A Travellerspoint blog

back in Sydney

10th & 11th October 2012

Hi all, I'm back in Australia and looking forward to a good night's sleep. Left the hotel at 10:00am for Kathmandu's international airport and a 1:05pm Silkair flight arriving Singapore at 8:15pm. Then caught the 12:35am Singapore airways flight to Sydney arriving 11:20am. Tibet was 2 hous behind Sydney (3 hours with daylight saving) which is in line with all of China. Nepal was 4.25 hours behind Sydney (5.25 hours with daylight saving).

The group was mostly middle aged although Joyce and Keith were in their 80's. All of the group appear to be serious travellers who have toured out of the way places. Most are already planning their next trip.

Some observations of the trip are as follows;

  • Tibet is very clean, with plenty of street sweepers and organisation.
  • Chinese police and soldiers are very much in control of Tibet, and foreigners are subject to Chinese control and supervision. For example, Tibet travel permits can only be obtained for a group of at least 5 foreigners of the same nationality, in the company of a Tibetan guide. Because we had 18 in the group, we needed two local Tibetan guides to travel outside Lhasa.
  • Nepal is a dirty country in so far as rubbish is dumped in the streets and rivers.
  • In Tibet, cars are left hand drive, whilst Nepal is right hand drive. However, in both countries, driving is enhanced by protracted use of the vehicles horn, and driving on the wrong side of the road is common (with all vehicles leaning on the horn).
  • The roads in Lhasa are good, although the Freedom Highway is potholed and needs contant maintaenace.
  • In Nepal, all roads are poor, and travel is slow. In Kathmandu, moves are under way to widen some roads, but this involves resuming and demolishing some properties. The dust and rubble contributes to the chaos.

Highlights included;

  • nursing the panda at Chengdu.
  • The Potala palace in Lhasa.
  • the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa.
  • Sera Monastery and the debating monks.
  • the Himalayas when we could see them.
  • The Durbar Sqares at Bkaktapur, Patan and kathmadu.
  • the elephants and rhinoceros at Chitwan National Park.

8 the flight over the Himalaya's.

Its been a great trip, and definately something different, but I'm also pleased to be home.

Some photos have been added to the Photo gallery.

Posted by HimalayanPeter 04:54 Comments (0)

9/10/2012

9/10/2012

Our last full day in Kathmandu and Nepal before flying out tomorrow. Three weeks has passed quickly, yet it is hard to recall the early days in China & Tibet.

Today we had a 9:00am start to visit the Swayambhunath Temple, which is the oldest known Hindu Stupa. It is also known as the monkey temple, although it is neither a temple, nor reveres monkeys. Instead, monkeys abound around the stupa, and there is even a pool at the back of the stupa in which the monkeys swim. Watching he monkeys jump into the pool and climb out has to be seen to be believed. The Stupa and its surrounding builings are also incredible.

After the Stupa, we visited Kathmandu's Durbar Square, which is as impressive as those of Patan & Bhaktapur, only more crowded. We were also lucky enough to see the "living goddess" make her appearance on the balcony of her temple. The living goddess is a young girl selected by her horoscope as a living embodiment of the hindu gods, but is revered by both Hindu's and Budhists. Later, had a rickshaw ride from the square to our lunchtime restaurant. Given the state of the roads, our drivers earnd their fares, and often had to get off the bikes and push us part of the way. Lunch was on a rooftop terrace, and was thankfully western style food.
The afternoon was free to wander around the square and related shopping district. Although today was overcast, it is still hot and humid, so a shower on return the the hotel was in order before adjourning to the bar for a few drinks. Dinner was at an old palace, with Nepalese food, which is a bit to spicy for me.

I have added a couple of photos to my previous post. Unfortunately, upload times are slow so I cannot add as many as I would have liked, Will add some more on my return to Sydney

Posted by HimalayanPeter 11:02 Comments (0)

Kathmandu

Hi all, still alive and kicking although internet access has not been available lately. I won't have an opportunity to upload photo's at this time as I am not using my own computer ( I will try to add photo's tomorrow).

1/10/2012

As previously mentioned, our hotel in Bhaktapur was fantastic. Only a couple of years old, large rooms, and luxurious. Other than regular blackouts, which are a feature of Nepal, the Hotel Heritage was superb.

In the morning we visited the Changu Narayan Hindu temple, which is world heritage listed, A stunning temple complex, although non believers are not allowed in the actual temple itself. Afterwards, returned to Bkaktapur for a walking tour of the town and Durbar Square A Durbar Square is the square which contains the palace of the former city king, Nepal had three early kings in each of Kathmandu, Bakhtapur, and Patan. These kings were later replaced by a single Nepalaese monacrchy based in Kathmandhu, although this monarch was deposed in 2008 and replaced by a government. The Durbar Square in Bhaktapur contains incredible buildings and sites. Lunch was in a converted temple in the square. After lunch, had the opportunity to roam the square and look at the shops. The street vendors are persistent!

