A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about traffic

Traffic jams in fascinating Yellowstone

Written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 28 °C
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

We left the Grand Tetons early in the morning, as we wanted to have a chance to get a spot for the next two nights at the first come – first serve campground at Lewis Lake. The last two days it had filled by 2pm, so with being there around 10:30am, we figured we should be fine.
While the theory sounds good, practical life proved us wrong. We had not factored into our equation the long waiting time to even get into the national park, nor the fact that on this Monday morning Lewis Lake should already be full at 10:49am. Fine, so a change of plans was needed. We decided to spend our day to explore the south western bit of the park to see Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Spring and to head out of the park to West Yellowstone to find a campground for the night.
Old Faithful performed as expected: shortly after 1:17pm we were among the big crowd of people watching it erupt nicely. After a couple of minutes, the show was over and within minutes the area was empty again, as people had dispersed in all directions.

IMG_9290.jpgIMG_9293.jpg IMG_9294.jpgIMG_9295.jpg IMG_9296.jpgIMG_9297.jpg

We headed off as well and hiked along the bike path and a boardwalk to see more of the geysers and hot pools of the area. All over the place there was something going on: geysers were spitting steam, hot pools were boiling and there was just a fine note of sulfur in the air.

IMG_9312.jpg IMG_9321.jpg IMG_9323.jpg IMG_9331.jpg

At Biscuit Basin the looks of emerald pool were tempting us to take a dip. But looks can be deceiving: we probably would not have enjoyed being boiled in there and anyhow there were enough signs around to tell us that leaving the boardwalk is not only dangerous, but also unlawful. So we enjoyed the looks of the volcanic features without touching or getting closer.

IMG_9347.jpg IMG_9362.jpg IMG_9366.jpg IMG_9375.jpg

Our next stop was supposed to be the Midway Basin, the location of the Grand Prismatic Spring. Unfortunately, we were not the only ones with this plan. And many others before us were so adamant to stick to their plan that by waiting in the left lane to turn, they caused an enormous traffic jam which backed up more than a mile. Eventually we figured that with us being stuck in traffic anyhow, Sam should have a goo on foot to see the Spring, while Max and I stayed in the car, inching our way forward very slowly. Eventually Sam got back to the car and we headed on to our last destination for the day, the volcanic features along Firehole Loop Drive.

IMG_9394.jpg IMG_9396.jpg IMG_9399.jpg

And then it was time to leave the park in order to find a place to stay for the night. The drive from Madison junction to West Yellowstone is just 14 miles / 23 km, but it took us well over an hour to cover the distance. We’re not really sure why we were stuck in an enormous traffic jam again, but we suspect that it was either people watching some deer or some deer crossing or standing on the road. Still, no matter what it was, as we were quite tired and keen to get to a campground, we were really happy once traffic started moving again.
We tried our luck at a National Forest Campground north of West Yellowstone, which was full already. As the next free governmental (and consequently affordable) campground would have been over 20 miles further, we opted for a private one 5 miles down a gravel road. It was just already way too late for another long drive.

IMG_9405.jpg

At night I tried my luck to still reserve a space in a campground in Yellowstone, such that we’d not have to go through the ordeal of getting out of the park just to get in again the next morning. It seemed that there was still availability at Fishing Bridge RV Park (where we had already a reservation for Wednesday night), but somehow I did not manage to reserve it and half an hour later, even that one slot was already gone. Hmmm….
The next morning, I used the WIFI at the campground and spent lots of time on German tax questions. That is not really what I consider fun and it’s just so energy draining. So I was happy when I was done. And it felt like a reward for the work I had done, when I got a call from someone in Yellowstone welcoming me for this evening to stay at Fishing Bridge RV Park. Somehow I must have managed to reserve a site after all and just did not see the confirmation page or got a confirmatory email.
That was so great news! After our first experiences with traffic in Yellowstone we were already at the point to just spend a day outside of the park without having a reservation inside… But now, as we had a reservation after all, we were ready to hit the road, get some groceries and gas in West Yellowstone and to explore the area between Madison and Norris. We stopped at all the key sites along the way: Terrace Springs, Gibbon Falls, Beryl Spring and Artists Paintpots.

IMG_9427.jpg IMG_9441.jpg IMG_9449.jpg IMG_9459.jpgIMG_9463.jpg IMG_9469.jpg

Still, the best came last: a stop at Norris Geyser Basin, which is the hottest one in Yellowstone. It features not only geysers and hot pools, but also fumaroles and mud pools, i.e. all types of volcanic that exist. The landscape was fascinating and we were happy that we had made the stop at Norris.

