A Travellerspoint blog

Day 1 of Knee-Watch

My Ride to Gorkha

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View Round The World 2007 & Reading Week 2007 & Consulting Life on NomadicOne's travel map.

Written: February 8, 2009


I woke up early to catch the morning panoramas from the viewing tower. I also had a long ride to Naubise which included the other half of the windy Tribhuvan. I wanted extra time so I could take it easy and not have to rush to Gorkha, a ride which would take 8 hours according to staff at the Daman Mountain Resort. The weather in the early morning was cold as I took off for Naubise. Since I had been going uphill from Hetauda to Daman reaching an altitude of 2400m at one point, this second half consisted of windy downhill roads. I clutched-in to disengage the engine as much as possible in order to save gas. I had a good period of 10-15 minutes without using the throttle and only the brakes. I rode extremely carefully due to my recent bad luck and paid extra attention to corner bends, water runoffs, slippery roads, uneven rocks and sands.

The ride from Daman to Naubise took roughly 2 hours and it was very enjoyable. There was little traffic and the views were great. There was a big difference in the landscape on this side of the Tribhuvan. It was less lush/green, more yellow and barren. I passed through many small towns and settlements of a few houses and shacks. Men, women and children everywhere would stop and look at me with curiosity as I rode by. I finally made it to Naubise and took the Prithvi Highway connecting Kathmandu to Pokhara. This highway was a dream to ride since it was mostly straight and in good condition. After being cautious starting out in the morning, I grew more confident and accelerated the bike more.

I quickly reached Muglina, the halfway point between Kathmandu and Pokhara, in about an hour. I stopped for a break like I do after every 2 hours of riding. At the side of the road, I noticed a pharmacy across the street so I went into see if I could buy healing creams or bandages. When the pharmacist came over, I motioned to my knee, made a cutting motion and pointed to my helmet to indicate motorcycle crash. The pharmacist didn’t know much English but enough to say, “Bike accident?” I nodded and showed him the wound indicating I had cleaned it but requiring dressing. He cleaned the wound with iodine, put on some type of paste and dressed it. He did all that for 15NPRs ($0.21 CDN). Day 1 of Knee-Watch was encouraging. The scrape did not look infected and although I still limped and hobbled, the pain had been reduced and I had greater motion with my knees. I hope the recovery continues at a quick pace. I could see and feel my hip bruise getting better but I still had a chest ache when I coughed or moved a certain way. The diagnostic for Day 1 was good and my therapy prescription would be to rest the knee as much as possible. Unfortunately, I would not even listen to my own internal doctor.

I arrived in Abu Kharaini very soon after Mugling. From there, I took a road north for 27km to Gorkha and arrived well within 5 hours of my departure time. The village of Gorkha is the birthplace of Prithvi Narayan Shah, the 18th century unifier of Nepal. The centrepoint of Gorkha is the palace (durbar), temple and fort complex on the top of the hill. Instead of resting my knee and doing the hike up 1500 steps to the Gorkha Durbar the next day, I decided to save time and do it in the afternoon of my arrival. I had the idea to stop in Bandipur the next day and heading straight back to Pokhara. The primary reasons for speeding up and shortening the trip was so I could save on rental fees that I would have to spend on damages as well as using the extra days to recuperate in Pokhara. I also wanted to meet-up with Doug and Kate the two Aussies I had met on the infamous train ride to Varanasi. We had exchanged contacts to try to ride together. They rode their Enfield Bullets from Varanasi into Nepal and gone up to Tribhuvan to Kathmandu, Gorkha and Pokhara. They were a day ahead of me and going off hiking so this was my chance to see them before I head for Kathmandu.

