Getting homesick is tough

It’s been two years since I’ve been home to Croatia, and the nostalgia is kicking in. Sure, I’ve traveled a lot outside of Nepal, but nothing really beats home when it comes to the petty cravings, right? French Evian might be super fancy, but Croatian tap water still tastes sweeter in my mouth. I don’t even want to think about what Nepali tap water would taste like (going in and coming out – oh that’s gross, sorry).

So in celebration of my (potential) trip home this summer, here are some things I am looking forward to:

  1. Water. I am really excited for that feeling when you just stand in the shower and let the water run over you. And you can even open your mouth and drink some! Or that feeling when you open the tap, fill a glass of water and down it, without thinking twice about purification methods. Also that feeling when you know there is no tank that you could potentially empty and then suffer without water for hours, or sometimes days. Or that feeling when you can run a washing machine, or dishwasher as many times a day as you want.
  2. Electricity. I am looking forward to this. I mean, does this really need any further explanation? Living without electricity is not easy. It’s like this: Oh I would love to have home-made lasagna for dinner tonight. Ok, let me see – I got all the ingredients, but the electricity only comes back at 7 pm, which means that the lasagna can only be done at 8 pm in best case scenario, which is kind of late for dinner. Oh well, maybe tomorrow. Or like this: My hair looks awful, and I really need to wash it. But wait, if I wash it tonight, I need to do it very late because the electricity only comes back at 11pm and I don’t want to be drying my hair that late. And tomorrow morning the electricity goes out at 6am, and I don’t want to be washing my hair at 5am. Oh well, maybe some other day.
  3. Bakery. As much as bakeries here try, they just cannot compare to bakeries in Europe. I don’t know what it is: the flour, the yeast, the altitude, the skill? No clue. But I do know that I eat it because I cannot live without bread, and not necessarily because I like it. I am so excited to meet my friends in Croatia, get a greasy, chocolaty something from the bakery and then sit down in a coffee shop for a cup of coffee. Oh what the heck, I will probably even get two or three greasy chocolaty things.
  4. Clean air. Kathmandu has been horrendous lately. I mean, the air quality has been so bad recently that I am just craving a piece of blue sky and clean air that I can breath deeply into my lungs to clear up all this gunk that has accumulated over the past few months.
  5. Physical exercise. Because of the aforementioned air pollution,  I hardly leave the house in Kathmandu. Yes, working out in the house is always an option, but sometimes it’s just so enjoyable to get out and admire the scenery while exercising. I am really looking forward to riding my bicycle when I go home. Here I always have a debate with myself: is it more unhealthy to not workout at all, or to work out and rapidly breath in a lot of polluted air!?
  6. And last but not least: Mom’s cooking. Who could resist that? Who could not miss that? My mom is an incredible cook. Her lunch spreads are just fantastic. It’s not that I don’t like daal-bhaat, it’s just that I get tired of it. It’s always the same thing. Different vegetables cooked in the same way. No matter what it is, it tastes the same. I like diversity in my food, and it’s something that’s always been heavily promoted in my house. So I cannot wait to forget about the rice for a bit and gorge on potatoes, meat, pies, soups and fresh salad! Oh, and the fish. How I miss the fish.

It’s time to go home. I think this post explains it all. Kathmandu, you’re great, but nothing beats home.

Miracles DO happen

I never thought I would be saying this, but I went trekking. I am definitely not, what one might call, an outdoorsy person, so for me to have gone trekking is a big deal. Not only that, mind you. I have several big fears in life (petty if you wish): mice and rats, snakes, leeches, and sharing a bathroom with strangers. Needless to say, all of these were a real possibility on this trek. Luckily, I bravely faced my fears and survived, and I am here alive and kickin’ bringing you this incredible story from the foothills of the Himalayas. What? I like a bit of drama.

