Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Across the border to India

Another travel day but this time we would cross in to India! We were able to put away the Nepal guidebook and crack open the India one. However first we had to cross the border which is a task that can always be tedious.

The bus dropped us off in no mans land between the two countries and our luggage was off loaded on to 2 big wooden pushcarts. We headed straight to the Nepalese customs and passport office that we could have easily just walked right past. Our one final task was to change our Nepalese Rupees into Indian Rupees. In what felt like a hole in the wall we swamped currencies and then walked across the border into India!

Instantly things changed. More hectic if you can believe it!  The road leading to the border was manic. Huge heavy trucks, the ones all decorated, were lined up all jostling for position, honking furiously as bikes and cars all weaved through trying to just get on with normal life. The shops and stalls were all open with people buzzing around. As we walked we made our way through the madness to a nearby hotel to freshen up before continuing our bus journey.

Our next destination was Varanasi but an all day drive away! The Indian roads are bumpy at best and besides hanging on, we spent the hours starring out the window watching the traffic and sites in various villages and towns. Each village brought a new dose of stalls, vendors, traffic and commotion. Also lots of waves, smiles and nods to the people out the windows. It was entertaining but we were ready to give our backs a break and get off the bus.

Here is some video I shot in traffic throughout the day.  Turn your volume down because there are a lot of loud horns in the video which is the norm in India.

Our hotel in Varanasi served fantastic food and we were welcomed to India with a fantastic Paneer Butter Masala – cheese pieces covered in a thick Indian spiced sauce with rice; and a chicken tikka masala – tender chicken pieces cooked in a tandoori oven covered in a think masala sauce with rice. Add some Naan bread and some Indian sweets for dessert and you have the makings of a fantastic meal. It may sound scary but it is absolutely delicious!!  The photo is of us after dinner happy and full.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Birth Place of Buddha

We woke the next morning to the unexpected sounds of elephants trumpeting nearby. Our simpler life wish had come true, no electricity. All of Nepal’s electricity comes from India who rations it, causing Nepal daily brown outs. This one happened early in the morning and with the fan off we could also hear something scurrying in the ceiling. We were quickly wide-awake hearing the scurrying noises that led to some squawking and wild scratching before the sounds abruptly stopped. Eek!

After breakfast, we piled in our own private bus and headed off for Lumbini – the birthplace of Buddha, near the India-Nepal border.  

Too many hours later as we neared Lumbini where we ran into some traffic from road construction. As we crept along at a snails pace, I stuck my head out of the window to see what was going on. A loud horn sounded and I was spooked back into the bus, but in doing so my glasses hit the edge of the window falling off my head. In a slow motion scene right out of a move, I tried to grab them, but could only watch as they dropped to the dusty gravel road. “My glasses”, I yelled!  Sitting near the back of the bus I dashed up the aisle I hearing Steph shouting, “Stop, stop, stop!” Throwing open the door I jumped out of the bus, running and dodging through the traffic of cars, trucks, carts and animals to try and find my glasses.

I found the edge of the bridge where they should have been from memory but without glasses I was having a hard time seeing them in the chaos of traffic and dust from the road. The details were a blur, literally. Luckily one of the locals on a bicycle shouted and pointed down at the road. Bingo! There they were, scratched and bent by the fall, but still in one piece, amazingly! I thanked the man and shook his hand before turning to find the bus. Running back, I found our guide who knew where the bus stopped and eventually ran into Steph who was also off the bus at this point. Boy did I have some explaining to do! Ok, Ok, I know now not to stick my head out of the bus window with glasses on but we were moving slowly so I knew I could find them ☺

Steph later told me she had a few anxious moments saying, “I stuck my head out the window watching you dodge traffic peering under bikes, carts, trucks and animals. Then the bus started moving as traffic suddenly decided to clear and I lost sight of you as the bus found a spot to pull over.”

My adrenaline was racing as I settled back in my seat.  You'll be glad to know I kept my head inside the bus for the remainder of the journey that took us to the jungle camp.