IMG_9471.jpg IMG_9482.jpg IMG_9483.jpg IMG_9489.jpg
IMG_9504.jpgIMG_9512.jpg

From there it was only a short drive via Canyon to Fishing Bridge through the Hayden Valley which is one of the prime spots for wildlife viewing in Yellowstone. We figured that it was perfect timing to go through the valley in the late afternoon / early evening as we hoped to see some wildlife.
And yes, our plan worked out. We got to do much more wildlife viewing than what we expected. It took us over 2 hours to drive the 16 mile / 25 km stretch from Canyon to Fishing Bridge, as we got stuck in a gigantic traffic jam.
While traffic was still moving, we got to see already the first bison in the distance. When traffic first started stopping, we attributed that to the three dark wolves up in the hills and the grey / white wolf just on the other side of the Yellowstone River. But after we had passed the craziness of that bottleneck, traffic did not get better, but worse. It got to the point that we only got to move forward the distance of those cars in front of us which gave up and turned around.

IMG_9518.jpgIMG_9523.jpgIMG_9520.jpg

So we opened our roof and Sam started heating up the remainder of yesterday’s soup. After all we were standing more than driving and when moving our speed did not surpass 2 mph anyhow.
Eventually Sam and Max headed off to get some exercise along the road. With Max biking and Sam running, I soon lost sight of them as they passed the cars in front of me. A bit later I got to see lots of ducks and Canadian wild geese along the river and eventually in the rear view mirror a couple of bison. And to keep myself busy in this somewhat frustrating standstill, I at least took a couple of pictures.

IMG_9544.jpgIMG_9552.jpgIMG_9537.jpg

Some more time passed and, a guy that eventually had started running along the traffic jam just like Max and Sam came back and reported to everyone who was interested the reason for the traffic jam: a big herd of bison was crossing the road somewhere in front of us and as they were not just crossing, but also idling on the road, there was simply no way to move forward. I must say that it was a big relief to hear that it was wildlife stopping us and not necessarily just sightseeing tourists. Even though realistically it is always a combination, as those people close to the wildlife cannot hesitate to take pictures and consequently slow everything down.
A couple of hundred yards / meters before the actual bottleneck Sam and Max waited for me and got back into the car. And eventually we started moving again and got to our campground around 9:30pm, so much later vs. what we had planned for.
After so much driving and so many traffic jams we were a bit hesitant about how to spend the day. The ranger at the information center convinced us that our plan of going to Canyon to see the Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a must see item. You should not have come all the way to Yellowstone without having seen that… So after spending a bit of time on the beach of Lake Yellowstone, back we went through the Hayden Valley to do as he suggested. And this time we were held up a bit by sightseeing tourists just stopping in the road or partly blocking the roadway, but it was just so much better than the day before. We did stop ourselves a couple of times at various pull-outs to take pictures and observe the wildlife. We specifically liked to watch the bison. With their huge size they are just impressive and at the same time they are surprisingly fast when chasing a competitor or their preferred female – after all this time of the year is mating season for them.

IMG_9581.jpg IMG_9588.jpg IMG_9659.jpg IMG_9598.jpg IMG_9605.jpg IMG_9607.jpg

The Upper Yellowstone Falls from Uncle Tom’s Point along the South Rim were already quite impressive. But nothing could beat the view of the much higher (300 ft / 100 m) Lower Yellowstone Falls from the bottom of Uncle Tom’s trail. It was quite an adventure to get down the over 300 steps and steep grades, but the view was definitively worth it – specifically as the sun was coming in at such an angle that part of the waterfall looked just light green instead of white.

IMG_9622.jpg

After having seen the Lower Falls so close, we still wanted to see how they look from the Artists Point Overview. While the view was nice, we were not too impressed by the crowds of people there and left quickly after having taken a couple of pictures.

IMG_9635.jpg

The way back to camp proved to be much more relaxed and fast than yesterday evening and despite a bit of backed up traffic here and there, we got to Fishing Bridge in a mere 35 min.
Our next day in Yellowstone was dedicated to the Northern part which we had not seen so far. So we went up through the mountains along Mt. Washburn and the Yellowstone river to Mammoth Hot Springs. As the campground there was full by the time we arrived, this would be our last day in the park.
So we visited the lower and upper terraces – a phenomenon we had not seen so far. With their lively colors and a constant stream of hot water trickling down the active springs, it was a really nice sight. But also the older and now dormant features were quite impressive – a white and grey landscape surrounding dead trees.

