Sunday, July 31, 2016

Nepali Road Trip

Nepali Road Trip

I’m back at Wild Trak Adventure Lodge on the cusp between the community forest and Bardia National Park. There are six roomy cabins, a fun garden with bridges, ponds and animals. Last time I was here Johnny Sparshatt was building a unique dining hall with a look out tower. It’s operational with a few details to sort out but coming along nicely. It’s been great to reconnect with Johnny’s partner, Sitaram and his extended family. The kids are mostly high school age and doing well in that category. Others tend to the rice planting which just happened and the fields are growing more luminescent everyday of rain, sun, and humidity.

Due to the logistics of having to return to Katmandu to get our permits for our trek in Upper Dolpa we decided to take a round about motorbike tour to get there including Lumbini, (Buddha’s birthplace), Chitwan National Park, Kositappu National Park, (I’m under the belief that this is the last herd of original genetically undomesticated Water Buffalo with white sock feet and horns reaching 2 meters on the females). After that we head back to Katmandu to get our paperwork in order then return to Bardia for hopefully a jeep trek and a walk through the jungle before flying to Jumla. Jumla is only 45 minutes away by plane but can take three days by motorbike to get there.

It’s monsoon season and the rains are still coming but we are hedging our Upper Dolpa trek by hoping the rains have subsided a little early since they started a couple weeks early but Mother Nature makes no promises and we expect rain and possibly snow for the beginning climb out of Jumla on to Rara Lake and beyond walking over some 5000m passes and into Pokhara in the end. The other option is do the same loop as last year out of Lower Dolpa, awesome enough to bring me back for a bigger loop. We reckon 25-30 days with Porters this time around, horses won’t do the high passes and yaks won’t do the low elevation.

Lumbini has always been on the list but usually not in the mood to add travel hours or days in a cramped bus, most likely over capacity, wrenching on its shocks, brakes, horn, gears and steering from either Katmandu or Bardia to get there. To get there from the East-West 1200 km ‘highway’ down to Lumbini is forty km out of Butwall, a night or two stay and return to Butwall town via two local buses to catch a bus to Chitwan, Katmandu, Pokhara, or further east on the highway to the border National Park of Kositappu. Last year I went to Suklaphanta National Park to the very west with India and now to the east but in the Terrai, the plains and the water shed where rivers overflow seasonally and families go to the river edge together to collect fire wood from the jungle erosion above. If they are lucky they get a log for construction lumber. I took a bus there from Bardia; a local bus from Thakaduwara to the E-W highway and on to Colpor town where the bus ticket kid put me in touch with a ‘friendly’ company ticket office to get to Lumbini. It worked well for most of the run, I had a seat with my bag next to me as the driver dodged Ox, dogs, chickens, people, bikes, cows, three wheelers, potholes, on coming buses with horns blaring a little ditty. Did I mention he also had to watch out for water buffalo, ducks, Jackals, Tigers, Elephant, Sloth Bear, five types of deer, wild boar and their extended families, goats, rivers, land slides, magnificent boulders, and stout ladies and gentlemen carrying massive bundles of grass for their live stock back at home where their extended family finished planting rice and irrigating the fields. Again monsoon season I think it’s a little more of releasing water and sending it on its way at this point. I changed buses. The next bus wanted more money instead of a ticket all the way. I paid and traveled for an hour as the locals did their slow peaceful pace so I made the decision to personally speed up the process for me with the sun going down in an hour. I hopped off and caught a taxi for the last 40 km trip to a Lumbini hotel . Shocker when I got there, not much of a town center. The taxi wanted to drop me off at the mini taxi place for local transport but I refused and said, ‘The deal was Lumbini ‘hotel’. He understood. We went back to the arrow pointing to Lumbini town that I had pointed out prior and we pulled over at a Lumbini gate entrance and the kind security guard wanted to speak English, like so - so many others. He pointed across the street and said, ‘Stay there, I’ll come talk later.’ I took his advice no matter the reasoning. I stayed at the Hotel New Centre Point, Parsa, Lumbini, Nepal. Tel. :071-404087. The husband and wife and I don’t know how many extended family members also helped in and around the place but it was substantial. The wife doesn’t speak much English but my Nepali covers the bare necessities, food, beer, room, toilet, and the simple things. The point was to have a look around and see it’s worth at the moment. Besides the Nepali shrines, pagodas, temples for this site other Buddhist supporters from all over the international scene have put forth their own version of a place of worship, usually in their own tongue, and it’s a peaceful place bar none. I’ll get to that.

