Showing posts with label Nepal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nepal. Show all posts

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Chitwan National Park, Nepal

After our well-deserved break in Pokhara, we needed a new adventure. We decided to visit Chitwan National Park, a national reserve located close to the Indian border. Early in the morning, we walked to the bus station in Pokhara. Having already bought our ticket the day before from the hotel, we tried to find the right bus. There are many buses in the station, many of them without clear indicator of the company but fortunately, locals working there are very helpful. Many people were selling warm pastries and souvenirs. As we were a little early, we put AA's bag on the top of the bus and waited for the bus to fill up. It left on time at 7:30 for a five-hour long ride. We stopped somewhere in the middle for a thirty-minute break.

Pokhara Bus Station
Breakfast break

When we arrived in Sauraha, one of the villages located right on the border of the protected area, many hotel owners were waiting for the bus, offering a ten Rupies ride to their hotel. We don't like to be pressured into choosing a hotel so we walked for about 1.5 kilometers to the main street, where we stopped for lunch before starting our hotel research. We visited a few but the prices were a little too high for our liking. We were going to change our mind about the pricing when one of the owners we had met at the bus station drove by with his small red pick-up. We took him on his offer to show us the room and if we didn't like it he would drive us back to the center. The hotel was located on a side street, with very quiet surrounding. The 400 Rupies room was nice enough, roomy and included a hot shower, so we decided to stay.
The hotel offers a "sightseeing" tour everyday around 4pm. We followed our "guide" to a place where they keep some of the elephants. We saw a baby elephant, about 5 months old and her mom, 40 years old. There was also a big old male about 60 years old. They are unfortunately chained down to prevent them from running away. It is sad to see them restrained, but as they grow up in captivity, they are not used to caring for themselves anymore. They are mostly used for safaris in the jungle, carying tourists on their backs twice a day. We saw one owner clearly abusing his elephant, but for the most part, owners seemed to treat their elephants fairly. Never as good as if they were in the wild, but better than we had expected. 
Government owned elephants
Mom and baby
Sunset over the Rapti River

The next morning, we woke up at 5:30, had breakfast and met with our guide for our walking safari. We walked to the 'sunset viewpoint' area, where our guide had to buy our permit. The formalities took a while and we started our trip only at 8am. Any groups of more than two going for a walking safari in the jungle needs two guides, one in front and one in the back. We sat in a long canoe with another couple, the four guides and the boat driver. We spent 45 minutes on the water, seeing many birds on our way. It was very foggy and it added a little mystery. When we stopped our boat tour, we stepped out and viewed our first big animal, a rhino! It was in the very tall grass so quite hard to spot, but we stayed for a while and it finally moved a little bit while eating, before laying down with a "hmmph" of content. 

Sunrise in the fog
Canoe ride on the Rapti River

We walked in the jungle with both our guides, armed with bamboo sticks. We saw some spotted deers and a crocodile. We took many breaks during the day as it was very hot and the animals don't move much during the day. About an hour after following tiger prints (and smelling a fresh pee marking) we took another break. We walked some more and spotted many birds including peacocks, countless butterflies, many deers (spotted and smaller ones too), monkeys, 3 crocodiles (Gharial and Mugger crocodile), another rhino and some wild chickens. We crossed the river back to the village at 5pm. We said thank you to the guides and went for a well-deserved shower after walking all day in the sun. 
Our guide looking for wildlife 
Deers on the side of the Rapti River

Our second day in Chitwan was spent mostly enjoying the warm weather from our balcony. On our third day, we went for a second safari, this time leaving for a 2 day/1 night tour. We woke up early again and met our guides in town this time. They had already arranged the park entrance permits so we sat in the long wooden boat and started our second expedition on the Rapti River. We saw many birds on our way despite of the thick fog. Our guide was very good, pointing all the different type of birds and the many crocodiles. After about 3 hours of boating, with a small stretching break in the middle, we arrived to the next village. It felt good to be back on dry land after spending the first part of our expedition on small wooden benches which are very hard on the back and bottom.