The perilous journey into the unknown began in a travel agency in Pokhara. Not so dramatic. Mr. B and I walked in saying we only have 3 nights 4 days for a trek, and we needed help in making it happen. There was pretty much no choice – it was going to have to be Poon Hill trek. Before I could back out, I was stuffed in a jeep and taken up some pretty steep and bumpy road (more like a goat path) to where the road, quite literally, ends. There was no turning back at that point. The only way was up, and on foot. Our guide, Keebal, in his efforts to motivate me, showed me our final destination for the day, uphill. It was not motivational. He might as well have pointed to Mars, that’s how far it seemed. I took a deep breath and started up the stairs. I gladly replayed Mr.B’s words in my head: one foot in front of the other, as we climbed 3380 steps (or some crazy number like that – I was delirious so don’t remember precisely) up to the village of Ulleri. Not sure how, but after many gruelling hours of walking, we reached our guesthouse. Clean and simple, but with a shared bathroom! Luckily, we were the only guests so we had it to ourselves. Not much sleep had been slept that night. The house is made of plywood and thin metal sheets. Whenever someone walked in the house, the whole establishment was swaying. Not a good feeling after having been through an earthquake. There was also an old demented grandma in the house who walked around all night knocking on people’s doors and producing ghost-like sounds. I was terrified. At that point, I think I would have preferred a mouse in the room.

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Swollen-faced and tired, we continued our walk the following day. Although I was promised the stairs ended when we reached Ulleri, I came to find out that was a false promise, and those darn stairs will be making a reappearance multiple times during the trek. In fact, by the end of day 2 I stopped believing anything Keebal was saying, as I realised he will say whatever I want to hear to keep me moving. In retrospect, he was a great guide. Day 2 was fairly uneventful as we walked for about 4-5 hours mostly through the jungle. Again, I was promised there were no leeches. Thankfully, that promise was true. Tired and hungry we reached Ghorepani, a fairly large settlement with a large number of guesthouses, and some pretty spectacular views of Dhaulagiri and Annapurna. Our guesthouse was quite nice (with an attached bathroom and hot shower!), so we spent the rest of the day sitting by the fire, looking at the most amazing view out the window. Come 5 am, we were up and ready for our climb to the highest point on the trek, Poon Hill. It was dark, cold, and steep, and hard trek is an understatement. I barely made it to the top. Half way through I was gasping for air as the thoughts of altitude sickness went through my mind. Determined to make it to the top, we kept on going, and lo and behold, we reached the top as others were already climbing down. We missed the sunrise, but whatever, we made it! It wasn’t as spectacular anyways. It was cold, windy and dusty, and after spending full 5 minutes up there, we headed back to our guesthouse for a well-deserved breakfast.

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Days 3 and 4 were mostly downhill, for which I was incredibly thankful. We’ve seen some stunning views of the mountains through the forests of red and pink rhododendron. Those views made the climb worth it. Day 3 guesthouse in Tadapani was the worst though. Thin sheets of plywood kept no secrets between the rooms, and throughout the night I was hearing, well, how gassy some people are. To make the matters worse, there was only one toilet, meant to be shared amongst about 30 people. Talk about my nightmare coming true. But, the important thing is, I survived, and coming down the hill that last day, I was literally jumping and skipping with joy, thinking of our comfy room in Pokhara, a hot shower, and some spa treatments I had lined up. I mean, I deserved it, no?

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In retrospect, I really enjoyed the trek, although it did not feel that way as it was happening. I faced some of my worst fears (none of which actually materialised, except the bathroom thing), and I also learned some important life skills, like using the squatty potty. All in all, something I could possibly do again. Definitely with Keebal as a guide so he can lie to me about everything from beginning to the end.

 

Shocking discovery: it gets cold in winter

You might find it strange, but even in Kathmandu winter comes once a year. Amidst all the snow photos being posted on social media these day, I thought it’s only appropriate to talk about Nepali winter too. No snow here. But, wow, it’s cold. This winter has not been kind to Nepal. I know many of you’ll think I’m insane once I tell you that the average daily temperature is around 15C, but trust me – it’s cold.

