Nepal Travel Video

I loved Nepal. The ornate temples, stunning natural sights of towering mountains and harmonious lakes that fill the skyline, and not to mention the variety of extreme sports. In this video I combine my passion for TV presenting, with my love for travel, in my first travel video ever.

Have a watch and let me know what your favourite part of Nepal is.

Couchsurfing in Kathmandu

Speaking to many backpackers about Kathmandu before I had arrived in Kathmandu, created a negative idea of what the city would be like. Coming from quiet, sleepy and calming Lumbini to Kathmandu was more of a shock to the system. Yes its dirty, dusty and congested, with people consistently hawking for your attention and throwing merchandise in your face- but isn’t every big city in Asia similar to this? So although I had been given negative reviews, the noise and air pollution wasn’t as bad as I thought, unlike Bangkok or Delhi.

IMG_9253

Kathmandu city feels like a balancing act of buildings selling various household electronic goods and food establishments. Each building jostles for attention, with massive plastic colourful signs hanging off sides of walls, urging you to look at, as if a child demanding your attention. Streets to me look similar, a continuous maze broken up by a sight oddly placed in the city, as if a form of a play station game- gaining a point every time you locate a tourist attraction. Tourists flock to the safety of Thamel, where this district resembles any other tourist area in Asia. However, I did not spend much time in the area of Thamel because I was couchsurfing, and so I stayed in the upper class and swanky district of Lazimpat– where plush hotels and jazz bars are a plenty.

For sights, head to The Old Town. This area is beautiful as ornate carvings are etched out onto dark wood, whilst underneath these hangings and structures are shops selling tourist knick knacks that could tempt even the most broke backpacker. Wander through old town and you will see the magnificent Boudhanath Stupa, the holiest and biggest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet. Looking up at the sight which encompasses every postcard in the country, does give you a thrill of excitement. Stroll around the temple- clockwise of course- underneath flapping Tibetan flags and lazy pigeons that peck around your feet.

IMG_9257 IMG_9269 IMG_9274

Kings Palace is a sight that I was recommended to go to, however looking through the mansion, I felt a little let down. The structure of the building was extensive and the sharp pointy edges of the roof jutted out in precision. It is interesting to see the many rooms; the Grand Hall– which is by far the best room because of the numerous Hindu deities painted above creating a surreal audience of holiness viewing your actions, as well as being horrified by the number and variety of stuffed wild animals, however, similar to Lumnbini- the lack of information about the family and the ghastly ending they faced is insufficient. Without the historical and cultural impact the family had on the country and the people of the nation, a tourist finds it hard to connect with the palace and what occurred in it and who they were. Without this important information, unfortunately, the palace just seems to be a grand building that leaves little impact.

IMG_9278 IMG_9296

Durbar square is the most famous sight in Kathmandu. It is filled with temples and buildings in a similar style to the Kings Palace, highlighting the Nepalese architecture of angular layers. Walk along the cobblestones exploring the street corners meandering off main streets and watch Nepalese locals sip chai and ironically, gamble in a game with coffee beans inside these ancient temples. Ignore the wallahs of young rickshaw drivers and dodge motorbikes zooming through the square. The area is beautiful, and it being a rainy day on my visit, meant that there were very little other tourists in the square.

IMG_9297

Monkey temple is another sight to see in Kathmandu. Perched high on a hill, monkeys and dogs squabble and bark at each other over temple offerings to nibble at. Monkeys climb Buddhist stupas and clamber over Nepalese flags above, whilst the view of Kathmandu spreads out below you as if a magic carpet of various shaped houses. Its definitely my favourite monkey temple by far.

IMG_9329 IMG_9335 IMG_9346

Other sights to see in Kathmandu are The Garden Of Dreams, a park acting as an oasis of solitude and peace from the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu. Doze in the sun on the neatly manicured lawns or pass time cloud watching, allowing yourself a quiet moment away from Kathmandu. A trip to Dwarika Hotel is a must (for a quick overpriced drink). Step into the plush interior of this historically sight cum hotel, allowing yourself to see the various generations resurrected and created within the building itself, (Dwarika created the hotel from materials of crumbling ancient palaces) which creates an aesthetically pleasing dynamic.