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The hike up 1500 stone steps wasn’t as bad as I was expecting even though I had to stop and rest 4 times. Going down 1500 steps was another story and nearly killed me. My knee felt the effects of each downhill steps painfully. Since I favoured my left leg, by the end of the hike it was shaking with exhaustion. Even with the pain, the views from the top of the narrow ridge the durbar (palace) was located on was excellent. I didn’t get to see much within the palace as I didn’t want to pay the admission but I definitely noticed the blood stains on the courtyard stones from the daily animal sacrifices. I was briefly concerned with getting animal blood and feathers on my socks since I had to remove my boots (no leather products within the palace area). The Gorkha Durbar was where the Shah King was born and ruled Nepal after conquering the city states if the Kathmandu Valley. What was especially interesting about the palace was the intricately carved windows and root struts depicting erotic scenes. Throughout my visit in Gorkha, I felt like I was the only foreigner in town as I saw no other tourists.

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I haven’t been laughed at by a little girl in a long time but it certainly happened a few times at dinner. At 7PM, I came down from my room to the kitchen of the guesthouse/shop and sat down with two others for my dinner (my only meal of the day). Metallic plates of dahl bhat(Nepalese staple consisting of rice, lentil soup and vegetables) were served to us. Since the daal soup was very watery and there was no naan/bread, I didn't even consider eating the meal with my right hand as was customary and started using the spoon that comes with the soup to help me eat. The landlady noticed my use of the spoon and frowned asking me if I didn't like the food. I sheepishly started to explain that I was enjoying the meal but couldn't eat it with my hand. She adamantly pointed me to the faucet to wash my hands and insisted I eat it the Nepali way as if any other way would be an insult to her cooking. Not wanting to offend the host and deciding to give it a try, I washed my hands and looked at the other two at the table hoping to learn their methods just like how I mastered Chilean hotdog eating in Santiago. It was very hard to copy the other two since they ate very quickly and naturally forming the food into balls before popping it into their mouths. Obviously, they never used their left hand and even with one hand they were able to devour their dinner within 10 minutes. After washing their hands they were gone. Meanwhile, I was torturing myself by slowly shoveling the small amount of food I could pick-up into my mouth. To make it worse, this was my first meal of the day since my previous meal was a late lunch in Daman 28 hours ago. A girl of approximately 13-14 years of age who spoke the most English of the family started laughing at me as she watched my methodology, signs of frustration and flying elbows. After 10 minutes of torture, she started giving me lessons. First, she forced my flying elbow down on the table. Then she motioned he lentil soup was supposed to be poured into the rice but not all of it. I then tried to form the rice into balls before bringing it up to my mouth. It was kind of fun yet in a way childish since we're told not to play with our food in the western world. Finally, after a frustrating 25 minutes I had enough, washed my hands and retired to my room. While the food was very good, I didn't bother asking for seconds not wanting to be tortured any longer. The mocking laughter of the little girl haunted my nightmares.

Posted by NomadicOne 23:38 Archived in Nepal Tagged landscapes buildings nepal backpacking motorcycling Comments (0)

The Highs and Lows of Motorcycling in Nepal

My first motorcycle crash

sunny 20 °C
View Subcontinent Expedition 2009 & Consulting Life on NomadicOne's travel map.

Written: February 3, 2009

I was really enjoying the crazy twists of the Tribhuvan Highway about 40 minutes south of Daman when it happened. I slowed as the road dipped down and rode over the small water runoff. As I turned the throttle to speed uphill and bend right with the road, the back wheel gave away and before I knew it the bike crashed low-side. My right knee scraped the asphalt and I immediately felt pain. A few thoughts suddenly went through my mind:

  1. Will I be able to do the EBC (Everest Base Camp) trek? I really hope I don't have any major injuries preventing me from hiking after coming all this way.
  2. Another motorcycle accident? After one accident yesterday I now have a low-speed crash? I hope there's not too much damage to pay for!

