DAY 49 - KATHMANDU
Greetings from Delhi. It's been a while since I posted an entry, owing to Nepal's constant power cuts and our busy schedule within the country, but I've decided to try and catch up before I fly out to Bankok late tomorrow. I say we had a busy schedule in Nepal, but we did allow ourselves a couple of days to rest in between. Day 49 was one such day, and we spent the majority of it ambling the shopping districts surrounding Thamel, thumbing through countless books, sipping teas in cafes and eyeing the various arts and crafts on offer, an experience which actually gave us quite an insight into the culture of the country. We spent an especially long time in one particular bookshop which housed a fantastic collection of literature spread out over two floors. We found ourselves flicking through book after book, educating ourselves on all manner of things, enjoying the calm, relaxed atmosphere of the shop, which also branched out into a small sculpture and incense shop as well as a nice little cafe. I bought four books - 'Tilled Earth', a collection of short stories by the acclaimed Nepali author Manjushree Thapa, 'The Dharma Bums' by Jack Kerouac, one of my favourite writers, 'Hippie Dharma' by a author whose name eludes me, and a small collection of quotes by the Buddha. All in all they were great buys, fantastic value. After enjoying a great lunch and booking a rafting trip for the day after next, we returned to our room for a while before venturing out for the evening. After having a couple of drinks and a few games of pool at a bar called called 'Tom and Jerry's', we visited a few dire clubs before spending the evening at a traditional Nepalese dance bar, enjoying a couple more beers before making our way back to our room in the early hours.
DAY 50 - KATHMANDU
We decided to spend our last day in Kathmandu visiting Patan's Durbar Square, a less touristy version of the square we had visited in two days previously. Like the other Durbar Square, it boasted a range of temples and royal buildings, some carved from stone, others built from wood in the style of a pagoda. It was equally impressive and we enjoyed a pleasant lunch overlooking it in a nearby restaurant, before browsing its small marketplace, enjoying a few small games of haggling with the vendors as we inspected their goods. Around this time we bumped into a friendly group of Nepali guys around our age, one of whom informed us that he had seen us drinking at 'Tom and Jerry's' and that his uncle owned the bar. After chatting for a while and hearing our new friend's account of a fight that broke out between him and another Nepali the day before, they invited us to a local non-tourist food place they knew where we could get cheap rice beer and enjoy the rice festival with them, which was apparently being celebrated as we spoke. We obliged and followed them through crumbling side streets and residential blocks until we reached a little eating spot/house with a few tables laid out and nice-smelling food set out in the kitchen. Once there, we drank a couple of bowls of the surprisingly nice home-brewed rice beer and chatted about our respective cultures and whatnot - an interesting experience. After a while, we bade them farewell and said we'd maybe see them later at 'Tom and Jerry's' (we later visited the bar on our way to our hostel at about 9pm, but they were nowhere to be seen, I think we may have just missed them). Either way, they were nice guys and we enjoyed their company. Tired after the night before's activities, we retired to bed at a reasonable hour and got some sleep before our rafting expedition early the next morning.
DAY 51 - RAFTING (TRISULI RIVER)
We arrived at the rafting agency's headquarters at 6.30 with our bags and were escorted to the bus stand about 10 minutes away by a young Nepali. After some hesitation and confusion (we were not really briefed on what was to happen), we eventually realised that the boy was taking the bus with us and relaxed as we rolled on through to our start point on the river Trisuli, south of Kathmandu. Once dropped off, we waited for the rest of the party to arrive, chilling with a middle-aged German who turned out to be an old-time traveller, telling us about his favourite places that he had visited. Interestingly, he favoured Vietnam over any other and had been there eight times. After a while, a coachload of felllow rafters, all local Nepalis, joined us and we got our equipment ready and set off. The rafting itself was an easy art to master, at least at the level we were at. There were about ten of us on the raft (including two young children who didn't paddle). Me and James ended up sitting at the front, setting the stroke for the others to follow, a position we would resume the next day. The scenery was great, passing perfect white beaches, rocky build-ups, looming hills, villages, cows, goats, chickens - all manner of things. The guidebook said that rafting was a great way to see rural Nepal and I could see why. The rapids themselves were great, changing in intensity as we paddled along, the strongest actually pretty hardcore, the girls having to leave the boat for a while as a safety measure. We reached our finish point at some time in the afternoon and relaxed on the beach as a few of the guides cooked us up a fantastic lunch. After enjoying some salad and vegetables (which we assumed was our entire meal at the time), we were served healthy portions of rice, dal and chicken which quickly filled us up. We also enjoyed a rice spirit that some of the locals insisted that we tried. We spoke to a group of teachers who were on the trip with us (and pretty merry by this point), joking around with them, amused by their at times absurdly juvenille behaviour. We had one particularly good conversation with the vice-principal, with whom we discussed our respective education systems, economics and social mobility - all very interesting. The teachers invited us back to Kathmandu for a night on the razz - we had to decline as we were rafting the next day, but we appreciated the gesture. Eventually, the crowd filtered back on to a coach and left us with the guides, who set us up in a tent on the beach for the night. It was all pretty idyllic, sleeping by the shore, although I have to admit it wasn't the comfiest of nights I've experienced. Still, I can't complain can I?
DAY 52 - RAFTING (TRISULI RIVER)/CHITWAN
We arose to the sound of the river just outside our tent and enjoyed a large breakfast of bread, jam, eggs, pancakes and chai before the other rafters arrived. The second leg of our rafting trip was less intense and involved more paddling than drifting, but this allowed us to absorb the beauty of the area. It was much more relaxed, helped by the fact that there was only one boat in the group this time. We did, however, come across a horrible wreckage as we made our way down the river - a truck that had fallen from the thin, winding road up above, down a steep, almost vertical hill face, onto the rocky beach below. Both people in the truck had died, a reminder of the danger of these mountain roads. After a leisurely afternoon rafting, passing the very same beach that we had stopped off at on our way to Kathmandu, we arrived at a small town, hauling our equipment up a hillface and across a bridge, before enjoying a pleasant lunch of tuna sandwiches at a nearby cafe. When we were sated, our guides took us to the bus stop and paid for our fare to Chitwan, where we were to spend the next three days. Upon arriving, we caught a jeep to the Safari Lodge Hotel, which boasted a pleasant little collection of rooms dotted around a small scenic garden, located a stone's throw from the entrance to Chitwan National Park. After settling in, we walked to the nearby town, labelled 'mini-Thamel' by the locals, a small selection of shops, cafes and restaurants, and grabbed a bite to eat before getting some much needed rest.