Yesterday we caught an early train in Artarmon, north of Sydney, which took us through the CBD right on to Strathfield station. We then caught a bus to a street near Corinneâ€™s Aunty Joanâ€™s place. We spent about three hours with her, including lunch, before catching another bus which took us to Bankstown station. There we took a train all the way to Circular Quay. From there we walked along Macquarie Street to the entrance to the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Digital Camera User Rule #1
I was looking forward to taking a few photos in the botanic gardens but we were only there a few minutes when the batteries on my digital camera went flat. Now – rule one for digital camera users – always carry spare batteries! When trekking the Himalayas last January I carried five sets of spare batteries. This time I had NONE. I thought I had a spare set but couldn’t find them anywhere in my camera bag. They were there all the time – hiding under the instruction book – but I didn’t find them until it was too late. (Sigh).
Photo Opportunity #1
You guessed it.
Only two minutes later a magnificent photo opportunity presented itself. Walking along a path we came across a Buff Banded Rail – eating chocolate that had dripped from some kid’s icecream on to the path. It only reluctantly moved out of the way to let us pass. Now Buff Banded Rails are not as common as sparrows or crows or most other birds. I’ve only ever seen about three or four EVER. After nearly 30 years of concentrated birding. And me unable to take a photo. (Bigger sigh)
Photo Opportunity #2
Later, while having an icecream, ANOTHER Buff Banded Rail walked right past us where we sat admiring the boats on the harbour.Â I do hope it wasn’t the same bird taunting me. (Even bigger sigh).
In between these two incidents I saw many other really tame birds up close. I would have taken plenty of wonderful photos. Oh. well, that just gives me the excuse to return there another day.
Thursday 19th January 2006.
Â This morning I woke with a headache, the first for the whole trip. After taking a paracetamol and having a good breakfast I was fine. I then had a rumbly tummy for a while but by 10am I was feeling a lot better. I have been surprised that I havenâ€™t had any other headaches along the way and my stomach upsets have been quite mild. With all the different foods I have eaten, some of it very spicy, I though that I may have had more problems.
Â Central Zoo, Kathmandu , Nepal
I tried to access my email but all internet access was unavailable. Mid morning I used one of the hotel drivers to take me to Central Zoo. The entry fee was Rs100 (A$2) plus Rs10 for my camera. The zoo in Kathmandu is a sad, run-down affair. It looks tired and few changes seem to have occurred since it was built in the Nineteenth Century. In fact, many of the cages are 19th Century in style with no attempts apparent to bring the exhibits up to modern standards. Despite these criticisms I spent two very pleasant hours wandering around the enclosures. The bars and wire fences made photography a challenge but I managed to get some very good shots.
The main purpose of visiting the zoo was to view the many animals and birds of Nepal I missed seeing in the wild. I was disappointed that they didnâ€™t have any Red Pandas in their collection. This is one of my favourite animals and Nepal is a stronghold of this wonderful animal.
After leaving the zoo I walked down the hill from there for about a half hour. This gave me another area of the city to explore as I went along. Being the only foreigner in that part of Patan I was the centre of attention. Many people at the zoo had also stared at me as well as my expensive looking camera. One man even spoke to me in good English and made his son shake my hand and practice speaking English to me. He was delighted to find out that I was an Australian. At least there is one country where Australians are looked up to and respected. As I walked along the street I was acutely aware of the stench of sewage. Sure enough, looking down some broken parts of the path revealed the source of the smell.
Wednesday 18th January 2006.
This fascinating city of Kathmandu:
This morning I walked in Thamel again, this time with my camera. I could have used the cheap local taxis but I preferred to keep walking to keep up the fitness levels. It is also a very good way to see some of the extraordinary sights in this exotic city. I took several photos on the way to Thamel and many more in the Thamel area itself. I tried to capture life in the raw as it is here in Kathmandu. I also tried to get photos of some of the stupa, the temples and other historic buildings.
I stopped at Kilroyâ€™s for lunch. I ordered a Sprite and a cheese and tomato toasted sandwich, thinking I only needed a light lunch. What a sandwich! Half the plate was covered in chips! It was more than an adequate lunch and at a total cost of Rs180 ($3.60) it was a bargain. It was also very delicious.
