India to Nepal: a guest perspective

Posted in Guest experiences on Sunday, May 21st, 2017

This was our first trip to Nepal and it was wonderful; both peaceful and chaotic at the same time. Crossing the border from India, visiting the birthplace of Buddah, staying in Chitwan National Park and walking into the Himalayan foothills, we were able to see how the people in this country really live. Our trip started in Delhi, a vast, bustling and in some places, grand city, with old temples next to grand avenues, and chaotic  traffic. Humayan’s tomb was a highlight; like the Taj Mahal but without the crowds. It felt like we had stepped out of the city and into a tranquil spot. In contrast, it was good to see the new temple complex of Akshardam, which was vast and ornate, with a superb parade of carved, pink stone elephants around the Gajendra Peeth.

 

New Delhi station was not as difficult to manage as I had expected. The overnight train from Delhi to Gorakhpur was an experience! By this stage we had realized that everything takes longer than expected in India. Though if the train from Sheffield to Huddersfield was this good, I’d be happy! I woke up at sunrise and it was beautiful watching rural India go by as we left the cities behind.

 India to Nepal border crossing

We were met at Gorakhpur and headed for the Nepalese border. As we approached the crossing, there were huge queues of lorries waiting for customs, but we sailed past and the driver took us straight to the customs office to have our Indian visas stamped, then into Nepal. We were glad to have bought our visas in advance in the UK as we didn’t have to worry about having US dollars, and were across the border in around 15 minutes.

 Machan Wildlife Resort, Chitwan, Nepal

From here we went to Lumbini to see the birthplace of Buddah, then on to Chitwan National Park. Chitwan is a must: we really felt like we were in the jungle. Machan Country Villa was lovely, with pleasant cottage bedrooms and a peaceful place to sit and relax with a cold beer. On the first day here we nervously got on board an elephant that took us further into the jungle, through bushes and pathways that a jeep wouldn’t be able to pass. We were able to get up close to some rhinos, as they weren’t spooked by the elephants, which was amazing. We walked along the sandy riverbank, following tiger pug-marks into the jungle, which I was relieved we did not encounter! There was also a jeep safari, pausing at viewing platforms above watering holes, where we saw more rhinos and deer, and had a gentle canoe trip down the Narayani river which gave another good aspect of the jungle, where local people were fishing and crocodiles were sunning themselves in alarming proximity to each other.

 

I knew that the drive to Kathmandu would be challenging, especially as the road was partly closed when we visited due to repairs. It was a good job we had been to Delhi first to experience the driving; it’s exciting, dangerous and something of a free-for-all. You just have to take it in your stride.

 

Kathmandu was a real highlight. The effects of the earthquake of 2015 are still visible, with occasional piles of rubble where houses stood and a lot of dust thrown up from the rebuilding, but restoration work is well underway and there is an admirable sense of resilience. Durbar square was badly damaged but still well worth a visit and Patan Durbar Square was spectacular. Wandering through the old streets of Kathmandu was fascinating and we stopped in a little side street cafe for what we were told were the best momos in Kathmandu. We weren’t disappointed! The wonderful Shambaling hotel was in walking distance of the Boudhanath stupa. Eating dinner overlooking the stupa and watching it change colour as the sun went down was the perfect end to a day.

 

The drive from Kathmandu to the foothill villages was an experience. The roads were scary, winding up steep hills, but our cheerful driver laughed all the way there and we had breathtaking views.

 

The villages are all beautiful and we had a real insight into what Nepal is like for the majority of the population. We were made to feel so welcome and everyone seemed genuinely happy to see us. The guesthouses were comfortable and all had places to sit outside and relax after the strenuous walks and enjoy the views over different aspects of the valleys. The walking flowed between very pleasant to a hard uphill slog - we were glad of our walking boots and poles - but we were well rewarded for our hard work with the stunning landscapes. We felt so high up, then seeing the Himalayas towering above us made us feel so inferior. The scale of it all was mind boggling; walking in the UK will be disappointing from now on! The guides were very patient and we went slowly and had had lots of rest breaks, taking our time to enjoy it properly. The views were amazing, with brightly coloured landscapes and attractive blue houses. As we walked past yaks grazing, we could hear people talking and singing across the hills to each other - there was a great sense of community.

 

Crossing the metal suspension bridge on the first day of walking added to the adventure; anyone who struggles with heights might prefer to take a different route! I did go a little wobbly-legged half way across but it was sturdy and we felt very proud of ourselves looking down on the bridge from further up the hills. On our second and toughest day of walking we were invited into a village home at 10am for a bowl of home-brewed beer – an acquired taste, but I think it helped get us up the hill! It was great to see the new school and to see that even in such a remote area a decent education is available.

 

After the second day of walking in bright sunshine a thunderstorm rolled in, and it was amazing to sit in Pasiban guesthouse above the cloudline and watch the storm below. We weren’t able to stay in the tented camp because of the weather but I was really impressed with how our guides and the local team took care of us. We felt safe the entire time – we were so remote from everything but felt so well looked after. We spent the night in a village home and were welcomed in for a delicious dinner and entertained with singing and dancing – our guide Tom was in his element! It was still cloudy when we walked up to Sailung peak at 5am, but we felt a real sense of achievement looking down over the hills, surreal below the clouds.

 

This was a completely different type of holiday that is hard to describe it without clichés. It was a once in a life time adventure that lived up to all expectations.

 

Many thanks to Jon Garner for his account of his Village Ways holiday to Nepal. Details of our India to Nepal holiday can be found here.