Sorry we haven't written a blog yet, we've been busy busy and so haven't had time to get on the computer, but we are here now! We've written blogs for each day so will just put 3 on at once - sorry if that's confusing!
28/07/08 - Day 1
Well we have set off on our round the world trip! We set off from Newcastle to London at about 5.30 yesterday evening. Despite landing in Heathrow Terminal 5, we arrived on time and with our luggage (hurrah!) so it was stress free. Next we went to check in for our flight to Delhi and cleverly swapped our middle seats for side seats with a window - oh the joys of a self service check in! However, when we took our bags to the drop off, the woman behind the counter started laughing loads which made me paranoid. Then she told us she didn't know where Kathmandu was, which was a bit disconcerting, but we managed to get on the right flight.
We travelled to Delhi with Virgin Atlantic and on the plane were all given groovy little bags filled with goodies such as socks, an eye mask, pen, toothbrush and mini toothpaste which made us very excited. Dad especially looked gorgeous in the bright red eye mask. We slept on and off for the rest of the journey, waking up just as we flew over Afghanistan and its mountains which was quite odd.
When we got off the plane, we were taken by one of the air crew because we had a connecting flight. We had to wait in a transit lounge while he disappeared with our tickets and passports (!), but were relieved when he brought them all back with our boarding passes. He then told us to wait there again while he went to find our bags. So we waited and waited and waited until we had 3 minutes left to board and hadn't been through security yet. We ran to security but Dad got stuck in a queue and made the detectors beep because he had a padlock key and coins in one of the many pockets of his trousers. We then ran all the way down the steps to the boarding gate and were then sent back up again because security, we were told, had not stamped our hand luggage tags (even though mine had - the man was just too blind to see it). Stamps done, we raced back down the stairs hoping we wouldn't miss the flight, aware of the increasing probability that even if we got on the plane our luggage might well not! We made it in time and were taken by bus to the aeroplane.
During the flight, special 'drinks' were served. I sensibly declined because I couldn't understand the air stewardess, but Dad boldly took the green one. He had one sip and passed it to me, saying 'see what you think of this..'. I'll tell you what I think: it was absolutely rank and tasted like toilet cleaner, not that I drink that often. Dad agreed! I'm sure he was supposed to wash his hands in it or something, not drink it. Drinks aside, the flight was brilliant because as we approached Nepal we could see some of the highest Himalayas peeking through the clouds which was amazing. Dad thinks we probably saw Dhaulagiri which is 8167m high!
We landed in Kathmandu to a 360 degree view of the mountains and hills. Both our bags were miraculously on the conveyor belt so we grabbed them, got our visas (easier said than done!) and left the airport. For the next 5 days we will be staying with Paul, Sarah, Jack and Asha - our mission partners through churchwho live here in Paton - next to Kathmandu. Paul was there to meet us at the airport and took us back to their house. At first glance, the streets of Nepal looked very similar to Uganda, but it was slightly more modernised. But we had to avoid burning car tyres because there had been protests in the street between different sections of the city. However, this is common here!
When we met Sarah, Jack and Asha, they all seemed really nice although the kids were a little excited! Their house is very different from those we have at home in England. The bathtub has no plug, so you either stand in a big bucket to have a shower or you scoop the water out of the bathtub when you've finished. Water is limited so the toilet can't be flushed every time and the flushes don't work either, so you have to flush it manually by chucking a bucket full of water down and hoping it goes away!!
Mine and Dad's room is on the top floor and you have to go outside onto the roof to get in and out. The floor is plain concrete and the walls white. Windows don't shut completely and have no mosquito screen so we are sleeping under nets again! The house however is lovely, having said all that, and Nepal seems an amazing place. The family have made us feel really welcome and Paul and Sarah have answered all our questions and told us about life in Nepal. It is definitely thousands of miles away from what we're used to, but is fascinating at the same time.
29/07/08 - Day 2
We slept quite well last night - our first night in Nepal - and neither of us were bitten by mozzies which was good. I woke up in the night when I heard a strange noise in our room, I'm sure that somehow a little bird got in through the window and was going across the floor but Dad thought I must have been dreaming. Dad was woken up at about 7 by next door turning on their radio to a Nepali radio station. I was woken up not much later by a group of Hindus doing their morning worship further down the street. Very strange indeed!
