Road Trip to Pokhara
Today we set off on our road trip to Pokhara. We met with our guide Yagya and driver Manu, and he gave us a brief history on Nepal. Our first stop was a quaint little place on the side of the highway balled Hamlet Restaurant, which was in Dhading; 54km out of Kathmandu. It wasn't long before we began discussing the earthquakes from last year (April 25th and May 12th 2015). 10,000 people lost their lives, at least 200,000 are now homeless and 500,000 homes were lost, including our guide's home. He showed us a photo of what used to be his home. The house was built by his grandfather just after the 1934 earthquake, and so it had been in his family for over eighty years. He hasn't started rebuilding yet as he is waiting on the financial support that the government has promised (even though it's not nearly enough, in my opinion). So, he now lives in Bhaktapur with his parents and his children. He has three children, with his eldest daughter who is fourteen years old having cerebral palsy. Yagya began to get very emotional, so we told him if it's too much for him to talk about we won't be offended if he asks us to stop.
Off we went again, and our next stop was Manakamana Temple. Manakamana means 'wish fulfiller' and is a Hindu goddess. We took a cable car up to the temple, which was extremely steep and had some incredible views of the Tishula River and surrounds. The first thing I noticed once we hopped off the cable car was the brilliant sight of colours everywhere! Little stalls were scattered everywhere with selections of 'offerings' that you could buy to place at the temple to be blessed. We had a selection of coconut, flowers, sweets, rice and red powdered turmeric. Once our offerings were blessed, Yagya showed us how to place the tikka on our forehead (mixture of turmeric and rice) and wrap the coloured band around our necks, and we sat down and shared the offerings (coconut and sweets). While the practices of the Hindu religion are fascinating, there is one aspect that I do not agree with, and upsets me, and that is the sacrificing of animals. We saw lots of goats and bulls tied up, ready to be sacrificed, and it just made me so sad.
We weren't able to go right up to the temple, because there were just so many people there waiting in line, and we weren't able to wait there all day. So, we sat down for some lunch and let Yagya order a traditional Nepali meal for us, of rice, spinach, lentil soup, a pappadum type thing, and yoghurt. It was delicious and so filling. And it was so cheap! Only around $9 AUD for all three of us (including drinks)!
Our next stop was a lovely old traditional Newari village called Bandipur. Bandipur is set high up in a hilltop (approximately 1000 metres high) and as soon as we got out of the car, we were greeted by a group of young boys who had just finished school. They were so cheeky, and were asking us for chocolate, and as soon as we got our cameras out, they were posing. So precious.
As were walking along, an elderly man asked us where we are from. As soon as we responded "Australia", his eyes lit up and he walked with us. He told us how his son, Rupchandra had gone to Australia fifteen years ago, at the age of 17, and that he was missing. He hadn't heard from his son for eleven years. "I'm much sorrow", he said, "his mother die, she was so sad". I suggested that we take his son's details, and maybe we could share information on Facebook or do whatever we could to help, and his whole demeanour changed. It was if we had just given him a glimmer of hope for the first time in a very long time. With the help of our guide translating, we explained that we couldn't promise anything but that we would do what we could to share his information, and maybe, just maybe, someone may know something. After we took down all the details, I asked if I could give him a hug. Both Mum and I each gave him a hug, and he began to cry. It was the most heartbreaking moment, yet he was smiling through his tears, and if all we managed to do today was give an old man an ounce of hope, then that makes me very happy indeed.
We left Bandipur with lots to process emotionally, and made our way to our final destination for the next two nights- Pokhara. The accommodation we had booked was way up the top of a hill; but not just any hill; the same hill where the World Peace Pagoda stands (Shanti Stupa). Our hotel - Peace Dragon Hotel- is only a four minute walk from the Peace Pagoda, so you can just imagine the energy that is here. Not only that, but we have a panoramic view of the Himalayan Ranges and Phewa Lake. Once we climbed the million and one steps (a slight exaggeration) to our accommodation, we sat for a cold drink and let the beauty of our surroundings soak in for a moment. Simply magnificent.
We were greeted by the owner Juliette, who is a lovely English woman, and she told us all about the area and what to expect during our stay. We already knew that our stay here was going to be special. After we put our things in our room (which mind you, has a floor to ceiling window and balcony overlooking the lake), we headed downstairs to have some dinner. Now, for anyone who doesn't know, Nepal has power outages for hours at a time every day and night, and at this particular time, the power was out, so all we had for light at our outdoor table in the main courtyard was a candle. I sat down for a few minutes, then decided to get up to try and take a photo of the view. Silly me, stepped backwards, forgetting that there was a small set of stairs just behind me, and I fell. Not only did I fall awkwardly (as I always do), but I somehow managed to grab onto a cactus plant on my way down (with quite large needles in it). At the time, I though I'd just broken a normal pot plant.
I got up and sat at the table and was complaining to Mum about my foot being sore, then I looked down at my hand. I freaked out, because I could see a heap of very sharp, long objects protruding out of the back of my hand, and in the dark, they looked to me like pieces of rusted wire. I started to feel all clammy and faint, and so we rushed inside for help. I had to compose myself because I felt like I was going to pass out (again, typical me), and everyone was trying to help, but I didn't want them to touch my hand yet because it was making me feel sick. After a few minutes, I was ok, and then our beautiful guide pulled out the needles for me; some of which he needed to dig in to get with a makeshift sterilised needle. It hurt like hell, but I just kept thinking, "I've had three babies without drugs, this is nothing". It helped, anyway.
Afterward, we all sat down to finally have a meal, and we had a nice chat among each other for hours; about religion, our experiences, and life in general. Aside from the little mishap, it was an incredible day, and a lovely night spent with amazing people.
Update: Once we returned to Australia, we got busy on social media, and we are pleased to announce that we found Rupchandra and he has been reunited with his father and other family members. We even met up with him ourselves in Sydney, later that same year.