INDIA – KOLKATA

Apologies for delayed post. Since arriving in India we have either been engrossed in wedding preparation, events, parties, travelling, sightseeing or simply not had access to the Internet.

Following our tour of Nepal, we flew to Kolkata for our friend’s, Christian and Diplina’s wedding. Although not completely traditional, the wedding followed a number of specifically Bengali rituals and traditions. For me, it was quite hard to follow, but I tried my best! Aside from that, the food was amazing, the hospitality second to none and we were made to feel very welcome.

Upon arrival, we were provided Sari’s with matching jewellery and the boys traditional Indian wedding outfits. The first part of the celebrations included henna for the women, mine is still fairly dark after a week! Then there was dancing, which I have realised follows no specific rules, much like everything else in India! The finale though was a surprise boat trip down the Ganges, where again, we ate amazing food, danced and saw temples and festivities on the banks of the Ganges.

Kolkata itself is not much to look at, the Victoria memorial is certainly worth a visit and walking through the streets, soaking in the atmosphere is interesting, but in our experience, it is the kindness and cheer of the Bengali people that will be remembered most!

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LEAVING NEPAL – A LASTING IMPRESSION

After 9 days in Nepal, we are now sitting in departures waiting to board our plane to Kolkata, India. I thought it may be a good time to reflect on our experiences and thoughts of Nepal.

Our tour was with Earthbound Expeditions and was booked through Rajan, who did a great job and made sure we felt welcome and at ease for our entire stay here and was incredibly flexible when we wanted to change our plans. Moreover, he also gave us better prices on hotels and flights than we could get directly, which I felt was refreshing as typically agencies charge more! If you are looking for a tour company in Nepal, these guys are a great choice!

In general, Nepal is a wonderful place to visit; the people are very friendly and respectful, they are gentle in their approach and you don’t feel harassed when walking through the streets, even in the tourist areas such as Thamel and Pokhara. Prices are fair, but you have to barter to get what you want. There is a great choice of things to buy, including hand painted Tibetan Thangkas (Buddhist paintings), local art, wood carvings, local and Tibetan handmade jewellery and hippie fare galore!

Nepal is still one of the worlds poorest countries and following years of political unrest and civil war, it suffers greatly from a massive pull on resources and bad infrastructure, which unfortunately has an impact on tourists. The power is cut for most of the day and at unsuitable times. As a result, everyone relies heavily on liquid gas, which is in short supply and the are long queues all over the country to refill canisters. Hot water is scarce and in the cooler months, due to no heating, rooms are cold and can lead to sleepless nights.

There is only one road from the Indian border to Kathmandu and another heading north. The roads are in disrepair, single lane and incredibly dangerous. Most of their resources come in and go out by these roads on ancient TATA trucks speed limited to 40mph. Tourist buses, cars and motorbikes torpedo themselves around the trucks to get from A to B. We, like many, chose to fly back to Kathmandu rather than run the 7 hour gauntlet from Pokhara.

Nepal also has issues with waste disposal and the growing population of Kathmandu leaves the city covered in Rubbish, particularly plastic bottles and food packaging. Signs and warnings to tourists are everywhere, but the reality is that it is the Nepalis themselves that need to take heed, but more so their government. Sadly, many Nepali’s believed things would improve after the abdication of their king and when the Maoists took power. Their government is currently a coalition where there is no majority and they struggle to pass bills and implement policies.

Apparently only approximately 800,000 tourists visited Nepal last year, but they want to increase this as tourism brings a much needed boost to their economy. Traditionally a favourite on the backpacker and hippie trail, Nepal is eager to attract a more affluent demographic, hence tourist agencies want to advertise 4 & 5 star hotels and offer heavy discounts on their rates. They also want the Tourist Board to advertise more aggressively, but until there is more focus and budget for this, Nepal has to rely on word of mouth, visitor generated reviews and popular websites and publications such as Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet.

