Nepal: A journey from Kathmandu to Chitwan and the Himalayas is written by Jacob Gowland Jørgensen
Kathmandu - the beginning of the adventure
"The heart's memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good. "
Gabriel García Márquez: Love in the Age of Cholera.
I go and go. Left around. Left, left.
I am not alone, there are many other friendly people around. These are people from the mountains. They are tan with round heads. From the Himalayas.
I walk around the Buddhist shrine Boudhanath Stupa in the “Little Tibet” area in the middle of Kathmandu. There is a calm and almost loving atmosphere here, where the prayer flags flutter in the wind.
Here are people whose roots come from all over the region, from Tibet and Nepal, to Bhutan and northern mountainous India. They have found a common meeting place in Nepal's capital Kathmandu, which is a tolerant, open and safe city where there is room for many, but quite a few funds. Here in Kathmandu, my journey begins in the time of the corona.
An airport with mask
I just landed at Kathmandu International Airport, Tribhuvan, KTM. It is small, ragged and has a nice sculpture you can take pictures of outside. In addition, it has quite a bit of what the reviewers would call "architectural qualities", on the other hand, it has here in the first weeks with breaking news whether the spread of the corona virus has been masked.
It's like landing in a hospital where you thought you landed in an airport. It doesn't feel good. Not because I'm nervous, because they have the corona virus completely under control here, where there are few cases, but because it's strange to be surrounded by people you can only see the eyes of, and can barely understand what they're saying behind the masks .
I'll probably have to get used to that later, but in February 2020 it's new.
The air is spring-ready and 17 degrees. Absolutely fantastic when you come from humid and windy Denmark in February.
Thamel, Nepal's ultimate tourist district
There are plenty of ways to get into the city, and I get a lift to my hotel, located in the ultimate tourist district of Thamel, which is almost comparable to Khao San Road in Bangkok. Because here it is easy to walk around, and there is everything you need as a traveler. The restaurants are also cheaper here because there is a massive competition.
I enter the 3-star Hotel Manang, located right at the start of one of the small streets. Perfect.
It's Friday, and the only regular day off is the day after, so the city is in full swing. But not really with tourists. For this is low season, it's too cold to go up to the mountains to hike and climb them, and if I was in doubt about it, I am not, as darkness falls, for we reach 4 degrees in the evening, and I must put on all my clothes.
This part of town is geared for a massive influx of people in April and October, and now it's low season, and on top of that there is a corona outbreak in neighboring China, so there is plenty of room.
Really good space actually.
Kathmandu Durbar Square
I meet a local guide from Expedition Himalayas, because I want to know more about the city where I landed. I want to hear the stories - understand them. Like all Nepalese I meet, he is talkative, friendly and down to earth.
We walk for 20 minutes through the vibrant city to the central royal square, Kathmandu Durbar Square, which is understandably a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But the square has received some huge blows, as it was unfortunately in the middle of the epicenter of the huge earthquake that hit the city in 2015. Something has been rebuilt, something is left standing with the help of scaffolding and something was almost pulverized.
There are a multitude of royal palaces, temples and all sorts of state functions gathered in one place, and with the help of different countries, the reconstruction is quietly underway, so it is a great experience.
Kumari saw me
By incredible luck, we enter one of the temples 20 seconds before Nepal's living goddess “Kumari” appears on a balcony.
Peace-loving Buddhism is very strong and evident here in Nepal, and it is so infused with a great many local religious elements. For example, the one about Kumari, who is selected as a child and is a living goddess until she reaches puberty, after which she is just an ordinary girl again.
However, rumor has it that she will not get a Nepalese man, because they dare not marry her, because think now if she is still a little goddess in there behind…
The little girl peeks out, painted and with red headgear. "No photos, no photos", the monks say clearly. You have to see and experience, not take pictures. She looks down at me and the few others, and the magic fills the little yard.
Outside, a horn orchestra rolls by, and in the large square, a number of people gradually gather to take part in a religious event of some kind. Drums are sung and beaten, and in the Nepalese spirit it is quite peaceful.
Stupa! Swayambhunath & Boudhanath
A stupa is a bell-shaped temple, and most often in one of the most important colors in Buddhism: White. Boudhanath Stupa is the most important stupa outside of Tibet, and by far the largest in Nepal with its 100 meters in diameter. It's huge. And here one gathers, to walk around left, roll on the prayer rollers, say prayers, and pray for a good and healthy life for all.
It's like being in a round Roman marketplace where there are all sorts of religious shops and offers in a circle around the stupa. I go my rounds with young and old, and with the help of a local find a restaurant that has a roof terrace, overlooking it all.
Here is beautiful, and the food is fantastic, and nice cheap: 40 kr for a bang of a lunch served at a nice restaurant with a view.
Before then, I enjoyed another view, namely from the Swayambhunath stupa perched on one of Kathmandu's many hills. The city is located in a valley, so there are many vantage points, and from here you can see how big the Kathmandu valley is.
The monkeys jump around the temples but do nothing. They just live here.
We are few tourists and many locals, and here too it strikes me how easy it is to become a part of everyday life in this country.
