We ended up in Nepal by sheer happenstance, after multiple encounters with travellers and Nepalese living in India who all pointed us in the same direction. Our too short journey, March 1015 !
India, I can’t stress this enough, was an initiatory journey, in between dreamy bliss and a punch in the guts (yes, that is pretty wide, and yet weirdly specific), our senses relentlessly pushed to the extreme.
Granted, our stay in Rishikesh brought us peace, a peace soon forgotten after a few days in Delhi...
...and yet we’re already planning our trip to Kathmandu.
At first glance, Kathmandu does not do justice to the stereotypical peace and quiet we usually picture. It does get better. A 5 min walk from the airport led us to a bus stop, which in turn led us for 105Rs (1€) to central Thamel, our impromptu landing zone.
Pretty straightforward so far.
Just kidding. About halfway, we needed a bus transfer, got lost, tried looking for directions, crawled into foetal position to cry, got helped by Nepalese kind souls who waved for the roaring monstrosity to stop. Well that was easy.
We merely have time to thank our saviors before rushing forwards to new adventures. Our mean machine (yes, it’s just a bus) is filled with young girls heading to school, shamelessly flirting with the driver (they’re all around the same age). Playful insolence and laughter are our companions during the trip. This was our first encounter with two very important features in Nepal: Smiles and laughter.
Here we are, less than a kilometre away from the famous Thamel district. Very lively, home to various kinds of western food, usually adapted to suit the Nepalese, or straight up junk food from little stalls in supermarkets.
Notice the electric cables running in the sky.
The streets are choking on people, electrical cables, and semi artistic tourist shops and stalls, lining up on the very tiny sidewalk. A lot of (official?) brand shops’ sellers call after us, trying to sell their mountain climbing gear and coats at price somewhat advantageous.
The whole area is packed with small hotels/hostels (both vintage and modern), and remains pedestrian for the most part (a honk in the back tells you when to move).
After walking for a couple of hours, and visiting around 10 hotels, we set our final decision on the Souvenir Guest House, for 6€/night. It was the right choice. Inside, a cosy little labyrinth awaits, from corridors to stairs, to terraces looking like a tropical jungle, to more corridors.
Our room is at the very end, L shaped, with a clean carpet floor, two small single beds and huge windows.
The shared bathroom and toilets are just next door. We can also access the roof, where we find another unexpected jungle, and the drying racks.
8 meters from the ground, our horizon expands, and we have a clear view on Thamel’s small buildings.
During our stay in Dehli, we didn’t leave our room because of a violent cold we had troubles getting rid of, for about 2 weeks. After finally being cured, we headed for Nepal without thinking of the fallout, that inevitably happened when we stayed in Thamel.
We were ready to embrace our old friends: Rest, Fasting, and Patience.
We had planned 15 days, optimistic innocent children that we were! Illness is a cruel mistress when you days are numbered.
Out of the 15 days, we spent 4 doing absolutely nothing. Okay then, 11 days left, we are now ready to explore. Onward!
We started our food tasting with a momo (dumplings) marathon. Attention to detail and most of all, to the client was a pleasant and soothing experience in Nepal. We suspect this cultural "awakening" of human interactions takes roots in the spiritual and philosophical foundations of Buddhism.
We witnessed all this and more at the Gillinche restaurant, owned by a Nepalese Tibetan. The kindness of the staff was heartwarming, as much as the fresh ginger and honey beverage they kept offering Delphine (for a swift recovery, they said).
One thing led to another, and here we are, befriending the managers and the chefs, while chatting about pastas and cuisine.
I even got to learn how to prepare momos in their kitchens, and the following morning, we were all brainstorming over a new recipe of sweet momos. Moments like these were the hidden gems we’ve constantly been seeking for one and a half year...
We started looking into trekking, after the incessant tease from the mountain gear sellers. Again, oblivious to the realities, we looked into Himalaya and Anapurna trekking tours. Well, you’ve guessed it, this had become quite a profitable business, very far from the genuine experience we were looking for.
For the record, trekking prices around 20€/day/person, without any accommodation nor food.
Pokhara was a bit of a random choice, since we were ready to reserve our higher expectations for other adventures further down our the road.
An awe inspiring sight, the Pokhara valley is ideally placed on an historically famous commerce route between Nepal and China. It shelters the Phewa lake and its peaceful banks, ideal for a stroll. As expected, a few places are packed full with tourists, but the lake area is relatively safe from such crowds. The whole district is a residential area, thus fairly calm. You can eat at the local snack bars for 1 or 2€...make it 5 to 7 at restaurants.
Our hotel was newly built, and offered comfort and modernity at very affordable rates. The manager told us he was planning to expand already, with a big tower capable of housing a few of the numerous Chinese tourist bus passengers that kept coming. A quick look around the place told us he wasn’t the only one with this kind of business plan!
Our own plans had not changed however, but the lack of information available even from the local population was an unexpected setback. Even our friends from Gillinche were surprised at our reluctance to hire a guide from a travel agency.
Alors,finalement nous avons pu trouver à rallier par nous-mêmes Sarangkot.
At last, we manage to rally Sarangkot on our own, where we witnessed a very moving sunrise behind the Annapurna’s summits...
...before leaving for Lumbini (8h by bus).
While waiting patiently we managed to taste yak cheese (where the yaks -supposedly free to roam outdoor- were is a mystery to this day), which tasted a bit like Gouda, with a stronger and creamier taste.
Lumbini, or Rummindei in it modern iteration, is protected by the UNESCO World Heritage, and recognised both from a historical and spiritual standpoint as the hometown of Siddhartha Gautama, otherwise known as..Buddha himself. Since it’s a relatively recent event in human history, there is a consensus on his place of birth.
Lumbini’s location, at the border between India and Nepal, next to the Sagarmantha सगरमाथा (Sagarmantha = «Everest» in Newari) natural park, creates a tumult, an endless tide of tourists, many of them Indian, where it’s easy to forget your sense of self, and become a nobody for a while.
Hotel room cleanliness becomes random again, as much as the prices. Too bad.
We still got to share a few good moments with the waiter of a small bar, who offered us a beer after I invited him to sit at our table for a chat. Another round of beer later, the magic ended abruptly, the manager scolding the tipsy (and fairly happy) waiter back to work!
Renting a bike was a good way to enjoy the relentless sun, and visit a few of the numerous temples and sacred place surrounding the area.
We fled Lumbini before spending a second night. Retracing our steps back all the way to Kathmandu, we stayed at the exact same room at the guest house in Thamel!
4 days left, we had to devise a smart plan to be able to visit another part of the country!
We spent 10 hours stuck at the back of a bus (6 of us on a 5 person seat), with a kind yet imposing - okay, fat - Chinese, who was polite enough to lean over us while sleeping, letting his glorious belly roll free from his shirt, whispering his deafening snores close to our ears, in case we would miss them. How thoughtful.
We were happy to meet with Tony Tonitorfer again, a talented young illustrator, graphist and carver from Normandie we had met at the airport when we arrived.
He pointed us towards an amazing 3 days trekking trip. The ultimate experience for us, at our own pace, within our budget, 100% tourist traps free! (Check for it in our upcoming guide for mini trekking trips in Nepal)
Nepal was a short yet intense experience for us, and that last trek was just icing on the cake. We enjoyed every moment to the fullest (when we weren’t sick up to our eyeballs!), especially pleased with the encounters we had with the amazingly kind and open Nepalese population.
More soon on Tatup!