Archive for January, 2007

Safely back in Kathmandu

After the exhilarating trip from Chitwan National Park it was good to arrive back safely at the Shangri La Hotel in Kathmandu, my home away from home while staying in Nepal’s capital city. This hotel, while not luxurious, was a comfortable haven in a country of contrasts and a nation in turmoil.

Foyer of the Shangri La Hotel Kathmandu

Foyer of the Shangri La Hotel Kathmandu

While staying in Kathmandu at a hotel like the Shangri La one could be forgiven for ignoring the plight of the people trying to exist in this country. Inside the hotel it was relatively quiet, organised, and peaceful – especially having lunch in the garden – and safe compared to the frenetic activity in the streets outside.

I found that the staff was really friendly, helpful and approachable. During my meals I was pleased to be able to engage several of the staff in interesting conversations about their lives. I also had some interesting conversations with some of the other guests.

Slow journey to Kathmandu

Yesterday I wrote about my exhilarating journey from Chitwan National Park to Kathmandu. As we neared Kathmandu the traffic intensified and naturally slowed down. On this part of the journey the road was quite steep and twisty in parts which further slowed the traffic.

Army Checkpoint

The journey of 140km normally takes about 4 hours. I thought we were making very good time as we approached Kathmandu. At 16km from the city centre the traffic crawled to a stop. We had reached the queue for the army checkpoint. For over an hour we only moved about a kilometre. There were many slow moving buses and trucks as well as many private cars. Several times we saw male passengers get off the bus and go to the edge of the road and relieve themselves. On reaching the checkpoint at last we saw why there was such a long wait. The soldiers were asking all bus passengers to disembark, collect their luggage from the pack rack and line up for a bag check.

“Where are you from?”

As we pulled up near one of the buses a soldier opened the sliding door of our mini van. He ignored the driver and the hotel manager in the front seat. He looked at me and asked, in good English, where we were from and where we’d been. I told him we were all from Australia, we’d been to Chitwan National Park to see the animals, that we’d seen lots of birds and rhinos but no tigers. He laughed, closed the door and waved us on. He didn’t even ask to inspect our bags. Obviously he did not consider us a risk.

Nepal – the political reality

Less than a kilometre further on we witnessed the reason the army and the police were being more cautious than last week. We passed the police station that had been attacked and bombed on Saturday night. The Maoists responsible for the attack had come into Kathmandu by bus, hence the thorough checks of all bus passengers and their luggage. Reports of the incident were sketchy but it seems that at least a dozen police were killed.

Exhilarating journey to Kathmandu

After my brief visit to Royal Chitwan National Park in southern Nepal, we finally managed to get a ride back to Kathmandu. This was in a mini bus arranged by the manager of the hotel where we were staying. It was far more comfortable than the battered and cramped conditions of the small 4WD we had travelled in the previous day.

We woke early, well before dawn. We had a light breakfast before leaving. For the first hour or so the journey was slow. Not only was the road very pot holed, but the fog was extremely thick. There was no doubt that we would not have been able to fly back to Kathmandu, even if we had been able to get tickets.

At first the traffic was relatively light, but after dawn this increased markedly. Our driver was very skilled at avoiding pot holes, pedestrians, cyclists, animals, children, larger buses and overtaking ponderous trucks labouring through the hills.

As we began the climb up to Kathmandu the scenery along the road became truly spectacular. The highway follow a river valley so the road was rarely straight. I had no opportunity to take photos: I needed to hang on to the rail on the back of the seat in front of me to prevent myself from being thrown from one side of the bus to the other.

The river far below the road was boulder strewn and would have been an excellent white water rafting location. What worried me was the drop of over a hundred metres from the road to the river. There was little in the way of barriers between the road and the river. The few barriers that were there seemed very inadequate in my mind.

Added to that concern were the frequent – perhaps every hundred metres or so – road signs warning about falling rocks from the mountains above the road. Both of these concerns made me forget about the hazards of the road itself. The driver was very skillful at overtaking on crests, blind corners and at avoiding collisions in the face of oncoming traffic.

It was truly a “white-knuckle” ride.

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Visits to the Clare Valley

Late last year we had three trips to stay with our daughter in Clare in the mid north of South Australia. Clare is in the Clare Valley, one of Australia’s premier wine producing areas. Our daughter is a teacher in the local high school.

In late November we spent a few days helping her to prepare her house for the painters to paint the whole of the inside of the house. It was like moving house without going anywhere. Many things were packed away in boxes and moved into the garage. After the painters had finished the carpet layers moved in to replace all the carpets.

Several weeks later we returned for a few days and did everything in reverse, bringing everything back into the house. All of this moving, packing and unpacking was hard work, made worse by some very hot weather.

Then drove up to Clare again for the Christmas break. Normally our daughter comes home for Christmas, but this time she wanted us to come stay with her. As part of our celebrations we travelled a little further north to Jamestown. We had a lovely Christmas lunch with my wife’s niece, sister and brother in law. It was a relaxing family get together.

A cruise on the River Murray

Here it is well into January and I forgot to wish every one who reads this blog a Happy New Year. I hope that you have had a great start to the new year. I hope you enjoy many wonderful journeys and visit many wonderful places.

This time last year I was in Nepal and had just finished trekking the Himalayas and exploring exciting Kathmandu. Over coming weeks I will share more about my exciting time in Kathmandu, including many more photos of that incredible city. In the meantime – go to the archives or the categories section of this blog as I’ve already written extensively about my experiences.

Last New Year’s Eve (2005) I was trying to get some sleep during the brief fireworks in Bangkok. I had an early plane to catch to Kathmandu and couldn’t stay up for the celebrations.

This most recent New Year’s Eve was quite different. My wife and I were invited to join about 50 others – many we knew – on a dinner cruise on the nearby River Murray. The food was great, the company wonderful and drifting slowly along the river so relaxing.

The age of the people on board was on the high side; most were retirees. This was graphically illustrated when the hour reached mid-night; we all gave a few cheers and almost everyone disembarked immediately and drove home to bed. We must be getting on in years. Late nights take a toll on us.