Nepal - everything but Starbucks

Nepal Travel Blog

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“See you in the mountains!!!” became a bit of a sign off between friends in the weeks leading up to our group adventure in Nepal. Our enthusiastic travel rep, Bipin was only too happy to respond to every single one of our 600 or so emails and signed them all off with the same joyous line, as we changed dates, added names and asked a hundred annoying questions about the four-day trip he was booking for us through his company, Social Tours. The most ridiculous one he endured was “What kind of plugs do you use?”, a query which probably renders him one of the most patient people alive.

Eight was the final number. We met for the 7am flight from Sharjah, a few of us strangers but soon to be friends, and landed in chaotic Kathmandu, where we finally put a face to Bipin’s enthusiastic emails and accepted his silken scarves.

You can’t quite prepare yourself for a place like this, unless of course you’ve traveled to similar bustling hives in South Asia, or India. As we piled in a rickety mini-van that hadn’t seen a spanner in decades, we jolted down uneven streets through scenes uncatchable by camera. Cows poked their horns our way with inquisitive eyes. Old women smoked in doorways, crouched over baskets of spices. Children wove with skill between speeding bicycles, and tiny shops of tie-dyed scarves and magical looking musical instruments beckoned the odd tourist through the mayhem. Of course, one thing and one thing alone was running through my mind: “Where are all the tarantulas?”

I didn’t want to see one. Not one bit. But Nepal has a lot, apparently. Bipin assured me I’d come no closer to one in Kathmandu than I would a Starbucks – a statement that filled me with equal relief and misery. I won’t say much about the coffee in Kathmandu, but boil yourself some yak’s milk and add a dash (not too much, mind) of coffee flavoured syrup and you’ll get the general gist of it. Bottled water is the key here. And Everest beer, according to the boys.

On the first night, after we’d dropped our bags at the quirky Hotel Tibet (just a short walk or cab from the main drag of Thamel) Bipin and his British assistant Jen took us to a traditional, “sit on the floor and be entertained by authentic dancers” type dinner, although to be honest, we preferred a more rough and ready establishment we’d discovered at lunchtime on a rooftop in Thamel, called Rum Doodle. The mushroom balls may well have been clumps of pastry topped with Campbells soup, and the clay oven pizza may well have come smothered in more offensive yak products, but the view and quirky wall-coverings – giant footprints signed by those who’ve braved the Himalayas - made up for it. Not convinced? Just read the sign outside. Newsweek ranked it as one of the top restaurants/pubs in the world (in 1985).

Our journey through the mountains two days later opened up a whole other world to the one we’d witnessed in Kathmandu. As our bus wound its way through picturesque villages coloured by flapping saris on washing lines, we breathed in the fresh mountain air, and occasionally the stench of open sewage. Finding a toilet on this six-hour journey was tough. A local woman obliged and as I found myself crouching in a concrete hut on the side of a mountain I realised I’d better buy one of her woolen neon dream-catchers on the way back, just to say thanks. I’ve never felt so grateful in my whole life.

Having crossed a river in a canoe, watching crocodiles lazing on the banks just feet away, we arrived at Temple Tiger Jungle Lodge for the final part of our adventure. Nestled in the lush, green Pans Labyrinth of Chitwan National Park, the lodge comprises 12 wooden huts and a dining room, and a whole host of glistening spider webs. Perfect tarantula territory, some would say. I got lucky though. Even as dawn broke, damp, misty and eerie from the back of an elephant, I saw nothing creepier than a grasshopper as we ploughed ungracefully through the undergrowth. We were looking for tigers. Just a glimmer would have done. There are 35 in the park, but all that came out to play were a few monkeys, a deer and some rhinos.

It didn’t really matter in the end. Nepal was to us by then, far more than a quest to spot a Bengal tiger, or not to spot a tarantula. It’s a culture and a lifestyle as varied and unique as they come – where one night can see you dancing to a live band, beer in hand, and the next can find you swatting branches from your face on the back of an elephant, trying to count the stars. Villages filled with laughing children and chickens, shops bursting at the seams with spices and chopped animal limbs, temples crowded with worship and wonder; Nepal, just four hours away from Dubai, is a completely different world. See you in the mountains!

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5,536 km (3,440 miles) traveled
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