Tips for Nepal

I’ve only been here 2 days but there are already a few things I’ve learnt. I’ll try to post these things whenever I have a bit of downtime. These are a bit random but hopefully useful.

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Tip 1: Don’t be afraid of the bus.

I’ve met a few travellers so far that have been taking taxis everywhere they go. Don’t get me wrong, taxis are great if you are in a rush or too tired to walk to the bus stop. They are also relatively cheap but they are nowhere near the price of a bus trip.

I have taken a few buses so far and I am loving it! They are dirt cheap (0.20€ from Kathmandu to bhaktapur) and you get to see how the people of Nepal actually get around. As long as you can grab a seat you’ll be fine. They are a bit cramped (especially for a 185 cm tall big guy)  but so far they are my preferred method of travel.

Tip 2: Pack small.

You will be doing a lot of walking and squeezing into tight spaces so the smaller the better. If your backpack’s bigger than 45 litres, you might have a tough time.

Also, never pack sharp or pointy objects on the outside of your pack. You’ll soon end up getting jabbed a few times.

Tip 3: Chill out.

Nepal can be stressful at times, especially Kathmandu. You will be hassled by a lot of people trying to sell you things and will invariably end up swimming through a throng of people, cars and motorbikes. This can end up fraying your nerves and make you not enjoy yourself.

Whenever that happens just breath and enjoy it. It’s all a new experience and you should try to see it in that light. Remember there’s no rush to get anywhere. There’s also no such thing as wasting time, if you feel you need a break, take it! 🙂

Tip 4: Trust yourself and go with it.

You will never be 100% sure you are on the right road or on the right bus. Most people speak very little English and there are no Street signs. In case of doubt, trust your gut and go with it. In the worse case you’ll just end up seeing something off the beaten track and have to go back. It’s really not worth stressing out about it.

Tip 5: Get change and water

Whenever you exchange money you will be given a lot of large bills. Most places will have trouble changing a 500 rupee note so get change whenever you can. Also, it gets pretty hot walking round so I would recommend always carrying a bottle of water. They cost 20 rupees for a 1 liter bottle but some places will try to charge you more as you are a tourist.

Well that’s all I have for now. My room at the hostel is ready so I’d better drop off my bag and go see bhaktapur!

The adventure continues

I hope everyone likes reading long posts because that’s what you’re getting today too!

In Kathmandu many things depend on what they call load sharing. This isn’t people being good and helping other carry heavy bags, it’s a rotation they have of the city’s electricity. You will generally have about 6 hours of electricity in any given day so you need to make sure to have everything ready to charge as soon as the power is back. I almost got caught with no spare charged battery for my camera because of this and it is also the reason I was up and moving at 6:30 am. You see, the fan in my room depends on there being power in the hostel. So I woke up at 6 am covered in sweat and thought I might as well get up.

After a refreshing cold shower, I decided to walk to Swayambhunath or, as we westerners call it, the monkey temple. The Nepalese people are early risers, so there were already plenty of people around at 6:30. I was the only tourist I saw, which was kind of nice. The walk to Swayambhunath is not the prettiest but I got to see a bit of the real Kathmandu. Also, not being hassled by rickshaw drivers, flute sellers, hash dealers and tour guides was a great relief. There are a couple of nice temples along the way. That is the surprising thing about Kathmandu, where you least expect it you suddenly have these huge pagoda style temples and beautiful little shrines.

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I arrived to the monkey temple around 7:30 and I realised I had made it to the pilgrim’s entrance. This is the traditional way of approaching and there are a lot of stairs to climb! Also, if you have any food on you, the monkeys will harass you until they steal it. I had half a bag of crisps which I thought were well hidden but I ended up losing them to an entrepreneurial monkey. The climb was tough but with calculated stops along the way it is manageable. The effort is well worth it as the views from the top are spectacular and the stupa and surrounding temples are excellent. I was lucky enough to be the first tourist there so I got to see a morning ritual (no pictures allowed, sorry) and enjoy the peace and quiet.

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I went back down the tourist side and crossed the first groups of tourists arriving at the temple. Have I mentioned how lucky I was to be the first tourist there? I imagine the experience would have been very different with 2 busloads of Korean tourists milling about and taking pictures of the same things.

