Wednesday 19 September 2012

Kathmandu Sightseeing (Day 3)

Wow what a day, we headed south out of Kathmandu for about 25km into the hills that surround the valley. Outside the city the country is really beautiful, lush green paddy fields, dense forest, with tiny villages just about clinging to the hillside and most of all fresh air.

Before the sacrifice! I have the after picture as well

The first place we visited was Dakshinkali. Here we found a small temple down a gorge that sits on the confluence of two sacred streams. This temple is dedicated to Kali the bloodthirsty incarnation of Shiva's consort Parvati. As it was a Tuesday there was quite a lot of blood letting going on, I saw 2 kids (little goats not children) being slaughtered. Chandika said that sometimes buffalo are sacrificed at this temple. The temple was a favourite of the Nepal Royal Family, until they were all massacred in 2001!

TIP #3 Make sure you hire a guide and driver/taxi and get out of the city as there is so much so see. I learnt so much more from the guide than from the Lonely Planet book!

TIP #4 As you can tell I've visited loads of temples, etc. Ensure that you wear shoes that can be easily taken off and put back on again. My walking boots are a bit of a pain for this. Should have brought my sandles.


From here we headed back towards Kathmandu and stopped of at a place called Pharping (I though the name was quite funny and had a giggle to myself). This place is home to quite a few Buddhist monasteries. One of the chörten contained 16 of the biggest prayer wheels I have seen to date. They must have been 2m tall and quite heavy to spin. We wandered our way uphill to the monasteries for a look around. I managed to pick up a couple of bundles of prayer flags for some friends.

I should also mention that it was the first day of Teej, the woman's festival. The roads were teaming with Hindu women wear red saris. As part of the festival they fast for 24 hours, sing, dance and worship at the temples and shrines dedicated to Shiva. It was quite fun to watch as everyone was enjoying themselves.

We were on the homeward stretch, but first one final stop at the Newari town of Kirtipur. This is another old town with winding streets that has a Hindu temple at its heart, which sits high on a hill overlooking Kathmandu.

It's been a busy few days, seeing quite a few sights in and around Kathmandu. I'm having a day off in order to shake my cold and stock up on snacks, then it's off trekking for 17 days. I'm not sure what the Internet availability is like, so I'll update when I can.




Monday 17 September 2012

Kathmandu Sightseeing (Day 2)

Another day of sightseeing, there's so much to see and take in here.

I awoke to heavy rain, totally different compared to the first day which was 24 degC, humid & sticky with some cloud. Well you can't have everything, but that wasn't going to dampen my spirits.

First off we headed to Swayambhunath, it is also known as the "Monkey Temple" as it is home to a couple hundred cheeky, rhesus macaques. This is one of the MUST see sights in Kathmandu. It's a Buddhist stupa perched high on a hill to the west of the city. The approach to the temple is up a flight of 356 steps (one for everyday of the year), some people make the trip everyday. Even though the weather wasn't great it was still possible to make out how vast and densely populated the city is.

At the top is a magnificent stupa similar to the Boudhanath stupa I saw on the first day, but not as big. However, it seemed more impressive because of its location.

Again there are prayer wheels, prayer flags and statues denoting the 5 elements (earth, air, water, fire & ether/space). However, this stupa had monkeys crawling over it and around it. I wasn't expecting to be so close to the cheeky blighters.

This is a fascinating place and one which I hope to return to when I'm back from the treks.

Just down the hill from the Monkey Temple we made a brief visited the Buddha Park, this is relatively new addition and is not frequented by tourists much it contains 3 enormous gold statues.

We then headed out of Kathmandu to a old Newari village 10km south of the city called Bungamati, so I could see what real Nepali life is like. This village is set amongst paddy fields, again it seems that not many western people come here as I was constantly stared at as if I was an alien (no funny comments from anyone!). Chandika said that only 5 or 6 western groups visit this village each year.

For the first time since arriving in Nepal the roads were quiet, no car horns, or heavy pollution. This was great and nice to be out of the city for a while.

The people here don't have very much and seem quite poor, compared to the inhabitants of Kathmandu (and they are poor compared to western standards), they make a living by making and selling intricate wood carvings.

