Nepal - "Same-same but different"
We were very excited to plan our next trip to Nepal but people looked at us with a winking eye about the idea of travelling to Nepal. I mean why not Nepal? And what if we are not trekking?
Nepal is a beautiful country where people trek for Mountain Everest or the base camp and since we were not planning for any such trek we thought of just exploring the place. Our prime reason of travelling was the upcoming winter holidays and a little more than awesome sweet travel deal. Little did we realise back then that the trip would be as awesome as it ultimately turned out.
Ultimately we finalized the trip from 22nd Dec to 28th Dec'18 and the moment we finalised the location, I booked our tickets from Delhi. The return fare for two made me 20k dearer. Itinerary comprised of Kathmandu (ofcourse!!!), Nagarkot, Chitwan, Lumbini and Pokharan. But after doing some literature review we shortlisted three cities: Kathmandu, Pokharan (for Sarangkot sunrise and sunset view and the scenic beauty that it is known for) and Chitwan ( primarily because the flora and fauna is quite different from India.
Then the quintessential thought about hotel booking. We wanted to stay cheap in Thamel for one night and Kathmandu for the last night so we booked Kathmandu Eco hotel at Thamel (reviews on the web were good and it was cheap) & Grand hotel, Kathmandu (again, decent reviews on internet), Temple Tree at Pokhara and Landmark Forest at Chitwan.
I usually prefer to book hotels well in advance to avoid any last minute surprises especially when travelling outside the country. Initially we thought to be adventurous and decided to use public transport but as the dates approached closer, we grew a bit anxious (add to this the winter laziness) and we ended up booking a private taxi. After much negotiation, finalised it for 20,500/-). Thought it to be a good deal considering the cost of the anxiety pills that we had to swallow had we availed the option of public transport .
Day 1: Morning 22nd while we were sleeping in our bed, got a call from Indigo airlines that the flight is delayed by an hour. Ah! what a start! Usually they are on time, but you never know. Reached airport to find that the flight is further delayed but we managed to land at Kathmandu airport at 3:35 p.m. (delay of approximately 1.5 hours). Most of the day was gone, immigration queue was long and the counter of Indian passport holder had no body to help us out. Since our Indian sim-card stopped functioning and the queue for Ncell was long, we thought of waiting outside for our cab hoping to find our name on any placard. Wishful thinking, indeed !!! Many cab drivers approached us enquiring about our accommodation and exhorted to drop us to the hotel if we pay 700-800/- but we resisted. Finally a man came who helped getting us to our cab.
We reached hotel, checked in and decided to roam in nearby Thamel market (as it was already 6'o clock in the evening) and the only thing which we could explore was "Garden of Dreams"/Market, we decided to explore the market on foot and talk to the locals. You will find a number of good cafes and hotels but if you are looking for something different which you couldn't get in India (in terms of product), you will be disappointed as the local market has a lot of very expensive Kashmiri products which you would easily find in India. We made a friend Mr. Suresh who owned a shop in Thamel and he helped us understand the difference between local and international products. The conversation was very informative. Crux of the matter was: save your bucks for some other day.
Recommendation: Ncell is the market leader in Nepal. Get the SIM and the internet plan from airport as it is very cheap and internet connection is really good. Eco Kathmandu Hotel is a decent hotel in Thamel which provides complimentary airport pick up. If you want to save money get a hotel similar to it.
Day 2: We woke up early in the morning and decided to go to Pokhara after breakfast. Started at 8'o clock in the morning and decided to cover Manakamna Temple (temple is the sacred place of Hindu Goddess Bhagwati) on the way. We reached by 11:50 am at the temple and rushed to get the cable ticket ( lunch time from 12:00 to 1:30) so next time when you plan to cover this, please zero-in their lunch time, we wasted a lot of time on the top waiting for the cable car to start. It is a beautiful ride which needs to be savoured. We enjoyed it.