My room is painted light blue and has a few bloody squished mosquito tattoos to warn the next victim, me. I didn’t think about it until the lights and power went out leaving me on my bed like an all you can eat buffet. It’s the monsoon season where mosquitos still rule the night even though Malaria has been taken away for the most part. I’m not complaining as much as observing, I’m telling you how it is and I accept or I wouldn’t be here.

Power shedding is daily across Nepal. I arrived in the early evening at the Centre Point in Lumbini and the power was out.  A young boy with a puzzled look said to me, ‘power coming, but two hours late’. The Centre Point is 500 Rupee/night for a room. The food is good, simple Nepali, and the refrigerator works whether on generator or ‘e’. The two boys around me spoke English pretty good, the older boys I met had been to university and spoke English just fine. What I didn’t know was the sign out front, written in Nepali, says travel arrangements so I set up a 3 hour tour the next day for a Lumbini Buddha Birth place tour. I was by myself so the boys joined me and acted as tour guides.

We headed out after Nepali tea and a family friend or member showed up, had breakfast and off we went. I didn’t know what to expect but was pleasantly surprised to see how well designed the grounds are. Many countries have put in Buddha Temples all with different designs. Germany, Sri Lanka, Burma, Viet Nam, China, South Korea, India, and many more under construction. Knowing the specific spot where Buddha was born is rather odd.

So I’m out front with the two boys that took me on the tour, a couple of other older brothers or relative workers. I’m sitting at a brown plastic table with chairs talking with the boys and one asks if he can watch a movie. I say, ‘yes’ and I look up and there’s a western woman riding passed us on a bike staring at me as she rode by. She smiled and looked at me for thirty meters. Odd. It might have been something out of an old black and white classic movie or a picture but if ever I felt a déjà vu, this was one of those. The power went out. The power stayed out the afternoon and into the evening. Again the younger boy mentioned, ‘Power coming. Already two hours late.’ Apparently there is a power shedding schedule and then hours added to it every now and again. Refrigeration for meat, dairy, medicine, and more are all connected on a fragile electrical situation nation wide. The Nepali government is trying to add incentives for residence and businesses alike to add solar power and are offering discounts and rebates.

Heading for Chitwan National Park a few hours down the east-west highway. The monsoon rains are here and they are amazing to watch.

For more travel adventures go to my site listed below and click on a picture for a story and more pictures.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016



With two months of diving in Indonesia including the Raja Ampat Wicked Diving Expedition to Komodo and the Sardine Run in Port St. John behind me I sadly took off my mask and dive computer and headed out of South Africa via Istanbul to Katmandu, Nepal. I flew Turkish Airways and they are a good choice for long flights. When I got into Katmandu the hotel had sent a vehicle to come fetch me. A Scottish friend had already arrived from the Philippines and two others were on the crazy bus traveling for 20 some hours from Bardia National Park to Katmandu so we could get permits for a month long trek coming up but as per usual, there was a hitch but in this case, in our favor.

When we got to the Tourism Office they said we needed to go through an agent and bring a Mountain Trekking guide. My friend missed his mountain trek training because he was in hospital for recently fending off a tiger while trying to protect and extract a Dutch tourist from a life-threatening situation. The story is awesome and the teeth marks and claw scars on his leg and arm are a crazy deep reminder. With Jumla under early monsoon rains, plane flights being cancelled and flash flooding occurring, it’s for the best that we wait a month. The porters are all set and we are all set, it’s now up to the weather. Change of plans.