IMG_9354 IMG_9359

If you don’t enjoy Kathmandu, there are neighbouring places that are much more beautiful and are only a short ride away. Bhaktapur (where also has a Durbar Square due to the ancient three kingdoms of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur all having Durbar Squares), but by far, this one is the most spectacular. The town acts and lives as if from a hundred years ago, and very little has changed. Women wash their sheets in the picturesque streets and gap toothed happy old men pose for my pictures, whilst sitting on a street corner chatting the afternoon away. The carvings are more intricate and the temples are focused on paths to enlightenment and inner beauty rather than winning a lucky streak, like in Kathmandu.

IMG_9383 IMG_9389 IMG_9401 IMG_9410 IMG_9414 IMG_9426

Tourists follow guides, learning about the technical names of buildings, whilst I conjured up mental images of past kings and queens who went for amble strolls around the square. Head over to The Potters Square to see the vast amount of items made from clay by the potter, whilst his wife leaves them out basking and glazing in the simmering sun. From here we ventured up to Nagarkot, a prime location for the trading route between Kathmandu and Tibet years ago, now a known destination for perfect sunrise and sunsets for tourists who dislike to trek, but still want to appreciate the mountain view. We caught a lift up to the top of the mountain, rather than trekking which most other tourists do. I’ve been told its a 4 hour slow ascent to the top, which isn’t too difficult due to the flatness of the path.

IMG_9441

Because I couch surfed in Kathmandu, I can’t tell you of great bars or cheap haunts for backpackers to go to, or accommodation either. Myself and another backpacker were wined and dined at lovely restaurants such as Embassy and Reef– an underwater style of restaurant with an enthusiastic live band. Thamel is filled to the brim with tourists and establishments created for tourists so it is easy to accommodate and you will find something to suffice.

Mosquitoes in Lumbini

4 public buses, a taxi and 10 and a half hours later, I had arrived in Lumbini. I had been told that I was able to stay at the Korean temple within the temple complex, and with staying in a Buddhist temple being on my bucket list, I immediately headed there. Stepping away from the dusty street filled with a small amount of guest houses, internet cafes and restaurants, I felt like I had arrived into a new world. The level of frequency was completely different within the complex, everything moved much slower, smoother and calmer. Birds happily chirped in the background and I passed a canal with numerous Tibetan flags hung around it in hope. I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders, that I could walk more comfortably, I felt at ease with my surroundings.

IMG_9183 IMG_9215 IMG_9217

Arriving at the temple, I learnt that it was 500 rupees a night (free if your Korean), including breakfast, lunch and dinner all at set times during the day. The room was basic, with a squat toilet and bucket shower attached. Funnily enough, I have paid more money for worse rooms in other places. The Korean Temple is open 24 hours which means the temple is a perfect recluse to meditate, worship or organize your thoughts. The monks that live here worship at various points in the day and different monks dine at different times- I recommend going to one of the worship times, either at night or morning to see the mystical proceedings that will move you. The food is nice and plentiful- Korean Kimchee with a number of vegetables and rice, people fill their portion size with gusto and it is quite shocking to see how much food people eat, (especially after seeing how little people eat in India). I really recommend staying in the temple, I feel my entire experience within Lumbini has been down to my living within The Korean Temple, my eating and sleeping there. If I was able to escape the complex and leave Buddhism behind me, whilst I slept in the noisy guest houses and ate at busy restaurants outside of the complex, I do not feel I would have been as influenced as much as I have done.

IMG_9244 IMG_9246

Lumbini complex covers an area that is separated into 3 zones. The Sacred Garden– where the birthplace of Buddha is situated, The Monastic Zone and New Lumbini Village. Each area is within walking distance, although I would advise against walking due to the weather. Being so near to the Indian border, you will see the similarities of weather to India, the hot, humid sticky climate that is not in Pokhara. You will receive the same level of staring, being ogled as if risen from the dead, a ghost in human form- that you did in India. Nepali people here also characteristically look more like Indians than anywhere else I have been to in Nepal. In Pokhara, people are a mixture of facial features and skin tones that alter dependent on what area of Nepal you are from.