So here’s the deal: there is no indoor heating in Nepali houses. On top of that, houses are made of concrete, without any insulation whatsoever. Night time temperatures can go down to 1C, so you do the math. In short, getting out of bed in the morning is a task. And a huge one. I have a permanent layer of thermals on me since early December. Mr.B commented that he has not seen my skin since October. Which is fair enough – I have not taken off clothes since then. Showering is the worst. The water never seems to be hot enough, and the bathroom is freezing. My showers often turn into a dance party as I try to keep my blood flowing whilst applying soap. To be quite honest though, my showers are not as often as I’d like them to be, and probably not as often as it would be appropriate. But it’s ok. Others don’t shower often either, and it makes for a good lunch time conversation – who showered when and when will be a good day again to take a bath. I wish, though, it was that easy. There’s always a twist to things in Nepal. Current load shedding (power reductions) comes up to 13 hours a day. For women in particular that is a very important piece of information as the hair dryer might not be available when you would like it to be. Most of the time the perfect time for a shower, and the ability to blow dry your hair do not align. You can see me very often standing in front of the load shedding schedule on our fridge, with a weather forecast on the phone in my hand, trying to figure out the perfect time in the week to wash my hair. Something as simple as that takes a lot of planning. I bet you’ll never take your shower for granted ever again.

In Nepal during winter things are a bit goofy. When you get outside you take off your jacket and warm yourself up in the sun. Then you pop on your jacket as you get ready to go back inside. Even in the office I sit in my jacket. In fact, I have multiple layers of clothing, and sometimes that’s still not enough to keep me warm. My usual work outfit consist of: a thermal layer, 2 long-sleeved shirts, a sweater, winter jacket and a scarf. Sometimes, when it is too cold to wash hair, I wear a hat. I also have two pants, and ugg boots on my legs. OK, they’re not really uggs, but ugg look-alikes. Best clothing investment I have ever made.

I’m sure that you’re familiar with the frozen finger syndrom if you work on the computer often. In winter time, your finger tips become very cold while typing. Now imagine sitting in a 10C room and typing. Pretty soon you feel that if you accidentally hit your hand on the table, it will shatter in million pieces. To prevent that, I wear gloves. I’ll let you in on a secret: typing with gloves is nearly impossible. Even when they are fingerless gloves (you know the ones where the tips of your fingers are exposed). I had to resort to using gloves only when I am scrolling and clicking on the mouse (as demonstrated in the photo), and taking off the gloves when typing. Usually I only take out my index finger out of the glove to be able to scroll. Looks pretty comical, and a little sad too. But you got to do what you got to do.

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Tips for Nepali winter newbies:

  • layer up – you need to be able to take off clothes when outside and put them back on when you head inside
  • invest in thermals and good warm shoes
  • do not feel embarrassed of skipping showers – the chances are you’ll still be the best-smelling person in the crowd
  • hot water, hot water, hot water – it warms your body when you drink it, it warms your hands when you hold the mug
  • do your research: find places that have AC heating and spend your days there
  • do not miss shower opportunities on sunny days; you never when you’ll get that chance again

Ever wondered what it feels like to be a king? Come on in…

At the end of the most iconic street in Kathmandu (and I call it iconic because it houses the greatest icons of modern age: Adidas, Nike, Benetton, KFC and Pizza Hut), sits a Royal Palace. As you might deduct on your own, the Royal Palace is the home of the royal family. Duh. Or at least it used to be. Now Nepal is “an independent, indivisible, sovereign, secular, inclusive democratic, socialism-oriented federal democratic republican state.” No mention of monarchy, so that’s definitely out of the equation. After the royal family left the premises, the palace has been turned into a museum. Not a very well promoted one though. Most of the people don’t even know they can go in there and get a tour. I, however, read Tripadvisor on occasion, and therefore knew this is the place to visit.

Two friends in tow, and off I went to the museum slash former palace. The entrance fee is Rs.200 for foreigners and Rs.100 for Nepalis and residents. A steal. After buying our tickets, we were asked to deposit our bags in a locker room. Say what? You want us to leave our bags with all our money and our phones in a poorly-guarded locker room? I peeked in there – there are no lockers in there, just a row of shady looking shelves. We got into a huge debate with the guards not understanding why in the world we are not allowed to bring anything with us. After lots and lots of back and forth, we understood that in essence we are not allowed to bring our phones with cameras with us. Oh, this must be good! We left our phones, and took our wallets with us, and off we went on the most unusual museum tour ever.

