Archive for the 'Nepal' Category



12
Dec
11

Kagbeni and Muktinath- vacation, a pilgrimage and a bus trip

Arriving in Kagbeni was a pleasure, we checked in into the ´the Green Kitchen Guest House´ (a little posh but we got a special offer because one of the children is in that school TY sister is working for). We checked out the hostel (were the schoolkids and her sister stay) got filled with black tea and biscuits by the cook and enjoyed the familiar atmosphere.

Strolling around Kagbeni is like time travel, of course there are many Lodges, Guest Houses and a so called German Bakery of course (a German bakery can be found in almost every Himalayan place in Nepal and India were even tiny tourism occurs, but mostly has nothing common with genuine German baked items), but there are still corners were local people follow their daily routines which did not changed over centuries, apart from that trekking circus of neat clean Gore- Tex. This is a very Tibetan influenced place and also the gateway to Upper Mustang (officially only allowed to enter with a special permit). We passed the days with strolling around the scenic surroundings, searching for fossils on the river (we found some), visiting the old monastery, watching locals preparing their fields for winter or picnicking and munching the delicious and famous Mustang-apples which are growing here (though it was not easy to get some, as harvest season was already over).

The other day we went up to Muktinkath, one of the holiest places in Nepal for both Hindus and Buddhists. It is said that Guru Ringpoche, also known as Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism meditated here on his way to Tibet. There are 108 water-taps were holy water is pouring out and we collected a dip of every tap of it, drunk a sip and washed our heads in some ritual order with that ice cold water. Nearby is an old small monastery which shelters a spring and a natural gas source, where a flame is permanently burning. TY was fascinating by that natural event and could not stop to watch that ever burning fire. Here the five elements are found in its purest form, fire, water, sky, earth and air (I would also add ice, as outside some water got frozen and even here TY could barely contain her enthusiasm about it, as she grew up in subtropical climate and natural frozen water was rarely seen there). We strolled around, hung up some prayer flags, enjoyed the unique scenery once more and chatted with some nuns selling religious items and souvenirs. This area has its special atmosphere, nor to say a spiritual one (the famous saying about the Himalaya: ´surely the Gods live here, this is no place for men´ would fits). After we went back to Ranipauwa, the nearby village which is nothing more than an ugly and dirty collection of Guest Houses, Restaurants and Shops. We took a jeep back down to Kagbeni.

The way back home to Pokhara was a more or less unspectacular thing. A jeep to Jomson were we stayed the night, and caught a bus early next morning. The bus was filled with porters (why we always get buses were I am the only foreigner in it is quite a mystery) of some expedition and there was hardly space for my bike on the roof. Somehow we managed some for my vehicle and tied it carefully, yet not carefully enough. At the first stop I went out of the bus and realized that some electrical wires which are low taut over the road in many places must teared the ropes it was tied with. Now the cycle was hanging upside down nearly falling down from the luggage carrier. The young conductor obviously could not handle the situation- a shouting, quite furious tourist (me) who complained about his indifference which suddenly disappeared after I told him the cost of my bike, then he got quite nervous and did not know what to do. One helpful porter got some climbing rope and we tied it once more and from now it was fine. The bus trip was a shaken not stirred affair, filled with all time classics of Nepali music and funny drunken Nepalis on their way home after a hard job in the mountains. Later on we also got eyewitness of corruption in its ridiculous way. Along the way we got stopped at a police check post and our go on was refused for no reason. I watched the situation and it was clear that this was a planed act of boredom or something else from the officers (need to mention again, this bus was filled with locals, I was the only tourist, a tourist- bus scarcely would stopped to keep the illusion of a clean corruption free country). The police demand was 7000Rs (approx. 70Euro) , phone calls were done and the stuff still refused to pay that high price as it was clear that no receipt would be handed out. The passengers waited for a solution at a small restaurant behind the check point and all over sudden we got moving again. It turned out that the ´fine´in the end was only 200Rs (2Euro) and the police were waiting for our bus because one officer took this bus the day before and had to pay the regular passenger fee as everybody else, that was the reason we got held. If this would not be that annoying, the arrogance of people in uniforms, it would be very funny. The rest was straightforward, we arrived at Beni took a Taxi to Pokhara and in the late evening we were back home in our daily routine.

03
Dec
11

´the road´

Since I heard about the road connects Nepal middle-hills with Mustang, mostly follows the route of the Annapurna circuit in parts I had the idea of cycle up there. Recently I heard about more and more cyclist doing this ride and this time I was eager enough to do so, since my sister in law is working up there in a school there was also more a reason to do so. It turned out to one of the shortest, hardest, nicest and most expensive trip I have done so far.