Bicycles can be hired outside of the complex or at The Korean Temple– where you actually rent a bike off a local person for the day, you see large groups of locals cycle in the morning, depositing their bikes for tourists usage and then reclaiming them later that afternoon. I advise choosing this option as this way you are helping the local community, respectively giving a wage packet to a family, rather than funding a solitary business. Paths are not well signposted in Lumbini and temple entrances can be quite difficult to find. I found myself as if in a maze with no map or sense of direction. In this respect, there are rickshaws for hire which wealthier tourists choose to opt into, this way you will be taken to all of the sights you want to see, rather than you find. Although, cycling around Lumbini is a pleasurable thing to do and reminds me of Khujaraho in India. The sleepy quiet town filled with historical cultural sights is a significant prevalence to the country itself, although many western tourists overlook both of these destinations. With the sound of the birds, the wind in my hair, the view of various monasteries and temples, as well as the atmosphere and mood of serenity and peace, makes the day enjoyable. Unfortunately, similar to Khujaraho, there a number of beggars and groups of young men lingering around the area, which with the latter, made me feel uneasy at times. On the one hand, I do not want to encourage begging, but, on the other, I am unable to turn to a cold shoulder to these old and wise women sitting on street corners in the blazing hot sun, asking for a little change, and so you may feel the same as well.

IMG_9161

The New Lumbini Village has a Japanese Temple and a World Peace Pagoda, which is a magnificent structure and aesthetically and emotionally beautifully powerful to see. There is a museum in the new Lumbini Village, however it is appalling. There is obviously little funding towards this project as no real information or facts are in place about Lumbini or Buddha himself. Rather just odd bits of rock and stone, that obviously no big museums in Kathmandu or Delhi want. It is disheartening to see as Lumbini has the right (and deserves to be) a global international destination for tourists to visit and learn from, however the organization or right arrangements have not been put in place.

IMG_9193 IMG_9222

Leaving the New Lumbini Village behind, you reach the main canal with the east and west monastic zones either side of the river. Take the time to explore the various temples and monasteries from all over the world, seeing how they differ in colour, size, architecture and design. It is fascinating to see, however like I noted before, there is little direction, information and instruction which lets the place down. There are a number of temples being built (and many areas of the world that are lacking in temples- Europe and the America’s I’m looking at you), so I’m hoping the construction of this area and the temples will improve in the many years to come. As much as I love the quietness of the area and the small proportion of tourists that visit, I want Lumbini to excel in its rightful place of importance in the tourist industry and recognition in the world.

IMG_9233 IMG_9234

The last area, is the Sacred Garden, (which isn’t really a garden), where you may find the Maya Devi Temple and the Asokan Pillar, marking where Buddha was born. I watched a cluster of monks sit beneath a shaded tree, chanting in unison and clutching their orange robes with pride staring out at the temple, hoping to receive guidance, inspiration and love. Although it was magnificent to see the Sacred Garden, (a Buddhist version of Jerusalem), I felt the lack of information really let the sight down. I came here to be educated and develop myself, and with these sights, I learnt very little.

IMG_9225 IMG_9232

There are other forms of education within Lumbini that are on offer. Outside the complex there are various classes and a mediation village you can immerse yourself in. Whilst within the complex, there are two meditation centres, worldly renowned for their teachings in Vipassana. Making friends with a polish couple whom were meditation enthusiasts, I decided to go to a talk on mindfulness by the Yogi and to the meditation hall where other followers mediate for at least 10 hours a day. My only introduction to meditation had been going to a session held by The Buddhist Society at University with my housemate, which we spent silently giggling at each other. Here, I was thrown into the deep end. After reading two booklets on the instruction of meditation, I had got the gist of it, however with no real training, I felt a little out of my depth.