IMG_9670.jpg IMG_9681.jpg IMG_9683.jpg IMG_9686.jpg

And with that it was time to say good bye to Yellowstone and to head towards the next adventures.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 07:00 Archived in USA Tagged traffic lake terrace spring geyser yellowstone elk wolf bison jam sulphur Comments (0)

Exploring Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

sunny 34 °C
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

Our first full day in Phnom Penh started already as good as it gets. The hotel featured a fabulous breakfast buffet – a treat we’ve not experienced since the start of our journey almost one year ago.
Despite the excellent food at breakfast, it did not take long to get hungry again (thanks to still being internally tuned to New Zealand time) and we ventured out to explore. Even though we had been exposed to the Cambodian traffic already the day before, it took a bit of courage to walk along the street. The sidewalks were so busy with street vendors, parked cars, construction sites or other obstructions that we could use them only for very limited stretches. For most of the walk, we had to walk on the street, together with the mayhem of tuk tuks, scooters, cars and trucks. Being in a one-way street meant that more than 80% of traffic came from behind us. That made us turn around constantly to check what is coming our way. Still, for short distances tuk tuks, scooters and occasionally even cars don’t seem to mind going against the traffic flow.
In all of that chaos, our attention was regularly diverted to other things. There were sudden holes (big ones!) in the ground that we had to watch out for. There were thousands of unfamiliar smells around, many of them not necessarily very pleasant. And last but not least, every single tuk tuk driver who spotted us along the road was certain that we’d prefer using his services and made sure we understood that he’s available to take us anywhere we want.
After having survived the walk for about three blocks, we retreated to a small restaurant along the road and sat down for lunch. Even though the menu was also available in English, we did not really know what to expect. Our lucky orders were better than we had expected. While every dish tasted very different from what our taste buds are used to, the food was really good.
With some food in our stomachs, it was already easier to walk the last couple of blocks to the Central Market. The impressive art deco building housed a huge maze of different stalls and we strolled aimlessly around to get an impression. There was much to be seen and even though we did not need anything, we had fun just having a look.

D4DF8C9600ED628E9726989D0A51A2D6.jpg

The section with the jewellery and cloths did not smell like anything specific - apart from the occasional whiff of incense to appease the gods that are responsible to send many shoppers to the stalls. Once we got into the detergents and beauty area, this changed already and we were exposed to multiple fragrances overlying each other. Well, the fruit and vegetable section took a bit more of getting used to and even though we barely saw the butchers’ area, we were able to distinguish its signature smell immediately.

IMG_7878.jpg

Eventually we had seen enough for our first day and headed home. The cool waters of the pool were simply too tempting – specifically in light of the warm and humid temperatures that we were simply not yet used too.
On the other hand, there also was a concept that we had gotten used to very quickly and we made sure not to miss out on the happy hour in our hotel.
The next day, we headed to a restaurant for lunch that we had spotted while driving by in a tuk tuk on our way back from the central market. What had looked nice while driving by, did turn out to be rather icky. Only once we were seated and had ordered our food, we realized the rather odd clientele consisting of elderly white men and young Cambodian ladies. We just did not like what we saw. It seemed like most people knew each other already. And it did not help the atmosphere, that some people had drunk a bit too much and lots of them were approaching Max, touching his face and asking all kinds of questions. He was not amused. And neither was Sam when a lady tried to rub his back. We had our lunch, paid and tried to get away from there. It was just not nice. And while it might be simply a part of real life in South East Asian towns, I prefer just knowing about it vs. seeing its protagonists interact.
We walked away from that place being sure not to return again, found a tuk tuk driver and asked him to take us to the Royal Palace, the key attraction of Phnom Penh. Incredibly enough, he had issues understanding where we wanted to go. Initially I had assumed that we were simply not having luck with our drivers: already the taxi driver who took us from the airport to our hotel had gotten lost. When going to the Russian embassy and back to the hotel, our tuk tuk drivers had to first confer with colleagues for a couple of minutes and to consult a map before heading off… But not knowing where a tourist wants to be taken when he says ‘Royal Palace, please’ that was beyond our understanding.
With the help of our navigation system on the mobile phone, we made it successfully to the Royal Palace. We found the ticket booth and were pleasantly surprised by the nice and quiet atmosphere inside – far away from the bustling streets just outside its walls. The architecture of the palace reminded us very much of Bangkok’s Royal Palace.

