A Travellerspoint blog

Nepal

Namaste

Bhaktapur

sunny 24 °C
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We have seen a lot of airports already in the last year. But out of the 23 airports, Kathmandu easily wins the price for being most chaotic. There were long queues to pay for the visa – 40 USD pp. While Sam stood in line, I tried to complete the online process for the visa application. Only once I was done for me and Max, I was told that I did not have to do this, as I had already completed the paperwork in the plane.
At immigration, there were long queues once more. Suddenly realizing that the very left counter was not only to be used by crew members and seniors, but also by children, we were hopeful to skip the queues. Unfortunately, that counter was able to only process Max’ free visa. Sam and I had to go through the regular counters where the lines were.
Even though it seemed that we had spent over an hour getting to the baggage claim area, our belt had not even been announced yet. It was unbelievable hot, crowded and noisy. Eventually, the baggage from our flight arrived. The car seat arrived last – probably 15 minutes after everything else had arrived.

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Everything was labelled ‘KTM’. While most people simply interpret that as Kathmandu, Sam and Max felt like they had arrived in KTM heaven. They were reminded of KTM motorbikes, their favorite brand.
We were relieved to be able to finally leave the building and despite the many people waving signs, we quickly identified the logo ‚Weltweitwandern‘ and headed there.
When planning for the Nepal bit of our travels we knew that we wanted to do some trekking. And we did not want to go on our own, but have the support of a guide and porters. When researching the options, I quickly decided to get a full package with Weltweitwandern. Sam and I had been hiking with them through the Moroccan desert almost ten years ago. We like their concept, combining hiking with cultural experiences while leaving a positive footprint in the respective communities.
Our guide Prakash greeted us with necklaces of marigold and then we headed to Bhaktapur, the smallest of the three former royal cities of the Kathmandu Valley. By the time, we reached our hotel, we were starving. After spending just enough time in our room to drop our bags, we headed up to the rooftop terrace to get some food. Once we were well fed, we had the leisure to fully take in the beautiful view. We were just a two-minute walk from the main Durbar Square and could not only see parts of the royal palace from above, but also many of the temples raising above the other buildings.

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Back in our room, we started realizing that there was a very strange stench. A bit of exploration revealed a couple of mothballs in the closet. From that moment on, the closet was not opened again and we figured that we could easily live out of our suitcases for the time we’d be staying there.
We used the afternoon to relax and play. Even though it was tempting, exploring could wait for the next couple of days.
That evening we were treated to a big typical Nepali welcome dinner. After several starters (pakoda, Tibetan mo-mos, spicy potatoes and bamboo soup), we were served dal bhat – a lentil soup with steamed rice. It is the Nepali standard meal that is eaten by locals twice a day. We liked it a lot and are sure to have more of it in the coming days.

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We started our next day on the roof top terrace with breakfast, constantly observed by about 10 dun crows which hoped to get whatever was left over.

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Then it was time to explore the town with Asook giving us lots of background information about the main sights. All of Bhaktapur's old town is considered a World Heritage Site and there are significant efforts going on to preserve and restore the historic buildings. We started at the Durbar Square, just next door to our hotel. Our first stop was the royal palace with its famous courtyards. We liked the architecture and the features very much.

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But it was even more fun to observe the locals. With their colorful dresses and mesmerizing faces, we could not help being amazed at the whole new world we had suddenly entered.

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We also learned that Bhaktapur is famous for its arts and crafts, mainly in regards to pottery. While we marveled at the incredible amounts of piggy banks in the form of vases drying in the square, Max had a go with doing a bit of pottery of his own.

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It was obvious that the earthquake two years ago had destroyed many buildings and temples. Reconstruction works were going on all over the place with various stages of completeness. There had been a devastating earthquake already in 1934 which caused many buildings to collapse.

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Knowing that Nepal is a very poor country – among the bottom 10%, damages like that take time to be repaired. Specifically, for the not so fortunate inhabitants of town, it will take long to fully recover. Building materials are transported in large baskets supported by a sling around the forehead. Surprisingly, most this back breaking work is performed by colorfully dressed women. And in general, most construction work is done absolutely manually without the use of any machinery.

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The owner of the pottery workshop, Sirjan, told us that he and his family had their house destroyed by the earthquake and moved in with their grandmother. And until their house will eventually be rebuilt (timing unknown), he and his brother will continue using their workshop as their bedroom. Still, he is putting aside all money earned with pottery classes to build a bigger studio.
Our next stop was the Nyatapola temple, a five-story pagoda that has such deep foundations such that neither the 1934 nor the 2015 earthquake damaged it.

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Heading on through the windy streets, we passed a wedding party on the way to the bride’s home – day one of several days of celebrations.

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By the time we reached Dattatreya Temple, we had already gotten so much background information on the various temples and buildings from Asook that we started getting everything mixed up. So we did not mind that our city tour concluded with seeing the famous peacock window – the most famous of all the exquisite carvings in Bhaktapur.

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On the balcony of the nearby Peacock Café, we enjoyed a great lunch. But even better than the food was the view of the square underneath. What a setting: The old men sitting in the shade of a temple, the goats fighting for food, groups of people walking by animatedly, scooters carrying families of four… We could have sat there for ages to observe, take pictures and just enjoy being where we are.