Pretty grand

Pretty grand

The palace is exactly what you would expect from a museum – a place where time stopped. However, the difference here is that when time stopped in this one, it also seems the cleaning ladies stopped coming in. Dust everywhere. And carpets. Carpets full of dust. Not a place for asthmatics. We moved from one room to another fascinated by the furniture and trinkets the royal family owned. An elephant leg turned into a side table? Wow, that’s a first. Several hours later and we’ve explored all the rooms, seen multiple photos of world leaders who visited Nepal, admired the crowning room, and wondered why the royal couple’s room was as tiny as it was. We moved on outside to the garden, only to discover that the building where the family actually lived was flattened. Gone. Only the foundation remains. This was the building where the infamous royal massacre took place back in 2001. I wonder what kind of nasty secrets this place hid that it needed to be completely demolished. It was a bit creepy back there looking at the remaining foundation and a map explaining where each of the bodies was found after the massacre. Yikes.

The garden of the Royal Palace Museum is huge. One of the largest green spaces I have seen in Kathmandu so far. Sadly, it is not kept up well at all. At all. We wandered through for a bit, but all we could see was weeds and trash, so we cut the walk short. Maybe a gardener could be one of the foreign donations to Nepal. Just throwing an idea out there.

The most bizarre part of this museum is that everything looks like it was abandoned in 1970, where in reality, people actually lived there since 2005! Nothing was ever updated. Even the phones looked like something that was taken from the set of The Brady Bunch. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that it has only been 10 years since someone lived there.

If you get a chance, go and visit, just don’t forget to leave your phone at home. And don’t even think about bringing the camera with you, though I am still not sure why they keep everything such a secret. There was absolutely nothing in there that would make me understand why photos were not allowed.

Feeling bored? Nepal to the rescue!

Monotony – a word without a practical meaning in Nepal. You will never get to use this word to describe life in Nepal. Nepal and monotony simply don’t go hand in hand. In fact, I believe that Nepal should be used as an antonym for monotony. That’s how far apart they are.

I have been in Nepal for a bit over two years now, and I can tell you there has not been a boring moment this whole time. I don’t mean that I’ve been having a crazy party-animal time all along. It’s nothing like that – most definitely nothing like that.

It’s like this: there is always something happening in Nepal that makes life entertaining, exciting, frustrating, difficult and edgy. Let me explain this by using some real-life examples. Since I came here two years and 3 months ago there have been:

  1. More than 20 days of bandh. Bandh is not just a regular strike. During bandh, no vehicles are allowed to ply, and the ones that dare are often vandalized. Same goes for the shops. Often times, shops that open get vandalized. This means that people either need to stay at home and use annual leave, or walk to work. Most walk. You would get no vacation days left at all if you use your annual leave each time there is a bandh in Nepal. Kathmandu is not as bad, but in some places in Nepal bandhs can last weeks at a time. The longest one I’ve experienced so far in Kathmandu was 10 days at the time of parliamentary elections. Talk about inconvenience (and exercise)!
  2. Constitution has been almost reached and then the deadline extended 2 times. Each of these times involved a large number of protests, bandhs, gas shortages, and other annoying disturbances.
  3. SAARC meeting meant closing of the main roads in Kathmandu for several days, and traffic regulation on an odd-even licence plate system. Although, in retrospect, this was kind of nice. Not much traffic, and a very clean city.
  4. Earthquake. No elaborating needed.
  5. Constitution promulgation which, the same as no.2, invited a large number of protests, traffic jams and congestion, bandhs and even some violence. Although, it didn’t end there. Months of protesting and political unrest (read: difficulties in finding common language with Indian minority and politicians) have caused one of the largest inconveniences so far. There is no fuel in the country. No fuel means the following: extremely long lines at gas stations (up for a 15-hour wait, anyone? and you only get 10 liters of gas per week); scarce public transport (because everyone is in the gas station line) resulting in overcrowded buses and people treacherously riding on the roofs; no water as the water tankers cannot reach houses without petrol (bye, bye flushing); food supplies in stores running out (and people running to shop and stock up); airlines cutting down on flights as there’s no aviation fuel… and the list goes on and on. It’s crazy how dependent we are on the fuel. One thing affects the other and the other and so on. Currently, Nepal is a perfect example of what the world will look like when it runs out of oil. Although the world will probably be a lot more chaotic than this. Nepalis are so cool about the whole situation. Me – not so much.

If you ever wondered what it feels like to live an adventurous life on the other side of the world, do consider coming to Nepal. It will not disappoint. I cannot promise you will find spirituality and inner peace, though. You’re more likely to discover ulcers.

Oye, you over there, snap that wire!