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I decided to jump on a taxi to Patan. Patan is one of the oldest cities in Nepal and has its own Durbar Square which is also a World Heritage site. I paid my taxi fare (around 3 euro) and a short 35 minutes after I was there. It was now 9:30 in the morning and there were still no tourists to be seen! I decided I had earned a breakfast (still being annoyed about my lost crisps) so I popped into the only place near Durbar Square that I found open. The place was nice but the breakfast was most definitely forgettable. (Café de Patan in case you’re curious)

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I then paid for a guide to show me around. The guides are reasonably expensive (around 10 euro for a one and a half hour tour) but I felt like I needed someone to show me the ropes. I ended up getting a great guide and I highly recommend him. I have all his information if anyone needs it, just send me a message or post a comment below. He showed me all the temples in and around Durbar Square and some others that were not on my map. He then dropped me off at the Patan museum. I would highly recommend the museum to anyone going. I takes a couple of hours but the information is really good. For example, did you know that Hindu gods don’t always have the same number of arms? Each arm and face of the figure represents a different aspect of that particular incarnation of the god.

By the time I was done it was lunch time so I went in search of food. I had wanted to take a bus back to Kathmandu and it turns out there was a nice Malaysian place on the way from Durbar to the bus station. I headed off into the middle of Patan and I  loved it. I felt like the only westerner in town. Patan is an ancient city and much like Kathmandu has beautiful temples where you least expect them.

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I had a lovely meal of mee goreng at the Sing Ma food court and then caught a bus into Kathmandu. Buses are quite an experience and I highly recommend them as they are one thirtieth of the price of a taxi and just as fast. The way they work is that the fare collector keep shouting out of the window to see if anyone wants to go where the bus is going. If someone does, the bus slows down a bit and they jump on. Luckily I got mine at one of the bus stops where the minibuses slow to crawl to let you get in(but don’t actually stop).

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I got to Kathmandu safely and walked back to the hostel to take a shower. I had drank about 4 liters of water so far and had not gone to the bathroom once. I felt a bit sweaty and hot so a cool shower is just what the doctor ordered. As soon as stepped out of the shower it started to rain heavily and has not stopped since. I am now sitting under a small roof on the terrace writing this blog. I shall attempt to upload it as soon as I am finished. If you’re reading this, I have succeded.

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Tune in tomorrow for more crazy adventures and my trip to the ancient city of Bhaktapur where I plan to spend the night.

The journey begins!

Pull up a chair and grab a beer cause this is going to be a long one.

With my nerves being a bit on edge I had a hard time sleeping. It didn’t help that I hurt my back last night packing. I guess it was for the best because I spent the 3 hours before my taxi arrived running around the house like a headless chicken, constantly finding things I thought I had packed but that had magically materialised at the opposite end of the house.

The ride to the airport was the usual effort of trying to come up with new topics of conversation with a taxi driver that has heard it all before. I still admire them for taking small talk to whole new level. I gave them man a good tip and headed into Dublin terminal 1.

Dublin airport is not bad as airports go. You have your usual mix of slow packers, proud security guards and the ever present queue analysts. I find this last group the most annoying. You know the ones I’m talking about, they keep on complaining about the queue and try to get you to join in. They also have this nerve wracking ritual of analysing all the queues ahead of them whenever they get to a junction. As if the length of the queue had anything to do with the speed at which you passed security!

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After my usual stop at Burger King to fuel up (20% discount if you fly with Turkish airlines!) I boarded my flight to Istanbul. I got a windows seat next to an Irish farmer which was joining an expedition of the Gideons to Uganda to give out bibles… I was afraid I was going to get my ear chewed off but he ended up being a very nice old gentleman and all he did was give me a rather nice edition of the new testament. I must say I high recommend Turkish airlines! Good food, nice staff and a great selection of movies. I watched Burt Wonderstone and a bit of the Godfather 2.

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Istanbul airport is crazy! I almost forgot what a really busy and badly organised airport can be like. I miss the civility of the Irish and their love of queues. The place had a general feeling of one big melting pot and had an amazing food court. I ate at Popeye and a slice from sbarro, I think I am trying to get my fill of western food before I stuff myself with Nepali cuisine.

After a few hours of waiting I finally boarded the plain to Kathmandu! I must say this flight was not as pleasant as my previous one. The hostesses were rude we didn’t have our own screens and the flight was packed. I did get my no lactose meal and slept about 1 hour.

Remember when I said Istanbul airport was crazy? Kathmandu airport beats it by a mile! Hot, humid, over an hour queue to get the visa. The decor was very exotic to my eyes so at least I had something to look at. When I finally got out, the car that was supposed to pick me up never appeared so I got roped into taking a taxi to the hostel. The guide was nice though he tried to sell me everything from sim cards to trekking trips on the way.