Another glacially slow lunch (albeit quite yummy chow mein!) awaited before we headed off for a bicycle ride to see the Master Plan – a giant project to build up the area around Buddha’s birthplace. Setting off from the camp, we had a mile or so to ride on the roughly paved and chaotic road. You know the ones…cars, buses, motorcycles, trucks all honking mixed in with buffalos, goats and dogs. Needless to say we were nervous at first but found our way without any issues despite our rear brakes being practically shot.  Riding required a little extra forethought in panning your movements in a crowed area but we managed.  Keep Steph in front, dodge traffic, yeah we're good, no worries!

We didn't get the real name for the development but in Lumbini its referred as Masterplan; an idea conceived in the 1970’s. It is a huge development project that has been going for years and will continue for years because its being developed at the same pace with which they cook food. Many nations are building temples to commemorate the place where Buddha was born along with some Nepalese cultural sites and buildings.

We started at the German temple, finished in 2003. It was huge, colorful and it’s gold leafing glistened in the sun. Walking around it, the gardens depict Buddha’s life in various scenes of statues, from birth to enlightenment. As temples go, it was no shoes allowed so we strolled on the amazingly smooth sandstone walkways. There were also some enormous prayer wheels to spin which you can see Steph with in the photo. The decoration inside and on the outside walls under the awnings were very detailed and so brightly colored.  Especially for something built in the last 10 years.

Riding on a bicycle through the development was a neat way to see the grounds and a good thing because it covers a big area. The place where Buddha was born is marked by ruins and a monstrosity of a building constructed some years ago.  They have a stone that marks the exact spot and people from around the globe travel to see it. There are lots of prayer flags strung up everywhere and Buddhist monks going about their business on the site. We had fun with one of the monks who was doing lap after lap as we just admired and took photos of him.  He was so gracious smiling and seemingly enjoying the attention.

One last surprise awaited this evening back at the camp. It was a fairly simple camp with dimly lit paths and candles in the room (in case of a brown out). On the way to dinner we learned that Ben and Nora had just gotten engaged! What a surprise! Ben found the right moment in the candle light and she said "yes"!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Elephant Safari

The next morning was our long awaited elephant safari through the jungle in search of the rhinos and other animals. Amazingly, the elephants came to pick us up at our lodge which isn't surprising after the fact because most of the lodges in the area have their own staircase used to mount the elephants. Ben, Nora, Josh and myself all got on the same elephant, Maya, a 12-year old – rather young in comparison to the others. We were the last group to mount but thanks to Maya’s youthfulness, she whizzed past several others on the way to the park to Josh's competitive amusement.

We sauntered through the town towering over all the other road traffic taking up more than our share of space before finally reaching the park's entrance to the jungle.  Starting on the paths we kept an eye out for animals but before long we started making our own path courtesy of Maya.  She would just walk through light brush while snapping off small trees with her trunk to make room for herself.  All the while grabbing a snack here and there.  Walking through the trees, dodging low hanging limbs and leaves on an elephant was a fantastic way to see the scenery.  Compared to a jeep, the elephant safari allowed us to feel a more natural part of the habitat, although the loud bunch in front of us did their best to let the animals know we were coming.

Our safari continued through the shaded forest and then out in to a clearing to cross a river! Slow and steady, Maya stepped down the bank and waded across the river.  Even despite the strong current she just took it in stride!  Well done Maya.

At the beginning of the safari, the lack of wildlife was overshadowed by the sheer fact we were riding an elephant but unfortunately, the rest of the safari was about the same – sauntering through the forest with not many wildlife sightings, only deer…and no rhinos!

Below is a fun series of me tipping our Elephant who passed the money up to the driver. That sure is one cool party trick!