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Max had different perspectives: he wanted to go do pottery again. So that’s where we went. On our way, we passed a festival where the locals came to a tiny temple hidden in a side street. They offered all kinds of food to the gods while others were just looking on.

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This is what is so fascinating about Asia: the culture is just so different to our own that there's so much to be discovered. And with people looking distinctly different towards what we're used to, it is just so much more interesting. Sam was very happy to have his telephoto lens to take close up shots of people without them being offended by being photographed.

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Once we reached the pottery shop, Srijan was very patient once more. He was finding just the right balance between letting Max try out on his own while teaching him how make some basic forms. Eventually the fun was stopped by a typical event: the power was suddenly gone.
Back at the hotel we also faced some power outages. At least they did not come as a complete surprise this time: there were severe thunderstorms going on and we seemed to be just surrounded by lightning and thunder. Sam used the opportunity trying to take some pictures of lightning using his new tripod until it was time to have dinner.

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That evening Sam realized that he had taken over 250 photos in a single day - without even counting the many pictures of trying to catch lightning. Nepal is definitively a very special and fun place, so we'll be looking forward to the coming days!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 20:23 Archived in Nepal Tagged temple power carving earthquake thunder pottery hindu Comments (3)

Nepali culture

Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Changu Narayan

sunny 24 °C
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After our tour of Bhaktapur the day before, today we had to get some shopping done. After all, we’d need sleeping bags for the rest of our trip. We took a taxi into Thamel, the tourist district of Kathmandu.
We had not thought that after our experience with Cambodian traffic that we’d be easily shocked. But Nepali traffic was even wilder and more chaotic than anything we had seen so far. Seemingly, most drivers fully trusted the attention of the other people on the road. Most people seem to just turn from a side street into a busy road without even a brief look. Or they fully trust their Hindu beliefs that the soul is immortal and will be reborn after death. That makes for an interesting traffic (and general safety) experience. Not even the times when we were simply stuck and not moving ourselves were a relief: just watching how motorbikes tried to squeeze through traffic were making my stomach twitch.

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After more than an hour we had successfully arrived in Thamel. Our first stop was at a ‘North Face’ store which turned out to be full of fake products. Well, either that or we were shown magic -10 °C sleeping bags with low weight, minimum pack dimensions and a reasonable price.
We preferred to head to Shona’s Alpine, a store that I had found recommended on the internet. They are producing their products in Nepal using imported Australian down at a great price. We were positively surprised about their sleeping bags and soon left the store as the proud owners of three of them.
After a great lunch at Gaia, we quickly headed back towards Bhaktapur and were happy to be back at the hotel. In the lobby, we found an article in a newspaper. A boy that is considered untouchable had been asked by his friend who belongs to a higher caste to fetch something from the kitchen. He did as he was told, only to be beaten up with a stick by his friend’s older brother – after all an untouchable is not allowed to touch anything. The good news is that since 2011 there is a law that forbids discrimination of lower castes. The newspaper reported that enforcement of this relatively new law still needs to be improved.

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Nepal is a very different world for us indeed!
On the next day, we explored Bhaktapur. On the main Durbar square, we had a closer look at the temples there. They were decorated with lots of wood carvings. The gods and goddesses had up to ten arms. The temples are not only home for the 330 million hindu gods and godesses (which are all incarnations of the three main gods), but also of many birds.

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While this was fun to see, we also laughed about the many representations of various sexual positions. A 16th century king wanted to promote married life vs. monastic life and thought it was a good idea to give his people some good ideas about the benefits of having a partner. Coming from a Catholic background ourselves, it seems just out of this world to go to a temple and to contemplate about pictures like that. How about a religion that helps couples being some variety into their love life?

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At one of the temples, we observed a group of girls taking hundreds of selfies of each other. Sam couldn’t resist to take a couple of pictures as well – which led to much laughter on both sides.

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We also loved the shopping options of Bhaktapur. There was a wild mix of regular stores with well-organized displays of the wares on offer. But even more fun were the many sellers along the sides of the road.

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Max was adamant to spend some more time at the pottery workshop. While he worked with lots of enthusiasm, Sam and I had time to just observe life in the square. Some of the houses around us had artistic facades of latticed windows – which looked even better when someone was looking through the window.

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We had lots of fun with a couple of kids. Despite being much smaller than Max, we learned that they are five and six years old and what their names were.

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What a great day this had been once more! We continued to be overwhelmed by the amount of sights and smells we experienced in the last couple of days.
But there was more to come. The next day we headed to Changu Narayan, one of the temple complexes part of the Kathmandu Valley UNESCO World Heritage listing. Along the way, we passed some of the many brick-works in the region who seem to make the business of their lifetime in the aftermath of the earthquake.
As we headed up towards the hilltop, we got to see the Kathmandu Valley from above. With the climate getting hotter in April, it was extremely hazy. Even though we had read in our guidebook that only between October and March there’s a good view, we doubted even that. Having seen the sheer amount of brick works and private households using wood fires, we assumed that much of the haze was also man made and present all around the year.

