Kathmandu – Take Two

Before setting off back to India, James and I had a day to spare in Kathmandu and, as neither of us were particularly that enamored with the city, we weren’t sure what to do with ourselves. Thankfully our handy hotel owner came to our rescue and set us up with a day trip out of the city to Nagarkot and Bhatakupar.

The only catch was we had to be up at 3:30am to drive to our first destination. The last time I was awake at that time on a Saturday morning was after a big Friday night out so I wasnt too fussed on the idea. The early morning start was in aid of a second attempt (our first being in Darjeeling) to see the sunrise over the Himalayas. This time we were not disappointed. Even though we arrived groggy and sleep deprived we got to Nagarkot just as the dawn cracked the mountains. We stood at the look out gazing over the snowcapped peakes and shadowed mountain ridge taking it all in. I was glad that we had got up to see this but I didn’t realise it got better. Once the sun actually peeked over ridge the whole place was flooded with sunlight making the scene even more incredible. Watching the sunrise pop out over Mt Everest is pretty breaktaking and might inspire me to wake up earlier more often.

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The next stop on our trip was the city of  Bhaktapur which from what we saw of it looked like a mini Kathamndu. Similar to the capital, Bhaktapur  is centred around their own Dunbar Square filled with temples, shrines and palaces. Getting there only a few hours after sunrise I was surprised to see it already so busy and full of people. Obviously the Nepalease don’t do sleep ins. We wandered through the square visiting several smaller places before hitting the Sun Temple sitting high above the rest of them over a big square. The building  sat above markets of food and produce, trinket sellers and tourist touts, all before 8am. The temple was topped with locals looking out over the city and as we wandered through the rest of town we saw many families and groups saying their prayers at smaller shrines along the way. We often miss this morning ritual so it was really interesting to see their faith in action.

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We were back in Kathmandu by about 10am and collapsed into our beds for a mid day seistsa. Unfortunately neither of us could sleep due to construction noise outside and the heat. The power cut in our guest house (extremely common everywhere) meant we had to retreat elsewhere for a fan and food. We wandered the tourist hub of Thamel and found the Pilgrim Bookstore complete with garden restaurant outside. After wandering through a huge store filled with books, knick knacks and local wares we spent the afternoon relaxed in in their garden. It was the best way to kill the hottest hours – sitting under a fan and snacking on momo’s (a hybrid of dim sum and samosas – they are delicious). As soon as it cooled off we headed back into the hustle and bustle of Thamel and whiled away the hours, and the rest of our Nepalease rupees, doing what I do best – shopping!

It was a great afternoon fornour last one in Nepal, a place that we both really enjoyed, and we were glad to finally get some sleep as we passed out about 8pm. Next stop is Kerala in South India where we plan to hit the beach!

Thrill Seekers

After saying goodbye to the others we headed back to Pokhara to revisit my favourite place and do a couple of things we missed. Pokhara is not only a hub for trekking but it is also right by a couple of rivers making it white water rafting territory. We had planned to do a two day rafting trip with a night camping on a beach. Unfortunately the timing was against us and we had just missed one so had to wait several days. We decided to just do a one day rip instead and while we waited for it we got to explore Pokhara a bit more.

We decided that this time we would hire a boat and row it on the lake ourselves so we jumped in and James took the oars like the gentleman he is. So we set off and it wasnt until we got to the middle of the lake and gone around in circles for a little while we realised we didn’t really have a plan so we just sat and bobbed. It wasn’t the most productive of boat rides but was a great way to take in the scenery.