After coming to a complete stop, I sprang into action, picked up the bike and checked to see if there was any gas leakage. My next check was to see if the engine would still start and thankfully it did. I then started checking myself knowing my knee would be banged up and require attention. I checked my elbows, chest and shoulders but it seemed like they were fine. I figured the crash bars and my knee took the brunt of the weight while I was lying down. I rolled up my pants on my right leg and saw blood bleeding from ugly scrapes. I looked for my first aid kit but cursed myself for leaving it with my big backpack in Pokhara. I improvised by using what I had from my mini-med kit. I used wet wipes and hand sanitizer to clean the blood. Without bandages, I had to tie my handkerchief around my knee to hold up wet wipes and toilet paper to stop the bleeding. Satisfied, I took a closer look at the damages to the bike: there were large gashes and scrapes to the right crash bar, foot peg, muffler and the plastic suspension cover. I dreaded the damage costs the renter would assess keeping in mind he held my passport. There was no use worrying about that and I decided to proceed to carefully to Daman. Once again, I told myself not to let my emotions affect my riding and I reached Daman 30 minutes after the crash.
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I decided to stay at the Daman Mountain Resort because of their views. Even though I only got the unattached room (no in-suite bath), the staff let me have a hot shower in one of the attached room. I also asked for some antiseptics and showed the staff my scraped knee. He came back with an old bottle of methylated spirits and some not-so-clean cotton balls. I dipped the cleaner ones in alcohol and swabbed my right knee to clean away the blood and prevent infection. I clenched my teeth and bit back howls of pain every time the alcohol-soaked cotton balls came in contact with the tender wound. I then used toilet paper and duct tape as dressing. I didn't think the injuries would take too long to heal but the soreness and sharp pain was disconcerting and I was still concerned about whether it would be feasible for me to hike to Everest Base Camp with such fresh injuries. I also had a bruise on my right hip and pain in my chest when I coughed. I deduced my chest pains were due to a minor rib fracture rather than internal bleeding since it was a low speed crash, I wasn't exhibiting signs of shock and I would be in more severe state/dead by the time I got settled down several hours later.

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Estimated Healing Time:

  1. Knee - Swelling and pain (3 days), full recovery (7-8 days)
  2. Hip - No impact to hike. Bruise should heal within 7 days.
  3. Chest - Constant observation required

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After a short rest, I checked out the viewing tower which had excellent panoramic views of the Himalayan mountain range. Feeling hungry, I limped into the town (consisting of two/three small buildings) for some Dahl Bhat, the traditional Nepali dish consisting of lentil soup, rice and assorted vegetables. The meal cost 60Rs ($1) including seconds and it was a much better meal and value than the potatje oorlog. I spent the remainder of my afternoon relaxing, entertaining a little kid and snapping pictures of the mountains at sundown.

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Other than the crash, the ride was brilliant. I rode 1.5 hours from Sauraha to Hetauda before turning north on the Tribhuvan Highway. The roads were crazy windy and kept climbing. There were close calls with trucks and buses around certain bends but I honked to notify on my approach. Close to Daman when I reached the altitude of 2000m, I felt like I broke through the clouds and it became a lot colder. In fact, Daman was quite chilly at night and I wore all my clothes including gloves and balaclava to bed. Thankfully, after 2 hours I built enough body heat under the 3 layers to take off the gloves and balaclava. I woke up at 2AM and had a hard time falling asleep afterwards. I worried about the amount of damages to the motorcycle, but most of all, I was worried about my knee. I ran through possible schedules, scenarios, action plans. I didn't want to but I had to mentally prepare myself for not being able to do the EBC this time. Only time will tell if it heals fast enough and I can still go.

I certainly hope so.

Posted by NomadicOne 23:39 Archived in Nepal Tagged nepal backpacking motorcycling Comments (0)

Motorcycle Adventures in Nepal

The long and winding road to Lumbini and my first motorcycle accident

sunny 20 °C
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Written: February 3, 2009

I was riding slowly just past the town of Butwal on the Siddhartha Highway when it happened. The traffic within city limits was much more chaotic and concentrated than the twisty mountain roads so I took it slow. I was riding along and just passed a minor intersection when I noticed a girl holding her bicycle in the middle of the road. I became cautious, anticipating any sudden movements by her or traffic around me. She looked up and saw me, we made eye contact and I relaxed a bit figuring she noticed my approach. However, at the last moment she bolted in front of me and with heavy traffic around me I could not swerve in time. So I braked as heavily and as safely as I could, hoping there would be enough stopping distance, and braced for impact.