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Even though Changu Narayan is the oldest Hindu temple complex of Nepal, we must admit that we were not very impressed. Unfortunately, much of the temple had been damaged in the earthquake and there was a distinct feeling of being in the middle of a big construction site. And admittedly, we did not make a big effort to locate famous inscriptions from the fifth century AD.

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On our way down to the minibus, we had to pass through the many market stalls offering souvenirs and eventually got tired of repeating our mantra of ‘No, thank you. We’re not interested in T-shirts / singing bowls / paintings / food / carvings / pottery / etc’. The insights in village life were much more interesting than anything we could have bought for money.

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Later that day, we did invest in a souvenir. While Max got to try doing some painting on his own, we did buy a mandala. While we do not care too much about its philosophical meaning in religious interpretation, we liked the geometric forms and thought that it will be a nice memory that we can put up back at home.

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We had lunch with a nice view of the place in front of Nyatapola temple. Being up at a balcony, we benefited once more of being able to observe what was going on the square and taking pictures of the many interesting scenes we observed.

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Lunch was great. We really like Nepali food and especially the big choice of vegetarian options on the menus - once again a consequence of the respect of Hindus towards all higher life forms.
In preparation of the upcoming Nepali New Year festivities, a big chariot had been constructed and was being decorated. The local kids (and Max) used it as a climbing frame and substitute for a playground.

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We also headed up the big steps of the Nyatapola temple. We had a great view from up there. But Max loathed the fact that he was a popular photo motive for the locals and wanted to leave quickly again.

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Still trying to get our head around everything we had seen in the last days, we opted for a distinct contrast that afternoon: we went to an extremely comfortable café, had tea and cakes. While we were in a clear tourist establishment with not a single local stopping by, we did not mind having a well-known culture around us for an hour. While life floated by outside the big windows, we knew that by the end of the hour, we’d be in the middle of Nepali life again – excited about what to see next in this fascinating country!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:40 Archived in Nepal Tagged traffic temple painting god sex dust hindu Comments (1)

Adventurous roads in the mountains

Namobuddha, Dhulikhel, Bhaktapur, Pokhara

sunny 25 °C
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Our drive to the Buddhist monastery of Namobuddha turned out to be much more adventurous than what we had imagined. We had not realized that the traffic and condition of Nepali roads can easily turn an outing to a place 25km away into four hours of driving.
While we had obviously known about the mountainous nature of Nepali topology, it turned out that the highway we used is the only major connection of Kathmandu towards the Eastern part of the country and towards Tibet.
A fascinating thought: continuing on the highway for not even 100 km and finding ourselves in Tibet… Unfortunately, this is wishful thinking only. For one thing, we don’t have visa for China or the Autonomous region of Tibet. And even if we had visa, we’d not be able to go there: since the earthquake of 2015, the road has been severely damaged and has still not reopened.
The road did not make the slightest impression of a highway – by German standards, it would have been rather a county road in terms of width and curves. We’ll skip the safety standards – which were mostly damaged or simply not existing. And the state of the pavement left much room for improvement. While there were some stretches without potholes, those with potholes clearly were in the majority. But even worse were those parts of the road which completely lacked pavement and had been worn out so badly that it took our driver Dhil lots of creativity to find a path that did not make our long Hiace bus scratch the ground.
Along the road we got to see some rice paddies and a gigantic statue of Shiva which even holds the title of being the largest of its kind in the world. It reminded us of a similar statue we had seen some years back in Mauritius (but which is only holding the third place in terms of size).

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Eventually we arrived at the monastery of Namobuddha, located on the top of a hill with a view of the surrounding valleys. On a less hazy day, the view would probably be spectacular. But being here in April, we did not see too far into the distance and unfortunately none of the higher peaks of the Himalaya. The monastery is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The last 5km of the road were unpaved and probably better suited to be driven in an offroad vehicle vs. our Hiace.
We explored the grounds of the monastery with its prayer wheels, balconies, Buddha statues and pagodas. It was a quiet and peaceful atmosphere.

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But there was one thing that fascinated us: on a nearby hill we saw hundreds of prayer flags attached to a pole. I’m not sure why prayer flags are so attractive, but they definitively are.

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From the monastery, we got to hike a bit and it felt great to be moving again. It had been a while since we had gotten some exercise and we realized that we had missed it. And hiking pace had the obvious advantage of being able to observe more details of village life than by just driving by.

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Lunch was in a nice hotel in Dhulikhel which featured more flowers than what we had seen for a long time. The view of the Himalaya range from there is supposed to be spectacular – specifically at sunset. Hmmmmm - not for us. Hazy as it was, we got to see the hills surrounding us, but that was about it. A picture on the wall, explained which mountains we would have been able to see on a good day, but that was more depressing than anything else. We started wondering if we’d see any big mountains at all in our vacation or if we’d need to come back again to Nepal some other time.

