Kathmandu to New Delhi

Dear all,

Our first glimpse of Nepal came from about 30000 feet as we could see the Himalayas stretching out before us. I took the mandatory 'Himalayas from the window of the plane shot', you know the one that always ends up a white and blue blur and when people see it they always ask, 'what's that?' Of course mine was going to work, but when we had the film developed the first thing that Miriam said was, 'What's that?'

One of the first things that we noticed about Nepal was the way in which everyone made you feel welcome, from the smiling customs officers brushing aside the Maoist crisis as a slight inconvenience to the policemen beating the hotel touts off of us with rubber hoses. We had to tell one tout twice that we were not interested in his hotel and the next minute a cop with a length of nylex took to the guy, leaving us free to make our decision. We chose the next guy just so he wouldn't get beaten.

That night we had our first Dahl Bhat, traditional rice, lentil, curry and pickle meal. It was very good but when the guy bought out seconds,  smiled politely indicating that we could not eat another thing, not wanting to be charged double. The guy wandered away looking confused and hurt. Later we were to find out that throughout Nepal, this is the all you can eat meal and they just keep bringing it out until you can't physically eat any more... maybe just one more... as long as it is wafer thin.

The next day we caught a 'luxurious tourist bus' to Pokhara, the town where treks in the Annapurna region are based from. Luxury is a fairly loose term in Nepal, our bus being no more then a standard shonky local bus, full of tourists. It took 6 hrs to get to Pokhara a distance of 230km along a road that wound up and out of the Kathmandu Valley into the Pokhara Valley. Quite spectacular with sheer slopes that at times dropped 100's of metres to the valley floor. Apparently it is not uncommon for trucks to go over the side.

Trekking was our primary motivation for visiting Nepal and we had planned on a 3 week trek around the Annapurna Circuit in the Himalaya mountains. This is the most popular trek in the region as it has the greatest diversity in culture and environment. We started walking through the cropped low lands of rice and millet, then up through the terraced fields which cover every possible square inch of land. From there it was up into the alpine forests which dwarf eventually to nothing as you ascend up above the tree line.

Continuing up a broad valley you emerge onto the treeless alpine plains which give way to the snow capped mountains. With each change in environment there are changes in the local people/groups and their culture, becoming more and more Tibetan as you head north.

The highlight of our trek around Annapurna was the day we climbed to over 5400m to cross the Throng La Pass, the longest and one of the highest passes in the world. The day was a challenge, both physically and mentally. After 2 weeks of climbing up and up towards the pass and having taken the recommended altitude acclimatisation days, we felt we were up to the challenge. I was pretty apprehensive on the morning we were due to leave as I had been suffering at night from 'periodic breathing.' This is were, due to the lack of oxygen in the air, while sleeping you stop breathing for a few seconds and then wake your self up gasping for breath, this is apparently a perfectly normal symptom of mild mountain sickness. After deciding that we were going to wait another day before attempting the pass, we set off at 5.30am, first light, and started our climb of 1000m. In case you are wondering, over here distance is measured by how far you go up vertically, how far you go horizontally just doesn't' count.

We were pleased to be travelling in a group of 12 people that we had picked up along the way. It took us about 5 hours to reach the pass, which is a valley that weaves between the peaks of the Annapurna Range. The view as the sun came up over the mountains was breath taking and the sky was the deepest shade of blue I have ever seen. We were on the top of the world. We reached the highest point of the pass at around 11am, took a few photos and then it was time to descend - quickly, many of us were suffering from mild mountain sickness and the weather has a tendency to turn nasty in the afternoon. 

Just over the pass we started to appreciate a few things - firstly there is a very good reason you are told to travel in groups of 5 or more, and secondly, the potential risks associated with mountain sickness are serious.

One of the girls we were with went within minutes from being fine to having an acute migraine and tunnel vision. It was a slow and tedious decent and we were snowed on twice, but we reached the bottom at about 3pm after a descent of 1600 m. She recovered instantly.... well after a cup of hot lemon. It gave us all a bit of a fright.

The following day a rest day was needed in Muktinath, the second most holy place in Nepal. A gift from the King of the gods, Brahma himself. At this place all 5 elements can be found, fire, water, earth, air and spirit. There is an underground stream and a flaming natural gas escape right beside each other. Pilgrims come from all over Nepal and India to worship here and hang Buddhist prayer flags - millions of them.

This side of the mountain was very different to the other side, in a rain shadow, it was an alpine desert. So beautiful in its barrenness, surrounded by snow capped mountains. After a few hours we hit Kagbeni, a little oasis of green fields and apple trees in the junction of two rivers. The larger of which we continued down, into the wind and out of the hills.

