Monday 10th April A black bear and an 11th hour tiger
We both managed to sleep quite a bit, despite the narrow hard beds, and the disturbances as people came and went on the other bunks, and the stopping and starting of the train. We were hoping that we would wake up in time for our 6.15 arrival, and be able to gather up all our things in the dark, and also recognise when we got to our station. We had no Vipul now to help us, and he’d said that the train might not stop long at the station!
Soon after seeing the sun rise onto another hot Indian day, we pulled into Umaria Station. We managed to get all our bags off the train, and after a few anxious moments looking for our car driver, we found him, and our bags were carried to the vehicle.
We then had a pleasant drive through tidy towns and pretty countryside to Bandhavgarh Tiger reserve, where we are staying for the next 2 nights.
The scenery looked rather English - if very dry. We saw several monkeys, and also deer and birds.
We arrived at the simple lodge accommodation, and were soon having breakfast with Mahendra, the resident naturalist who will be taking us on a game drive later.
After a catching up time, we had a nice lunch, again sitting with Mahendra.
We set off at 3.45 for our afternoon game drive, and drove the short distance to the park entrance. Here Mahendra had to get our entry tickets, and we joined all the other folk who had arrived in their jeeps with their drivers. A park ranger had to come in our vehicle, as well as our driver and mate and naturalist. We sat on the first high rear seat of the open topped vehicle, which now set off along the bumpy rough tracks of the park.
The commonplace wildlife to see here are the spotted deer (chitals), which are like the impala of Africa in their profusion (and dinner for the tigers), and the many entertaining monkeys.
We also saw the larger sambar deer, and colourful peacocks strutted incongruously about, looking so colourful, when other things are so naturally coloured!
We saw quite a bit of bird life – among them beautiful turquoise Indian rollers, a crested serpent eagle, a coucal and noisy hornbills.
We were dashing along this track and that, with our man trying to find the tigers, but we came across something even more rare in this park – a large black sloth bear. There are very few of these – about 11 in total, so we were really lucky to see one. They are about the size of an American Grizzly, and this one stood up on his hind legs and peered across at us.
We had given up on seeing a tiger today, and were making our way back to the gate before the park closes, when, at the 11th hour we saw what we had come for! A mother tiger made her way down through the undergrowth and across the road. By now several other vehicles had gathered, so the mother growled up to her two young cubs to tell them to stay put!
We now had to dash out of the park – fines are imposed on operators who don’t stick to the rules, and arrive late at the gate. We arrived back just as it got dark, at 7 o’clock.
For our evening meal we were joined by Theo Aloffs, a German wildlife photographer who now lives in Canada. He is spending a month here filming – some of his photographs were on the wall, from a previous visit. The food was good, and we enjoyed an enlivened discussion with Theo and 2 of the naturalists before returning for an early night in readiness for our very early start tomorrow.
Tuesday 11th April Tiger, tiger burning bright!
We were due to leave at 5.15, so were up well before 5 ‘clock. The night had been uncomfortably hot, so it was a surprise to find that the morning was quite cool. It stayed that way until it rapidly became hot at about 7 o’clock.
When we arrived at the park gate, we were amazed to see about a dozen cars and occupants already there. Again the paperwork was the thing – we both had to have camera permits – very expensive for Adrian’s video, so we were hoping for good sitings!
Once more we had a park guide, as well as our driver and naturalist. We set off on the bumpy tracks – I was pleased today to have worn my spine support belt, as there is only a torn padded bar to grab hold of as we bump along!
We did seem to spend a lot of time dashing about and getting nowhere, but unknown to us, the bureaucracy is all important, and each guide needs the necessary bits of paper and permits, and is given an initial route to follow.
We had seen a small civit cat, and the other ‘common’ things like the deer and the monkeys, but otherwise we did seem to be sitting about a lot and waiting. We missed the likes of Vipul, telling us just what it was all about!
We had passed men riding elephants, and eventually realised that the name of the game was for them to locate where the tigers might be, so that they could be tracked into the undergrowth by the elephants, with their tourist ‘cargo’. Before that happened, however, our men got word that there were tigers near the road. We arrived at the point just in time to see a family of 5 tigers push through the undergrowth and saunter across the road in front of us! Pretty lucky, as we later found that it was unusual to see so many together!
