Pokhara, Happy Village and Sarangkot

After spending a few weeks in Kathmandu, arriving to Pokhara was almost a dream. A few people warned me that once I go there, I will never want to come back. They were right.

Getting from Kathmandu to Pokhara is one of those nightmare (ish) bus journeys in Nepal, taking several hours, the duration is what is often determined by how unlucky you are. But once you get Pokhara, it is hard to believe that this peaceful place exists in such a hectic country.

Pokhara’s life is centered around its lake. It’s a beautiful lake with loads of colourful outdoor cafes where you can relax and enjoy life. Nothing else is needed. At least for a few minutes…

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

There is plenty to do in Pokhara – yoga or meditation classes, paragliding, cycling, renting a boat and spending a few hours on the lake and loads of other things.

I love cycling so  I decided to rent a bike and go for a ride around the lake. Little did I know what a challenge it would be!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

I decided to do the circle around the lake going anticlockwise. At first, the road was OK and I really enjoyed being on the bike, exploring little villages on the way. I even found a Happy Village!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The weather was beautiful and I did regret not going paragliding as I was passing the landing place and it seemed like people had a lot of fun.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Soon the decent road ended and there was only a sandy path left, parts of it heavily flooded. Suddenly a massive snake crossed my path (2 metres or so long) and it scared me to bits.  It was the first proper snake I have ever seen! I was mildly freaking out and started considering whether I should turn around and go back to civilization. I decided to be brave and carry on.

I found a way to get to the other side of the lake and the sandy path started climbing up. It was getting hard, I was sweating like mad and I wasn’t properly prepared for that challenge. It took me ages to get up the hills and I was exhausted. The only thing that saved me was a wee local shop where I could get some cold drinks. OMG why did I do this to myself, I was thinking…

Eventually the hard work paid off, as I got higher, the beautiful scenery appeared:

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

And then the views of the World Peace Stupa and Pokhara just blew my mind.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The road from the World Peace Stupa was extremely steep but I was going down, so the hard bit was over. I managed to go back to the bike rental shop and relaxed that evening. Note to myself: take loads to drink and more food if I ever do this again…

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

After this exhausting day, I spent a few days trekking in Himalayas (there is a separate post on that).

I came back from my trek and woke up early the next day. It was my final day in Pokhara and I still wanted to do a bit more. I looked through the windeo and realised that the clouds disappeared and I could see several peaks clearly! I couldn’t believe it. I jumped into taxi and went straight to Sarangkot, a place which is known for its spectacular mountain views. I was in Pokhara during the rainy season so seeing the mountains was a really rare thing and I got lucky. The only thing was that until I arrived in Sarangkot the clouds appeared, so I couldn’t see everything so clearly anymore, but the views were breathtaking anyway.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

I did some yoga that day and then, being really relaxed and happy, I returned to the mental place called Kathmandu…

Fireflies, Rice Planting and Nepali Dances

When I am thinking about my time at Kavresthali (beautiful village just outside Kathmandu), the one thing that I always remember is the roof of the house where I stayed. You are probably thinking why it is so important, it is only the regular roof right? During my time there it became the place for the most exciting conversations, dancing lessons and it was a perfect spot for exploring Kathmandu valley as well.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

My family had a cow, which they would milk in the evening and every day the neighbour’s daughters would come to our house to get some milk. The girls would always come in early before the cow was even milked and we would spend a good half an hour singing with them and learning Nepali dances. The language wasn’t the barrier – all you needed was an open mind and a smile. After they would leave we would continue sitting on the roof, enjoying the lights of Kathmandu valley and the ones of the fireflies, waiting for electricity to reach our house and creating various stories. My favourite story was about the lizard who was the wizard of light. We would imagine him making decisions on who gets electricity, pressing the right buttons an then suddenly the light would reach our house and we would be called in for a plate of dhal bhat, leaving little green lights to circle around our village.

The roof was our evening place, but it is just one of many memories from Kavrestali. Days in the village were always full of colours and surprises. There would be always people in the house that we did not know and they would always be brothers and sisters. You never knew who was actually related who was not, but it didn’t matter – every person would bring a new different colour into our lives.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES(the local shop)

I remember one evening we were making plates and bowls from some random plant leaves. The next morning we found out why. One brother’s mother died 11 months ago and every month he would come to our house to perform a ceremony for gods. These bowls would be used for the ritual and would be filled with loads of various things such as food, money etc.That day there was a Guru in the house, a lot of food and random people and I was allowed to watch the ceremony. To be honest I never understood what every little thing used for the ceremony meant, but it was a captivating experience.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Death was all around all the time, completely natural, never hidden nor forgotten. The man died in our village one day and we could observe the entire body preparation from our roof. The body then was burned, however women were not allowed to go to the river to watch. During my entire time in Nepal I was surprised how many different rules there were related to death, but maybe I will tell you more about that in another blog post.