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The motorcycle struck her bicycle's back wheel at around 10-15km/hr and it wobbled for a second before I managed to stabilize it. I pulled over, took off my sunglasses, my helmet and my balaclava. I dismounted from the motorcycle and started walking back. I saw the girl walking her bicycle to the side of the road. Since she didn't seem to have any major injuries, my first emotion was that of relief. I noticed there were some people talking to her and, upon seeing my approach, they seemed surprised that I had actually stopped. I walked over and asked her three times if she was okay and she indicated she was unhurt. Her confirmation greatly relieved my fears and concerns. Her bicycle's back-wheel frame was bent out-of-shape; it would require a replacement but otherwise no major work would be required.

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I believed the accident wasn't my fault since I did everything I could to avoid the incident. However, I was a realist and knew I would get squeezed (asked/suggested/blackmailed to pay a damage fee) since I was a foreigner. Within 5 minutes, a man who was trying to take leadership of the situation said, "Okay, give 1000 Rupees." I laughed, 1000 NRs (~$15 CDN) was slightly more than 6 times the rate of my hotel room in Pokhara! First of all, I didn’t think I should pay for any damages at all and, furthermore, 1000 NRs was ludicrous and I told him that. When he threatened to call the police, I strongly considered waiting for them to arrive and settle the matter. I think the representative was very taken aback when I didn’t panic at his threat and strongly considered it. After five minutes of wrangling, we took the bicycle to a repair shop and asked a mechanic to assess the damages and cost of repair. Once again, I knew I would probably not get an honest quote since I couldn’t understand Nepali. On the way to the bike shop, I asked a younger onlooker if he agreed that 1000 NRs was too much. He seemed to agree and said maybe 600-700 NRs would be closer. As I expected, after having a conversation with the mechanic, the main representative told me that it would cost 1000 NRs for all the parts and repairs required. I laughed, he was definitely getting a cut of the money so I said, "No." He then thought about it and revised the price down to 800 NRs. I thought this obviously showed that he wasn't exactly truthful but since I needed to get to Lumbini before sundown I took out 1000 NRs and asked for 200 back. But after he took the 1000, he refused and said, "No, 1000 NRs! 200 NRs for repairs." Now I was angry, there wasn't much I could do except to wait for the police but I didn't have the time. In my last ditch effort at trying to make things more positive, I took the money back and gave it to the girl directly hoping she could spend it on repairs and keep the extra that would've gone to the translator/middleman/scum. But not even a second after that, she handed it immediately to the representative and I became even more enraged and chuckled. I even became cynical enough to wonder whether this whole event was a scam and whether I should have stopped or not. Before leaving for my destination, I asked for directions to Lumbini to confirm. It was the most expensive directions I've ever gotten.

When I got back to Petrova, the name of my rental motorcycle (Bajaj Pulsar 180cc), I was glad to see there didn't seem to be any damage to the bike. I rode away pissed-off but, remembering the lesson from my motorcycle safety course regarding emotions influencing safety, I tried not to dwell on the incident.

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Due to the incident, I was somewhat down for the rest of the day but I tried to think optimistically. I thought to myself, the most important thing was that no one was hurt, the bike sustained no damages and $15 was more to them than it was to me. I also had a brilliant day of riding excluding the accident of course. The twisting and windy roads of the Siddhartha Highway were incredibly fun, challenging and dangerous. I was cautious with my speed and control however, trucks and buses making blind corners gave me a few close calls even as I slowed down and honked repeatedly before my approach. Since I was on a 180cc road bike with no off-road experience, many stretches of the highway were challenging and made me anxious. In these stretches, the tarmac would disappear replaced by sand and stone. I would concentrate on navigating around big potholes and taking the least rocky path; all while avoiding traffic and worrying about my tires. After the first day, I was glad I went with a Japanese style shifting bike that I was used to (1 down, 4 up) rather than the heavy Royal Enfield which have a different setup with shifters located on the right side. I was thankful for having taken a motorcycle safety (basic riding) course since clutch control, obstacle riding and collision management were all important on Day 1 of my motorcycle tour.