Tigers cross the road in front of us
We then found that we could track a tiger ‘off road’, and that we were third on the list. We drove to meet up with the elephants, climbed up on to the back of one, and were immediately hoisted away through the bushes. It was dense undergrowth, and we marvelled at how the elephant just pushed through. We felt a bit vulnerable as he ascended almost vertical slopes as we approached where the tiger was lying. Another tiger was just sauntering off, but we had a good siting of one. After our allotted time, we were taken back to our waiting vehicle, so that other tourists could have their turn.
We were now driven to a quiet part of the park, where we were given a picnic breakfast in the vehicle – boiled egg, an Indian ‘rissole’, jam sandwich, banana, tea/coffee. It was a pleasant, unreal experience.
Back at the lodge, we sat with another tea/coffee and shared our experiences with Theo, who had gone off separately. We heard some more of his interesting life – photographing wildlife in many countries of the world. He also loved canoeing, and he and his wife had canoed extensively in northern Canada, building a hut there once in which to spend the winter.
We enjoyed another pleasant lunch here, and soon it was time for our afternoon game drive.
We set off for our last time into this beautiful park, with its high, fort topped ridge. It was a nice place to drive around, but we were hoping to see some wildlife on this last drive. Things seemed to be against us – apart from the deer and monkeys, all we saw were the tuneful long tailed ‘tree pies’ again, a couple of stone curlews and a muntjac deer (which we can see at home!) Our driver, guide and Mahendra tried really hard, ending up at a quiet spot where they thought that a tiger would appear, but no luck! It was lovely to hear the sounds of dusk as we waited for something to happen. As it didn’t, we began our return drive to the gate.
Near the place where we had seen the mother tiger last night, a lot of vehicles had gathered. It seemed that the mother and her cubs were hiding in the tall grass, but only the movement of the grasses had been seen. A woman in another vehicle spoke to us, and I recognised her as someone we had seen at Hampi. She had been talking to Vipul just as he had received the phone call telling him that he was going to lead the northern trip. She had been on the previous trip with him, and her memories of him were a bit different from ours!
While we were chatting, there was a call that someone had seen a desert cat. Our vehicle reversed, but we didn’t see anything. Then there was another shout. The grasses were moving! As if my magic, the mother tiger left her resting place, and the two small cubs followed her! So we got our tiger siting after all! If last night’s was at the 11th hour, this was 11½! Feeling much elated, we made for the exit, and then back to the lodge.
We sat outside our ‘hut’ with a whisky/gin and tonic while fireflies hovered above, before going across for our last supper here. We had additional company tonight – Jacky and Don from Norfolk and Jonathan from Worcestershire. We enjoyed much travel talk with them while eating our excellent meal, and finished off chatting to Theo and Mahendra before coming back to our ‘hut’.
Wednesday 12th April A long drive to the erotic temples of Khajuraho
We sat alone for breakfast, as the others had all gone searching after tigers!
We left at about 8.20 with our non-English speaking driver, heading for Khajuraho.
For the first half hour or so, we were still passing through reserve country, but then we drove through our first small town. It looked clean and well kept, as did others which we drove through later. We noticed that more men wore the traditional Indian dress here than we have seen lately. People were out along the road collecting up what looked like small pale green nuts, which had fallen from the trees. We found out that they were the tiny flowers of the mahua tree, which we had seen in Bandhavgarh. They can be made into an intoxicating drink, but can also be dried and eaten. Mahendra had told us that the animals in the park get drunk by eating them!
The golden wheat was being cut by hand, and gathered into sheaves. We passed lots of bullock carts piled high with it, and looking very photogenic. We were annoyed at the darkened windows of our vehicle, which made it difficult to enjoy the views. The country we drove through was attractive, alternating between fields and forests.
The road surface varied enormously – some parts were well surfaced, but we found a new meaning to the words ‘toll road’. Immediately after crossing the first toll booth, we had miles and miles of bumpy, unsurfaced ‘track’, where a road would eventually be built. At times we lost the road completely, and wondered how our driver found the way! A later stretch was similarly bad. At one point, they were freshly tarmacking a small stretch, completely blocking the road. Our driver had to drive across a ploughed field, and manoeuvre up the ridge to the road afterwards! We saw a lot of broken down lorries, with a few large stones to mark the fact – no red triangles here!
At the town of Maihar we had to wait some time by a level crossing, while a long goods train went through. The cycle rickshaws here had pretty seats and canopies. After the barrier was raised, there was a long hold–up, as traffic had filled both sides of the carriageway on either side of the track, and nobody could move. It must have been thought that if you sounded your horn loudly, it would help!
