Istanbul

Every time I go to a place like Istanbul I just wish I paid more attention in history lessons… Nevertheless, even without any decent history knowledge it’s impossible not to appreciate this breathtaking city.

I just remembered how dirty I felt once I arrived to Istanbul. It was a 24 hour stopover on the back to Scotland from Nepal. I spent 7 weeks wondering in the clouds of dust and getting my boots dirty and then over the sudden I was in this pristine place (at least it felt like it). My dirty (kind of) tshirts and shorts really felt awkward, although judging from all the attention I got from local guys, nobody even noticed my clothes.

I really didn’t have much time to see Istanbul. I made it to the Blue Mosque which was one the most beautiful places I have ever visited. It’s hard to show the beauty in the photos, but I heard people saying that if their church looked like this mosque they would spend every day there. Not being religious, I almost agreed.

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I then met some local volunteers who recommended visiting Topkapi Palace, a former residence of Ottoman Sultans. It’s an absolutely stunning place with loads of colours, patterns and beautiful items (like jewelry) and it was a proper history overload for my tired from traveling brains.

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The place kept me entertained for a few hours and I didn’t realise I missed the closing time of the Basilica Cistern – a largest of the cisterns in Istanbul, able to hold 80,000 cubic metres (or accoring to my calcs 32 Olympic swimming pools) of water. I am a bit of a water engineering freak so I was gutted to miss the place.

For some reason everyone kept telling me how chaotic transport was in Istanbul, I kept replying that they should see Nepal… 🙂 just to be clear, not just for the chaotic transport but also for its beauty!

I spent an evening catching up with my ex classmate. She was studying in Istanbul so it was a good occasion to meet up. She dragged me back to Asia, which I thought I escaped earlier that morning. No regrets, because on the Asian side of Istanbul I got introduced to a Turkish pizza, Lahmacun, which I’m still dreaming about and cannot find it anywhere is Scotland… ideas anyone?

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The next day I got up early thanks to jet lag. Had a wee wonder around the empty streets and headed back to the airport. It was time to come back to Scotland. I know one day I will return to Turkey, do my history research beforehand and eat Lahmacun for breakfast, lunch and dinner (maybe)!

See you again, Nepal

I wanted to write my last post about Nepal and summarise my experience there, but I couldn’t. All the beautiful memories are circulating in my head and none of them seem to be less worth mentioning. I think with my all my previous posts I managed to paint a decent picture of the country, people and culture so this post will be about saying goodbye.

Before I left Nepal, I went back to Kavresthali to see my family there for the final time. I got one last ride in the crazy mini bus heading to the village. I will never forget these absolutely packed buses, where I always felt like a giant human. I remember one time the mini bus was so full that the poor lady spent half of the ride with her head in my boobs… The drivers always played loud but cool music, which made the ride a bit more pleasant.

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It was mid July and the monsoon season was full on. The road to the house was in even worse condition than when I left it two weeks ago. You were lucky to be able to use it for walking and getting your boots all muddy was inevitable.

I turned out that I missed a wedding in the village just by couple of days. The weddings are definitely not being planned for several months in advance, probably a week at the most. You don’t really need to know the person you’re marrying either, it’s something your parents will arrange for you (most of the time). Quite convenient and avoids all the tinder frustration etc. when you think about it!

When I arrived, the house was full of random people and the ladies were wearing their best clothes. I quickly remembered it was a year since one of the aunts died, so it was a big celebration. I mentioned in one of the previous posts that the death of the relative was being remembered every month for a year, with loads of ceremonies, offerings to gods etc. This last one was the big one and lasted for couple of days. Seems that everyone from the village was in the house, chatting, eating and laughing.

It was hard to say goodbye, but I know I am going to see them all again. I will come back to Kavresthali one day and sit on the roof where I spent so much time. I will be counting fireflies and minutes until the light wizzard would switch on the electricity for our village and then wait until a plate of dhal bhat would be served. Hope I won’t forget how to eat with my hand by then.

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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…

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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:

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

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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…

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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.

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

Ghorepani Poon Hill Trek in Himalayas

It’s been so long since I came back from Nepal that the whole journey now almost feels surreal, but a little scar on my wrist will always remind me that the trip really happened.