Let’s talk about happier things. What I really loved about living in Kavresthali was a strong sense of community – it felt that everyone was helping each other, they were working and having fun together. They always included me, some stranger who came from a random country and could barely speak any Nepali. Couple of times I was invited to plant rice – such a hard but fun experience. Planting rice was tough, but the mud fights, smiles, singing and dancing will never be forgotten.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

I had a really beautiful time in Kavresthali and it will always stay in my heart.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES(The road to Kavresthali)

Cairngorms National Park

I feel like I’m repeating myself, but I’ll say it: Scotland always surprises me! Especially when I get lucky with the weather. Last summer my parents came for my graduation and I decided that I had to take them somewhere else in Scotland, so they wouldn’t just spend an entire week in Edinburgh.

I’ve heard a lot of good about Cairngorms, so I thought it’d be a great place to go to. So we exchanged Edinburgh to Glenmore for a few days. We stayed in Cairngorm Lodge Youth Hostel and it was an absolutely perfect place! I added a photo below of the view from the bench near the hostel 🙂

DSC_0351

It turned out that Glenmore had everything we wanted for our holiday. There was plenty to do in the area. Loch Morlich and its beautiful beach were just a few hundred meters away from the hostel, so we spent a few afternoons just relaxing there.

We also visited Cairngorms Reindeer Center and got to play with the reindeers for a bit. They were super friendly!

Glenmore was also perfect for doing some active stuff – Cairngorm mountain is really close, so you can go hiking, or if you’re too lazy for that you could choose a funicular railway to get to the top.

There are plenty of walking trails in the forests around Glenmore as well (check out forestry commission maps).  You can also rent a bike and cycle around if you’re not too keen on walking. I would definitely recommend doing Ryvoan Trail. It’s quite challenging in some bits and it gets you to An Lochan Uaine (photo below). It’s such a beautiful and peaceful place!

DSC_0487

I was super glad we stayed in Glenmore. It’s small but there is plenty to do around. We also walked back to Aviemore to catch the bus back to Edinburgh and the forest path was really nice. Would definitely recommend to visit, just don’t forget the repellent spray or the midges will eat you! 🙂

The First Mountain Experience

The first time I decided to climb a mountain was couple of winters ago. I didn’t just choose the mountain, but I had to pick the highest one in Scotland – Ben Nevis. Well, having in mind that it was (almost) winter and I didn’t even know what to expect, I thought it was a decent challenge. I found a person who also loved adventures and a few days later we were in the train heading to Fort William.

It was a great time to get out of the city. The exams were coming, I was stressed and all of my friends were stressed, so I thought a wee distraction would be quite refreshing. The plan was to spend five days in the Ben Nevis Inn & Bunkhouse, do some studying for the exams, explore the area and reach the peak of Ben Nevis.

When we got there it turned out that the bunkhouse was in the middle of nowhere, barely even heated and with no internet. That was amazing! Well, it wasn’t extremely good for studying, but being in a complete silence and peace was so nice and refreshing. There was a restaurant upstairs which served amazing food, but it wasn’t cheap. Thus most of the evenings we spend drinking, eating and studying in the Weatherspoon’s in town. We had our bikes with us so it wasn’t a problem to get there.

DSC_0988

We didn’t tried to conquer Ben Nevis on the first day – the weather wasn’t the best and we decided to wait. Meanwhile, we were exploring the surrounding areas and took the train to Mallaig (yes, the same railway line as for Hogwarts Express). My friend used to work in Morar, which is just outside Mallaig, and she told me about the beautiful white sand beach there. We decided to cycle there and it was probably the first time in Scotland when going down the hill I had to pedal as hard as I could – that’s how strong the wind was. But it was worth it!

When the day came to try to reach the top I was super excited. We left early in the morning, as we didn’t want to be stuck on the mountain when it gets dark – days were so depressingly short… Anyway, I was almost running up the hill for the first couple of hours – that’s how excited I was. The path itself wasn’t really challenging and we were enjoying the walk. The weather was quite nice as well. But then everything started getting a bit more challenging. You could feel the temperature dropping and soon we saw the first snow. Our first snow that year! Yayyy!

