I spent two weeks in Chiang Mai to unwind after Nepal. I went straight from working 45+ hours a week to hiking to the base of Mt Everest and it wa time for this gal to have a holiday. This was my first time I’d spent such a long period alone but it was definitely worth it. I spent my days cycling around Chiang Mai, finding new cafes every day, wandering through temples and resisting the urge to buy everything! Chiang Mai is a city set-up for someone who just wants to stay in one place. It’s so easy to get around, the accomodation is cheap and the food is delicious. Chiang Mai is a popular spot for digital nomads to reside and I can totally understand why! If I ever succeed at becoming a digital nomad this is where I’ll be coming to live!
Below is a few snaps of my time here. I did touristy stuff towards the end of my stay which I’ll post soon! For now, here’s some of Chiang Mai in pictures.
It was time to leave the chaotic country of Nepal to somewhere more laidback and calm. I hadn’t organised anything past my Everest Base Camp hike so I had a thousand options to choose from before settling on North Thailand. I’d been to Thailand twice before but both times were in the south so I was excited to see the difference between the north and south.
I flew from Kathmandu to Bangkok, where I had a 3 hour layover before jumping back on a plane to Chiang Mai. I got in at around 11pm and even at this time, the humidity was rifling through the city. By the time I got to my hostel I was sweating profusely! My hostel – the Chiang Mai Gate Capsule Hostel – was a tiny hole in the wall hostel tucked away into a small street just outside the Old Town. It was quiet and the streets were desolate at this hour. It didnt take long before I was fast asleep in the lovely air-conditioned room.
The following morning I set out to explore. I’ve found the best way to get to know an area is to get yourself completely lost and then try and work out how to get back to where you started. This started off accidentally as I would always end up walking in circles before finding my destination but now I just wander and see where I end up. I’m famous in my family for not knowing my north from my south, but have gotten really good at remembering landmarks which usually save me. I figure you are never lost, just a few wrong turns from being in the right place! Besides I could cheat a little with my Maps.Me app which worked without wifi, but I was trying hard not to use it!
I wandered through the Old Town, past undercover markets selling everything from mangos to chicken carcasses, past beautiful gold temples and tourist stores before reaching Walking street, the Main Street in the Old Town. Here was filled with restaurants, travel agents and artsy shops. I found somewhere for breakfast and coffee to refuel before wandering on towards the Nimman area. I’d heard this area was famous for its cafe culture and being a coffee fiend, I was eager to suss it out!
It was about a 25 minute walk from the Old Town to the Nimman area, which wasn’t ideal to do in the middle of the day but I got there eventually. At the end of the main road was the brand new MAYA shopping centre so I ducked in there to cool down in the air-con. Picking up a new SIM card so I could finally have a phone number, I had a wander around the shopping centre wishing I had a bigger bag (and budget) to do some serious shopping! I headed back out into the heat and walked down Nimmanhaemin Road to find some of these cafes I’d been reading about. The Nimman area is basically one main road with lots of lanes branching off it. Down these lanes are cafes, hotels, art galleries and shops. You could go a down these lanes a hundred times and see something new everytime. As I was on foot I only ventured down the main road, saving the rest of the exploring for another day. It was about 3pm so I started to head back towards to my hostel.
After resting in the aircon for an hour or so, I headed back out again to check out the night market that was happening just outside my hostel. Since I’d been in the hostel, hundreds of stalls had been set up down the entire street and spilling out onto the intersection. There were food stalls, arts and crafts, souvenirs – basically everything you could possibly want! The street stalls were lined up about 1km long and I walked back and forth between stalls, admiring the locally made products and umm-ing and ahh-ing over what to eat.
Settling on pad Thai (so predictable Jess) and a fresh juice, I people watched as I sat and ate. After dinner I followed a market stall trail down a side street which led me to the Silver Temple. Under lights, this temple made of real silver glowed brightly! It was a lovely discovery to finish the day off with!
The markets didn’t finish until about 11pm but I was exhausted from the amount of kilometres I’d walked today so ducked into the cool of my hostel much earlier that than. I’ll be in Chiang Mai for the next two weeks, so was in no rush to see everything quickly. I just wanted somewhere to relax and wind down after a chaotic few weeks in Nepal. I was glad I chose Chiang Mai, it fits the bill perfectly!
