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Nepal

Veggie Burgers, Nepal & India

A surprising experience

sunny 95 °F

In the USA, we tend to avoid eating veggie burgers at restaurants because they are typically frozen factory patties resold with an incredible markup. In our first week traveling in Nepal we noticed veggie burgers on the menus but never gave them a second thought. One night Robin looked for an alternative to momos and decided to order a veggie burger. We were blown away when our 50 cent veggie burger and fries arrived in front of us in Pokhara! It had clearly just been made by hand, and was sooo delicious!
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In McLeod Ganj we tried both veggie burgers and tofu burgers… in Amritstar we had one with hints of curry! Each time we were pleasantly surprised. Lesson learned:
“when traveling, let go of all expectations and don’t assume that you know what something is based on the English translation”

We even saw veggie burgers at KFC and McDonalds… and since McD’s in India does not contain a single beef burger, they instead offer paneer (thick tofu like cheese) burgers, and other fun vegetarian items.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 02:29 Archived in Nepal Tagged india Comments (2)

Crossing overland from Nepal to India

An Epic Travel Day

sunny 90 °F

This was not only our longest day of travel (~26 hours), but also contained a record number of transportation modes continuously strung together covering 609 kilometers of crazy drivers and buses playing chicken with each other. Starting with a motorcycle ride in Bardia, Nepal, then a local bus, another local bus, jumbo rickshaw, walking, local bus, another local bus, moto rickshaw, railway, and finally a real car taxi ride in Agra, India. To say this was a long day would be an understatement. All this travel was done at temperatures in the high 90s with no air-conditioning. Luckily, we met some really nice people who helped us along the way, and thankfully we had packed a ton of snacks and samosas!

Our first bus wins the prize for the dustiest ride we have ever had. The bus looked like it was a 100 years old, and as we drove over the dirt roads through the villages, the dust poured inside from every seat bolt, crack in the floor boards and all the open windows… it was amazing that this bus was actually running and that we still have functioning capillaries in our lungs.

We met Helper #1 a few clicks from the border in Nepalgunj when she recued us from a swarm of bicycle rickshaws. We squeezed into a jumbo rickshaw with her and 15-20 other people (two sitting out of the window and Robin on Kevin’s lap) and drove right past the immigration office (because the Nepalese and Indian residents in the jumbo rickshaw didn’t need to file any paperwork to cross the border)! After getting stopped by border patrol, we walked 1 km back through the waves of traffic to fill out our paperwork (which btw is all done by hand in a big scrap book that had to be multiple years old). Apparently this border crossing only sees about 2-3 foreigners per day, so they aren’t really optimizing for us. Never the less we eventually walked into India.
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Our goal for the day was to get to Lucknow, India. We eventually met Helper #2, a nice English speaking man waiting on a bus to Jaipur in hopes that the driver would drop him off in Lucknow along the way to Jaipur. While waiting for the bus to fill up, our new friend helped us exchange our Nepali rupees into Indian rupees with some sketchy street money changers (you should have seen the crowd of red toothed people that all gathered around to watch our transaction intently). Here was Kevin’s attempt at sneaking a photo:
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Unfortunately, the bus wouldn’t take us to Lucknow and dropped us off a few hours later in Bahraich where Helper #2 ushered us onto a different bus that was completely packed full with people already standing. He yelled at a few people for a while until he created seats for us all. After a 3 hour journey, we arrived at about 10pm in Lucknow where we drove around in a moto rickshaw looking for a hotel that would accept foreigners but wasn’t beyond our means. By now, it was almost 11pm, and we were not too excited about what we saw in Lucknow so we ditched the idea of a hotel, and opted to press on to Agra and sleep on an overnight train.

At about 11:10pm we arrived at our first train station in India, just 30 minutes prior to the next train departing for Agra. About 14 million people ride the train each day in India and luckily for us, we met Helper #3 who took us under his wing. He took us to buy a general ticket, guided us over the masses of people sleeping on the floor, and escorted us to the correct platform. We learned later that we had a standing only ticket in the ‘cattle car’ and unknowingly bribed the conductor into giving us a bed. The standard sleeper class on the Indian Rail looks like a jail cell at night; the beds are basic with chains suspending the middle of three bunks, there are no sheets, bars on the windows, and the whole thing smells like a bathroom because the train toilets drain directly to the tracks below.
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We pulled into Agra at about 6am, jumped into one of those classic white Ambassador taxis, found a hotel, turned the aircon on high and with a big sigh of relief we concluded our 26 hours and 32 minutes journey with a nap in a real bed.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 13:53 Archived in Nepal Comments (2)