Getting my clothes out, I realised that my shampoo had leaked over my dress, jeans and jacket. It was annoying but thankfully their housekeeper Anita will wash them by hand for me, in the same way she does all the family's washing.
This morning Sarah, Jack, Asha, Dad and I went into central Kathmandu. It was over 30 degrees C outside and blazing sunshine so it was quite hot to say the least. Add to that the fact that we are encouraged not to wear short skirts or shorts and have to dress modestly and you can imagine it was quite warm! We survived the heat well - I think going to Uganda helped - but it was definitely hotter than any of our days in Africa. Our first stop was to change our dollars into rupees at the bank, which was blissfully air conditioned. Then we caught a taxi for the ride to the 'Garden of Dreams'. This place was really gorgeous and full of different plants like a strange kind of pineapple, lotus flowers and bamboo, as well as big ponds and fountains. There were loads of chipmunks running around too.
After this we walked to a restaurant, passing through all the busy and bustling streets on the way. I nearly got run over a million times and nearly lost all my toes under a motorbike, and Dad got hit in the leg with the wheel of a rickshaw! The restaurant was nice because it was in a courtyard which was shaded so it was cool. After lunch we walked back up the streets and stopped to look in some clothes shops along the way. The clothes here (especially for women) are so bright and colourful: the huge variety or long / mid length skirts, traditional tops, saris and pashminas is amazing. They are all made so intricately too, and most by hand. Dad bought a t-shirt in one shop.
We caught another taxi back to their house but we got stuck along the way as a protest was beginning, so loads of cars and buses were reversing back down the road we wanted to go down. To cut a long story short, we were dangerously close to being hit by a bus, but survived and drove down the road with everyone else going the other way. We drove the wrong way round a major roundabout, but thankfully got back in one piece. During this we were in a tiny taxi with 4 of us in the back, no seatbelts on, and with a driver who kept his hand on the car horn for nearly the entire journey.
This afternoon we set off for a hotel in the foothills of the Himalayas, about 20 miles North East of the Kathmandu Valley. It took us about 2 and a half hours to get here, on roads that make the worst ones in Kampala seem like English motorways! They varied in direness from one so bumpy that Sarah had to hold a sleeping Asha's head to stop her straining her neck, to ones so full of cobbles and potholes that I think I'll be needing dentures when I get home. We were in a 4-wheel drive and driving was very difficult, so we didn't want to imagine what it would have been like in a normal car. We stopped along the way at a tiny village, not dissimilar to those in Africa and bought a drink. It was nice to be able to do things the locals do and see the true Nepal, but it wasn't so nice to see all the women bent double in the paddy fields, working in the sweltering heat, while the men just sat or played games. The social inequalities here are obvious.
When we arrived at Nagarkot Farmhouse Resort we were almost speechless because it was in such a beautiful place. It is on a completely secluded hilltop overlooking the foothills and mountains all around. We are staying here for one night because Sarah and Paul thought we would love and would have a good view of the mountains - both of which are true. Sarah, Paul, Jack and Asha are here too and are staying in the room next to ours.
The hotel itself is amazing too. It has one main building which is the restaurant, then the rooms are in blocks scattered down the hillside. There are also 2 traditional Nepali houses with thatched roofs, which is where the staff stay. Because we are the only two families here, Dad and I have to best room in the whole place. It has a huge balcony round the 2 outside walls (we're on the corner) and the view is sensational. The room is quite rustic and both Dad and I have a double bed each! There is an en-suite bathroom with a flushing toilet and a shower cubicle so we really are in luxury. According to 'Outside' travelling magazine, this is one of the 10 best places to stay in the whole world, and we are here!
Dinner was a traditional Nepali meal after a drink of hot sweet tea outside under the Nash Patti tree (the fruit is a cross between apple and pear). The food was all spicy and served to us as many dishes as once, like in a Chinese restaurant. We had 'Dahl' which is a sort of soup / stew which is purpley green and full of lentils, vegetable curry, curried chicken and curried cabbage, all with rice. It was all really nice even though some of it sounds a bit weird, but it was quite spicy too. For pudding they brought us jam pancakes with lemon, and then coffee. We managed to finish despite being stuffed!
