A Travellerspoint blog

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Bahrain and Dubai

Flying away

I decided to do a two month trip to Dubai, Nepal and India. The main part of my stay was in Nepal where I had arranged to live and volunteer with a family who owned a tea plantation...

The first leg of my journey took me to Dubai via Bahrain. Bahrain was just a transfer but I enjoyed soaking up some middle-eastern atmosphere before heading onto my main destination...

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Onboard a Gulf Air flight to Bahrain

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Snowy mountains somewhere over southern Turkey

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Bahrain International Airport

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Can't escape the Big M

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Flying over Dubai at night

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Palm trees in Dubai International Airport

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Jumeirah Mosque, one of the most famous mosques in Dubai

Dubai is a very ambitious place, I was constantly surprised by the imagination and creativity on display. It is home to the tallest building in the world - the Burj Khalifa, which stands at 828 metres, it soars into the sky like a giant spike...

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The Burj Khalifa, tallest building in the world at 828 metres

Then there's the Burj Al Arab, the world's only seven star hotel, which sits on its own man-made island in the Persian Gulf and is shaped like a strange futuristic space ship...

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There's a huge seven lane highway cutting through the heart of the city along with an impressive skyrail metro system...

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Skyrail train in Downtown Dubai

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One of the metro station entrances

(Right) Smart station interior

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"Carrying fish is not allowed on the metro"

There's an island shaped like a massive palm tree with its own mono rail system and a hotel with an inspirational underwater-themed interior...

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Palm Jumeirah complete with its own monorail track

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The Atlantis Hotel which lies at the end of Palm Jumeirah

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Inside the Atlantis Hotel

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An aquatic chandalier

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Atlantis Depths

Other highlights include The Dubai Mall, the largest mall in the world containing 1200 shops! It also has its own ice rink, aquarium and indoor theme park...

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A waterfall with sculptures of divers in the Dubai Mall

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Aquarium

To the courtyard...

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Dubai Mall courtyard

The Madinat Jumeirah, the largest resort in Dubai, resembles a traditional Arabian town...

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(Right) Madinat Jumeirah with the Burj Al Arab in the distance

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Inside Madinat Jumeirah

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Ornate lanterns and lights on sale

The Persian Gulf's turquoise waters lap the cities shores...

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tattered old coexists alongside ambitious new...

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the natural with the man-made...

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Attack of the sand

A recurring feeling I had was that we often tend to write off desert areas as barren and lifeless when Dubai proves they can be anything but; full of colour, creativity and life.

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Posted by Neil1983 10.03.2012 09:01 Comments (0)

Desertbound

One of the things that attracted me to Dubai was the chance to go into the surrounding desert. I booked onto an overnight desert safari tour which was great fun...

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I went 'dune bashing' (driving up and down big sand dunes in a 4 by 4), rode camels, had the chance to dress up in typical Arabic costume, saw a show put on by local dancers and smoked shisha, it was a great experience. There was a barbecue dinner included and, since everyone else had only booked onto the day tour, I got a desert tent all to myself to sleep in with breakfast.

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Dune bashing in the 4 by 4

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View of the desert from the window

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One of the jeep drivers

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Food time...

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Sunset over the Desert camp

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Uh oh here comes trouble... "Sir would you like to hold this falcon?"

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The music and dance show was a trip in itself...

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Incandescence

To the shisha tent...

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I came across a group of people performing a bizarre ritual - jumping over a series of bonfires...

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This friendly Iranian guy was on hand to explain that they were celebrating Iranian new year, never would have guessed that one...

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Night camel riding

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My personal tent for the night

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Breakfast in the desert

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The morning after the night before

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Heading back to Dubai

This was somewhere over the dunes on the way back to Dubai. The driver got out to take some air out of the tyres (to improve traction) and an evocative song came on on the radio. I thought it was a very atmospheric moment...

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Back to civilisation

Posted by Neil1983 16:32 Comments (0)

Dubai II

Some more of Dubai's sights and impressions...

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Deira - the historic centre of Dubai

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Men loading up old dhows in Deira, used for goods transportation to the subcontinent and East Africa

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Taking a boat over Dubai Creek

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Ali bin Abi Talib Mosque

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Creekside Park

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Cactus flower in bloom

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Brightly coloured flowers

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Dubai Marina

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My next stop was Kathmandu, Nepal. How would it compare to Dubai?

Posted by Neil1983 16:29 Comments (0)

Touchdown in Nepal

Into the Heart of Asia

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First sight of the Kathmandu Valley

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Nothing prepared me for Kathmandu, no photo or written description could ever come close to conveying what it's actually like to set foot there - it is a truly visceral experience which is so difficult to put into words. Here's my attempt...