Equipped with the ACAP permit and the useless nonsense TIMS- Card, after breakfast, a last shave from my local barber and father in laws mobile in my pocket (for give them some peace in mind) I set off but not before I recognized that my speedometer was not working anymore (I removed it quickly with my pliers), headed towards the Baglung Highway. Getting out of Pokhara was some kind of an hassle, insane traffic and the heat gave me the rest. The first km´s were very hard and not interesting at all. I had a small break sipped tea and munched some biscuits before the first big climb to Naudana began, followed some switchbacks and got overrun by many of tourist buses were posh people got pampered with air-con while I got burned by that damned hot sun, the positive with that improving weather (the weeks before it was pouring as hell and was abnormal cold) was that the mountains showed their full pride. The climb went further up to a small village called Kande, which was not an easy affair, but slowly I got used again to ride a fully loaded bike and the pleasure rises more and more (the first few hours felt like I rode a bicycle for the first time). I got a hit-back while some breaks always someone appeared and begged for anything and nothing (not those usual child’s asking for ´oneruppeonepenonesweet´), I got really pissed about that habit to see foreigner as an walking ATM or salvation army member (why shall I give a drunken man forcing me to buy him a soft drink for nothing? It was around noon and he was obviously full of raksi, a local liqueur, probably left his wife and kids working on the field while he invest the little income in raksi, hoping for some alms from stupid tourists. I just ignored that idiot finished my drink and left). After Kande the road started a long descent which gave me fast progress.Suddenly the Annapurna Range opens another view and the second summit of Macchapuchare could be seen, which gave him his nickname `Fishtail Mountain`. The road lead further through faceless dirty typical Nepali road-towns were youngsters with motorbikes posing around, tested their few English swearwords and showed their middle-finger on me for no reason (those bad behavior is more than a phenomenon in country’s like this, mostly excused with low perspectives for the youth, which might be true but there´s also a big piece of stupidity and boasting included, which has nothing to do with having opportunities or not). Finally I reached Baglung but not before I had to finish a last long climb to the center of town. I checked into a cheap charmless hotel and called it a day.

Next day I started early, backtracking down to the turn off to Beni where the road to Mustang and the real adventure began. The scenery changed fast, the ugly square houses seen everywhere swapped to old style homes built of rocks with nice balcony’s and granite roofs, settled between rice paddies or forests along the Kali Gandaki River, that’s rural Nepal I love, here the world might be still OK (of course it is not, the people still have their problems and sorrows than allover the planet). Kids shouted a friendly `Hallo´ or ´Namaste´ in my direction and I could see true happiness in their faces when I waved back. While small breaks people approached me caused of pure curiosity not because of expecting something more than a small chat. Suddenly a taxi was driving next to me and I heard someone shouting out my name `Chris, Chris´, it was TY on her way up, we decided to go up separately as I was too fixed on that idea of cycling so she was taking the public transport. In Beni we had a small encounter on the bus station and made an appointment to meet in one or two days in Kagbeni. I struggled my way through but enjoyed the surrounding mountain scenery a lot. I got a little bit worried since I realized that something went strange on my front tire. I found out that the rapid fastener went open (how that happened, don´t know), I closed it but there was still a wobble and a strange feeling while using the front brake, stopped and detected that the cone-screws (which hold the whole piece together) in the front hub went very loose, ´Shit, big Shit´, I thought. So I had a closer look, one side was totally loose and the screws fell almost out when I removed the wheel. What to do, stop the trip was not an option, thought about to ride till the hub will fall apart (not the best idea but giving up or backtracking was not really what I wanted to do). I tightened the screws with the pliers of my multitool and it turned out to be fine. The turning was not that smooth and perfect but the wobble disappeared and it was OK, so rock on. The road got worse and worse and turned really nasty with long passages almost unrideable with a loaded bike than mine, pushing was easier than cycling in some parts. Since Tatopani, were ´the road´ links to the famous Annapurna circuit the prices for food became ridiculous high, this is reasoned of difficult supplies delivery in that mountain area, but nowadays I think it is a huge rip off, ´the road´makes the access a lot easier and nothing need to be carry up by human power anymore, so I think it is bullshit and only caused by greed to keep the prices that high (yes the road is bad, really bad but even with jeeps it is not easy but still cheaper and easier than with loads of porters). Had a late lunch at Dana where I had a nice chat with a South African trekker (he told that he was wondering why not much people do this by bike because walking in parts on that dusty road means no fun for him and I told him about the Annapurna Base Camp he was heading for which I have done three years before). My plan was to stay in the next village overnight, but that was on the other side of the river and it would be nearly impossible to get there with a bicycle, so I went further to Ghasa a couple of kilometer more. A few km seems not much but on that road means hard work. Actually this road is not worth to be called a road, it really was in some parts more than a bitch of a road (but still was lucky, it was dry season, got some reports of cyclists done it in raining season and would not change with them), but it was fine, I was here of free will and I was not in a competition, there were only me, my bike and the bitch. In Ghasa I stopped at the first lodge and was more than happy to give me a well deserved rest.

