Our time in Nepal was one of Plan Bs. Remember when I said that monsoon season that is ‘just a bit of water‘? Well I shot myself in the foot a little bit there. We were in Nepal for plus or minus 10 days. Five of those rained non-stop. I’m not exaggerating in the tiniest bit. Non-stop. And preceding our arrival were very substantial landslides that blocked off access to large areas of the country.
I’ve never felt more at the mercy of Mother Nature, but the floods and landslides that formed the backdrop of our time there, as well as the innumerate blackouts and blocked roads, showed me what a vulnerable place Nepal really is. I hadn’t realised quite how underdeveloped the country is, having been plagued by domestic fighting until quite recently. It has an undeniably colourful recent history to say the least, including a royal family massacre, and recovery is really just beginning.
So we scuppered all of our plans, and went back to the drawing board of what was possible at any given time. And that wound up being a few days pottering around the hectic hustle and bustle of Kathmandu (soundtrack: constant car horns), an 8 hour bus on a mostly unpaved road to Pokhara, caving, and a trip to Chitwan National Park.
Kathmandu is a clumsy capital – it looks like cement buildings hastily shoved together, with small temples and shrines around every corner. The centre, Durbar Square, plays host to a very impressive set of beautiful traditional buildings, whereas Thamel is home to all things touristy – from touts to eclectic and wonderful bars and restaurants tucked away in secret courtyards. The valley surrounding Kathmandu is really an extension of the city, but highlights include the mammoth Buddhist temple in Bodhnath, Bhaktapur’s heritage village, and the place that touched my heart, Swayambunath. Referred to as the ‘Monkey temple’, it is home to the most gorgeous little monkeys. I’m making no apologies, there is an unecessary amount of monkey photos below.
Pokhara, a small lakeside traveller hub, has amazing views of the Himalayan Annapurna Circuit (apparently – it was raining the entire time so we sadly didn’t get to see that), and is usually the starting destination for those looking to do some trekking (which was also off the cards for us). That sounds like the recipe for a failed trip, but being determined to have a good time, luckily Pokhara is a beautiful spot to while away time anyway. We hired a boat to the lake, and hiked up to the beautiful Japanese Peace Pagoda too.
Caving was an ad hoc addition to our itinerary (in the absence of a trip to what looks like an amazing place called The Last Resort near the border to Tibet, which was inaccessible). It was some kind of mix canyoning and caving, with some probably overlooked safety issues…We both were left bleeding, down one and a half ropes, and with only one torch between three people by the end…but it was fun?
Chitwan National Park was the real surprise of our Plan B options. We were a little despondent, arriving to a somewhat grim hotel after a confusing and long transit from caving in Bandipur at 10pm. But as we were settling into our room (featuring no less than two frogs), we were welcomed by the amazingly cute blasts and toots from elephants that were just over the fence from our room. We spent our time in Chitwan in canoes spotting crocodiles, trekking through 3m tall pointing out kingfishers and hornbills, riding elephants through the jungle, seeing THREE critically endangered wild one horned rhinos, visiting an elephant breeding centre, and watching 50-odd spotted deer traversing the riverbank at sunset. Chitwan is AMAZING. We weren’t even there in the season for spotting animals either.
So in the words of one of my favourite movies Darjeeling Limited
Francis: “Ok. Let’s check the next itinerary”
Peter: “F*ck the itinerary”