Ktm, Tatopani, Kodari Jiri & back to Ktm Wed 12 – Wed 26 January 2011
Dhulikhel is a nice little town and we had a wonder around the back streets before heading back to our old favourite the Dhulikhel Mountain Resort.
Still as welcoming but a fair bit colder than when we last passed through and the views not nearly as good -a lot more clouded over. November is definitely the time to visit for mountain views! Never mind we enjoyed a really nice meal used the free Wi-Fi and got to watch the gorgeous birdlife from the verandah whilst breakfasting the next morning so it was all good!
We drove on that afternoon through valleys and across rivers - all very scenic. Maybe as we are moving ever closer to the China/Tibet border there were a couple of police check posts to go through - they had a look in the back of our car -more out of nosiness than anything I think - Marc and Mathais sailed in behind us without being stopped!
It was a very scenic drive and we arrived at dusk at our next destination Tato Pani - which translates as hot water. This is -appropriately enough - the site of a hot water spring. As it is getting ever chillier the thought of a hot bath had been a big lure. There were 2 large fairly open plan bathing areas , one for ladies one for men. Whilst it was nice to have the hot water it was hard to get close to the 5 water taps - and you had to shower publicly and thus covered up as the locals do in a sarong. Easier for the guys who could strip down to undies - but I do prefer more privacy when I bathe, especially as the only foreigner in the ladies' section I collected crowds of gawkers - so I was relieved to spot the private bathrooms on the way out. Bliss! For just 150 rupees (about $2) you could have a private clean room complete with bath and unlimited water for an hour. I'm sure I've never been so clean!
We scored an excellent camp spot for just 50 rupees per car over night just next to the springs. We were fairly private/secure too as there was a gate which had to be unlocked to get to the car park -though this didn't save us from attention from many kids during the day! That evening we went to track down some fire wood. This was actually harder than it looked as whilst there were stacks of firewood up and down the road - they all seemed to be spoken for - I guess people buy it in for the winter, and we were kicking ourselves we'd not stopped at many of the places selling it on the way in. As has happened many times on our travels to date a kind Buddhist monk came to our rescue when he was in one of the shops where we asked. Initially from Ladakh he spoke very good English and took us to the local monastery where (after a steep climb up steps!) we were allowed to take a bit of firewood and as much bamboo as we could carry! Actually none of us were sure if bamboo would burn well- but we put it to the test and can verify that it does - though very quickly! It's more like kindling really.
Next morning -well early afternoon really after a hot bath and a fairly long slow breakfast - we headed on the final 4km to Kodari -the border town on the road linking Kathmandu to Lhasa. The surrounding towns had already been brimming with Chinese goods (we sampled "The Great Wall" my first Chinese red wine -actually not bad!) - and Kodari was more of the same.
Large tail backs of trucks were backed up at the border and we had to park and walk on to get near the famous friendship bridge. In my LP -which is the most recent edition - it said it was possible for you to pose for pictures on the Friendship Bridge which spans the river dividing the 2 countries- with a red painted line in the middle as a divider. Well - we can very much verify -no you can't!
We were the only foreigners on the bridge -there were some Nepalese or Chinese/Tibetan locals -crossing backwards and forwards and having their papers checked by the Chinese uniformed guard/solider. Actually he looked ok -as did the Nepalese soldiers - but there were some really scary Chinese thugs lurking about watching us. There were no signs (in English anyway) saying that pictures weren't allowed so Andrew had his camera out and was about to take one when the Chinese guys (up to that point we thought they were just gawkers -no uniform or anything) screamed at him "no photo no photo no photo!!" The Nepalese guy then came over and in a much gentler way said no pictures were allowed on the bridge. We chatted to him for a while and Andrew asked if he could take a picture back over the Nepalese side of the border. He said that was fine and Andrew had just pointed his camera when again he was screamed at by the Chinese guy. We were technically in Nepal not China/Tibet but this didn't seem to count for anything.
Anyway after hanging for a little while we headed back and arriving back on the other side Andrew took a picture of the sign welcoming you to Nepal -picture enclosed for your information. At this point the Chinese thug who had followed us lurched at him and screaming at the top of his lungs demanded we give him the camera. We really didn't want to as I was afraid he would a) smash the camera (he was red faced and screaming so not too rational) or b) delete all our pictures. I struggled to delete the offending picture and in my panic switching on the "filming" function. Thus the whole scuffle - me saying "let me do it" him "no I do ..I do" is recorded! He also got out handcuffs and starting threatening Andrew. In the end we just kept walking and disappeared into the crowd.
