Onwards to INDIA!

We got up at sparrows fart this morning so we could get to the border before it got crowded.   It was a nice drive through the countryside and while I am excited to go to India (the main destination for this trip) I felt a little sad to be leaving Nepal.

The border between Nepal and India is rather amusing; it’s just like an ordinary street with a bit gateway… one side for Nepal, the other for India.   There are a couple of immigration offices (basically little shacks on the side of the road) and the Indians/Nepalese can walk freely between the two countries.    It’s a lot looser than any of the other border crossings I’ve done!  

India Immigration
India Immigration

On arrival to India I was expecting to see a huge difference… more crowds, rubbish and pollution… but to be honest, I didn’t see much of a change at all.   Perhaps there was noticeably more people… but other than that seems pretty similar to the parts of Nepal I visited.

Visiting the birthplace of Buddha

Shoot… I am marjorly hung over… again…  that is it, no more.  I declare the rest of this trip alcohol free!  

This morning was a travel day, I am sure the journey would have been very interesting but I was too ill to even look out the window.   To make things worse, I found out today that the group of German tourists who were staying at our hotel in Kathmundu were in a plane crash and all of them died… Far out, not good news – its pretty horrible, they were about to trek to Everest base camp… I can still picture them in the hotel lobby getting ready to go to the airport.      

So I was pretty quiet in the car, I listened to ‘Hamish and Andy’ (a podcast from an Australian radio show) to cheer me up (these guys are hilarious) and listened to my new favourite CD  Neutral Milk Hotel (thanks Kathy for the new sounds).    

We arrived in Lumbini at around lunchtime and after a small lunch (of water and a banana, not quite ready for a proper meal yet) I had a nap and then went for a walk into town.   The Lumbini complex is pretty big and I didn’t have much time before having to be back at the hotel to do a tour of it with the rest of the group.   

Lumbini is the place where Buddha was born and is an important place for Buddist pilgrims to visit.  Seeing as Buddhism is probably the religion I can identify with the most, I really enjoyed visiting this place.  We didn’t have time to see everything which was disappointing, but I managed to see the main complex, the flame of peace and a few temples.   While walking around I picked up a little dog friend… he walked with me for 15 mins or so and then sat with me to watch the sunset!

Here are some pics:

Hunting for Rhinos!

We left our simple little guest house and took a boat across the river to go for a walk in the jungle and look for some Rhinos.  The guide taking us into the jungle pointed out some Rhino tracks right outside our guesthouse near where we were drinking last night!!!  eek..thats too close for comfort I think!    We walked in the jungle for a cople of hours and right at the last moment found a huge male rhino taking a snooze under a tree… we were given strict instructions on how to run away from him if he wakes up and then went in for a close looksie… WOW…  it was so cool to be so close to a wild Rhino!   

The grey blob is a HUGE male Rhino
The grey blob is a HUGE male Rhino

While in the National Park we also visited a crocodile farm – while trying to eradicate mosquitoes from the area years ago they managed to kill a lot of the wildlife, so this farm was breeding the native crocodiles for release into the wild.     We also saw a beautiful tiger who unfortunately has to live in captivity because once a tiger has had a taste of humans they stop hunting… so this poor girl was locked in a cage because when she was a cub her mother killed several people from the village nearby.

 

After the jungle walk we were picked up in a really cool jeep (that was around during the 2nd world war) and took a drive to our next hotel.  We got lost and drove through lots of little villages where we were pointed and stared at by the elders and the kids ran out to say hello… it was very cool.      The extended jeep drive was worth it, my goodness, the accommodation was so flash…  I can see that travelling with Intrepid is going to make me soft!  

In the evening we rode elephants into the jungle to see more Rhinos.  It was amazing how the rhinos were not bothered by the hordes of tourists on elephants, the acted as if we weren’t there… it was totally amazing!   Here are some photos:

After an AFD (Alcohol Free Day) was thankfully back to my usual self… I tell ya, sometimes its not worth drinking booze when on holiday!    I am even pondering going AF for the rest of the year… 2 reasons for doing this… to please my liver and to help me stick to my budget!  The $ is going a lot faster than I expected it would… I think Nepal is rather pricy and I am really hoping things are a lot cheaper in India.

