Returning to Kuala Lumpur from Nepal in August 2014, I took the time to plan out and indulge in the memories of our trip to write this entry. I scheduled Nepal for the most opportune time, almost year after our trip, just before the monsoon season; Today- so as to inspire my readers to make that trip and experience Nepal the way we have. Unfortunately, Nepal was hit by a devastating Earthquake on the 25th of April 2015. Most of what we have experienced on our trip, is no longer there. We have yet to hear from our friends that we wrote of, and are hoping they are alright. I have decided to go ahead and publish this entry as planned, however, as a tribute to a mesmerisingly beautiful country. Nepal is going through a time that breaks our hearts to see, however, I would love for you to look at Nepal the way we saw it, the way we may not get to see in the near future, or ever again. It took me all these months, to carefully write; I wanted to showcase Nepal as special as it was for us experiencing it. Take this journey with us, have a cup of coffee (or tea) and join us on one of the most amazing adventures our love for Fishing has taken us on- our search for the Nepalese Golden Mahseer and experience Nepal, before the devastating earthquake.
“Oh! Scaly monsters of the deep, or of turbid stream,
Reveal your secrets now and then , and fulfil the angler dream
Why do you accept my bait one day, disdain it on another?
Though light and shad a prevail the same, please what is the secret Khubbar?
I cast my spoon and hide from sight, the same from to day,
Sometimes you take it from my feet, anon just swim away!
Large sum I spend on rod and reel, all to beguile and fight,
Hundreds of miles I go in search, to test your strength and might.
Long may your secret remain you own, and long may your hauts prevail,
For this after all is the form of the chase, to find you, lure you then fail”
(The above quoted in Macdonald, A.J. 1944. Circumventing the Mahseer and other sporting fish in India and Burma)
When one speaks of the country Nepal, the image that comes to mind for most of us is without a doubt Mount Everest. It does not strike the attention of your average traveller, however, it is famous with the adventure and thrill seekers that look forward to climbing the various mountain peaks of the Himalayas or rafting through it’s many rivers. The views are a feast for the eyes, but for an angler, the term River can only mean one thing; Fishing. What started out as my husband’s Birthday plans for me alongside our long overdue honeymoon had us on google searching for the best travel destinations of 2014, not surprisingly, Nepal caught our attention. Unique and at that time a destination unheard of between us both, we naturally wondered what species of fishes were in the rivers of Nepal.
Scientifically known as Tor Putitora, the angling world know this game fish as the Golden Mahseer, popular in the Himalayan River and streams, with the largest specimen ever caught being 121lbs -the Golden Mahseer was the species to thank for further encouraging our trip to explore Nepal. Unfortunately, the monsoon season in Nepal is the lowest and most dangerous season to fish in the Himalayan rivers with rising water levels and raging rapids. Though the season was not on our side, no one said we could not fish anyway… Well, except for the Fishing guided trips that refuse to take us out.
We arrive at the Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu, worried about the dreaded Visa on Arrival process that was much talked about online. To our delight, an automated Visa booth meant we were out of the airport within 7 minutes, inclusive of immigration and security checks. Warmly welcomed by its loud culture and dusty narrow roads , we smiled, eagerly anticipating what was in store for us, positive that it would be tipping the scale of excitement. Staying at the Kantipur Temple House for a night in Thamel, we hired a personal guide named Bhasker who agreed to assist us on our hunt for the Golden Mahseer alongside enjoying our chosen districts in Nepal as we go along. Taking the route of a few main rivers, our trip will have us looking at suitable fishing locations and picking on the local knowledge of the Golden Mahseer as well as other fish species well known in the Himalayan rivers of Nepal.
We begin our journey bright and early the next morning, leaving the comfort of our boutique hotel at 7 a.m, hopping into a Volkswagen Jetta with Mohan as our driver and our guide Bhasker. We passed Kathmandu Valley descending through the clouds, driving along major rivers heading to Pokhara. The drive was scenic, 6 hours of endless River and Mountain view. A quick pit stop to enjoy our first taste of the addictive and delicious Nepalese Tea (Chai) before we continued on our journey passing the Trisuli and Seti River. We could almost hear our reels screaming just by the sight of the river… We patiently anticipate the return. It did not feel like 6 hours. We noted down areas to stop on the way back for our attempt at casting our lines. There was something very refreshing about the drive, it was such an enlightening feeling and any wink of sleep could ruin a better view at the next second.
