Our around-the-world adventure has continued on from Varanasi to Nepal! It took a longggg days drive to cross the rest of the way through India, and reach the Nepali border. The journey was long and slow going as major stretches of the road were absolutely horrendous due to ongoing roadwork. In the worst stretch, we probably never exceed 25 MPH for a good 3-4 hours as our tiny bus bounced from pot hole to rut. This was due to the VERY unevenly laid gravel roads. We were bouncing around in the bus almost as much as we did on the speedboat in the Maldives.
Nepal has always been a place we wanted to visit, and the week we spent here did not disappoint! In fact, this is definitely a country that we would like to visit again one day. After crossing the border into Nepal we immediately noticed the more tranquil feeling that came with a much less populated country; however, this feeling went past this initial impression and stayed with us for the duration of our stay. It was also interesting how quickly we began to notice the remnants of the 2015 earthquake which can still been seen in the infrastructure throughout the country.
Once we arrived in Nepal we visited 3 very unique areas Lumbini (the birth place of buddha), Chitwan (a national park in the low lying area of Nepal), and Kathmandu (the capital city at the edge of the Himalayas).
The Rundown (Lumbini):
After crossing the border our group stayed the night in Lumbini. This town had one major site to see, and we hit it early the next morning before continuing on our way.
- India/Nepal Border Crossing – This border crossing was a bit abnormal compared to others we have seen in the last few months. About 50 kilometers before we hit the India/Nepali border we were greeted by a seemingly endless line of the brightly colored freight tucks which we have come to love so much. These trucks were literally bumper-to-bumper all the way to the border. Our guide, Sunil, said that this is an every day occurrence as India ships so many goods to Nepal, and that it can literally take drivers 3-4 days to make it to the other side. Thankfully, we did not have to wait in this line as the shoulder of the road is always fair game in India! The crossing itself did not feel official at all. The immigration building to enter or exit India would best be described as a small hut with 3 or 4 guys sitting at some dated looking computers. This was more or less the exact same for the Nepali immigration building. Nonetheless, we did not spend more than 15 minutes at either, so we were glad things moved along quickly.
- Buddhist Temple – We stopped at a random Buddhist temple along the road. There honestly is not a great historical or religious significance to this temple, but it was still interesting to see with all its bright colors of Buddhist depictions. Part of our reason for stopping was that this was the first Buddhist temple we would be visiting, and our guide, Sunil, thought it a suitable place to give a brief overview of Buddhism.
- Birthplace of Buddha – The most significant sight we visited in Lumbini was the Maya Devi Temple. The temple was the birthplace of Siddhārtha Gautama around 400 BC, who is better known as just, Buddha. All that remained of the birth place were several sections of the stone foundation. While it was not exactly an impressive site to behold, its historical significance is quite remarkable.
The Rundown (Chitwan National Park):
We had so much fun visiting Chitwan National Park, and we highly recommend it to anyone touring the region. We did several safaris in the jungle, as well as spent time touring several of the small, surrounding villages to see how the locals live. This part of Nepal was flooded only a month before we arrived, and for this reason we actually wondered if we would be able to visit. The flood was so bad that several of the local rhinos had been washed into India and had to be returned. The lodge we stayed in also had about 3 feet of water in it during the flood which stranded many local guests. We were lucky that the town was able to get up and running again in such a short period of time.
- Village Bike Ride – On the day of our arrival, we took a guided bike ride through a small village near Chitwan Park. It was fascinating to see the local culture first hand. We enjoyed just observing daily life in the village as we road by on our bikes: women preparing food, kids playing, people feeding their various livestock, or just riding their elephant down the street after a days work, and so on. Towards the end of the bike ride we stopped at the edge of the Rapti river. We were very fortunate as we got to see two rhinos as the sun set in the distance. While we had already seen rhinos in Africa, this was still very exciting as all our African spottings were from a great distance.
- Canoe Safari – We spent the following morning with nine of us (our group plus two guides) canoeing down the Rapti river. The canoe was a carved out tree which was quite narrow and sat very close to the waters edge. It took the nine of us a couple minutes to learn how to balance the canoe in the strong river current which a few of our new mates (we started picking up Aussi slang) seemed to enjoy more than others! From the canoe we saw a number of the local, brightly colored birds, and enjoyed hearing the various sounds of the forest. The canoe ride ended in another local village. We were lucky enough to spend the rest of the day, and that night at a local inn near the village that also happened to be right along the river front. We enjoyed meeting the locals and relaxing by the river while we watched a number of animals on the far side of the come out to get water (including another rhino!).
