Nepal Blog

On the road to Kathmandu – a real Flight of Fancy

MARK:  Only a few words today, because I hope the pictures speak for themselves…. 

My thanks to Middlesbrough “boy” Chris Rea for the final stanza, to the people of Nepal for their kindness and generosity and to my travelling partner and “Minister of Finance” (according to the GM at our Chitwan Hotel) for really entering into the spirit of this great adventure.

A beautiful country. Still fighting against adversity, be it the earthquake or the fuel crisis.  GO if you can to support the people of Nepal.

We’re not sure when our next the blog will be, it all depends on whether MASTERS is censored in China… watch this space, or not.

 

FOOL IF YOU THINK IT’S OVER…

Chiselled jaws, deep lines of hardship,

Etched in leather beaten skin.

You the Tourist, object of desire,

No hardship outside, just perhaps deep within?

 

Beauty all around, yet destruction all too close,

Nature the provider and destroyer.

Side by side, life and death – a fine line tread.

Who to say who ends up dead?

 

Shrieks of children, happiness and hope.

Grandparents watch, still the Tourist Bus bumps on,

Fleeting glances and then just gone.

Will you remember, will you care?

 

Chris Rea “Road to Hell” belts out, in ear.

“I can hear your heart beat” are you “looking for the Summer?”

‘Boro’ so far away.  Who cares, they don’t, do you?

“Fool if you think it’s over”, life’s journey much, to do.

 

Tell me there’s a heaven, tell me that it’s true.

Tell me there’s a reason why I am seeing what I do.

Tell me there’s a heaven where all those people go.

Tell me they’re all happy now, Pappa tell me that it’s true….

 

“Song Titles” – Chris Rea

 From destruction, beauty rises – Nepal a country of contrast

 

The main palace after the EQ

The main palace after the EQ

The main palace, propped

The main palace, propped

Kathamdu from Monkey Temple

Kathamdu from Monkey Temple

Lake Pokhara from on high

Lake Pokhara from on high

Lake Pokhara - an afternoon punt

Lake Pokhara – an afternoon punt

The beauty of a sunrise over the Himalayas

The beauty of a sunrise over the Himalayas

View from our balcony at Chitwan at sunset

View from our balcony at Chitwan at sunset

Love Kingfishers (birds and beer)

Love Kingfishers (birds and beer)

Nepal isn't a deer place...

Nepal isn’t a deer place…

"And on our left we have Mt Everest..."

“And on our left we have Mt Everest…”

Reasonable view for a Wednesday morning. Mt Everest the pointy peak on the right

Reasonable view for a Wednesday morning. Mt Everest the pointy peak on the right

 We could not take pictures of the "Living Goddess", but Sarah's patience paid off as she "appeared" at her window for 30 seconds

We could not take pictures of the “Living Goddess”, but Sarah’s patience paid off as she “appeared” at her window for 30 seconds

Categories: Nepal Blog

Never smile at a crocodile! No, you can’t get friendly with a crocodile. FACT

MARK:  What do you think of when you think of Nepal?  Mount Everest, the earthquake, perhaps hippy Kathmandu.

Bet you don’t think of crocodiles, rhinos and elephants!

But these are just some of the animals we saw on our three day trip down to the Chitwan National Park, which sits on a tributary of the River Ganges, close to the north east Indian border.

The awful, six hour, white knuckle bus ride from Kathmandu was certainly worth it.  Just a 120 miles south-west as the crow flies, we were just grateful to get here as the bus driver on the Mountain Explorer, broke every traffic rule in the book and again, nearly had us heading, along with 30 Chinese nationals, head first in to a ravine.  It seems road journeys here, as in India, are equally as bad.

Going for Farnborough Photography Club Prize. Mountains reflected in windscreen of the Overlander... didn't work

Going for Farnborough Photography Club Prize. Mountains reflected in windscreen of the Overlander… didn’t work

Great views - white Knuckles

Great views – white Knuckles

But the stunning view from our bedroom balcony over the Rapti River and beyond into the “Savannah” style grass was simply amazing.