Everything started becoming whiter and whiter and it felt so surreal. It seemed that nothing else excited, just this white wall with occasional piles of rocks. It’s hard to explain the feeling, especially if that’s your first time on the mountain. And it’s hard to explain that happiness when you reach the top. You don’t feel cold anymore and you can’t believe you are there as well. Of course we couldn’t see those beautiful views from the top that you get when you google Ben Nevis, as we were just standing in the cloud.

There was a little hut on the top and some ruins of previous observatory. Apparently before it was built a man called Clement Wragge volunteered to go up Ben Nevis every single day to collect meteorological data during the summer months in 1881. He continued his work for another couple of years afterwards. Imagine that! Climbing the mountain every day for a few months… We had our lunch in the little hut together with some other climbers. It was so nice to sit there, share food and the excitement of being on the top.

Getting down was relatively easy. At the very top we were sliding down on our bums, as it was easier and more fun than just walking. We were screaming something in Lithuanian and then from far away we heard “Labas” meaning hi. Well that was unexpected!

At some point getting down became quite a challenge: our the legs started shaking and we got really tired. I was extremely proud we managed to reach out goal and I guess proper clothing was the most important factor for the success.

The next day we spent cycling around the area. We covered quite a bit having in mind our sore muscles – a bit over 50km. But the places were just beautiful and worth every effort.

Well, overall, it was a good break before exams and it was a perfect way to recharge my battery. And I passed all the exams as well 🙂

I got to climb Ben Nevis again, a year and a half later, this time in summer. And you know what? Even though it was tough in winter it was so much worse in summer. It was raining so much that even the waterproofs gave up and there were too many people around… It was quite a nice warm summer day when we started, so loads of people were walking in shorts or jeans. That’s a mistake easy to make! In a cold wind and rain those people were freezing and it was disgusting to see their purple legs. Well, what I’m trying to say that the mountain is mysterious and you never know what to expect from it. Be prepared and enjoy 😉

Yangshuo & Guilin’s Reed Flute Caves

Yangshuo’s beautiful karst mountains are something simply magical. It all looks surreal, just like a different world. No wonder it attracts crowds every year.I think it’s better to show you some photos than to keep talking about it.

DSC_0243  DSC_0244  DSC_0130

Water sources in China are usually really polluted, so it was really refreshing to see loads of people playing in the river on a hot day.

DSC_0123  DSC_0158  DSC_0233

Yangshuo is a really popular place, so streets are often crowded. However, loads of interesting is going on and you can get some really nice food there.

DSC_0138   DSC_0167  DSC_0164 DSC_0234

Somebody convinced me to try this and it was actually really nice treat for myself!

DSC_0163

I only spent two nights in Yangshuo and one of the days I decided to rent a bike and cycle to Xing Ping, which is the home of 20 Yuan scenery. I thought it was relatively close – around 28km away. I left quite early, when it wasn’t too hot, but before I even reached the village temperature exceeded 30 degrees Celsius. However, the scenery was beautiful and I wasn’t that bothered about the temperature. As soon as I got off my bike, the crowd ran to me and I spent good ten minutes posing with random kids. My face was all red and I looked a bit like a mess after all the cycling but they still thought I was “beautiful”.

DSC_0173 A few people taking photos of me.

DSC_0187

A lonely boat on the 20 yuan note is not lonely anymore. The river is buzzing!

DSC_0191 DSC_0195

DSC_0198 DSC_0222 DSC_0227 DSC_0229  DSC_0231

The trip home was a bit of the pain as it was extremely hot. And I got sun burnt, but it was worth it.

Next day I went back to Guilin. Before I left for Yangshuo I wasn’t sure how long I’d stay there (I thought it’d be only one night), so I left all my stuff in the hostel room and didn’t tell my roommates I was going away. They noticed I was gone for couple of nights and started worrying, good that I got back before they started looking for me.

The next couple of days I spent resting and wondering around the town. I also went to Reed Flute cave, which is very well accessible by a bus. Some people I met didn’t like it and said it was a waste of money (120RMB), but I thought it was pretty cool. It was my first time in a cave like this and all the lights were creating a magic atmosphere.
DSC_0271 DSC_0276  DSC_0281 DSC_0289 DSC_0299  DSC_0314

 

I didn’t do as much as I wanted in Yangshuo and Guilin, but it was so hot and humid that some days I just wanted to rest in a shade and read. I was quite sad to leave such a beautiful scenery, but I had to catch a plane to Shanghai – my last stop.