Durbar Square Kathmandu
I wandered in a southerly direction through the Thamel area trying to locate Durbar Square (Kathmandu). At one stage I thought that I had become hopelessly lost. The streets and lanes meander in and out and around and are a confusing muddle, something akin to a plate of spaghetti. I had a reasonable map of the area from the travel agent in the hotel. Trouble was, very few streets are labelled with any kind of signage. The few major streets are often named only in Nepali, which is not at all helpful to foreigners who donâ€™t read the language. Oh well, I thought, just keep the sun in front or over my right shoulder and I should eventually find the main road leading back to the hotel. If all else fails, catch a rickshaw or taxi and for less than $2 Iâ€™d get back to the hotel. Every second taxi stops to ask if you want a ride anyway.
Shopping in Kathmandu
I went through some very busy lanes where one could buy almost anything, from very expensive jewellery to a pair of cheap socks. The jewellery shops would not have looked out of place in Rundle Mall, Adelaide, and were complete with their own doorman come security guard. The sock sellers seemed to be everywhere that day. It must have been a special sock-sale day or something. A small cardboard box brimming with socks at very cheap prices carried by very insistent young boys seemed to appear in my face every few seconds.
Colourful shops and colourful characters
Old wrinkled men selling tiger balm in tiny tins seemed to be everywhere too. This is supposed to relieve aches and pains and the only connection with tigers is the picture of a tiger on the lid. Vendors with poorly made miniature wooden chess sets or tiny wooden musical instruments were also in evidence everywhere. Whole shops full of copper plates and bowls and every other possible type of copper utensil glowed in the sunlight, the little copper statues of Buddha giving a stark reminder of the dominant faith here. Every third shop was awash with colour; fabrics and pashminas in all the colours of the rainbow. Fashion conscious ladies were well catered for with beautiful gowns and skirts flowing in the breeze as they hung from whatever point the shop keeper could manage to utilise.
Splashes of colour
Fruit and vegetable stalls abound, each adding colourful splashes to overload the visual impact. The sellers varied from large well set out shops like we have in Australia, through to a person sitting on the ground with say, just tomatoes, spread out on a small ground sheet. Selling bananas and mandarins from a basket mounted on a bicycle was another common sight. The Nepali are largely vegetarian but one still comes across the typical Asian style butcher shop, often no more than a rickety wooden table just outside the door and laden with meat and no sign of refrigeration. Mobile pop-corn vendors are common too, with the selection of different coloured corn on trays mounted on a cart made with four bicycle wheels and complete with its own gas cooker. Motor bike repair shops seem to be everywhere. With so many bikes in the city it is not surprising. I also saw several specialist bicycle shops.
I went down many very busy shopping lanes seething with jostling humanity. I also discovered some rather poor and seedy looking back lanes with a very low standard of living. Here the pungent aroma of incense and the occasional part open sewer attacks the nasal passages. I wasnâ€™t worried in these areas; I just kept walking steadily knowing there were always taxis nearby. I eventually found my way to the main road leading back to the hotel. By then I was feeling quite tired so I steadily walked back to the hotel. Over four hours on foot was quite enough exploration for one day. On one corner I saw a small gathering of people listening to a speaker. I couldnâ€™t understand him of course, but I assume he was a political speaker. The police were nearby watching but did not interfere.
The hazards of walking in Kathmandu
I didnâ€™t have any trouble with beggars today, only seeing about four of them who were easily shrugged off. The greatest hazard today seemed to be the birds. I received two great deposits from above, one on my cap and shoulder and the other on my thumb. A bit of washing was in order on my return to my hotel room.
Saturday 14th January 2006.
Royal Chitwan National Park:
I slept quite well last night although I needed to get up to go to the toilet several times. I didnâ€™t think I had drunk that much late in the day. I woke at 7:30am, showered and dressed ready for breakfast at 8:15am. The rooms here are really good and are of a high standard. The beds are comfortable (especially when compared to those we endured on the trek) and the bathroom is decorated with marble tiles. According to the Lonely Planet Guide these rooms cost about US$20 (about A$28) per night so they are good value and very affordable. I have just asked the manager if it would be possible to extend my stay by an extra night.
