When we bought our airplane tickets, now over several months ago, I knew the flight from Istanbul to Kathmandu was going to be tricky. For some unclear and maybe misguided reason we had to go via Bahrain, and we could either spend the night in Bahrain at $80.00 per person or continue on to Delhi. For purely economic reasons we decided to continue on. The total amount of time we spent in the air was less then 8 hours but the two connecting flights, along with a very hellish delay in Delhi, turned the journey into a thirty hour ordeal. On the bright side, we did save $160.
We arrived very late and very exhausted which may have made the drive from the airport to the hotel even more alarming. Once the car passed the tourist district of Thamel and turned onto a very narrow, dark alleyway I couldn’t believe I’d booked a place away from the popular and populated section of town. What was I thinking? Thankfully, the hotel, located in the Chhetrapati district, was fine. Our room included a TV and an almost private roof garden with spectacular views of the Himalayan Mountains and the Swayambhunath Stupa (more commonly known as the Monkey Temple). After the first morning walk around Kathmandu area we adjusted fine to the traffic, noise, sights and sounds of an incredible, almost indescribable, city.
It wasn’t until a few days later that we understood why Nepal is truly a birder’s paradise. The country, five times smaller than the state of Texas, has almost the same amount of species as the United States and Canada combined. Quite impressive to say the least. After a week of semi-birding the Kathmandu valley, we headed to Royal Chitwan National Park and then on to Koshi Tappu for a full ten days of non-stop birdwatching. Birding both places was excellent and we also had some unique moments interacting with the locals.
One morning in Chitwan we set out with our guide to bird the 20,000 lakes area. Right before we entered the community forest our guide took us into a tiny grass and mud hut where a woman served us tea as we sat on wooden benches watching the sun rise (up until this point we’d been extremely careful about what we ate or drank). Half my brain was pleasantly enjoying an awesome relaxing Kodak moment, while the other half was screaming "we’re going to be violently ill for the rest of the day". I’m happy to report we both remained healthy for that day and for our entire trip through the terai.
On another occasion, just after arriving in Koshi Tappu, we were birding with our guide when we came upon a few children who were tending to their water buffaloes. After several minutes Bill and I noticed that the older boy, maybe around thirteen or fourteen, seemed to be following us. I once caught his eye and he seemed to be staring directly at me, and of course I thought this was maybe a little Larium paranoia (our anti-malaria drug) kicking in. We continued to walk with our guide, who wasn’t paying any attention to the boy, so I felt safe following suit. Not long after, I noticed him staring at me as he started to chant "Dor-een Dor-een Dor-een". Again, at first, I’m thinking I’ve got to get off this Larium, but then Bill asks me who in the village knows our names, so I knew this wasn’t just in my head. My next, almost panicky, question to Bill is "where are the passports?" At this point I think our guide realizes something is bothering us, and he begins to talk with the boy. Eventually the kid leaves and we continue to birdwatch, never mentioning or questioning the bizarre chanting incident.
November 14, 2000
We’ve had a great time in Nepal and we’re sorry to be leaving, but of all the beautiful, strange and exotic images in my mind, none is more burned into my brain then the dead snake hanging from a tree in the woods of Pokhara. Even the large, living snake we saw in the paddy-fields hasn’t haunted me like the hanging one, which must have been over seven feet long. Fortunately, all the amazing birds we’ve seen more than make up for the occasional reptile.
Originally we weren’t even going to go to Pokhara, because I had read so many scary reports about the bus trip between there and Kathmandu. I had visions of us traveling on the roof of a dilapidated bus, taking hairpin turns on bad roads, clinging desperately to our backpacks. This fear subsided when we accidentally stumbled upon the offices of the Greenline bus company in Kathmandu. They run relatively cheap, comfortable, reserved-seating bus trips between Chitwan, Pokhara, and Kathmandu. The buses always left on schedule with no unscheduled delays or mechanical breakdowns. They even give out complementary copies of the English-language Kathmandu Post, and throw in a free breakfast at a very nice resort at the half-way point.
Both Pokhara and Chitwan are great places to visit, but I’m very happy that we didn’t do a package tour in Chitwan, instead staying in Suaraha and arranging our jungle tours on our own, on a daily basis. (Use United Jungle Guide Service if you find yourself in Suaraha – they’re great). Also, although we think Pokhara is a little overrated, we stayed in the quieter Damside neighborhood and enjoyed the slower, less commercial pace there, compared to Lakeside which is more like Kathmandu minus the charm.
Lastly, one of the nicest surprises for us was the quality of the restaurants. The selection of vegetarian food in Kathmandu pretty much rivals New York City, it’s almost impossible to find a bad place to eat, and the prices are ridiculously cheap. In Thamel, the New Tripti, Nirmala, and the interestingly named Oh-La-La were some of the restaurants we visited early and often, and the Paradise on Freak Street was another favorite.