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Nepal: One Man, a Dog and some Mountains

by Matt Thomas

I arrived in Nepal in late October. The weather was warmly pleasant without being stiflingly hot. Kathmandu airport was fairly chaotic although I would highly recommend a window seat for the stunning mountain and valley views on the descent. I would also advise arranging your visa beforehand as that queue looked pretty big. Going on a gut feeling, but at the same time dicing with death I left my bag outside the cash machine area but was instantly surrounded by people offering taxis and accommodation. They were all perfectly nice though, no problem.

Once I’d come to terms with my horrendous cold, (all travellers seemed to have one, the cafes were full of people sniffing into rolls of toilet paper) I started to explore Kathmandu. It’s pretty chaotic, much like India driving lanes seem an irrelevance and there is traffic everywhere, most of the time. There is however, plenty to do. I stayed at the Pheasant Lodge in Thamel which is as basic as it gets but for £1 a night I was not complaining. The Monkey Temple is a good starting point and gives great views of the city and valley. Look out for eagles an vultures circling for prey. On the way down the mountain from there the Natural History Museum is worth a visit. It’s a small stuffy building that was actually quite freaky. It was home to many stuffed animals and carcasses.

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The Pashupati Nath is a vast holy area that sprawls over a vast area which is mainly comprised of ruins of temples and ones currently in use. It’s worth getting a guide, of which there are plenty offering their services. If you’re lucky they may take you to a local restaurant (on in this case his mother’s house) for lunch. There was something deeply spiritual and mythical about this place that was also home to cremation ghats which while somewhat morbid are a must see.

Nepal is of course, a trekkers paradise and I was no different. There are numerous tour offices in Thamel and it’s just a case of walking around and picking the one that appeals to you and that you are most comfortable with. I picked Shikhar Nepal Tours and Travel for a 4 day 3 night trek of the Kathmandu valley. The first day was very hard. A seemingly endless climb where you think you’re at the top only to see another horizon way up in the distance when you get there. Be prepared for an early start and early finish (about 7am – 2pm). The scenery is stunning, from rugged snow covered mountains, carpets of cloud when you are high enough and charming villages and rice fields. It’s worth remembering that when you order food, it is prepared quite literally from scratch so expect long waits particularly when they show you the live chicken that they are going to make into curry! Seriously.

Also be careful of stray dogs on the final day of you trek. After a thoroughly enjoyable first 3 days, I was bitten on the back of my leg by one on the last morning. To cut a long story short, I insisted on going back to Kathmandu immediately and found a tourist medical center near the British Consulate who confirmed I needed a particular injection. It was just as well I had insurance as the cost was $940.

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Back in Kathmandu the World Heritage Site Durbar Square is a must see where the only living goddess resides(aged 15). You’ll note how much Hindus love erotic images on their temples and shrines.

Pokara, Nepal’s second city, if you can call it that, is a far more relaxed affair. It’s about an 8 hour bus journey to the west. It’s perfect for kicking back in the cafes near the river for a couple of days and there are travellers bars there as well. It’s highlight being a climb up Mount Nagarkot with the glorious Annapurna Range in the background. I stayed at the Alka guesthouse on the main street which for £2 a night was outstanding value, although be prepared to share your room with the odd insect  or lizard – (they are perfectly harmless and I can assure you, far more scared of you!).

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My final stop in Nepal was the Royal Chitwan National Park in the South towards the Indian border. This was for a day safari and a day or two of lounging by the river before I hit India. We saw plenty: antelopes, monkeys, crocodiles, an eagle, elephants, and a wild rhino which I swear gave me a funny look, but the guide’s immortal words as we tried to take photos, “runaway now please.” It’s a long day though, mainly on foot and also it’s well worth haggling the price as far as possible.

I felt I had done the best bits of Nepal, a safari, a trek and plenty of sights, smells and sounds in Kathmandu. In terms of value for money, friendliness of the people and variety of acitivies it’s a fantastic country to travel around but be prepared, and be patient.