 

Xi’an

My three main goals in Xi’an probably were not that different from any other travelers: to visit Terracotta army, to climb mountain Hua and eat a lot of food.

The food was probably my favourite thing about Xi’an. Muslim quarter was full of food stalls and the variety of the delicious things on every corner. Two of my favourites were the sandwich lady and the frozen yoghurt man. A must try!

20140725_222037  10464372_686716161383170_316252210198797641_n

(By the way, does anyone know if those two people are still there?)

A few more moments from Muslin Quarter:

20140727_184316    20140727_191034

20140727_180208 A man painting with his finger

I stayed in the Ancient City Youth Hostel, which was in a perfect location and it was a pretty cool hostel. Even there I was spoiled for food. One day some guy brought me some really nice dumplings and the little boy gave me a piece of cake as it was his birthday.

DSC_0380A nice piece of cake (it was hard to find nice cake in China)

Anyway, enough talking about food. My mission in Xi’an was also to visit Terracotta Army and Hua Shan, which I successfully accomplished. Yay!

My friend Davy, with whom I did the same exchange course at the university in Nanjing arrived to Xi’an the day later and we decided to travel together for a bit.

One morning we got a bus for Terracotta army. We made a mistake and started going through the rooms in a wrong order, but then I guess our impatience was growing and we were really excited when we got to see the “real thing”. There were crowds of people in this big warehouse type of building and the soldiers seemed so far away.

DSC_0332  DSC_0333  First two rooms

DSC_0339  DSC_0346 DSC_0347  DSC_0363 The Army

We didn’t stay for long. Went back to Xi’an and spent afternoon riding bikes on the city wall (my third city wall in China!). We spent the rest of the day eating street food, wandering around and Davy even got a haircut, as he really needed one.

DSC_0365   DSC_0368 DSC_0370   DSC_0377

Next day we left hostel really early and caught a bus to Hua Shan. It is a stunning place and I wish you could properly see that from the photos. I caught my mind wandering around on the mountain peaks most of the  time and even the amount of people on the mountain didn’t bother me.

I kind of had another exciting toilet experience there as well. I was in a queue when I found out that there were only one door for two squat toilets next to each other and if one person finished earlier, the entire queue could see what the other one was up to. I decided that me using the toilet would be too much of an entertainment for the crowd (oh no, so self-obsessed..) and had to wait until I’d stumble across another one.

Some moments from the mountain:

DSC_0381   DSC_0386  Pretty steep steps

DSC_0391   DSC_0392    DSC_0399   DSC_0400  DSC_0413   DSC_0448

DSC_0418 Smile you’re on camera

What also attracted me to this mountain was a plank walk. I always wanted to do it and I thought if I dared I would be so proud of myself, as I’m scared of heights. And hey, I did it. I was terrified at first, but then it just got so fun. I think the trickiest part was to pass people when they were moving to a different direction. Anyway, that was fun and nobody stole our kind of unattended luggage (wooohooo).

plank

We also had some of the Baiju (very strong Chinese liquor) on the top of one of the peaks (West Peak if I remember it right, 2,086.6m) and some of the Chinese people seemed terrified of this idea.

DSC_0425

It took us ages to find the way down (not because of Baiju!) and while trying to go back to the bus we spend couple of hours talking about Western food that we missed. I remember I was badly craving for a cheese toasty at that point of my trip.

Next day Davy left and I spent a day by myself, just wandering around Xi’an and taking photos. I got a haircut as well. I think Chinese woman was quite entertained and had fun cutting my long hair. I think I spent there four days and that was definitely enough for Xi’an (that is especially true if you don’t want to get fat).

Some moments from last day:

DSC_0316 Bell Tower

DSC_0318   DSC_0319 Hidden Garden

DSC_0461   DSC_0467 DSC_0493  Giant Wild Goose Pagoda & Music Fountains

I also went to Shaanxi History Museum, which was definitely worth a visit.I liked the Terracotta Warriors there, as you could examine the from so much closer than in that massive warehouse museum.

DSC_0540   DSC_0544 DSC_0553   DSC_0554 DSC_0557  DSC_0560  DSC_0569 DSC_0570     DSC_0576

20140727_125943 Toffee Apple man outside the museum