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The next day was slightly more extreme than a boat ride as me and James both did our first ever paraglide. We arranged a glide from the top of the mountains that flank the lake and after getting strapped in with our guides we ran off the hill and had an amazing experience. Tony, my guide had been paragliding for eight years and as we floated he told me all about how it works. He found a hot air pocket and took me flying over the mountain I had just jumped off, soaring over an eagle and then across the lake. It was so much fun just sitting there and feeling like you are flying and the view was incredible. Due to cloud cover we didn’t get to see the peaks of the mountains but we did get a sunny day and blue sky making Pokhara and the Pewha Lake look gorgeous. I love heights so I wasn’t scared at all and only disappointed it couldn’t go on forever. I was however scared of the landing, I’m incredibly clumsy and so I was expecting to end up with another muddy backside but the landing went smoothly. Thank god! It wasn’t until after my flight that I found out Tony competes in the world championships so I was definitely in good hands. It is hard to beat my day riding elephants but paragliding over that lake has quickly topped my favourite moments so far.

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With our feet firmly on the ground we hit the tourist trail and headed to Devi’s Fall. The waterfall is found in the older part of Pokhara and is a popular spot to walk to. We took the cheaters way and jumped in a taxi and went through the entrance gate to check it out. It wasn’t a tall rumbling fall like I was expecting but it was still pretty. You could see people swimming in the rock pool inlets further along before the water dropped off into the falls. The whole place was covered in mist and since we were there at dusk it was another gorgeous setting that Pokhara offers.* Conveniently accross the road is the Gupteswor Mahadev cave that is home to a shiva temple. To get in you had to wander down dank slimy stairs into a dimly lit enclosed space. I’m claustrophobic and the constant dripping gave me the heebie jeebies so as you can imagine I didn’t last long in there. The shrine itself is lit and full of colour from prayer flags, flowers and offerings – it would be gorgeous if it wasn’t in such a creepy setting.

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Finally our white water rafting day was upon us which was great but it meant an early morning start and another bumpy bus ride. We arrived around 11 and had a quick introduction to rafting before we all jumped in the boat and set off. Our boat was an interesting one as we had our Nepali guide who only spoke the required english to raft, two Chinese people who were both scared out of their wits and four eastern European men who didnt speak much English but were put at the front because they were strong. As soon as we left the Riverbank we were straight into the rapids and I had a great time splashing and rowing through them. Unfortunately that was pretty much the most exciting part as much of the trip was just low rapids or floating downstream. Which was probably a good thing because after the rapids the front four guys were still discussing what the guides instructions meant. Didn’t really give me much hope if the rapids did get big!

The weather was hot and sunny so when we had the chance to swim James jumped straight in. I was slightly more reserved and settled for a dip at lunchtime. The water was so nice and cool and we got constantly splashed as we went through the rapids so I wasn’t really going to mind if I fell in the water. Turns out that I only fell inside the boat on one big bump and the only person to fall out was our guide. Next swim stop though we all jumped straight in and floated along for a few minutes. Trying to get us all in the boat while avoiding kicking each other or landing on our oars was absolute chaos but I will admit this was where the strong Europeans came in handy.

As always the fun stuff was over too quickly and we docked at a little inlet 25 kms downstream from where we started. Our trip included lunch which was served to us in a roadside shack and I thought to myself, if I am going to get food poisoning this is where it will be. I didn’t thankfully, and I learned to reserve my judgment a little as the meal was delicious and after three hours in the sun paddling down a river we all wolfed it down. After getting changed in a room with eggs in one corner and a hammock in th James and I jumped on a local bus back to Pokhara. I was dreading the crowded full busses I had been imagining but as we were westerners we pretty much cleared the backseat and had lots of space to ourselves. The bus ride was interesting as we stopped, and people (and their produce) jumped on and off and especially since the lack of suspension made the bus rock more then our rafting boat. At one staged we flew out of our seats so much James hit his head and I had to hold on to two seats in front of me so I didnt fly down the aisle.

We had a recovery day in Pokhara after three busy days and it was so much fun to wander the shops, eat in the great restaurants and sip a beer at sunset by the lake. I had had such a great time, both times that I was bummed to leave but I was also ready to explore more of Nepal and head back to India. 

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* if you can’t tell, I really really love Pokha

Elephant Day

During the weeks I have been away I’ve had some pretty amazing experiences but nothing compares to the day I now call ‘elephant day’.  It was so called because all of our activities focused around elephants. Starting with elephant bath time!