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Maybe that glum outlook explained my rather bad mood at dinner. For once I did not have any energy to see the positive side of getting our desert of banana pancakes served simultaneously with the soups. While Sam just put it down as me having a bad day, I started wondering if it’s not eventually time to return back home. After all, it’s not the first time that blunders like that happen. It’s just that after so many times, I am eventually at the end of my patience with putting up with things like that.
The next day, we had more Nepali roads and traffic on our agenda: the drive from Bhaktapur to Pokhara led us through Kathmandu, over mountain passes and along some deep cut rivers.
Even though we were already accustomed to Nepali traffic, it still felt awful by far too often. When there was again one of those crazy trucks, busses, cars of motorcycles coming straight at us on our side of the road (mostly blowing the horn and / or flashing the headlights), I sometimes simply closed my eyes with the resolve of not opening them anymore until we’d get to Pokhara. As the landscape was very nice and there was much to be seen along the road, I did not follow through on that resolve though.

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It took us over two hours for the first 50km of our 220km journey – not a pleasant outlook. But given the conditions, there was no way to do that part faster.
Traffic was heavy with one truck after the next. The trucks were a sight in itself. The Indian brands of Tata, Mahindra or Eicher were not very familiar to us, but they dominated the scene. Most of them were brightly colored and featured some message on their back. They said things like 'road king', ‘see you’, ‘love star’, ‘blow horn’, ‘slow drive, long life’ or ‘speed control’. Some others were rather frightening such as ‘my life - my rules’. We were happy to have a very reasonable and defensive driver who tried to keep a good distance of all crazy drivers around us.

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Still, at times I recalled the words of my sister to go rating on the stretch between Kathmandu and Pokhara. And considering the atrocious traffic, it seemed like a heavenly alternative to move along on the rivers underneath us.

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Lunch break was a very welcome relaxation from our drive. But the bad news was that we still had some more distance to cover. At least traffic seemed to ease a bit and we were able to enjoy the sights of terraced rice fields along the road. Every once in a while we saw a wedding pavilion. Seemingly it was an auspicious day to have a wedding. And eventually we had made it: we reached Pokhara and about an hour later we had made it through town to the lake side where our hotel was located.

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For dinner we went to a nice restaurant with a view of the lake before retreating to our hotel room. We had to get ready for our trekking trip which would start the next day. We were really excited and looking forward to that – after all, that’s why we had come to Nepal for.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 12:37 Archived in Nepal Tagged traffic mountain rice road pass trucks crazy Comments (0)

Trekking in the Himalayas

Phedi, Dhampus, Landruk, Ghandruk, Naya Pul

semi-overcast 23 °C
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Max’s birthday marked our first day of trekking. After singing him ‘Happy birthday’, he got to open his present and wear his birthday crown with a big ‘5’ on it for breakfast.
And then it was time to head into the mountains. We were excited. As we left Pokhara, we got to see the outlines of some snowy mountains. They were a bit hard to distinguish from the clouds, but here they were, the peaks of the Himalaya that we had been waiting to see for so long! Not sure if we’d ever see more than that, we took some pictures from the moving van.

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As we reached Phedi, it was time to shoulder our daypacks and to head up the mountain towards the town of Dhampus. We were a group of six: In addition to our guide Prakash, Hom and Bir joined us as porters.
It was 9:20 am when we headed off. We were off for a tough start: the trail consisted of steps that led us up along the steep hillside. And the blazing sun did not help to cool us down. I was relieved when after half an hour we reached a first settlement and got to see down into the valley where we came from. We had already covered quite some distance and altitude.

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Next was an easy bit: we got to hike through some terraced rice plantations dotted with small little houses. People were working in and around their houses or in the fields with their buffaloes. Compared to the start, it felt like we were able to stroll through level terrain – even though we consistently headed upwards.

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The steep steps started soon enough again and before we knew it, we had climbed the 600 m of altitude to reach Dhampus (1770m) where we’d be spending the night. From the saddle, we had to still head along the hillside to the other end of the settlement, where our Eco-Lodge was located.

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Max had walked everything on his own – supported by Sam who kept telling him stories and kept him motivated. At 11:40am, we made it – way quicker than what we had assumed given that we had been planning on three hours walking time.
We sat in the sun, enjoyed the view down into the valley below us, used the wifi to receive some birthday messages for Max and eventually had lunch.
We only realized when a heavy thunderstorm started how lucky we had been that we arrived so early at our lodge. The clouds were thick, there was constant lightening and thunder all around us and lots of rain. On the corrugated sheet roof, the rain was really loud. I mean really loud. The rain also marked the end of the internet connection and unfortunately also the end of the warm water supply. Prakash had been smart enough to shower right away while there was still enough solar water available. We learned a lesson and promised to ourselves not to make the mistake of waiting too long anymore.

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At dinner time, there was a big surprise: Max got a birthday cake decorated with a 5, ‘happy birthday Max’ and two sparklers. He was thrilled and we were happy that he seemingly enjoyed his birthday. And best of all: contrary to many cakes we’ve eaten abroad, this one tasted excellent!
We had an excellent night’s sleep. The rain had cleared the air, there were no dogs around and the exercise probably helped as well. As I had gone to bed quite early, all of the above helped that I woke up before sunrise and could not resist to wake also Sam to be part of the spectacle.
It was a fabulous sunrise! With the air crisp and clear, we were treated to a panorama that is hard to be matched: with Machapuchare (also called Fishtail Mountain) dominating the scene, flanked at both sides by various peaks of the Annapurna Range. At 6,993m it has never been climbed, as it is considered sacred by the local population.

