Kathmandu

Kathmandu is a hot mess. A beautiful chaotic place full of unexpected things. I loved it some days and other days I just wanted to be out of there. I spent quite a bit of time exploring the city while I was doing some volunteering in Kavresthali near Kathmandu. Everytime I would go back to Kavresthali I would feel like I came back to a wee paradise and I would always come back a little bit different.

I have never seen capitals like this before. It felt like it was a labyrinth, with loads going on around every corner. The streets were crowded and every time I had to go somewhere it felt like a mission. It was never easy to get from A to B, having constantly to watch out for scooters, people, cows and trying not to get lost. It was almost like a game and I would be extremely proud of myself if I managed to do something what would normally take 10min in 20min.

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The chaos scared me at first but with time I grew more and more confident and started exploring the city a wee bit more. One day I left Thamel (the main tourist area) and walked to Swayambhunath which is also called a monkey temple.

It’s one of my favourite places in Kathmandu, with a huge stupa at the top, loads of colours and amazing views of the city. I am not a big fan of monkeys and they do scare me a bit, but I kept away from them and survived.

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The other place I really enjoyed was the Pashupatinath Temple. It’s dedicated to Shiva and is one of the most sacred places in Nepal. If I was Nepali and I died, I would want my body to be burnt there.

I think I wrote about death in Nepali culture in one of my previous post, so I won’t say much about it here. I loved the atmosphere in Pashupatinath, it felt like it was a mix of traditions, respect, sadness and celebration of life and death. I got a guide there who told me even more about the traditions than I knew before and that also added to the whole experience.

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Traditions are everywhere in Nepal. I really liked being exposed to this rich culture just by wondering around the streets. Once, I ended up in Durbar Square with loads of beautiful (although very much affected by the earthquake) temples. I couldn’t believe, but there were so many interesting people around – Sadhus (the holy men), a lady who was painting her body green, loads of various people who came to pay their respect to the gods. I loved the colours, the smells, the atmosphere…

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I know I will be back to Nepal one day. I think I appreciate my trip now when I am writing about it even more than when I was there. Being back to a “normal” country has its advantages – no more chaos, no more constantly upset stomach, no monkeys, no more of getting lost or being annoyed at the traffic, the air and the streets are clean…but at the same time, I’m missing the colours, the element of never knowing of what to expect and oh well, I do actually miss getting lost 🙂

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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 🙂

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Last Days of Spring

aaa

I’m leaving in 4 days. It sounds absolutely unreal and the trip that I have been waiting for so long is finally happening.  Yes, I’m finally going to Nepal!

In November 2014, I applied to do some volunteering there. I was supposed to start in summer 2015, however a lot happened between November and June and I couldn’t go anymore. I had to move my start day to the 1st October 2015. As you can probably guess I didn’t make it then either – I was quite skint so instead of starting volunteering, I stayed in Scotland and started an internship. Even if I had doubts, it was definitely the right move. Initially my internship was supposed to be only three months, but it quickly got extended to up to a year. I love what I’m doing now and I have a great manager. She always knew that I wanted to go to Nepal, so she gave me seven weeks off to do what I wanted to do.

So what’s my plan for Nepal? Well, I’ll be doing a water research project there with a local organisation and I’m super excited about that! I’ve been interested in water issues for quite a while now and it’s a great opportunity for me to learn. I’m aware that my time there will not save the world, but I’m going there for myself, to learn about Nepalese culture, water issues there and… about myself!  It’s crazy how much you can actually learn about yourself while travelling. I love the feeling of confidence when I come back home from a challenging trip.

It’s going to be weird to leave Edinburgh and I’m enjoying the final days of spring here. I’ve had a really nice time these past couple of months – spring is definitely my favourite time of the year and Edinburgh looks extremely pretty when covered in blossoms. I also managed to go back home to Lithuania for a bit, so my parents won’t be upset about me disappearing from Europe for a bit. The feeling of adventure is already here and I can’t wait for it to start!

 

Amsterdam (…or how I got lost in the Netherlands)

I think I’m going to jump back in time again and tell you a bit about the travelling I did last year. I keep thinking how to put all the experiences I had in an order that would actually make sense, so I think I will keep talking about the travelling in the mainland for now and once I finish I’ll go back to Scotland – there is so much I want to tell you about it.

Ok, let’s get started. So in June 2015 I went to Amsterdam. One of the reason’s I was going there was to visit my friend (and the best flatmate ever) who was on exchange there. I kept promising to visit her and it was one of the last chances to go.

I genuinely hated the fact that every time I’d tell somebody I was going to Amsterdam, the stupid grin on their faces would appear and they would always ask me about the amount I was planning to smoke. I don’t even do drugs. Amsterdam is so much more than just that. It’s an absolutely gorgeous city with plenty of exciting architecture, art and beautiful canals.

I went there a few days after I completed West Highland Way and half a marathon in Edinburgh, so I kind of felt like I needed some rest. But I didn’t get that much rest and it turned out to be a pretty active holiday. And it was a perfect time for the visit as well – the weather was so good and the temperature even reached +31 degrees one day (dream about it, Scotland).

I probably won’t surprise you with this one, but one of the best things in Amsterdam was cheese shops. Some of them were better than others, but they were all pretty amazing. I ate sooo much tasty cheese while there and mostly for free 🙂

The second best thing in Amsterdam was a cat boat – a cat shelter. There were loads of cats, some of them were more excited to interact with people than others, but it was so nice and refreshing to get to play with them.

Van Gogh museum was definitely worth a visit, but don’t try to cheat and borrow your friends museum card (especially if she’s Asian and you’re not) – it’s not gonna work and as soon as they find out you’re cheating they will be super extra mean to you. Although I had a few other times when people were rude to me for no reason – making fun of me because I didn’t understand what they were saying. But there are mean people everywhere and I probably just got a bit unlucky.

Did I go to the red light district?-people kept asking me. Yes I did and I’m going to talk a bit like a granny now, but I hated that. Streets were full of drunk British tourists, the type of guys I hate the most – loud, stupid and arrogant. I think the district just ruined the city, but at the same time nobody forced you to go there and the place could be easily avoided.

Should I tell you my biggest failure while in Amsterdam? Well, it happened within the first hour while there, as I was slightly confused with the trains while going from the airport to the city centre and ended up in Utrecht (I know I know it’s embarrassing….). Yes it was embarrassing, but not until the time when I was going back from Utrecht to Amsterdam city centre (this time for real) and the controller asked for my ticket – just before my stop. My face was all red while I tried to explain that I got lost and thus I was travelling just with the airport ticket. Anyway, he turned out to be nice and I didn’t get a fine for travelling with a random ticket. Well, it wasn’t that bad anyway; I got to see some of the countryside after all.

It was a perfect weather for cycling and I spent a lot of time doing that in the city. One day we also decided to cycle to Zaanse Schans (just a bit outside of the city) with some of Emma’s friends and it was a pretty cool trip. I couldn’t believe how well cycle paths were developed and it was such a pleasure to cycle there. Zaanse Schans was really touristy, but hey it’s not the worst thing ever. I loved playing with chicken, eating cheese and taking photos of windmills – a perfect little escape from Amsterdam.

The trip back to the airport was quite an experience as well. Apparently sometimes they close the lines going directly there (for some regular maintenance works) and at some point you have to leave the train and get the bus. But you can imagine how many people there are in the train and they don’t always make sure they have enough buses at the same time. I got lucky to get a bus quickly, as I was following a flight attendant – she’d clearly been in this situation before and knew how to go about it.

Anyway, Amsterdam is so much more than what people usually imagine. Go, visit and get the best out of it!