I felt like I'd stepped into an archaic past. The sounds, smells and sights overwhelm the senses. There is colour everywhere - in the prayer flags, pagodas and paddy fields. The air is thick with mysticism - chiming bells and mountain flutes serenade flickering candles. The roads are ridiculous - cars, mopeds, pedestrians, rickshaws, tractors and cattle come at you from all angles down streets barely wide enough for one vehicle. 'Health and safety' was not high on the agenda for the man carrying a sofa on the back of his bicycle. Chickens and monkeys wander around. Most of the road surfaces are covered with potholes and everyone likes the sound of their own horns. They have power cuts every day which can last 10 hours or more, the tap water is undrinkable, the food can make you ill, sewage infiltrates the rivers and black exhaust clouds choke eastern skies. There are public cremations and monkey-ridden temples, living goddesses and chanting holy men. I felt my emotions constantly seesawing between awe and disgust, amazement and despair. I quickly started to realise how lucky we are in the more developed countries - electricity, cleanliness and safe food should never be taken for granted.

My volunteer organiser Sujan arranged for me to stay with a family (mother, father and daughter) for a couple of nights which was a good introduction to Nepali people and culture. I took Nepali lessons from them and was escorted around the Kathmandu Valley on the back of the father's moped - I'm just glad I wasn't driving, you need nerves of steel...

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Arrival

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Airport shock

Rarely do International Airports give much indication as to the character of what lies beyond their perimeters - Marrakech, Heathrow, Hong Kong, Toronto - they're all a bit generic.

Not in Nepal.

Tribhuvan International Airport is a low rise red brick building, with a distinct lack of facilities - no restaurants, no cafes, lax security - a few cattle could have wandered in and no one would have noticed. It is the smallest, most basic international airport I’ve seen this side of the Cook Islands.

You have to pay around £60 for a tourist visa which you buy on arrival at the airport. After queuing up at passport control I was told that they only accepted payment in cash and, bizarrely, in US dollars only. I tried one of the cash points inside the airport but it didn’t work so I went to one of the security guards and he allowed me to go outside of the airport to get my cash! I literally just walked past an unmanned security station and into the actual country without anyone batting an eyelid. I could easily have just not gone back. Of course I did go back as I had just met Sujan and didn’t want him to think I was a crooked tourist, plus I’m far too honest for that, I think. After struggling with cash points, Himalayan money exchange counters, photo booths and queuing for what seemed like an age I finally got my visa and was ready to leave the airport...again.

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Welcome to Nepal, where the craziness starts as soon as you get off the plane…

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Namaste, Welcome to Nepal...

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My host family

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Sujan (middle), Shankar and his wife having morning tea

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My first tika (Hindu mark painted on the forehead)

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Introduction to the Nepali dish Dhaal Bhaat

"Neil let's go to the monkey temple..." Sujan

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Monkey Temple gates

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Path to the monkey temple

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We're watching you... 'The eyes of Buddha' can be seen on many of the temples and stupas throughout Nepal

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Singing bowls produce a sound when rubbed and are used for meditation

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Swayambhunath (Monkey) temple sits atop a hill overlooking the Kathmandu Valley. The Tibetan name means 'Sublime trees' as there are many trees surrounding the temple. You get a great view of Kathmandu and the surrounding hills...

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These people were having some kind of feast in the Temple grounds

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A familiar face in a foreign land...

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Musicians

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Musicians getting tired?

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Nepali Art Gallery

Back to ground level...

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Dinner with the family

The next day was spent sightseeing with Shankar...

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Shankar's motorbike which we used to navigate the Kathmandu Valley

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Let's go... I needed to wear a scarf over my face because the pollution was so bad

First stop - Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur is a town situated around 10km from Kathmandu City...

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Bhaktapur town square

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It is a bustling 'medievaloriental' town crammed with pagodas, statues...

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streetsellers...

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potmakers...

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and people just sitting enjoying the view...

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Exploring Bhaktapur's alleyways

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Schoolchildren playing table tennis

Boudanath

This Buddhist holy site is home to the largest stupa outside of Tibet, temples and a monastery. The atmosphere is typically intense, robed men chant and burn incense, golden rooftops gleam in the sunlight and prayer flags sway in the wind...

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Boudanath main concourse

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Boudanath Stupa, largest outside of Tibet

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Candles and chanting

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Prayer wheels

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Golden rooftop

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Men burning incense

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Schechen Monastery

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Young Buddhist students attending the monastery

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Pashupatinath

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These are the Pashupatinath Temple grounds. The temple is one of the largest Hindu pilgrimage sites in Nepal. It is situated on the banks of the Bagmati River, considered holy by Hindus and Buddhists. The temple itself is off bounds for non-Hindus but just walking round the grounds is an experience in itself...

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Pashupatinath Temple

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Bagmati River

I was shocked to see riverside cremations taking place - I knew it happened in India but was not expecting it here...

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The remnants of a cremation by the Bagmati River

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Slightly bemused

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A 'Sadhu' - Hindu holy man

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Holy man on his phone

After an exhilarating few days it was time to head away from the city...

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Heading towards the bus station

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Waiting for a bus east

Posted by Neil1983 15.03.2012 08:46 Comments (0)

Ode to Kathmandu

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Posted by Neil1983 03:15 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

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