A Travellerspoint blog

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Heights of Ilam - Sandakpur

Deepak and I decided to hike to Sandakpur, Ilam's highest point at 3636 metres. It was a 22 hour walk in total, which we stretched over 4 days. Deepak's wife's family lived on the route so we were lucky enough to get some more true authentic accommodation and meet more of the family. They were very knowledgeable about the area, the father drew us a map to follow. We passed through weird and wonderful landscapes - ghostly forests, eerie hilltop pastures and barren mountainsides not passing a single walker en route. The people we did meet were mainly residents living in isolated bamboo huts - despite their basic living conditions and lack of possessions they always invited us in for tea. We got to the top on the second day after a long 10 hour climb. These lonely landscapes whispered softly - all you could hear was the wind in the trees, the faint murmur of yak bells and the sound of feet hitting rocks - it was another surreal experience.

We initially intended to cross the border into India to get to Sandakpur as it is a quicker route. However they did not let me pass as there was noone there to stamp my visa! Surprising they were so strict this time round...

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Border trouble

We took a minibus from Fikkal to Ilam which seemed destined for failure, two flat tyres over the space of about 50km, impressive! We then got a jeep from there to a town called Deurali in the eastern hills. I wish I had a video of the journey - the road surface was so bad that I was literally being thrown around in the back seat, I'm not sure how the driver managed to keep his hands on the wheel...

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First flat tyre

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Second flat tyre

(Right) Our vehicle from Ilam - atleast it had a steering wheel

We could finally start our walk after a long hard journey of flat tyres and unbearable road surfaces...

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First tea stop

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Welcome cup of tea at Deepak's family's place

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Deepak's mother in-law preparing dinner

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Lovely hot food

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Deepak's brother in law pointing us in the right direction

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Am glad someone could read this...

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Crossing a bamboo bridge

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Tea stop

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Random man walking in bare feet with a knife strapped to him

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Another tea stop en route - funnily enough Deepak ended up having some family connection with many of the people we met

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Deepak sharpening a piece of bamboo he found to use as a hiking stick

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Silence engulfs the ethereal pasture

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Pit stop - potatoes and popcorn!

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Rhododendron forest

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Feels like a slightly unfamiliar version of our world, one where the natural elements dominate and the human world is like a distant echo over an endless landscape of trees, rocks and cloud.

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The only settlement we came to

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Lunch stop

Often a ghostly stillness would descend, it felt like time was standing still...

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Yaks

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The rhododendron is the national flower of Nepal, these bright pink flowers added a colourful quality to the landscape...

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Rhododendron trees in bloom

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No one home...

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The skyward path

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More yaks on the mist shrouded hill

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Forsaken hillside

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After losing the path for quite a while and clambering around on hillsides we managed to make our way to this shrine which fortunately had an obvious path leading to the summit.

"Understand that the right to choose your own path is a sacred privilege. Use it. Dwell in possibility."

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Sky Kingdom - View from Sandakpur looking down on the clouds: it looked like the hills were floating

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Our lodge for the night

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A well earned dinner of chowmein and tomato soup. Deepak had never eaten this style of food before, and he liked it!

Posted by Neil1983 16:26 Comments (0)

Sandakpur - descent

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Snow in the night - such delight

We were lucky enough to wake up to a snow covered landscape, a nice surprise. There is surely no better sight to wake up to...

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The winter path

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View of the lodge perched on the hill from below

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The snow quickly started to melt away as we descended into a lush valley full of activity, potato and cattle farmers went about their business, and we followed a river reassuringly winding its way through the valley, all a stark contrast to the previous day's desolate scene.

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Potato farmers at work

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River running through the valley

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Bamboo bridge

There were several more tea stops with the local residents and some more dhaal bhaat and 'raksi' (local rice wine) with Deepak's relatives.

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Taking shelter from the rain in one of the houses en route

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Not too sure what was in this jar on the table!

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Deepak's brother in law preparing dinner

The following day the family held a farewell ceremony for me which was a lovely gesture....

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I was given fruit to eat, a flower necklace and had a tika painted on my head.