So what do elephants do after a walk through the jungle?  They get a bath!  After disembarking the elephants, we headed down to the elephant bathing location to see what the fuss was about.  Here they get a nice scrub down after their morning’s work and getting a bit more freedom to show off for the crowd.  The handlers skillfully climb on and off and played tricks with their elephants in the water.  There was lots of trunk squirting, elephant surfing, and deeper water trunk posing for the cameras.  Eventually they did get their official cleaning by the handler who scrubbed them down with a stone (yes, a stone, but imagine how tough their skin is!). They seemed to truly enjoy it – one laying there like it was getting a fancy massage!  Now if we could just find cucumber slices to cover the elephants eyes it would be a true makeover moment!

In one hard-not-to-laugh-at-moment, this poor sap found himself stuck in knee deep mud trying to take a shortcut.  A little later we snapped a great shot of him trying to clean his laundry like the locals.  I think his jeans are going to take a little longer to dry than the ladies' saris.  Classic!  Having taken a load of pictures, we went back to grab a simple, ahem – 2 hour, lunch before our afternoon canoe trip and visit to the Elephant breeding center later that afternoon.

Hopping into open top jeeps we had a few minute ride to the canoe launch site.  The canoes were old style, carved straight out of a giant tree.  It was an laid back cruise down the river.  Along the way we saw the same gharial crocodile as on the elephant safari and some birds along the banks.  The most stunning was probably the kingfisher – the namesake of the 5 star airline we took to India.  However, we were expecting more!

Now, I will be brief about the elephant breeding center because we all were quite emotional about it. It was actually more of a training center. Here in Nepal they use elephants in all forms of industry, including tourism.  This center breeds elephants, training them to have handlers, instead of taking elephants from the wild to fulfill the industrial needs. That is the beneficial part. But, the emotional part was that they endure harsh training and are chained by one leg and sometimes 2 legs for the majority of the day. They can roam the forest between 10am and 4pm, but that doesn’t seem nearly enough. We all left this center with heavy hearts and mixed emotions.

As the sun was getting low in the sky we had one final challenge: to get to the jeeps on the other side of the river, we had to find our way across a sand bag bridge.  Luckily, we managed no problem, hopping in the jeeps for the few minute ride back to the camp.

On our way to dinner we randomly found a cute little bat hiding in a archway which we promptly flashed awake with a few photos.  I'm sure to him it was like our alarm clock in the morning - annoying!

We had a fairly good chicken tikka masala dinner and some horrible cocktails. We should have known – alcohol is mainly there for the tourists and when they also have Mexican food and “American chop suey” (whatever that is!) on the menu then you should realize they are just trying to please the western visitors and they truly have no idea how to make cocktails (or any non-Nepalese food)! Fair play, lesson learned!

Elephant Safari Photos

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Friendly Village

Before we get to the tour I wanted to talk about the pace at which food is prepared in Nepal.  It’s glacially slow.  At least an hour and possibly up to nearly 2 hours for a rather simple lunch.  One of the main reasons is down to food hygiene and the fact that it needs to be cooked fresh.  However we found out that they seem to only have one cook and most kitchens were probably only one burner as well.  So when one table sat down the kitchen was swamped let alone multiple tables at once.  It definitely took some adjusting to and a supreme amount of patience because some people in the group could already be finished before you had even begun.  It strikes you at how little we wait for food.  Hurry up with that Big Mac already!

We found out first hand how slow it could be in our free time before the tour.  We unfortunately walked in behind another table because well over 2 hour later we were the last to leave.

After settling into the lodge – decent little garden cottages - we headed out by open top jeep on a village tour.  Having done a few of these in the past, I was skeptical because they can be extremely bad…being completely staged and simply a means to get you there to sell you sub-par souvenirs. However, I was completely blown away and had to eat my words. We walked through a small village full of incredibly friendly, warm and welcoming people.  House after house they invited us in, came out to say hello, let the women interested hold the young children, show us there animals, no strings attached.  They seemed to be just delighted that we had taken the time to visit.  Some of them even wanted to just practice their English which is always good fun.  We were able to get a good feel on how the live from the size and decoration of their houses to way in which the prepared food to the livestock on their property.