Sometimes (read: always) the sequence of events in Nepal is downright bizarre. There is this festival in Patan (a part of Kathmandu) called Rato Machhendranath Rath Jatra. It’s a mouthful, I know. During this festival an enormous (like 20 meter tall – not long – tall) chariot is built from wood and a bunch of other materials I couldn’t recognize from a distance, set on wheels and then wheeled through the narrow streets of Patan. Pulled by people, of course. It’s terrifying. I mean, this thing is 20 meters tall, it’s swaying left and right, and the whole set up doesn’t really seem safe. Not to mention, there are people hanging off from the top of it. Usually, it doesn’t cause much havoc out on the main roads, other than attracting attention from passers-by. However, and it turns out this year is the lucky year, every 12 years this bad boy is wheeled by a longer route for several days. The longer route includes main, more traffic-prone roads. And as the luck would have it, those are the roads I travel each day.

So there you have it. Doesn't look safe, now does it?

So there you have it. Doesn’t look safe, now does it?

Day 1: a warning comes through saying that the chariot will pass that way and the roads will be blocked for the rest of the day. I rush out to get out of the way and beat the traffic home only to be surprised by the sight of men on ladders all along the street. They were taking down electricity wires. It makes sense: a 20m monstrosity is about to be wheeled through. If you’ve ever seen photos of Nepal, you know that there is definitely no lack of wires in the streets, so this was a huge task. So much so, that they didn’t even get to a lot of the wires in time so when the chariot came through, people walking ahead of it would simply snap the wires in half, or the chariot would run through and take the wires down. Traffic was already heavy, but I made it out on time. Later, from the comforts of home, I admired the photos of the chariot posted on Facebook by my friends who live in that area. I felt a tiny bit bummed out I missed it. Quickly forgot about it though, and slept like a baby.

Day 2: got in the car and made my way to the aforementioned chariot-affected area. Never even though that the chariot would make my commute a very very long one. As I got closer to my destination, the traffic got heavier. I silently wondered why: has there been an accident? My question was answered pretty soon: a gigantic chariot was right in front of me, and there I was, in my car inching past it shocked that they even allow traffic to go by this leaning tower. Happy that it didn’t topple over right as I was by it, I continued driving. I have to admit though – it’s pretty fascinating and quite amazing, this chariot. Anyhow, even after passing the chariot, the traffic continued to be heavy. As I was sitting in a jam, annoyed by the guy behind me honking non-stop (what’s your point, buddy? no one’s going anywhere), I realize the reason for backed-up traffic were again the guys on ladders, now hooking the wires back together. And then, suddenly, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Wait, is that…what…that cannot be… oh my god, it’s an elephant! In the midst of the heaviest traffic I have ever seen in Kathmandu, there was a Zoo elephant on it’s morning walk just strolling down the road, chewing on leaves hanging from it’s back, not caring about a single thing, especially not about the honking motorcade behind it.

If that’s not bizarre, I don’t know what is.

I am back! (didn’t even realize I was gone)

Whoa… wait… four months? I’ve been MIA from my blog for four months? That’s crazy, and seems completely impossible. Time flew by. Life has definitely changed after the earthquake, and days have somehow been going by faster, for whatever odd reason.

Mr. B and I are still around, still doing our thing. Kathmandu is still our home. A bit more scary one than before, but still a home nonetheless. Slowly, slowly, bit by bit, life went back to normal for us over the past few months. We again found our way back to our favorite hangout spots. We again started going shopping, resumed cooking, and living on the top floor of the house. Sleeping up there was a bit scary the first few nights, but it seems like that was a thousand years ago, and these days we sleep like babies (when neighbors are not singing, or when dogs are not barking, or when random guys are not revving their bike engines in the middle of the night…).

So what is Nepal like right now? Lots of places, mostly outside Kathmandu, are still in a very difficult situation, with people living in tents through a very heavy monsoon. Relief efforts are still undergoing, despite the lack of news about it in the media. Life has not been easy for earthquake-destroyed villages in Nepal. If you still haven’t done so, consider donating to relief efforts in Nepal. It will be much appreciated.