We arrived in Pokhara to what looks like streets with a more upbeat atmosphere, rows of clubs, backpackers inn and a significant population of tourists in comparison to Kathmandu. We could not contain our excitement, we were looking forward to Pokhara as it will be our first attempt at casting a line out into the famous Phewa Lake. Not just a tourist attraction, the lake is known to have a variety of fish species, one of it, the Golden Mahseer. Realizing that our hotel of choice required us to cross over the lake, being rowed whilst we stood on a steady wooden platform, awakened the 10 year old within us.
Stepping off the platform and on to the Fish Tail Lodge, our hotel of choice in Pokhara, we were greeted by; No, not the scenic view though that was breath taking; Nope, not the beautiful cottage architecture of the hotel though that was stunning… We were greeted by a hotel staff holding on to a Fishing Rod and preparing bait to fish with. Holy Mountains! That must be a sign! …Move away Check-in staff, we have some local information digging to do! Speaking to the kind man named Raju, we tried asking of the Golden Mahseer, however not knowing the local name of the fish proved to be tough. Speaking in terms of size, Raju assured us that the Phewa lake has some sizable fishes. He then offered to take us to a “secret” location, just behind the hills of the hotel, a short walk that leads to the lake, with an abandoned platform on the side to fish on. And to that… Check-In staff! Where you at? It’s Fishing time!
For every fishermen and women out there, the Fish Tail lodge is the place to be if you’re in Pokhara. Its name does not derive from the abundance of fish or convenience of fishing along or on the Phewa Lake, however, it’s from the view of the famous Mount Machhapuchhare, which means Fish Tail in Nepali, a sacred mountain that is forbidden to climb. The Fish Tail lodge, on a good season and day has a beautiful view of the Nepalese Himalayas, which include not just the Fish Tail Mountain but the entire Annapurna Massif. We were told, views of the Annapurna Massif is almost impossible during the monsoon, a time where the mountains disappear behind the clouds for days if not weeks. We were quick to grab on to our gear after being shown to our cottage-like room.
In a matter of minutes we found ourselves going down the hills behind the hotel, settling on the abandoned wooden platform alongside Raju, who has kindly prepared some bread bait for us to fish with. He was in awe at our Shakespeare Travel Mate rod combo, mine paired with a Penn Fierce 2000 reel- he was not convinced our rods could take the fight and weight of the supposed giants in Phewa Lake, however if there was the King and Queen of light tackle, It would have to be my husband and I. Yes, I just threw humble out the window and self proclaimed, don’t trust me on this one though.As we casted our lines and waited anxiously, we could hear claps of thunder in the distance. Looking up, we knew that we were about to experience our very first Nepalese Monsoon. Nothing could stop us now though, putting on our parka in time as the drops of rain played a tune on the wooden deck, we continued on without Raju as he resumes his duty back at the hotel. We imagined the “tune” of the raindrops to be that of a jungle chant encouraging us to persevere…
… An hour later, we gave up on the deck and hopped onto a boat instead. An entire lake ahead of us, increasing our chances meant going out to explore it, and with luck on our side, the rain stopped and our boatman, coincidentally, was a fisherman too. Rowing us slow but steadily to an area on the lake, he told us to drop our lines. A number of times, we could feel the bites from the smaller fishes with our hooks coming up empty. Bread bait gone and no fish. Another boat approached us, the boatman handed over a packet of chips to our boatman, interesting delivery service we thought however to our delight, the packet had worms in it. We were told that worms worked much better in this part of the lake therefore, a quick change of bait and we continued with our attempt.The Phewa Lake is crystal clear, we could make out large fishes swimming amidst the greens underwater, unfortunately, we could not make out if they were the elusive Golden Mahseer or a local species unknown to us. Our first two bites on the worms were from tiny Nepalese Jungle Perch, a quick catch and release, a little fun on light tackle with my husband jokingly trying to convince himself that it was a Piranha.
Suddenly… My Penn Reel echoed through the Phewa Lake and my rod started bending resembling the soft Himalayan peaks, I reeled with might. We saw colour! Wait a minute. We saw… What is that? A SNAKE!? freaked out!! Our kind boatman started laughing. He reached out for my leader and pulled the “snake” onto the boat, I could have pushed our boatman off the boat out of fear when my brains began to function again, realizing it was not a snake but an Eel. Our boatman was saved by my nick of time strike of intelligence. Phew! I still wasn’t about to touch the Eel, it had sharp ridges on it’s back and black stripes along it’s brown body, it wriggled around like a mini Anaconda with gills. The boatman recovering from his laughter at my lack of initial intelligence says, “this nice, choosy bum, nice, eat”. To that I replied, “Well you can have it, enjoy your meal, thank you”. Why is he calling me a choosy bum?! For someone that speaks minimal English, he seems to know that line of all sentences in the language. The sun was setting and the clouds were coming in, this time, darker than it was earlier, we called it a day. It was now time for us to roam the upbeat streets of Pokhara.