Honestly it was an amazingly aggressive display -way out of proportion for the "offence." It brought back all the stories we'd heard from Tibetan refugees in India about the treatment meted out to them in what was once their country and if bullies like him are in charge it's not surprising! As an aside a couple of times whilst we were camping here we heard sirens in the middle of the night and guessed it was Tibetan escapees. Poor buggers - we hope they made it. Safely on the Nepalese side we walked up the steep steps to the Liping Gompa which had huge views over the Chinese side of the border - so we got the photos we wanted anyway, so there! There were a lot of lorries snaked back taking goods into China (all the trucks were covered so we couldn't see what was going in !) and the roads -as ever for Chinese borders -having seen a few - were really state of the art.
Anyway -mercifully we all made it back to Tato Pani for another night of hot baths and fires. The only downer on the whole experience of TP was that poor Marc lost his camera at some stage. We were sat by the cars all evening so we should have heard someone break in. He knows he had it when we got back to TP but it was gone in the morning so the whole thing was a mystery. Like our experience a year ago in Little Tatopani near Beni where we lost stuff out of the car you really have to be very careful when travelling and not let your guard down too much. We really felt for poor Marc and Mathias who seem to be having a real run of it bad luck wise, as they're still coping with the repercussion of the earlier loss of their backpacks containing their carnet and passports. He left a notice offering a reward in case it turns up but I wouldn't hold my breath. Off to the police station for another police report!
Next destination was Jiri a small town in the foothills of Everest and supposedly the "Switzerland of Nepal." We didn't get away until late afternoon though so we camped not far away on the banks of a river. Another lovely camp spot -with a gushing river in the background and clean air. Other than missing the dogs it made me wonder why we had stayed as long at our polluted inner city Ktm camp site! Next morning we woke up to find that all around us work was in progress -sand and stones (river pebbles) being loaded into trucks. The stones apparently are all going to be used for building in China so maybe that's what was in at least some of the trucks we saw!
Having company at breakfast (Marc makes very good coffee!) was nice and relaxing but somewhat slowed us down so we didn't make it the full way to Jiri the next day but camped on a layby about 30km outside. It was a chilly night and we woke up next morning to a thick frost over everything. Not actually as cold as in Ladakh where our tank froze solid but it was very frosty - about minus 5 overnight -cold enough when you're camping! We were glad we'd invested in hot water bottles. Marc and Mathias being from Europe were better equipped with a diesel car heater - we must invest in one when we reach the UK!
It being a cold frosty cloudless day the views over the mountains were very lovely -better than the day before - but the downside was the roads were very icy and we saw a couple of trucks which had gone over the edge -always a bit scary! We drove through a snow blizzard as the road wound attractively through pine forests with mountain views - hence the Switzerland moniker -though Marc and Mathias said it wasn't quite like the real thing. We'll have to see for ourselves I guess!
We did have a couple of scary moments - once Marc and Mathias (who aren't 4wd) slipped a bit but a crowd appeared and pushed them on and all was well. Jiri is an attractive little town set in the mountains, sometimes used as a starting point for the Everest trek by people who don't wish to fly in to the more usual Lukla.
Marc and Mathias were surprised that whilst there were some stunning views on the way in -rice terraces with a mountain back drop -the actual mountains remained on the horizon and to get "amongst" them as it were, you have to trek in. This is very different from the Alps apparently.
Anyway we wondered around Jiri, had a look at their central Buddhist stupa, and Andrew bought a large Khukuri -the Gurkha knife - to use to chop firewood for far cheaper than in touristic Ktm so he was pleased! This area being in the foothills of cheese making country we bought some Yak cheese, and Marc tried a nibble on one of the cheese sticks -though he wasn't impressed! We'd had them before, a local delicacy they are a VERY HARD sort of stick cheese which the locals chew on - I nearly broke a few molars on it last year so gave it a wide berth!