Powerless in Nepal

Can you go without electricity for a day?

sunny 90 °F

We both realized how much we take for granted having electricity when traveling through Nepal. Apparently the country’s main export is hydroelectric power but within the borders there isn’t a constant flow. There are “load reductions” every day in every city that we went to. In Kathmandu, we had a schedule of these load reductions so that we could plan our day around when we would have light and the ability to charge our electronics. In Pokhara, they claimed to not know the schedule and so we just had to hope that we would have power at some point. In Bardia, there was definitely no schedule; the power seemed to go on and off throughout the day. As an experiment, try to avoid using electricity for one day… or use it for only an hour at 11am and an hour at 5pm, just be careful if you try to use candles for light! There was a couple in the cottage next to us that left a candle burning in the bathroom and accidentally melted the whole toilet and nearly set all of our straw roof cottages on fire (toilets including the water tank in Nepal are made of plastic instead of ceramic). Here is a pic of us having dinner in Bardia without electricity:
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 08:36 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Bardia National Park, Nepal

Elephants, Rhinos, and Tigers, Oh My!

sunny 90 °F

Bardia National park is a 968 sq. km. (+327 sq.km. buffer zone) ‘jungle’ that consists of about 70% Sal trees. Getting to Bardia is quite an adventure in itself. It is on the opposite side of the country from the popular trekking destinations that are accessible from Kathmandu, and so there are no tourist routes or buses here. Thanks to a suggestion from our new friend Genevieve, we took the 16-hour local bus overnight, arriving at 5am in the morning. As usual, the local bus was full of drama and entertainment with people bargaining their fair, the conductor over filling the bus so people had to either sit or stand in the aisle, and since this overnight bus was without beds, people were sleeping in the most amazing positions in their chairs.
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The scariest part about heading to Bardia this way is that we might have arrived anytime between 3am and 8am depending on which person we asked and what might happen to our bus along the way. We told the bus conductor and driver numerous times that we wanted to get off at Ambassa (a tiny little military checkpoint that is about 10k away from the park entrance) and were assured every time that they understood... Luckily, at one stop around 5am, a guy poked his head into the bus and asked for Kevin. This was the legendary Mr. B who saved us from missing our stop! We prearranged to have him pick us up at Ambassa, but didn’t expect him to be waiting the whole time for us! It was just about dusk as his boys gave us a thrilling ride to his cottage on motorbikes through a river and bumpy dirt roads and made it safe just as the sun hit the sky above our cottage.
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We explored the village in search of samosas and ended up meeting a group of three travelers from the UK, all of whom were named John. They described how much they loved Bardia and how they have been coming to the park for the past 5 years. Life seemed to be pretty simple, you trek through the jungle one day, and the next day you go for a swim, hang out in the village, and just chill out. The village is so small, that we ran into the Johns every day of our stay in Bardia. That evening, we rode through the village, past some elephant stables, and past countless children running at us screaming ‘Namaste!’ to reach the river for a sunset swim and Gorka beer.
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We may not have seen a Royal Bengal tiger in the Bardia National Park, but it certainly wasn’t for lack of effort. We spent two days tracking tigers in the park on foot and on an elephant. Tiger tracking is a lot like trying to get to that pot of gold at the end of a rainbow that keeps moving off into the distance. According to our guide we must have been very close to the tiger numerous times as we followed humongous tiger footprints in the sand. The most exciting part of our tiger tracking was hearing some monkey alarm yelps coming from a tree line to our right, and then turning to watch deer after deer leaping out of the trees and racing across the meadow. Then, against any natural instinct to run away with the deer, we followed our guide towards the tree line as fast and quietly as possible, dipping behind trees and crouching behind rocks to get closer to what sounded like a deep growling. What we thought was going to be a full day walking through the jungle, turned out to be about 3 hours of walking, with 7 hours of sitting still at vantage points waiting for animals to appear. For those who know Robin, waiting was the most challenging part of the day! While we didn’t see the tiger, we did have fun watching rhinos, monkeys, a python, and loads of different birds and deer.
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Riding through the dense forest on an elephant was totally amazing! The elephant would just blaze a path, pushing over trees and crushing vines and anything else in the way. We saw tons more animals from the elephant than we did on foot since the other animals weren’t spooked by the elephant, so we could watch them from our higher vantage point as they milled around. The most amazing part of the elephant ride was how quiet the elephant can walk through the jungle. It is amazing that an elephant has softer steps than a human, even though he weighs 100 times more!
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The number of surrounding villages seemed endless as we rode on smooth walking paths for miles. We eventually found an awesome natural water flume where we swam against the current, staying in the same spot. We thought we would show off our dives to the local children who were watching us intently, but it turned out that they were all professional front and back flippers, and totally showed us up!
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 00:50 Archived in Nepal Comments (2)