The village itself has a main square, in which has a temple dedicated to "Rato Machhendranath", the god of rain and he was out in full force. Off the main square is a warren of small "roads" lined with houses, the ground floors of which contain the wood carving workshops.

Leaving Bungamati, we wandered our way downhill to the next village of Khokana, we stopped at a tiny restaurant, if you can call it that, to shelter from the rain for a while and for some hot, sweet, milky tea to warm us up. I was lucky to meet some local ladies who were interested in me (where I was from, how long was I in Nepal, etc). It was great to have this insight into real Nepali life outside of Kathmandu and feel quite privileged to have gone there and met some Newari people. They don't have much, but they all had smiles on their faces, despite the pouring rain.

It was back off to the city, to dry off and freshen up, then into Thamel to grab some supplies from my treks, then for some dinner.

I found myself in the Rum Doodle bar, named after the spoof mountaineering book by W.E. Bowman about the worlds tallest mountain the 40000 and a half foot, Mt Rum Doodle! (worth a read if you ever go on a mountaineering expedition, it's quite entertaining).

The walls are plastered in yeti footprints which people have signed, drawn pictures or written stories on.

I had steak and chips, but I'm not sure it was from a cow as these are sacred animals, I suspect this was yak, still it tasted nice, washed down with an Everest beer.

As you can tell from my last 2 posts, Kathmandu has many religions and temples that go with that. I have found my shrine here in Thamel. Anyone who has been walking or climbing with me knows I mainly/only wear Mountain Hardwear gear so I had to pay homage to the shining Mecca :-)






That's all for now, another couple of days in KTM them I'm off into the wild.


Ps I seem to come down with a bit of a cold, probably down to the rain, which I hope will clear up before I start trekking, other than that all is well.



Kathmandu Sightseeing (Day 1)

I've been in Kathmandu for a few days now and I'm settling in. I have mastered crossing the insanely busy roads, dodging the traffic from all angles and gotten quite good at brushing off the street pedlars, trying to sell me anything and everything. On top of that I've been all over the city sightseeing. I thought I'd let you know what I've seen so far.

A couple of days ago I met my man on the ground, Yadu, he's a super nice guy who will help me out with anything. He has arranged for a town guide (Chandika) and a driver to take me around the sights.

The first day of sightseeing Chandika & I headed out to Boudhanath Stupa. This is a massive Buddhist monument on the east of the city which stands 60m tall, festooned with prayer flags hanging from it, with 100's of prayer wheels around its base. Chandika explained the significance of all the various parts of the stupa whist walked (clockwise) around the base of stupa, spinning a few wheels now and again. I'm not a religious guy but you can't help spinning the wheels.

The stupa is surrounded by many shops and workshops, mainly producing and selling thangkas, a traditional Tibetan Buddhist painting, we went to one of the schools to see how they were created and found out that the students/artists have to follow many rules to create these detailed works of art.

After we finished at the stupa and whilst we were over that side of the city we went to Pashupatinath. This is Nepal's and probably the world most important Hindu temple, sitting on the banks of the sacred Bagmati river. Only Hindus are allowed to enter the temple itself, but there were plenty of things to see around the temple.

Along the river outside the temple are cremation ghats or plinths. There were a few cremations taking place which was quite a humbling experience, and not one I'll forget in a long time. From the river we climbed up the hill so we could get a better view of the temple, hear we found a collection of "Shiva" shrines, some of which were inhabited by Yogi's or wise men (not the bear!) with painted faces and long beards. After wondering around the temple for a couple of hours, we headed off to Kathmandu Durbar Square, but first something to eat.

In a rooftop restaurant over looking the square I plumped for some momo's, traditional Nepali vegetable stuffed dumplings with a spicy sauce, an excellent way to introduce myself to Nepalese cuisine.

Durbar Square itself has a collection of temples of varying shapes and sizes, there is one called Kastamandap, which is where Kathmandu gets its name from. This is quite a large wooden temple and legend has it that it was created from I'm a single tree, it must have been a very big tree! We spent a couple of hours looking at the temples, my guide was very knowledgable. By now it was nearing the end of the day, but there was one last place to visit in the square Kumari Bahal. This was my chance to see the "Kumari" a real life living deity or goddess. This was an 8 year old girl who had been selected to be the embodiment of the goddess who is specially selected based on 32 strict physical requirements (hair & eye colour, etc), she has been the goddess for 4 years. Unfortunately, it is not possible to take photos as the goddess appears in a window.

