My journey to Kathmandu began on a fine June day in 2068.
Yes, that is 2068 – according to the official Nepalese calendar, the VikramSamvat. Although the Nepalese are 57 years ahead of other countries around the world with their calendar, the pace of life in Nepal is like stepping back in time.
First stop was Kathmandu – a growing city, with construction everywhere and manic traffic. However, you can find some calm in amongst the chaos by escaping to the Durbar Square area right in the heart of the city. Here you can visit the Kasthamandap (the wooden building after which Kathmandu is named), the Kumari temple and Talejubhavani temple.
In and around Kathmandu, also recommended are Swayambhunath or BoudhnathStupas, Pashupatinath Temple or Patan city. Half day hiking trips from Kathmandu to the medieval towns of Bungmati, Khokana or Kirtipur are another good way to see this beautiful country. Start a hike from any of these towns and walk to another through lush paddy fields and interesting villages – seeing wood carvers and carpet weavers at work in Bungmati, or the extraction and bottling of mustard oil in Khokana. For the ultimate excursion, you can take a spectacular flight over Mount Everest.
Moving on from the big cities to the jungle, a short flight to Bharatpur flying over paddy fields and the Shiwalik ranges dotted with houses, brought me to the Royal Chitwan National Park. After a one-hour drive from Bharatpur I arrived at Narayani Safari Lodge on the banks of the river Rapti, the first lodge in the buffer zone. After dinner we were given a briefing on elephant behaviour.
The most exciting part of the next day was crossing the river to get to the National Park on elephant-back. The river is no more than 3-4 feet deep, but it was hard to tell if the elephants were wading or swimming as the ride was so smooth. Once in the National Park, a trip through the jungle through trees and tall elephant grass brought us face-to-face with a one horned rhino who didn’t seem to mind our presence and appeared to have a silent conversation with the elephant. “Champakali (that was the name of the elephant), please take care of my guests and show them around. Introduce them to all the other members of the family who live here.” And off we went to see spotted deer, leopard, wild boar, as well as various species of bird and monkey. Upon returning, we were invited to bathe an elephant. In fact it was bath time for all as the elephant enjoyed spraying water on everyone around.
Next I moved into the National Park and stayed at the Temple Tiger Lodge. The lodge is fairly primitive, but this only enhanced the experience for me and didn’t make me miss the city at all. There is no television and limited electricity (a couple of hours in the morning and evening, so as not to disturb the animals or pollute the jungle with generator fumes).
From here it was time to move on to Pokhara and with a heavy heart I said goodbye to my friends in the jungle. Pokhara was a pleasant surprise, not the bustling city I expected. It is a serene town sitting on the banks of Fewa Lake with lots of hiking and trekking opportunities, such as a hike up to the World Peace Pagoda or a boat trip on Fewa Lake, where you can stop off at a small island to see Barahi Temple.
After a relaxing time in Pokhara it was time for me to start my Annapurna trek. Not being the fittest, I did not know what to expect from this trek, except leeches as I was setting out in the rainy season. Equipped with a guide, porter and plenty of salt (weapons of mass destruction for the leeches), it was time to head for the Himalaya. The route was made up of crude log and suspension bridges, paved and unpaved roads, steep steps and walkways, through the paddy fields and villages. The young schoolchildren, walking along the route with smiles on their faces and a spring in their step were a real source of inspiration, and the fabulous views of the surrounding mountains made the trek every bit worth the experience and has left me wanting to go back for more.
Nepal is a small country but with so many possibilities – the Himalaya, national parks and the smiling faces of the people, all contribute to its charm.
Sunita Ramanand is one of Cox & Kings’ Indian Subcontinent experts. Born in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India, Sunita became interested in travelling when her father’s career in the Indian army meant the family moved around a lot and experienced a lot of different cultures. “My favourite travelling experiences include the tranquillity of the Himalayas in North India; snorkelling in the Maldivian waters; the serenity at the Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon; watching spouting geysers in Iceland; trekking on glaciers in Patagonia and cruising in the Antarctic region. What I love most about my job is putting together detailed itineraries for clients and seeing their dreams come to fruition.”
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