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As the sun came up, the hues of red and pink emphasized peak by peak as the sun came up high enough to illuminate them. While there was no wind where we were, it obviously blew mightily further above and created snow banners which were really nice to look at.

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We had a typical breakfast in Gurung style – the Gurung being the major ethnic group in the region. And then it was time to head out into this marvellous landscape around us. What a pity that yesterday we had not even realized how beautiful it was.
The path was very nicely laid out. We hiked through a small settlement and once more we heard a welcoming ‘Namaste!’ from all sides.

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As we headed in the shade towards a small stream, I was startled by one of our porters: I had a leech wandering on my left hiking shoe. He quickly helped me to get rid of it before it could start sucking my blood and I was very alert from there on. In the next couple of minutes, I got rid of another three little fellows who found their way onto my shoe. Luckily enough, the spell was over then and we did not see a single leech for the remainder of our trip.
But there was also bad news: seemingly we had managed to wander off the path that we were supposed to take. Prakash decided to head on and after inquiring with some local farmers we started heading straight up the hill. I was devastated. For one thing, I would clearly prefer a slight incline vs. a straight line up the hill. And the other thing I need to have is a regular pace – which does not work when your guide and porters don’t know the way themselves and have to ask around here and there.
After what felt like 200m of altitude on narrow paths up the hill, we finally reached the official trail again, which was wide, laid out with stones and was ascending only slightly. What a relief. Five minutes later, we reached the settlement of Pothana, where an official checked our trekking permits.
The view from there was stunning and with it my mood was right back where it should be. All along the next stretch we got to see alternating views of Machapuchare, Hiuchuli (7441m) and Annapurna South (7219m).

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After some nice up and down we reached the highest point of our trekking round at the little village of Deurali (2150m).

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As the view suddenly expanded to the West, we got to see one of the top 10 mountains in the world: Dhaulagiri at 8167m is the seventh highest mountain. So far in the distance, it did not seem nearly as tall and without knowing, I would have never guessed that I’m looking up at a peak that is more than 6000m of altitude above us.

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We also got to look back towards Dhampus where we had stayed last night and Pokhara with Phewa Lake in the background. Just that morning with the sunrise above Dhampus and this view from Deurali was worth all the effort of coming to Nepal and hiking all the way up here.
From there on we headed down a steep descent towards Tolka where we had a great and relaxing lunch. By then we had walked already more than 7km and had 4km more ahead of us. But at least most of the 670m ascent and 790m descent we had done already and the rest was an undulating path along the steep hillside.

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By the time we reach the Tibet Guesthouse in Landruk (1640m) in the early afternoon Max was really tired, but he continued to refuse being carried by one of our porters. We were proud and celebrated our great day and achievement with a warm shower and a beer. And then it was time to play Uno – an easy card game that we also introduced our porters to.

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The guest house was beautifully located with a view straight up towards Annapurna South – well in theory that is. Soon after we left our great outlook in Deurali, clouds had started forming around the highest peaks and by the time we reached Landruk, we could only guess that there were high peaks surrounding us. The downside to the guest house was that it was not really clean. It seems that the floors had been swept, but fresh linen seemed to be an overrated luxury. I was delighted to be able to sleep in my cozy sleeping bag and just tried to avoid touching anything. Still, the beauty of the location and the nice outside areas of the guest house with its many butterflies were just superb. And it is absolutely surprising what delicious meals can be prepared on a simple wood fire!

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By the next morning, the clouds had vanished again and we got to see Annapurna South in its full beauty. On the other side of the valley, Ghandruk – our destination for today - was already lit by the first rays of sunshine. If it would not have been for the steep descent into the valley before being able to start the climb into Ghandruk, the walk would have been almost too easy.

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This morning we took it easy and had a leisurely breakfast. We left at 8:40 am, hiking through Landruk and down the steep steps towards the river. Only 40 minutes later we reached the lowest part of today’s journey, the river Modi Khola (1320m) and had 730m of ascent laying ahead of us.

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Making our way slowly upward, we were passed by many porters loaded with the bags of trekkers or with all kinds of wares. At that stage, we realized that there was no need to feel bad about the loads our own porters were carrying. With one of them carrying our 20kg backpack and the other one a bag in addition to their own packs, they must have felt like in heaven compared with their usual job. And given that Max had up to now blatantly refused being carried, we could have done the trek with a single porter up to now. Still, it was great to know that they were there.

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Two hours later we had made it all the way up. We passed a donkey / mule caravan that had brought supplies either to Ghandruk or potentially as far back as the Annapurna Base Camp. The animals seemed delighted to head down without any loads and their bells were jingling cheerfully.

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Once we reached the Annapurna Guest House, we had the whole rest of the day for ourselves. Sam used the opportunity to recover some sleep, while Max and I played extensive rounds of Uno with Prakash, Hom and Bir.