It was back to the hotel for a recharge, before heading out in search of some food.

As you can see I've been getting about a bit and I've a few more days before I head out to the mountains. I'll keep you updated.



Saturday 15 September 2012

Namaste from Nepal

I've finally arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal, home to about 1 million people and me. Unfortunately it's raining as its the end of the monsoon season, but that's not going to stop me enjoying myself.

My journey here was pretty uneventful, trains were on time, flights were smooth, I even managed to grab a couple of hours sleep. I cleared customs and immigration in minutes, with no hassle, as I already gotten my visa from the Embassy of Nepal in London.

TIP #1: Arrange your visa before you leave the UK, it saves quite a bit of hassle and time on arrival.

Next I was off to baggage reclaim. I had heard stories that this could be like a rugby scrum, but none of this was true for me. I duly waited at the carousel allocated to my flight, unfortunately my bag didn't arrive, along with most of the bags from my flight.... It turned out that the Nepalese baggage handlers were being super efficient and decided to use 2 carousels to speed the process up! My bag was on the other belt, typical.

Bags now in hand I headed outside the airport. On leaving the airport you are greeted to a barrage of taxi drivers and people holding up name boards all shouting and wanting your business, its quite an impact on your senses. I quickly found my transfer and I was on my way to my hotel. Yadu had arranged for me to stop at the luxurious 5* Yak & Yeti Hotel, this is a grand building in the heart of the city with some lovely gardens.

After freshening up, calling home and unpacking, I decided to brave it and venture into town to exchange some currency and have something to eat. It was still pouring down with rain and by this time (7pm) it was dark, very dark. This is mainly due to the fact that there are no street lights in Kathmandu and at times there are power cuts (load shedding) plunging everything into complete darkness. I have already experienced a few of these, which didn't last too long.

For food, I chose to go for a safe option and went to "Fire & Ice" a well known pizzeria in Thamel. I had a rough idea where I was going, but soon realised that to get to the restaurant, I had to cross two of the busiest roads in the city, in the dark and pouring rain. The roads were clogged with all types of vehicles belching out exhaust fumes and constantly beeping their horns, mopeds being the main source of danger. I also learnt quickly that no one stops at pedestrian crossings....very different to the UK.

I eventually arrived at the restaurant, soaked though, still in 1 piece and ready for some food and drink.

TIP #2: During monsoon season, take an umbrella out with you! These can be picked up quite cheaply.

I had a great pizza and my first "Everest" beer, then back to the hotel for an early night, as jet lag was catching up with me and I was meeting Yadu at 9:30 in the morning, to finalise some logistics, then off for a day of sightseeing.

It's been a interesting first experience of Kathmandu and Nepal, everyone seems really friendly. I cannot wait to see more.


PS I was writing this at 4am, bloody jet lag.


Monday 10 September 2012

The Adventure Begins

Just a quick update to say goodbye for now and I'll be back in November.

At the end of this week I'm finally heading off on my Nepal trip, it's been a long time in the planning, but now I'm off for a couple of months trekking in the Himalaya. My plans are in place and I have Yadu of Yala Adventures to thank for helping me create a great itinerary.

On one hand, I'm a little apprehensive/nervous as this is the biggest trip I've been on and the longest time I've spent away from my very understanding girlfriend since we met. However, at the same time I'm really excited about what the next few months have in store for me. I cannot wait to immerse myself in Nepali life.

My bags are packed to the brim with everything I think I'll need for the next couple of months. I hope I've not forgotten anything as there is no more room in my bags! I've had my hair cut short, checked in for my flight and I've triple* checked that I have my passport.

This week will be a bit hectic, getting the last few things sorted, catching up with friends and saying goodbye to family, but I'm hoping to make some new friends on my travels.

See you all in a few months, for a catch up. You can keep updated with my travels at Though Facebook at or on twitter @sonnylbennett. I'll try to update regularly and where Internet access is available.

See you all soon.


* I may have checked it more than 3 times... I'm a bit paranoid about forgetting/losing my passport :-)