As we neared Khajuraho, we drove through a lovely hilly, forested area on a good road. We came to a small village, and our driver turned off on to a small unsurfaced track. I asked if it was the way to Khajuraho (unlikely!), and he said ‘hotel’, and pointed ahead. We then arrived at a few remote small buildings – hardly looking like the Radisson Hotel! He had mistakenly taken us to Panna Tiger reserve, where we know that the other English couple, Jackie and Don, had stayed before coming to Bhandhavgarh. He thought that we were going there too, and it took a bit of explaining. The owner said ‘oh, as you wish’, when we tried to say that we already had a booking in Khajuraho!
We continued on to Khajuraho , finally arriving at the smart but impersonal Radisson Jass at about 2.30. There was some confusion, as we didn’t know if our driver understood that our information stated that he was staying with us until tomorrow.
After going to our large and comfortable looking room, we came down to meet our local representative, and tried to sort things out.
Then it was time for a swim in the pleasant outdoor pool, before our arranged tour of some of the temples at 4 o’clock.
Khajuraho is known for its World heritage carved temples, built 1,000 years ago. There were originally 85 of these temples, and they lay forgotten for many long years until they were discovered in 1838 by T.S. Burt, a travelling hunter. The carving on them is very intricate, and many of them show erotic figures. Today we visited the eastern Jain temples, and a smaller Hindu one. We have seen many temples, but these were certainly impressively detailed. Many of the figures were very attractive and could have been from modern times. We had to marvel at how the sandstone had been carried from the Panna area, 25 km away, and made into these enormous temples.
The Eastern temples at Khajuraho
We were returned to our hotel at 5.30, and said goodbye to our driver, as tomorrow we have a local driver (we hope) to take us to the temples and the airport.
We decided not to eat at this ‘manicured’ hotel, so after a drink on our balcony, we found a cycle rickshaw to take us into the area by the western temples. We ate at ‘Blue Sky’ restaurant, looking out from the balcony to the temples, where the sound and light performance was taking place.
The food (Chinese style chicken) was not amazing, and the beers were expensive, but it was better than sitting in the anaesthetised hotel. From here we could see the bullock carts and the camels passing, and life going on. Afterwards we walked along by the shops. The internet everywhere had not been working since yesterday, but we were able to get some money from the ATM, and to buy a couple of things. We managed to avoid the onslaught of other shopkeepers, and get our rickshaw back to our hotel.
Thursday 13th April Templed out again – Khajuraho and Varanasi
We left at 7.30 with our guide and driver to visit the western temples of Khajuraho. It was good to be out early, while it was still fairly cool, and there were few other visitors.
Our guide showed us around the most important of the temples, where we saw again the intricate carvings of the numerous figures. Many were of animals, like the friezes of tiny elephants. Many were of the various Hindu gods – these were all Hindu temples - and some were of the erotic figures, performing all sorts of sexual antics, even bestiality, with dogs and horses.
What are they up to?
The figures of the voluptuous maidens were the most attractive. It was amazing that they were carved in the 10th and 11th centuries, but looked like images of Degas figures preparing to dance. All had large, firm breasts – as if they had had a silicone implant, our guide said! They were tall and lithe, and wore intricate jewellery.
After our ‘tour’, we had half an hour or so to wander around the attractive gardens surrounding the temples, enjoying the flowers and the prolific birdlife – crows and vultures were vying for nests high up on the temples!
We were driven back to our hotel, where we said goodbye to our guide. He had been pleasant and interesting – a man of many talents, as he also spoke Japanese, and had business ventures there. Two of his brothers lived in Belgium, one married to a Spanish girl.
We ate breakfast on the terrace overlooking the pool – the food was more for show than flavour, but the waiters were pleasant.
We made time for a quick swim, a 2 minute laze, showers, and then got organised for our 12 o’clock pick-up to go to the airport. Only after sitting in the hotel lounge, did we get a message to say that our flight was delayed, so we wouldn’t be picked up for half an hour. We wasted that time, as the computer wouldn’t connect in time for us to do anything.
At the airport, the man asked if we would do him a ‘small favour’. This amounted to putting off our flight until tomorrow! No way! We knew that our contact man had tried hard to get us onto this flight, as it was overbooked. We stood our ground, and got our boarding cards. We then had the usual security men arrogance, which almost reduced one woman to tears, and got us to concentrate hard on making sure that we had everything afterwards. The man made Adrian take the computer out of the rucsac, and didn’t like it when he (the man) couldn’t do it up again!
