nepal - (3/16/01-4/16/01)

From the frantic pace of India to the peaceful beauty of Nepal. Not only a laid back atmosphere, but better buses and roads as well. We were still careening along windy roads, but they were paved!

Our first stop was the town of Sauraha on the edge of Royal Chitwan National Park. This place is renowned for having over 100 tigers and 500 rhinos within its boundaries. What we didn't know was that tons of building and intense competition had transformed the town of Sauraha into a traveler's paradise. A fancy room with a hot shower for just a few dollars, great food (Mexican, Italian, Steak.) and lots of friendly people. It was a great place to take a break as well as take in the wildlife.

We made two forays into the jungle, the first on the back of an Indian elephant. Sounds cool right? It was so uncomfortable it made our camel safari seem luxurious. As soon as we got into the park though, I was glad to be up eight feet off the ground. There were rhinos everywhere, and the jungle was so thick you could have been right on top of them before you knew it. We saw maybe two dozen in our morning ride including a momma and little baby. Such a cute little thing, only the size of a bullmastiff.

We also spent an afternoon on a jeep safari farther into the bush. Luckily our jeep was full of fun people to chat with, because all we saw for the first three hours were peacocks. The last hour near sunset made up for all of that though. We saw a bunch more rhinos, including one huge male that took about 10 minutes to cross our path. He also gave us a display of rhino pissing power. Imagine a rhino standing in front of a fire hydrant that's been turned on to spray directly behind it. Glad he wasn't pointing at the jeep. We also saw cirvet cat (looks like a large mink) and a sloth bear just as the sun was going down.

Our jeep ride was also when we decided not to take the walking safari. We heard that a 10-year-old boy on a field trip had been killed that day. A rhino had charged him and nearly bitten him in half. Also, everyone in our jeep who had done the walk had either been charged by a rhino, or had spent a period of time up a tree waiting for rhinos to leave the vicinity. The decision was easy.

After about a week, we headed up to Kathmandu to book our trek through the Himalayas. We decided to do the Langtang-Helambu circuit, which is a two-week trek through the mountains north of Kathmandu very close to the Tibetan border. We hired a guide and two porters (one for us and one for Chris and Steph) and off we went. Turns out all three were great fun, and we were joking and laughing the whole trip, at least when we weren't completely out of breath.

Our first week we spent exploring the Langtang valley. We struggled up a couple thousand meters through beautiful pine forests. We even had an afternoon of hiking through the softly falling snow. We took a side trip to Kyanjin Ri a 4700-meter peak to check out the view. It was astounding! On one side the Langtang valley spread out below us, on the other two enormous glaciers flowing down from the peaks of Tibet. We also got a lesson from our guide Ambir as to what actually constitutes a mountain. Less than 4000 meters is a hill, 4000-7000 meters is a peak, and over 7000 meters is a mountain. I never realized that we didn't have any mountains is the continental US.

The second half of our trek lead us over a 4600-meter pass and skirted Gosainkunda, one of the most holy lakes in Nepal since Shiva is sleeping on the bottom. There is a huge pilgrimage there every summer. When we arrived, it was still half-covered in ice so Chris decided it was the perfect time to take a swim. He made it out alive, a little breathless, but I'm sure much holier.

As we were descending from the pass, we came across a memorial. It was for the victims of a 1992 Thai Airways flight that had crashed into a nearby peak. A couple hours later we stopped at a little teashop for lunch. As we were eating our soup, I suddenly jumped back in alarm. The silverware we were eating with had the Thai Airways symbol embossed on it. Yep, it had been salvaged from the crash by the enterprising owner of the shop. He was very proud of his find, and proceeded to show us some of the other items he had rescued from the accident. Spooky.

After finishing our excellent trek, we headed back to Kathmandu. We lucked out in that they were celebrating Nepali New Year's in Kathmandu, and another festival in the nearby town of Bhaktapur. The festival in Bhaktapur was dominated by animal sacrifice. We saw many chickens and goats lose their lives and even a water buffalo head (without body of course). The highlight of the festival is when a three-story chariot is rolled through town. This only happens once a year, but there are grooves built into the cobblestone roadway just for that purpose. It's totally nuts. The chariot heads down a steep hill with many sharp turns and has no steering whatsoever. 30 people in front pulling (the truly crazy) 30 people pushing and 50 or so on top. It starts off slowly, then all of a sudden it's barreling down the street and around a corner. A local told us that last year it took out a house on the corner (there's a pile of rubble there now), and that every year it's a huge celebration because "someone always dies." What people do for fun these days.

Only one month in Nepal, it flew by, then we had to get to the other side of the Himalayas. We took the very long way around, through Bangkok, to end up in Central Asia.

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Baby rhinoceros in Royal Chitwan National Park

Garuda statue in Kathmandu's Durbar Square

The Kumari (the living goddess) in a rare public appearance

Swayambunath Buddhist stupa in Kathmandu

Big Buddha is brand new on the scene in Kathmandu

Prayer wall on the trekking trail

Rice terraces in the "hills" of Langtang

Tibetan girl in Kyanjin Gompa village, high up the Langtang valley

Sunrise over the village prayer flags

Happily sitting on top of Kyanjin Ri (4,700 meters)

Himalayan views while climbing Kyanjin Ri

Yak, yak, yak

The dry mountain air makes for great hair

Stephanie spins her stuff in front of Langtang peak

The gang pauses at Gosain Kund pass (4,600 meters)

Festival madness in Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur Durbar Square

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