IMG_9206 IMG_9202

I decided to return to the Korean Temple where I sat in the quiet and cool darkness allowing myself some peace and quiet (which I never do). I allowed myself to pause, reflect and organize my thoughts. I thought of issues I had never really dealt with, wrote mental letters to those who had hurt me, verified what my real aims in life are and what I had already learnt about myself so far on the trip, that I had not known already. Although I ignored the traditional route of “meditation”, I found in the short time I was there, my own sense of enlightenment- which I can only put down to the calming serenity of temples and the peaceful presence of Buddha.

IMG_9199

I recommend visiting Lumbini, even if you are not a spiritual person, you will feel something stir within you. It may be because of the Buddhist rickshaw driver who says, ‘pay me what you want, Buddha pays me well”, or the amount of love for Buddha on an international scale in one area. Whatever it is, make the long journey here and be blown away.

Parahawking in Pokhara

 

IMG_9130 IMG_9133

Pokhara is an Asian Queenstown, a town that is centered around a beautiful calm lake with a serene mountain backdrop. The still rippled azure horizon of the lake reflects the snow hooded mountains that creep out of the ensnaring mist, slopes of all different sizes and lengths, a horizon that resembles a monitor rate of a heart, jagged and complete. Pokhara attracts a variety of tourists and you can really see the significant differences of interests reflected onto the town. Large groups of tourists stay in exclusive resorts and waddle around, browsing for fake North Face attire, whilst backpackers stay in huts by the Lakeside, passing their time lounging in hammocks sharing stories of travels. Because Pokhara is the starting point for a number of treks, both Annapurna and Everest, this means the town can look as if of the Lake District, shops with mountain and trekking gear are on the parade, with an enormous amount of baker’s. But the money exchange shops, handicraft shops and variety of restaurants gently remind you where in the world you are. There is a vast amount to do in Pokhara, a reason why many stay here and why there is such a large number of expats living here.

Pokhara IMG_9028 IMG_9029

If trekking is not for you, then extreme sports is the second most popular option. The sky is constantly dotted with swirling paragliders, floating above the landscape. For those who want to paraglide with a difference, I really couldn’t recommend any more, Para hawking. Watching a video on YouTube of what para hawking entails, spurred my urge to add it to my bucket list and so, is the main reason why I visited Nepal. Para hawking is a combination of paragliding with falconry- as you are floating in the air, trained and rescued vultures come and eat out your hand. The combined experiences of lifting off into the air, carried by the strong power of the wind, marvelling at the landscape of the Phewa Lake and the small villages below your feet, whilst a bird of prey swoops down and glides towards you recovering meat from your hand, is an unforgettable experience. The idea was created by Scott, my pilot (originally from Dagenham), who saw that the vultures were becoming endangered due to certain pesticides being used here in Asia. Scott rescued these two vultures, rehabilitating them and thus, spreading the need to conserve these animals, helping save many other vultures lives. Although not the prettiest or nicest bird, these birds are a necessary element within our food chain- clearing streets and fields of animal corpses so we don’t have too. With para hawking, not only do you have an unforgettable experience, but you help the environment as well.

Parahawking

White water rafting is also advertised at every travel desk there is in town. However, with an activity that involves what could be a potentially dangerous outcome, I like to choose a safe and verified company, (as well as so you know that you will really receive your money’s worth). I booked with Paddle Nepal, who also offers canyoning as well. The trip was two days on the river Marshyangdi, 6 and a half hours in total. Because of the chosen river, the start journey was a 5 hour drive away, which is an incredibly long time to spend on a bus, however, the company does this so you are the only rafters on the river, (unlike other popular options like the river Trusli) and so the experience is more personal. The trip is called “The Mighty Kali”, although there are a number of other choices to choose from. The first day involved a technical partnership of us rafters and the guide, as we cascaded down waterfalls, jumped over rapids, and slammed into rocks. Unfortunately, as I went in march, it means the river is not as high as it should be, so the rapids were only 3/4 not 4/5. After camping overnight in the grassy bank of schools and dining on a strange combination of western food, we rafted a much smoother course; passing monkeys climbing trees, builders working on bridges in the searing heat, children by the bank shouting “namaste!” and playing in the water, women washing, and men crossing the river by inflatables (!). As the birds chirped around me, the sun warming my neck and the cool droplets of river water drying on my white pasty legs, I sat back and sighed. Moments of calm like this, I will only dream of in the future, when I am surrounded by screaming children, dirty nappies and outstanding utility bills.