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We had barely been walking five minutes when more neighbours invited us in for tea!

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Nearby waterfalls

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Back in Deurali

Posted by Neil1983 16:56 Comments (0)

Ma Pokhara jaanchu

After four eventful weeks in Ilam it was time to start the next leg of my journey, I flew back to Kathmandu (couldn't bare the thought of another 20 hour bus ride), then got the bus onto Pokhara, a resort town in central Nepal. The family gave me a great farewell, I was surprised at how many people came out to say goodbye. I got more tikas, the biggest flower necklace yet and even a Nepali hat courtesy of Deepak's friend Subash.

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Everyone gave me a tika and a final "Namaste"...

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Nepali hat courtesy of Deepak's friend Subash

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"You came for something extraordinary and I think you got it"

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Cool blue house en route to the airport

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Chandragadhi Airport in the Terai region, southeastern Nepal

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Best airline name ever.

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Kathmandu Valley re-entry

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Thamel - Kathmandu's tourist hub

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Steak and chips - first western food in weeks

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Rickshaw rip off - I was charged around £15 for the 5 minute journey from my hotel to the bus station, should've agreed a price beforehand

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On the bus to Pokhara...thankfully it was only a four hour trip this time...

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Arrival in Pokhara

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Time for a Gorkha beer

(Right) Statue of Hindu god Ganesha

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Pokhara sits on the shores of Phewa Tal lake

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Sun setting over Phewa Tal

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Pokhara backstreets

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Fruitsellers and mask stalls...

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Where mountain meets jungle

I went to see the World Peace Pagoda, a stupa built by Japanese Buddhist monks. It sits in a spectacular location overlooking the Pokhara Valley...

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Taking a boat over Phewa Tal

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After crossing the lake it was a short 40 minute climb uphill...

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The World Peace Pagoda

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Pokhara Valley

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From hilltop temple to underground cave...

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Devi's fall which flows into Gupteshwor Mahedev cave

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Descent into darkness

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Cavern depths

Time for some food...

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Posted by Neil1983 08:15 Comments (0)

Poon Hill

Only in Nepal could you have a hill twice the height of Ben Nevis

I did a four day round trip to Poon Hill, one of the shorter more popular walks in the Annapurna range of the Himalayas. Poon Hill stands at 3210 metres. Although it is not particularly high (relatively speaking), from the top you can see unobstructed views of several 8000 metre peaks.

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Leaving Pokhara

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View of the Annapurna mountain range from the roadside

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Let the walk begin

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We passed through many settlements, home to the local Gurung people. Some of these villages look like something straight out of a medieval fairy tale, a completely different world...

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Ghandruk village

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Exploring the village

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My guide (right) having a chat with Annapurna Conservation staff

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When you suddenly hear a shout and a rumbling noise its a good idea to get out of the way pretty quickly as its likely to be a herd of yaks or cattle coming down the hill

The path was fairly steep in places but we were rewarded with countless dramatic views of the valleys...

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Village clinging to the side of a hill

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Pretty standard scene in Nepal

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Coincidence?

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Chickens and cattle...

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Rice terraces cover many of the steep slopes

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Porters carrying camping gear

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"Don't pass me restaurant"

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Stone houses backed by snow-covered mountains

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Scenic beer stop

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We woke up before sunrise to make the final climb to Poon Hill - the view of the snow covered mountains with the sun rising over their peaks was well worth the early start...

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Approaching Poon Hill Summit

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Sunrise over the Annapurna mountain range

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The rhododendron flowers looked magnificent in the morning light

What goes up must come down...

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Buffalo bath

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A series of waterfall pools

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Back down to earth - the bus station in Pokhara...

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Posted by Neil1983 14:37 Comments (0)

On safari

Wildlife encounters, utopian gardens and tangerine sunsets - never felt so alive…

One of the unexpected highlights of my trip was Chitwan National Park. Nepal's first National Park is home to many creatures including elephants, rhinos, tigers, crocodiles, leopards and monkeys. For the price of some 3 star hotels back home I got an ensuite room, full board (lunch and dinner were 3 course meals) and all activities included, along with some I hadn't bargained for. I did a jungle walk, had elephant encounters, went on a jeep safari through the park, had a canoe trip, saw rhinos and visited a crocodile conservation centre. We also had a lecture on the park and all the animals that call it home and an evening show of singing and dancing, by the local 'Tharu' people.