Every day, at about 11, the working elephants trundle down to the Rapti River for bathtime with their keepers. Its here that tourists can jump in the river and ‘assist’ with bath time – for a few rupees of course. Basically there is no bathing done but just lots of splashing an squealing. In two’s you can jump up on an elephants back and sit on her while she showers you with water from her trunk. Ours was called Shama and was about eight years old.  Jumping up on her was a bit of a mission and once we were there it was kind of scary but also kind of fun. It was a hot day so it was refreshing to be in the river splashing around but it was also a little disconcerting. The elephants are prodded with sticks and yelled instructions to get up, sit down and spray water. A bit like the breeding centre I was a little disappointed that they don’t just do it for fun. As James pointed out though – we might not want to go near and untrained and uncontrolled elephant. It was still so much fun and it was great to finally see an elephant up close, feel their leathery skin and play in the water.

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Once the are done splashing for the tourists the keepers get them to lay down in the sand where they grab a rock from the river bed and scrub their skin down. A few of the tourist were allowed to jump in and help with the scrub but when Mish tried to help she got told to go back to her own elephant! We watched them play for a little longer and I was still a bit amazed at these giant animals all standing happily a few metres from me.

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The next elephant day adventure was a jungle trek through the national park and nearby community forest. I was glad I wouldn’t be doing the walking myself but as I climbed the platform to get on our elephants back and sat in a tiny platform made of wood I was starting to wish my feet were on the ground. We set off into the jungle and our elephant (whose name I can’t remember or pronounce if I could) seemed to be the lead elephant of about 10 others, atop with other tourists. I soon realised that elephant back isn’t smooth travelling as they plod along but it was really fun to be up high and look down as we wandered along. There were a few hairy moments when we were going up or down hills, into the river and precariously close to trees but mostly our elephant ride was as smooth as it could be. The elephants in our group were so funny, often just dropping to munch on some grass, pull down a tree branch and we cracked up when ours just walked straight over a tree that was in her way just to have it fling back up behind us.

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I wasn’t really expecting to see any wildlife because we were such a big bunch of people all together but I soon ate my words when we came across a mother and baby rhino in a field. They just came out of nowhere and were such a surprise that Hamish even commented that they must have been planted there. Our elephant stood still long enough for us to snap a few photos before carrying on around a corner to find a second baby rhino asleep in the tall grass. I expected it to wake up and wander away upon discovering a bunch of elephants and excited people chattering away but it barely battered an eyelid before returning to its snooze. After only seeing the behind of a rhino the day before we were all pretty excited to see not only a whole rhino but three of them! The ride was over way too soon and we had to say goodbye and jump off. Before the next bunch jumped on we had a chance to play with her trunk and give her a pat thank you. I only wish I had bought her a treat! Its pretty hard to top two elephant rides in one day but Chitwan still had a lot in store for us. That afternoon James, Mish and I headed down to the banks of the river and chatted over some beer while watching the sun set. It was another great way to top off the day.

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Our final day in Chitwan was a fairly relaxed day. We hired bikes and rode out into the smaller surrounding villages. It was great to get away from the tourist strip and all that comes with it and cycle past corn drying on the street, buying drinks from people who barely speak your language and just saying ‘namaste’ to passing locals without them trying to sell you something. The afternoon was spent shopping and relaxing before another twilight adventure to the river. This time we were joined by an English couple, Derren and Liz, who were volunteers and heard from a local that rhinos often come down to the river for a drink at dusk. We wandered a bit further then the river bank and back in the jungle hoping to get a glimpse. Unfortunately there were no rhinos but there was another spectacular sunset and some nice cold beers. On the ride home we had to swerve an elephant waking in the street and I had one of those moments when you stop and think ‘Wow, is this really my life? Cycling past elephants after a sunset by a river?’.

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Sadly, it wasn’t my life for long as our stay had come to an end. Chitwan had been amazing and we were sad to have to leave, not only an unforgettable  place but also to Mish and Hamish who were onto their next adventure. Our next stop was back to Pokhara for other exciting experiences.