We sat around in the departure lounge, until some unintelligible announcement was made, and everyone dashed towards the gate. We then had repeat security checks – just the same as before. The important thing was to have a tag on each piece of hand luggage. It was stamped and restamped!
We got onto the plane, and were disconcerted to find that the lady sitting next to Adrian was enormous! Luckily it was only a 35 minute flight!
It was very hazy, but we looked down onto dry, rural countryside, with a large river. We were served a spicy sandwich and juice. As we descended, we could see the patterns of all the wheat sheaves in the fields. It was a bumpy flight, and a very bumpy landing – people even shrieked out.
It was now 3 o’clock, and the temperature was 39ºC.
We met Sankar, our contact man for Varanasi, and our driver. We were driven through the dusty, poor looking streets for half an hour to our hotel. Over 2 million people live inVaranasi. We noticed a lot of tin work for sale, and even the cycle rickshaws had tin carriages.
At the hotel, where noisy repair work was going on, we met our guide, who wanted to take us immediately to visit Sarnath. We stopped long enough to see our room, and set off again.
We had to drive several kilometres through the busy streets to Sarnath – once a separate village, but now joined to Varanasi. Our guide talked rapidly all the way, giving a detailed history of Indian religion that made our heads buzz! It was at Sarnath that Buddha supposedly gave his first preaching after his ‘enlightenment’.
We first visited the museum, as it would soon be closing. We saw the 4 headed column, which has become the symbol of India, and appears on all their banknotes. There was also an attractive figure of Buddha.
We walked from here to Dhamekh Stupa, the site where Buddha made his first preaching – a large ‘chimney’, looking a bit like a huge cooling tower has stood on the spot for hundreds of years. Around the site are archaeological remains of various monasteries that stand near the site. They were all buried for many years, after being attacked by the moghuls, and were rediscovered in the 1800s.
Near here was a temple built in 1931, which had murals of Buddha’s life, painted by a Japanese artist. We were struck by the similarities of Buddhism and Christianity. Next to here was a temple on the site of a tree, said to be an offshoot of the one under which Buddha first preached. As the sun was now going down, it looked quite evocative.
We were driven back through the hectic traffic to our hotel, turning down offers of more visiting, as we were both feeling pretty tired. It was now 6 o’clock, and we leave at 5.15 a.m.tomorrow.
The evening didn’t go easily though.
We had a quick drink, then tried to have a swim in the pool. They were setting up for a ‘Punjab evening’ tonight, and the pool was cordoned off, but they said that we could have a quick swim. As we had just gone down with our (wet) cozzies, we couldn’t find anywhere to change, so just stood in a doorway. After a quick swim, we came out, to find no towels available. We returned wet to our room, only to find that we had just tiny hand towels there!
Next – the internet – Arian couldn’t get a connection, and we wasted much time, with the man eventually coming up to assist. We paid the money for half an hour (he had no change, of course), but still had great difficulty, as things wouldn’t download (someone had sent an enormous file). We read one or two messages, and wasted the rest of our time!
Now starving, we went down to the ‘Punjab Evening’ by the pool. It seemed to be badly organised, but finally we sat on woven ‘beds’ (the chosen Chinese guests had proper tables, but as they arrived, one lady must have been having a fit, as they almost carried her in!). It seemed surreal, but finally we were given a beer, and tucked into some spicy food (we had to water the flowers with the extra spicy soup!)
The 7 young men dancers/ drummers were engaging and energetic. They looked really colourful, with their costumes reflected in the pool.
Colourful Punjab dancers
It was a full moon, which was lucky, as the lights kept going out!
The Chinese people ate their meal and departed. Apart from us, there were only a handful of other people, but we hope that the dancers knew that we appreciated them!
Friday 14th April Varanasi – where logic ends and belief begins!
It was a 5.15 start to be driven to the River Ganges to view the morning Hindu rituals. It was a memorable experience, filled with images of all kinds. First we had to drive and then walk amongst the many people making their way to bathe in the river. The path led through dirty, dusty alleys, then the river opened up before us. There were several small boats around. Young children were trying to sell flower offerings.
We got into a small boat, with just our guide and the rower. We were by the Raja Jai Singh Observatory building, which Adrian had a postcard of from his grandfather. Once on the river, we almost immediately saw the 2 girls from Hampi, in another boat!