We crossed the river and on to the streets. It was tough to control the urge of buying what we saw, with some gears for hiking and rafting suitable for the use of Fishing too, our hands had to be kept in our pockets to avoid purchasing a want and not a need, especially with the next store offering a better deal than the one before. The streets of Pokhara felt comfortable, relaxing yet entertaining to walk on. Lined with bars and pubs, as well as the occasional “special” dance clubs. One thing is for sure, there were a lot of book stores, a common sight both in Pokhara and Kathmandu. We went into a random one to browse around when we spotted something useful for our trip. A book entitled The Mahseer written by Dr. Tej Kumar Shrestha, everything about the Golden Mahseer in Nepal, from location of River to feeding and spawning habits, season and suitable climate, all that we needed to know with images we could show the locals in one book, an instant buy. A need and a want, brilliant! Feeling like we accomplished a productive day to our journey around Nepal, we headed back to the hotel for a hearty dinner before calling it a night. This time, more confident and determined to find the Golden Mahseer.
The next morning, my husband woke me up rather abruptly, sending my heart racing – he kept repeating “get up, get up, come out, put on your slippers and come out!”. I did as he instructed, I went out with my pyjama, slippers and eyes half open tagging along behind him accompanied by mild panic. I could see people running all around me towards the same direction, they too, in their pyjamas and slippers, oh and one guy in a towel… All for a moment that took our breaths away. I stopped in my tracks at the jaw dropping sight…
The Annapurna Massif, along with the Fish Tail Mountain, greeted us bright and early, clear of any clouds, pure, pristine, unreal. There they were, the Himalayas, right before our eyes. It felt like I finally saw what the colour White truly looks like. With locals fishing in the Phewa Lake, it was only 6.30 a.m, I have never felt fresher. When everyone got their “perfect shot” and settled down did we realise, we all looked like a mess! Everyone went back in just as fast as they got out of bed, myself included. For us, it was time for breakfast by the lake accompanied by the mountain view and Bhasker before we continued on our journey. Upon checking out, word of my fish has spread across town. The reception said, “You caught choosy bum?”. I don’t get it, why are they calling me a choosy bum? “Yes, I did, I caught an eel, looked like a snake, I gave it to the boatman”. They smiled warmly and said, “That fish you caught is called a Bam, Chusi Bam, good tasting fish!”. With that, my apologies to the boatman, he was in fact telling me the fish is called Chusi Bam, I was not, am not and was never the choosy bum that I thought I was referred to as. It was a good feeling, word spread across town of my catch as it was a rare experience for the locals to have tourists that wanted to fish on the lake. My husband and I managed to bond with the locals due to our love for fishing, which for them is a source of living, and that makes us love the art and sport even more.
It was time to continue our journey, onward to the Terai and Mahabharat Range of Nepal, making a pit stop at the town of Bandipur, the last of a mountain experience for the next two days where we will be surrounded by the flat, hot plains of the Terai, deep in the jungle. Situated 1030m above sea level, and 80km to the east of Pokhara, Bandipur is a quaint little town that comes alive with it’s preserved architecture from centuries ago. Driving up on a narrow and steep winding road, good for one vehicle at a time, it’s a miracle we survived with busses and lorries sharing the route going the opposite direction. Feeling like we were plucked out of developments and thrown back in time, the town of Bandipur felt like time stood still; comfortable and relaxing with endless mountain views and an uncanny resemblance to images from postcards of Europe, nothing else mattered. No stress, no worries. We stopped by to have a look at Gaun Ghar, an old Newari traditional house turned boutique hotel, which like the town has stayed true to the Newari architecture and culture. They kindly served us a cup of Nepalese Tea which we have grown to love. After which, we journeyed on towards the flat lands of Central Terai to Sauraha where the Royal Chitwan National Park awaits.
How do I begin to explain the oddity of being in Nepal without a mountain in sight. Especially having been surrounded by it for the last three days. The comfort of descending from higher ground towards a warmer climate and for myself, the absence of an irritating sinus resulted in a quick nap. I opened my eyes to an elephant casually strolling by our car. I am assured once more, we are indeed in Nepal… Or are we? Bordering India, it is no wonder the Terai felt, well… a lot like India. Paddy fields, elephants and the wild jungle becomes the most common sight all around. With our stomachs drumming the tune of starvation, we were delighted to finally arrive at our hotel, Parkland -more so since the first agenda on the list was… Lunch!