Our second guide on the long boat ride
Mugger Crocodile
Gharial Crocodile

We followed the guide through the very long grass keeping an eye open for wildlife and hoping for a tiger or a leopard. Unfortunately we didn't see them. When we arrived closer to a long lake, a rhino got out of the bushes right behind us. We looked at it for a few minutes while it was wondering if we were a treat or not. We walked to a tall watchtower to have lunch. The rhino decided it was bath time and went in the water just in front of the tower. We watched it for about an hour while having our lunch. It really seemed to enjoy its bath, but at one point it needed to go to the toilet, so he walked out of the water, peed for what seemed like forever, and went right back in the lake. Later on, another group caught up with us and the rhino must have thought it wasn't quiet enough anymore because it went back in the forest.

We walked more in the jungle, seeing spotted deers and monkeys. We did a huge circle and came back later to the watch tower. We spotted a couple of wild boars on the other side of the river along with many crocodiles. We were almost at the watch tower when a entire family of wild boars with seven or eight babies ran around us to get cover. They ran very fast and surprised us quite a bit! We walked toward the river, catching up with a big group of tourists. They were walking really slow and talking so we weren't expecting to see any more wildlife when suddenly the group stopped. Their guide had spotted a big mommy rhino with a baby. She wasn't too happy and looked like she was going to charge the group to protect her baby. The guide used his bamboo stick to make lots of noise and the rhinos ran away. We made our way back to the river where we took a small boat across to the village outside of the park.

Our guides brought us to a small lodge by the river where we took a cold shower. We were entertained by the 13 year old kid singing many songs in five different languages. We were all very impressed by what he had learned from the previous visitors. 

Time for a bath
Even trees have parasite
Wild Boars

The next morning we woke up a 5:45, went for breakfast and started our second day in the jungle, this time in the buffer zone. We walked through the jungle, seeing many termite towers. We saw some deers and monkeys again. We even got a piggy-back ride from our guide in order to cross a small river as the water level was high. Fortunately they were no crocs in this river, according to our barefoot guide. We stopped at a few water holes looking for new animal prints. We also went by another watch tower where some people had heard a tiger, but unfortunately it didn't want to see us, or a least be seen by us. We made our waz back into civilization, walking by the elephant breeding center.
Termite Nest
Twisted tree
Sunrise in the jungle
After enjoying the nature of Chitwan National Park, it was time to take a bus back to Kathmandu. We had bought the tickets through our hotel and were very impressed when we saw the bus. It was great, a real coach, with comfy seats and room for our legs. The bus ride was long, following the same road we were on before. It had many sharp turns, a lot of traffic and many close calls. We stopped for a snack break, then for lunch and finally to let people out in the surroundings of Kathmandu. We walked to Thamel district, found a place to sleep and went to the hotel we previously stayed at to get our bags back. We came back to the room to have a look at the stuff we had left behind. We had forgotten how busy and noisy Kathmandu is and we were not quite ready for it. It was time to get out of Nepal and experience a new country!

Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

Our adventure in Nepal is unfortunately over. We had a great time hiking in the highest mountains in the world. It was one of the best things we did on our trip so far. According to our GPS, we walked 288 kilometres, climbed a cumulative 25000 metres and also went down as much. The views were breathtaking and pictures are never as impressive as witnessing the imposing scenery with your own eyes. Hopefully we will come back in this beautiful country for a future adventure. It was not easy every day, as living standards in one of the poorest country in the world is not something we are used to. It is as big of a mental challenge as it is a physical one. We definitely recommend it to anybody that likes the outdoors and hiking in the mountains.

We decided to split our story in 8 posts and below are the links :

Enjoy !

Monday, 25 November 2013

Annapurna Circuit Part 8, Nepal

Day 21 to 24, from Tatopani to Pokhara

Day 21 - To Phalate

We weren't sure how Seb's knee was going to be after the long descent in Tatopani. As soon as we left we had to stop at the checkpoint. We learned that because of the strike the buses to Beni were 2200 instead of 200 rupies as they needed to have police escort. It confirmed our idea of walking all the way and not taking a bus! We finally left Tatopani and started to go up the never ending stairs. We walked up stairs all day in a beautiful valley. A few people tried to point us in the wrong direction for some reason, all saying : other way, other way!