It was a magical sight as the sun rose, and the myriads of pilgrims washed themselves and their clothes in the polluted but holy river. There was the noise of gathered groups who were about to enter one of the temples. Some young lads were actually swimming – some swim right across the wide river and back.
Sunrise on the Ganges at Varanasi
Early morning pilgrims come down to bathe
We were rowed along as far as the cremation area, where we could see the flames of the fires, and the stacks of wood for burning. It is the belief of Hindus that this is the best place to be cremated. There are two cremation sites, and we were rowed back as far as the second one before our boat trip ended.
Filled with images that will last us for ever, we climbed back up the many steps, and were driven a short distance to the Vishwanath, the Golden Temple – the most important inVaranasi. Over the centuries, the Hindu temples around this site were demolished by Moslem invaders, and the 17th century white Gyanvapi Mosque now stands adjacent, half built into a previous Hindu temple. It is an area of continuing conflict, and is heavily guarded. No cameras or other electronic equipment can be taken near, but we were able to walk to the outside of the temple, minus our cameras. The site is seen as a very vulnerable spot, epitomising the struggle between the two religions (ironically, because of this high security, it was another Varanasi temple which was targeted by bombers soon after our arrival in India 6 weeks ago).
We next saw Durga Temple, painted in bright red ochre, and dedicated to Parvati. After this we were driven around the vast Benares Hindu University, which is apparently the largest in Asia. The greenness and the tranquillity contrasted greatly with life outside!
We were finding it hard to keep awake now, but were driven back to our hotel at 7.45, where we were able to have breakfast. I managed a quick swim before it was off again at 9.15 for some more sightseeing.
We stopped first by Bharat Mata, the Mother India temple, which was built in 1918 especially to house a large marble relief map of India. This was good to see, as we could envisage the Himalayas and the other mountainous regions around the Indian subcontinent.
We were driven past a Sanskrit university, which had incongruous Gothic style buildings, before being taken to a moslem area where there is a cottage industry of silk weaving.
A ‘guide’ walked us around this very poor area, which teemed with happy, playing children, and where we could peep through windows and see the weavers hard at work. Often they were in darkness, as there were frequent power cuts. We looked into one room, where we could see how the intricate weaving is done, in an industry which is handed down from father to son. After that, of course, it was into the showroom, where we were given the presentation! We managed to buy just one scarf, before being driven back to our hotel at 11 o’clock.
We checked out for midday, but then had a frustrating time! The man was using the sanding machine loudly in the main hall, so talking and hearing was almost impossible. Adrian had wanted to use the computer, and log in, but the man at the desk wasn’t at all helpful, and by the time we got almost sorted, there wasn’t enough time left. Our man Sankar arrived early anyway, so we abandoned things and got ready to leave.
Our pleasant driver drove us to Varanasi airport, where we arrived at one o’clock. Our driver looked quite old, but had a son of 10 and a daughter of 5. He wanted a better education for them than he had had, and seemed to be paying for their education.
We had a much calmer time at the airport than at Khajuraho. Sankar and a porter saw to our luggage, and checked it through. We had time to eat a bland cheese sandwich which we bought, before proceeding to the departure lounge.
The plane left late, but we had a trouble-free flight. Once again we were served a meal, although the flight was only just over an hour long. We were situated over a wing, and the visibility was hazy, so we couldn’t see much.
At Delhi Airport we were met by Sandeep, the man that Adrian had been in contact with about this section of our trip. We drove with him through the streets of Delhi to our upmarket hotel, the Qutab. Sandeep offered to try to sort out about reconfirming our home-going flight from Kathmandu, which Adrian had been unable to do, despite his efforts.
It was some time before all the formalities were sorted, so it was 6 o’clock before we got to our room. This, like the rest of the hotel, was far too cool with air-conditioning. The whole place was sterile and impersonal – not our sort of place at all.
We went down for a swim – it was a nice pool, but by now the sun had gone, and the surroundings of the pool were hardly exciting! The man grunted at us to have a shower first.
After a short swim, we returned to our room, where we used an hour’s internet connection, and received several more messages, and wrote one or two back. The one which had been causing us a problem yesterday was from Susan and Carlos – a couple who we had met in USA last year, announcing the birth of their latest child.
There was a smart seafood restaurant in the hotel, so we went to look, but the prices were extortionate. We went into the hotel restaurant, but it was so cool that I felt miserable. We returned to our room, where we ordered a simple meal to be brought up. It arrived half an hour later, and was nothing special, despite the price. This is not the sort of hotel for us!