D4E0D621970B5C3A4FCE7C08DDB5B8A9.jpg IMG_7886.jpg D4E5BE95C4AF292E4D76BEC5D83ED38F.jpg IMG_7904.jpg IMG_7917.jpg IMG_7905.jpg IMG_7940_stitch.jpg

But while the buildings were nice to see, the real attraction were the people: the tour groups following their tour leaders which were equipped with colorful umbrellas, the monk taking selfies of himself in front of one of the buildings, the uniformed guards idling and the locals who came to the temples to pray.

IMG_7902.jpg IMG_7928.jpg IMG_7934.jpg
IMG_7908.jpg

From the Royal Palace, it was just a short stroll to the river. Seeing where the Tonle Sap River joins the mighty Mekong was nice as it was two completely different colors coming together. But it was even more fun to see the multitude of ferries and boats crossing the river.

IMG_7942.jpg IMG_7945.jpg
IMG_7944.jpg

We took a short walk, but eventually headed home, as we had already a great plan for the evening. Sopharath, one of the kind employees working at the reception of our hotel, had offered to take Max to the playground together with her six-year old son Pong Pong. We were excited about the idea and enjoyed a great evening.
Equipped with a cup of sugarcane juice each, we headed off in a tuk tuk to the playground. There were lots of people there. Despite the crowd, it was fairly easy to spot Max. Seemingly he was the only blond kid around. It was a very nice atmosphere in town at night time.

IMG_7963.jpg
large_IMG_7955_stitch.jpg

Eventually we treated ourselves to some food at a street stall – an interesting experience as we had never tried some of it before, e.g. bitter melong. To fill our stomachs, we then headed to a burger restaurant filed with locals before heading back home to the hotel.

D4F90550029FEA7BAE5C95FEB2835A38.jpg

After these first days, we had gotten used to our surroundings already. Navigating in the dense chaotic traffic became normal and we stopped turning hectically around every couple of seconds. We went with the flow and enjoyed what we noticed while walking along.

IMG_7973.jpg IMG_7871.jpg
IMG_7870.jpg

We had also found a couple of nice places in the vicinity: we were daily guests at the juice bar at the corner facing the tough decision which of the delicious smoothies or fresh fruit juices to choose from. In addition, there was an excellent Malay restaurant just a bit further down the road that we really liked. So we started feeling more at home.
Still, it felt like a big adventure getting some small chores done. When trying to get our laundry done locally, we were directed by the staff in our hotel, to a small alley across the street. We would have probably never ventured in there. In the maze of small alleys, we eventually found a small laundry to take our stuff. And in the process, we discovered a different world: there were tiny restaurants, many street stalls, youths playing at pool tables, kids playing marbles and many small businesses.

IMG_7872.jpg

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 11:06 Archived in Cambodia Tagged traffic food market palace pagoda tuktuk playground alley stall Comments (0)

Rooftop bars

Bangkok

sunny 35 °C
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

Arriving at Bandkok’s old Don Muang airport, we were surprised how long it took us to get through immigration. After all, we did not need a visa, apart from not having to pay any money to be allowed to enter the country, the formalities seemed quite complex.
After our brief interlude in Cambodia, we were back to left hand traffic in Thailand. Despite the heavy traffic, we were able to move rather quickly – thanks to the many highways criss-crossing the city. And being high up above most buildings, we got to see that there’s much more construction in progress such that things should improve even further in the future.
Our hotel was nice and modern. But being situated along one of the tiny backroads of a rather old and shabby neighborhood of Chinatown, it seemed somewhat misplaced. Still, we were excited about it: We had an apartment with two rooms for ourselves with a view of some of Bangkok’s high rises. And there was a huge pool, a fitness studio and a rooftop bar at our disposal.

