Nepal – aka #wheresEverest

After India, we moved on to Nepal. As you can imagine, most of Nepal’s tourism industry revolves around hiking in the Himalayas, especially Everest. Needless to say, this is definitely not what I came to Nepal for–if I can barely climb up a hill in New Zealand, I’m basically guaranteed to die anywhere near Everest. That said, Ben does love his hiking and he’d definitely consider at least an Everest Base Camp hike, but we simply didn’t have time for that (typically takes 8-10 days!) with all of the other destinations in Asia. So, we spent our few days in Nepal mostly in the Kathmandu area.

Day 83: Hikers, hikers, everywhere

We managed to get late check out from our Mumbai hotel (our flight wasn’t until 5pm or so) so we used the time to relax a bit, pack up our things, etc–nothing exciting. We had a long ride to the airport given traffic conditions, so we grabbed an Uber around 2pm–the guy was a semi-crazy driver and I came pretty close to hurling in the backseat, so I suppose that’s a perfect ending to our time in India 😂 The airport was unexciting–and our Priority Pass lounge was tragic–so not much to say there.

View from our hotel room window–finally a clear day!
Mumbai Airport’s very psychedelic architecture

We flew Nepal Airlines to Kathmandu, and it’s only a short 2.5 hour flight, but it was dark by the time we arrived. The arrivals process was a bit hectic and disorganized in Kathmandu, with people basically going in circles trying to figure out what paperwork needed to be completed for the on-arrival visa process. The worst part was the line to pay the visa fee, mostly because it was painfully slow. At least waiting provides time for people watching! We soon noticed that Nepal is indeed a hiking destination–almost everyone around us was carrying giant hiking backpacks and had the general ‘I hike a lot and maybe don’t shower super often’ look. It was, as I call it, crunchy granola central. Case in point? The white guy in the orange shirt with the shambliest dreads I’ve ever seen in the picture below. (Yes, I know, I’m judge-y. We all have our faults.)

Is that a dread MULLET????

Eventually we made it through immigration, etc and made our way to Hotel Friends Home, our hotel for the next few nights. It was definitely a downgrade in accommodation after staying at 5-star hotels in India but it was good enough for our needs.

Day 84: One giant fire hazard

We spent most of our morning and early afternoon researching the Kathmandu area and deciding how best to spend our short time there. Eventually, when hunger struck, we took a walk around our neighborhood to find some food. Saw some fun stuff along the way, as well as the scariest collection of power lines I’ve ever seen. When I looked around, I noticed that most corners looked like this and so I realized that I was standing in the middle of the biggest fire hazard ever. Nepal needs some electricians, STAT.

Eventually we made our way to French Bakery, a very non-French restaurant for some ‘linner’ (late lunch/early dinner)–our new favorite meal as it saves $$$. First order of business? Some momos and Everest beer. They did not disappoint. Our main meals were far less authentic, though my pasta was way spicier than normal, so maybe it was authentic after all?

Surprisingly good light beer! Cheap too 👌🏽
Steamed momos
Spiciest pasta carbonara ever

Day 85: Everest likes to play hide and seek

Since we weren’t going to do any Everest hikes, I wanted to find another way to be able to see the peak, and there aren’t very many. One of the best ways to do this–per the interwebs–is a visit to Chandragiri Hills, where you can take a cable car to the top of a ‘hill’ (2520 meters above sea level…because when you’re comparing everything to Everest, nothing quite measures up) for an ‘unobstructed’ view of the Himalayas. [Warning: the drive out there (you basically just hire a cab for the trip because trust me, you don’t want to drive this yourself) is a huge PIA with tons of traffic and will take way too long given the distance covered. (Ben nearly had a conniption.)]

The cable car ride itself is a tiny bit scary if you’re afraid of heights but I have to say that it felt much steadier than the cable car in Queenstown, so that was vaguely reassuring. I didn’t look down while we were going up for my own sanity, but the pictures that Ben took of the valley are pretty amazing:

Chandragiri Hill cable car – view of Kathmandu Valley

Once you to get to the top of the cable car, there’s a large area to look around the valley at that level and then you can continue to climb up the  to the very top of the hill. I’m sure the views of Everest would be great, but I wouldn’t know, because CLOUDS.