- Jeep Safari – The next day we did a Jeep Safari into the heart of the Chitwan jungle. We were told that tigers inhabit the area, and there was a slight chance we could see one, but sadly this was not to be. Nonetheless, we thoroughly enjoyed our trek into the Nepali bush. We saw several large snakes, a number of birds (including MASSIVE storks and peacocks), alligators, and several types of deer. We also stopped at an open field and saw one of most beautiful sunsets either of us had ever seen.
The Rundown Kathmandu:
We could not wait to get to the capital of Nepal (Kathmandu) and see the edge of the Himalayan mountains. Unfortunately, it rained during much of our time there, and so the mountains could not be seen. We were not even sure if we would be able to see the mountains until one of the last days of our visit.
- Drive to Kathmandu – Little did we know that the couple hundred kilometers between Chitwan and Kathmandu would take allllllll day long. This was due to the poor road conditions that still remainfrom the earthquake in 2015. The worst of this can be seen throughout the mountain passes where the construction crews are trying to build walls to keep landslides from occurring before the roads can even begin to be rebuilt (again, this made for an extremely bumpy ride). Unfortunately, landslides continue to occur in the area and the aftermath can still be seen along the road. This was hard not to think about as we sat in the slow moving line of cars along this road. (Funny side note: The Nepali people repeatedly corrected us and told us that these were not mountains, but just hills… trust us. They were mountains. We just didn’t know how much bigger they would get) .
- Swayambhunath Temple – Our first stop in Kathmandu was at the Swayambhunath Temple which sits atop a hill near the city. It is also referred to as the Monkey Temple, which is a fitting name given the small army of the little guys rummaging around causing mayhem. This temple is one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites in all of Buddhism as the temple, and the surrounding valley, play a central role in Buddhist religion. The site was comprised of a stupa, several shrines, and a number of vendors selling the usual touristy wares. We spent around a half hour exploring the area, as well as enjoying the magnificent view it offered of Kathmandu below. Our tour leader, Sunil, told us that as a child he was attacked by a number of monkeys in this temple, and was only rescued by a stick wielding monk. As such, he opted to wait in the car for this particular activity and we kept a wary eye on the monkeys.
- Bodhnath Stupa – The Bodhnath Stupa is one of the largest stupas in the world, and one of the more famous sites of Nepal. It was built in the 6th century by a Nepali king, and is the focal point of a number of Buddhist stories. During the 2015 earthquake the dome collapsed and was quickly rebuilt due to its religious significance. We got to spend a few hours at this site. It sits in the middle of a ring of shops, restaurants, and other store fronts. We stopped for a delicious lunch of fried rice and momos (spicy, but delicious Tibetan dumplings) and watched various devotees coming and going as they performed various religious rituals.
- Pshupatinath Temple – Yep…we visited ANOTHER temple. The Pashupatinath Temple is another sacred site for Hindus, as it is believed to be the seat of the deity Lorde Pashupatinath. The temple sits on the edge of a river that starts in the Himalays and eventually merges into the mighty river Ganges downstream. Similar to sites in Varanasi, cremations were taking place on the river banks here.
- Durbar Square – Durbar Square is the former royal palace of the Kathmandu Kingdom. Visiting this palace was one of the optional activities we did outside of our normal tour, and we were happy we took the time to see it. We had a very odd sensation of amazement and sadness as we wandered the square. The amazement came from the sheer size, intricate details, and beautiful architecture. However, visiting this part of the city made us realize how truly devastating the 2015 earthquake really was. Around the square were a number of empty areas. If it were not for the pictures posted in each area, we would not have realized that a fully erect building had once stood there for 100s of years up until the earthquake. Many of the remaining structures were marred by major cracks, and were often propped up by scaffolding/timber.
- Mt. Everest – Seeing Mt. Everest was on Elise’s bucket list, and so it was one of our must-dos. We chose to stay in Kathmandu a few extra days after our tour ended to give us as many shots to see the Himalayas as we could. Flights are canceled from time-to-time due to lack of visibility. Indeed, this was the case on our first attempt. We woke up at 4:30 to catch a 6:30 flight; after several rounds of delays our flight was finally canceled around 7:00 AM and we were rebooked for the following day. Undeterred, we awoke just as early the and, thankfully, this flight went off without a hitch. We spent an amazing 45 minutes in the air seeing Mt. Everest and the surrounding Himalayan mountain range. The sheer size and grandeur of seeing the mountain left no doubt that it would be one of the highlights of our trip this year. The below picture does not do it justice; however, you can see how excited we were when the plane finally took off! (Mount Everest is the triangular Mountain in the upper right corner of the image.
Goodbye for now, Asia!
Our time in Asia seemed to pass so quickly so as to be a blur. In hindsight, we regret having not booked another short hiking trip into the Himalayan mountains, but nonetheless we loved every moment we spent in India and Nepal. However, it was time to start our next adventure down in the Land of Oz (Australia)!