Unlike Pokhara, the stay in Parkland was a little adventure in itself. Not your everyday definition of luxury, however tipping the scale of luxury considering the jungle and nature we were surrounded by. A traditional gas heater, bed, TV, air-conditioner; fan for when electricity gets cut off and views of endless greenery out the window which was sealed by the mother of mosquito nets. There was nothing to complain about, we weren’t staying in a jungle tent surrounded by wild animals and we could smell curry from the kitchen. Though a solid brick wall at the entrance was smashed apart by an elephant a week ago… This truly was jungle luxury. If there is one worry of travellers which we can confidently throw out the window in Nepal, it’s food. A country rich in it’s culture is no wonder rich in the flavors of it’s cuisine. Everything we had in Nepal tasted nothing less than it would in a Gordon Ramsay restaurant. Though I have yet to be in a Gordon Ramsay restaurant let alone dine in one, it HAD to taste as good, otherwise… Gordon Ramsay needs a trip to Nepal.
We were given a few hours of rest after a hearty, delicious lunch before heading out for a walk. In Sauraha, an evening walk takes a new definition, we soon discovered. With the stay in Sauraha being a true jungle experience, we were appointed a personal jungle guide named Saroj who will be guiding us with a pre-planned itinerary alongside Bhaskar. When we say, pre-planned, a chunk of it includes Fishing of course. Armed with our Golden Mahseer guide book, we began our nature walk passing paddy fields and local villages, seeing and experiencing their daily lives. Ninety year olds farming and young children running around with wild Goats, we can’t help but feel spoilt by our lack of oneness with nature growing up. Were you running around with wild goats playing “catch me if you can”? Neither were we. There was an air of perfection about the lack of developments, houses were well kept and built by the very hands that fed the families, with the materials deriving from the nature they work hard to preserve. My camera bag was taking a toll on my shoulders, my pains were a shame compared to elderly women balancing basket-full of vegetables on every part of their body that a basket could be balanced on. That, was magic to me.
We were walking towards the famous Tharu Village. The people of Tharu, being the indigenous group of the Terai region worship the forest and live as one with nature. Houses built of mud and clay; farming, hunting and fishing is the way of survival. It is with no surprise but a pleasant find when we passed a mud house with an elderly Tharu man fixing his fishing net. If you put the signs together, his age and indigenous experience with the river that surrounds the area- we were looking at what could be the Golden Mahseer jackpot. With Bhaskar and Saroj assisting on the language front, we took out our handy Golden Mahseer book and enquired as much as we could with the kind man. To our disappointment, he mentions that the monsoon season does not bring the Golden Mahseer to their waters, however, other species are an abundance and with luck, sizes will impress. Unfortunately, most of the river areas where the Golden Mahseer could be found are now protected by the government, fishing requires a permit however these areas are yet to be opened to the public. This is part of the jungle preservation carried out by the government to ensure the Royal Chitwan National Park stays as wild and true to it’s name. That concept, we highly support. He then pointed us to the Rapti River, where fishing was legal on some areas and where they as a village go to for their supply of everyday fishes. Coincidentally, that was where our nature walk would end for a view of the sunset. By this time, the entire Tharu Village was crowding around us, curious of our questions and purpose, all of them however extending their hands out with a smile, warmly welcoming us with Handshakes, Hellos’ and Namaste. Heartwarming.
Next stop was the Elephant stable, a short walk into the jungle, feeling very Lara Croft with my husband excited to bond with the animal he loves. When the tourist brochure indicated that the animals are wild, we were take aback by the chains on some of the Elephants bred for transport purposes into the jungle… They however trumpet freely. Evidently by the shocking echoes of Elephant trumpeting through the jungle. What an experience that was! We marched on towards the sunset point right by the Rapti River overlooking the Royal Chitwan National Park, which we were to embark on a wild adventure in, the next day. We saw locals fishing, enquired on their catch report and walked through the dense jungle, being wary of wild animals that could pose a danger. Hiding behind tall grass, we saw a few wild peacocks and an aged elephant roaming around. With the heavy monsoon clouds looming above, the sunset was quick yet beautiful. The nature walk experience was by far mildly frightening, wildly fun and an eye opener. Very glad we didn’t end up in an episode of “Animals gone wild”. Back to the hotel for another hearty dinner, relaxing amidst the sounds from the jungle with a cup of Chai before heading to bed, gearing up for an early morning.