We stopped for lunch in Shikha. After resting our legs, we climbed more stairs to the village of Phalate. Just outside the village, a guy was doing some sort of welcome dance for us so we decided to stop there for the day. We ordered Tibetan bread and Gorkha beer which came in a recycled Tuborg bottle. The lady who took our order left just after getting us our beer so we never had the bread. We enjoyed the scenery for the remaining of the afternoon but when it got cold, the owner invited us in the kitchen by the wood stove. We read and talked to the owner.  Just before the owner started cooking our food, he went running outside and came back with his goat. We went back to the room, in a building with five rooms. It could have been very cosy and noisy as the walls were not going all the way up to the roof. We could also clearly see downstairs and the goat through the cracks in the floor.

This one didn't look as safe as the others!
Nice stone seats along the ascending trail
The valley with fields,looking back towards Tatopani
Another basic lodge on the trail
Noticed the walls not going all the way up?
The kitchen
Wood burning stove
Day 22 - To Ban Thanti 

We finally left at 8:00 am, making our way slowly up more stairs to Ghorepani. We arrived there around 10 am. We were surprised to see that many big lodges, but as it is the starting point of the hike to Poon Hill, it made sense. They had decent WiFi, so we took the opportunity to book our flight out of Nepal. We kept going up stairs to a nice viewpoint of the Annapurna range. In two days, we went up 2000 meters in rock staircases. We enjoyed the view for a while and kept walking towards Deurali Pass before coming down a small village. A young mother asked us where we were going and if we could bring a note to somebody in the next village. We took the note and started our descent. We gave the message and as there were many people in the village already we decided to keep walking to the next lodge. A very loud remix of Justin Bieber welcomed us to the "Tranquility" lodge so we rapidly made our way through. Somehow, we got on a side path and had to climb to get on the correct path. That is when we heard some noise in the forest. We looked up and spotted a monkey. It had a black face surrounded by a crown of white hair, like a small lion. We spent a few minutes watching the monkeys before moving on to the Trekker's Sanctuary lodge where we decided to stop for the night.

Day 23 - To Landruk

We went down to Tadapani, were we quickly stopped to buy toilet paper (very important to carry some as it is not available in any bathrooms) before continuing on to Ghandruk. We stopped for lunch at the very beginning of the village in a small lodge where we could hear the neighbours play music. The seemingly hang over owner sat with us for a while. After eating, we followed the owner's advice and stopped a the German Bakery for chocolate doughnuts. They were big and tasty. We then started to descent the interminable steps to the bridge and then up to the village of Landruk. We stopped in the first lodge as we couldn't go further. We took a room and rushed to the 'hot' shower. It was freezing cold, so once again we washed our hair and used a towel to clean our bodies.

Yes, we do have to go all the way down to the river and all the way back up to the village of Landruk
Looking towards Annapurna Base Camp trek from Landruk
And looking the other way leaving Landruk, always following the valleys
Day 24 - To Pohkara 

We left the hotel at 7:45 and went up the stairs to the village. We walked through, trying to follow the trail, but with the new road, the trail is impracticable at best. We had just started when a young girl in a field asked us for money saying she was very hungry. We were trying to stay on the trail when a family told us to walk by their land. We did so and they asked for a photo, and then wanted money for the photo, and the girl kept asking for us to give her our clothing or shoes etc. We felt like walking ATMs. This trail is obviously more touristic because we kept getting asked for money by everyone. When we first left the village in the morning, a nice black dog started to follow us. He followed us all the way to the second village. We were starting to worry he would not turn around when he went his separate way.