Pokhara, Nepal

Back to the mountains

sunny 85 °F

Pokhara is a six hour bus ride from Kathmandu that left us wondering how bus drivers manage their time. After leaving at 7am the bus stopped at 10am for breakfast, then at noon for lunch! At one point we were worried that our six hour bus ride might also include a dinner stop! The great thing about buses in Nepal is that the scenery is always mountainous and the local busses are always filled to the brim with travelers sitting on top of the bus yelling, beating drums and playing their supped up version of a “Tommy Tonet” (remember those recorders from when we were kids?) The sounds and sights kinda made you wanna ride the bus all day! Luckily, we made it there in only 6.5 hrs and were able to find a guesthouse just as everyone deserted the streets as a huge wind and dust storm was picking up.
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The storm left as quick as it came, and after unpacking we had the best chicken momos ever at a place called Parbati Restaurant next to our new friend Hemant’s Nepali Cottage Guesthouse (where we were staying). It was more like the front yard of the Parbarti family’s home, but after sampling around town, it turned out that this place had the best flavor and prices in all of Lake Side. Our room had a sweet view of the mountain tops and a park that filled up with soccer players every day. One of youngsters turned out to be a neighborhood kid that we met. His dad proudly told us that he will be headed off to some Nepali National team tryouts in a few days.
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Since we were only on a 15 day visa in Nepal, we decided not to enter into the Annapurna Mountain Range boundary and instead do a few day hikes from town. One of those hikes was up to the Peace Monument across the lake. We thought we were going to rent bikes, ride around the lake and then ride up to the monument… but turns out that our tourist map was missing the contour lines and the words ‘3 inch deep loose dirt road!’
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We also hiked from town to Sarangkot for a picnic with a view the Annapurnas.
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On the way back down, we chatted up a local who told us that there was an alternate way down that was not as steep that took us through a village. We thought this would be a good idea for Robin’s knee, which it was, until we got lost and stuck on terraced rice paddies with 5 foot drops and confused water buffalos.
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During our hike to Sarangkot we watched some paragliders soar up the thermals and then down to Phewa Lake. This inspired Robin to eventually take her own flight. Flying was an amazing experience, one she hopes she can do more!
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Most of Pokhara’s Lake Side district caters to trekkers who are preparing (or just got back) from the 20 day Annapurna Loop / Base Camp trek, so there are lots of fun heath food grocery stores and nice little cafés along the lake. With views like these, now you know why we are somewhat behind on writing this blog!
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 02:57 Archived in Nepal Comments (5)

Kathmandu, Nepal

Hello hippies!

sunny 78 °F

Traveling through Eastern China, we felt as though we were usually amongst the locals, or other Chinese tourists. There weren’t many westerners or English speakers outside of the Hostels and we had to heavily rely on charades, pictionary and showing images of food and Chinese characters on our phone. When we entered Kathmandu all of a sudden we were surrounded by white folks and people were speaking English! After the initial shock we were super excited to shop at grocery stores full of new kinds of recognizable foods. We celebrated making it safely through Tibet’s many military checkpoints by having some Tibetan Hot Beer called Tungba, which is really served hot and thick with millet grains.
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Kathmandu is a bustling town, with the main tourist area completely over run by peace signs and other hippie apparel. It was pretty funny at first to hear everyone saying ‘namaste’ as a greeting which we learned actually translates to ‘hello’ in Nepalese. In the search to replace Kevin’s broken engagement band, we picked up a matching pair, making sure Kevin’s had the mandatory engraved peace sign.
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We didn’t have much in the way of plans for Nepal or India, so we decided to hold off most of the site seeing in Kathmandu and instead spend some time on the computer. We did however take a break to visit the KEEP center (Kathmandu Environmental Education Project) to learn about porter conditions on the popular Mt. Everest trek. We watched a very compelling BBC documentary called “Bearing the Burden” that explains how badly the porters are treated and the great risks they take by taking on such dangerous work. Fortunately, the KEEP center outlines the many ways a conscious climber can make all the difference.

To officially feel like we were in Nepal, we joined a meditation group at the Om Family retreat for guided meditation. This was a bit different than the meditation class we had in Laos in that it involved first chanting with “oooooommm” while meditating and then lying on your back and meditating. Kevin learned the hard way that you are NOT supposed to fully shut your eyes when performing this style of meditation… zzzzzz.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 04:41 Archived in Nepal Comments (3)

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