seeing a tiger so close has left its imprint in my mind.
There is a “Gharial Breeding Center” in the jungle. The gharial is a species of crocodile, an endangered species. This breeding center breeds them and leaves them in wild when the crocs are old enough and ready to live on their own.
Our ride ended around 5:30 pm. Our hotel driver had come to pick us up. We asked him to drop us in the little market around 2 km away from our hotel. We had our dinner there and walked back to our hotel.
Next day we headed to Pokhara via a local bus.
Journey to Pokhara was long, tiring and uninteresting. We left from Chitwan at 7 am and reached our hotel around 3:30 pm. We stayed at Hotel Middle Path & Spa. It was a rather picturesque place. After check-in, we immediately headed out for a late lunch.
Pokhara has a lake – Fewa lake. The road that passes close to the lake (Lake Road) is lined with lovely little restaurants and souvenir shops. We had a heart full lunch of Nepali thali and headed towards the lake.
It was cloudy and misty near the lake. The lake front is also dotted with restaurants. After walking along the lake side, we spent our time sitting in a lake side restaurant enjoying the ambiance. The next day, we wanted to do paragliding on the nearby Sarangkot hill but it was canceled due to the cloudy weather. We were disappointed but that was compensated by a lovely hike to Peace Pagoda and Devi’s fall.
The hike to Peace Pagoda starts from Ananda hill across the lake. So we took a 5-minute boat ride to cross the lake. The hike goes all the way up around the hill. There is a rough pathway sketched to guide you up. I don’t think many people go all the way up to Peace Pagoda. For a long time, we saw no one. We were wondering if we are on the right path, when we saw a small shop selling water, cold drinks etc. and a group of people hiking their way up. Since it was cloudy, it was a pleasant hike. Although it was an hour’s hike, we felt like we have been climbing the Everest! The hike was worth it. The Peace Pagoda looks amazing. Standing tall and white amongst the clouds and the wind was refreshing. A picture is worth a thousand words. I hope the photo and the description convey to some extent how wonderful the hike and the destination was! It was very cloudy so we could not see the lake or Sanrangkot hill.
After enjoying the windy sight of Peace Pagoda, we were very hungry. There is a small hotel close to the Pagoda which offers food and refreshments. Now that the sweaty hike was done, the wind felt chilly. We had thukpa to warm us up. Thukpa is basically a noodles and veggies soup, a Tibetan cuisine. It was heavenly!
After the meal, we then sought for Devi’s fall. Since we were going to see “falls”, we were under the impression that we would see them amid mountains. But we were descending. Google, board signs and few locals we met said that we were on the right path. We descended all way onto a road. By then we had given up hopes that the “falls” would be any good. But since we had walked so much, we thought we’d pay a visit. On our way to the falls, we saw a board for a “Gupteshwar Temple” of Lord Shiva. Our hotel receptionist had mentioned about it as a popular tourist spot. We just thought we might take a look at “just another temple”.
But we were in for a surprise! The temple is actually 100 ft. deep, hidden underground just as its name. And when you walk a little further, you can see a water fall (Devi’s fall) through a gap in the hill! I felt I was living out of Enid Blyton’s books, well, except that it was crowded with tourists. But that wasn’t the actual fall. We came out of the temple, crossed the road and there was the actual sight of the falls. The tunnel goes from below the road! Whoa!
The water comes somewhere from the mountains and then goes underground. When we saw it from above the ground, we realized that we were just on the other side of the gap in the hill. We could see the water gushing through the gap in the hill. One of the few times when I have realized how astounding nature can be!
We were close to 5 km away from our hotel. We had actually moved in a semi-circle via our mountain climb. We were dead tired so decided to take a local bus back to the hotel. The bus is way cheaper than hiring a taxi. The bus dropped us at a bus stop close to our hotel.