Apparently the bar is inside the cloud?
Look it’s Everest! (Don’t worry, I can’t see it either. 🤦🏽‍♀️)

We spent about an hour walking around the top of the hill, taking in whatever we actually could see and imaging what Everest would look like 😭 At least the views of the valley on the way back down were pretty great too:

Kathmandu Valley

Bottom line on Chandrigiri Hills? The views of the valley are great but don’t plan to see Everest–based on what we saw and heard after the fact, apparently it’s just not possible (or very very rare) to see Everest from there (or anywhere else in the Kathmandu area) anymore between the cloud cover and the pollution.

Once we got back to Kathmandu, we decided to have another ‘linner’–this time at Blueberry Kitchen & Coffee Shop. We had momos again, this time lightly panfried after being steamed, and I liked them even more (sadly, we ate them too fast for a picture). Our main dishes were yummy as well.

Fried chicken sandwich, very yummy fries!
Ben’s much more authentic meal 😬

Day 86: Temple time

As you might imagine, there are tons of temples in Nepal, with plenty in just the Kathmandu valley area. We decided to book a proper tour with a guide to see some of the most popular ones, mostly because when you go on your own you don’t know what you’re looking at half of the time. The tour we chose included visits to two nearby towns: Bhaktapur and Panauti. As I’m tragically behind schedule on this blog, I’ll admit that I’ve forgotten half of what we learned during the tour (🤦🏽‍♀️), so I’ll focus on pictures mostly instead.

One pervasive theme throughout the tour was that most of this area and many of the oldest temples (in many cases 500+ years old) in these towns are still recovering from the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal in 2015. The rebuilding efforts are slow, as they want to use as many of the original stones as possible but that means taking a pile of rubble and figuring out which piece goes where–not an easy process in the richest of countries and certainly much harder in one with a struggling economy (Nepal’s GDP per capita is only ~$730 per 2016 data). Despite the damage to various structures, it was still really interesting to explore these towns and learn more about Nepal’s history and culture.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square & Pottery Square:

Rebuilding efforts underway
These wooden support beams don’t feel very reassuring…
One of the few temples that remained intact post-earthquake
A true pottery expert–made a perfect vase in like 30 seconds!

One particular story worth mentioning? The (extra) sacred livestock with birth defects. That’s right, you read that correctly, and yes, it’s bizarre. I mean literally ZERO offense to individuals of the Hindu faith, but this was perhaps one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen in my life. While we were in Bhaktapur, there was a small truck with open sides driving slowly along the street and blasting incredibly loud music (Hindi music, not like Justin Bieber or something silly like that 😂), and when we looked over from a short distance, we noticed that there were a couple of cows and maybe another animal or two inside. The truck was surrounded and people were throwing money at it, trying to pet the animals, etc. A bit odd, but we knew that Diwali (aka Deepawali in Nepal) was coming up, and with the cow being a sacred animal, we thought 🤷🏽‍♀️. Well…we get closer and come to realize that the animals inside the truck all have birth defects–both cows have extra limbs coming out of their necks (what looks like the result of an absorbed twin maybe?) and a ram that’s also in the truck has an extra horn on its head. Now I’m just gawking because 1) I’ve never seen livestock with a birth defect (Granted, it’s not like I spend a lot of time around livestock in the US but still, I couldn’t think of a single instance–which then got me wondering if the US ‘discards’ these animals? Who knows but that’s a whole ‘nother issue.) and 2) I could not figure out what on earth was going on. The tour guide with us goes on to explain that these animals are essentially considered to be especially sacred creatures BECAUSE of their birth defects and so people believe it’s good luck to give money, touch them, etc. This was bizarre and amazing all at once, especially coming from the perspective of a genetic counselor who knows the likely underlying scientific causes for these birth defects. Anyway…I could ramble on about these cows forever because it really was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen, but I’ll let these pictures provide context instead:

On our way to Panauti, we drove by the Kailashnath Mahadev Statue, aka the world’s tallest statue of Shiva, one of the major deities in the Hindu religion. This picture doesn’t do it justice:

We saw the same type of reconstruction efforts in Panauti as we did in Bhaktapur, as they also sustained damage during the earthquake. We also had the opportunity to see a cremation ghat.