The focus of everyone in Nepal has now shifted to the most historic event in Nepal recently – a constitution promulgation. Nepal has been trying to come up with a constitution since the end of the civil war back in 2006, and after lots of back and forth, hundreds of days of strikes and protests, finally the happy day has come. I am watching the signing of the constitution on TV as I type this. It’s pretty fancy. With lots of colorful balloons, flags and horses. This is a really big deal – congratulations Nepal! Oh when I only think back to recent months of fist fights and flying chairs in the parliament – it seems now all of it was worth it. Not to say, it offered for some great entertainment to common folk. Hopefully things only get better for Nepal from now onwards. Apparently, now Nepal will be “an independent, indivisible, sovereign, secular, inclusive democratic, socialism-oriented federal democratic republican state.” A little bit for everyone right there.

For us, Mr.B and I, things won’t change much. All that changes for us are the seasons. We go from all night-long fan, to closed windows and thick comforter. Right now the weather is still hot during the day, but the winter is slowly creeping in. I can feel it in the crisp air in the evenings. Kind of nice, if you ask me. Pretty soon I’ll be sleeping in my socks again. I got low blood pressure; don’t ask.

Recently I had my own personal historic event in Nepal. I got food poisoning. It took me more than two years to experience one, so I suppose I can be proud of that. But this food poisoning thing, let me tell you, doesn’t play fair. It hits below the waist (no pun intended). I got it after eating one of my favorite things in Nepal – momos. Oh the irony! Hopefully, I’ll be able to forgive momos one day for letting me down, and we can be back to being best friends. However, I am pretty confident that’s not happening any time soon. Now, samosas move to number 1 spot on my Nepali snack list. Let’s see how long they stick around.

Earthquake in Nepal – my story

Huh, how do I even begin this? It would be an understatement to say that the past week was turbulent. It was frightening, surreal and shaky. It was full of insecurity and sadness for all who lost everything. It was also full of relief, gratitude and community connection. It was a truly life-changing week.

My earthquake story begins on the first floor of our house where I was clearing up the table after lunch. Just as I was collecting the plates, the electricity went out. Scared that the washing machine that was on will drain the back up battery I started yelling “no no no” and running towards the bathroom. My mother in law had the same thought and as both of us reached the bathroom we heard a very loud thunder and realized the house is shaking. I don’t remember what happened next but she claims I was pulling her towards the stairs. We both ended up sitting on top of the stairs holding on to whatever we could. My husband, who was outside, was trying to get to us, but he couldn’t climb up. In retrospect neither of our decisions at that moment was a smart or safe one, but my mind was blinded with panic and couldn’t think straight. When the shaking subsided a bit, we managed to run outside. We were all unscathed and the house was standing. The rest of the afternoon aftershocks were coming and going. And it was a very scary time.

Later on, when I got a chance to think about everything that happened that, and the next several days, I realized I am lucky beyond measure. I am grateful we were all at home and together when it happened. I am grateful it was Saturday and we decided to stay in for lunch instead of going out. I am grateful our house is well built and sustained no damage. I am grateful that the biggest injury was a bruise on my leg. I am grateful that we have a large garden where we could spend several coming days and offer shelter to our neighbors who do not have that kind of space. I am grateful for the for community that got together and made this scary time a bearable (and sometimes) fun one.

I was amazed at the speed with which the neighbors put our camp together. The tent was up within 15 minutes. Tea and biscuits were passed around and jokes were shared. It was fascinating, encouraging and reassuring to have all these wonderful people around and feel like nothing bad can happen now – we are all together and we will take care of each other. Nepalis are amazing! I had an amazing support from the Croatian embassy and never felt like I was left to my own devices. Trust me, that’s such a good feeling when you are not in your own country.

Even though life goes on as usual for us in my house, I feel saddened by the loss of lives and infrastructure in other parts of Kathmandu and Nepal. The best way to help long term is to support an organization that will stick around even after the initial relief is distributed. I encourage you, my readers, to donate to a reputable organization that you trust and help people in Nepal who were not as fortunate as I was. Thank you!

Nepali roads, mountains, elephants and mice

When winter hits Kathmandu, the last thing you want to do is stick around in the freezing cold. So this winter Mr.B and I decided to do a road trip around Nepal with friends. We thought it would be fun (and it was). We thought driving through Nepal would be awesome (and it wasn’t).

