Friday, March 23, 2012

Nepal

The impulse of visiting Nepal was aroused by a friend of mine years ago, yet whenever I made up my mind to pay a visit, something always got in the way and I ended up somewhere else. Changing the destination of a trip at the last minute seems to be a pattern. I planned a trip to islands in the Philippine for my last Xmas holiday but I ended up spending my Xmas eve in the Himalayas instead. Conquering Mount Everest wasn’t one of my many ambitions so I took time and visited three medieval Newar Kingdoms: Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, then to Nagarkot that is famous for a stunning view of snow capped mountains and finally the tourist hot spot, Pokhara.

I was wondering why December is a low season for tourism in Nepal; I mean it doesn’t matter when you visit the Himalayas, it is always frozen in the snow given the altitude. It became crystal clear to me when I experienced over 10 hours of power outage on a daily basis during my trip. Apparently the water that is used to generate power freezes in the winter, along with fast modernization in the cities and politics makes power restrictions necessary. I heard so many complaints from the shops in Thamel, the center of tourism, unless you have a generator, no one is going to spend money on handicrafts like Thankas when they can't see the beautiful details.

Before leaving Taiwan, I read  news about the safety of traveling in Nepal: "In recognition of improved conditions in Nepal, the US Department of State has canceled the travel warning that was most recently issued on January 12". The second day of my journey, I encountered a general strike that crippled normal life in Nepal. I had to walk across the city as the only cars that moved was the ambulance and truck loaded with armed soldiers. My lunch was an energy bar that I brought from Taiwan as the only store that opened was a pharmacy. Despite the fact that all streets were garrisoned by armed soldiers, the strike was largely peaceful as claimed by the party. Teenagers played football in the streets that are usually filled with traffic. Who would think  that a general strike in Nepal would be a perfect day to explore the city?

I stayed in a hotel in Boudha, located in one of the alleyways that lead to the biggest stupa in the world. At dawn, chanting from nearby monasteries woke me up, I walked to the stupa and joined in the flow of pilgrims who were circling. Under the all seeing eyes, the path was partly clouded by smoke from burning mixed herbs and mist in the morning lights, I circled the stupa once, twice and the third time...I was mesmerized in the atmosphere and kept circling compulsively. Eventually, the pungent scent of burning herbs wafting in the air broke the charm, I pulled myself out from the Zen and back to the reality. Pashupatinath Temple is another religion legend in Kathmandu. I was puzzled by the fact that I paid for the entrance fee yet wasn't allowed to get in to the temple that is listed in UNESCO world heritage list just because I am not a believer of Hinduism. I guess the live cremation next to the Bagmati river is the reason that Pashupatinath still attracts so many non-Hindu tourists. Sitting high up on the platform, overlooking the ritual on the other side of the river bank, it's like watching a soundless movie, it gets you thinking about the meaning of life.

Driving in Nepal was something, I had the feeling that Nepalis do not drive with their eyes but with their ears. Taxi, minibuses even buses can drive in an alleyway filled with pedestrians, dogs, cows and piles of garbage, safely and efficiently, simply by honking! Public transportation in Nepal was crazy and it worked well under the seamlessly cooperation of ticket collector and driver. The ticket collector climbs up and down in the overloaded bus to get the money and signals the driver to drive or stop. I sat on the roof of a local bus from Bhaktapur to Nagarkot and the bus broke down about 1km after departure!

I was warmed about the harassment from beggars and street vendors in Nepal but I found it wasn't so annoying, at least for most of the time. Most of the people would go away if you smiled and said no. I had a good laugh with two brothers who tried to sell me a sarangi in Pokhara, at the end I didn't buy the sarangi but we sang the most popular song Resham Firiri and drew attention of the crowd.

More information:
Walking tours in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur
Patan and Kathmandu Bus/minibus route map 

3 comments:

Traveling Hawk said...

This is a good presentation, Hanjie! I love all your photos, and among them those of the prople are special! Nepat is a country I would like to see.

Anonymous said...

nice posting.. thanks for sharing..

tour china said...

Nepal is my dream destination, good to read your story. Hope to visit the place as well in the near future...