After our little adventure getting very close to nature, we had no time to catch our breath. Next stop was the elephant breeding centre to play with some baby elephants. If you know me well, then you know that I’m a bit animal mad. Particularly when it comes to baby animals, especially large baby animals such as elephants. I’ve only seen them a couple of times in my life but every time is as good as the next. There’s something so adorable about a clumsy, leathery goofball who just looks like a naughty child. I may be a little obsessed but baby elephants just make my heart melt.
We arrived at the breeding centre at about 10am. The elephants get let out in the jungle from 10:30-4:30pm so we’d arrived just in time. Unfortunately the elephants were all chained up minus one of the babies, but our guide said it was for our protection mainly, as well as monitoring the elephants. Because there was only a waist high fence between up and the elephants, if they were running loose and got mad at too many people milling around, it could become a bit chaotic. It was sad to see them chained up but the Chitwan National Park is one of the only places in the world that has successfully rehabilitated these beautiful giants to a substantial population number, so I guess they are doing the right thing. The majority of funding for the breeding centre comes from tourism, so without visitors, this centre would cease to exist and the elephant population would probably decrease. So while some people see the captivity of elephants cruel, it’s actually beneficial for both Nepal and the elephants. Of the 20+ elephants here, none of them are used for work purposes. They are solely here just to breed and look after their little ones.
The one baby elephant who was loose was the biggest ratbag ever. He marched over to the four of us and tried to grab out water bottles out of our hands with his trunk and sniffed us all over. He was just five months old but had the attitude of a teenager, for an elephant he raced around quite quickly and was a bit rough when he played. It was beautiful to watch the interaction between the mother and babies and I could have happily stayed there all day!
We had to move on though, it was time for an ‘elephant shower’ and lunch. I quickly dropped my things off at the Safari Club and headed down to the river where some of the elephants were having a bath. This was a bit of a touristy gimmick, but one I was quite happy to oblige in. While people get quite worked up about riding elephants, I wasn’t so worried after seeing the treatment of these beautiful creatures. I don’t know whether it’s because I’ve ridden horses my entire life and have lived on a farm but I don’t see the treatment of these animals that cruel. Yes, I realise in some countries, elephants are treated cruelly and that’s unacceptable but from what I saw here in Nepal, these elephants actually looked happy. Elephant training isn’t that different from breaking in a horse. Of course, the size and strength brings on some differences but it’s not always that pleasant to break a horse in. I mean, we’ve tied up horses for hours to get them to behave, which from an outsider who has never witnessed this before might consider this cruel. But our horses are given so much love that this discipline is usually overshadowed. In a way, it’s the same for elephant trainers. They will usually only have one elephant for life and its their main source of income so while there is strong discipline used by the trainer, there would be a huge amount of care put into the animal. The trainer needs the elephant as much as the elephant needs the trainer so it is all relevant. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, the people that get really worked up about elephant training are people who haven’t been exposed to other forms of animal treatment. Anyway that’s enough of an essay. I love animals and it’s my personal choice to interact with the elephants this way. I’m still not entirely sold on elephant safaris, but this was a natural experience that I was going to be a part of. Elephants love the water, they spend quite a bit of time bathing themselves in the river and I was merely there to be a proverbial fly on the elephants back.
I walked up the wooden platform to get onto the elephants back and we waded into the river. This was the very river we had canoed down this morning so I was very aware that there were crocodiles swimming around me. I just hoped I wasnt going to become a snack! The elephant was about belly-deep in the water and proceeded to start splashing me with river water using his trunk. It was quite funny and a great way to cool down. I think the elephant and the trainer got more enjoyment out of it than me! This went on for about five minutes and then the elephant kneeled down and started to roll over! I was thrown into the river, where I hastily exited because of the aforementioned crocodiles!
It was a quick experience but a lovely one. I got one more cuddle from the elephant (well actually it was mainly me cuddling him!) before I had to head back for lunch. A quick lunch break and then we were back out in the jungle for a jeep safari. It was here that we might get the chance of seeing the elusive tiger or leopard. I didn’t have high hopes but with the amount of rhinos we’d seen in the wild, it may just happen!
We canoed across the river to where the jeeps were and got comfy. It was going to be about five hours of driving around the jungle so I was glad I had a good seat. The safari was quite good, we saw more rhinos – even another baby one! There were plenty of monkeys and deer, who actually coincide together and look out for each other. We also saw a few monitor lizards, crocodiles and different kinds of birds. Unfortunately no tigers or leopards but I’ seen that many wild rhinos, I wasnt disappointed!