Saturday 15th April Disaster Day in Delhi
We had seen on the news last night that there had been a bomb explosion at Jama Masjid, a large mosque in Delhi, at about the time we had arrived. Several people had been hurt, but the mosque wasn’t damaged. We wondered whether we would get to see it today, but in fact, it was almost the only place we did see!
Sandeep had suggested a 10 o’clock start, which gave us time for breakfast (again not too special for such an expensive hotel), and a quick swim.
In retrospect, we should have booked out of the hotel then, but Sandeep had suggesting booking out later, so we followed his advice.
He had said yesterday that he would reconfirm our flights home from Kathmandu for us, and this he did, which was a relief, as Adrian had tried many times to do so yesterday, without luck.
Our guide and driver arrived, and we set off. The guide seemed rather anxious at first, but was perhaps just conscious of the difficulties after the bomb attack. He said that we wouldn’t be able to come back to the hotel later, and then do more sightseeing, as the hotel was too far out of town. The latest we could book out was 2.30, so we had arranged this.
We drove through New Delhi first – set up by the British, and looking very organised, smart and western. The traffic too seemed more like ours – mostly cars, and with more careful driving.
Much of the planned city had been designed by Lutyens. The central buildings were very grand, and beautiful large trees lined the road. We stopped by the former government buildings, where the president of India now lives. Further on was India Gate, looking like Marble Arch or L’arc de Triomphe.
India Gate - New Delhi
We now entered Old Delhi, passing Delhi Gate, built in 1639. We travelled through streets looking more like the India we knew, with street stalls, crumbling buildings and dust.
We approached the Jama Masjid, and found that it was open to tourists, so decided to visit. I had to don a long orange gown, and we had to pay a camera fee, so opted for the video camera.
This is the largest Mosque in India, but there were few visitors today. The ground was already hot to our bare feet, but we had a good walk around. In the centre was the pool where the bombs had gone off. The mosque looked very similar to the Jama Masjid we had visited in Ahmedabad.
Jama Masjid Mosque - Delhi
We were able to see the vast Red Fort from here – bigger even than the one at Agra. We didn’t go inside, so Adrian wasn’t able to ‘match’ any of his grandfather’s postcards. In fact we saw none of the 14 pictures he had.
We stopped next at the memorial to Gandhi. We were told that his ashes had been scattered here, but at Pushkar we had read that they had been scattered there!
Now to the problems! We had to collect our flight tickets for today’s flight to Kathmandu. We weren’t able to get them before we left England. We located the Royal Nepal Airline office, and walked in, expecting to just pick up the 2 tickets. No such luck! The tickets hadn’t even been printed.
The one man behind one of the 4 computers half heartedly started working on printing out the tickets. With our guide’s help, we realised that this was going to be a lengthy process, so he suggested that we eat at the pleasant South India restaurant next door, while we were waiting. This we did – Adrian ordering thali, and me dosa. We chatted to our guide, who opened up a bit. He had a son of 20 and a daughter of 17, but feared for their western outlook on life, and their lack of traditional values.
We returned to the airline office, expecting the tickets to be ready, but not so! It was still going to take some time, so I waited there while Adrian went off with the guide to find an ATM. Finally a ticket was printed, and the man rejoiced, as if it was the first time he had done it. It had taken an hour! But!!! There was only one ticket. Where was mine? The man said only one had been ordered. We couldn’t check, as the computer was back at the hotel. All we could do, was to pay for the second ticket, and then wait for the man to print that. Time was rushing away, as we had to get back to the hotel to pack our bags by 2.30. Nothing seemed to rush the man, but finally, after almost 2 hours, we had 2 tickets! Now it was a dash back to the hotel, but this we couldn’t do, as the traffic was at a standstill!
We arrived back at our hotel at 2.15, said hurried goodbyes to our guide, and dashed up to pack – they had said that if we were later than that we would have to pay half a day’s fee!
We managed it, and relaxed briefly with a swim, and a couple of minutes lying in the sun.
By now our driver had returned to drive us to the airport, although we still had several hours to wait. They had said that there wasn’t enough time to return to the city, so our sightseeing had been very limited. If only!
At the airport, we couldn’t settle, so hung around with nothing to do until we could book in at 5.30. This done, we went through security, expecting to occupy ourselves for a couple of hours until our take off. After an hour, a muffled announcement stated that our departure was delayed until 9.50!