Gaining our nerve and pulling out the cameras, we attracted every kid under the age of 12 who would pose for as many photos as you would take them. In return, they only wanted to see the resulting image on screen.  So much so that they almost couldn't stand to wait for you to take the picture before starting to run over to see the result. They all wear such bright and colorful clothes and must think we are boring dressers. We met so many people and kids who all had such big smiles on their faces, probably mimicking us! Some of them obviously wanted to chat to practice the little English they knew. Others, generally the older (e.g. MAYBE 20 years old), stood quietly in front of their house, obviously hoping you would see them and come converse and take pictures.

The lady in red with the round tray of flour seemed to so enjoy herself.  Besides her huge smile she was constantly making the others in her family laugh by dancing around without a care in the world.  She then showed us how she tosses the flour and spins the disc around.

Later on we found a man separating lentils from their husks/shells. He had a big pile of lentils in a cone shape and was using a round basket top to fling another layer on top, then fanning the pile to separate off the husks. With a bit of translation help from the guide we persuaded him to let me have a try.  After watching his routine quite a few times I followed suit and scooped up a few handfuls of lentils into the basket lid, walked over to the pile and nervously tossed the lentils on to the pile. Its a small art form to do this where you gently spin the basket lid as you throw, lofting the lentils so they spread evenly onto the pile. I was a little heavy handed but manage to do ok. Otherwise I’d have been cleaning up after myself.  Steph was nervous I was going to toss his lentils all over the place! Below you can see his throw then my throw.

During the walk, I also tried some of the local dances and jumping rope with some young children. It was an incredible experience walking around the town meeting people, shaking hands, photographing the kids and just soaking in the atmosphere. As the sun set for the day over this remote village, we couldn’t help but think it would be nice to go back to a simpler world.  Its a startling reminder at what what a high pace life we live our lives...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Adventurous Drive to Chitwan National Park

Bright and early we checked out of the hotel because we were scheduled on an early morning bus that would take us to Chitwan National Park.  The bus station was about a 5 – 10 minute walk away and to save our backs the group leader organized a taxi cart our luggage to the bus.   This required a volunteer to go with the luggage to keep it safe. A free taxi ride? That’s got my name written all over it so I volunteered.  I can guard a few bags, no problem.

The taxi was a small beat up hatch back and loaded down with 14 rucksacks and 2 passengers the suspensions was maxed out.  On the console between the front seats the driver had an old box stereo speaker that I guess used to be his sound system but wasn't working anymore.  It didn’t give him much room to shift gears but somehow he managed.  I climbed in shotgun and we raced off to the bus station.

At one of the t-junctions the driver must have forgotten how much extra weight we were carrying because he flew straight into it saying, “ohhh”, when we realized his breaks weren’t going to get him slowed down like usual.  I rattled off a weary joke that made us both laugh laugh – luckily there wasn’t much traffic because it’s a free for-all at those junctions. Traffic lights – who needs ‘em?! Just go for it but be ready to stop!

Nearing the bus depot, I wasn’t 100% sure what bus we needed and neither was the taxi driver.  It was a divided 4-lane road with bus after bus lined up nose to tail in the left lane.  He stopped in a few places to get out and ask where we needed to drop the bags. By stopped, I mean wedged his taxi in between buses with just enough room on the right for traffic to pass - of course horns blaring as they passed.  Once he figured out the correct bus, the only way to unload the luggage near the bus was to block the right lane of traffic. So there we were, hurrying to off-load the bags in the middle of the road, again, traffic backing up behind, horns sounding and engines revving. We ended up throwing the all the bags between two buses in the street just so he could clear the traffic jam.  That left me stuck with a mountain of bags, between two buses on a manic road guarding them for dear life.  The bus attendants came up babbling something in Nepalese, pointing at some scribble on a piece of paper, trying to take the bags to the back of another bus.  I did my best to convey NO to them until the group arrived to confirm it was the right bus.  Whew!  That sure got the adrenaline pumping at 6am.

Bags loaded on the correct bus, we found a seat and got comfy for our 6 hour journey.

