Thursday, 23 January 2014

A Nepal Travelling Adventure

After our trek from Jiri to Gokyo and back, we were physically drained. However, it was an amazing experience and challenge, and once over the smug feeling of success, we began to think... what next?

We journeyed back to Kathmandu, and jumped for joy at the comfy bed, a hot shower and a TV in our hotel room. After some sightseeing in the capital, including stunning Swayambhunath (aka The Monkey Temple), with its position on a hill showing an amazing view of the capital's urban sprawl) and historical and mysterious Durbar Square. After a couple of days, we were ready to venture somewhere new. We had met some trekkers who recommended Pokhara, the gateway to the Annapurna Himalaya, positioned on the beautiful Phewa Tal (lake). We booked a "tourist bus" ticket, and were soon winding through the foothills again, listening to vehicle horns and trying not to look at some terrifying overtaking!

Evening light at Swayambhunath, aka the Monkey Temple. 
Pokhara, despite being a city, still had a countryside feel to it. Tourists flock to the Lakeside area, where there are boats to hire, tropical looking bars and restaurants, plenty of shops to wander through and lots of accommodation options.

Boats at Phewa Tal, Lakeside, Pokhara.
My week in Pokhara was overshadowed a little by stomach issues, but I came to accept that it's the norm when travelling in Nepal. Despite that, we enjoyed a relaxing time of short walks, boating on the lake, and, the highlight for me, seeing the morning mountain view from Sarangkot, a hill just outside the city. The Annapurnas rise steeply and suddenly from the Pokhara valley, and the view was just incredible.

The view from Sarangkot, near Pokhara.
After our time in Pokhara, we still had a few weeks to play with. The thought of seeing elephants, rhinos and Bengal tigers in Chitwan National Park became too much to ignore, and we set off on yet another tourist bus to the Terai region, close to the Indian border.

The village of Sauhara, in the buffer zone of the Park, was lovely. The town was small, the area green and fertile with lots of trees, and we enjoyed walks along the Rapti river, and visiting the government elephants in the evening. We organised two days of adventuring: the first involving a dug-out canoe trip down the Rapti river, followed by a trek through the jungle with two guides to the village of Ghatgain, and the second a trek through the buffer zone back to Sauhara and an elephant ride in the afternoon.

Morning mist on the Rapti River, Chitwan.
The canoe trip was incredible, although the boat felt a little tippy for my liking, especially as the river was home to two types of crocodile! We saw few long-snouted Gharial crocodile, who feed on fish, and many meat-eating Mugger crocodiles. They are very lazy, spending most of their time sleeping on the beaches. We also saw huge varieties of birds, from Kingfishers to Egrets, but the most amazing sighting was a male single-horned rhino lurking in the long grass. We beached, and slowly climbed the bank. We could see birds sitting on him, and he began to move. This became quite frightening, as we couldn't see him very well because of the vegetation, so we quickly moved back towards the boat and set off again.

Uh oh...
During the jungle trek we were fortunate enough to see a wild elephant, monkeys, white-spotted deer and wild boar. But no tiger. Plenty of tiger poo and tiger footprints, but the king of the jungle remained hidden. During the night we heard jackals cackling, which really made me feel like I was deep in the jungle!

The sunset over Chitwan National Park.
The highlight of Chitwan for me was the elephant ride. I couldn't believe it when we saw a female rhino and her baby - and so close! My photographs were awful because my hands were shaking so much, but rhinos don't seem bothered by elephants. They almost don't look real, they're such obscure looking animals.

After a week of enjoying jungle life it was time to head back to Kathmandu, do our Christmas shopping and bid farewell to Nepal. It was an amazing adventure. The people are kind, the scenery incredible and surprisingly varied. I highly recommend Nepal as a travel destination.

Ben's photos can be viewed on his website here.

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