The Jungle Book

I was so excited to finally be heading to Chitwan as it meant I could tick off the top thing on my to do list for our trip – see an Elephant. I had pretty much been telling anyone who would listen (or even if they weren’t) how much I couldn’t wait to see one. After a pain free bus trip (yes they do happen!) we arrived in Chitwan and arranged our next few days activities, basically all focused on elephants. I didn’t have to wait long to see one because about two hours after we arrived our guest house had arranged a truck to the Elephant Breeding Centre nearby.

We thought we were just going for a quick drive down the road but we actually were given a tour of the local village so we could see how the Tharu people lived. Hard to imagine that people are living in huts made of bamboo and cow dung about ten minutes from our hotel with all the amenities. From there we had a canoe ride across the Rapti River that separates the national park from the rest of Chitwan. It was a bit precarious but we made it across and to the Elephant centre. I squealed when I saw my first elephant off in the distance and was annoyed when our guide led us through the museum first – didn’t he know I just wanted to see a baby elephant? Finally we got to wander the breeding centre and it was pretty exciting but also disappointing all at once. It was amazing to see these huge animals up close but so sad to see them chained up. The little baby elephants were gorgeous as they lay there sleeping so it was hard to stay upset about the chains.

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As we wandered back to our commuter canoe we were lucky enough to see the buffalo crossing that happens everyday in the afternoon. We sat and watched two herds of buffalo crossing the river as the sun was beginning to set. It was a gorgeous setting to watch the wildlife. On our way home we also spotted a working elephant wandering down the road. We decided to explore more of the town so we followed the elephant into downtown Chitwan where we found a Riverside bar to sit and watch the sunset over a few drinks. It was the first of many riverside drinks at sunset!

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The next day we had signed up for a whole day jungle trek so we were up bright and early with our safari suits (in my case long leggings and van sneakers) with our packed lunch ready to head off. To get to our starting point we had a dug out canoe ride. A dug out canoe is one made from a single tree. As there were about 10 of us in the boat you can imagine how big the tree would have been. This ride was even more precarious then the last but we did manage to see some crocodiles sunning themselves on the banks of the river. We jumped off the boat straight into some long grass where we had an introductory chat about our jungle trek. Our guide told us about all the different species of animals we may get to see and all about Rhino and bear safety. Apparently there have been attacks by both these species so we had to learn how to defend ourselves from them, as well as watch our for the 40 different types of snakes and many many insects. Thoroughly scared I was going to die in the middle of the Nepalise jungle we started to head off on our walk.

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About three minutes in I had cuts up my arms, picked off three leeches and had my feet soaked in mud. I was thinking it was going to be a long day but soon enough we were out of the grass, into the shaded jungle and spotting wildlife. It wasn’t too long before we spotted some monkeys high up in the trees and spotted deers – or as our guides called them ‘bambis’. It was a scorcher of a day and it wasn’t long before we were resting by a river bed hoping to spot some wildlife taking a drink while we rested on seats made of leaves. We weren’t lucky enough to spot anything but I was grateful for the sit down.

By about 10am we had been walking for hours and not seen anything so my enthusiasm was starting to wane. Thankfully we took shelter in an observatory tower, had some food and a nice long rest out of the sun. We still hadn’t seen anything super exciting so we continued on. A few hours later we came across another observatory tower, but this time instead of sheltering from the sun we sheltered from the rain that had just started. It cooled the place down so after a rest we were ready to head back into it. Thankfully the next part was along a smooth road in between jungle and grass which made the walk a lot easier. Or so we thought until we came across a washed away section. The guide and James attempted a massive leap over it – and made it except for some muddy feet, Mish and Hamish wandered through the water in their hiking boots, but I took the pansy way out and got a piggy back from the guide. It meant my feet didn’t get wet and I didn’t break a leg trying to jump it. We continued along the path until we had another washed away section. This time we had to cross using a makeshift  bridge out of concrete cylinders and bamboo sticks. Typical of my clumsy self I fell in feet first ending up with wet shoes and a muddy bum, making the piggy back pointless.

