Nepal – Changing plans

posted in: Asia, Nepal | 0

The border crossing between Banbasa and Bhimdatta was unlike any other border we’ve crossed so far. No gates or big buildings, only a tiny immigration office near the road that we hardly noticed. The locals were walking or riding their bikes freely on the dirt road, we were the only foreigners around. While we went into the office to get our passports stamped a monkey almost climbed on one of our bicycles. Many macaques were running around, looking for something they could steal from the people. Some of them even climbed into a car. As we entered Nepal we bought our visas. We had a choice of 15, 30 or 90 days. We estimated that one month will be enough to cross the country from West to East if we don’t go on a longer hike, so we chose the 30 day visa. Although sometimes we had doubts that this time will be enough, Nepal is bigger than it looks next to its gigantic neighbours.

The difference between India and Nepal was noticeable, the new environment was much more pleasant and calm. There were very few cars on the road, people rather get around by bus, motorbike or bicycle. They are good cyclists, some of them took us over with their old, one gear bicycles. Buses came and went with open doors, normally someone was halfway out the door. The bus didn’t stop when a crew member climbed back in the bus from the roof. There was also less trash than in India. People are poorer here, but they can produce their own food and keep their surroundings clean. So there’s poverty but people don’t seem miserable, they look cheerful and laugh a lot (at us?). Many of them said hello, children shouted bye, so far from us that we didn’t know how they noticed that we were foreigners. Adults are also friendly, but respect personal space. Sometimes a tractor passed by, full of teenagers who were dancing to loud music and waved and screamed when they saw us.

The first day’s mission was getting cash. We tried all the ATMs in our way, but none of them gave us any money. Luckily Indian Rupees are accepted all over Nepal so we could use that in the beginning. On the second day it got more annoying that at least eight ATMs refused our cards. It was a Sunday but we found an open bank. We couldn’t get cash from them either but they directed us toward another ATM which gave us Nepalese Rupees at last. We’ve never been so happy to see money in our hands. We took the opportunity and took out the maximal amount with two cards. We even accepted the 500 Rupees transaction fee per withdrawal. We had to, every bank in Nepal charges foreigners and later we learnt that we better get used to it because most South-East Asian countries do the same.

We left the villages full of pise houses to continue our route next to Bardia national park. We saw a lot of langurs and deers in the forest. These two like to be close to each other because they can warn each other of danger. The road to the entrance of the park was framed by little farms where most people keep water buffalos or goats. We tried tea with water buffalo milk, the sweet taste was similar to nescafe. There is a wide range of accommodations next to the park, we chose one where we were allowed to camp. We were a bit surprised to see so many white people there. There were some Germans who roam by trucks and a lot of other Europeans who travel solo in Nepal. We couldn’t just walk by ourselves in the jungle, we had to go with a local guide and two other tourists. We crossed a river barefoot then we walked a bit more and waited for the tigers at the riverbank. Tigers didn’t come but we saw two crocodiles, an endangered black rhino and a domesticated elephant. But the main attraction of the safari is the tiger so we often stopped and waited for them. Towards the end of the tour two tigers appeared for some moments. They came and went so quickly I couldn’t even see them.

After the jungle we headed back to the highway. The road was so bumpy that it shook out a screw from my rack. While we were fixing it locals gathered around us to stare. It almost felt like India‚Ķ As we went on, we came across a river without any bridges. We watched the local cyclists crossing the shallow river on foot without hesitation so we did the same. Then we tried a new meal, samosa. It’s a pastry filled with green peas and potatoes. We ate some coconut cookies too. Besides these, there weren’t lots of new kind of food, most people sell only chowmein, momo and dal bhat (the same as Indian thali).