We rose to the clucking of Chickens and lowing of Cows, with sunrise and the morning Chai calling out to us, we readied ourselves for a day we know to be filled with activities, fishing included. We hopped on to the jungle vehicle, or so I’d like to call it. What it was, is a lorry fitted with seats and a cover, with some safety handles to hang on to, that in itself made us feel like Indiana Jones. With our travel rods and gear in hand, we head out into the jungle for the first agenda of the morning, a canoe ride. Sounds harmless. Sounds relaxing. A canoe ride. We have that in Singapore and Malaysia. No big deal.
That was until we saw the canoe. What it really was, is the bark of a tree, cut into half lengthwise, sharpened at the ends with a cut-out in the middle for us to sit in. If you were an artist, you’d appreciate that as a work of art, flawless. If you were US however, you’d be running numbers, facts, figures, Geography and some Science to calculate your chances and options of survival. Since we were on a privately guided tour, the four of us had our own canoe with a boatman to ourselves… In comparison to other tourists, more than 10 of them in a tiny canoe. God Bless. Weight had to be distributed evenly. They even had small wooden chairs to enhance the comfort of the ride. A slight shift, the entire canoe tilts to one side. God Bless once more. As the canoe was pushed out onto the river, Saroj, our jungle guide, begins his introduction to the canoe ride. He begins by saying and I attempt to quote most accurately…
“Ok there are many crocodiles in this river, you will see some of them but please do not panic, the crocodile will not disturb you, please only turn your head and not your body…” I could feel my morning Chai up at my throat. Excuse me… Did he just say Crocodile? The reptile not the brand of sandal? I stopped moving altogether. The first few minutes was relaxing, Saroj sitting atop one end of the canoe with a long piece of bamboo in his hands (my guess to pry the Crocs mouth open in case we’re breakfast of choice), he tells us about the conservation of the jungle, the types of crocodiles in the water…. Then he suddenly stopped. And whispered.
CROCODILE. He does a swift turn and sat his bum on the boat with the bamboo in his hands narrowly drowning us all with the tilts of the canoe. I may have exaggerated. A little. But it felt like it. Up ahead emerged a Crocodile. My hands trembled as I utter unglamorously “oh shit” whilst recording a video. It may be moving parallel to us, but do not be fooled, its eyes are on the side, it was staring straight at us as it graciously disappears underneath. My mind was running wild. Where did it go? Will it emerge right beside us, arms… I mean, jaws wide open?! I could not digest my thoughts when we spotted another one… And another one. Occasionally the canoe passes a rapid, fast flowing which gives you an adrenaline kick alongside the fears. I must admit, it felt good. I tilted my head to the side (because truly, that was the only part of my body that I could move on the canoe without risking lives) and I saw, what made my heartbeat sound like the drums of an African tribe.
Ahead of us were Elephants, huge, majestic, adorable however scary as hell in our situation, with a bunch of tourists on them. Crossing the river. We say our prayers. Was this in the itinerary? Because my breakfast was digesting a little faster than it normally would. Saroj signaled to an elephant guide and all the elephants stopped, leaving some space at the front for us to cross with our canoe. I don’t know how we looked like but I’m certain both my husband and I looked like we saw a ghost… my mind filled with negative possibilities like being trampled by a tourist elephant and being attacked by a crocodile or drowning from the capsize of a tiny canoe. Dramatic. The ride soon came to an end, with the safety of land, my husband and I broke into laughter. Happy to have survived, but happier to have experienced it. Truth be told, there was never a situation that posed a danger on the canoe ride, tourists get on it several times a day, but the experience for people that live in a concrete jungle with the equivalent of that canoe being a barely running budget taxi in Kuala Lumpur, it was phenomenal.
We stopped by an elephant breeding centre next for Naweshad to spend some quality time with his favourite animal. I wasn’t sure if that was a good idea. Animal have instincts, like us, animals love and appreciate being loved in return. Naturally so. Naweshad bonded with a baby elephant, it was behind the wooden barricade whilst my husband ran around playing with him on the outside. It was a beautiful sight, seeing my husband enjoy himself. Up till the sneaky baby elephant, with his trunk, pushed open and lifted the barricade, wanting to interact further with him. My husband, whom at that point was showing signs of a lack of intelligence ran towards the baby elephant, waiting for it to come out. What was he thinking? That the baby Elephant was going to cuddle, snuggle and lovingly snort at him? That baby Elephant was FOUR times larger than my husband, maybe more! I yelled out “What are you doing!”, adding on to my panic, the jungle army were right by (no idea where they came from!) with their guns aimed at the elephant…and my husband. Holy shhhh…!!! The caretakers ran towards the baby Elephant, scaring it in time to run back in as they secured the barricade. My husband stood where he was, smiling. As though nothing happened, my husband and the baby Ele went back to running around, safely, where each of them should be. For only a little while more before we went on our way, with Naweshad turning back a hundred times, feeling the ache of parting with Baby Ele.