To travel is to shop in Nepal
I'm not the big shopper. But when I have to, I'm a supporter of man shopping, where I quickly buy several things at once somewhere. Bum. And since I'm tired of freezing, I have to do it, and luckily it's easy, because there is a sea of small shops with all sorts of hot things.
There is cashmere, yak wool, and everything in between. I find a great store, Mona Lisa, that only has pashmina and cashmere clothes, and that looks professional. Here I find my new favorite sweater, which is sitting and warming me up now as I write these lines. It is light as a feather, warm as a bear and beautiful as only a real natural product can be.
The cashmere sweater will be my regular companion, and it will soon be joined by a blue and an orange cousin, a sofa rug, mandala pictures, buddha note notes and much more good. It is hard not to buy things in Nepal because there are so many fine things and much is handmade.
On the other hand, there are a billion stores, so it's just about finding the right one and haggling a bit about the price. And fortunately, Nepal is generally a really cheap travel country, so you get far for your money here.
Kathmandu's Garden of Dreams
Kathmandu is a noisy city because the traffic is heavy and the streets are narrow. But when there is no traffic, it is quieter than most big cities I know. And should you need to rest your ears, head straight out of the Thamel area to the place so beautifully named Garden of Dreams.
Behind high walls is a European-inspired garden with pavilions and a really good lunch restaurant. Here the young Nepalese couples meet and intertwine fingers and look each other deep in the eyes.
Here I got several hours to go enjoy the afternoon sun and eat.
When I came out again, I decided that all the good mood should be used for something, so I bought another cashmere sweater from the Mona Lisa store on the corner. For now, the trip went out of Kathmandu, out into Nepal.
The armored animal in Chitwan National Park
I'm sitting up in a tree. I'm not supposed to sit up in a tree…
We are on a hiking safari in Chitwan National Park, which is known for housing almost the entire world's population of the rare 1-horned rhino, which is an armored animal without equal.
It weighs up to 2,5 tons, and built as if it stepped right out of Jurassic Park. There are also Bengal tigers which, like the rhino, are a piece of equipment of muscle power and beauty.
We have seen the footprint of the tiger. Right by the water hole. And now my guide has also spotted a rhino hiding inside the bush where it chews on the green leaves. It's tough on, and we're tough. The camera clicks merrily from there while we admire the huge animal.
Suddenly the rhino steps out of the bush. There is an open piece between us and the animal. Maybe 50 meters. I sense out of the corner of my eye that my guide is moving very fast, after which he grabs me and whispers "Up in the tree, now!".
Luckily there is a tree that does not grow very steep where I can climb up to my guide and at a height of 3 meters we look at the animal staring at us. "It's a young male, he might come over here", he whispers as the animal stares on, now 15-20 meters from us.
Now that I'm sitting up there, I can see that the rhino is really just standing and eating. But a curious and potentially affectionate rhinoceros of 2 tons should not be missed, so we stay up there in a bone-breaking position until it gets tough. Just as unaffected as when it came. This is its home, and it knows it well. We're just guests.
My heart beats a little faster than before as we crawl down, and I can see that we have also become an attraction, because there are three other visitors with a guide hidden behind some trees, and they get some good pictures of the tourist monkey in the tree , while laughing. It is OK. Better wise in the tree than the opposite.
There is plenty of room - send more tourists to Nepal
Chitwan is an exceptionally beautiful national park. With small rivers, a thousand lakes and green landscapes, and many opportunities to get out and experience the wildlife.
At my hotel Chitwan Adventure Resort right on the edge of the village, there are only two booked rooms out of 34. Two! February is even high season, but the Corona virus keeps many Chinese at home, and some are also missing from Europe.
If it was up to the soul of the Nepalese people to become desperate, they certainly would be. But they take it easy, and send extra prayers that things will get better soon.
I enjoy that there is more space, and give extra gratuity to the locals I bump into, because out here in the villages they are deeply dependent on the tourists coming to Chitwan.
Himalayas in Nepal
On the way from Chitwan, I fly domestic.
The majestic Himalayan mountains tower above the clouds, and with the snow on top, there is no doubt that this is the world's highest mountain range. And undoubtedly one of the most fascinating.
We fly along the mountains to Kathmandu, where the Himalayas disappear into the haze.
I sit and look at pictures from Pokhara.
I do not get there, because the bad roads in this poor country make everything take a long time, unless you fly domestically.
Pokhara is from there one can climb the famous mountain Annapurna, and experience the Himalayas up close. It must be another good time. It now looks beautiful.
Nepal in the heart
There are some countries that go right into the heart of one.
When I look at the many people I know who love to travel, there are quite a few countries that people throw their full love on, where they engage in NGO projects, sponsorships and much more.
One of those countries is Nepal. There is also a sea of Danish NGOs here, and I understand that well. For Nepal is behind the economy, and at the same time has such friendly and sympathetic people that one would like to do something for them and with them.
Nepal easily goes to the heart of one. If you have not experienced the country yet, feel free to put it on your travel wish list. You will be happy about that.