We came across a sign that said : short way to Pokhara, so we decided to try it. We are not sure if it was any shorter, but it was much steeper! We climbed to the top of the mountain to the village of Pitam Deurali where we stopped for a few pictures before continuing toward Dhampus. We stopped at both Tims and permit checkpoint to get our exit stamps, and started our very long descent along the stone paved trail. We stopped for lunch in Dhampus. We were going to stop there for the night but were not completely satisfied with the hotels. The couple we had lunch with were going to catch a taxi from Phedi, so we decided to do the same. We walked down the many many stairs to Phedi, going twice in the wrong direction, adding to the already endless stairs. When we finally arrived to the bottom, a few taxis where parked there and the drivers came our way to offer their services. The first price they asked us for was 3000 rupies, about 2 times the amount of the normal tourist price. We told them we needed a coffee first. The taxi drivers came back to see if we wanted to discuss the price of the ride. We bargained it down to 1800, which was quite expensive but because of the strike, it was our only option if we didn't want to walk the extra 20 kilometres on the side of the highway. When we arrived in Lakeside Pokhara, the driver dropped us at the main corner and we were almost jumped on by hotel owners. We took a business card and told them that we wanted to see the lake first. We walked to the lake and decided to have a look at the first hotel, Lake House. For 600 rupies (about 6 CAD) a night, it was pretty good. We had a real bed and a very hot shower (we actually had to add cold water) and no cracks in the walls. After supper, we walked around, shopping for a celebratory bottle of wine to be enjoyed in our room. The next morning we changed hotel to find one with WiFi where we stayed for a week, relaxing and enjoying different types of food.

Pokhara is across the mountain over 20 kilometres away
We are back in the "civilized" world
Rooftop view of the lake from the hotel
Nepali tractor
Quite the tractor right?

Friday, 15 November 2013

Annapurna Circuit Part 7, Nepal

Day 18 to 20, from Jomsom to Tatopani

Day 18 - To Chhairo, a small Tibetan refugee village

We crossed the river in Jomsom to get to the trail. We walked by a few villages, across a field of loose rocks before going up the mountain and down to Chhairo. It was very windy and parts of the trail were again on loose rocks, very slippery. We walked through a small Tibetan refugee village, and found a restaurant. We were hungry so we decided to stop for lunch. It was very good and very filling. We decided we had enough for the day as the trail was not the easiest.

Looking at Jomson from across the river 

Day 19 - To Kalapani

We woke up at 6 am, as we had ordered breakfast for 6:30. We packed our things and went in the restaurant. Nobody was there, the kitchen was still locked. We finished packing our bags while waiting to see if someone was going to wake up. At 7, we counted the money we owed, wrote a message and left. There was still nobody awake. We walked out of the village and suddenly, somebody was yelling at us. We made our way back and told them the money was on the counter. They asked if we wanted breakfast but as it was already almost 7:30, we decided to start walking and eat our granola bars. We walked across a few villages again. We were getting hungry and when coming in Sauru village, we saw a lodge. We were walking towards the lodge when a men asked us if we wanted to have tea or food. We gladly said yes to food and his wife prepared some Dhal Bat for us. We waited while watching roosters and chickens walking around. All the kids of the village walked by on their way to school and greated us with a nice Namaste before asking for sweets. At least this time they didn't try to go through our bags...

Best Dhal Bat ever in a small private Nepali home, made by the owner's wife
View from the hotel in Kalapani

Day 20 Tatopani

We left the lodge early and walked for 2 hours in a trail up the road where we could hear some birds and the river before arriving in Ghasa. We decided to stop to have cinnamon milk tea and Tibetan bread with honey. After all that sugar we almost ran down the hill. Going up was much easier that we expected and we raced to the top before coming back down again. The scenery and vegetation changed a lot during the day, even the bamboo was back. We walked through many villages that didn't seem to have any lodges open. Seb was offered some hash, again (it is a common occurrence in Nepal). We crossed the wooden bridge to Dana where Seb had trouble with his knee so we stopped for lunch. We decided to stay on the main road for the remaining hour of the walk to Tatopani as it was flat. This was the biggest day so far with 21,8 kilometres and around 1150 metres of descent, not including the ups and downs.

So many suspension bridges...

Going down towards Tatopani
Our new friends looking for candies