ASIA 2007 - Thailand | Nepal | Cambodia | Malaysia
  Our first glimpses of Kathmandu were shocking. Even from the plane we could tell we were landing in a desperately poor area. The drive from the airport into town was lined with poorly maintained buildings and even worse lento shanties and shacks that people lived in.

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My first thoughts were, my God these people are living in a landfill. Rubbish and litter was everywhere. Even if a person with considerable means wanted to come in and help where would they start? What have I gotten myself into? My wife and I have traveled in poor third world countries before but the outskirts of Kathmandu were the worst I’ve ever seen. To add to this uneasy feeling we arrived amid an unruly transportation strike that stopped all public buses, trains, and taxis. Our decision to stay at the Tibet Guest House was solely based on the fact that they had a van in the parking lot and the means to take us someplace away from the airport … and dang, its cold!
  After traveling in Thailand’s 80º - 90º weather for the past 10 days the overcast gray 40 - 50 degree temperatures felt particularly chilly. My Sister and I were both reaching for the only jackets we had and almost never took them off the rest of our stay.

Once we arrived at Thamel, the tourist section of town, I began to relax. The Thamel district was actually very comfortable with plenty of nice hotels, restaurants, and shops filled with unique Nepalese handicrafts, thankas, woolens, carvings, metal work, and more. It was delightful.



Tibet Guest House

Even though our decision to stay at the Tibet Guest House was just take-what-you-can-get it turned out to be some of the best dumb luck of the trip. The hotel, staff, food, rooms, setting, etc. was outstanding.

We were greeted at the front desk by a man named Tsering. He quickly got us settled into our rooms. Then he sat down with us in the garden to ask if he could be of assistance (in planning our tours and services) during our stay in the Kathmandu Valley. This was all done without any pushy hard sell tactics. It was like a good friend taking the time to get us off on the right foot.


Tsering guided us in making all of our plans and reservations to do everything we wanted to do. In the end we couldn’t have wanted better services and accommodations and the prices were very VERY affordable. I highly recommend the Tibet Guest House and ask for Tsering … although everyone who worked at the front desk was extremely friendly, helpful, and they all spoke good English.

 The next morning we headed to the airport for what we hopped to be a highlight of the whole Asian vacation - A flight-seeing tour along the Himalayas to Mt Everest and back. The transportation strike was still going the next morning but Tsering found a taxi driver who agreed to drive us to the airport for a few extra Rupees. He even waited in the parking lot to drive us back to the hotel.

When we arrived at the airport it was still pitch black and very few lights were available to help guide us from the parking lot to the proper door entrance but we fumbled and bumbled our way and found the domestic departures entrance using an almost Braille-like method. Halfway from the parking lot to the airport entrance military sirens began to blare and we thought what now? But they settled back down without incident.

  We whizzed through check-in process with Buddha Air and settled into the waiting room on some hard cold plastic seats and waited for our flight ... and waited … and waited … and … boy, I sure am glad I threw some long underwear into the suitcase before I left home.
  Even though the website had shown the weather forecast for Kathmandu as sunny and in the low 60s (just as it had for the last 2 weeks) it was anything but sunny. Well at least not on the ground. At 1,500 feet up it was undoubtedly bright and sunny above the fog. Hello!? Earth to yahoo! Shouldn’t the forecast reflect the weather on the ground?

Finally after a 5 1/2 hour wait for the airport to open the fog gave way and we were bussed to the plane. The flight proved to be worth the wait. Every seat was a window seat. The people on the left side had grand views of the Himalayas on the way up and those on the right had views on the way back. It was jaw dropping with more than 20 peaks that were all over 20,000 feet, clear blue skies, and we could not only see mountain tops but also down into the valleys and glaciers.

As we neared Mt Everest the flight attendant invited each of us up into the cockpit for a view out the front windshield.