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View from my room

The place I have booked is no palace but it’s clean and central. I spent 2 hours trying to post this update unsuccessfully and decided to leave it for the evening instead. I headed out into town, bought a simple card for Internet access and headed off towards Kathmandu’s Durbar square. I was really looking forward to getting there but I decided to look for a place to eat before I went as I was quite hungry. This Nepali guy offered to show me a nice place to eat and took me to a restaurant called the Yak. The food was not bad and he ended up sitting down to eat with me, with me paying the bill of course.

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He also offered to take me to the Buddha stuppa, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was on my list of things to see anyway. We got to talking and he showed me the whole place and even took me to a cool monastery behind the stuppa. The more we talked the more he seemed like a really normal person so when he offered to show me where he lived and to meet his family I thought, why not? In hindsight it wasn’t my brightest moment.

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Buddha stuppa

The Nepali guy, who was called Suresh, introduced me to his wife and 2 kids in his one room hovel. The place consisted of a few bamboo sticks with a plastic tarpaulin over them. There were 2 elevated areas where we sat and I guess they slept. His wife made us tea and we were having a great time shooting the breeze, or so I thought.

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I had read all about confidence scams and had a feeling I was getting myself into one but by this point I was pretty sure I was being unfair to poor Suresh. That’s when started telling me about how he is just a poor shoe shine and cannot afford a proper shoe shining box and if I could give him 200 euros he could get a proper box to shine shoes. I got a bit annoyed because I had asked him before if he was going to end up asking me for money and he swore he wasn’t. You’ll all be thinking that it wasn’t a big deal but I hate being emotionally manipulated and using his kids to try to force money out of me felt like a low blow. I didn’t give him the 200 euro though I did end up buying him a sack of 10kg of rice and 5l of oil (25 euros).

I got on a taxi and once again headed towards Durbar square. The taxi dropped me off close and I walked the rest of the way, swimming through a veritable horde of people, motorbikes and cars. Everyone here honks their horns all the time and there is no such thing as a sidewalk. I am also about 30 cms taller than everyone here and about twice as wide so I felt like  one of the trolls in the siege of Minas Tirith.

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By the time I got to Durbar square the sun was setting and I only had a very short time to see it. I got a decent tour from one of the guides and haggled it down to only cost me 5 euro from the initial 20. It was the last day of the Indra Jat festival and the priests were about to start giving out free holy alcohol so the crowd was rather rowdy. It was also the first time ever that omen were allowed to partake so I decided to be somewhere else. The fact that there were lots of police in riot gear also helped me make the decision.

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I headed back to the hostel and stopped for dinner at the Ying Yang restaurant. My guide to Nepal highly recommended this restaurant and I was in the mood for Thai food so I gave it a go. I can only describe their food as amazing . The rice was perfectly cooked, sweet and fragrant, the Green chilly was just the right amount of spicy with a strong smell of coconut and a buttery taste that made you want to link the plate.

After that I headed back to my hostel where I met a nice French couple that are here meeting their foster kids. I am now sitting on the rooftop terrace, writing this under the moonlight at a perfect 22 degrees. Not bad for my first day!

See you all soon!

All packed!

I’m finally done packing. Thought you might be interested in the final toll:

Total Backpack weight: 7.8 kg. This contains all my clothes, utilities, and most of the non-electronic gear.

Total shoulder-bag weight: 6.3 kg!!! I guess this will be emptied often as I’m unlikely to be carrying that around for long. For treks and long walks I can put a lot of the stuff in the backpack as there is still room. I just don’t trust a lot of this stuff to our beloved baggage handlers. 🙂

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PS: The 2 litre drink bottle is added for  size reference. 🙂

What I want to see… or not!

I am heading off by myself to Nepal. This has some advantages and some disadvantages. One of the big pros is that I get to decide where I’m going. I have never been much of a planner, preferring to go wherever the wind takes me, therefore I have not planned my trip at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done my fair share of research and have come up with a few places I want to visit. In the end, if I don’t see any of them, that’s also fine. We’ll see what happens! 🙂

In no particular order, here are my top 5 places to visit:

Kathmandu

Kathmandu

Kathmandu is the capital of Nepal and it is the one place I know I’ll be visiting. I land there on Saturday and have booked my hostel for the first couple of nights. I will be staying in Thamel and plan on visiting Durbar Square, the monkey temple at Swayambhunath and a couple of other spots.