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Time has passed so quickly and we had a hard time to believe that this evening was already the last one of our trekking tour. We celebrated extensively and not only played Uno, but even introduced our team to Farkle. Like all other good acquaintances (well, except those where we forgot about it) we met on our journey, they got to write into our traveling guest book which proved to be a bit of a challenge but was successfully completed with the help of Prakash.
That night we were kept awake for long: the six dogs we had seen already all afternoon around the guest house did not believe in the advantages of night time sleep and made an effort to enforce that believe also with the hikers.
The hike down from Ghandruk was beautiful, but crowded. Contrary to the last couple of days, today we found ourselves in the middle of big groups of people. The stretch from Ghandruk to Naya Pul is not only the final stretch for the round we had done, but is also done by all people who either target the ABC (Annapurna Base Camp), the Poon Hill Trek or who are doing the Annapurna Circuit – one of the most popular treks in Nepal.
It was a long and nice hike down the hill to the settlement of Birethanti. We saw another couple of caravans, passed though many small settlements, mostly on stone-paved steps.

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After more than 10 km, Max finally gave in and allowed our porter Bir to carry him for the last remaining kilometer. Still, it had been a brave achievement that he had made it so far without using any help.

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We had lunch at the fishtail restaurant which probably boasts an excellent view of the mountain of the same name. But after our four days of experience in the mountains, we were not surprised that by noon time it was hiding in the clouds. We had a last lunch together with our porters Bir and Hom. After lunch, we had to walk only another 20 minutes until we reached Naya Pul, which marked the end of our hike.

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There our taxi waited for us. We were not pleased at all with our taxi driver. He drove like a maniac, was constantly distracted by his mobile phone despite the heavy traffic on a narrow road (which was deteriorated to the point that it seemed more like a one-way road than a two-way major highway). After five anxious minutes of observing what was going on, we asked our driver to stop talking on his phone while driving. Two minutes later we had to specify that that rule included writing text messages. He was less than amused when he realized he had to stop while talking on the phone. But that did not stop him from accepting more than ten calls and having to see how others were passing him in the meantime.
While we headed down in to the valley of Phedi, we got to see the full path we had taken on day one of our trek. It had been a really nice hike – probably one of the highlights of our journey.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 19:17 Archived in Nepal Tagged mountains rain view trekking river sunrise clouds valley hill hike birthday lightning Comments (0)

Bye, bye 2073 and welcome to 2074!

Pokhara

sunny 27 °C
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After our four days of trekking, we returned to Pokhara for a couple of relaxed days. We did not have too many specific plans on what to do and focused on taking it easy.
Already the first evening out we found an excellent restaurant fairly close to our hotel. Admittedly, the Happy Hour offer of a 600ml San Miguel beer with popcorn for 2,800 rupees (~2,5€) had lured us in and it turned out to be a very good place. The food was great and cheap, the location superb and we were sure to return a couple of times in the coming days.

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From our table next to the busy road, we had a great outlook on local life. There were the old men sitting along the road, the fruit and juice sellers in the street and the groups of (often similarly dressed) women heading along.

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The next day, we had a highlight coming up. Sam and I had a relaxing Ayurveda massage, while Max spent the time with Prakash. What a luxury to have a babysitter for Max!
In the afternoon, we explored the lakeside of Phewa Lake. With the upcoming Nepali New Year celebrations, many locals were in Pokhara. And seemingly many of them came from regions where less blond foreigners are around. We were asked several times to pose together for pictures – an opportunity that Sam took delightedly as well. We were probably at least as fascinated about our partners in the picture than they were about us.

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After a sunset beer in a lakeside bar, we headed out just in time to still take a couple of nice pictures.

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The next day, we headed out onto the lake. We rented a boat and paddled across the lake. From there it was a hot, but pleasant hike up the hill to the World Peace Stupa. We had a nice view down towards the lake and Pokhara, but had to imagine the impressive mountain backdrop that we knew from the postcards that were sold all over the place in Pokhara.

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We did not mind too much – after all we had seen a good bit of the mountains on our trek and had focused on getting some exercise vs. just a view.
On the way back, we could not resist to take a quick break at the small temple island in the lake. The place seemed to be the main attraction for all the Nepali locals who were in Pokhara and we were seemingly the only tourists there.

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After so much activity, we had deserved lunch in our favorite restaurant. And while I enjoyed some quiet time back in our hotel room, Sam and Max headed out to explore where the constant backdrop of music was coming from. They soon discovered, that it was a New Year’s festival that was going on the whole week. And even though they did not have enough money with them such that Max could have gone on any of the various rides, at least he found a group of kids to play cricket with.

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Nepal is celebrating their New Year in mid April – along with many other countries in Asia. Well, it seems that Nepali people love celebrations more than anyone else in the world. They claim to be the country with most public holidays (31) per year. Anyhow, they are very special indeed. After all, they are the only country in the world with a non-rectangular flag.
We had liked the bustling activity along the lakeside and headed there once more to take in the atmosphere at sunset.

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The next day was already New Year’s Eve and we headed out to celebrate. The festival was clearly geared towards the locals and only few other tourists were around. Max got to take some of the rides, which seemed to be at the standard of Europe some 50 years ago. Most amazing of all was the Ferris Wheel. It was driven by a series of belts that were connected to a tractor’s motor. The guy seemed to have lots of fun and accelerated to the point when the gondolas of the wheel were flying outwards by the centrifugal forces.

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There was also a stage with dances, music and official sounding speeches. It was fun to watch the people in the audience. But not being able to understand Nepali did put a damper on the excitement we felt when listening to the speeches.