There is a very real possibility that we could be fog bound tomorrow, necessitating a four and a half hour drive back to Kathmandu. There were no flights to Bharatpur today as there was heavy fog all day. It is now 6:15pm and the fog has come in very thick again. I am thinking now that it would be very risky to go to Tansen to visit the McArthurs as I might be stuck in Bhairawa and not be able to get back to Kathmandu on time for my flight home. I need to decide by 10am tomorrow. I would rather spend extra time here going bird-watching for a few extra days perhaps. Getting back to Kathmandu from here would be far easier than in Tansen or Bhairawa.
Another Elephant Ride
Today after breakfast we drove for 15 minutes to another section of the national park. We again had an hour and a half elephant ride through the park. During our elephant ride we again had great views of a rhino. We also saw Spotted Deer (chital) feeding its young and a brief glimpse of a Hog Deer. Later research shows that it might have been a Barking Deer. We also saw what I think were rhesus monkeys in the distance.
Birds of Chitwan NP
Because of the dull and foggy conditions we didnâ€™t see or hear many birds while on the elephant ride but we did see another Indian Peafowl. We also had good views of a Red Jungle Fowl which is native to this area. The common chook is descended from this species. We also saw some Lesser Whistling Ducks and heard a few other birds. We didnâ€™t dismount from the elephant where we had got on at the National Park Head quarters but continued on a back road towards the hotel. Along the way we passed some very basic living conditions in the local village. Many around here live in quite small mud and bamboo huts. I was able to get some good photos of life here as we went along. Eventually we went down the main street of Sauraha to the hotel, trying to duck under the electricity wires drooping over the road.
After a short break we had lunch and then we had an hour free, so I did some bird watching in the hotel grounds and along the nearby river bank. In the hotel grounds I identified Jungle Babblers, Black Bulbul and Yellow Billed Blue Magpie. These are all “lifers” for me. (The first time I’ve seen this species in my life, hence a “lifer”)
At 2:30pm we were driven in the hotel mini van up river for a dug out canoe ride downstream. The boat operator stood on the back gondolier style and guided the boat downstream with a long pole. The current was strong enough not to need any paddling. The journey took about half an hour and was definitely the birding highlight of the trip so far. Our guide Kamal is a keen birder and he pointed out all the different birds we saw. The list of â€œlifersâ€ I saw is impressive:
Black Crowned Night Heron
White Throated Kingfisher
Lesser Adjutant Stork
Red Wattled Lapwing
White Tailed Stone Chat
Stork Billed Kingfisher
Blue Bearded Bee-eater
White Bellied Drongo
Olive Backed Pipit
We also saw several Mugger Crocodiles on the sand bars as we drifted along. I did a rough count in my notebook and over the last 24 hours I have seen here at Chitwan about 29 species for the first time. Wow! And a rough count for the whole trip has added about 40 new species for the trip. While this is good and quite exciting, it is still far short of my initial expectations. I have come to the conclusion that one needs to seek out dedicated birding sites and spend quite a few days with a bird specialist guide to get anywhere near a significant total in the hundreds. I just didnâ€™t have the time on this journey. Maybe on the next trip to Nepal….
Elephant Breeding Centre
After the canoe trip we visited the Elephant Breeding Centre. We saw many trained elephants coming in from a day in the rainforest followed closely by about 8 or 9 baby elephants. I took many photos. It was sad to see the adult elephants being tied up for the night. They do this to prevent them from raiding the nearby crops, such as corn and rice. They would probably do quite a deal of damage if left to themselves. They have recently installed electric fences around the perimeter of the centre in an attempt to stop the wild bull elephants coming in and mating with the females. They can cause other problems as well.
Before dinner we were treated to an hour of local cultural dancing in the grounds of the hotel. Most participants were male and they were accompanied by drummers. The dancers used sticks to beat the rhythm of the dance. One dance featured a traditional fire dance.
Traditional Nepali Food
Dinner was traditional Nepali food; rice and dhal bhaat, spicy chicken, spicy vegetables followed by fried banana. Yummy! After dinner Kane and Jade retired early while I spent some time talking to a Nepali man who was sitting with a German lady. A few minutes later I was joined by the hotel manager as I had requested of the waiter. I am thinking of staying an extra two nights and not going to Tansen at all. There is a general strike and demonstrations in Kathmandu on Monday. It will only cost me an extra US$20 per night and meals average about $6. That is far cheaper than in Kathmandu. I can also hire a guide to go birding for about $10 for three hours. That seems to be great value.