  WOW, it was spectacular. Tsering told us Buddha Air was a little more expensive but worth the money. We couldn’t have been happier with our experience. The plane appeared to be well maintained, the flight crew was friendly, and the overall service was exceptional. They even encouraged us to move about (a little) in order to get the photos we wanted. It was a ton of fun and indeed it was one of the highlights of the whole trip. When we left Nepal 3 days later was still showing the Kathmandu weather as bright and sunny all day long and they were still wrong.
Mt Everest 29,028 ft.
  The transportation strike was never settled but after the workers rioted in the streets and set fire to 15 buses the government finally agreed to sit down and resume talks. This was enough to at least get transportation moving again while talks continued. Since Tsering had arranged for our private use of one of the hotel’s vans, with a driver, the transportation strike was really a non-issue for us.
First stop was at the more than 2000 year old Swoyambhunath that is located on a hill overlooking Kathmandu with the all seeing eyes of Buddha.
I told Tsering that I was interested in looking for a handmade rug for our walk-in closet at home. He took us to the Jawalakhel Handicraft Center (JHC) located in the Lalitpur section of Kathmandu. The JHC is a Tibetan refugee camp that provides a means of employment for the refugees. I found a rug that I really liked that is made of Tibetan wool and it feels great on my bare feet when getting dressed in the morning. We even got to meet the lady who made it.
Boudhanath is known as The Great Stupa and is one of the world’s largest stupas. It is the most important Tibetan Buddhist monuments outside of Tibet and has become the Mecca for exiled Tibetans. As I looked in awe and started walking in a direction to get a better angle for a photograph, Tsering quickly stopped and told me I was going the wrong way. I looked around and suddenly realized that everyone was walking clockwise around the stupa and some would spin the cylinders for luck.

  I must confess that the next day was a bit overwhelming in that the sights were so amazing and so close together that I had difficulty keeping track of what’s what and where my different photographs were taken. Most of the following photos were taken in Patan but some were shot in near by Bhaktapur. Tsering arranged such a fabulous 3 days of sight seeing that at times it left my head spinning a little but we had a great time.

Patan is a World Heritage Site and Durbar Square is just one of the many wonderful sights within this ancient city. Bhaktapur is located near by and both cities are just a few kilometers southeast of Kathmandu. They are full of Buddhist monuments, Hindu temples, and the ancient palace.

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... another man carried the head of the goat ...

Sacrifices are commonplace at Bhaktapurand and as we walked along taking in the sights I saw a couple of men walk by with a headless goat and moments later another man carried the head of the goat on a platter ala John the Baptist. Seconds later I was at the blood stained altar where the sacrifice took place.

... I was at the blood stained altar ...


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  We spent the whole morning walking around the two ancient cities and then it was time to head out of town. Unfortunately I failed to get any good photographs of the beautiful country side as we made our way to the foothills of the Himalayas. We arrived at Nagarkot mid afternoon and were greeted with a fantastic panorama of the snow capped mountains looming high above the town. At 6,600 feet Nagarkot is in the lower foothills but strategically located for a commanding view of the Himalayas. Posters and framed photographs on the walls of our hotel show that on a clear day the view here can be astonishing. Unfortunately the glimpse of the mountains that we saw upon arrival was the best view we got. The clouds came in and never gave way. Oh well, what we saw was memorable. If you come bring warm clothing. Geezeohpetes it was cold and the rooms aren’t heated. Our hotel is the building to the far right of the large photograph.

The next morning we headed back to Kathmandu and as we arrived at the edge of the city we stopped at Pashupatinath which is regarded as the most sacred Hindu temple of Shiva Pashupati in the world. Non Hindu believers are not allowed into the temple and must stay on the opposite side of the Bagmati River.

In front of the Pashupatinath is Arya Ghat which is the most widely used place of cremation in all of Nepal. Heeda, our driver and guide, told us that usually there are only 2 or 3 funeral fires burning but on this day we saw 13 funeral fires all going at once and several wrapped bodies lying nearby. Once the fire had fully consumed the body all of the ashes were swept into the river.

A body wrapped in orange cloth lies on the steps ready for the funeral fire.

The body's feet is dipped into the rivre proir to cremation.    

Nepal provided many interesting sights and several unusual people. These 4 Hindu holy men certainly made for an interesting photograph.

The poverty of the outlaying areas of Kathmandu were heart wrenching but overall Nepal proved to be a very delightful place to visit and explore. The people were warm and friendly and a remarkable number spoke quite good English.

  It was very affordable. Our 4 nights of lodging (2 rooms), with a private driver and van, food, and the mountain flight cost just $307 each. When you leave the country be prepared to be searched and patted down numerous times from the time you enter that airport until you get to your gate and then one last time before climbing the stairs to the plane. It’s all part of the unique Nepal experience.

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Last Revised: December 153, 2007