On the 2nd day in Chitwan we took a boat down the river to an Elephant breeding camp.    The river trip was relaxing and we even saw crocodiles basking in the sun.  The Elephant camp was a disgrace… basically all the female elephants were tied up, the babys could roam (because they will never go too far from their mums) and when the time is right a male elephant will come and ‘service’ the females.    I really don’t rate how the Elephants are treated here, it’s quite a contrast to Laos where the elephants are loved and respected and in turn do as they’re told without the need to be hit or beaten. 

We had some free time, I tried to catch up on emails/blog but the internet was painfully slow (took me 15mins just to see my inbox) so went and sat by the river instead… thinking id get some time alone but instead was harassed by a girl who wanted money.   There are a lot of sob stories, some of them are no doubt true – but a lot of them are bull, tourists are seen as an easy way to make money so parents send their kids out to beg.  Its so hard to say no to a child with big boogely eyes who claims they are starving.   But the thing is, you can’t say yes to them all.

In the evening we went for a bike ride into the village, the bike ride wasn’t long enough for me… but it was nice just cruising along the small village streets and saying hello to the people.

Here is a photo of our group (minus Raj the leader, he was somewhere else):

From left: Local Guide, Barrie, Maxine, Me, Max and Mac

Arriving at Chitwan National Park

First stop on the tour was Chitwan National Park.  Because of various festivals going on in Nepal it was decided that we would hire a private car to take us to the Indian border via Chitwan National Park and Lumbini.  The car was rather posh and a lot more comfortable than the local busses… So while I was a bit miffed at having to fork out more $ I was glad we weren’t in the slow cram packed local buses while driving to Chitwan.   As you can see by the photos (below) health and safety rules aren’t really followed here in Nepal!  

 
We arrived in Chitwan and stayed at a tiny little simple guest house on the edge of the national park.  It was a cute we place and the accommodation was very very basic.   I had to use the shared bathroom which was basically a squat toilet for a loo and a hose for a shower!    There wasn’t really much to do except drink, so drink we did… the first round of beers were cracked open at 2pm, I moved onto whisky (stupid girl) about 5pm and well… we have a vague recollection of eating dinner, we were all VERY hung over the next day!

Burning Ghats of Paguputinath

While in Kathmundu we also went to Paguputinath, a place where the local people go to cremate the dead along the banks of the river.  It was pretty full on – but the whole concept was interesting it was kind of hard for me to get my head around.   What I found the most difficult was the presence of tourists, I really didn’t feel very comfortable there and while our group kept a respectful distance I did notice some tourists getting very close to take photos of the burning bodies/cremation ceremony.   I couldn’t believe it, the local people are grieving their dead and the tourists have the audacity to intrude on the funeral…. So rude.   Sometimes I hate being a tourist!

Is the single photo I took (descretly from a distance) to try and show you what its like at a Ghat in Nepal/India:

Sighseeting in Kathmundu

Oops, I nearly forgot to post about sightseeing in Kathmundu!   We went to Swayambhunath a Buddhist temple on the hill, also known as the monkey temple.  It was a lovely temple, quite different to the Buddhist temples in Thailand.   The views from the top of the hill were stunning.

Then we went on to Bodhnath, on of the worlds largest stupors and a religious centre for Nepal’s Tibetan exiles.   Bodhnath had a really good vibe, its an area I would have lingered for a while had I been travelling alone.

The start of my Intrepid Tour

Because I was a little apprehensive about travelling in India by myself I thought I would start my travels by doing an Intrepid Tour.   I figure that doing a group tour might be a good way to meet some like minded people to travel with and an opportunity make some new friends.  I picked Intrepid because they have small groups (max 12 people), use local guides and local transport… and of course, they are fairly cheap!   

So…  I met the group today and well, to be totally honest I am a little bit disappointed.   The tour was fully booked but after the bomb blasts in Delhi last month half of the people cancelled!  This left me, a kiwi couple (Maxine and Barrie) who are from Napier and in their late 50’s and a British couple (Max and Mac) who are in their mid 40’s.   And of course our tour leader Raj.     

In the end (I am writing this 2 weeks later) the group was fantastic, we all got on well and I didn’t feel like the 5th wheel at all.   The oldies (I say that with total respect) were a lively fun bunch and they all looked out for me (esp the incident when I had 3 too many whiskeys).     The bonus of being the only single girl on the tour is that I didn’t have to share a room (hooray) and the group was small enough that we were not too imposing when we went places.     Raj, our guide, was fantastic… he also looked out for me and helped me organise my travels after the tour.