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We rather explored the food section and were tempted by some of the many specialties on offer.

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Eventually we headed out of the festival area again and walked back along the lake. Max was kind enough to the first Nepali who asked and staged for a common picture. But then he felt he had done enough and declined all further requests.

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That evening the streets of Pokhara were full of people and life and everyone was in a very festive mood. And even though it was tempting to go out and be part of the fun, we still preferred to have a quieter evening. We packed our backpacks, did some reading. At midnight, we watched the fireworks that marked the start of the New Year 2074 and then retreated to bed.

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New Year’s Day marked our departure from Pokhara. We headed in a taxi towards the airport and took a small flight (a 30-seater propeller plane of Yeti Air) from Pokhara to Kathmandu. Due to the haze and the relatively low flight altitude of 11,000 ft, we got to see just a glimpse of the mountains.

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And having been in the Kathmandu valley before, we did not have any hopes to see any peaks in the coming five days. But we were looking forward to another couple of days with a nice mix of relaxing and exploring.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 07:33 Archived in Nepal Tagged sunset lake bar hike new_year Comments (0)

Last impressions of Nepal

Kathmandu

sunny 25 °C
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We were positively surprised when we realized that Kathmandu’s domestic terminal is much better organized vs. the international terminal. Within no time, we were in the good hands of Prakash and our driver Dhil to take us to our hotel in Kathmandu’s tourist enclave Thamel. The next positive surprise awaited us when we realized that the luxurious Moonlight Hotel had allocated their suite to us and we had a huge room for ourselves.
Too lazy and hungry to find an appealing restaurant on our own, we used TripAdvisor and were indeed very positive about the ‘Western Kitchen‘. Despite the name of the place, they also offered Nepali food and it tasted really well.
We spent the rest of New Year’s Day in our hotel. It had been a shock to see how much baggage we had acquired lately. The addition of the three new sleeping bags and sleeping pads made our pile of stuff look even more intimidating than ever before. And I was seriously worried that we’d not be able to stuff everything into our bags.
So it was time to sort out. And we had the perfect opportunity coming up: tomorrow we’d be visiting an orphanage and they might be able to use our stuff. By the end of the evening we had a big bag together containing not only a soccer ball, lots of toys and clothes. And we’d also be giving them Max’ car seat that he had been using since the start of our journey in the US. From now on, we will not need a seat anymore even though it had been very valuable up to now.
Before heading to the orphanage, we visited the Pashupatinath temple. It is a large temple complex dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva and the oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu.

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Already the approach of the temple was fascinating: we passed a wedding, saw the colorful powders on sale in a shop and then arrived directly at the river where still today cremations take place. The dead bodies are put onto big stacks of wood and once the stack has burned down, the ashes are spread in the river.

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We were not the only tourists standing there fascinated by the scenes across the river. That might be the reason why exactly there so many sadhus were seated in photogenic poses. And indeed, many tourists were tempted for a small donation to take their picture or to pose together with them.

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The Nepali and Indian pilgrims to the temple head to the inner sanctum of the temple which is reserved for Hindus. We found enough other things to do. On the hill opposite of the main temple precinct, we had a nice view. We just had to make sure to keep our distance to the many monkeys around. Up there was a temple for Shiva’s first wife and a much quieter atmosphere than down in the main temple area.

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While we did catch a couple of pictures of sadhus and the salesmen along the road, there were other scenes we rather did not capture. The beggars along the street featuring prominently their leprosy were some of them. It was heart-breaking to see that people continue to suffer from illnesses that are curable and treatment is even provided by the WHO free of charge. So is it the social stigma that prevents people from seeking help, do they not know about available treatment options or is it too lucrative to earn money begging vs. otherwise not knowing how to earn any money? We did not find out the answers, but were shocked anyhow.

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It was great that after these sights, we headed directly to an orphanage where orphans and very poor children who cannot be supported by their parents are being taken care of. Weltweitwandern is one of the key sponsors of the project and offers anyone interested to go and have a look.
We were warmly welcomed by the leader of the orphanage Mary and by Sudama who is the head of Weltweitwandern’s local partner agency and president of the NGO supporting the orphanage. He personally checks how things are going every Saturday.

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When we were there, only very few kids were around. During the New Year’s vacation, most of them were home with either their families or visiting other families in villages. The orphanage makes a big effort to enable these visits such that the kids learn about ‘normal’ life outside the orphanage such that they get a chance to get socialized. Still, Max had lots of fun with the kids there playing soccer.

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We were excited to learn about the project and really liked the approach. As part of the tour of the facilities, we even learned that the Herrmann-Lietz-Stiftung is one of the key sponsors of the project, sending students of the Schloß Bieberstein boarding school there every year to help. Even though Bieberstein is not far from where we live and we even know some people working there, we had not known about that engagement. Once more we were pleasantly surprised to see how small the world is. And let’s see: maybe we’ll manage to host Sudama at our place on one of his next visits to the Fulda area. Or maybe we’ll start supporting one of the children of the facility once we’ll be back home.

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We stayed the whole afternoon and when we had to leave, it was a very warm good bye from Mary, Keshav and the kids. We waved back for a long time while walking through the fields back to our car.