Thamel to Pokhara is a long journey, approximately 210 km with circuitous routes and mountains which will make you queasy by the time you reach your destination. We explored the market of Pokahara and Fewa Lake as our hotel - Temple Tree was located nearby. Market reminds you of Thailand with lesser crowd but well lit and absolute fun to walk around.
Suggestion: Manakamana temple should be a part of your sightseeing but start early to visit it preferably before lunch time. Have patience since there could be long queues.
Day 3: We were very excited to see Sagarmatha sunrise at 6:50 am. We could see lot of people who had already start assembling at 6 am. Your cab driver will drop you to a point from where you need to ascend to locate the best view. There are various shops on the way which will allow you to use their roof to sit and enjoy for free. They will provide you chairs and tea/coffee (of course, you have to pay), you can sit and relax while watching one of the most spectacular scene of your lifetime. We decided to perch on top of one such shop's roof as it was quite difficult to reach to the summit. As the rays of sun started sprinkling their silhouettes on the Annapurna range just before the sunrise, we became utterly spellbound. You have to be there to view the beauty. Words won't suffice and yes, be ready with your camera and capture the best possible views.
After this beautiful morning, we went for a quick shower and did breakfast at the hotel. Then covered the local points of interest like Gupteshwar cave, Davis water fall, Bindabasini temple and Fewa lake. All the tourist spots have ticket system so choose the points you want to add and omit the rest. It took half a day for us to cover all these spots. We didn't go for peace pagoda (which was also there in our itinerary) as we needed to walk a lot to reach there and our early morning rendezvous with nature had already sapped substantial energy of our lazy souls. In the evening we reached back to our hotel and conversed with people gathering information about Pokhara. We made a new friend Mr. Arpan who wished to visit India to watch a train as there is no train service in Nepal. Found it quite amusing.
Suggestion: Plan for paragliding if you are that adventurous kind. We didn't but we watched gliders over the beautiful Fewa lake. It is prized around 7K or so and they make your video while gliding also :)Fewa Lake is pristine. Boat ride charge depends on the type of ride. Gupteshwar cave is also a must go, you get the experience of exploring an antediluvian cave.
Day 4: Travel to Chitwan started late as our stay was too comfortable and we didn't want to leave Pokahara. Visiting places which are not commercially hyped often does it to you. You want to be lost in the beauty of the scenic settings, far away from the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungles, smelling of your childhood memories. Add to that, laziness of the settings and the comfort of the stay procrastinate your travel and that's when you realize the ticks of the clock.
After a sumptuous breakfast, we bade goodbye to Pokhara in the fond hope that we will return there sometime soon. As expected, highway between hillocks and valleys was very beautiful (though most of it is getting constructed and would be a wonderful drive way once done).You will get small shops on the way " Khaja ghar" where you can stop and they will serve you momos, chowmein and tea/coffee. You will miss the ubiquitous Maggie though L We stopped at one such shop and had our bit of Nepali thali which consisted of local rice, dal (lentil), tarkari (green veggies), dahi (curd) and papad.
Reaching Landmark Forest, our next stay was difficult in the absence of any placard or signage. Google map acted funny and wanted us to go anywhere in the forest, perhaps the shortest route which we flatly refused. Eventually we checked in at the hotel but struggled to find a decent room. Well, don't be judgemental- I am not the nagging kind but the hotel gave the option of a room which was located at the farthest end of humanity, in-spite of a lot of vacant rooms. We got allotted a room of our choice, finally. Again coming back to our plan: We had a choice of three rides- canoe ride, elephant ride and jeep safari to explore the wilderness. Timings: 8 in the morning, 12:30 in the afternoon. We opted for jeep safari.
Suggestion: You can choose any property out of the various options in Chitwan depending on the pocket pinch. Landmark Forest (where we stayed) is a decent one but it is located far off from the market. You can chose a property in Sauraha and though the market and village are quite small but still if you want to explore the surroundings, you can do that on your own if you chose it wisely.