Trekking was not on my to do list before I left for Nepal. I didn’t have too much time and the monsoon season helped me to make up my mind. However, I was sitting in a cafe, listening to one of the volunteers talking about their trekking experience and I realised I can’t miss it while I’m in Nepal.

My boyfriend at a time, had a professor who was always going to Nepal for trekking holidays so he was able to recommend a guide. I wouldn’t worry about arranging the guide before coming to Nepal – there are always plenty who are eager to get out to the mountains and it’s cheaper to arrange something from Pokhara (if you’re doing a trek in Annapurna Himalaya range). The trek I did was called Ghorepani Poon Hill trek and it normally takes 5 days to complete. You can easily do it without a guide and it will save you a bit of money, but being alone and not having a chance to do a proper research,  I decided to go with a guide.

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I met my guide Palu in Pokhara a day before the hike for some tea. Palu was over 40 and didn’t look like a super fit guy from the first sight, but he seemed like a nice person so I thought let’s do this. It did later turn out that I was much fitter than him (something to consider if you’re impatient like me), but he had a big heart and kept repeating that he was the luckiest man in the world to be able to do the job he loves.

We started from the village called Nayapul early next day. The path was passing through beautiful forests and some tiny colourful villages. There were plenty of tea houses to stop at, rest and have some food. The whole trek that day lasted about 5 hours after which we stopped in one of the villages along the road.

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The second day was pretty much the same, but the path got steeper. It was a beautiful day and I didn’t find it too challenging. We settled in Ghorephani for the night, hoping to get to the Poon Hill in the morning. Unfortunately, the clouds were rolling low and when I woke up the next morning it was raining. There was no point in going to the Poon hill viewpoint. We continued towards Gandruk, even though the weather wasn’t great. Oh well, it was a gamble to go trekking in a rainy season.

We didn’t reach Gandruk that day (just weren’t rushing anywhere and the weather wasn’t great) and decided to stay in a place with the total of three houses. There were only two people in the village, a couple who got married when the guy was 13 and a lady who was then 20. We were chatting about life in the mountains and emigration, since the man spent a few years working abroad (very common story for loads of Nepalese families). The also showed and explained to me how they make their local alcohol Raksi, which I even got to try.

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When trekking you get used to getting up early and sometimes it really pays off. Happened to me on the 4th day of the trek when I got to see bits of the snowy peaks hanging between the clouds. I could only see small patches but got really excited since it was the first day I could actually see something. Other days were just all about walking through the beautiful forests and villages. That’s when I slipped, fell and got injured my wrist badly enough for it to scar. No regrets, life felt pretty amazing that morning.

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We got to Gandruk and spent a bit of time exploring this beautiful village. There were some really steep sections down and up that day and got caught in a strong rain, but I was quite happy to be out in the mountains and got to eat probably the nicest dhal bhat in Nepal, so the challenges didn’t matter too much. We stopped in a random village along the way for the night. There were loads of tiny clouds hanging around the mountains and I was excited to be going to bed after seeing that view.

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I woke up early again (4.30am or so) the next morning and realised that the clouds lifted! They were moving away and finally the first time in five days I could see one of the peaks! It was magical. I was extremely happy and struggled to walk away from that view. Later in the morning the clouds took away the beauty again.

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So five days later, the trek was over and I said bye to Palu. I think I got lucky, because during the rainy season it’s really hard to see anything, so I expected nothing at all, but got rewarded with some stunning views. It was amazing to be out walking for five days, walk past these beautiful villages, eat really tasty dhal bhat and try out my poor Nepalese with the locals. It was good to go with a guide, because he arranged all the accommodation and permits etc. and I didn’t have to worry about getting lost. It wasn’t a popular time of the year to go trekking so the mountains were quiet and I absolutely loved the time I could spend with my thoughts or listening to Palu’s stories. The only major downside were the leeches – they were bad, hanging on the grass, jumping on you as soon as you stopped and sucking the blood like there was no tomorrow. Not going into details on that, but having a guide who is slower than you plus the leeches who can’t wait to get on you, is a bad combo.

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I just want to finish with something positive – if you get a chance to go trekking in Himalayas, then go! No matter what time of the year it is, you will find beauty, freedom and loads of smiles along the way and it will be an experience of a lifetime 🙂