Category Archives: Nepal

Patan and Bhaktapur

Kathmandu valley is the heart of Nepal. The toponym Nepal historically referred precisely to this valley. Only in 18th century, as the Gurkha Kingdom conquered the valley and made it the centre of its newfound empire, the name Nepal was extended to cover all of the modern country (and some other territories which were part of the empire at the time but later got transferred to India). Initially the centre of gravity in the valley was the town of Bhaktapur. Kathmandu and Patan (also known as Lalitpur) became its equals and rivals in about 15th century. Eventually Kathmandu won over and came to dominate the area. I visited Patan and Bhaktapur, the two other main historical towns in the valley, on two separate occasions and this post describes these visits.

The circumstances of each visit could not be more different. I went to Patan on my own and the visit to Bhaktapur was together with a friend. Bhaktapur was visited on one of my first days in Nepal; Patan on one of the last. I walked around Patan in the heat under the scorching sun; in Bhaktapur suddenly the skies opened and a torrential rain fell down and continued for hours.

Like in Kathmandu, both Bhaktapur and Patan possess a Durbar Square. In each case it is the focus of the old city. Patan’s Durbar Square:

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Temples of Kathmandu

By now I am rather far away from Nepal, but I cannot resist writing two more posts about the Peaceful Kingdom. Well, Republic nowadays. This post is about the temples of Kathmandu. Their names have already been mentioned time and again in the posts about the magical Kathmandu itself as well as the stay in the orphanage. Many of my temple visits were with the kids from the orphanage.

Swayambhu was for sure our favourite temple. It is the temple that rises on the top of a hill to the West of Kathmandu, being the main temple of Newari Buddhism – the branch that historically developed in the Kathmandu valley. From up close it is difficult to make a photo that would take it all in. An attempt:

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Annapurna Base Camp trek

Today is one year to the day from the start of my trip. On 5 July last year I boarded a plane from Brussels to Mexico and so my incredible journey began. It is somehow right that the first part of my journey comes to an end now. Tonight I am going to take a plane to Tallinn, where I am from. To be very precise, the circle around the world will not quite close then – this will only happen when I reach Brussels. Nevertheless Tallinn will surely be a special stop on the way. Is the trip itself over? No no no. The journey continues!

With so many exciting events taking place recently, my blog is now somewhat delayed. However I will keep on publishing materials from the trip in a chronological order. And so today I will write about the amazing 10-day trek that I took in the Nepalese Himalaya.

The Himalaya are what gives Nepal its fame. They dominate Nepal the way The Wall dominates the Seven Kingdoms. A trek in the Himalaya did not initially figure in my plans. It was out of the question: I had no trekking equipment, not even warm clothes to speak of. But conversations with fellow travellers in Kathmandu and Pokhara alerted me to the fact that to be in Nepal and not to do a trek would be outright criminal. There was a complication though: the start of the Nepali rain season was imminent. “Two weeks left before the rain season starts!” I was told. “One week left!” Nevertheless it was clear to me that a chance to trek in Nepal is quite unique and so if I do it, I have to do it properly. And I decided to take the risk and despite the start of the rain season to do a 10-day trek to Annapurna Base Camp.

I spoke to some fellow travellers to see if we could do it together, but finally we could not quite match the routes and dates. So I decided to do a trek on my own with a guide. The whole thing got magically organised at the last moment. A fellow volunteer Becca wrote to me on Facebook about an amazing guide called Krishna she heard of while having dinner with a Canadian friend and gave me his number. I called Krishna from Pokhara to Kathmandu and immediately he said he was available and was ready to come to Pokhara. He sent me a proposed route and it fit my desires perfectly: in addition to the classical ABC (Annapurna Base Camp) trek it included also the so-called Ghorepani trek which many people do as a separate trek. Lonely Planet proposes to allocate to ABC alone 16 days; in Krishna’s ABC and Ghorepani together would take 10 days. I thought this was reasonable and so I confirmed.

We met in Pokhara over a bottle of beer the next day. He said I was obviously younger than him, what are you, 25? I am actually three years older than him, so this was neat. He also immediately declared that I was walking really fast. I laughed and said that we would see if it would hold up in the mountains. Hold up it actually did – the easiest rhythm for me was to run up some hill, like 500 metres up, and then take a good pause to rest. Krishna’s natural rhythm I think was to go slower without the need for long rest.

On the same day I bought everything that could be bought at the last moment – trekking boots, light pants, water purification tablets, lip balm. I packed it all in my old city backpack – which almost bursted at the seams – and off we went the next morning. Krishna looked at my backpack rather sceptically – it was only 9 kg, which was quite a bit less than his backpack. But finally my pack was just right – no more, no less.

In the morning we took a taxi from Pokhara to Nayapul, which is around 1.5 hours by car. The road actually does continue for some way further on, but then suddenly disappears in the woods, so there’s no point in taking the taxi further. This is the point where we started walking:

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An orphanage in Kathmandu

In Kathmandu I spent two weeks as a volunteer in an orphanage called Helpless Colony. It was long my desire to spend some time as a volunteer and finally I decided to put it into action. I found the Helpless Colony orphanage via an American organisation which specialises in linking the potential volunteers with relevant organisations all over the world.

I organised the volunteering placement while being quite far from Nepal – via internet from Australia and Thailand. The American organisation (it’s called Global Crossroad) sent me the coordinates of the orphanage. Its Nepali affiliate was supposed to pick me up from the hotel and to deliver me to the orphanage. As this is Nepal, and everything moves here on “Nepali time”, on the actual day the man from the organisation did not come to pick me up until around noon, and only after a series of phone calls from my side. We waited for his driver for about half an hour (he came by a motorcycle); then it turned out the driver cannot find the hotel; so as if it’s most normal we put my huge 20kg bag on the motorcycle between the two of us and off we went between the puddles of Kathmandu’s streets. Finally we found the driver; I moved to the minivan; the minibus took me to a hostel that belongs to the Nepali organisation (which is called RCDP Nepal); after an hour’s wait me and some other volunteers boarded a minibus; the minibus first took them to their destination – about 1h drive; then we went back to Kathmandu and finally we got to my orphanage, having visited yet another one on the way. The absurdity of this process only became apparent to me later as I learnt that it takes 30 minutes to get to the orphanage by public minibus.

As I entered the house, Nanu, the manager of the orphanage, greeted me on the stairs with a bow and a respectful “Namaste” holding her hands together. We sat together in one of the children’s rooms and as the children came back from school, each would approach me and ask me where I’m from and say “Glad to meet you!” with infectious laughter. I would ask their names and ages.

The orphanage:

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The city of 30 million gods

Kathmandu is a magical place. A teeming mass of people, events and strange coincidences, it occupies an elliptical valley, sprawling in every direction like in a giant cauldron.

On this photo we look West from the Basantapur tower in Hanuman Dhoka palace. We can see how the waves of the Kathmandu ocean rush to the surrounding mountains, submerging in the process the hill to the right. On this hill stands the temple of Swayambhu, the main temple of the Nepali buddhism, its name meaning “the Self-Arisen one”. Legend tells us that in the times immemorial the valley of Kathmandu had been a lake (this is confirmed by geology) and a lotus grew in the lake. Boddhisattva Majushri saw it in a dream, found it and went on to drain the lake and to turn the lotus into a hill, on top of which Swayambhu was built.

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