Bhaktapur 

Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur is the third largest city in Kathmandu valley and was once the capital of Nepal until the second half of the 15th century. It’s listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO so it should be worth a visit. A couple of people I know have recommended I stay a night there as it deserves spending some time. It is supposed to be a nice calm place so it should be a good break from Kathmandu!

Patan

Nepal - Patan  Durbar Square

Patan is another of the major cities of the Kathmandu Valley and was once also the capital of one of the kingdoms of the area. It’s Durbar square is also a UNESCO World Heritage site so it should be great. It is really close to Kathmandu.

Phokara

The City of Pokhara

Pokhara is the second largest city of Nepal and is situated about 200 km west of the Kathmandu. Three out of the ten highest mountains in the world (Dhaulagiri, Annapurna I and Manaslu) are situated within 50 kilometers of the city,which makes the Northern view pretty spectacular, if I get lucky with the clouds. I’ve also heard that it is full of tourists and a very westernised city so I’ll see how long I stay. I want to go up into the mountains at dawn to see if I can catch a sunrise over the Himalayas. It is also the base for many paragliding companies so I want to give that a go too!

Chitwan National Park

Elephant scrubbing - Chitwan National Park

Elephant safari. Need I say more? 🙂

There are many other places I have on my list to see but if I manage to see all the five I’ve listed here, I think the trip will be worth it. Anyone have any other suggestions?

Packing for Nepal

I am leaving for my 2 week trip to Nepal in 2 days time. Being the highly organised person I am (/sarcasm off) I have finally finished my list of things to take with me.

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The list as it looks right now is this:

Clothes:

  • 5 T-shirts
  • 1 long sleeve t-shirt
  • 1 light short sleeve shirt
  • 1 pair shorts
  • 2 pairs trekking pants (transformable into shorts)
  • 6 pairs underwear
  • 6 pairs socks
  • 1 pair trainers
  • 1 pair walking shoes
  • 1 light fleece
  • 1 rain coat

Other fabric:

  • Microfiber towel
  • Silk lining sleeping bag (in case of dodgy sleeping conditions)

Utilities:

  • Torch
  • Plastic zip bags
  • Sunglasses
  • String
  • Duct tape
  • 2 padlocks
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Travel pillow
  • Alarm clock
  • 1 emergency kit/first aid kit
  • Bathroom kit (toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, shower gel, shampoo)

Various:

  • Money belt
  • Passport photos
  • Passport
  • Notepad (Moleskin)
  • Pens
  • nepali phrasebook
  • lonely planet Nepal

Camera equipment:

  • X-Pro 1 camera
  • 35mm f1.4 lens
  • 18mm f2 lens
  • 100mm f2.8 macro lens (manual only)
  • Gorillapod tripod
  • Remote Trigger cable
  • ND filter
  • Lens cleaning pen
  • Dust blower
  • Microfiber cloth
  • 3 batteries
  • 4 16gb SD cards

Electronics:

  • Transformer pad infinity tablet
  • 500GB portable hard drive
  • USB card reader
  • Chargers(phone, tablet, camera)
  • Extra phone battery
  • 3 to 1 plug adapter
  • Universal adapter

I know I am taking a lot of Camera equipment but believe me it could be a lot worse! I also have a fair share of electronics as that will allow me to blog, read my books and make me feel all fuzzy inside.

All of the clothes, utilities and various items fit nicely into my 45 liter backpack and it is not heavy at all.  The Camera and electronics equipment goes into my shoulderbag as I do not trust it into the hold of the plane. I plan on leaving most of it in the hostel safe when walking around and only carrying my camera equipment which is not heavy.

Do you think I’ve missed anything? If so, please post below!

UPDATE: Thanks to comments and suggestions from the good people of the internet and real life, the following items have been added to the list:

  • Toilet Paper
  • Wet Wipes
  • Photocopies of passport
  • Swiss army knife

Thanks everyone for helping out!

Welcome to the blog!

Hi everyone,

So, here I am once again dipping my toe into the murky waters of the internet blogosphere. I have tried blogging before but I never quite found the groove to it. As I have rediscovered my passion for photography and will soon be embarking on a solo trip to Nepal, I thought now would be a good time to give it another go.

My first big theme will be travelling and photography so if you’re interested in either of them, please bookmark this page!

 

Me!