Adrian had changed all our Indian money (we had been told that you couldn’t take it out of India), so we couldn’t even buy anything!
Well, we did manage to buy a sandwich and donut with American dollars, which was lucky, as the waiting went on! Next we were told 10.40 departure. When Adrian found out that the plane hadn’t yet left Kathmandu, we knew we weren’t through waiting yet!
We ran out of things to read. We played Yahtzee, throwing the dice onto the seat between us. We couldn’t use the computer anymore, as the battery was flat.
Time dragged on, but some time after 10 o’clock, our flight number came up on the board. We rushed to go through security. The man didn’t believe us, and went to look at the board himself. He let us through, but all we did was to sit in a much too cool departure lounge for another couple of hours! Our flight number was above the gate, but another flight was loading, not ours!
Some time after midnight, the gate opened (nothing was said), and we walked through to the waiting bus.
We finally took off for an uneventful flight to Kathmandu. We were served a full meal, with a whisky/gin! although the flight was only just over an hour.
We were first off the plane, as our seats were near the front.
We had to fill in a visa form (with a photo, which we luckily had).
Our man Rajesh and driver were waiting for us, and we sped through the streets of Kathmandu, past the huge Royal Palace, to our hotel. Just a few people had been out on the street - we had wondered how the situation would be, with the turmoil and unrest in Nepal.
We discovered that we had only booked one ticket (and room/tour) in the last minute confusion just before leaving England, but all seemed to be well.
We woke up the hotel staff, then climbed the 3 flights of stairs to our room. We reached our room at 2.30 a.m!
Sunday 16th April A different Easter Day in Kathmandu
Well a different Easter Day for us! We were up at 7 o’clock, after our short night! We breakfasted, and had a quick look at the attractive hotel garden, and prepared to leave for a day’s sightseeing, followed by our flight home.
We left at 9 o’clock with our guide Rajesh and a different driver. We had large signs saying ‘Tourist only’ on the front and back of the car, plus a banner right across the front. Because of the troubles, local people aren’t using their cars at all, but it seems that tourists will not be targeted. Even so, we did feel for our driver when he was left alone, and when they had to drive back.
Mostly as we were driven around, we wouldn’t have known that there was a problem, but we did pass a couple of burning tyres, and saw some crowds gathered. Later, in the afternoon, the police were gathering all over the place. Until a few days ago, there had been a curfew, and no-one could go anywhere. The queue of motorcyclists waiting for petrol was enormous – nothing has been coming into the country for some time, so supplies of all sorts of things are getting short.
Rajesh had worked out a route for us which would avoid the troubles. Because nobody was using cars, driving was much quicker and easier than normal.
Our first stop was at Shree Bouddhanath Stupa, a large upturned white dome set on tiers of steps. It is a world heritage site. Colourful Tibetan flags flew all around it.
Us at Shree Bouddhanath Stupa, Kathmandu
Part of the surface was being redone, and crowds of volunteers were sitting on the clay surface, beating it with blocks to level it. There was a very calm, relaxed feeling as we walked around. This place is sacred to Buddhists, especially Tibetan Buddhists.
Scene by the stupa
Shops surrounded the circular area, many of them closed because of the troubles. Everywhere seemed very clean.
We were driven on to the next site, Pashupati, a huge area of temples. We first went into an ‘almshouse’, where 250 old people live. It was much like an old peoples home, with the people being fed, but allowed to wander about freely, or sit in the outdoor ‘lounge’ and watch television. We chatted to the cook, and to some of the old people.
We then proceeded to the river, which is a place where cremations take place. Rajesh’s father had died recently, and he and others of his family had stayed in the ‘hostel’ for 10 days, as is the custom, while various ceremonies took place. We were able to see several actual cremations happening, which gave us a strange feeling, as the bodies were lifted onto the piles of logs, and burnt. By the river, little monkeys were leaping into the water, just like little boys, which was a nice diversion.
We drove on now to Patan, an adjacent ‘town’, with still more ancient temples.
View of Patan, Nepal
We had lunch here in the museum restaurant, sitting outside in a setting that could have been an arty café in England. I enjoyed a glass of white wine – the first in six weeks! and ate passable fish and chips. Part of these museum buildings used to be a school, where Rajesh went to school as a boy – a bit like going to a school in an Oxford college building.
