Sunday, February 22, 2009

18 February – Paragliding, Nepal

Pokhara is a lot about paragliding. It is one of the best spots in the world to enjoy flying on the winds. We found an experienced Swedish guide, Peter Olsson, who agreed to fly in tandem with Temba. Nina was very keen as well, so she would go at the same time as Temba.

Temba and Nina jumped off the Sarangkot mountain (1600m) and landed half an hour later on a patch of grass next to the Phewa Lake (800m). They were both extremely excited about the experience! In the pictures below, Temba has the chute with the red front edge, and Nina’s is grey.
In Pokhara you can also paraglide along with falcons, vultures and eagles. That looks awesome! Check it out on

14-17 February – World’s Deepest Gorge, Nepal

We wanted to get closer to the mountains and explore the Annapurna region by car. But we did not know how far we could drive. Large parts of Nepal are only accessible by foot, and we did not want to trek for three weeks along the Annapurna Circuit in the mountains with the kids. Lucky us, the trekking path to Jomsom was broadened to a cow path last year, and we could actually bump along that track in low gear until our thirst for mountains was quenched.
We crawled and bounced through what is called the deepest gorge in the world – Kali Gandaki. To the west was Dhaulagiri (8167m), looking like a dragon’s back, with glaciers rolling down into the valley. To the east were the Annapurna mountains, dominated by Annapurna I (8091m). We were driving at 1200-2500m altitude, straining our necks while looking up at all these amazing mountains.
The valleys are surprisingly fertile. The villagers grow citrus fruits, bananas, wheat and vegetables up to a very high altitude.
We turned around just south of Jomsom. We had reached the best viewing spots and were now at 2600 meters above sea level. We wanted to descend to lower altitude to avoid sub-zero temperatures in the tent at night. The next day we dipped our feet in the thermal hot springs in Tatopani before continuing south towards Pokhara.
We washed the car in the river next to our camp site outside Pokhara. The next morning we woke up and saw that we had a flat tyre – our first on this trip. All our tyres are really worn out and we had planned to buy new ones in Kathmandu. The kids helped to change to a spare tyre and they found the whole exercise very exciting!

7-13 February – Pokhara, Nepal

The road from Tansen to Pokhara is very scenic. It is amazing to see how the people have managed to build terraces in the impossibly difficult terrain.
People in the small villages were enjoying their day off (Saturday). Women and children were washing themselves and their clothes at the public wells. Men were playing Nepalese board games (most of them are doing that Sunday to Friday as well).
In Pokhara we relaxed for a few days. We enjoyed the Overlander Camping outside of town. In town we found tasty cheese, brown bread, real butter and red wine in a real supermarket. Wow! We were very happy after months of abstinence…
The camping is on the fertile river plains close to the lake Phewa Tal. It is a very peaceful place. We enjoyed the beautiful surroundings for a few days, resting a bit after our long drive through India from Goa to Nepal.
We drove up to the closest view point, Sarangkot (1600m) and enjoyed the view of the Annapurna range, the Phewa Lake and the paragliders riding on the thermal winds. What an amazing panorama! This gave us an appetite for more mountain views.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

5-6 February – Tansen, Nepal

We found an empty, flat space on the top of Batase Hill (1600m above sea level) outside Tansen in Nepal. It was not until the next day that we realized that the pattern on the ground meant that this is a landing field for a helicopter. Anyway, the view from our camp in the morning was fabulous. We saw the snow clad tops of Dhaulagiri (8167m), Nilgiri (7061m), Tilicho (7132m), Annapurna I (8091m), Machapuchhe (6997m), Annapurna III (7555m), Annapurna IV (7525m) and Annapurna II (7937m). Amazing!!! There is something about mountains…
Tansen is a nice town with old Nepalese architecture, good food, a thriving market and narrow streets at bizarre angles.
Temba had a haircut in a local shack, with a sizeable audience.
We had many visitors at our camp. All were very polite and friendly. Our children played football and cricket with local kids. We are looking forward to getting to know Nepal and its people over the coming weeks.

4-5 February – Lumbini, Nepal

We are entering Nepal, the 30th country on our journey. We have now driven more than 40,000 km since our start from London, UK.

Learning about different religions seems to be somewhat of a theme for us on this journey. Now, the time has come for us to visit the birth place of Prince Siddharta Gautama. He was born in what is now Lumbini, in May 563 BC, and he became a very successful guy, assuming the name Buddha, The Enlightened One, after 29 days of serious meditation under a tree in India.
Today, many Buddhist communities around the world are financing Buddhist temples around the Lumbini Development Zone. The most impressive one to date is the German temple (and if you find out exactly how that fits with Germany’s religious history – please let us know).

3-4 February – North towards Nepal

We leave India with very warm feelings. We were nervous when entering India. We had heard from many people about the heat, the humidity, the bad roads, the difficult people, and the terrible things that can happen to your poor little stomach. But we have had such a lovely time.
The people are extremely friendly – if sometimes very curious.
The food is wonderful – with tasty dishes prepared in the simplest shack.
The climate is perfect from November until March – nice warm days with cool nights.
And there are zillions of things to see and do. Our only question is: Why did we not go to India before?

1-2 February – Varanasi, India

We admit that we (=Ola) were a bit nervous about Varanasi. Many people we have spoken to have warned us about Varanasi. Nowhere to camp. Dirty. Smelly. Chaotic. Thieves. Disease. Hot. Ugly. Noisy. Disgusting. Absolutely not for children. And the terrible things floating in the holy river Ganges...
We loved Varanasi. For us, it was the perfect end to our two and a half wonderful months in India. We could never have imagined that Varanasi would be so peaceful (morning walk north from Assi Ghat), cool (25 degrees at noon and 12 degrees at night), dignified (everywhere except maybe at the main ghat), beautiful (grand architecture of riverside palaces south of main ghat), with so much good food (we will remember the Lotus Lounge), colorful people (washing clothes, bathing, fishing, resting), reasonably clean river (it is actually not as bad as we thought it would be) and tremendous photo opportunities.
Our 5 km walk from Assi Ghat (washing and bathing) to Manikarnika Ghat (burning bodies) was among the best walks we ever did.
And the sunset ceremony is bizarrely unique, if somewhat strenuous for your ears.
All that said, Varanasi for sure attracts a lot of weirdoes and goofs, both Indian and Western. But that is part of the package. Just smile and be happy!
And by the way, we do not mean to say that the Ganges river is exactly clean…