Our tour was over at this point and we were dropped off back in Kathmandu. We weren’t close to our hotel, and we had to navigate through the city to find some dinner before heading back–the street we ended up on was perhaps the most crowded street I’ve ever seen in my life (including the insanity we saw in India). Preparations for Deepawali were clearly in full effect. Navigating that street was a nightmare and I came THISCLOSE to a panic attack; I would show you a picture but we were so desperate to get out that we didn’t even try–not to mention that I’m not sure we even could have. We finally made it to another TripAdvisor recommended spot for dinner–the Kathmandu Steak House Restaurant. The food was fine but not nearly as fantastic as we were led to believe by the TripAdvisor reviews. Wompwomp.

Day 87: Ben hikes & Sally gets a massage

For our last day in Nepal, Ben booked himself a guided hiking tour to Nagarkot, a small farming village in Nepal that (supposedly) offers fantastic views of the Himalayas (Everest included). His tour started with a drive up to the top of Nagarkot Hill (approximately 7000 feet above sea level) and then he and the guide hiked back down the other side for ~3 hours, including a stop for lunch along the way. As the title of this post might imply…Everest viewing was yet again a bust. It was way too cloudy/hazy to see anything of substance unfortunately. Interestingly–the guide said he’s been doing this tour for 6 years and has NEVER seen Everest from this supposed perfect viewpoint. The issue? Pollution. I’ve found some photos online from Nagarkot with lovely Everest views, but those photos appear to be from 2012…as we know, a lot can happen in 5 years.

Buddha Peace Park in Nagarkot
Yep, these are pot plants. Perfectly legal to grow it, illegal to smoke it 🤔
Oh hi Everest! Wait, just kidding, you can’t see it. Again.

While Ben got his hike on, I got my laziness on. I started my day with a 90 minute Swedish massage at the Seeing Hands Clinic to work out my permanent I-miss-my-memory-foam-bed body kinks. This place is highly recommended on TripAdvisor and now I get why. First, my massage was lovely–the masseuse worked out the knots in my upper back and left me feeling super relaxed. Second, the money you spend here goes towards a great cause. It all started with a small massage training program set up as a UK charity to help train visually impaired Nepalese individuals and they now have 4 locations open across Nepal. All in all, a great experience!

How does one follow up such a grueling morning? With pizza, of course! I’ve been dying for legitimately delicious pizza ever since we left New York (everything I’ve had since has been pretty mediocre) and I found a place–Fire & Ice Pizzeria–near our hotel with stellar reviews, specifically about their pizza. I went with limited expectations and was very pleasantly surprised! My pepperoni pizza was precisely what I was looking for. Yum yum yum.

Ben got back from his hike not too long after my leisurely lunch and we lazed about for the afternoon. When it was time for dinner, we somehow ended up going back to Fire & Ice Pizzeria–partially because it was pretty close to the hotel and partially because I loved my pizza so much that Ben was intrigued. As we hoped/expected, dinner was delish. Our caprese salad was a touch disappointing because the mozzarella wasn’t super fresh, but that wasn’t too surprising. That said, my pasta was fantastic (and I am a bolognese snob) and Ben said his calzone was great too. A perfect (not authentic whatsoever 😂) final meal in Nepal!

Day 88, part 1: Airport insanity

Our ride to the airport from the hotel was far crazier than it should have been, with hectic traffic everywhere, but even that could not prepare us for the insanity of the Kathmandu airport…words cannot describe, so a picture will have to do:

On our way inside, since the real Everest played coy with us TWICE, we took a picture with its picture instead:

We flew Thai Airlines to our next stop (Bangkok)–more on our Thai adventures next time–and along the way, Ben managed to snap this picture of the REAL Everest (peak right in the middle)! A very lucky and very cool shot:

Everest! Finally!

(Side note: I watched a movie called The Dinner on the flight and I want everyone who reads this to never waste their life watching it because it’s the worst thing ever and you will never get those two hours of your life back. 🤦🏽‍♀️)

Next time–our adventures in Bangkok!

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