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After a night mostly awake hunting mosquitoes, I rode Petrova into the Lumbini conservation area. The rectangular walled area contains monasteries built by governments and Buddhist groups around the world. At the center of the UNESCO world heritage site, the Maya Devi temple encloses the exact spot where Queen Mayadevi gave birth to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as Buddha. My first stop was the Maya Devi temple. I circumnavigated the sacred grounds and witnessed the Faithfuls offer prayers at the Bodhi tree. Colourful prayer flags were hung all leading to the large and old sacred fig tree. A monk was leading a group through prayers in front of the Asokan pillar. Within the Maya Devi temple, worshipers circumnavigate a stone marking the exact birthplace of Lord Siddhartha. I bemusedly wonder to myself how accurate the marker is considering it's suppose to mark an event that took place more than 2500 years ago.

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After a quick visit to the Zhong Hua Chinese Buddhist Monastery, a miniature and simpler version of the Forbidden City, I rode Petrova to the Vietnamese Monastery. According to my Lonely Planet Nepal (2006), the Vietnam Phac Quoc Tu Temple should've been finished in 2006. A sign posted on the outside said otherwise and evidently construction was still in progress. While I was stopped reading the sign, a monk spotted me through the gate and approached to explain visitors weren't allowed just yet. He then asked where I was from and I replied, "Canada." He then became very excited and expressed he studied at UBC and lived in B.C. for twenty years! After pausing for a second, he proceeded to ask me whether I wanted to take a quick 10 minute tour and I jumped on the chance and said yes. Although the complex was not complete, I could see it was very close to the projected completion date of July 2009. It was beautifully landscaped and the roof had detailed carvings of dragons. There was a beautiful pond and garden with replica cranes and one live one as well. In one of the ponds, there were steps leading to a platform shaped like Vietnam. The steps in the other one led to a water temple, according to the monk, similar but smaller than the one in Hanoi. I was then led up the steps to the main temple where pilgrims and visitors would pray. The intricate carvings of the deities were made in Hanoi and shipped to Lumbini. Adjacent to the temple was a new building which will act as hotel facilities for visitors when the complex is open. While I was in the main temple admiring the carvings of the deities, the friendly monk suggested I could offer my prayers for my family and friends. Not wanting to offend him and refuse his generosity by explaining to him I was an Atheist Secular Humanist, I put my palms together and thought of my family. I wished them all good health and attempted to telepathically convey my gratitude to them. I thought maybe I was too quick so I whispered "a mi tuo fo" and thought of my closest friends. I wished them all the best and my thanks for their friendships. I then said one final "a mi tuo fo" and thanked the monk for giving me such an opportunity. I was very fortunate to get an advanced tour of the temple and promised to tell me friends and family to visit.

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The ride to Sauraha (a town by the Chitwan National Park) was longer than I expected. I had projected the duration to be four hours but instead it took five and a half. I had to ask for directions 7 times so no one can ever say I don't ask for directions (though I still believe if Christopher Columbus didn't need them, neither do I). My journey was supposed to be on highways and main roads yet for many stretches my tires were on rocks and sand which worried me greatly. On the upside, my riding skills both on and off-road have improved immensely. I had some real close calls on some of the passing and traffic today but that's just the norm in Nepal. I just hope my bad habits (such as honking at every moving thing to let them know my location) don't stay with me once I'm back in Canada!

I must say, even though I had some challenges and lost some money due to the accident described above, I truly enjoy motorcycle touring. Traveling by motorcycle makes me feel so much more in touch with the environment and at it's mercy. You're not confined within a cage or frame with glass separated with the world you wish to explore. Riding on the motorcycle, I was able to hear, smell and feel the places I visit and pass by. The motorcycle also allowed me to experience one example of Nepali courteousness. After getting some directions from an army highway outpost, I got confused once again and stopped by a market to ask for further directions. A local man expressed I had to keep going and turn left at some point. As I was getting to continue on in search of the illusive road to Sauraha off of the highway, he walked up to me and expressed he would show me the way and hopped-on the back of Petrova (no, I usually do not condone 2-men-up since I like to stick to a male-to-female ratio of 1:y, where y is greater than or equal to 1). After riding for about 20 seconds, the helpful local tapped me on my shoulder and pointed to the gate I was looking for. He then hopped off and after I thanked him "dhanyabad" he walked back.

