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Friday, November 21, 2003

Warmup Trek in Kathmandu Valley
Pokhara, Nepal

Well, we've finally been able to duck into an Internet cafe to blog a bit before we head out into the Nepalese wilderness again. So far, what we have seen of Nepal has lived up to its reputation, and our positive experiences with Intrepid (the small group adventure travel company we went to China with last year) continue as well.

Thanks to all for the birthday wishes; what guy can complain about being able to celebrate their birthday in Kathmandu with his wife and nine other women? Yes, there are no fewer than ten ladies in our travel group, along with Ray and myself. Slightly outnumbered, I'd say. Nevertheless, Jen magically produced a chocolate birthday cake out of nowhere at our first group dinner in Kathmandu; it was a fun celebration.

Staying at the Kathmandu Guesthouse, we were slightly taken aback by the number of foreigners there; I guess we weren't used to seeing so many tourists around. We had a city tour of Kathmandu, which led us to the more famous attractions around the city, including Durbar Square, Freak Street, Hanuman Dhoka (the old Royal Palace), Jaganath Temple, and the Taleju Temple. Touring around Kathmandu provided ample photographic opportunites, with prayer wheels, Bhuddist stupas, Hindu statues, and smiling Nepalese children everywhere to be seen.

One very memorable but sobering experience we had was watching the beginning of a cremation by the Vishnumati River. We watched a relative prepare the deceased's body and then ceremonially carry it around the funeral pyre before lighting it. The relative (his brother or father, we're not exactly sure which) then broke into tears as the pyre started to burn; it was a very difficult thing to watch; the whole ceremony was being held out in the open in a very public area. We left shortly after.

However, all the interesting attractions in Kathmandu still didn't prevent us from inhaling the car exhaust, diesel fumes, and congested air of the city, as a heavy cloud of polluted smog hovered overhead for most of our stay there. It's a fascinating city to walk through, but it's also very heavily populated, much like the concrete jungles of Mumbai or Cairo. By this point, we were pretty keen to be getting out to the Nepalese countryside.

We left Kathmandu for a three day trek (actually it was more like a light hike than a trek) around the Kathmandu Valley, which we were all looking forward to. The bus took us to our starting point where the twelve of us plus four guides set off for our first stop, Our route would take us up to Chisopani, west to Nagarkot on the second day, and then down to Bhaktapur on the third day. We only took day packs, as we were staying in basic hotels for the first two nights, and would have our main packs delivered to us in Nagarkot.

Well, the reason why people flock to Nepal to trek was certainly made clear to us with this little outing, as we walked through yellow mustard fields, into tiny local villages, past schools where children would come running out to wave to us as we walked by, and up to viewpoints where we would watch the peaks of the Himalaya mountains turn pink in the setting sun. If this sounds too good to be true, it's because it was... and we hadn't even gotten to the big trek yet, the walk around the Kathmandu Valley was just a warmup.

I'll let Jen fill in the details of the Valley trek and our pleasant stay in Bhaktapur later. Right now we're in the middle of trying to fix up a mix-up with our flight to Bhutan, so I'm going to sign off here for now. We're leaving Pohkara tomorrow for our five-day trek in the Siklis region (inside the Annapurna Circuit), and then down to Chitwan National Park for three days--we will thus be unreachable for a while. We'll have to take down some notes so we can share with you some of our Nepalese experiences when we return!

Emergency contact info: Neeraj Shrestha, Himalayan Encounters, Kathmandu Guest House, Thamel, Kathmandu
(tel. 977/1-417426; fax 977/1-417133; raftnepl@himenco.wlink.com.np, Kathmandu

Security Situation
Pokhara, Nepal

It has been about six days since our last update; we've been out of the loop for a while. We are fine, really enjoying Nepal so far, but we are dismayed at the current news of the bombings in Istanbul, in areas we walked through just five weeks ago. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families.

Thanks to those of you who have written us concerned about the security situation in Nepal; we are happy to say that there has been no sign of any Maoist activity, other than the highly visible presence of armed government forces on the streets and at checkpoints along the road. Our travel guides from Himalayan Encounters (through Intrepid) have proven to be very competent so far, and they have assured us that there would not be anything to worry about. It is our feeling that those concerned about travelling to Nepal need not be; it appears that the Maoist rebels have no desire to harm tourists as they are apparently aware of how important tourism is to the Nepalese economy.

We are in good health and spirits, but are reminded by the current news that nothing can be taken for granted.


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