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On the way back to the hotel, we once again got to ‘admire’ Nepali traffic and the awful condition of the roads. So many roads have been dug up as a result of a big drinking water project and have not been re-sealed for a couple of months. That results not only in offroad conditions on main roads, but also leads to dust all over the place. No wonder that many people are wearing a dust mask in Nepal. I clearly know that I’d never ever want to work for the Nepali traffic police. Only in retrospect, we realized how well organized and clean Phnom Penh had been in comparison.

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After so much exploration, we enjoyed a quiet evening at home and were happy that the next day, we’d only be starting our sightseeing in the afternoon. Today, Asook was our guide through Kathmandu’s old town. He was an amazing source of information about everything we saw, but also about general information such as people, customs and culture.
There’s one thing we might have noticed also without him mentioning it: as of today, it was forbidden to use the horn in Kathmandu. And indeed, it was much calmer in town and traffic noise was significantly down. Who would have thought that Nepali traffic would even work without people being able to use their horns?
Unfortunately, the Kathmandu Durbar Square has been significantly damaged in the 2015 earthquake and much of the damage is still visible to this day.

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Our first stop was at the temple of Kumari. Contrary to most other temples, this one is dedicated to a living goddess – a girl that is currently 7 years old. Once a ‘Kumari’ reaches puberty, a new Kumari will be selected. The 4-6-year old girl that twitches least when watching the ceremonial slaughtering of various animals will be selected to serve as Kumari. She will live in the temple under the supervision of a caretaker who will also serve as her teacher and her parents will only be allowed to visit during the day on weekends. Once more we concluded that Hinduism is a very strange concept to grasp for Westerners like us.
The temple of Hanuman, Asook provided lots of background in regards to the architecture, history and protagonists of the temple. Once again, we got to admire lots of wood carvings. And similarly to those we had seen earlier in Bhaktapur, some of these were once again very explicit. Even the statue of the monkey god Hanuman is covered with a red cloth to avoid him being offended by the carvings around him.

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As we passed some stalls with souvenirs, we got to a square full of pigeons. We also learned that the air moved by flying pigeons is able to cure arthritis which provides the sellers of corn on the respective square a very profitable selling argument. Not being bothered by that illness ourselves, we refrained from feeding the birds. Anyhow, we were a bit surprised to see how the birds are allowed to live in the old temples and consequently destroying some of it by their droppings.

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And as so often, the small scenes along the way were at least as impressive as the big sights.

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After our tour of the old town of Kathmandu, it was time to explore another one of the World Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu Valley: the Boudhanath Buddhist pagoda – the largest of its kind in Nepal. It is located in the Tibetan quarter of town – a result of many Tibetans fleeing their home country in the 50ties when China took over.
There were lots of people at the stupa and like them we walked around the stupa clockwise. Contrary to the many Hindu temples we had visited, once again we were struck by the quiet atmosphere which seemed much more pleasant and less hectic.

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We headed to the higher level and surrounded the stupa also there, before visiting an adjacent Buddhist monastery. We were impressed by the gigantic prayer wheels and the huge butter lamps. Alternatively to paying for butter lamps to be lit, some people preferred burning juniper incense.

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As a perfect ending for a great day of sightseeing, we had a Tibetan dinner at the Buddah Guest House. The food was great and we especially enjoyed the soup that was served in a heated soup tureen.

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The view of the stupa at sunset / night time from the restaurant was excellent. But also from down at the bottom, the atmosphere was great. With the stupa illuminated and literally thousands of butter lamps being lit underneath it, we were amazed. What a nice place to be and what a great end of our journey to Nepal.

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By the time we got home, it was quite late. And even though we had truly enjoyed the last two days of sightseeing, we were looking forward to two more days without any program.
After a very lazy day without doing too much of anything, I headed to breakfast with a very bad stomach feeling. After breakfast, I’d have to manage to pack all of our remaining stuff. And even though we had left significant amounts of stuff at the orphanage, it still felt like way too much.
I would not have needed to worry so much if I would have known that Davina (another Austrian guest of Weltweitwandern) would offer us the perfect solution. She’d be going to the airport with us that afternoon – destination Vienna. And as she was flying via Qatar, she was allowed to take 30kg of baggage. Thanks to her gracious offer, I was absolutely relieved. Davina took most of our unnecessary stuff, a total of 7kg. And I’m sure that in the next weeks we’ll not need any souvenirs, swimming gear, a fifth light sleeping bag and surplus clothes.
As a small sign of thanks, we invited Davina for lunch at ‘Fire and Ice’, a Kathmandu institution famous for its great pizza.
At the airport, we were quickly convinced that our initial assessment was wrong: the check in was organized very well and also the security controls and immigration were absolutely comparable to other airports we had been at. And in respect to gender equality we were surprised that Nepal seems to be much further developed than most countries: all form sheets offered three options for gender: male, female, other.
Our flight was on time and as Davina still had to wait for one more hour, it was time to say good bye to her – with a clear outlook of meeting again in a couple of weeks back in Austria.
But before that, we’ll be exploring another three countries and were looking forward to which adventures would be awaiting us in the last couple of weeks of our journey.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 12:07 Archived in Nepal Tagged monkeys football temple orphanage stupa baggage Comments (0)

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