It’s finally time to Fish.
Bhaskar and Saroj brought us to a nearby village where the Rapti River was open for fishing, laundry, showers and just about anything that rivers could be used for. News of our arrival attracted two young boys, who fished in the area, standing on higher ground as spectators to us fishing. With lures and spoons, we begin our attempt, walking into the river, settling knee deep casting our lines with hopes to land a fish, of any species. With a lot of growth underneath, we kept getting tangled with weeds and greens. The boys came down into the river, assisting us when our lines got stuck once in awhile, they were in awe of our tackle, our rods and mostly, our hooks. We had red coloured Mustad fishing hooks with us, coloured hooks was something they have never seen before. Looking through our tackle box, they were astounded by our grub collection. We continued on, changing locations with the boys following us… They were told not to impose on our fishing attempts but stayed around close enough to build a friendship. On our last few attempts, the boys went back up on higher ground to watch us fish. Suddenly, I heard a familiar word.
We turned around to the look of two pale boys pointing out to the river. We looked far out the river and saw nothing….
Khroooookaaadhiiiileeee.!!! We looked just ahead of us once more and there it was. CROCODILE. An arms length away from my husband, ahead of us… Swimming parallel to us, eyes staring straight at us… Wait a minute! This Croc is all too familiar…Could this be? Did it follow us…?!? Forget thinking! Time to slowly reel our lines in and back up out the river. Did we say slowly? We were out of there in 3 seconds. We had those two boys to thank for keeping an eye out. Our lures underwater could have been what attracted the crocodile, though sensational a tragedy, I am glad that is not the story i’m writing about today. We packed our gear and continued on to the next short activity before lunchtime. We expressed our thanks to the boys, snapped a couple of photos and as a token of appreciation shared with them some lures, grubs and red hooks.
Next on the agenda for the day was a quick Elephant bathing experience, something touristy. We stayed for five minutes before heading back to the hotel, for lunch and a much needed rest before embarking on the activity we were looking forward to the most. The Elephant Safari.
If you’re one that travels around, the Elephant Safari is a tourist activity common in many countries. You hop on to an Elephant and take a ride on its back for 30 minutes or so. A quick experience, sufficient to share as an adventure to your friends. The safari in Chitwan National Park however may just reign supreme when it comes to a jungle safari experience, for us at least. Two hours in the wild jungle; Deers, Tigers, Rhinoceros… with you on an Elephant, protected only by the Mahout (Elephant rider) and how elevated you are from the ground. Exposed to the most natural of elements, we go up and down with wild jungle leaves smacking us in the face, crossing rivers and experiencing the shades of the jungle green get darker as we go in deeper. The clouds open up, we put our raincoats on… Move away Indiana Jones, we were drenched, on an elephant, in the thick wild jungle, manoeuvring large trees and untouched grounds. We reached an open area to the sight of wild Deer in the rain. It was awe-inspiring, seeing a wild animal in its most natural element- no cages, no trainer, no caretaker. Just a Deer, chilling out in the rain. We continue on to more Deer running, jumping, hopping around escaping the pathway of tourists on Elephants that casually stop for a bite of fresh grass along the way. The Elephant, not the tourist of course.
In the rain, we descend steep, muddy grounds to cross a river, the trust you put on the ability of a large elephant to take you to the other side almost makes you feel like an elephant whisperer. It turns to its side and gently slides down, so gentle as though it heard our worries, hopes and fears. We ended the safari with a newfound respect for the Elephants, a lot of love and admiration for its strength, it’s gentle nature, we came out of it all feeling accomplished. Our last night in Chitwan had us experiencing the Tharu Cultural Show, learning how the indigenous Tharu people go about their lives with dance and music, beats and rhythm that signify different processions from weddings to funerals and mostly, the appreciation of mother nature. A grand finale with the audience joyful participation on stage brought Chitwan to a satisfying, soul-enriching close.
