Wednesday, January 13, 2010

to ivy, verena, caitong and everyone else who are planning to go

kathmandu is like the city (with no high rise buildings of coz and no subway) in nepal. for most first timers, kathmandu would be something like a base for the trip. most would choose to stay in thamel where you find all the shops, banks, and travel agents. everything you need to plan your trekking trips. there are many guest houses available in thamel. most people go to nepal for trekking to see the beautiful himalaya. pokhara is a popular and great choice. you can do the annapurna circuit to see the fishtail mountain beautiful sunrises.

what i did years ago, was from kathmandu, overland ride (in a mini bus, there were 8 of us) to chitwan national park, enroute we did white water rafting and trekking. we had porters with us cooking our lunches along rivers and portable tent toilets. it was like camping but we sleep in guest houses instead of tents. chitwan is another must-go for all first timers, elephant rides and canoe (in a sliced tree trunk.. hm my trip was like 12 years ago, i hope its not too commercialised now). we saw rhinoceros that was really cool! then after chitwan, continue overland to pokhara where we stayed i think 3 days to rest and to shop. hehe.. taking in everything. and then back to kathmandu.

for me, i usually book one guest house for a few days before arrival, then check in. then plan the trip from there. for those who like to plan ahead, you can either book with a local tour agent in singapore (which we did years ago on that trip i described above), or you can book with the many many travel agents in thamel. it might be cheaper and if you are traveling on your own, i would recommend doing that. check out the travel agents yourself see what you feel, what kind of tour you like, big or small groups, young or old age group.. from asking the local agents yourself, you get a clearer picture of what you are getting into. and there is no problem at all to book when you are there and then travel the next day to pokhara. however, i would highly recommend you have more time for a country like nepal. and take everything slowly. at least 8-10days minimum. especially if you want to trek.

come to think of it, i have been on most modes of transportation in nepal. i went on a tuk tuk with dambar (my host family, i wanted to take a cab, he wants to help me save money. so ok here we go!). on the highest record, i counted there are like 10 people on this little thing. i had kids sitting on my lap i think. and someone with a huge luggage. to be honest, i am not comfortable with such proximity of human flesh (of total strangers. haha) but hey this is an experience and this is what traveling is to me. when you see the locals all friendly talking to each other as if they are friends and trying to help each other be more comfortable. i went on a bicycle with jyoti (below photo). this is scary trust me! when the big bus just brushed off besides us (one bus, one tata lorry, one taxi followed by another bus) OMG! i am seriously praying while she continues chatting with me enthusiastically. i only remember telling her 'oh be careful! oh slower slower'. i dun remember a word she said.
i went on a motorbike which also is scary initially. now i am loving it but only with a careful driver whom i trust.
the ultimate most dangerous mode of transportation in nepal would be this, and this i promised my mother and leekeng i will not attempt. haha...

within kathmandu itself and the suburbs, there are quite a few areas worth exploring. my 08 trip, after kopan monastery (i booked online) then i decide to go to thamel (a friend i met at the course recommended a guest house, shree tibet) so i went to try my luck. they are rooms so i checked in for a few days. then decided that i want to go nargakot (5hrs away i think i cant remember) to see the beautiful sunrise. i went to check out some travel agents, had lunch at the pilgrim bookshop cafe, met this fellow traveller, chatted and he suggested that i could even find a taxi driver who speaks english and doubled as a tour guide to drive me there. then i remembered sam, this friendly and honest taxi driver cum tour guide who drove neil (whom i met on the course) and i around to shivapuri. so i called him. he left us his no. he was actually our private taxi driver for the few days. we striked a deal. and off i went with sam!

ok in case you also would like to go nargakot on a weekend, i would suggest you call them and book in advance (maybe a few days before you leave). i didnt. and it was packed with local nepalese who like that place as a weekend holiday destination. so i didnt have much choices. but i was lucky, the owner of a fully booked guest house drove me around on his bike to find a place (while sam slept in his taxi). i finally found a most wonderful tibetan guest house (unkai guest house) see below. and they took pity on me.. and charged me only a single price for a huge double room with a private patio!!! becos all the 3 single rooms were booked. they only had that double room left. and it was turning dark.. and maybe i look really pathetic. then they phoned sam, my dear taxi driver who then drove up with my big backpack. and we happily had tea together. he also stayed overnight in the tibetan owner's place, a little house nearby. haha... i left the next day afternoon.

i wish i stayed at least one more day to explore. it was a cloudy sunrise when i was there. couldnt really see the himalaya range which is visible on a clear day, but still beautiful.

this is sam calling my host family becos we got lost. i thought i knew the way to direct him back to the house of the local family i was staying with at patan but hehe.. the krishna temple (my vital landmark) which i thought i saw the night before totally vanished in the day time! it is still a mystery to this day. i think i was totally in the nepalese attitude, i can still smile. i wasnt worried at all. i felt i had total trust in him to get me back. the shop people also started helping. you see becos in the local area, the little lanes has no street names.
so you can see the way most travelers (or at least those i met) move about in nepal, is basically base on recommendations from people you meet on the way. the magical thing is it seems so easy to meet and start talking to people in cafes while waiting for your food, while reading, while waiting for taxi. i once hailed an empty taxi, then the taxi driver told me he is actually waiting for western lady (his usual client) who also happened to be going to the place i want to go. so he suggested i wait too, then i can save some money. so i said ok (becos he spoke understandable english and look honest). then i ended up sharing the cab and having a nice conversation with a lady from russia working in nepal for some charity org.

for me personally i think the most important thing about traveling in nepal is, to go with an open heart (well as in everything else in our lives too i think). drop any expectations, keep your heart and mind open (there will be things which you wont like. rubbish all over is quite a common sight)
take it slow (you know us being city people we always want everything so fast and the nepalese or tibetans can really drive you mad haha.. i remembered saying countlessly to myself 'i have plenty of time.. its ok..' when i start to feel impatient), smile a lot, and with a 'nothing is a problem' attitude, you will be rewarded with a most wonderful memory. it may not turned out as what you had desired and planned for, but still, it will be just as wonderful (if you allow it).

come on! lets pack up and just go! for me, 13 more days! woohoo!
many guest houses in nepal do not have websites. you may call them by phone and make reservations.
here are some links of the places i stayed before:
shechen monastery guest house in boudha
kopan monastery stay in kopan
hitel shree tibet in thamel


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