Nepal: #1 A new adventure

Having completed our arm chair travel to South East Asia, it’s now time for you to come with me to  a part of the world that’s not on the tourist map, although the country we’ll be visiting is well known as a mountain climbing destination… Nepal. I worked here on a tree planting project for a couple of years back in the late 1970’s. Now I’m heading back to take part in a very different type of project involving the peoples of small hill villages… but I will describe that project as we go along. First just let us check out where I’ll be.

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It’s a bit of a journey to get to Nepal from Australia. I went via Bangkok.

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Nepal is a landlocked country of 26.5 million people. It’s bordered by India to the west, south and east and by China to the north, on the other side of the mighty Himalayas.

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As most of you will be aware, Nepal is home to Mount Everest, the highest place on earth. The country has in total, eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains.

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But, on this occasion, it’s not to visit those mighty mountains that I’m venturing to Nepal. I’ll  be visiting some humble, small mountain villages which are part of a very special cultural awareness project being run by a Nepalese medical doctor, Binod Sharma. This project constitutes Binod’s PhD thesis, through the University of Newcastle, NSW, and Jennie and I are very happy and proud to have Binod as one of our special group of medical researchers at the  Hunter Medical Research Institute.

I’ll be doing the adventure and Jennie will be co-ordinating the stories, photos and videos that Binod and I send back to Australia in an attempt to get this fascinating story out to as many people as possible. So please pass on our web site to friends and family.

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And to get there, we will have to drive up some pretty amazing tracks. This photo was taken in the dry… it’s now very, very wet after the monsoon rains… we’ll see.

But first I am having a couple of days in Kathmandu, the capital, 1,400 m of elevation and a population of just over 1 million.  This city  was my home for a couple of years and it’s where my younger son, Andrew, was born. I wonder how much different it looks after that tragic earthquake? So it’s time for a trip down memory lane before I fly to Pokhara and ‘head for the hills’ with Binod.

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On the final approach to landing in KTM.

The flight to KTM from BKK was totally uneventful, as I like flights to be.  There were only 6 of us in a 30 seat section of the B777.  I don’t remember what type of aircraft Thai used to fly into KTM back in 1979 … but the rather exciting descent to the airport, after crossing the range surrounding KTM, hasn’t changed.  The descent takes place over 5-6 km in a matter of minutes rather than the usual 30 minutes of gradual descent under ‘normal’ conditions.  Engines revving, then throttling back, constantly changing, makes for a rather unusual landing into Tribhuvan International Airport.  The KTM valley is after all only 15km long by about 9km wide.  And the mountain gap through which the planes approach the valley is around 9000 ft high!  I can remember, when living in KTM, watching arrivals from BKK come over the pass with their landing lights on.

Some things at the Arrivals Hall haven’t changed.  The guy checking the luggage tags on exiting the terminal wanted $5 for the honour.  He didn’t get far.  

The man from the Hotel Yak and Yeti was waiting for me when I emerged from the terminal.  All good.  But I have to confess that I found the arrival all a bit emotional!!!!  Lots of very happy memories including the birth of my son Andrew.

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The Yak and Yeti still looks very grand… and no the red carpet was not for me. However, staying here is a real treat for me … photo from the hotel’s web site!

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I’ve been given a lovely front room with a very warm welcome from staff. A plate of fruit; 3 apples, 2 bananas and a mango arrived with a plate of 6 in house-made chocs.  My note to them about having stayed here before in 1979 when we first came to KTM seems to have worked.  I can look out onto a couple of large jacarandas, 3 Magnolia grandiflora and an equally large Callistemon all of which I seem to remember from 1979.

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What I don’t remember is the outdoor swimming pool… but then again, I wouldn’t have had time to get into it anyway.   And is it my ideal temperature of 28 degrees plus!!

The phone rang not long after getting here saying that my host, Binod, had called from Pokhara and would I like to return the call?  I did but he didn’t answer.  About an hour later he called again with a welcome to Nepal chat and asking if there was anything I needed that he could help with.  We discussed the different times of my flight and that of my travelling companions from HMRI, Roger Smith and his wife Anne.  Binod thought his travel agent in PKR could book us all on the same flight. So that’s all good and we should have time to reach the village before dark despite the atrocious condition of the road after the monsoon.