After the safari we had a drink on the riverbank to watch the sunset before heading back to the Safari Club for dinner. I was heading back to Kathmandu tomorrow at 6am, so I went to bed early knackered from my massive day!
The following morning it was raining when I woke up, must be time to go! The bus ride back to Kathmandu was bloody awful. It took 14 hours this time, with only two spots. I definitely have had enough of buses in Nepal! We got into Kathmandu around 10:30pm and I headed straight to my hostel to pass out! Tomorrow I fly to Chiang Mai to see the north of Thailand. Nepal has been a fabulous experience and I’m definitely keen to return to do more hiking, but no more buses!!
The three of us bolted, following the zig-zag pattern that our guide was doing to throw them off course. My camera bag bounced against my hip as I ran, my heart raced and the sweat started to drip down my face. The branches on the ground crunched as we trod on them heavily, being completely silent wasn’t an issue anymore – getting out alive was.
How I’d found myself running away from a rampant female rhinoceros, I’m still trying to work out but here I was in the Chitwan National Park in south-west Nepal trying to outrun a pissed off mother rhino whose bath was rudely interrupted by humans.
This morning when I’d left the Safari Club Lodge where I was staying, I was under the impression that we would be going for a lovely canoe ride down the river, followed by a short walk through a part of the national park to hopefully see some animals. I had assumed that the short walk was just a way of making it back to the lodge and they’d called it a jungle walk to make it seem more exciting. However, this is Nepal and after three weeks of being in this crazy, chaotic country that a short walk actually means two hours of trawling through dense grasslands in search of animals.
The canoe ride was indeed very lovely. There were two guys from the Czech Republic – who were also staying at the Safari Club – who had come along with me. Before we even got into the canoe our guide spotted two rhinos further down the river. One was cooling off in the river and the other was on the banks out of sight, sussing out whether he should invade the other rhinos territory. It was my first time seeing a rhinoceros in the wild and it was quite exciting to be up close to such an exotic animal. Little did I know I was about to get a whole lot closer.
There were over 600 rhinoceros in Chitwan National Park, the largest population in Nepal. They are some of the most protected animals in the park and years of poaching culling numbers dramatically. However since the 1970’s, many conservation laws have been put in place to protect the species. This has been very successful, with rhino population numbers higher than they’re been in years. The past three years the park has had zero poaching attempts, a number that they’re very proud of.
When I first decided to go to Chitwan I hadn’t expected to see any of the exciting animal in the wild, like rhinos, tigers or elephants. I thought it would be a glorified trip to the jungle where the most exciting thing you’ll see is a monkey or deer. So to see a rhino straight away, I was stoked!
As the canoe ride went on, we floated past locals fishing on their wooden rafts. Everyone seemed to know each other and yelled out conversations as they passed. Rain started to sprinkle on us and I was annoyed that I forgot my rain coat. A rookie error in monsoon season. We passed an elephant having a bath and a snack and a few diffferent varieties of birds. After about an hour, we pulled up to the sandy bank and climbed out, ready for saunter through the jungle.
Like I said earlier, I thought this would be a quick stroll through some of the jungle before heading on to the elephant breeding centre and the tour guide wanted to make the day’s program sound more exciting. However, I was wrong and we were actually going to stalking around the jungle for about two hours! Before we started, our guide gave us the lowdown on how to act if an animal turns on you. As he went on about running in a zigzag pattern and climbing trees for rhinos and standing still and making eye contact with tigers I had a little laugh to myself. These guides sure have been taught well on how to wind up tourists! He was so sincere in his monologue I almost believed him but thought that there would be no way they’d let us out in the wild with potentially deadly animals. Now you’d think for someone who’s done some pretty wild things in her travels, such as letting off explosives in a silver mine in Bolivia and hiking the illegal Stairway to Heaven in Hawaii that I would be a little less naive about safety regulations around the world (or more, the lack of) But no, having come from Australia where everyone is wrapped up in cotton wool and treated like a baby I still believed that everything will always be sunshine and dandy and danger would never come my way.
I was going to be proven wrong, yet again..
