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Nepal - The Top of The World...
Rating : (5.0)

Kathmandu, Nepal
Nov 19, 2003 09:13

Pros: friendly people, breathtaking view of the mountains, gorgeous temple architecture
Cons: bad roads

To make the journey into Nepal easier we hired a car to take us across the Nepal border and then on to our first stop ?the city of Pokhara. A bus ride would involve a change of busses at the border and at least 15 hours. We were lucky enough to cross paths with a French couple at our hotel in Varanasi who were looking to make the same trip, so we shared the cost and the four of us were off. It was as if someone knew what they were doing when they placed the border on the map. It had been a dreary, gray drive until we were within 5km of Nepal. Suddenly, and we kid you not, the clouds parted and the sun broke through. The grass was greener and the streets were cleaner. The air had a crisp feel to it that we had not experienced for several months now. With a friendly smile, the immigration worker stamped our passport. It was good to be in Nepal.

For those of you that may not be aware, during the last seven years, there has been a declared “people’s war?carried out by Maoist rebels of the Communist Party of Nepal. Derived from their stated frustrations of a corrupt government and by the failure of democracy to deliver improvements to the people, the uprising has turned quite nasty at times and by the end of 2002 had seen the death of 8000 people, including many innocent civilians. To date, they have had a policy of not targeting foreigners, but caution is advised because you could always be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Expectedly, and sadly, it has been the innocent people caught in the crossfire and the tourism industry that has paid a huge price for the instability of the current political situation. Ceasefires have come and gone, and although the majority of the fighting and incidents take place in the more rural areas, there is currently fighting going on across the country. Strikes called by the Maoists can bring highways to a standstill and make cities appear as ghost towns. The final outcome is not certain, but it is the hope of many that peace will very soon find its way to this wonderful country.

We still had 5 or 6 hours until we reached Pokhara and with the current security situation, we had to hurry as the military highway curfews would go into effect at 7:30 pm. At that time, unless you had a road pass, you were not permitted to be on the roads. Most of the highway conditions were pretty good, but one stretch led us up along a river gorge and through a range of mountains. The monsoons had been heavy during the past wet season and this road had taken quite a beating. Mudslides had traveled across the road leaving it in bad disrepair. In some areas, the bridges had washed out. A decent two-lane road was now barely one lane in some places. Large trucks and busses, along with the rare car, had to line up and take turns going over the newly bulldozed sections. It was as slow as a crawl at times, and we’d be lying if we didn’t admit that we held our breath on a couple of occasions. At one point, Jon looked out the window, and could see straight down to the river below. The only other thing in view was the old sections of road that lay in ruins across some boulders about 50 feet below. After making our crossing, the highway improved, but it took us longer than expected. The evening got later. 7:30 pm passed, and at one of the final military checkpoints, our Indian driver was questioned as to why he was still out on the roads without a road pass. By this point, we had gotten fairly adept at using our flashlights so that each time we reached a checkpoint we’d shine it on our foreign faces sporting nice big smiles. The nice soldiers with their loaded weapons in their sand bag bunkers were thankfully smiling too, and after 10 minutes or so of discussion and radio contact with someone down the road, they informed us that because we were foreigners, we were permitted to continue the last 30km to Pokhara. A warm dinner and a warm bed were both welcome sights.

We awoke the next morning, opened the curtains in our room, and had a breathtaking view of the biggest mountains we had ever seen. The Annapurna Range towered above the foothills. They were so magnificent that they almost didn’t look real. Good morning Nepal. We spend several days in Pokhara just enjoying the world around us and being continuously amazed at just how beautiful it really was. Eventually, we started heading east across the country and made a couple of planned stops. The first of which was the small village of Bandipur.

Bandipur straddles a ridge up in the hills and has a real charming feel about it. The majority of the architecture is preserved, and not at all being overrun with tourists, retains a feeling of real life in rural Nepal. On our first day of visiting the village and walking along its narrow streets and pathways, many adults and children greeted us. We visited the local primary school and, after being invited into the school by the headmaster, experienced the feeling of being overrun by 300 curious and screaming children. That evening on our way back to the guesthouse, a family even invited us to visit and celebrate the final day of the Nepalese festival of Tihar with them. We spent a good portion of the evening and the next morning with their extended family and friends. It was a really great experience and a special treat to be welcomed to take part in the event.

After a stop in Chitwan National Park where we were successful in spotting a few wild rhinos, we headed to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. A beautiful city in its own right, Kathmandu and the surrounding area offer some gorgeous temple architecture, narrow streets with crumbling storefronts, and the traffic and pedestrian chaos one would expect from a capital city. Many warned us to be prepared for the pollution, but we didn’t find it to be so bad. It has a certain appeal for us and is certainly one of the most unique cities that we have visited.

Overall, Nepal ranks as one of our most favorite countries on the trip thus far. The people are friendly and we have found few places better to just roam about and watch local people go about their daily lives. Our only complaint is that we don’t have more time to spend here. It will have to wait for another day as we are now down to our last month. We’re now crossing back briefly into the Northeastern part of India in order to visit the state of Sikkim, the city of Darjeeling, and the city of Kolkata (Calcutta) from which we will depart the sub-continent and return to Bangkok. Our time on the road is getting shorter, but the adventure isn’t over quite yet. Further reports from this side of the world will just have to wait...

Until Next Time,

Jon and Liz