IMG_9048 IMG_9057 IMG_9058 IMG_9070

Other extreme sports available are Zip lining and Bungee Jumping, (although bungee jumping in Asia terrifies me as I was told a rope of a bungee snapping in Nepal, it may be a traveller story- but I’d rather pass!)

If extreme sports is not for you, there are many other attractions in Pokhara itself. Hire a boat to row you across the lake to the World Peace Pagoda, on top of one of the many mountains where you will be astounded by the beauty and consideration behind creating such a sight. Please follow the signs, respecting the religion and wishes, as many ignorant tourists do not, which spoils the atmosphere. From here, walk down the opposite side of the mountain you came, (try go up from the lake as although steep steps, is a shorter journey rather than the other side), where you can pass Devi Falls and Mahendra Gupha Cave. This limestone cave is a more spectacular sight to see because of the falls gushing down in between a tiny crevice in the cool darkness- so try see this sight if you can.

IMG_9095 IMG_9116 IMG_9117 IMG_9118

Other things to do are to head to Nagarkot village for a spectacular sunrise; check out the Gurkha Museum in town as well as it’s Old Bazaar, or catch a local bus to Bewas Lake- a supposedly more beautiful lake and if daring enough, is a nice dip. If you feel like just relaxing, using Pokhara as a Shangri La or paradise after trekking, then here is the place to do so. Browse in the numerous shops lined with furniture and hippie attires (enough to turn a stockbroker into looking like a broke backpacker), or receive a massage by Helping Hands, (an organization aimed to help improve visually impaired and deaf Nepalese people) or wine and dine, munch and lunch in any of Pokhara’s numerous restaurants or bars. A walk or cycle around the lake in the day or night, allows you to see the fluttering butterflies or majestic fireflies, both beautiful in their unique ways. I decided to run around the lake, (at 6am to beat other tourists and the merging rays of the sun), which allowed me to see various areas and villages around the lake all by myself, which meant a more personal connection to the landscape, watching the sky turn pink and rural life awaken for the day. It really is an incredible 10k run (although hilly and with very little tarmac), however, the views are magnificent. I passed fisherman hoping for a morning catch, eagles snatching their morning catch, weathered and wrinkled women smiling and laughing at my determination and oddness at choosing to do exercise. I passed luminous green paddy fields and morning fog that encircled mountains. It was memorizing. After nearly 3 months of no running, I am a little sore to say the least, although I now plan to run in every country I go to. Unfortunately with the lake, you can’t actually go around the entire way, only halfway and back again, but pair this with a run along the front of lake side and it is a good path.

IMG_9088

There are so many restaurants to choose from, some smart, others with chill out music or lazy chairs and odd mismatch furniture. Restaurants I recommended are: Buzz Reggae bar for its Jerk Chicken dishes- and great cocktails, Fire Oven Pizza– says it all really, Everest Steak House for their rum inflamed steak, Rainforest Cafe for its Nepali Fish and Taal Resto and Bar for its Thali (best thali in Nepal hands down).

As I journeyed in and out of Pokhara, after my trek and a white water rafting trip, I remained a while here. Hotel KhuKuri in the centre of town gave me a Nepalese price of 500 rupees for a single bed room, although the rooms are a bit rough around the edges- broken plugs and peeling walls, the location and the staffs overwhelming kindness to help you, makes it a reasonable choice. I moved further down the lake away from the commotion of town to Freedom Cafe, (a good restaurant and bar that has live music and little alcoves to disappear into), bungalows on the lake side with hammocks are 800 rupees. Otherwise, opposite from here is Bishnu Lodge that has the same basic style of room with a shared bathroom, but with a view of the greenery within the guest house for 300 rupees. Other recommendations of guest houses are banana lodge, or any other guest houses behind 3 sisters trekking.