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As I squelched along in my wet shoes we were all chatting away when we had the sound of a rhino running. We had made the rookie mistake of startling it with out voices. Thankfully it didn’t run too far away and we got the chance to sneak up on it again and this time got to see it. It was amazing to be standing about 6 or 7 metres away from it, admittedly all I could see was its backside and ears as it stood behind a tree. It made the long hours in the sun and walking in the mud worth it. The rain had held off and it was onto the next view point – this time our observatory tower was a tree. Not as comfortable but at least we got to rest our legs! After our final rest we had an hour and a half walk back through the jungle and all I was thinking about was a hot shower and a sit down when our guides suddenly stopped us and told us to get down and be quiet.

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We weren’t sure why we had stopped but after a few quick hand gestures we were back on the trail and were a few short metres from a sloth bear. It saw us and had a bit of a stand off which was kind of scary because you werent sure if I was going to charge but thankfully the bear scampered off. Our guides chased it a bit further to try and capture a few photos for us but it was too quick. We were close to the end by this stage so we were pretty chuffed we saw two amazing creatures. What was even better was that after 10 hours of walking we were at the end. It was a great experience and I am glad we did it but by the end of the day I was wet, muddy and exhausted. I was looking forward to the next day when we would be doing it all again but on elephant back!

Pokhara, People and Pagodas

Next stop on our Nepal adventure was in Pokhara where we were meeting some friends Michelle and Hamish, who are on a four month trip through Asia, and luckily for us our itinerares matched up. James met Michelle while they were both backpacking through South America. When you throw in two reunion visits to New Zealand and Australia, they have now travelled together in seven countries across three continents. Which makes for a pretty cool friendship and excellent travel buddies.

Michelle and Hamish had just finished a five day trek to Poon Hill when we met them so it was fun to take shelter from the nonstop rain and catch up over lunch and hear all about their adventures so far. Pokhara is a central hub for trekking, rafting and other adventure type things which makes the town quite touristy but means it is filled with some of the nicest restaurants we have seen on our whole trip! Its also filled with travel agents so we ducked in one to book our trip to Chitwan before having a wander around the main attraction – Phewa Lake.

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The lake is the hub of the city and is filled with cute little colorful row boats lined along the banks opposite the Lakeside restaurants and bars. Flanked by mountains, when the weather is clear you can see the tops of the Himalayan mountain range poking out the top which makes for some stunning scenery. We didn’t get to see any in Darjeeling so we were pretty happy we could see the snow capped peaks from here. Lakeside was quite busy and as we wandered we saw any of the women dressed up in very sparkly and bright saris and it wasn’t until we cut back into the main boulevard that we realises there was some sort of festival on. We watched people dance and sing in the street in little gathering along the road. It was a great vibe as we slowly wandered back to our hotel, picking up a few drinks along the way for beer o’clock while we watched the sunset from our hotel balcony.

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Dinner that night was at another great restaurant with two for one cocktails and because it was targeted to tourists the ice and veggies were safe to eat. With a few drinks and a delicious dinner under our belt we decide to check out the local nightlife. Across from our restaurant was a Bollywood club and we wandered up the stairs hoping to have some fun dancing Bollywood style. Well it turns out the only person dancing Bollywood style in that place was the stripper on the pole near the doorway. We quickly exited and moved on to the next place. As we were decided where to go next we ran into a bunch of merry Chinese tourist who invited us a long to the lake side for a drink. We had fun sitting near the lake, drinking beers and trying our best to keep up conversation with some quite tipsy people. It was a good laugh and fun company to finish off a great day.