Our jungle guide Krishna (another one) was a mine of information and really passionate about everything he saw be it a red insect through to the two native species of crocodile.

The first evening as the sun began to go down, he personally took us (as we were the only people in the 30 bedroomed Jungle Wildlife Camp) out along the river where we saw a giant rhino wallowing in mud, his armour-plating clear for all to see.

Armour plated big boy

Armour plated big boy

The Mozzies were biting as we headed west admiring the sunset as we went, Sarah scanning the horizon for predators through her binoculars, as sweat dripped down our North Face long sleeved shirts.  I rarely sweat, Sarah never.  But we did that night, with both shirts turning a darker shade, as salty water trickled down our bodies, arms and legs.

Sarah Attenborough

Sarah Attenborough

Next morning at 0645 we headed out along the riverbank, this time to join our jungle canoe.  A hollowed out tree, was to be our home for the next hour as we were to glide down river, with the sun rising through the haze and riverside mist.

Dodgy selfie close to Croc

Dodgy selfie close to Croc

All was going to plan, when suddenly we spied a giant Marsh Maga croc, no more than 10m away…. He looked at us, we stared at him and the three guides raised their sticks in case he attacked.  He didn’t and our canoe continued its effortless down-stream journey getting deeper and deeper in to the steamy jungle.

Big Maga Marsh Croc

Big Maga Marsh Croc

“Up there, on right” Krishna whispered in a loud hiss.  “Like your bag.”  I hadn’t a clue what he was on about.  And then he shouts “Osprey”.  He was right on both counts.  All of our four back packs are Osprey Bags and indeed it was a beautiful Osprey, sitting high on the branch surveying the river below, head swivelling from side to side.  Beautiful, no big deal to the Nepalese, but a rare sight in the UK.  Lucky omen?

Posing for bag shot

Posing for bag shot

“Get ready for jungle” Krishna said to Sarah with a glint in his eye as the canoe came in to a sandy beach area, where hundreds of Sand Martins had made their nest.  The underneath part of the boat made a shushing noise as we made land.  We quickly jumped out and were all alone except for Krishna and his number 2 a local lad, there for protection from the wildlife.  We were told what to do if approached by a rhino or tiger, with the last instruction being “run like hell and climb a tree” if all else fails!

The jungle proper was about a mile away from the river, in between an expanse of tall grass and little else except these pretty orangey/yellowy bushes.

A flower thing

A flower thing

The sun was hot even though it was barely 0830, when we finally approached the heavy foliage which marked the edge of the Chitwan jungle. Birds screamed overhead, but the only thing we saw were some nervous white spotted deer.  Our illusive tiger was still illusive…

All too soon, in the middle of the morning, our trek came to an end as a white jeep came in to view ready to take us back to base, time for a quick black tea and it was off to see the elephants having a bath.

This took me right back to the Blue Peter Summer Expedition of 1973, when Val Singleton, John Noakes and Peter Purves went to Ceylon as it was.  They washed the elephants and had a whale of a time.  I’ve still got the Christmas Annual from that year complete with “Mini-moke” on the front cover.

John Noakes

John Noakes

Val Singleton

Val Singleton

This time no Shep, but seeing wild and semi-wild elephants having a ball in the river with their handlers was amazing.  Didn’t get in with them, but did go later on an elephant safari through another part of the jungle and saw Rhino with baby.

But the final note must go to two people.  I’ve mentioned Krishna before.  One of life’s nice guys and a really good ranger.

Krishna was nearly attacked by a Tiger next day... all in a days work

Krishna was nearly attacked by a Tiger next day… all in a days work

And then the man who looked after us so well at the Jungle Wildlife Camp.  His name was Sitaram, a true hospitality professional and who at the end said to me “I meet many many guests, but not like you….!” I’ll take that as a compliment then Sitaram!