2/10/2012

Today we left Bhaktapur at 8:30am for a solid day of driving to Pokhara. Lunch was prepacked lunch box of sandwiches eaten by the side of the road. Arrived at the International Mountain Museum aprox. 5:30pm. The roads in Nepal are narrow and badly in need of maintenance. The mountaineering museum contains many photos and displays of the many mountaineering expeditions. It was interesting, but coincided with a another blackout, so many of the displays were difficult to see. Encountered rain and a storm this evening. Pokhara is famous for its views of the Himalaya's, which we hope to see in the morning after the storm passes. Our rooms at the Hotel Landmark were small and not very appealing. My back door opened onto a small balcony that overlooked the metal roofs of the local homes

3/10/2012

This morning we walked down to the lake at 5:30am to see the sunrise on the Himalayan mountains. Unfortunately, only got a brief glimpse before the mist settled in. Went for a canoe ride on the lake to a Hindu temple located on an island in the lake, then back to the hotel for Breakfast and departure for Chitwan National Park. The island and temple were very peaceful and the canoe ride was fun.

Chitwan park was previously a hunting reserve for the royal family but was converted to a park when the monarchy was overturned. We were supposed to be staying at a resort within the park, but the government within the last month has closed this and all other resorts in the park. As a result we stayed at a sister resort just outside the park. The facilities were basic, but the management are making improvements to the resort (during our stay, air conditioners were delivered but not yet installed). We arrived at the resort for a late lunch, and after a couple of drinks, did an afternoon tour of the local village. This evening, the local villagers put on a short stick dancing display at the resort.

The resort was fully booked for tonight, and Lynnette & myself, being the two singles on the tour, were put into small rooms that looked like converted workers accommodation.

4th - 5th/10/2012

Although the facilities are the resort are basic, the organised events are fantastic. Started off with a bush walk, in which we saw rhino's. We were all excited on our return to the lodge, where we then engaged in the removal of leaches. After lunch, went on an elephant ride where we again saw rhino's and their calves.

The following day I elected to do another elephant tour, in which more rhino and calves were sighted. Unfortunately, we did not see leopard or wild boars etc which also inhabit the park. After lunch, a definite highlight was swimming with the elephant. They were bathing in the river and their handlers would get you on the elephant back, and then have the elephant either throw you in the water, or roll over with you on its back. All of us who did this were thrilled by the experience. I have some great photo's of me on the elephant, and landing in the water. Afterwards, did another village tour whilst we dried off. More drinks after dinner as there is nothing else to do.

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6/10/2012

Left Chitawan at 7:30am for the drive to Daman, which is also famous for its views of the Himalayas. Arrived at the Everest Panorama Resort at 1:30pm The resort is set back from road and not accessible by vehicle. Thank goodness porters carry the bags. The resort is old, and in need of some upkeep, but the bungalows in the bush setting are a spectacular site. After lunch, did a trek to a Hindu monastery established by a single monk approximately 35 years ago. There are 800 steps (both up and down) through the forest to reach the monastery, and the same to return. We were all short of breath during the walk, and couldn't blame the altitude (as we did in Tibet). The monk is in his 80's and his son and daughter now live with him (although the son is also a famous monk and often goes into seclusion in a cave for weeks at a time). There is also a wonderful Stupa built for the old monks wife who died 3 years ago. The monk does not leave the monastery, and relies on donations and supplies provided by the local peoples. Some rain during this walk, and a cool night. However, the resort placed hot water bottles in our beds, and the beds themselves were very warm. We were treated to a performance by a local Sharman (witch doctor) before dinner, which was impressive, especially when he started licking a burning piece of wood from the bonfire.

7/10/2012

Up at 5:45 to see the sun rise on the mountains. Unfortunately, didn't see Mt Everest, but did see a couple of the others including Annarpurna. After breakfast, onto the bus for the trip to Kathmandu. Although only 80kms from Daman, it took about 5 hours to travel, as the roads are steep, winding, and in poor condition. Even when we joined the main road to Kathmandu, it still took an hour to travel 25 kms.

Reached Kathmadu in time for a late lunch, and check-in to the Hotel Annapurna, which is quite luxurious and a change from the last few nights. This will be my first hot shower in 4-5 days! Went for a brief walk, but the effort of crossing the intersections was too much for me. Even with traffic police manning all the main intersections, crossing the roads is dangerous, as vehicles seem to ignore traffic lights and traffic police.

Kathmandu is incredibly large city, but very crowded, and dirty, although this is not helped by the street widening that is taking place, resulting in dirt and dust being continually stirred up by the traffic. Rubbish is everywhere, including the river.