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For those of you with a strong sense of curiousity, I have a danger I must warn you about. Lonely Planet likes to include fun tidbits every now and then which are mostly harmless. That is not the case for the food section of Sauraha. After reading about a strange Dutch entree called Patatje Oorlog, I decided to order it (even though it was the most expensive thing on the menu). The combination of fries, onions, peanut butter and mayonnaise sounded interesting but it was far from good or even gastronomically edible. Even though I was famished and this was the first and my only meal of the day, I could not finish it. Lesson learned: never let my curiosity mix with LP food tidbits! Also, Dutch cuisine is going on my "Black" list.

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Patatje Oordlog served!
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That was disgusting, I couldn't even finish it and it was my only meal in 24 hours.

Posted by NomadicOne 17:02 Archived in Nepal Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Pokhara: Possibly the Best Place Ever

The two bus rides from hell

sunny 18 °C
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Written: February 3, 2009

While I love Wikis, specifically the site Wikitravel, they’re not exactly impervious to bias. The Wikitravel entry for Pokhara includes a line that states the city is “considered by many to be the most beautiful place in the whole wide world.” Pokhara, the second largest city in Nepal, is a lovely city situated by Phewa Tal Lake and surrounded by majestic mountains. After spending a few days there, it’s hard to disagree with that statement.

I left Varanasi at 6 pm for Sunauli. Staring out the window, I watched the hustle and bustle, the shops, the shanties and countless faces. My mind scrolled through all the sights and smells of India I captured, ones which could not be taken on camera, stored in my head. I thought of towns and villages zooming by on train rides. I thought of the innumerable small one-room shops with the shopkeepers looking back at you. I saw images of men standing in a group drinking chai, faces of kids looking back at you curiously. I saw a country quickly adapting and advancing technology. However, I also witnessed India’s sheer poverty and inequality. I’ve spoken to many travelers about India. While it is not my favourite country, my visit has been truly an eye opening and enriching experience for which I am thankful.

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The bus ride to Sunauli was extremely bumpy and cold. The window beside my seat refused to stay closed. After two minutes of fully closing it, it would creep back down by 1 cm and after five minutes it would be down by 5 cm letting in a chilly stream of air. I wore my toque, windstopper, outer jacket and gloves yet I was still cold. The constant need to push my windows up and the cold prevented me from getting much sleep. Finally, we arrived to the Sunauli border stop at 4:30 am. Since it was pitch dark and we had no clue where the actual Indian-Nepali border offices were, we had to spend some time walking around and avoiding rickshawallas. Jeff, a Taiwanese guy I met on the bus, and I followed a Tibetan monk since we expected he would know the way. However, after 5 minutes we realized he had no idea and followed our instincts. After getting some directions from a jeep driver, we found the Indian customs office and waited an hour before it opened and a sleepy border guard gave us our exit stamp. After a short walk across the border into Nepal, within minutes, we got our entry visas and hopped on a bus for Pokhara.

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Even though the bus ride from Sunauli to Pokhara was more scenic it was still a painful experience. The old creaky bus was crammed with passengers and, from the very start, there was a group of teenagers loudly laughing, talking and yelling throughout the long 9.5 hour trip. Additionally, the journey on the Siddhartha Nagar highway was dizzying, the traffic dangerous and the cliff drops a bit scary. At one point everyone in the bus looked over to the left side of the bus. I asked a passenger what he was looking at and after a pause, he hesitantly replied, “Accident.” A bus had gone over the edge and down the 100 metre cliff; it was impossible for anyone to survive that. I was glad I took a day bus instead of the notorious night buses for this scenic yet treacherous journey. Still, the combination of aggressive driving style, the lack of rails and the huge cliff drops right out my window made my stomach churn every now and then. One mistake or a faulty brake would easily send the bus over the edge and into all but certain death. We arrived in Pokhara at 4:30 pm after 9.5 hours but, perhaps due to my anxiety, I definitely felt like the trip was longer.