Legend and super chap... salute the man on the bike SITARAM

Legend and super chap… salute the man on the bike SITARAM

So if you are ever thinking of coming to Nepal, you must make a visit to Chitwan and you must stay at the JWC.  Thanks to Krishna, Sitaram and the rest of the gang – where else would you get a better sunset than this and be able to watch crocs, rhinos and snakes from your balcony sipping a cool beer?

just missed the birds.....

just missed the birds…..

Off now to the mountains near Pokhara and then a special last minute treat, a flight over Mt Everest, weather permitting.

 

 

 

Categories: Nepal Blog

The Earth didn’t move for either of us… thank God!

MARK:  “Where are you looking forward to visiting most?”  This probably the question we were asked more than any other before we left the UK.  In truth, we were both looking forward to visiting all 19 countries, for a variety of different reasons.

But Nepal for me had special significance, particularly after the devastating earthquake earlier in the year.

We’d always wanted to visit this beautiful country to see the exciting wildlife in the south (not much known), the majestic mountains of the north and take in “hippy” Kathmandu located in the central valley.

In April, after the devastating earthquake had hit, I visited the Foreign Office (FCO) website all the time and nobody was more pleased than me to see the travel advice change in July change to “safe” in the areas we wanted to visit.  The fact was, we were going irrespective of any FCO words of wisdom.  The flight tickets in (from India) and out (to China) had long since been booked and were non-refundable.  But the real determination to visit was not financially driven, it was simply to support the people there.  The “Tourism Tap” had literally been turned off overnight – a real problem for a land-locked country that depends heavily on the visitor $ as part of it’s economy.  Krishna, the Manager of the Hotel Happy Home in Kathmandu who I had developed a close “email” relationship with, was “so happy” to know we were not cancelling our trip.  No way were we going to let him down.

So it was with a degree of anticipation, trepidation and excitement when we set off from Southern India, on a journey of over 2,500 miles, involving three planes and over 14 hours of travel.  I could not wait to see how the country was coping and whether people still slept in the central park for fear of further tremors.  After all, there have been limited news reports for some time in the UK.  It’s funny how the media love to cover tragedy and then rarely return to the scene a few months later to report on what has happened during the intervening period.

The flight in was a scary one to say the least, flying between mountains in to what is little more than a military air strip. With a sudden jolt and hard “smack” on to the concrete runway, the Jet Airways, Boeing 737 (900 series) suddenly slammed on its brakes, our seat belts strained and the Rolls Royce engines whined in to reverse thrust.  The end of the runway was approaching at an alarming rate, but we stopped just short of a row of houses.

$50 (US) and our Visas were paid for and within 25 minutes of touch down, we had been reunited with our bags – always a nice site to see on the luggage belt.  Better still, there was an A4 sign outside the Terminal Building high above the waiting taxi men with the words Mark Bailey.  The emails had worked and the trust given to Krishna had been rewarded with a welcoming smile.  We’d arrived in Kathmandu.

Within seconds, our back packs were “launched” with brute strength on to the roof of a grey, beat up old Toyota People Carrier and we were off.  There was no rope to tie them down.  But the windows worked which was a blessing as the heat was intense.  Average temperature at this time of year is normally 23-25C, but we were hit with a furnace blast of humid, dusty air, with the mercury showing 33C at 1630.

As we left the airport, I immediately started looking for signs of the earthquake.  But I couldn’t see any.

So just where were all the devastated houses?  How come life looked so normal?  Where were all the Red Cross Relief Workers?  The answer.  There weren’t any.  The truth was that 95% of the city had not been hit at all. I couldn’t believe this. Frimley High Street and its ugly concrete façade looked more of a mess than this place.  In fact the first sign of the earthquake was when we opened our hotel blinds to see the below view.

View from our Kathmandu hotel window. A school no more.

View from our Kathmandu hotel window. A school no more.