After the safety briefing we hiked in a single file silently through the jungle. The humidity was even worse under the canopy of the jungle and my shirt clung to my sweaty back instantly. We walked for about fifteen minutes, treading carefully on the grassy plain below us, the only sound being the crunch of twigs breaking beneath our feet. I was already bored of the walk when my guide stopped suddenly and turned his head to listen.
‘This way… Rhino” he whispered, indicating that we follow him behind a huge shrubby bush. As he pushed the bush away there was a small lagoon filled with lilyponds a few metres away. At first I couldn’t tell what he was pointing to but then I saw the dark grey blob amongst the bright green reeds. A rhino was bathing just 10 or so metres from us! Completely oblivious to his audience, the rhino looked so content as he wallowed in the reedy water. One of the guys inched closer and trod on some broken branches. The rhino turned his head towards us and looked us directly in the eye. We stood still waiting to see what would happen but the rhino just turned back around and continued his bath. He wasnt camera shy. We watched for a little longer before moving on deeper into the jungle.
Excited that this dull jungle walk was more than what I was expecting, I picked up my pace and kept my eyes peeled for anymore animals. Another 10 minutes passed with nothing and then we spotted some monkeys and deer going about their day. The deer with the excellent hearing ran off just as we got got but the monkeys weren’t afraid being so high up. We walked further and my hopes were slowly disappearing again.
Just as I was about to give up on expecting any more animals, our guide made a sign to be quiet and follow him. We tiptoed behind him and he pointed out a muddy water hole to our left. We walked past the waterhole to the hide behind a couple of trees. Just 20 metres away was a mother rhino and her baby having a bath in the muddy water. The baby rhino was quite possibly the cutest and ugliest thing I’d ever seen! We watched for a few minutes before trying to edge closer for a better look. As the branches crunched underneath our feet, the overprotective mother looked our way with her little ears pricked in attention. We halted abruptly and waited for our guides next move. Paused a moment, I got the chance to take a quick photo before the mother rhino turned towards us and started moving.
“Okay, go, GO!’ Our guide said and he took off – there was no protecting hotel guests here! We followed hastily, trying to run in a zigzag and not lose our guide. I didn’t dare look behind me but kept an eye out for any trees that might be climb-able. I wondered if my travel insurance would cover being trampled by a rhino. Even though it was only a handful of seconds, it felt like we were running for an eternity. Finally our guide launched into some bushes and waved us to get behind him. We squatted, panting for breath hoping that the rhino had been thrown off course. Thankfully we’d made so much noise running like idiots through the jungle that she was too startled to chase and ran off in a different direction. We stayed squatting for a minute to catch our breath.
“She gone, we are safe” our guide said. The three of us looked back at him bewildered. What happened to the mundane jungle walk!? We all looked at each other and burst into nervous laughter, talk about dodging a big, grey leathery bullet! Continuing on, I kept very close to our guide as we made a quick exit out of the jungle. That was enough cardio for the morning! We reached the edge of the dense jungle and walked down the beaten 4WD path until we reached the elephant breeding centre, sweaty and muddy. So much for an easy jungle walk!
After a day in Kathmandu, I said goodbye to C and made my way to Chitwan National Park. After another deeeelightful bus journey that was supposed to take five hours but took nine, I finally made it to my destination. It was hot, humid and nowhere as busy as Kathmandu! I liked it already.
Chitwan National Park is a World Heritage Site that covers about 900 square kilometres. This massive space of land is home to many wild animals such as leopards, tigers, rhinoceros and elephants. Years ago it was the stomping ground of poachers and animal numbers diminished rapidly, however the Nepalese government stepped in to stop the poachers and rehabilitate animal population. They’ve had much success, with nearly three years of zero poaching, population of animals re-establishing and animal conservation becoming the most important priority.
I was only spending about two days in Chitwan but had a jam-packed program to see as much as I could! Once I arrived to accommodation – The Safari Club – and dropped off my belongings, I was taken on a river walk with my guide for the trip. The humidity was insane and outside my cool room, the sweat covered my skin instantly. We walked through the small town of Sauraha, which is one of the main tourist towns in Chitwan and made it to the riverbanks of the National Park. Beyond the river, grassy plains stretched out until the eye could see. My guide pointed out crocodiles in the river and explained by the different breeds here in Nepal. They weren’t the massive chompers that we have in Australia but they would still happily take a snap at you, given the opportunity!