A lovely setting for Easter Sunday lunch
We chatted to Rajesh, who is 37, and getting married soon. There will be hundreds of guests, he said. He has travelled to England and Scotland (where he has a Nepalese friend, married to a Scottish girl). The friend telephoned while we were with Rajesh. Another friend was hoping to fly to Delhi today, but that flight, and the return one like ours yesterday, had been cancelled, so perhaps we didn’t do so badly after all!
We were intrigued to see the small Buddhist priest, about 9 years old if that, about to start celebrations in one of the temples, the Golden Temple. We will never sort out all the different Hindu and Buddhist Gods, and will always be surprised at the sexuality of many of the shrines.
By an ancient ‘spring’, women were waiting patiently to collect water, which is in short supply until there is more rain. There were a lot of children about, as schools are closed because of the troubles.
We returned to the hotel to collect our things, and get ready to leave. We had been anxious while out, as we hadn’t got Adrian’s wallet, with our passports and money and tickets in. Rajesh had telephoned the hotel, and they said that they had them. We had felt uneasy at the thought of them going through our luggage, but it appears that it had been left in our room, and the housekeeping staff had found it!
We now went to Manang Tours office to sort out the payment for the extra person. We met the managing director of the small firm, and the manager, all very nice. The manager hadn’t been able to sleep last night, as he had been worried about us arriving so late. He gave us a ‘farewell scarf’, and we said our goodbyes. Rajesh came with us to the airport, and watched anxiously while we went in. They had all been really nice, and we feel so sorry for their country’s troubles.
It was a sad ending to a good day that we had to pay $25 each departure tax, despite being in Nepal less than a day and previously being told that we didn’t have to pay it.
As we sat in the lounge, and the sun went down, we listened to the music of an excellent guitarist sitting behind us.
This flight went to plan, although it wasn’t announced, so other people waiting for their flight (which had been delayed) were trying to go through the gate too.
We watched the enjoyable Emma Thompson film ‘Nanny McPhee’, which passed the time well. I had a young teenage girl from Kathmandu sitting beside me. She was returning to school in England, after a 2 week holiday at home. Her parents worked for the U.N. and lived in Holland.
It was about 12.30 when we arrived at Doha airport, Qatar.
Monday 17th April More delays, but we finally arrive home (minus our luggage)!
As we walked into the airport for our supposed 3 hour stopover, we were casually told that our flight was delayed one hour, and we might get a meal voucher. We had to work hard to find out how we did this, but finally we got an insipid cheese sandwich and some chips – at least that occupied a bit of time!
As on our previous stop here, there was not enough seating for the crowds of people. It was an endless wait – we lost all track of time, as we looked up at the flight board, which just said ‘delayed’. Then, after some hours, it changed to ‘2 hours delay and boarding’, so we went to board, but no, the ‘boarding’ was a mistake. Later the sign went back to saying ‘delayed’, but we saw people queuing, and at last we were boarding! (no announcement as usual).
After all the hanging around, it was actually a good flight. We both enjoyed watching the film of Narnia, and also an episode of Michael Palin’s ‘Himalaya’ series, which we hadn’t seen before, but could now relate to.
We arrived at Gatwick at 8.30, knowing that we had missed our National Express coach connection. We got through quickly to the baggage claim area, but only one of our 3 bags – the one we had bought to put all our purchases in – arrived. We waited a long time, when it dawned on us, and to some others still waiting, that our bags weren’t coming!
We were casually directed to a hatch, where everyone waited very calmly for their turn to register their ‘lost’ luggage. It transpired that it hadn’t left Kathmandu! The staff must have known this, but no announcement was made!
We now dashed to the bus station, and were pleased that a bus was leaving in just a few minutes, and unlike in recent times, you now don’t have to pay to change your bus, if the flight is delayed. Things were difficult right up to the last minute though, as we couldn’t find the bus stopping place, so were madly dashing up and down the huge ramps looking for it!
Once on the bus, we settled down to enjoy the comfort, and the flat, well surfaced roads, as we were driven to Heathrow, and then Reading. It was a lovely spring day – the first it would seem, and the yellow daffodils and cowslips, the blossom and the pussy willow, and the fresh green leaves were a joy to see.
We phoned for a taxi to collect us at Calcot.
We arrived at Hermitage at lunchtime, and after Adrian had found the spare key from its hiding place (ours is in the bag in Kathmandu), we settled in to enjoy the lovely spring garden.
(Note – our luggage arrived safely the following day!)