We started off in Kathmandu, obviously, that’s where we live, and then made our way to Pokhara. Road to Pokhara can be a bit scary if you’re on it for the first time, and if you’re coming from a country where roads are wide, straight and divided into lanes. You see, this road is called “the highway”, but don’t be fooled – the only reason for that is that it’s really high up. It’s literally a high way. Other than that, there’s nothing highway-like about it. It’s narrow, filled with potholes and very winding. However, it is sadly one of the best roads in Nepal, outside of Kathmandu. The drive to Pokhara is about 210 kilometers, and in a private vehicle, it usually takes 5-6 hours. I’ve heard that on a bus it can take up to 12 hours. Gasp! The views are nice so I suppose you can enjoy that, and there are plenty of rest stops where you can utilize the squatty potty and buy some water and snacks. Arriving to Pokhara is bumpy, to say the least. The road is wavy and by the time you reach your hotel you are frantically checking whether your kidneys are in place. Although, the view that was waiting for us in Pokhara made up for the whole excruciating drive. I mean, the mountains were spectacular. There is no photo in this world that could describe how close and majestic mountains are. Yes, photos always looks nice, this and that, but seriously, seeing it up close, with peaks higher than the clouds is an indescribable feeling.

Just speechless.

Just speechless.

Pokhara is a fun place if you like to party and hang out in bars and restaurants. There are about a million of those. Well, not exactly a million, but you get my drift.

Lakeside if the happening place

Lakeside is the happening place

We had our share of fun for a couple of days and then in the car again it was. We were driving from Pokhara to Lumbini via Tansen. It would be a special experience, we thought. It would be something different, we thought. And it was. And not in a good way. The distance between the two is about 160 kilometers. Not a big deal, you’d think. It took us 7 hours. Yes, 7 full hours. It was probably the most winding road I’ve ever been on, giving you a roller coaster experience. I felt so sorry for the people on buses that we passed on the road because they must’ve been having an awful time. It was fun driving through small villages, through gorges and canyons.

Good place for a nature call

Good place for a nature call

It was just something different. Though, fun ended when bladders went into overdrive and there were no bathrooms in sight. We stopped several time for a bathroom break and it was always at the bushiest part of the road where we could be hidden from traffic and villagers. I was happy it was winter time knowing that snakes are probably asleep. Anyhow, reaching Tarai, lowlands of Nepal where Lumbini is situated is like entering a new realm. Suddenly mountains and hills become flat lands extending as far as you can see. A sight I never thought possible in Nepal. It was quite refreshing. And you know what, everyone rides a bicycle in Tarai. So fun!

Seeing flat land reminded me of home. How can this fertile land house so much poverty???

Seeing flat land reminded me of home. How can this fertile land house so much poverty???

Loved the bicycles!

Loved the bicycles!

One advice I can give you if you ever find yourself in Tarai, heading for Lumbini – don’t trust your GPS. That lady might have a seducing voice, but she will lead you in some pretty shady areas, trust me. We ended up on a terrible dirt road for about 20 kilometers with nothing but flat land in sight and many extremely poor villages. That sight was so shocking for me. Such poverty I never thought I would witness with my own eyes. People living in mud huts, without anything, literally. It’s something I cannot get out of my head since then. Finally, though, after a long bumpy ride we reached our hotel. We were exhausted, and the place was kind of depressing, so we didn’t really care that dinner was pretty miserable and that we had to change our bed sheets ourselves because reception was too busy. We just wanted to sleep. The next day we took a rickshaw ride around Lumbini Development Trust to see different temples and the birthplace of Buddha. Piece of advice, Sri Lankan temple is not really worth seeing. There’s hardly anything there and I found it ridiculous that we had to take off our shoes when the whole temple was terribly dirty. Maybe they do it so we clean it with our socks!?

Anyhow, rickshaw ride was fun, but looking at the skinny guy driving our rickshaw, working really hard, made me sad. All I could think of was whether he lived in one of those mud huts we passed yesterday. I wanted to give him 10 000 Rupees for a two hour tour. My review of Lumbini: not a place I would go back to. Unless you are a devoted buddhist, there’s not much to do there. The place is kind of depressing, and quite boring. We left in less than 20 hours since arrival.

Off to Chitwan we went. I think we were all the most excited about that part of our roadtrip. The road from Lumbini to Chitwan was straightforward and straight. It was a really lovely wide road, and we all enjoyed the road and views.