From my perspective, Nepal has a lot to offer in the way of history and culture on top of it’s sightseeing attractions, trekking and adventure activities, but most of all, the attraction is it’s people. I have travelled extensively and have not felt so safe and welcome in any other country. The service has been second to none (in fact, too much at times) and despite being an utterly chaotic place, things do, surprisingly run according to plan, you just need to have a little patience! The one thing I would have changed is the time of year to visit. February is still low season, meaning things can be cheaper, but it is still on the chilly side when there is no electricity, heating or hot water! We are planning to return to do a trek to either Everest or Annapurna Base Camp and are told the best time to go is September/ October.

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http://enepaltrekking.com/

POKHARA

From Chitwan, our tour took us to Pokhara, best described as the gateway to trekking the Annapurna circuit. Pokhara is far more chilled out than Kathmandu, although more expensive due to being geared towards tourists. We decided that after a pretty tough few days, we’d extend our stay here rather than head back to crazy Karhmandu.
First up, we spent an afternoon sightseeing, visiting Devis Falls, religious caves and the International Mountain Museum. The following day we were up at 5am to climb up to Sarangkot to get an amazing sunrise view of “Fishtail” mountain, Nepal’s only virgin mountain due to its holy status, and the amazing Annapurna range.

Next we climbed 3 hours to the World Peace Pagoda, built by the Japanese.

Today we have been bit lazy, but made it across the lake to visit a Hindu wishing temple.

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Indians boating – Safety last!

Story so far

Walking the narrow streets of Kathmandu can best be described as Christmas shopping in primark during an impromptu scooter race. It’s a sprawling, never ending city with no high rises and no real roads. I saw two sets of traffic lights but the driving is on a best efforts basis only.

Food here is meh! Basically it means that I have had the same curry wherever I go.. Not much variety, but then I havent been here long enough to judge.

The people are very friendly and best of all, we have only spent £50 in 4 days!
DG

CHITWAN-A TOTAL WASH OUT!

After a sleepless night of bad thunderstorms, we awoke at 6.30am for breakfast. Weather started out dry, but by the time we were climbing into the jeep to start our jungle tour, the rain was coming down very heavily. First up was a canoe ride in a rather unstable vessel, little did we know that around the first corner was a croc fest! We had read about small fish eating alligator type things, ‘Gharials’, but instead were faced by a scary number of much much bigger types who ate more than just fish, we were especially concerned by the number of random shoes dotted around the banks!

Having narrowly escaped being breakfast for the crocs, we gladly climbed out of the canoe and onto land. We took a walk through the jungle where we saw deer, wild boars, the remains of a tigers breakfast and lots of animal dung! Had it not been heavily raining, we may have seen more, but the animals quite rightly were sheltering from the rain.

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At the end of the jungle walk, we visited the Chitwan Elephant Breeding Centre, where we saw baby elephant twins. Apparently there are only two sets of elephant twins in the world today.

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By afternoon, the weather had cheered up and we took an elephant ride through the jungle to spot Rhino’s, monkeys and more deer, but still no sign of the Parks main attraction, the rare Bengal tiger! Apparently they are 100 times more likely to see you than you them and I’m sure we were being watched very closely.
Chitwan is a must see when visiting Nepal as it is one of the few wildlife parks left with such a variety of endangered species and is one of the few places where visitors can get so close to them. Admittedly, the crocs were a bit too close for comfort!

NAGARKOT TO CHITWAN NATIONAL PARK

After a 7 hour crazy and dangerous car journey, we have now reached Chitwan National Park, south west of Kathmandu. This was once a hunting ground for royalty and nobility, but in 1973, they abolished the hunting of the one horned Rhino and Bengal Tigers and Chitwan is now a breeding ground for these species and several others. Having arrived late, we have only managed to track down one baby Rhino, watched the sunset and tasted the local beer. Dinner was bitterly disappointing as they had prepared roast chicken and chips and were surprised to hear that we preferred Nepali food. Seems as though Nepalese food is in fact a rarity here!

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KATHMANDHU TO NAGARKOT

Following our walking tour of Kathmandu, we headed for a hill station, Nagarkot, famous for it’s views of the Himalayan mountains, including Everest on a good day, and panoramic views of the Kathmandu valley. We stayed at the ‘View Point Hotel’ and took great shots from the tower and latterly our balcony:

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