The morning brought with it a new excitement. Our journey back to Kathmandu would now include the stops that would allow us to fish on the rivers we passed earlier in our trip. The journey along the river had our eyes wide open, searching for a suitable stop to cast our lines. Rainfall the night before resulted in rise of water level and raging rapids meant we needed to find grounds that were safe to fish in too. Our tummies were growling and Naweshad made a request for Bhaskar to stop us at the local eatery to try authentic Nepalese food. He was hesitant and tried to convince us that we would not enjoy it however we were adamant and that added another amazing experience to our trip. Sometimes being stubborn could work in your favour. A little welcoming town that survives mostly from the Trisuli river that flows right at their backyard; the locals were excited to have us in their little eatery and it shows. They were careful to explain how clean and hygeinic the cooking areas were however we just wanted to eat. Sharing stories of how they catch, preserve, prepare and cook the fishes with spices authentic to Nepal, we ended the delicious meal with an exquisite cup of Nepalese tea. We took the opportunity to enquire on the Golden Mahseer we were after , unfortunately, we truly have banged head first into the wrong season; it did not mean there were no fishes in the river though. They pointed us out to an area up ahead where we could attempt our lures to catch and within 30 minutes, there we were.
Bhaskar was kind enough to assist us in capturing the moment as we casted continously. To our dismay, the area was surrounded with snags, we were catching on to the undergrowth and with both of us loosing our lures simultaneously to tangled greens underneath, we called it a day. The raging rapids were worrying us as news of a landslide that covered an entire river system up ahead was pushing a body of water in our direction, we love fishing however some risks are not worth taking. With the adventure by road, wild untouched nature and beautiful architecture that surrounded Nepal covered, it is now time to experience the city, Kathmandu.
When you search for Kathmandu, every travel website and forum recommends staying in the heart of it all, Thamel, which we experienced on our first night in Nepal. With two more nights to spend in the city, my husband and I decided to indulge in a stay away from the main city on one day and a splurge within the city on the next, where we would finally have our honeymoon experience which we waited a year for before heading back to K.L. The first hotel of choice was Hotel Shankar located in Lazimpat, Kathmandu. Hotel Shankar allowed us to experience the preserved heritage of a once-upon-a-time palace. With the neoclassical architecture, it brought us back in time, rooms were small however exude a comfortable luxury. The little luxury (in comparison to the jungle) may have got to us; room service and a Nepalese massage had us lazing around in the room like spoilt brats. We feel entitled to enjoy the experience… having survived a Crocodile infested river. HAH! The next morning, we had a hearty breakfast and walked around taking in the sights, history and architecture of the hotel. Its old charm had us smitten. Check-out meant that we were one step closer to our supposed honeymoon experience in Nepal. Though hotel Shankar spoiled us silly, it would take a lot more to surpass the most luxurious in Kathmandu… The Dwarikas Hotel.
Quite possibly the pinnacle of luxury in Kathmandu, a one night stay in Dwarikas became our honeymoon choice. Having won the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award, we could not think of a better place to indulge than in one that retains its culture and tradition the way we gladly appreciate. An elaborate welcome, a soothing Namaste followed by being garlanded with a silk scarf whilst entering a majestic setting towards the front desk left us speechless. My husband and I were ushered to our room as we tried to maintain composure, holding in the need for the 10 year old within us to erupt out of sheer astonishment at the magnificence of the hotel. The bellboy unlocked our room and we were led into a large space fit for a King, or so we felt. As the bellboy leaves with a thank you and tip closing the door behind him, we expressed our disbelief, bursting in laughter, seeming like we were insane. We were not ashamed of expressing ourselves, this was luxury that we do not experience on a daily basis (Thank God!) and we were indulging in the outburst of disbelief at how magnificent The Dwarikas truly was. We freshened up quickly as Bhaskar was waiting at the lobby to take us around Kathmandu- Primarily Thamel and Durbar Square.
The Kathmandu Durbar Square, a Unesco world heritage site is surrounded by elaborate Newari Architecture, the remains of the palace of kings that once ruled the city and an endless row of temples and worshippers everywhere. If you are looking for a culture shock then throwing yourself in the middle of Durbar Square would be a good start. Dating back to the 12th and 18th century, the deafening temple bells and sight of holy men everywhere depicts how rich the culture is in Nepal. Out of the many attractions around the square, there was one we were particularly intersted in. The house of the Living Goddess or known locally as Kumari Bahal. Story goes that in the house lives a young girl who is selected to be a living Goddess until she reaches puberty; whereby she then resumes life like all us mortals. Worshipped by both the Hindus and Buddhists in Nepal, the living goddess is said to be the reincarnation of the Goddess Durga. Once a day, the Living Goddess will make an appearance for a few seconds by her window, it is said to be lucky to get a glimpse of the Goddess, however, strictly no photos are allowed. My husband and I along with Bhaskar gathered at the courtyard, waiting to get a glimpse to reward our curiosity. Maybe, we were lucky. She emerged by the window, the crowd silenced, hands together in respect or prayer… We were uncertain just staring up looking at her. All I know was that she was chewing gum as she glanced at all of us. Rather unlike a deity I felt, but I guess, they too advance with time. It all lasted for five seconds and a donation box was highlighted loudly by tourist guides around us. We left a tip and left the building.