Strengthened with a good rest the same procedure as the day before started again. But I was optimistic because I have been told that after Kalopani some 10km further the road was improving. A steep climb (from Tatopani to Lete the road ascents almost 1500m in around 20km) through forest took me up to Lete which offers superb views of the Dhaulagiri. Just after the Kali Gandaki opens and showed his broad river bed, passing through a small gap between the Dhaulagiri and Annapurna- Niligiri Range. Progress got much faster compared to before as the road became much better. The villages, inhabited mostly of Tharkali people became more and more simple. The whole area changed fast and cubicle white washed clay houses appeared more and more (this architecture is typically for Tibetan influenced areas). This is what I was coming for, the forests get fewer and the scenery changed into an almost dessert one surrounded by snow-capped mountains. In the far on mountains small white chortens were see able, Tibetan Buddhist stupas, could be seen and here and there the famous ´Om Mani Padme Hum´ Mantra was written in huge colorful letters on rock formations or Mani walls (walls decorated with stones carved mantras on it) waited next to the road for clockwise circulation by devotees. Another upside was the frequently back-wind, as the dry and cold high-plateau of Tibet is soaking the hot air from the humid and hot subcontinent like a vacuum cleaner through the world deepest gorge which the Kali Gandaki grinds through the Himalaya over centuries and millenniums, so I passed village by village unfamiliar fast. After a lunch in Marpha, also called the apple capital of Mustang I decided to give it a try to reach Kagbeni that same evening. I passed Jomsom, where my permit got checked another time, and left this surprisingly unpleasant town fast, still following the river in unreal beautiful barren landscape. The road follows the riverbed and like this the road was like, leading over rocks and stones. After a while Kagbeni could be seen in the distant and the last settlement of Eklebathi was passed fast. Somehow I managed to get the wrong way, left the road and followed the footpath which looked easier for me, but the way got really narrow as it was impossible to cycle on it safely, pushing was much safer on that less than 50cm broad fragile path with the bustling river deep to my left. The last section before joining the jeep-road again was a steep steep hauling affair on loose gravel where I drag my bike with the last power. I arrived in nice still ancient looking Kagbeni, met TY and her sister and was satisfied with that very short but also very nice ride…

14
Nov
11

Kathmandu Tribhuvan International Airport among the 10 most hated airports

Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) — the only international airport in the country — featured in the CNN’s world’s 10 most hated airports.

“For a small airport in a pretty country, TIA has it all: the interminable weather delays of Boston Logan, the shoddy restroom maintenance of a Glasgow sports bar, the departure board sparsity of McMurdo Airfield and the chronic chaos of a kids’ soccer match,” it said, adding that some airport improvements have been underway for Nepal Tourism Year 2011 campaign.

However, it claimed that the most hated airports in the world are not the worst airports in the world.

But the most serious beefs with Nepal’s only international airport revolve around its primitive yet officious check-in procedure, starring a roulette wheel of underpaid security agents, according to the CNN. “Departure is an endless game of body searches and silly questions,” it quoted a passenger.

“Those who didn’t have their e-tickets printed out had to argue their way in,” another passenger has been quoted, who was checked seven times and scolded for not having a baggage tag on a carry-on before eventually boarding.