We waddled back to the room and I had the coldest shower in the world (I can't complain thought - at least I didn't have to stand in a bucket) and Dad had the smelliest / most pointless wash in the world. He used the hotel soap, which smelt so vile that when he had finished, he had to have another go trying to drown out the smell with shower gel and deodorant. But the smell lingered on! Still, at least it might keep any insects away.
In the last 2 days, we've travelled on planes, trains, buses, 4x4's, taxis and been hit by a rickshaw! It's confusing sometimes so we are very grateful to be with Sarah and Paul who speak good Nepali.
Tomorrow morning, we have asked to be woken up at 5am to watch the sunrise over Mount Everest, provided the monsoon clouds clear. What an amazing place!
30/07/08 - Day 3
We didn't get woken up this morning by the hotel manager because we were engulfed in cloud. Dad woke up at 5.45 and had a look out the window, before getting back into bed. Before breakfast though, the clouds cleared a bit and we began to see tantalising glimpses of snow capped mountains through tiny gaps in the clouds. We went to breakfast after stopping on the path to examine a huge beetle! Breakfast was Tibetan bread (a cross between pitta and naan) with butter and jam, and coffee and juice! There were eggs too. We then walked back down the path to our rooms to see the clouds shift miraculously, revealing a pretty full vista of the highest peaks of all, including, we think, Everest itself! We think we may have the photos to prove it too, but don't get your hopes up just yet! We sat and looked at this amazing panorama before packing and getting ready to go. On the way back up to the main building with our bags, we saw a HUGE spider on the floor!
We drove back along a road full of hairpins and potholes which was okay for me in the front but meant banged heads and knees for Dad and Sarah who were sitting practically in the boot! We drove down to Bhaktapur, which is a city of old-Kathmandu style. It was fascinating because there were so so so so many temples and it has been designated a world heritage site because inside the city walls much is as it was 300 years ago. It was the Nepali equivalent of the Shambles in York, but much more exotic. All the buildings and temples had Hindu statues outside and huge wood carvings on the outside walls. We also saw quite a few pools where people wash their clothes. The water is bright green and covered in algae, so I'm not sure how their clothes actually get clean!
Our fair skin made most of the local people there look at us just as much as we were looking at them! There were some men who were completely unsubtle in their staring and it made you feel horrible when they were staring at you for ages. Asha was stared at the most because of her blonde hair and pale skin, which no-one at all seems to have here! Others of us were looked at for other reasons too, but in general it wasn't very nice! Sarah thought that some of them were staring because I was 'young, white and pretty' - I agreed with the young and white because that's something I can't change but I wasn't sure about the other!
We eventually got back to the car and drove back to Kathmandu. The roads are very congested because there are long lines of traffic parked on both sides of the road, in massively long queues for petrol because there just isn't any petrol in the whole country at the moment, according to the newspaper. They wait there for about 8-10 hours, doing nothing, in the hope they might get a little bit of petrol. So add the lack of fuel to the mad driving and rubbish roads and don't complain about driving in Britain any more! We got home just as the monsoon broke and a lot of rain fell very quickly once we were inside the house.
One more thing that happens here is the way people are greeted. Men can shake hands with other men, but not women. Women can't shake hands at all and if this is the case, you put your hands together like you are praying and say 'Namaste' which is a Hindu phrase meaning 'I recognise the divine light in you'. Some Christians have decided not to say this anymore and some say something different, but Namaste seems to have become a national greeting.
It's been a long day today so an early night for all of us is probably in order!
Lots of love,
Naomi (and Stu)
P.S. Neither of us seems to have jetlag despite Nepal being 5 hours and 45 minutes ahead - so we are living on local time easily which is great
P.P.S. - Ami, there is no mcdonalds or fast food in Kathmandu so be happy you are still at home!
P.P.P.S. - Dad had a buffalo burger for lunch, no joke, i tried some and it was actually really nice!