Kathmandu sits in a valley surrounded by the Himalayas that tower over the city.  Needless to say there are a lot of mountain roads – curvy with steep drops, narrow bridges - the works! Our bus set off to climb to the rim of the Kathmandu Valley then descend steeply to the flat region of the Chitwan jungle. Normally this wouldn’t be so bad but with the quality of roads and the driving style of the locals, the ride was interesting, to say the least! We were passing slower cars on blind corners, screeching to stops at bridges to let a bigger truck through or overtaking other buses with people on top at speed up on inclines. Also I don’t know how the suspension copes with the roads because they are so bumpy and rugged.  Its a wonder we didn't have a flat tire.

Since we were on a local bus, it stopped occasionally in local villages (or almost stopped…people jumped on and off while it was still moving most of the time). At one stage, we picked up a young guy that liked to hang out the door. He was entertaining for a while until he got off. Check out this video of him! Steph wouldn’t let me try though which I don’t understand why!

Once our nerves settled down it was "smooth sailing".

Monday, November 29, 2010

Movember 2010

Let me introduce you to the 2010 version of the 'Mo.  Not a bad effort if I must say so myself.  You can compare to last year's edition. Steph is away so I had to take the photo self portrait style. 

The trip to Nepal and India put a kink in the mustache growing plan because as much as I enjoy growing the 'Mo, I just couldn't have all my photos from the trip with it.  I learned that lesson last year in Marrakesh thanks to the "Oh Mr. Mustache" comment and the corresponding photo...

Now I know that some would argue that not shaving the entire 2 week trip has about the same effect, but I opted for the traveler beard instead.  Its more itchy but not as eye catching.  So when I arrived back to London I carved this bad boy out.  Let me know what you think...

Movember is always so much fun at the beginning but the novelty wears off by week 4 getting a bit ridiculous.    I'm looking forward to getting a clean shave just in time for the holiday season.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Up to The Monkey Temple

With the sun getting low in the sky, we topped up on caffeine with a coffee and headed off to visit Swayambhunath, also known as The Monkey Temple. To get there, we had to take another taxi ride – so let the entertainment begin!

It was equally as crazy, this time in the daylight, revealing more sights and sounds from this hectic city.  In one extremely quick and tense situation the driver luckily escaped hitting a moped carry 3 generations of a Nepalese family.  I don’t know how he avoided them but he did!  I also snapped these interesting shots as we drove by.  I'm not sure what is going on in the first photo but the second is a local butcher shop which only goes to show that the vegetarian dishes are the better option in this part of the world.  Also, the guy didn't approve of my drive-by-snapshot.

The money temple was built on top of a huge hill with 365 steps leading to it and has some holy monkeys living on the grounds.  The Tibetan name actually translates to "Sublime Trees".  Upon entry at the bottom, a seemingly old holy man came up to us and wanted to put a red mark on our forehead with a bright red powder.  We obliged for the experience of it (and gave him a few rupees).  On top we found another big Stupa and other various religious things, a few monkeys and of course some souvenir shops.  It was worth the climb, as the setting sun really made some of the gold leaf shine.

So now is a good time to introduce our friends Ben who is English and Nora who is French. We met them in Wales 2 years ago when we went coasteering (climbing around the rocky Welsh coast in wetsuits). Its funny to think that we went to Wales to get away and ended up meeting neighbors who turn out to be good friends.  Anyway they rock and are good travel buddies.

I frequently run into Ben on my commute so we catch up at the pub as well. Earlier this summer, they played a big role in my surprise birthday party. I still owe him for that one... When we heard they were taking this trip it didn't take much convincing to get us to come along as well.  As for Ben's missing bag...fortunately, it arrived that afternoon!

Our time in Kathmandu was short but throughout our visit, we kept being amazed that this country was in such political unrest as early as 2 years ago.  With the monarchy dissolved and the royal palace turned in to a museum, we were truly visiting after recent significant changes. All in all, we only saw a small piece of Kathmandu and the mighty Himalayas but it was well worth the experience and left us thinking of a return visit someday to do some trekking or as Ben wants to do, climb Everest!