Nepal is also pretty densely populated, it wasn’t easy to find camping spots. We could stealth camp only once, that was cool, there weren’t any people around and the night wasn’t cold at all. At least rooms were cheaper than in India. Also more simple. We never had hot water, attached bathroom only a couple of times, but interestingly enough almost all of them had WiFi. The worst room we had was full of ants and mosquitoes and there were thousands of bees at the balcony that opened from the corridor. To notice hotels we had to look for vodka ads. In Nepal every shop’s sign name is written of a billboard of a product. The walls of houses are also full of advertisements. Just like in India it isn’t worth to put up any signs or boards if they don’t have an ad on them. So it’s usually a bank who tells you not to drink and drive and a telephone provider wishes you a good journey when you step in the country.

Our moods turned worse after the first peaceful days – traffic got bigger, bus drivers got on our nerves, Adam’s saddle got more and more uncomfortable, furthermore his rear wheel cracked. It was impossible to replace the wheel in the villages. Right before the hills we took two rest days in a town, Butwal. It was great to stop there because we found a bike store where we had the wheel fixed. We also bought a new, flatter and wider saddle that hopefully will be more comfy. Finally we could also buy 90% ethanol so we could cook. We bought some tasty yak cheese as well, probably we won’t get around this delicacy anywhere else. We had good luck except for that after more than a month of vegetarianism we accidentally ate momos filled with meat. If I hadn’t told him, Adam wouldn’t have noticed that it wasn’t cabbage, because he was eating it with so much chili. We finished the plate, but as we expected, diarrhea hit the next morning.

We pedalled up to Tansen, the road was often very rocky. Next morning we went for a walk to a view tower and around the town. Then we went on by bicycle, not much happened. The most interesting thing of the day was maybe the mouse in our room. The following day was more eventful. A drunk man was tottering in the middle of the roadway and he almost fell on me. Instead he fell on the ground and hit his mouth. Adam helped to check his wound and carry him off the road. Meanwhile I was trying to explain to the taxi driver who stopped to stare that I didn’t hit the guy. Besides some bleeding he was fine, in two minutes he was sleeping already, so drunk he was. Later we got to a viewpoint where a company of around fifty people were having a picnic. They were very happy to see us and immediately invited to join them. We danced then they gave us dal bhat. They were very sweet, just kept bringing us food. One of them told us that they gather money during their festivals and once they have enough they go out somewhere to have a good time together.

That’s how we got to Pokhara, Nepal’s second biggest city. The touristic part at the lakeside felt completely like Europe. We saw white people constantly and of course the whole place was full of expensive hotels, restaurants and outdoor gear shops. It had nothing to do with what we experienced at the western part of the country.

Adam wanted to have some rest while I preferred to spend my time in Pokhara actively, so I discovered the area alone. I walked at the lake side in the evening, the next day I climbed up to a nearby hilltop, Sarangkot. It was a nice hike, but unfortunately it was a cloudy day so I couldn’t see any mountains from the peak. We also planned to go on a three days long trek, but it turned out that we couldn’t do it without a trekking permit and entrance ticket to the Annapurna Conservation Area. This would have been too expensive for such a short hike. Anyway we already went on several awesome treks in India where we didn’t have to pay stupid entrance fees and walk around thousands of tourists. I get that Nepal wants to make the most money out of tourism, but sometimes it was disappointing. You can’t do anything for free and except for the foreigner-free western part we often noticed that we had to pay double the local prices.

The sky was clear on the day we left Pokhara so we finally spotted the snowy mountains. While we were leaving the city we also witnessed a Buddhist funeral march. Between Pokhara and Kathmandu bicycle tourists came opposite us three times. We only talked with one of them, the Italian guy warned us that the last 30 km would be a hard climb. We expected the worst, but it wasn’t that hard. I guess we strengthened a lot both mentally and physically. Although I lost my helmet on the way. For us the most difficult part came after entering the capital. The outskirts of the city were so dirty, the place reminded us of Delhi. The road was unpaved and very muddy. There are ‘Under construction’ signs but it doesn’t look like any work is done there. It’s a pity because while they fix the road they could stuff some of those messy cables under the asphalt. The smog is bad too, many people wear medical masks to be able to breathe.