The resort I stayed in had an enticing safari feel to it, coloured in different shades of green with models of crocodiles lurking and rhino-shaped candle holders. The gardens were a haven, with a swimming pool, hammocks and palm trees - the sort of place where doing nothing never felt so good...

At times I felt like I had been transported to an African savannah - I never associated this kind of place with Nepal. It is a truly exotic place where I felt a strange sense of peace. My guide was excellent - he was very knowledgeable about the area and he threw in a trip to a local museum with an original form of transport when there were problems leaving (bus strikes).


Chitwan National Park lies in Southern Nepal near the Indian border and about 100km from Kathmandu

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My guide

I stayed in the town of Sauraha, on the National Park boundary...

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Paradise found - the resort's idyllic gardens...

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To the bar...

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Lunch is served - the waiters would keep coming round offering more food

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Elephant breeding centre, introduced as the elephant population in this area is becoming endangered

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My guide and a waiter from the resort took a walk into the jungle. Equipped with nothing but a stick and some binoculars we headed out into rhino territory. “What happens if we see a rhino” I asked nervously, “you run in a zigzag and then jump up the nearest tree, I will fight it off with this stick” replied my guide. No wonder I was anxious...

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Crocodile on the river banks

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Despite my feeling of unease at meeting a rhino I did enjoy the walk, crocodiles lingered on the riverbank, the sun was setting over the tree tops and I could hear the sound of crickets fill the air, just wonderful...

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Like a place from a storybook you thought could not be found,

A place you see before you that had always been around.

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Tharu cultural show

The elephant ride was great fun, and probably more comfortable than most Nepali buses!

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Rhinos keeping cool - viewed from the elephant

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Life is hard in the jungle...

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Elephant convoy on Sauraha high street

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On the jeep safari...

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We saw around six rhinos

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A Gharial (fish eating) crocodile at the crocodile centre deep in the jungle

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We took a canoe to cross the river on the return leg

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I think one of the most memorable moments of my trip (of many) has to be elephant bath time, a ritual which takes place every morning in the river on the park's border after the elephants have been out on their jungle walks. For a few rupees you get to sit on the elephant while the ‘mahout’ washes it. The elephant splashes water over itself with its trunk, drenching you in the process. The feeling you get is a mixture of refreshment and exhilaration, a good combination!

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The mahout shouts a command and the elephant starts to splash water in your direction with its trunk

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The elephant then sits down in the river, and you have to get off before it starts to roll over onto its side. You have to move quickly to avoid being crushed!

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Along Rhino River...

An early start...

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We took a canoe ride down the river at dawn. It was a lovely peaceful morning, the water was very calm. My thoughts however were somewhat less tranquil - “Do umm crocodiles live in this river?” I asked. “Yes” replied my guide. “Is it possible they could attack our boat?” “Yes they could attack us” he replied with a worrying level of calmness. Ah well, the only crocodile we saw was a small fish eating type doing some sun bathing and something much bigger was lurking up ahead - locals warned us there was a rhino on the riverbank so we waited patiently to see what it would do next. To my camera's delight it started crossing the river right in front of us. We were understandably nervous as rhinos will charge at anything they consider to be a threat. As soon as it crossed the river we paddled past as quickly and quietly as possible, thankfully it didn't pay too much attention to us!

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Locals who had spotted the rhino

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Nervous moments - hoping the rhino wouldn't charge at us...

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...and relax

Just when I thought there could be no more surprises my guide organised for us to go to a museum...by oxcart.

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Aboard the ox cart - neither comfortable nor fast yet in novelty unmatched...

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Inside the Tharu Museum

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Back in Sauraha

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A painting for sale

Posted by Neil1983 15:14 Comments (0)

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