Istanbul-Katmandu. From the gates of Asia to the heart of the continent.
It is a tough blow. Jet lag. Climate and cultural shock. First big jump since the beginning of the trip. We truly regret the comfort of discovering a new culture, little by little, on the road.
We stop 30 minutes in front of the airport to fix the parts we took off for the flight and reinflate our tyres. In few seconds, about 20 nepalese guys arrive, surround us and stare at us. First « white watching »* experience. Some people talked us about this funny attraction of the Asiatics on western people. For the first time, people is watching us not only for our weird bicycles but for our weird faces.
*white watching : Practice mainly asiatic consisting in deeply staring at all the people who don’t have the local stigmas. Most of the time, « white watching » involves looking back on, pointing the finger with open mouth, the individual above-mentioned.
Just long enough to hate Katmandu, its dust, pollution, poverty, horns and people who try to sell you nights in hôtels, counterfeits, drug, we decide to head on open spaces. The day after, we take the direction of the jungle. Chitwan, natural park at the edge of India. A slight mistake in map reading and we take a wrong way. 1000 m to climb on field, stoned and mudded path. All the Nepalese we meet on our way stop their vehicle to cheer up and give us informations about the way. Most of them is pessimistic about reaching next village before the night. Indeed, we get the pass of the mountain just to dusk. Too dangerous to go down the other side, along the cliff, by headlamp light.
At the top, some people live in a little hut. We meet them and ask if we can camp next to their place. First, they refuse. Too cold We explain them we are well-equipped. Then, they open a shack made of wood and sheet metal. They settle mats to be insulated from the ground. They have turned out better than expected!
When the sun wakes up, the sight is incredible in both sides. On Kathmandu’s a dry and polluted landscape surrounded by the Himalaya, immaculate, great and silent. On the other side, another world. As far as one can see, a green landscape with water, rice terraces, typical little villages, laughs, music, nepalese people wearing traditional attire and babies watching you with their almond-shaped black eyes, the mouth full of rice. We go down in this incredible landscape. At the end of the day, we get Hetauda, helped by a truck who took us on board with other very nice Nepalese. Last step before the jungle.
We leave from the very sad city of Hetauda the next morning. On the road, a very thick fog made of water and dust. The enormous trucks and buses are honking. They don’t want to share the road with us. Driving in Nepal is jungle law. The biggest has the priority. And all those honks mean : « go away! ».
We arrive in Sauraha. We join our friends Maëlle and Bijay who run Evergreen Ecolodge, a little paradise built by their own, at the gates of jungle. It’s time to relax : naps in hammock, maintenance of the Bromptons, building of a raw earth oven, everyday life shared with elephants.
We reluctantly come back to Kathmandu to ask for Chinese visas. At Durbar square, holy place in the city, we enter a calm courtyard, decorated with beautiful wooden sculpted walls. Feverish suspense. People is hard-pressed. « She is coming » are whispering the persons around us.
Suddenly, she appears. She is unreal. She carries so much beauty and sadness at the same time.
By the window, the 10 years old alive goddess is smiling. Probably amused by all this people watching her. She quickly lose her smile, surely remembering she is not allowed to do that.
We never heard about Kumaris before. Kumaris are young nepalese girls venerated as alive hindu goddess. They are strictly chosen from their first milk tooth lost to the first time they bleed. They cannot smile or cry. When they bleed for the first time, they come back to « normal » life. This return to reality is generally very hard for these young girls who have no autonomie and lived experience for having been adored and waited all their life long. Th legend says that marrying a former Kumari brings you bad luck. Some of them are becoming mad, poor or finish their life alone.
The status of children in Nepal is sometimes worst than Kumari’s. We’ve seen very young children carrying bricks in factories or cutting wood with an ax by the roadside. It was not 5 or 6 years old children playing, it was 5 or 6 years old children working, all day long. There are also those street kids, full of grime, spending their days drugging themselves with glue or burnt plastics. And all the things we can’t see. Bijay talked to us about pedophile rings involving western people.
And Nepalese government is closing its eyes on it. Anyway, not always easy to be a child in Nepal.
The second part of our journey in Nepal takes place in Pokhara. From now, we are backpackers.
One more asset of travelling by Brompton! Easy to take the bus, easy to leave the bicycles at the hotel. And real hiking backpack for each one of us! We leave Pokhara for a 3 day trek in the Annapurna range.
Despite the 80 € of « license » we spent to enter the area, we really enjoyed the tour : extraordinary landscapes with dry deserts, deep jungle, colorful hills, frozen waterfalls and an unforgettable sunrise over the Annapurnas…
Poon Hill trek, it’s its name, is supposed to be done at least in 4 days, according to the Nepalese. We are however not overactives neither athletes, but in 2 days and a half, we did the complete loop!
Whether 1. Nepalese are taking a wide safety margin when they advice tourists about outings in mountains. Probably to avoid them to take any risk (and keeping them longer in the area to spend more in hotels and restaurants).
Whether 2. Our Bromptons turned our bodies into great machines of propulsion and endurance.
I would vote for both reasons.
In any event, for the persons who are interested in this trek, YES, the Ghorepani – Poon Hill – Gandruk loop from Nayapul can be done in 3 days!
YES, with a good pace, you can walk from Nayapul to Ghorepani in 1 day.
YES, with a good pace, you can walk from Ghorepani to Gandruk (+ a detour via Poon Hill) in 1 day.
By the way, fancy an ice cream?
It is on the other side of the Himalaya that our adventure is continuing. Unfortunately, we cross Tibet by the airways for economic, practical and climatic reasons. See you soon in south-west China!