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After checking around, Jeff and I settled into different hotels before meeting up for dinner. I’m proud to boast that due to our aggressive bargaining skills he was able to score a double room with common shower/toilet for 120 NRs ($2 CND) and I paid 165 NRs ($2.5 CDN) for a double with hot shower/toilet per night. Both of our hotels were in Lakeside Central and I highly recommend people to go to Hotel Peace Horizon if they visit Pokhara. After settling in, we had dinner at the Rainbow Restaurant and Bar and I had a spaghetti bolognaise; the first time I had meat in 2.5 weeks and it was scrumptious. Pokhara would turn out to be a great place to feast and I went back to Rainbow quite a few times during my stay in the city. I spent the next day walking around the main touristy strip of Lakeside and its surrounding areas. Since Jeff was taking off for a trek in the Annapurna region the next day, we had a steak dinner at New Everest and the half-steak was filling and fantastic.

On my last day in Pokhara before taking off on motorcycle, I decided to hike up to the International Peace Pagoda. I took the scenic route to the pagoda, located on a narrow ridge overlooking Pokhara, by following the directions from Lonely Planet (LP). Finding my way was a challenge since LP’s directions were more of a loose guide. After hiking 1.5 hours through rice paddies, farmland and forested areas, I became somewhat worried about my lack of fitness and how I would fare on the Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek. I alleviated my concerns by realizing most of my anxiety centered on being lost, not knowing the direction and I would have enough time to take lots of breaks. I felt relieved and I rejoiced when I finally came upon the clearing in front of the pagoda. The view truly was amazing, the pagoda very beautiful and the trek well worth the effort. I sat to catch my breath and admired the snow-capped peaks surrounding Pokhara. I watched the hawks circle and surf the hot-air currents abundant above the hilly range. I wished I could do the same (which is possible in Pokhara, a pursuit called “hawk-assisted paragliding”).

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International Peace Pagoda, Pokhara
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Pokhara by Phewa Tal Lake
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Machapuchare in the clouds

During my exploration of the pagoda, I saw a guy with a Team Canada shirt and a Canadian flag on his backpack. I approached him and said, “Can you make it any more obvious that you’re Canadian? Do you also have MEC gear?” I jokingly checked his backpack and ironically it was indeed a MEC bag with an oversize Canadian flag which he explained he got in his younger days for backpacking Europe. I chatted a bit with him and his girlfriend Danielle about India and Nepal. Another group of tourists nearby overheard us and humorously asked him, “Why?” when he said they were heading to India. I prepped them for the Indian experience by telling them my “toilet everywhere” story. I also met an Italian tourist who had recently done the EBC trek and he said it was great. With regards to the trek, he reassured me the lodges were open, it was not too painfully cold and that meeting other independent trekkers would be easy. Effectively, he took care of all my major concerns and made me even more excited about the trek with his enthusiastic description of excellent clear weather conditions.

Finally, after walking around inspecting the pagoda, which was a 3-tiered structure and had statues depicting Siddhartha’s major life events, I snapped a few pictures and made my way back to town. I had earlier considered taking the direct return route and paying for a boat ride back to Lakeside; however, after resting for a while and feeling more confident I would remember the way back I decided to hoof it and save a few dollars. I made it back to town in under 1 hour, took a relaxing hot shower before hitting Rainbow for some lasagna bolognaise. It was an early night for me since I needed to wake-up early to pack, rent a bike and start my motorcycle tour of Nepal. I had a hard time sleeping that night since I kept thinking of the windy roads, the big cliffs and the chaotic traffic. Though I was anxious, the excitement of such a trip outweighed all my concerns and I never back down from a challenge. I told myself: if I left Nepal without riding its challenging roads and explore its towns, I would regret it for the rest of my life.

See you in eight days Pokhara!

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Posted by NomadicOne 20:49 Archived in Nepal Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

I Have Smelt Death in Varanasi

Varanasi, also known as Benares, Banaras, Kashi, City of Lights, City of Temples, Holy City of India

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Written: January 30, 2009

Preface: First of all, I apologize for the long delay since my last update. It's taken a bit of time to get settled back into normal life and I've been procrastinating. Perhaps, as in previous experience, I was also denying and delaying the finality of my trip.