Dinner was at a local Nepalese restaurant which puts on a short cultural show before the food is served.

8/10/12

5 of us chose to do an early morning flight over the Himalayas. The flights leave from the domestic terminal of the Kathmandhu airport, and just getting into the building was an experience. Crowds of tourists and trekkers trying to get past the police who were attempting to control access to the building, then once inside, a mad scramble to get through the scanners etc and too the departure gates. Fortunately, our guide arranged for an airport official to escort the 5 of us through. The flight itself was in a small 18 seater, but the weather was fine and the flight smooth. Although I was sitting beside the wing and engine cowling, the mountains were spectacular, and we saw Mt Everest. The fight lasted almost an hour, and we were back at the hotel in time to join the group for the days activities.

We started at Patan, which is an adjoining city (although in reality, it is only separated from Kathmandhu by the Bagmati River). Viewed the World Heritage listed Royal Palace, and tour of the Durbar Square. Although the palace is undergoing restoration, both it and the square are impressive, and extremely crowded.

We had lunch on a rooftop restaurant overlooking the massive Bodhnath Stupa, the largest stupa in Nepal. The food was western and much appreciated, and the view of the stupa superb. spent a short time walking around the stupa and the surrounding shops.

For something different we then went onto the Pashupatinath Temple. Whereas the stupa is Buddhist, the temple is a holy of holy for Hindu's. Whilst we weren't allowed in the temple itself (only Hindu's are allowed), the building and surrounds were spectacular (I seem to be using that word a lot). The temple is on the Bagmati River, and also contains water cremations sites. We were in time to see several bodies being cremated, and the ashes washed into the river. An unbelievable site, and in Nepal, the public cremations are accepted as the norm, with tourists and anyone else able to watch. The temple also contains many monkeys, with their young, who wander around the sites. An incredible day. Dinner was at a local restaurant, and western food was again on the menu.

Posted by HimalayanPeter 09:14 Comments (0)

Bhaktapur, Nepal

30/09/2012

Zhangmu is the Chinese border cross town for entry into Nepal, and was built in the 1970's when the border post was moved from Nyall. The town is built on a slope, with narrow roads and is approximately 10km from the border crossing and the Freindship Bridge, which is the actual crossing point. The hotel we stayed at in Zhangmou was not the usual hotel used by Wendy Wu tours, as that was fully booked for a delegation. Instead we stayed in another hotel which was not supposed to take foreigners. As a result we were not encouraged to loiter in the foyer, or use the restaurant. Dinner and breakfast were therefore taken in a nearby restaurant. Breakfast was omelete and toast and honey or jam, a pleasant change after some recent meals.

Left the hotel at 7:30am even though the border doesn't open until 10:00 am, as our guide wanted to beat the crowd, All foreigners have to leave China (including Tibet) by end of today so that the country can close its borders for a week (It appears that there are elections taken place). The timing of this tour just fitted in with the closure, as the following tour had to be cancelled because off this closure of borders.

The drive to the border crossing was incredible, and took an hour (for 10km). The road is steep and winding, with room for 2 vehicles only. However, many trucks were parked along the road, with their drivers asleep in the cabins, waiting for customs to open. Therefore the bus had to wind its way down this winding road with only inches to spare between the parked trucks and the edge of the road (which dropped into the valley). At one stage a truck driver had to be woken to move his truck forward to allow us to pass. Suffice to say we were the first group to arrive at the Customs point. Our driver dropped us off and returned up the road, How we was going to cope with any oncoming traffic is unknown. By 10:00 am the customs area was full of tour groups waiting to leave. Photos in the customs area are not encouraged, although everyone was taking them. However, I was approached by a soldier unhappy that I had taken a photo of the entry to the Freindship Bridge. Passed through Customs, although my copy of the Lonely Planet Guide to Tibet was confiscated as an inflammatory publication. Apparently early editions used to contain a photo of the Dalai Lhama, which is forbiden in China. Although mine was a new edition which did not include the Dalai Lhama, they still took it and thoroughly searched my luggage. Our tour escort said I was unlucky as she and others had copies of the same Lonely Planet book, and they were not taken.

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The walk across the Freindship bridge was another experince. Nepalase porters including old ladies and ladies with children carry our luggage on their backs using head ropes. Couldn't take photos because as we were still in Chinese customs area, and soldiers lined the bridge. I wasn't going to push my luck any more. Arrived in Nepal where customs and immigration are a formality, then met by our new tour guide and taken to our new bus, where the bags were waiting.

Nepal border town is just as chaotic as Zhangmu in Tibet.