We had to obtain the Indian visa in Kathmandu. This time we couldn’t apply for e-visa, that’s only valid if you enter the country at an airport. Instead, you have to fill the same form, print it and take it to the visa center. Then wait three workdays to see if they’ll approve your request, after that you need to go a third time on the fourth work day. Oh and it costs 100 dollars, doesn’t matter if you go for a month or six. We didn’t want to stay long this time, our goal was to get to Myanmar as quickly as we can. So we were glad when we found a cheaper visa, valid for 15 days. We completed the forms and looked into our options of catching a bus or train in India. The railway’s site got on my nerves. I’m usually calm, but India can annoy me even from far away. Why do they need my phone number to see the schedules and buy tickets online? Moreover, we had to pay to get a verification text that I never received. We were also worried that we won’t have enough time to cross Nepal because of the long visa procedure. Finally none of it mattered because while we were queuing at the visa center, it turned out that the 15 days visa only allows you to stay for 3 days in the country. We had enough of India. We decided to take a plane. Altogether it won’t cost us more and we won’t be frustrated by India. The downside is that we have to skip Myanmar for now, we will fly to Bangkok from Kathmandu.

During the remaining days we were relaxing, got ready for the flight and watched some of Kathmandu’s sites. We walked to Thamel, this quarter consists of narrow streets full of shops, most tourists love it, we didn’t.

We visited Durbar square, the location of the royal palace complex. The buildings were destroyed in the earthquake some years ago, but most of it has already been renovated.

Once we woke up at dawn to circumambulate Boudhanath stupa together with the worshipers who gathered there for morning prayer. But we didn’t visit the Hindu temples because of the unreasonably high entrance fees. We see churches all the time so it isn’t a big deal.

We succeeded in getting bicycle boxes, Adam fixed them on his bike to push them to our hostel. And we afforded a real pizza dinner to get some relief from the stress caused by all the decision making.

With the new itinerary we were to get out of Nepal earlier than planned so we didn’t spend all our Rupees. The problem was that this currency isn’t exchanged anywhere outside Nepal and it isn’t that easy in Nepal either. In a bank I was told to come back the next day before 3 pm to exchange them to dollars. When I went back they told me that only Nepalese citizens can sell Nepalese Rupees at the bank so I should go to a foreign exchange office. It was suspicious because all of the forex offices I saw earlier advertised exclusively the sale rate, it seemed like they didn’t want to buy Rupees. I tried and at the first office I was informed that legally I can only exchange it at the airport or Thamel. I didn’t want to leave it for the airport so I cycled on the muddy roads on my freshly cleaned bike to the tourist center, Thamel. At a no-name shop, without any paperwork, I could get rid of those bloody banknotes that were so hard to get.

On the day of our flight we walked to the airport early in the morning. It wasn’t far, we could push the bicycles with the boxes roped on them. This seemed safer then putting two boxed bikes on the roof of a taxi, they could have fallen off on the bumpy roads. It took us an hour to get there and only 40 minutes to take the bikes apart and pack them. We got ready faster than we imagined, check in hadn’t even started. It was an interesting coincidence that a Hungarian woman sat next to us while we were waiting. She didn’t say anything, we just noticed that she held a Hungarian passport. Check in was a piece of cake, our baggage wasn’t even weighed! We put all of our heavy stuff in our carry on bags in order not to exceed 60 kilos – for nothing. Then at the security check when our backpacks were inspected all of our tools were taken out. We would have been in serious trouble without them, thank God we were allowed to take them down to the checked in baggage. We felt we were over the difficult part and nothing would stop us from getting to Thailand.

We were sitting at the gate in the company of Miss Universe Nepal when we were informed that we would take off at 2 p.m. instead of half past 12. The delay didn’t bother us much, at least we got lunch at the airport restaurant. The last dal baht – it was self service so we had a full plate each. We took off around half past 2. We traveled by a big plane where we were fed again and watched TV. When we were already in the sky we saw the 8-9000 metres high mountains. We saw Nepal’s snowy peaks reaching higher than the clouds from the best angle ever.

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