We hired a car to drive us early in the morning to Pokhara after setting up an agent to start the trekking permits rolling, oh they aren’t cheap, $50.00/day and we plan to be in a restricted area for 10 days so $500.00 USD per foreigner. Meanwhile we are getting last minute supplies and equipment for the up coming adventure. The drive was beautiful with the lush green vegetation and most of the rice paddies already replanted. Some were a little slower and were still plowing with their water buffalo and getting everything ready. The clouds lifted as we crossed over the mountain range. Our driver knew a ‘short cut’ that took us up through the residential area and we popped out on the highway almost at the pass with no traffic, very rare. The road down the other side shows recent landslide scars and continuing road works.

Once again I’m back at the Lotus Hotel and 50 meters from lakeside. The mountain peaks have been making an early morning appearance and then pretty much obscured by clouds and afternoon rain. We stayed an extra night because France was playing Portugal in the final match. In Pokhara the match came on at 0045 mostly behind closed doors but even security and police officers were on tippy-toes peering over the crowd to watch. When all was said and done Pokhara exploded into a cheering uproar for Portugal and then all went quiet.

We hired another car to take us to Bardia because we had too much expensive equipment with us and I prefer a little freedom when crossing a country like Nepal overland, eat when you want, get out and stretch your legs, take a pee, and take pictures when something strikes you. One of my friends decided to rent a motorbike and meet us in Thakadurwara in a few days. Now that is freedom.

We planned on rowing across the lake if the weather was okay but morning rains and a genuine lack of energy doused that. I wrote and played in the neighborhood with some storeowners I befriended on the last few times through Pokhara. We were heading for an early night while we had a beer at the hotel and than fate landed with two Basque ladies coming up the stairs and joining us for some conversation and another beer or two. They were great company and we said our good-byes early in the morning when our driver and jeep arrived. We taunted them to join us but they were running out of time and didn’t see everything fitting into their plan AND getting back to Katmandu in a timely fashion. We explained to them about the fresh water dolphin, Gharial crocodiles, tigers, bears, elephants, rhinos and we still couldn’t get them out of bed in the morning. I think they missed out.

We took the back way out of Pokhara due to road works and slides down near Mugling and we drove without incident through mountain gorges, passes, and onto the Nepal plain, the Terrai. The back way intercepts the East-West Highway at Butwall and then it’s pretty much flat for eight hours dodging cars, trucks, leaning buses, potholes, cattle, goats, sheep, water buffalo, and a multitude of people on push-bikes or on foot on the highway.

 At dusk we came across a young Jackal trying to cross the highway without getting squished. It decided it wasn’t time and headed back into the cornfield and vanished.

When we got closer to Bardia we crossed a bridge with a few Ghariel, fish eating Crocodiles, resting in the shallows of the river. Now I know I’m back in Nepal. We drove through familiar sights and road chokes, intersections, where East-West meets North South roads. Our other friend was a day behind us on a motorbike stopping in a town along the way. We stopped in for dinner in a small town not far from the lodge and rolled in around 9 pm. The river we had to cross was low and in between flash flood water levels.

I haven’t left campus for a couple days with all kinds of weather and projects to look at and move forward. We dug a pond out and spread the silt out in the surrounding garden. The humidity is brutal. All I could imagine was Japanese POWs working in this heat and humidity in such places as Burma/Myanmar or Thailand, no wonder so many perished. Seriously, dehydration, heat stroke, sunstroke, cramps, Malaria, disease, dysentery and the list goes on. Kudos to all those WW II Vets that lived through such hardships and R.I.P. for those less fortunate. It’s hot and humid.

We drove over to Tikapur the other day to find the Gangetic Dolphin and it turned out they were finishing up their count of the dolphin meaning people spread out up and down the river and watched for dolphin and gave a count of each area. I can’t tell you the number because of politics. They want to be the first ones out with the news. While I was there for two days we saw three or four the first day and maybe two or three the second day. The rains were pressing so we worked around the dark gray clouds.

We drove back to Bardia National Park and the rains came and the pond filled up quickly. The power shedding and outages is a constant reminder of the areas remoteness. All calls to Jumla come back with the same result. The passes are still closed and planes are coming intermittently. We still have time to wait so I’m figuring out mu next move and not waste time. I’ll let you know.

Book by David Dagley:
Titles; ‘Cale Dixon and the Moguk Murders’, ‘White Bars’, ‘Women Of Cho’.

For more travel adventures go to my site listed below and click on a picture for a story and more pictures.