IMG_8655.jpg IMG_8707.jpg

We did not have many plans for the next nine days. After all, we had come to Bangkok first and foremost for Sam to get his visa for Mongolia (being German citizens, Max and I do not need one). Within minutes of having arrived in our hotel, Sam headed out to the Mongolian embassy. It took him almost an hour to get there in the dense afternoon traffic. If he would have known that he was able to successfully leave the embassy again after a mere seven minutes, he would have probably told the taxi driver to wait for him and to take him back immediately.
This way, he had to walk for ten minutes to even find an area where there were taxis around. And soon he realized that the first six taxi drivers he asked, did not want to take him, as they feared to be stuck in rush hour traffic. And not even the moto taxi drivers were interested in such a long drive. After all, he did find a taxi to take him, but realized before too long, that the driver was simply awful: he exclusively drove in first and second gear and did not seem to be too familiar with his vehicle. After over one and a half hours in the taxi, Sam eventually decided that instead of being stuck in traffic, he’d be quicker by walking the last four km.

IMG_8649.jpg IMG_8654.jpg

Other than Sam’s visa, we only planned to take it easy. After all, Sam and I had largely explored the key sites and some surrounding places like the old royal town of Ayutthaya already ten years ago. So there was no ‘must-do’ activity except the goal to enjoy ourselves.
The enjoyment started on our roof-top terrace. Sitting up there at dawn, having a nice dinner and seeing the lights fading while the lights of the skyscrapers were coming up was clearly a highlight. And considering how easy it was to take the elevator up one floor, we repeated the event multiple times.

20170322_182431.jpg IMG_8666.jpg IMG_8671.jpg IMG_8672.jpg

That’s also where we started our days: the breakfast buffet left no wishes open, even after nine days, breakfast did not get boring.
Our first plan was easily set: we agreed to meet Petra, Thomas and Aurel at their hotel. While the boys splashed around in the pool, we got to chat and make plans what to do. Eventually we headed out along one of Bangkok’s many klongs (canals) and even got to see a large goanna swimming in the murky water.

IMG_8595.jpg IMG_8604.jpg A68424159B333F84FF95181740D7A7FA.jpg

A short stroll delivered us right into the middle of Bangkok’s tourist center, the Khao San Road. The place is crowded, funky and sometimes a bit strange. Not something I’d like to have around me at all times, but fun to enjoy for a limited time. We were easily able to avoid buying a roasted scorpion or other more ‘normal’ food. Sam declined all offers for getting a tailored suit and even though the ladies at the many massage saloons were keen to get blond Max into their places – at their dismay he was not interested at all.

A6858AEC96DEFCA0F5CC2DD5B898108B.jpg A686568EE981F2A4E86AEAD5BF44EEA9.jpg

He rather ran along the street with his friend Aurel, all set to arrive at the Thai Boxing place where we wanted to observe the training. The kids were excited and had so much fun. They would have preferred to participate fully in the training themselves. The trainer noticed their interest and let them do a bit of hitting and kicking.

IMG_8618.jpg A68741BDB3C5A7C3D2C8868B2E56B084.jpg

We had excellent food from Northern Thailand at ‚Madame Musur’. After strolling along the busy street some more, seeing great food, lots of people and many fun sights, we eventually ended in a small bar. By the end of the day, we had sealed our plans on meeting again when we’ll be back in Germany.

IMG_8639.jpg A68F7AA8998B29DD4A3B1BF4DF7F76F6.jpg IMG_8641.jpg

Going back home from the Khao San Road should be very easy in principle: there are lots of taxis, you take one and go home. Well, real life is different: taxi drivers are keen to earn more money on unsuspecting tourists. We had about five of them offering to take us to our hotel for a price of 200 baht (about 5-6€) before finally finding one who agreed to simply turn on his meter. At home the meter said 72 baht, we gave him 100 baht and everyone was happy.
Another thing that Bangkok is famous for is shopping. While we’re clearly not the typical tourists in that respect, we still headed to several of the main shopping malls. At the MBK Center we got all errands done easily: there was a bank, a camera repair place, countless stalls specialized on IT accessories and a toy store. And best of all: the gigantic food court offering all kinds of food from every corner of Asia.
At some stage, we got lost a bit between the many shops selling t-shirts that we turned in circles for a while until we finally found an elevator to get us out of the place. It was time to leave and as we did not want to get stuck in afternoon traffic, we walked home passing through the quiet grounds of one of the universities.

A690DD53B8971A85F8CE4781CA082D41.jpg

What an unbearable heat! On the way home, we stopped the local juice bar for smoothies and then deserved a bath in the pool. We were more than happy about the fact that we had cancelled our original booking for Bangkok and went for a place with a pool instead.
One other day we headed out to an Italian restaurant that was highly praised in our guidebook and just a 10 min walk away. We soon realized that things change more quickly than guidebooks are able to keep up with. The place seemed to have closed down. But at least we found some pizza anyway just a couple of blocks further. And anyhow: there was enough to be seen along the streets to justify the trip. Pictures of the late king Bhumibol can be seen everywhere around the city along with black and white ribbons.