We walked further down the river when my guide ran into one of his friends, they chattered in Nepalese and then told me there’s a rhino bathing just down the river. We quickly walked down the path until we saw the huge animal submerged in the river, looking a lot cooler than we felt! This was the first time I’d seen a rhino in the wild and I was just a tad excited. It had been less than an hour in Chitwan and I’d already spotted a rhino, I couldn’t imagine what else was to come!
We walked further down the river to see if there were any more animals about but unfortunately the rhino was the only one out to play today. Heading back to the where the town meets the river, we stopped for a drink to watch the sunset. Unfortunately it was a little cloudy so the sunset wasn’t in full swing but it was still lovely to be surrounded by nature instead of the smoggy city. After sunset we headed back to the Safari Club where I had dinner and a quick shower before going to a cultural dance. It was a bit touristy, full of loud Chinese tourists and their flashing cameras but still nice to watch. It was about 9:30pm by the time that finished so I headed straight to bed after that Because i had an early start in the morning!
This morning was an early start. C and I had to be at the bus station 6:15am for our bus to Pokhara and after a pretty cruisy couple of days, it was a bit hard to function at this hour of the morning. Thankfully the bus station was easy to find and by 6:30am we were on our way to Pokhara in an air conditioned coach with wifi! Not too bad for about AUD$8!
Five hours later, we were not quite as chirpy as the bus bounced and jerked along the road. To say that Nepal’s roads were awful would be the understatement of the century – THEY WERE THE WORST IN THE WORLD!! Let me just backtrack a little and really give you some perspective as to how terrible they are. Kathmandu to Pokhara is 204.5 kilometres, which in Australia would probably take under two hours to get there. However this is Nepal and nothing happens quickly here. It took us two hours just to get out of Kathmandu! It was a bouncy old show as well, the roads which were continually under construction were a pot-holed, often dirt lane that hundreds of vehicles and bikes fight to race to the front. C and I were slowly losing our minds as we bounced around the back of the bus, wishing we’d worn sports bra’s but the locals on the bus weren’t fazed. Despite it being six hours in and not even close to Pokhara they just sat happily, eating their chips and playing on their phones. I’ll give the Nepalese some credit, they’re patient as hell. By the time we reached the outskirts of Pokhara, C and I were ready to get off and walk. I may be sounding like a drama queen but I’ve done some hellish bus rides in my time and this takes the cake. As a forewarning for any future travellers to Nepal, the bus rides bloody suck!
We finnnnaaaallly got to Pokhara and found a place to stay easily. On the taxi ride there were drove past the lake and any disgruntled-ness I felt from the bus ride disappeared. Pokhara has a serene and calm place and the chilled vibe was very contagious. Our little guest house, the Harvest Moon, was costing us a huge AUD$6 a night and was just a couple of streets away from the lakeside. As the most touristic area, the Lakeside is filled with restaurants, cafes, spas and travel agents. We found a spot to grab a snack by the lake and relaxed in the afternoon sun and tried to plan out what we wanted to do here. After walking past the many spas and wellness centres, we decided we deserved to treat ourselves to a spa day. After all, we had just hiked Everest Base Camp and survived that God-awful bus ride. We booked in for a massage, facial, manicure and pedicure for the following afternoon and I was already feeling calmer.
Finding dinner nearby to our guest house, we had an early dinner and headed to bed. It’s really quite tiring sitting on a bus all day! The following morning we woke early and set out to hike to the World Peace Pagoda. It was lovely and cool as we began our hike but as soon as we reached the forest where the main trail lay, the humidity set in and we were sweating in minutes. It took over an hour to get to the top. It was so much easier to hike in low altitude, if I wasnt dying from the heat I could have ran up there! (not really, lets be honest) but it felt good to actually do some proper exercise again! I’d done a couple of yoga classes in Kathmandu but nothing strenous like this uphill hike. We reached the top and cooled down by wandering around the large, white stupa. Here we met a couple of other travellers so after we’d done looking out at the beautiful view, we headed down the hill to a little boat station and got a boat back to the Lakeside.
C and I hadn’t eaten brekkie yet and it was getting close to noon so we sussed out where this cafe that we spotted yesterday on the taxi ride in was and made a beeline for it. AM/PM Organic Cafe was a little slice of hipster heaven in central Nepal. They offered things like smoothie bowls, kombucha and cold brew coffee. A little more exxy than other restaurants in town but we reasoned that it was actually brekkie and lunch so thefore it actually worked out cheaper! I ordered an iced coffee and scrambled eggs and C got a smoothie bowl with her iced coffee. It was delicious and exactly what I’d been hoping for!