The two US international airports also feature in the list apart from Heathrow of London and Perth Airport of Australia

http://www.nepalmountainnews.com/cms/?p=42291

The CNN has rated the 10 most hated airports and it is no wonder that the Kathmandu Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) is among them! As stated above it is the worst International Airport I´ve ever been. Arrivals are quite annoying, the immigration is an old fashioned low tech procedure (the immigration desks are understaffed, while arriving a few planes at one time it is a pure chaos till the visa is issued, all is still handwritten, no computer in sight, unbelivable while hundreds of tourists queue up and waiting for immigration procedure). According to that the luggage will be uncontrolled downstairs as there are hardly controlls while leaving the arrival area and no need to mention the chaos outside where touts are looking for the unware weary tourists.
Same for departures, the check in is as worst as possible, the security check is ridicilous, once after checked in my luggage it was easy for me to stroll beetween in and outside the airport without any security check anymore, but later on further inspections seem to be paranoid ones (or the security staff is overbored). The duty free area is as primitive as a dark busstation barely providing resting areas. Luckily those never need to see the bathrooms. Before boarding it is neccesary to pay high attention because it is very easy to miss boarding (there are only two gates, if to name them) also sparse displayed when and where to go, the always absent helping staff will do the rest. Even the Manila (Philippines) or the Dhaka (Bagladesh) International Airports spread much more charme than this infirm brickstone piece of shit.
For most people the TIA is the first idea of Nepal, and why give them another hint than reality?

There is only the hope illusion that officials will improve this situation soon, tourists make a very important income of the national budget, and how they will be attracted with a non charming welcome like this?

This airport is a truly experience

08
Nov
11

The daily insanity or madhouse routine

Everybody spent time in countries like Nepal knows that urban management is not very famous and succesful, the buildings are built as space allowed, it doesn´t matter to block the neighbour window with a new house, some can be lucky if only a wall is blocking the view and not to face another window of a toilet or a kitchen, which will also change the view into a smell. It is not difficult to imagine that the sound scape is huge and this is not everybody cup of tea, but is enormous due to the echo caused to close buildings. One day I got woken up by a sound rarely heard in Nepal, a vacuum cleaner! Yes, I haven´t seen many of those here, and I think it is ok if those garments will be took place but WTF why the neighbours of our hotel need to clean their floor at 5.30 in the morning??? Also talking shouting as they are fighting (no worry they are not, only chatting). Thats how Kathmandu is like, especially Thamel, the notorious tourist quarter, narrow roads, packed with hustlers, taxis, beggars and stray dogs (I suppose they ´cleaned´ the roads from the streetkids and dogs, don´t know where they were send to…), rickshaws, cows and thousands of tourist (its peak season now) of all schemes. Here meet the holidaymakers wearing the latest trekking/ climbing gear (if finished their trek/ climb already dressed up with shirts displaying their achieves), that wannabe and neo hippies searching for the good old days which are long gone, the backpackers on their lifetime adventure in fisherman trouser their ticket home in the pocket and those longterm traveller think they´ve seen it all. All those types of tourist have one in common, they have to face the daily madness in the streets. Nobody is immune from all that vendors trying to sell anything and nothing, from Hashish to Tigerbalm, flutes (I´m missing that albino vendor selling his flutes always telling he remembers me), chess games, postcards, trekking tours and whatever (I won´t judge them, that’s how they make their living and simply try to survive and also need to commit it improved in the last years, nowadays it might be possible to walk 5 meters till the next whisper offering such goods).The biggest change I just recognized is the massive amount of policemen strolling around Thamel, but that´s not a reason to improve the traffic situation at all, it´s getting even worse. Those streets are simply not designed for motorized traffic, but nobody cares, all need to be pushed through with an omnipresent noise mixed with engines crying for the next inspection and the sound of the signal horns, shouting out who´s coming. At rush hours, which is most of the day the streets are so packed that even pedestrians switch to slalom racers trying not to be hit. Fortunately Nepal is an early to bed country with not a nightlife scene like other countries, so by around midnight the background sound decrease, there only the dogs are howling, police cars moving with sirene and sometimes become an ear-witness of the family fight next door. But all this is forgotten if someone got a new hi-fi system and using them all night long without knowing the volume button is for.

The other day we went for occasion to Bouddha the main Tibetan quarter in Kathmandu and later on we went by a micro to a relative house in the outskirts of Kathmandu. As we get used to the crazy public transport mostly using to get around town. The transportation system in Kathmandu is one of the worst I´ve ever seen, packed with dozen and dozen other people in small vehicles, called micro busses (mini vans designed for public transport), tuk tuks (looking like cans on wheels) and whatever no system or organisation is visible but somehow we always managed to get to our destination (simply I don´t know how). Inside those vehicles any foreigner is exposed to the driver skills, crimped inside with dozen of  other people sharing a seat created for two with four or more. But here someone will get a glimpse of the real Nepal most tourist simply never see.

But this is what Kathmandu feels like, like a huge mad house, but isn´t this a reason for coming back again and again. I think so! Because this is real, not a plastic society the law and order developed in western countries.




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