Monday, November 22, 2010

From Mt Everest to The Temples

Our only option on this trip to see Mt. Everest was an early morning scenic flight in a jet stream plane run by Yeti Airlines.  We happily took the opportunity having to wake before dawn to catch a taxi to the airport. In the air, we had stunning views of the Himalayas and were even allowed into the cockpit to see a panoramic view of Mt. Everest! At certain points we could almost reach out and touch the snow on the top of the mountains.

After breakfast, we headed for a visit to The Pashupatinath Temple, one of the holiest and biggest Hindu temples in Nepal. Visitors (non-Hindu) are not allowed in the main temple but you can explore the grounds and there is plenty to see and take in. Set on both banks of a river, you first arrive at the crematorium where in the Hindu faith, loved ones are cremated on the bank of the river. I’m trying to keep this as light as possible but it is as it sounds. Bodies are burned on cement platforms built along the river and then the ashes are thrown in to the river after some are collected to keep. Cremation is meant to help the spirit pass in to the other world - the ultimate destination of the dead.  It is a sacred river and a highly sought after location for cremation. 

As westerners, we tend to be more hands-off with death but in the Hindu faith the oldest son is responsible for actually setting fire. It is an honor for the son in recognition of the parent who has just died, sometimes only just hours ago.

While we were there, we could see 3 bodies at different stages of the cremation process.  I’m having a hard time summing up and describing my feelings standing across the river watching a cremation first hand. It was simply different and in a way, one of the moments you travel for - to open your mind to new experiences and ways of thinking.  The photo included is from a distance, to help others see and begin to understand a religion and practice that has existed for many thousands of years.  You can see at a high level what the scene looked like.  The river runs in the gap between the buildings in the photo. 

Another thought provoking site was a couple boys picking up charred logs out of the dirty river.  The logs could be reused again and have resell value.  They were in knee deep water, digging the logs out of the water, putting them on push carts to wheel them to the bank.

Exploring the rest of the area surrounding the temple we got to see plenty of monuments including some Shiva linga shrines for all you Indiana Jones fans. Shiva is a Hindu diety and linga is a representation of Shiva; the linga's exact meaning being under dispute but largely means fertility the way its shown at this temple. There was also a good view of the temple from the other side of the river where we could watch the followers come and go for morning worship. We found the above holy man sitting in one of the monuments taking in some sun. A few monkeys were bouncing around causing trouble as well.

On the way out, there were some kids playing on a special swing, which looked fun.  It’s made of four huge bamboo stalks shaped into a four-pillar arch with a swing hanging from the top. They are built for kids at New Years (Diwali). Seeing them previously on some of the taxi drives, I couldn’t resist! The guide helped me translate to a couple local kids swinging and I quickly found myself on the swing being pushed by a Nepalese girl. After a few swings I got a little air but more importantly some good fun! Ben joined me and had a swing too!

Back in the van, we headed to the Bodhnath Stupa - one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Kathmandu.  There is a big population of Tibetan monks and 50 or so monasteries in the area.  It was a thrill to see the monks wondering around going about their daily lives.  The Stupa is one of the largest in the world, a huge round white structure with a gold tower top complete with a pair of eyes, one on each of the 4 sides.  No one can go inside the Stupa because they have been sealed shut for many years and contain remains of Lord Buddha. They are very sacred places in the Buddhist faith and quite nice sites to visit.

For lunch we had a great view, the photo from the previous post, and our had our first traditional Nepalese Dhal Baat which is a platter of rice, lentils soup, spicy pickle, curried vegetables and a chicken curry as well (if you ordered the non-veg version) (All menus read “veg” or “non-veg”). It was good and hearty!  We also enjoyed glass-bottled Cokes - something we enjoyed throughout the trip!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Welcome to Kathmandu

It’s no small hop to Nepal and India….and being our first real trip to Asia we have been eagerly awaiting this journey! From London it was 8 hours to Delhi and another 2 onto Kathmandu. To change planes in Delhi, we had to go through security again. They had a separate line for the ladies and Steph’s security lady asked if her hair was naturally curly. She replied yes and the girl said, “It is looking good on you!” (a compliment well-received after an 8 hour overnight flight!)