After our brunch we had about an hour to refresh before heading to Jiva Spa for our spa afternoon. I have to say, this is the first time I’ve done something like this. Usually if I’m spending money when travelling, its on good food or fun activities but something about this spa day was so exciting! However after my feet had spent two weeks in hiking boots, I felt bad for the lady who had to deal with them. The whole experience was about four hours long and by the time we got out I was feeling totally new. We topped off our afternoon with a peanut butter and banana smoothie and that shocking bus ride was a far, distant memory in my head. I was so zen right now!
That night we had dinner at the Pokhara OR2K restaurant, it had basically the same menu at Kathmandu, minus the espresso martinis! It was a great end to a good day though! We headed to bed early as our massages had put us in too much of a relaxed mood to do anything else!
The following morning we had another early start as we had booked to go zip-lining. The weather was brilliant and I could even see a tip of one of the Annapurna mountains from our room! The drive to the top of the zip line was a little hairy. It was a one-lane road and i think our driver thought he was in the Formula 1, not taking up bunch of tourists up a hill! We made it there safely though and had a beautiful clear view of the Annapurna range.
As per usual, things were moving in Nepali time (aka – slowly) so it was a good half hour before the first person went down the zip line. C and I were last to go and had to wait another hour for our 90 seconds of adrenaline rush! by the time it was our go I was so hungry for breakfast that I wasnt even excited about the zip line anymore! It was fun, don’t get me wrong but it was over so quickly! Everyone was ready to go by the time we were unharnessed so we had two seconds to catch our breath before jumping back in the van to head back to the lakeside.
That meant breakfast though! C was still buzzing from the zip line and decided to spontaneously book a paragliding flight because of the beautiful clear skies. I wanted to save my money for later (plus I’ve already paraglided in Oludeniz, Turkey – the best in the world! 😛 )so we split up for a couple of hours. C ran off a cliff with a parachute and I grabbed a coffee and my iPad to do some writing before going to the weirdest yoga class I’ve ever been to! I was the only person in the class and this guy was kook-city. A sweetheart but not on a whole other planet! I met up with C afterwards and got reorganised to have dinner at Pokhara Thakali Restaurant, which apparently serves the best Thakali cuisine in Pokhara!
The Thakali are an ethnolinguistic group originated from the Thak Khola region of the Mustang District in the Dhaulagiri zone of Nepal. There’s only about 30,000 Thakali in Nepal however most of them are successful businessmen, dominating the hotel game. They have a certain cuisine which is a combination of different curries served with rice, pappadums and condiments such as pickles and chutneys. The best part is the usually have free refills! We were having dinner early so were the only ones in the restaurant. The staff didn’t speak the best English so we ordered what we thought was the traditional Thakali meal and hoped for the best! While it lacked in presentation, it made up for it in flavour! The tiny bowls of curry were delicious and the sweet chutney was good enough to bottle and take home! After dinner we headed a couple of doors down for a brownie and ice-cream at AM/PM Organic!
The following morning we were up at 6am to catch the bus to Lumbini. Unfortunately the man who sold us the ticket was a bit dodgy and the bus he promised never showed. We were put on a bus that was going to India, that would drop us in Lumbini but after waiting an extra 45 minutes, we bailed and decided to head back to Kathmandu. C was due to fly out the next day and we weren’t sure how long it would take us to get back to Kathmandu this time!
Today is was time to play tourist properly and escape the busy streets of Kathmandu to see more of the area. B, C and myself hired a driver for the day, which cost about $AUD5 each and were escorted out of the city. We left at 8am and it was still ridiculously hot. Thankfully our car had air-conditioning so at least we could escape the heat there.
Our first stop was Patan, the third largest city in Nepal. Just a twenty minute drive from Thamel and we’d crossed the bridge into Patan. While it was only a short journey to Patan, the environment changes quite dramatically. Also known as the ‘City of Beauty’, Patan’s architecture was dedicated to the philosophy of the Buddhist Dharma-Chakra, which moulds the UNESCO listed Patan as a glorious city of religion, culture, art and heritage. While still as hot and dusty as Kathmandu, with people milling about everywhere, there was a certain charm to the place. The residue of the earthquake is still very present. Many of the temples listed on our maps were either badly destroyed or just a pile of rubble. We wandered through the Patan Museum, where many of Nepal’s cultural history and traditional sacred arts are displayed.