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The next day we were lucky to have good weather so we decided to do a walk up to the peace pagoda. To get there you had to take one of the little colorful row boats with a boatman. It was fun gliding along the water looking at the island temple from afar but we did think it would be more fun to row ourselves. Once we got to the right side of the lake we started the slow ascent to the top. It was mostly steps and a bit of a steep climb for an uncoordinated and unfit ametur like me but once we got to the top totally worth it. The view over the lake and the rest of Pokhara was gorgeous and the Pagoda had some interesting statues. After a sit down in the shade and a chat to fellow travellers we decided to make our descent a different way down.

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And it all went downhill from there – literally and figuratively. This path wasn’t paved and due to the monsoon the muddy clay was pretty slippery. About five minutes in I had a pretty big stack resulting in a sore bum and muddy trousers. Thankfully Hamish had a walking stick he had lent me and I soon learn to use that to make it down some of the more hairy bits. They way down was also leech territory which meant that every few minutes or so we had to stop and check none of them had snuck their way on to us. I caught a few of them climbing up my shoes ready to pounce, but overall we got away without too much blood loss. Apart from the slippery track and the leeches, it was a really scenic walk down the hill. We got to the bottom and as we passed rice fields we realised we were at Damside. We had to cross a rope bridge to get across into town and even though it was very sturdy and only very short I felt like an intrepid explorer – Indiana Jones style.

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By the end of the day we were all pretty sweaty, sunburnt and exhausted. I enjoyed the hike but have realised that as a hobby its not my favourite. I’m glad to say that I did some sort of hiking in a place so famous for it but I am also glad I didn’t sign up for anything longer. Saving all my adventures for Chitwan – where I will get to see some elephants!

Namaste to Nepal

If I thought the trip to Darjeeling was long, it was nothing compared to our 26 trip across the border into Nepal. After a five hour jeep down the mountain due to landslides, we jumped into our second jeep and asked to go to the Nepal border. We ended up at the airport, that was 45 minutes in the wrong direction. We then only had two hours to get to the border, apply and get our visas, and get on our pre booked bus and it was supposed to be an hour journey from where we started. Thankfully we made it, got our visas then had a few minutes to stretch our legs before getting on at 16 hour bus to Kathmandu. We had arranged a ‘super deluxe’ bus – which was neither super nor deluxe. With no air con and apparently no suspension it was quite an uncomfortable journey. We did however get treated to a Bollywood movie – of the dodgiest quality – and 16 hours of Hindi music. Good times.

One of the worst things about the journey is that we weren’t particularly looking forward to our stay in the capital. Friends, guidebooks and fellow travellers had all told us to get out of there as soon as possible and onto more exciting things in Nepal. This meant that we didn’t really rush out into the city to explore – unsure of what to expect. I’m not sure about James but I quite enjoyed the place!  It was calmer then any Indian city, its infamous smog and pollution was barely an issue and it had some pretty interesting places to explore. It did however rain continuously.

Once we got in the touristy mood we ventured out to Thamel – which is basically tourist city. Every second place is a trekking shop or travel agent and everything else sells typical Nepalese looking souveniers. The best thing about it is the shopping and the vibe of being near other adventurers. As neither of us have a great interest in trekking – it was wasted on us a little but it was a good way to get used to the hustle and bustle after a quiet Darjeeling.

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We continued to wander down to Dunbar Square which is basically a plaza filled with temples, museums and government buildings. We were a little surprised you had to pay about £6 to get in (most expensive entry fee so far) but when you can enter dozens of buildings you can understand why. We went straight into a museum about their royal family which was enjoyable until we got bombarded with school children on a field trip. It was a beautiful building, all wooden staircases and tiny rooms with an outside of white brick, but it was a bit like walking through IKEA – you have to follow one direction until you get to the end with no alternate way out. Thankfully we found an escape route by jumping a roped barrier and exiting through a courtyard. Otherwise we may seriously still be in there – it was 9 stories high in some places.

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With our new found freedom we decided to only visit outsides of buildings so spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around and checking out different places. There were lots of little shops and market stalls that kept me occupied while James was doing his photography thing. We decided to do what the locals do and climb up to the top of the high temples and sit and people watch for awhile. We spent ages watching a man on a bamboo ladder paint a monument with a brush made out of sticks. It was so rickity but he managed to swan around on it, occasionally with just one hand or one foot. It was edge of your seat entertainment for me though.

