A mythical Kingdom in the Himalayas
Nepal is food for imagination. This starts at the moment you’re approaching Kathmandu by air and see the majestic Himalayas at the horizon. It’s a sight I won’t easily forget. Once landed and left the airport you’re stepping in a total new world.
I really loved the almost mediaeval atmosphere in Kathmandu. Narrow streets, intriguing smells, temples everywhere and thousands of people going somewhere, maybe to one of the marketplaces which are spread all over town. The first days I decided to wander around without a fixed goal and only inhale the impressions which constantly overwhelmed me.
Sometimes I had to avoid the occasional cow who searched her way through the vast crowd. Following the road to nowhere brought me to Durbar Square where the old royal palace is located. Around the palace a lot of temples were located. I was impressed by the spectacular Newari style which was clearly influenced by Tibet and India but still was an expression of unique creativity. It is impossible to name all the temples as there are simply to many, each of them dedicated to the countless gods, goddesses and Bodshivata’s.
Nepal is mainly hinduistic but there is a minority of Buddhists around. During one of my walks I ended up at the Pashupatinath temple and the burning ghats (cremation places) aside the Bagmati river, there I saw sadhu, holy men who threw everything aside and went out on a spiritual search.
From Pashupatinath I walked on to Bodnath, the largest stupa in Nepal. Bodnath is the most important religious centre for the numerous Tibetan refugees in Nepal. It’s beautifully located on a square, surrounded by houses. I really enjoyed the atmosphere and it was a good introduction to Tibetan culture. Although the place was pretty crowded a peaceful atmosphere was in the air and it was good just hanging around and enjoying the impressions.
One of the pleasant things of Kathmandu are the many rooftop restaurants where you can have a fantastic meal while enjoying the events on the streets below you. Looking down at the streets watching people passing by and getting a glimpse of everyday life. It’s a very relaxing way and sometimes it is necessary to do a step back in order to hide from all the impressions which are constantly attacking your mind.
After a good rest I made a trip to Budhanilkanta, the sleeping Vishnu and Swayambhunath, also known as the monkey temple, which is located on a high hill and can be reached by climbing a large stairway.
Besides Kathmandu there’s two more major cities in the Kathmandu valley, Patan and Bhaktapur. Patan is only separated from Kathmandu by the river. It has it’s own Durbar square with of course numerous temples. It was a really impressive sight and walking over Durbar Square I really understood Patan’s second name of Lalitpur, which means city of beauty.
Bhaktapur is located in the east of the valley. Because of the relative isolation life has a much slower pace over here. Cars are not allowed in the city which creates a distinctly timeless air to the place. It was fantastic to wander around through the town and enjoy impressions of a lifestyle which constantly has a link to the past. Small roads leaded my to Durbar square with it’s impressive royal palace. I took a glimpse through the golden gate, next to the 55 window palace.
Rice and chillies were being dried in the streets and the numerous temples formed the background for little market stalls. On one of the squares pottery was spread out to dry in the sun. People didn’t seem to be in a rush. It certainly was a fascinating place and before I realized another day passed by and it was time to go back to the hotel.
One of the many things that Nepal has to offer is trekking in the Himalayas. Of course I did not want to go home without at least have done one of these treks. The only problem is to make a choice as there’s so many nice walks to choose from. I finally decided to do the Jomson trek in the western part of Nepal. After a short flight from Kathmandu I ended up in Pokhara, a wonderful little town built beside a mountain lake. In Pokhara I walked into Kevin again who I met on my trip to Tibet. We were surprised to meet so soon again and once again we had a good time. Because my plane to Jomson was delayed for a day I stayed a bit longer in Pokhara then planned but I certainly did not regret. The most active part of my stay was a canoe trip with Kevin to a little island in the lake. The rest of the time we spent reading books, going for a little walk, enjoying the atmosphere at one of the lakeside terraces and drinking cocktails during happy hour in one of the many local pubs. Needles to say I started the trek in a very relaxed mood. I had chosen to fly in and walk out. Although the flight to Jomson only lasted 25 minutes it was one of the most spectacular I’ve ever had. Below us I could already get a glimpse of the landscape I would be walking through the next couple of days.