On the landing approach into Kathmandu we were given our first views of the mighty snow-capped Himalayas which quickly snapped us out of our air-travel daze. Let the adventure begin!

Arrival in Kathmandu was simple thanks to us, I mean Steph, organizing our visas in advance…the queue for people applying for visas on arrival was huge! We made it down to the baggage hall and impatiently awaited our bags. If we haven’t told you previously, we put our backpacks in large bright orange duffel bags when we check them for flights. These bags have saved us once before because they stand out of the crowd, however, in this trekking capital nearly everyone had their backpacks in bright duffel bags! We did find them without issue but unfortunately our friend Ben was not as lucky. His bag just wasn’t there and after we all scoured the halls for an hour he had to give his contact details and they assured him it was probably in Delhi and didn’t make the connection. So, with just the clothes on his back, we set off to grab a taxi.

Interestingly, Nepal is 5 hours 45 minutes ahead of GMT, while India is 5 hours 30 minutes; we think that is an attempt to let the world know they are a different country.

As with most journeys, they begin with a taxi ride which can be such entertainment – and this was no exception! After picking our driver and negotiating price we threw our luggage in the trunk and hopped in. The taxi was a small rugged old (and I mean OLD) 4 door sedan of some kind. While negotiating the price we had only told him the general area we were going so, after learning our exact hotel address he had to check his sat nav – AKA, the other local taxi drivers. Eventually he understood where we were headed and we tore off into the rough, dusty streets of Kathmandu.

Simply said, traffic here is wild. Cars, buses, trucks, taxis, mopeds, motorcycles, bicycles, buffalo, goats and people all speeding down horrendous roads. Actually, Nepal is notorious for having some of the worst roads in the world due to the recurring damage received yearly during the monsoon.

Chatting to the driver, he was extremely friendly. He told us a little about the area and that we had arrived during Diwali.  For Hindus, Diwali is the most important festival of the year and is celebrated over 5 days by performing traditional activities together in their homes.   Many of the houses had festive lights strung vertically from the roof as decoration and shops had strings of marigolds lining their shop fronts.

Nearing our hotel, we needed to make a left hand turn but there was a police officer blocking the road. With a simple shake of his hand, we were denied entry – who knows why. The driver, not 100% sure what to do, slowly entered back into the flow of traffic. He then decided to do a U-turn. The only problem was there weren’t any gaps in the traffic. Once we figured out what he was trying to do it was clear it wasn’t going to be pretty. Lots of cars, bikes and buses, all honking at us, zoomed past. He slowly started just turning in front traffic. Some would stop, others would dodge us but go on past with horns blaring and lights flickering. However this didn’t faze our driver. He methodically inched to the other side of the road and when he ran out of room, simply stopped, put it in reverse, made himself some space and finished the turn - almost like he was the only person on the road. At one stage we were perpendicular in the road blocking everybody. The windows were down and I can still hear the horns and see the headlights of cars and mopeds starring us down, inches from the door, as we sat helpless in the middle of the road. Eventually he got us going in the other direction and after one more “local sat nav”, he dropped us off at the hotel. Of course in somewhat of a stunned manner, we had a good laugh at the calamity - good fun!

Reaching the hotel we dropped our bags and hit the streets to find some dinner. Here we met a retired lady from Maine that was traveling in Kathmandu for 30 days who gave us some friendly advice. Its an interesting thought to just pack up and move somewhere for 30 days, but she seemed to be making the most of it – also working with a local ladies fabric cooperative to help re-sale handmade fabrics. So, after enjoying a good chat with her at a shared table, over our chicken sizzler dinner (skillet cooked chicken and noodles in a gravy), we headed back to the hotel to catch a decent night’s sleep.