IMG_8675.jpg IMG_8678.jpg IMG_8677.jpg

From there it was only a short taxi drive to the pier where we took the express boat. Just like the locals we opted for the orange flag boat which costs 15b (around 0.5€) per person vs. the blue flag tourist boat which would have cost us 150 baht. The river is the same, the view as well and we did not mind mingling with the locals.

IMG_8721.jpg IMG_8716.jpg A6A40784EBD5573481925BD96216C4D5.jpg A5F4F093B98DF7A402A4133B457FAA6A.jpg

More or less by accident we got off at Wat Arun. Being there, we figured that we might have a look around as well and visited the well-known temple.

IMG_8742.jpg IMG_8750.jpg IMG_8753.jpg 20170322_182045.jpg IMG_8754.jpgIMG_8755.jpgIMG_8757.jpg 20170322_182238.jpg

From there we took the ferry shuttle to the other side of the river where we originally had wanted to go. Wat Pho, another temple, is well known for its school of traditional Thai massage – sometimes even dubbed Thailand’s oldest university. The 1h herbal massage was very pleasant and the massage therapists were well qualified in what they were doing.

20170322_182342.jpg

From there it was only a two-minute walk to the Amorosa rooftop bar overlooking the river. It was great to see the sun set behind Wat Arun. The atmosphere was really nice. And it could have been even nicer if it wasn’t for the nervous couples at the prime spots who continued to take selfies over more than half an hour making sure that they did not miss a single angle of the sunset. Admittedly, we did take pictures ourselves as well – but after a couple of shots, we rather sat there and enjoyed life.

20170326_162922.jpg large_IMG_8768_stitch.jpgIMG_8785.jpg

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 07:30 Archived in Thailand Tagged traffic taxi sunset temple shopping boxing bar mall rooftop Comments (1)

Nepali culture

Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Changu Narayan

sunny 24 °C
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

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.

IMG_9221.jpg IMG_9226.jpg IMG_9224.jpg IMG_9217.jpg IMG_9218.jpg IMG_9038.jpg

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.

IMG_9378.jpg

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.

IMG_9238.jpg IMG_9253.jpg IMG_9033.jpg IMG_9271.jpg IMG_9241.jpg

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?

IMG_9300.jpg IMG_9302.jpg

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.

IMG_9240.jpg IMG_9237.jpg

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.

IMG_8988.jpg IMG_8976.jpg IMG_9072.jpg IMG_9045.jpg IMG_9046.jpg IMG_9039.jpg

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.

IMG_9284.jpg IMG_9282.jpg IMG_8944.jpg IMG_8951.jpg IMG_9059.jpg

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.

IMG_9286.jpg 142DA9F7F3C35FF133A880FE707A5C6A.jpg

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.

IMG_9309.jpg IMG_9316.jpg

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.

IMG_9318.jpg IMG_9329.jpg IMG_9324.jpg

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.

IMG_9330.jpg

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.

IMG_9317.jpg

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.

IMG_9352.jpg

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.

IMG_9365.jpg

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.

IMG_9370.jpg IMG_9376.jpg large_IMG_9257_stitch.jpg

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
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

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).

C71DD2D2FAC2A268A6BB022987427155.jpg IMG_9448.jpg

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.

C7121CFDF4D074911CAA2C4374A5D907.jpg IMG_9400.jpg IMG_9398.jpg IMG_9425.jpg IMG_9406.jpg C717E9B0F17337A09CD9668DCAF9589F.jpg

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.

large_20170405_105609.jpg IMG_9423.jpg IMG_9424.jpg

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.

IMG_9432.jpg IMG_9429.jpg IMG_9426.jpg IMG_9390.jpg

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.

IMG_9435.jpg IMG_9442.jpg IMG_9438.jpg C71B9DB4B5783F67F4F0254B62BE6CE2.jpg

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.

large_20170406_093303.jpg DD9DA082A16E64B9E02C6CC4E930B151.jpg IMG_9466.jpg 20170407_084816.jpg

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.

IMG_9384.jpg IMG_9458.jpg

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.

20170406_123532.jpg

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.

IMG_9486.jpg IMG_9470.jpg IMG_9484.jpg IMG_9497.jpg

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)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 5) Page [1]