On the way to Chitwan

On the way to Chitwan

Until we got off the main road to reach our jungle resort. It was back to the dirt and we all wondered whether our car can handle all the terrible roads it’s been on since we started our trip. It did survive and we reached our final destination. Our resort was wonderful. It was right by the river, in a jungle. Nothing and no one in sight. It was absolutely lovely. Until the mouse incident, that is. We were given rooms in straw roof bungalows, and when Mr.B. and I got into our box-sized room, there was a mouse sitting leisurely on the curtain. The outdoorsy and fearless person that I am (NOT), I began hyperventilating as an intro to my panic attack. Somehow I managed to run outside and wait while the resort staff, with lots of giggles, took care of the mouse situation. That night, I did not sleep. It was a night straight from hell as I waited for mice to flock into our room from all possible crevasses. Of course, such grim scenario did not happen, but just to be on the safe side, we switched rooms the next morning. This time, no straw roof for us. The rest of the stay was just awesome. Elephant ride, canoe ride, jungle safari… it was perfect.

We saw rhinos up close

We saw rhinos up close

We made friends with deer

We made friends with deer

We contemplated having this guy for dinner but decided to pass. After all, he was in a National Park.

We contemplated having this guy for dinner but decided to pass. After all, he was in a National Park.

Views from the resort were spectacular and calming.

Views from the resort were spectacular and calming.

Our canoe was just like this. It was super fun. Luckily we saw no crocodiles in the water.

Our canoe was just like this. It was super fun. Luckily we saw no crocodiles in the water.

We rode on these elephants and later on got to feed them and pet them.

We rode on these elephants and later on got to feed them and pet them.

Before we could say hippopotamus, it was time to drive back to Kathmandu. That drive was completely uneventful. It rained, on a terribly winding and narrow road filled with buses and trucks. You know, the usual Nepali traffic. But we made it to Kathmandu safely filled with emotions, experiences, and impressions. Good road trip. Would definitely recommend, but make sure you take an SUV if you plan on driving. It will save your kidneys.

What’s new in Kathmandu

In some ways this is unbelievable, simply because I never thought this day would come, but honestly, Kathmandu is looking better than ever. When I say “ever”, I am referring to the last two years I’ve been here, so not exactly “ever”, but you know what I mean. Figure of speech and whatnot. The main road in front of our house that has been dug up and dusty for over a year now, is finally getting paved (to some extent). Cement blocks have been laid down and the dust has settled (again, to some extent). There is still a long way to go before it’s finished, but it’s amazing to see some progress after lots of dust and mud for months. The fact that a newly paved road turns into a vegetable market every night around 6 pm, is not important.

After the SAARC summit ended, I predicted all the cleaning work they’ve done around the city will go to waste, but lo and behold, they’ve been keeping everything clean. I am amazed to see the road cleaning truck cleaning the roads almost every morning! A sight that was hard to come by in Kathmandu before. I wonder if the truck will be there only until it breaks down for the first time!? I am not sure maintenance is in place around here. But regardless, this is happening right now and it makes me excited. Flowers are trees are still in places they were planted, and flourishing. Roads are still being built, fixed and arranged. Traffic police seems to be managing traffic better than ever. Almost all the major roads in Kathmandu are getting solar lamps. It’s just great! Kathmandu is slowly, but surely transforming into a more livable city.

However, and yes there always need to be “however”, small roads, the ones that “don’t matter as much” are still a complete wreck. Take our road for example. It used to be a very nice road. All the neighbors chipped in money to have it paved. It was lovely. Then the government decided to change sewage and water pipes. That’s good right? So they dug up the road, but never paved it back again. Just left piles of mud. That encouraged some of the neighbors to start digging as well. Before we knew it, the road was a mess. Hole upon hole upon hole. Muddy, dusty and horrible. Sometimes when I drive home and make a turn from the main road onto our street, I feel like I enter a different world. Like I just traveled through time and landed in Middle Ages. Muddy road, filled with potholes. People huddled around small fires by the road. Stray dogs and half-naked children running around. And no, I am not exaggerating. Hopefully, some day soon back roads will be taken care of as well, and Kathmandu will become a true capital city.

Until then, mask up!

Work on progress - absolutely necessary

Work on progress – absolutely necessary