We stayed in Patan for about two hours before locating our driver and heading on to the next destination – Bhaktapur. A half an hour drive through the Kathmandu Valley and we arrived at Bhaktapur. It was an interesting drive. It still felt like we were on the outskirts of Kathmandu but we were actually in a totally different town. Driving along I watched as the locals went about their daily lives. It was amazing to see how these people in such a place. Buildings were plonked haphazardly beside roads, homemade signs splashed across their mould-stained walls and makeshift doors creating an entrance. Everything was half-finished and messy. Rubbish lined the roads and there were just as many people walking along the road as there was cars and motorbikes. There seemed to be so many people coming and going, with vans and tuk-tucks jampacked full of people, but where were they going? No-one seemed to be working, children ran around in the dust and men were sprawled out in chairs outside their homes. Occasionally a brown-skinned figure could be seen passed out on the roadside, oblivious to the roaring traffic. It was sad to see, all these humans just existing in this dust bowl. I’m sure they were happy, but it wasn’t a life that looked enticing.
Bhaktapur was similar to Patan, with a main square, well preserved courtyards and temples. Again, the earthquake had badly damaged the city and most landmarks were damaged in one way or another. It was stifling hot so we stopped into a small cafe for an iced coffee and snack before exploring on. It was here that we discovered the three of us aren’t that good at sightseeing, it was tiring work! We pushed on and wandered through the town before heading back to the car for the next destination.
The next stop was Pashupatinath Temple. I’d been wanting to visit this temple for while to witness its cremation ceremonies and sacred rituals. Pashupatinath Temple is one of the most scared Hindi temples in Nepal and is the most important temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. This draws in hundreds of Hindu followers every year, particularly the elderly who come from every corner of Nepal and India to meet death and be cremated on the banks of the river. This is so they travel their last journey with the waters of the sacred river Bagmati, which eventually meets the holy river waters of the Ganges.
As we weren’t Hindu, we weren’t allowed in the main temple but could still explore the outer areas, including see the cremation ceremonies from the banks of the river. It was a sobering moment, to see an actual human body being cremated out in the open. I’d never seen a dead body before so it wasn’t only confronting but also hard to revert your eyes. However as hard as it was to watch for us, for locals it was a way of life. They don’t see death as the end of the road but as a new beginning so as sad as it was, they were letting their loved ones go to start a new journey. We watched for about twenty minutes, completely drawn in by the proceedings before exploring the temple domain a bit more.
After seeing most of what we could we headed back to our driver for our last stop of the day – Boudhanath, home to Nepal’s largest stupa. It wasn’t a very long drive but a crazy one to Boudha, where the busy streets had people spilling out onto the roads and daredevils on scooters dodging traffic without a care for themselves. If there’s one thing I’ll remember about the people of Nepal is their lack of self-preservation skills. They launch into incoming traffic without looking and cross the road like the cars buzzing past will just stop for them. I guess that’s their Hindu and Buddhist belief, if this life ends, another one will begin elsewhere.
We were dropped in a back street and had to navigate our own way across the busy streets to get to the entrance of Bouda. I’ve not yet been to India, but I have a strong feeling these streets would look pretty similar. Low hanging tangles of powerlines, buildings shoved together with no actually thought, dirty windows and people, so many people. It was insane how many people there were. We made our way through the crowds to the entrance of Bouda where the sheer mass of the stupa was enough to make you take a step back.
We walked clockwise around the stupa, enthralled by the massive size of it and looking at all the little souvenir shops surrounding it. Apparently the stupa was the result of a guilty son who murdered his father, the King at the time. I’m not sure how accurate that story is but it’s a good scandal! We stopped in for a late lunch at a rooftop restaurant that gave us a good birdseye view of the stupa. We were pretty knackered from the day of sightseeing so took a few more photos before heading back to our driver to be taken back to Kathmandu.
It had been an interesting day and gave us more of an insight into the history of Nepal and their beliefs. It was late afternoon when we got back to Thamel so we split up to refresh before meeting again for dinner at OR2K. It was B’s last night so we celebrated with more espresso martinis and chocolate pudding! Tomorrow C and I myself are heading to Pokhara to escape the city!