The drive from the border to Bhaktapur is 150km, but would take about 5 hours, The road is rough, potholed, and twists and turns, and passes through many small villages which are entertaing to see. Stopped for a toilet break which involved crossing a very long swinging bridge (although made of metal), with a steep drop to the river below. The bridge is used for bungee jumping. Lunch was at a resort lodge in the town of Dhulikel. Tables out on a balcony with views over the valley (and apprently of the Himalaya on a clear day, which today wasn't), with a buffet lunch and a bottle of Everest beer. After lunch, a short walk through the town of Dhulikel before continuing on to our hotel at Dhulkhel where we will stay for two nights.

The hotel is superb. Very large rooms, comfortable, hot water, everything you can wish for. We are going to enjoy these two nights.

01/10/2012

A leisurely start oday at 9:30am with drive to the Changu Narayan, a World Heritage listed sites, as a Hindu temple has existed on this site since the 3rd century AD. Entry into the main temple is restricted to Hindus, but the buildings and surrounding village are stunning.

After the Hindu temple we returned to Bhaktapur for a walking tour of the Durbar Square. This is one of 3 Durbar Squares, the other 2 being in Pokhara and Kathmandu. The Durbar Square is the original area occupied the city ruling King, and containing the palace. The Durbar covers many blocks and is home to people and shops and stalls and monuments as well as the palace. Stuuning buildings and monuments. Had lunch in a restaurant that is a converted temple. After linch a walk around the streets of the Durbar. The street hawkers don't take No for an answer and will follow a person forever until you back down and buy, or they find a more prospective victim. Returned to the hotel mid afternoon for a rest.

Afternoon drinks with a few fellow travellers followed by dinner in the hotel restaurant.

Posted by HimalayanPeter 09:23 Comments (0)

Last days in Tibet

28/9/2012

Today we left Shigatse for New Tingri. Encountered several police roadblocks today where the drivers are told how long they should take to travel to the next checkpoint. As the times appear to bear no resemblance to actual travel times, we had to make several roadside stops to ensure we met the time frames. We passed through many Tibetan villages and saw lots of activity in relation to harvesting of the barley crop. Passed through Tsole Pass (altitude 4,500 metres) which, like many sites in Tibet is festooned with prayer flags. Had a stop over at Sakya Monastery, from where the current Panchen Lhama is meant to live. Appointed by the Dalai Lhama, the current PPanchen Lhama is under house arrest in Beijing. The Monastery is filled with artefacts, treasures etc and would be irreplaceable, as are all these monasteries, temples and palace.

Lunch was at a "restaurant" in a little town after leaving the monastery. We were the centre of attention for many of the locals. Whilst the meal was plentiful and good, the restaurant had its own character. There were already many flies in evidence, but when they opened the curtains on the main window, literally hundreds of flies were disturbed and took flight. Passed through Goato Pass, which with an elevation of 5248 metres, is higher than Everest Base Camp, and provided views of snow capped mountains. Whilst Everest Base camp is still closed to visitors, I did have my photo taken with the road sign.

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Eventually arrived at New Tingri (also known as Shegar) where we stayed at the Everest Hotel. This is apparently where many Everest expeditions choose to stay. Having said that, we stayed in the new section, which was an experience. Whilst the rooms were large, they did not appear to be new, and the rooms share a common loange and entertainment area. However, the generator stopped a couple of times in the evening, and is turned off at late at night until the early morning.

29/9/2012

Left the Everest Hotel at 7:00am to travel to Old Tingri for an early morning view of Mt Everest and some of the other mountains. As soon as we left New Tingri, we had to stop at an immigration post where we all had to present our passports for inspection. Then back on the bus to New Tingri. We stopped at several spots or views of the mountains. I was a little dissappointed with Everest, as it is behind other mountains and not as inmpressive as one would expect. But still, I've seen Mt Everest and got the photo's to prove it (Everest is just off centre in the attached photo, behind the other mountains). This morning is the only time I have needed my parka. Otherwise, Tibet has been hot and sunny.

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Lunch was at a restaurant in a town called Nyalla.

This afternoon, we left the Tibetan Plateau, and made the descent to Zhangmu, with an altitude of only 2,300 metres. The road down the plateau is long and winding, along the sides of a valley. However, twicce during the descent, we passed checkpoints. Zhangmu is a busy town on the sloping side of the valley, with what apears to be a single winding road weaving through its centre. Along this road trucks are parked for kilometres waiting to get through Chinese Customs and to Nepal. Our bus driver showed great skill in negotiating the narrow road and parked vehicles and oncoming traffic.

The lush greeness of this part of Tibet is in stark contrast to the dry and arid plateau we have been on for the past week.

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Tomorrow we queue up for processing at the Chinese Customs office, which our escort advises can take 1.5 hours. We will then meet a new local guide and bus for our time in Nepal.

Posted by HimalayanPeter 05:48 Comments (0)

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