This was a school.  Fortunately there was no loss of life, the remains though did speak a different story. A young teenage boy emerged from a square, hand-made “crate” this was his home on the remains of what had been the classroom. He started washing three T shirts in a bucket. I asked Krishna what the truth and reality was, as I was confused to say the least.  He confirmed there had been a number of deaths in Kathmandu, most notably when the Dharahara Tower collapsed killing 80 people and trapping over 120 more.

But he went on that in the main, most of the damage and destruction had been in the hills and mountains where over 9,000 people had died and in excess of 23,000 injured, many seriously.  He also told us that a number of the temples and historic sites in and around Kathmandu had been affected because of their age. They simply could not withstand the massive 7.9 (RS) earthquake, many no longer in existence.

So, next morning, after a roof top breakfast overlooking the misty mountains, we set out to investigate for ourselves the Thamel (old town) area.  Sadly it wasn’t long before we could see for ourselves the massive hammering the old temples and shrines had taken.  The poignant “before” photos now displayed by the Government Tourist Service showed what the buildings had been like a few months ago.  My photos show what is left.  Enough words, let the photos speak.

Before...

Before…

and after

and after

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before...

Before…

and after

and after

The most striking image of sadness was the 10 metre tall white stump – all that remained of the Dharaha Tower.  This historic white “lighthouse” shaped building, built in the 19th century was a major attraction, the tallest building in the capital with a viewing balcony at the top.  The Tourist Entry signs were still there, an eerie reminder of what had been.  Now it was all sealed off with corrugated iron and a draped white tarpaulin, shrouding what was left as if a dead body had been covered by a sheet out of respect.

Before....

Before….

and sadly after

and sadly after

But life was going on.  We walked through busy markets, the sound of bartering, buying and selling filling the air.  Wafts of cinnamon and ginger, mixed with gut wrenching smells of goat carcusses wafted up our nostrils.

We headed along “Freaky Street” – the epicentre of the Hippie trail during the early 1960s. We discovered that during that time, the Nepalese government ran legalised hashish shops. They even had direct bus services to Freak Street from the airport and borders targeting hippies looking for a “smoke”.  I confess, the nearest I have ever been to drugs are the orange Junior Asprins my mother used to give me.  No, I tell a lie.  I was once offered Viagra by a guy on a beach in Barbados. I did though quickly tell him I had no need and quickly referred him to Sarah for confirmation of the fact… So I was chuffed to bits that I was asked if I wanted anything to smoke by this rather shady dreadlocked local…  “Marijuana or hashish man?”  Sarah was watching, I declined, so decided it was safer getting my hair cut although when I saw the barbers cut throat razor and he proceeded to use it, maybe the “pot” might have been the safer option.

something for the weekend Sir....?

something for the weekend Sir….?

It was a light hearted moment that was suddenly cut short.  As we left the barbers, we went round a bend in to a small street.  Rubble everywhere.  People clambering over bricks and beams.  A freezer clearly visible in a gaping hole where once a roof was.  Reality hit, as pockets of destruction were still all too easy to find.

what was left

what was left

making our way through a street.... just

making our way through a street…. just

I could write much more on the roller-coaster of emotions we felt in Kathmandu, but fear that you dear listener would start to tire of my ramblings.

So to end with, a couple of shots from Monkey Temple overlooking Kathmandu and a photo of people queuing for fuel.  Oh, didn’t I say, Nepal is gripped by another major incident.  Not an earthquake, but an international spat involving India who have allegedly “blocked the borders” in response to the new constitution that 95% of the Nepalese have voted for.  The 5% that did not are supported by Mr Modi.  Have these people not suffered enough?  It makes you think.  There are now real concerns for the supply of fuel and food. One of the oldest countries in the World and now the newest democracy. Still fighting, still facing challenges, still smiling.

View over Kathmandu from Monkey Temple

View over Kathmandu from Monkey Temple

Hear no evil...

Hear no evil…

A monkey

A monkey

Onwards now to south Nepal through the hills on a rickety old bus.  Six hours – only 120 miles – how does that work?  Not sure, but if we see rhinos, crocs and tigers it will be well worth it.

Categories: Nepal Blog

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