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The corpses wrapped in saffron silk burn brightly in the night sky. The sun has just set. There are eighteen cremations taking place at Manikarnika Ghat, also known as the Burning Ghat, and many more are being queued up in the middle awaiting their turn. The sky above Manikarnika is filled with smoke, it remains so day and night for Death waits for no one. I am within metres of the cremations and the odors of death, a combination of smoke; ash and sandalwood, fill my nostrils.

I notice that one of the cremations nearby is almost complete. After 3 hours of burning, the closest male relative tosses a clay pot of Ganga water into the embers over his shoulder. He and the rest of the attending family, all males, walk away and do not look back. Female relatives aren’t allowed to attend since some would throw themselves into the funeral pyre in grief and desperation. A friend of mine told me that fact made her visit more moving.

The cremations happen at all hours. With the departure of the previous family upon completion of the cremation, a new one arrives to take its place. A group of eight family members carry a body wrapped in saffron coloured cloth to the funeral pyre with re-stacked firewood. The quality and the amount of firewood depends on how wealthy was the deceased. In a way, wealth and social hierarchy still apply even in death. The family of the deceased transport the body; covered with roses, jasmine and marigolds; from all over India to Varanasi, which is considered the Holy City of the Hindus and most auspicious place to die. It is believed that bathing in the River Ganges will wash away one's sins.

More than 1 million believers make the pilgrimage to Varanasi each year. During my visit, I witnessed many funeral processions. The male relatives carry their recently loved one, wrapped in bright saffron coloured cloth, on their shoulder through the timeless and narrow windy streets to the shores of Mother Ganges. They repeatedly chant, "Rama Nama Satya Hai!", meaning "God’s name is truth". A custom and tradition that has been performed for centuries.

After the body arrives to the Ganges, it is dipped in the spiritual water 3 times before being cleansed by the seven natural elements and placed on the firewood. The closest family relative then leads the attendants through the whole process with the help of the brahmin. After certain rituals involving various herbs and spices, the funeral pyre which can be composed of up to 220kg of wood is set on fire to burn for nearly 3 hours. Once the time is up, ashes and bones are collected and spread into the Ganges. For the Hindus, Benares is a Holy City. People come to bathe in the spiritual water and await death as it is considered most holy place to cross. In fact, a cremation at Varanasi can cost a fortune. The act of cremating a body, unabashed displayed, is such a final act. I believe it is fitting in providing closure for the relatives of the recently deceased. In Varanasi, the finality of death is prominently displayed in comparison with other funerary rituals.

While the city brims with life as it has been for more than 3000 years, the smoke and the funeral processions reminds us of the ever presence of death. Rich or poor, young or old, you cannot run away and you cannot cheat death. Everyone returns to the Ganges one way or another.

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I am fortunate to have met a cool group of people before arriving in Varanasi to explore the city together. The two French girls, Angeline and Brunilde, as well as Benjamin and I took both a sunrise and sunset boat ride. We also walked along the river and numerous ghats (which are steps leading down to a body of water used by locals to bathe, wash, perform religious/spiritual rituals) to experience the colourful life of Varanasi.

There are some distinct experiences and images from Varanasi I will always remember: pilgrims praying and bathing at the ghats, laundrymen beating sheets on the rocks, stiff legs and does burning in the dark night and that distinct odour from cremations, the smell of death.

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After 2.5 days in Varanasi avoiding barking dogs (hopefully without rabies), cow manure in narrow windy alleys and getting lost in one of the oldest continually inhabited city in history, it was time for all of us to move on. The girls flew to Delhi where they will have one last night of partying before flying back to Europe. Benjamin is off to Darjeeling and Kolkota (Calcutta) before continuing to Sri Lanka and the rest of his round the world trip. As for me, it's time to head into Nepal. I'm taking the bus to Sunauli where I'll cross the border and catch another bus for Pokhara.

Namaste India, Namaste Nepal.

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Posted by NomadicOne 03:26 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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