We left Jiri with plenty of time to make it a good way back before dark -planning to camp at Cherikot where we'd stopped briefly for tea on the way in - but we didn't make it that far. Just a few kms down the road where the truck we saw yesterday had gone right off the road another truck had jack knifed into the side and was jamming the road. When we arrived there seemed to be a huge crowd of people standing watching and just a few people trying to help! Andrew got his shovel out and broke up the black ice so the truck would not slip on the road out and he and Marc and Mathias helped got things moving which motivated some of the onlookers to lend a hand.
In the crowd waiting we met a French Canadian guy, an engineer who'd been out here building a school 2 years ago and had come back to see how it was going. His school was in a remote mountainous region and he was very distressed that the school whilst built wasn't functioning at all. Apparently alcoholism is a real problem amongst some of these remote areas, so the teachers didn't turn up the kids weren't made to go to school and all in all a lot of well meaning aid hadn't really helped life for these kids at all.
Whilst we were waiting for the truck to get out we watched as swarms of local kids ransacked the up turned truck down the bank for pens mainly. The other truck was full of sacks of concrete and incredibly these small boys struggled up with sacks on their backs -we're not sure if they were helping the driver out or taking it for themselves! It was bitter and they all were dressed in threadbare rags and often no shoes. I guess it all goes to remind you that once you leave the tourist enclaves like Ktm and Dhulikhel it's a tough old life with a lot of problems out here and the masses of aid doesn't always seem to help however well intentioned. I guess it's an education process on both sides.
Anyway after just a couple of hours (many bus passengers had been stuck there 6 hours) we were off again and we camped once more where we had the night before - a 60 km round trip!
The next day Marc and Mathias headed straight back to Ktm but we took a more scenic route stopping first at Mude. This spot (36 km out from the main highway and 101 km to Ktm) whilst not in the guide book, kept being quoted by locals as a famous look out spot for Everest views. We had stopped briefly on the way through but it was clouded out. Andrew wanted to have one more go at getting the perfect Everest view so we stayed the night at the Horseshoe Resort. Mude was very bleak -at around 2,400 metres it seemed to be in a polar zone all of its own - with a very cold wind. We walked down the strip of houses and shops where all the locals huddled around fires.
The resort looked a bit like it'd seen better days too - though they did let us park -though they tried to charge us 300 rupees for a fire the next day and double the amount stated in the menu for a meal which annoyed us - if it's an out of date menu don't give it us! We didn't pay the extra amount but the whole thing made me feel awkward. No doubt it's a better place to stay in the summer! Sadly the next day was still very overcast so whist we saw glimpses no real stunning Everest views revealed themselves - never mind -we tried! We walked around the area and saw a lot of Buddhist grave markings -very eerie in the misty light!
We defrosted by having another night back at Tatopani and a couple of hot baths! This time the border police looked our car all over before letting us go on. I guess coming backwards and forwards from this sensitive border raises questions -we only wanted hot water! Or maybe Andrew's Chinese pal from the other day had put the word out! We enjoyed a good bath and Andrew got a huge mirror to shave in front of outside the bath house -which attracted a good crowd! We also got to use the deluxe thermal toilets over the river once more!
Whilst here we'd managed to speak to our friend Bipin and found out that all our parcels (the shoes from Keen in the US and Andrew's new driving licence from Oz ) had arrived which was a huge relief. Thus we headed straight back to Ktm. It was a scenic drive once more through lots of attractive little traditional villages. On the way we saw an interesting looking ceremony and pulled over for a look. No one could speak hardly any English but we worked out that the people were Tamang and the festival was to celebrate January -so some sort of seasonal thing. The Tamang people according to my LP were initially from Tibet -part of an invading army of horsemen who remained in Nepal. The 2 men who were presumably elders beat drums and danced around each other both wearing elaborate head dresses made of peacock feathers. All very interesting!
We also passed some veneer production yards where veneers were cut off pine logs to use in the ply wood industry and saw many people weaving the traditional baskets they seem to specialize in out in the hills.
So - on Thursday 20 January (for the last time this trip!) we hit the smog of Ktm. It was wonderful to see our dogs again -but other than that we've had enough of this city and are ready to head on. As I write this (Monday 24th) we're just doing some final end tying before before leaving on Wednesday 26th to head on to our next destination the Chitwan NP.