Four days walk from the pass is a village called Tatopani, meaning hot springs. A couple of people we were travelling with had been there previously and described it as a luxurious health resort with a citrus orchard and a cake cabinet. Two weeks on the road eating only rice and potato's without any hot showers and occasionally not even toilets, we were pretty excited.

Tatopani became the next focus of our attention. Pass complete it was now time for some luxury. So down the valley we went, through the apple orchards, fields of millet, white washed villages and past the snow melt waterfalls - down to Tatopani! Magical! 42 degree springs piped into tiled pools were you could just sit all day and prune. That is just what we did, for 2 days while eating cake - it was so decadent.

But the clock was ticking, Craig and I had to get back to Pokhara to ring my brother for his wedding. Normally this would not have posed a problem but we happened to be there while the Maoists were a little active. Firstly they had taken out all the phone lines outside of Pokhara. No problem, this just meant we had to get back there in time. Oh no, not so easy, the Maoists had declared a transport strike. This meant 2 additional days of walking and time was running out. So we were off again. We walked up 2000m through Rhododendron forests, wow another highlight, all pink and gnarled. The next day it was down 3000 steps and 800m - not a highlight, but there was a bus at the end. Thank-you! We had walked over 300km horizontally and 5km vertically. It was amazing!

After recovering in Pokhara, we decided to head for India for 14 days prior to flying out of Delhi. We had heard such extreme things about India, both good and bad, that we had to see it for ourselves. We cashed in our plane tickets and caught a bus to the border. Dropping down out of the mountains to the Terai plain the changes in terrain were dramatic, very hot and dusty, dead flat and sparse vegetation. We crossed the border to none of the expected touting or hassle, it was certainly busy though. We caught a bus to the next town Gorakhpur and then an overnight train to Varanasi. Situated on the west bank of the River Ganga (Ganges), Varanasi is the holiest city in India. 60,000 people a day go down to the Ghats (steps leading down to the water), to pray, bathe, go to the toilet, wash clothes and burn or bury the dead. Two Ghats are dedicated to cremations on funeral pyres, which are able to be observed, however photos are forbidden. There are Ghats reserved for Muslims, men, women, clothes etc, each ghat having a certain role. For Hindus dying and being cremated in Varanasi is very important as it releases them from the cycle of life and death and is a ticket straight to Nirvana.

Many people buy a room in the city and will move there when they feel close to death. An electric cremation costs about 150 Rupees while a timber costs around 3000 Rupees. Timber is more popular as it is seen as being more traditional and holy. Children, pregnant women and holy men are not cremated as they are considered pure and holy already and are weighted down and thrown into the middle of the river. Due to the activity that occurs along the river it is grossly polluted, for those who understand water micro, the Aust recreational water standard is 150 CFU/100 ml. Ganges water below Varanasi is 1,500,000 CFU/100 ml. It was fascinating to observe the pivotal role the river plays to the lives of these people, it is a must see.

 After a couple of days we moved onto Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal, the most elaborate and beautiful monument built for love, a mausoleum for the emperors wife. Perfectly symmetrical and inlaid with semiprecious stones, the workmanship is incredibly delicate. So that the work could not be replicated, the Emperor had either the hands and thumbs of the workmen amputated after it was finished. Unfortunately we also got quite sick here, having to spend a couple of days in bed. The temperature got to 43 degrees celsius in the afternoons which did not help us at all.  Eventually we moved to Jaipur in Rajasthan to see the desert. Unfortunately the bug persisted and we were forced to stay in bed for another few days after seeking treatment. We did manage to see some amazing parts of the old city, temples, palaces and forts before leaving for Delhi.

In Delhi it was good to see that the government is implementing measures to combat the gross pollution problems. All rickshaws have been converted to LPG and as of about 2 weeks ago, all diesel buses have banned from the city, plastic bags are also banned throughout the city. In the time that we were there, the air pollution levels had halved, but were still above recommended limits. Before this, breathing the air in Delhi for one day was equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. We are glad to have had a taste of India as it is out of this world, however months are needed to do it justice.

We have just arrived in Turkey after a comfortable few days in London recovering. We haven't seen anything yet, banning ourselves from sightseeing until we send this email. Speak to you all again in 6 weeks.

Hugs, kisses and formal handshakes,

Craig and Miriam

Comments: 1 (Discussion closed)
  • #1

    Miranda (Tuesday, 07 February 2023 22:07)

    Truly adorable!