Back to Kathmandu:
For our journey back to Kathmandu, we had booked a flight hoping that we’d avoid the delay and the fatigue of travel. However, we were not so blessed. Our flight was at 11 am but it finally flew at 4:30 pm! Because of the cloudy weather, all the flights were delayed.
We had hired a taxi for airport pickup and drop and local sightseeing around Kathmandu, the next day. That wasn’t very costly. Our driver had already reached when we landed. After picking up our luggage from a chaotic pickup spot (there are no belts on which you get your luggage for domestic flights), we decided to visit the famous “Pashupathinath Temple” on the way to our hotel. It is a Lord Shiva temple situated on the banks of Bagmati River. It is a very sacred temple for Hindus. Only Hindus are allowed inside the temple’s main gate. Other tourists can visit the grounds of the temple. The main temple stands tall, however, some of the other structures and temples surrounding it were damaged in the earthquake that happened in April 2015.
For the second lap of our stay in Kathmandu, we had booked The KathmandGuestst House in Thamel. In spite of being in the crowded locality Thamel, the hotel encompassed a huge area. The ambiance is lovely and picturesque. We decided to turn in early post dinner as we had a long day ahead of us.
Mountain Flight, Kathmandu:
One of the attractions in Nepal is Mt. Everest. Well, most cannot (or do not wish) to climb all way up the king of mountains. But, who doesn’t want to see one of the mother nature’s wonder! Nepal offers Mountain flight specifically for this reason. It’s a small 16 seat flight that takes you all the way up the clouds and you can see the Everest from the flight! It was one of a kind experience. The flight leaves from Kathmandu and goes east towards Everest along the Himalayan ranges. Each passenger gets a window seat. Apart from that, the captain calls you to the cockpit and shows you the peaks so that you get a nice clear view. The flight takes close to an hour from take-off to landing. Our flight was delayed by an hour. So the 6:30 am flight flew close to 7:30 am and we were out of the airport around 9 am.
After a quick breakfast at our hotel, we left with our driver and guide for local sightseeing which included Swayambhunath Stupa, Bhaktapur Durbar and Patan Durbar.
Swayambhunath Stupa is a Tibetan temple. There are a lot of monkeys around the temple so it is popularly known as ‘Monkey Temple’.
Bhaktapur and Patan Durbar are palaces surrounded by a courtyard and temples. They are famous for the wooden carving architecture. Unfortunately, both these sites were badly affected during April 2015 earthquake. Reconstruction is ongoing, however, it’d be sometime before the sites would be restored.
We were back at our hotel around 5 pm. Next, we visited Bodhnath Stupa, again a Tibetan temple on our way to the airport for our flight to Delhi.
All and all it was a refreshing trip!
Learning and Tips:
- Carry passport with you
2. Indian currency (barring 500 and 2000 rupee notes) is accepted in Nepal
3. You can use your credit card as well, however, 2% extra amount is charged for currency exchange
4. You can also withdraw Nepali currency from ATMs with your bank card, but you’ll be charged extra for the currency exchange
5. You can easily get a SIM card so no need for an international card
6. Do not consider the day you travel within Nepal for sight-seeing as a lot of time is spent in traveling from one town to another
7. If possible travel via domestic flights. Adds to the cost but saves valuable time
8. Avoid travel using private taxi within Nepal (different destinations). It is very costly
9. No need to worry about food. All the hotels offer, Continental, Italian, Chinese and Indian cuisine
10. Stay is pretty cheap for your pocket
Day1 Saturday – Reach Kathmandu from Pune via Delhi by Flight
Day2,3 Sunday, Monday – Leave from Kathmandu to Chitwan. Stay in Chitwan for 2 nights
Day4,5 Tuesday, Wednesday – Leave from Chitwan to Pokhara. Stay in Pokhara for 2 nights
Day6,7 Thursday, Friday – Leave from Pokhara to Kathmandu. Stay in Kathmandu for 2 nights
Day7 Saturday – Flight back to Pune via Delhi from Kathmandu