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After that, we pretty much gave up on Kathmandu, knowing we would come back through on our way back to India so we figured rather then trudge around in the rain we would save it for another time. Even with the short time we were there, we quickly fell in love with Nepal and we were looking forward to exploring a bit more over the next two weeks.

Tea at Home

After three fabulous days in Darjeeling, drinking tea and relaxing in the mountains we thought it was time to venture out and see how the delicious tea was made. We had heard about the Makabari Tea Estate that allows you to visit the tea fields as well as doing a home stay with a local family. It sounded like the perfect!

The tea estates were in a smaller town of Kurseong, about halfway down the mountain. We decided we would take the ‘toy train’, a one of a kind steam train running on tiny tracks, down to the town. We were looking forward to chugging along while looking at the scenery but unfortunately it didn’t go to plan. Not only was the weather abysmal but after about an hour we came to an ubrupt stop. Turns out while going around a bend the train had come off the tracks. We were told it would take 45 minutes to fix so we stuck it out rather the getting a taxi. We didn’t really count on ‘India time’ though and two hours later we were on the move. We eventually got there after five hours!

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We arrived at the tea estates and made our way into the office where we met a Russian bio-chemist called Dimitri who started telling us all about his work on the tea plants. Was kind of hard to focus on what he was saying as he was dressed as a monk and the whole situation seemed slightly ridiculous. Thankfully our home stay advisor found us and took us to our little cottage where we were staying. Right behind the factory, next to the tea fields there is a little village filled with houses of workers for the tea estate. We stayed with Robin (the estate park ranger) and his wife Hama (who I think worked in a shop selling tea) and their 11 year old son Rohan in their cute little house. I wasn’t sure what to expect but was happy to find we were staying in a comfortable little annex to their home.

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The home stay included three meals so after a quick wander around the village we went into their kitchen for dinner. The food was delicious and I can now say I had an authentic Indian dinner. We chatted with Hama as much as we could. Her English was great but after a little while it was hard to think of questions. We did find out that it wasn’t just the three of them in the house next door but they had five other extended family members living there too! I think they were great to take us on considering Hama would have to look after 10 people. There was a power cut while we were there too which wouldn’t have helped the situation!

We woke up the next morning to a rooster crowing and we were treated to a yummy breakfast before heading over to the factory to see how the tea was made. We had to put on face masks, caps and little shoe booties before going in which was probably the first instance of health and safety I had witnessed in India. As we wandered through the factory with our guide, we learned the different processes that go into making the different types of tea. Makabari tea is organic and they don’t use pesticides and do their bit for the environment around them. The tea is also measured in ‘flushes’ according to when it was picked and processed which gives it all different flavours. There is way more to making tea than I realised.

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Part of the tour was a wander through the tea fields where we learnt about the types of tea plants (which I forgot about two seconds later) and got to watch the ladies work in the fields. The estate is over 670 hectares which means each day there is about 500 -600 women working in the fields. They pick tea for nine months of the year and even in the dry season they spent time fertalizing and getting the fields ready. After seeing how it was processed it as time for a tasting. Our host Sanjay took us through all the different types of tea that Makabari produce. We had to use a spoon to take a mouthful, swirl it around before spitting it out. It was almost as intense as a wine tasting but at least you didnt have to comment on the ‘woody undertones’ or flavour! While we were there we met Rajah, the boss and he was a riot. He spent about half an hour telling us crazy stories about visitors to his estate, visits he had done to Australia and telling us about his vision for a greener earth. It was quite a treat to meet such an interesting character.

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Once the tour wrapped up we headed back home for lunch and farewell. The home stay and tea estate were a massive highlight of the trip so far. It was so much fun staying with a family and getting mothered a little and discovering more about tea at such an interesting place full of interesting people. It is something I won’t forget quickly!