I wouldn’t know if it was good luck for anyone, but I am certain it was good luck for the house. Walking around we witnessed prayer processions and took our time to admire as the locals go about their daily worship. Completing Durbar square, we bought ourselves some Nepalese tea leaves having fallen in love with their Chai. Once done, Baskar took us to Thamel, back to Kantipur Temple House (the first boutique hotel of our trip), where we spent time with Chef Krishna for a crash course on the Nepalese dumplings known as Momo. The hands on experience was fun and savouring the dumplings with a cup of chai made it one of the best tea time experiences we have had thus far. With our bellies full, we walked down the streets of Thamel to get a little shopping done. Seeing how we appreciated the local cuisine, Bhaskar kindly invited us over to his home for dinner with his family, an offer we could not possibly turn down, we were touched and honoured by it.
A quick tuktuk journey from Lazimpat brought us to another side of Kathmandu, one we were certain many tourists have not experienced. Low-rise apartments line the roads, and unlike the hustle and bustle of Thamel, the streets of Bhaskar’s home was filled with the rich sight and sounds of a healthy community. Cha-ching of the cash register from a local store, the growl of an old school bus fading away intensifying children’s laughter as they run around freely. The sense of an organic childhood filled our senses, it brought us back to when we were growing up- when our toys were whatever we could get our hands on; not iPads. We pulled up along a 3-storey apartment with a large gate, Bhaskar’s home is on the ground floor. Introduced to his beautiful wife and adorable 2 kids as well as his brother in-law, we instantly felt at home.
An undeniable warmth filled the air, alongside the scent of something delicious cooking in the kitchen. You know good food is about to be served when a kitchen is filled with fresh vegetables grown from their very land and the aroma makes you struggle to keep that drool in. Being fans of meat, my husband and I cannot remember the last time we looked forward to a Vegetarian meal like we did in Bhaskar’s home. As the sun sets, reality began to sink in. With electricity intermittently cut off on some hours around Nepal, Bhaskar’s wife was making us dinner in the dark, aided by a large torchlight. As dinner was served, we sat together as a family would, savouring the delicious meal they prepared as a couple, the home echoed with our conversation and laughter. Some people pay to dine in the dark, we had such a wholesome experience and no Chef could possibly surpass the taste of organic home cooked Nepalese food, made with love.
It was difficult to leave such warmth behind. As much as the luxuries of Dwarika’s was waiting for us, something about being with Bhasker and his family injected a certain richness into our souls. We were learning and experiencing so much, no money can buy such lessons and warmth in life. A humbling day had us back at the hotel, asleep soundly as we dreadfully welcome our last day in Nepal.
We had a few hours to immerse ourselves in the Dwarika’s experience to its fullest. Bright and early, Naweshad and I were the first to arrive for breakfast. An endless spread confused us to a rather large breakfast serving. There was so much to see and experience yet so little time. We tried our best to take in as much of the beliefs and architecture of Dwarikas as we could when a sign caught our eyes – SPA. Five minutes and Naweshad was in for a full body massage whilst I opted for a foot reflexology. Lying down to a scent that was invigorating and at the same time relaxing. A tune played in the background… one of those soothing meditation tunes. Within a second, I experienced the best afternoon nap I’ve ever had thus far. An hour was over too soon. If it was not for our flight, we would have gladly spent our day guilt free in the spa. We could not have asked for a better way to sum up our adventures in Nepal.
We came to Nepal with hopes of catching the Golden Mahseer despite it being unlikely. We may not have achieved our goal, but the hunt for the Golden Mahseer led us to an enriching adventure that we cannot forget. Nepal has found its way to our hearts, it’s simplicity enkindled us to follow suit despite the high tech digital city we live in. Journey to the airport was depressing, we have grown so fond of Nepal, its people and the positive influence it has had on us in just seven days. With a heavy heart, and tears in our eyes, we bid the amazing Nepal… Namaste.
Nepal, you are in our thoughts and prayers, we hope you heal soon.
Have a look at our YouTube video of the trip to Nepal below!