I’ll ask Jennie to add a link to Binod’s ‘you tube’ video of his last trip up from Pokhara and you’ll see what I mean… more push than ride! (See link at end of post)

Still no luck with FaceTime to Australia.  It took hrs to get connected to internet as the quoted log off was also the log on!!!!  Why would I try logging off before I logged on?  Where am I?  Free internet only seems to work in the lobby area where I am parked to write these musings.  It costs more from the room. It’s free down here and what an excuse to have a Gorkha beer.  There are Everest and Nepal Ice varieties still to try.

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The hotel doesn’t seem to have changed much since 1979.  Still lots of atmosphere with oodles of carved wood everywhere set off against the terracotta bricks. Very Nepalese.  The murals on the wall behind Reception still look bright but they’ve probably been touched up in the 37 years since I’ve seen them. (another hotel web site photo)

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The Sunrise Restaurant, that octagonal room in the garden, is where breakfast is eaten.  One amusing feature of this place is outside the large picture windows where a wall has been built up to almost window level to create a kind of window box effect.  Nothing wrong with that except that there is a a strip of grass about 450mm wide between the edge and the windows.  A one plant-wide strip of garden bed against the outside edge finishes the scene.  At the moment this is planted with balsam.  Problem? …the grass has to be cut by hand; there is no room for a mower.  So there must still be plenty of cheap manpower around … no need to change a system that has no doubt worked well for over 37 years.

My room is in this ‘new’ section; the old neo-classical part seems to be for the top restaurant and spa.  That can’t take up all the area though, so perhaps the Casino is there as well.  Probably should investigate… just for a look see, of course.

Some things have not been renovated! The Gents in the lobby area brought back memories with its rather dark floor and walls covered in a spotty charcoal, pink and beige marble.  The vanity top is black along with all woodwork being painted black also.  For a highlight or two, there are plain black wall tiles imbedded into the marble.

I’m in the downstairs lobby to write this and there are interviews going on right next to me, presumably for a job.  All very intense with new applicants arriving every 15 minutes.  Obviously an outsider doing the interviewing and not somebody from the hotel. I can think of worse places to conduct interviews.  There seem to be more smiles though when a female turns up!  I think the interviewer is Indian, but I’m not suggesting anything!

The lovely barman has just told me that during Happy Hour the 3rd beer is free.  What a bummer!  Free. And, I can have it anywhere, in the restaurant, my room, the spa, anywhere as long as it is ordered before 19.30.  I’ll do it just to please him!!!!! The peanuts and hot chilli Twists, those look-alike and taste-alike snacks, are OK as well.

As those interviews finish, another interesting situation is unfolding a few seats away from me. There’s a small group of ladies… one is an English lady, probably in her mid-forties. She’s prattling away at a great rate of knots ‘telling’ 3 Nepalese ladies, probably of the same age, something.  It’s just not the way to go about things here!  Slowing down the presentation and talking ‘with’ and not ‘at’, will work wonders and get better results.

Talking of results… I seem to have arrived in Nepal just in time for another change of Prime Minister… the eighth in eight years. Sounds familiar to an Aussie! Maybe this time there will be some stability. The voting was a clear majority — 363 in favour and 210 against. He’s Pushpa Kamal Dahal, a Maoist leader, so it’s a swing back to the left.

Dahal, the new PM is reported to have said that he would maintain balanced relations with Nepal’s two neighbours, India and China. He was greeted soon after his election by Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who invited Dahal for an official visit to India….. things have been very strained between those two countries for a long time. And the Chinese ambassador presented Dahal with a bouquet, assuring continued support and good will. So it remains to be seen what will happen now.

We’ve just had a brown out, around 30 seconds of no lights and whirr of AC, followed by the generator kicking in and the lights and whirr continues.  My third beer has just arrived, it’s 18.10, so perhaps it’s time to head to the restaurant for some dinner which will be followed by an early night.  I think I’ve earned it!

But before I sign off, and just to get you into the mood for the exciting adventure to come, take a look at Binod’s video of the ride up to the village from Pokhara… link below.

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That’s Binod in the red jacket. Amongst all the stuff to be taken up to the village are three new mattresses for Roger, Annie and me. Binod said he’d look after us and it appears he is true to his word.

https://youtu.be/1uSbMz97fgE

More anon

David

All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  jtdytravels

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