At the airstrip of Jomson I met Bom Bahadur, a local guide who offered to accompany me the way down. He seemed to be a nice and trustable guy so after agreeing a price I accepted his offer.
We immediately started a 2 hour walk to Marphu where we would stay for the night. It did not take long before I realized that the trek was going to be absolutely fantastic. I enjoyed the beauty of nature and the fantastic atmosphere. The landscape looked like a desert to me. We followed a path next to the river, encountered packed horses and donkeys on a regular base and passed through some small villages. Here and there a small Tibetan gompa was seen, proof of the strong trade that used to be between Nepal and Tibet before the Chinese invaded Tibet. A fierce wind carrying lots of dust blew straight into our face but fortunately we soon arrived in Marphu where we stayed the rest of the day.
On the second day we kept on following the Gandaki valley and I enjoyed the spectacular view of the Himalayas on both sides of the valley. Now apple trees could be seen and also the wind seemed to settle down a bit. In Tukche we made a short stop for a drink (home made apple juice) after which we continued.
The valley was now much wider so we followed the dry part of the riverbed. On the left I could see the Dhaulagiri clearly. The summit is at 8167 meter and from the place we were walking I had a brilliant view of the gletsjer. On the right I could see the summit of the Annapurna 1. Slightly lower then the Dhaulagiri, “only” 8091 meters, I still found it very impressive. Slowly we descended and entered a pine forest. The smell of the pines was intense and I enjoyed every bit of it. We passed another village, called Kalopani, where we had lunch. Because it was still early we decided to continue to Ghasa and stay the night over there.
After a good night of rest and a simple breakfast we continued the trek. The beauty of the landscape was breathtaking. The apple trees had disappeared but now mandarin and lemon trees could be seen. It also was much warmer now so I could walk in shorts. The river found it’s way through a narrow gorge which formed spectacular sights.
We arrived in Tatopani around 2 o’clock. This was excellent timing and it meant that I had the whole afternoon to enjoy the hot springs. The hot springs were very relaxing and for the first time since days I had the feeling to be totally clean once again. A wonderful feeling. After the bathing we enjoyed a couple of beers and a good meal. I really felt we deserved that. In the guesthouse where we stayed was a cosy atmosphere but unfortunately there was not much time to enjoy it. This evening it was time to go to bed early in order to be fit for the most straining part of the trek which was due tomorrow.
And straining it was…. After we crossed the river the path went steeply uphill. I had to stop a couple of times in order to catch my breath. The sight however made me forget how tired I was. Tropical vegetation all over, bamboo and on the horizon the dominant peaks of the surrounding mountains. Awesome! It is amazing how fast the landscape changes over here. We passed several small villages and in the afternoon we ended up in Sikha. The worst part was over and I was still enjoying the unfolding panorama’s intensively. We walked through a dense forest where insects formed a natural orchestra. After another steep steep hill we finally arrived in Ghorapani, our stop for the night, I needed a rest first before I could even think of a meal. However, today’s effort certainly was worth it. Once again I went to bet early as the next morning an early rise was scheduled so we could enjoy sunrise on top of Poon hill.
Still tired from the efforts of the day before I was not in optimal condition when I woke up at 5 o’clock. The path to Poon hill which started behind our guesthouse was very steep so it didn’t take long until I was heavily breathing again. After about an hour we arrived at a beautiful viewpoint. Bom however told me that Poon hill was still another hour to go so I told him that I was absolutely happy with the place we were at. I named it mini Poon hill and decided to enjoy the sunrise from here. The sky in the valley was coloured red and slowly the summits of the mountains were lighted by the rising sun. It was like magic.
After having enjoyed the sunrise for a long time we descended back to our guesthouse for breakfast and picking up our luggage. Now only the last part of the trek had to be completed and it promised to be easy going from now on. Rice fields were created high up the hills, agriculture in the narrow valleys and lots of villages formed the scenery on the final stretch. It was beautiful. Strengthened by the thought of a warm shower and a descent bed it seemed I was floating the last kilometers.
At the end of the afternoon we arrived in Birethani, the end of the trek. Bom and I said goodbye after which I took a taxi back to Pokhara. The Jomson trek had been a fantastic experience which I would not have missed for anything in the world.
Continue the journey in Tibet