A weekend in Nagarkot…

Ah, well… so let’s see. It has only been… ummm… 20 or so days since my last post. Yikes. I’m sorry for being such an awful blogger! My residency in France has been just incredible (and of course, very busy) – I can’t believe I’m already on my fourth week! I have many, many things to share with you about my time here – how my work is progressing, my fellow residents, the many small French towns and villages I’ve been able to visit. There is just so much! But alas, I haven’t even finished telling you about Nepal yet! So, even though I am in France and have been here for a MONTH, here is another post about my time in Nepal….

After I completed my month-long residency at the Kasthamandap Art Studio at the end of July, I was free to explore the world outside of Kathmandu a bit. First stop: Nagarkot, situated about an hour outside of Kathmandu atop a ‘hill’ (Nepali for ‘mountain, but not as big as the Himalayans’). Drew and I left our apartment in Jhamsikel early on a Friday morning and found a taxi down the road that agreed to take us all the way to Nagarkot. I was surprised to find a driver willing to drive so far, but I suppose the money is good and it’s nice to get out of the city for a few hours. I suited up for the first part of our ride through Kathmandu’s smog-filled streets…

Kathmandu pollution

 

We headed east towards Bhaktipur, one of the three original ‘kingdoms’ of the Kathmandu valley, but drove past it and on into some incredibly beautiful country. Green as green can be (and this is when I finally began to understand what a rice paddy looks like – once Drew realized that I had been in Nepal for a month and wasn’t quite sure how to recognize a rice plant, he knew it was time to get me out of the city! Nepal is covered in rice paddies, and apparently it was some sort of miracle that I hadn’t seen them already)…

Outside Bhaktipur

On the way...

On the way...

Our taxi driver was kind, and laughed at me when I tried to take pictures out of the window as we drove along the windy mountain roads. He really got tickled when my attempt to capture a particular scene from the window was punctuated by a “Sh**!” as I missed the shot. I was happy he found this entertaining, rather than annoying or rude.

We also saw some animal friends along the way…

water buffalo

Water buffalo!  Affectionately known as “buff” when in a tasty Nepali dish… Sorry buddies.

Goats

And there was also the Nepali police officer who flagged us down outside a small village and just jumped right in the car, expecting a ride up the ‘hill.’ I mean, what were we supposed to do? Say “No?!” He was friendly enough, but it was a slightly surreal experience – I was reminded of the movies when an undercover cop in pursuit of the bad guy stops a car in the street, flashes his badge, and says “I’m sorry, but I have to commandeer your vehicle.” Except with us, there was no emergency, no pursuit. He just needed a lift. Hilarious.

And then there was the moment when we rounded a small windy mountain curve and almost crashed head on into a bus. Of course, in my terror I squealed and covered my face with my hands. Once it was clear that we had made it through the situation alive, the driver began laughing at me (once again). I am so happy I could entertain him so much!

As we neared the top of the ‘hill,’ we entered beautiful forests of tall pines, and you could feel the air getting just a bit cooler…

Pine forests

We were dropped at the foot of the fancy-shmancy Himalayan Hotel – too rich for our blood, but beautiful to see. We then proceeded to walk into the center of Nagarkot (and by this I mean one solitary intersection – it’s not a big place!), and up another hill through an area of residential homes searching for a good hotel…

 

Nagarkot proper

Food Home

I loved this little restaurant – the “Food Home.”  It’s just such a sweet thought…

Residential area

re

Residential area

Residential area

Finally, we found ourselves at the foot of Hotel Space Mountain. Yup, SPACE MOUNTAIN! I mean really, how could we resist? So we walked up the many steps to this hotel on a small hill atop an even bigger ‘hill’ (again, a MOUNTAIN), and were greeted by the owner. “You are home!” he said, in a slightly sleazy, car-salesman sort of way. We weren’t totally sold on the place, but it was mid-afternoon now, and we were tired and hungry and ready to ditch our packs (not to mention that this hotel was covered with beautiful flowers/plants and some of the most amazing light bulbs I have ever seen. “Light bulbs?!” you say. “This is the reasoning you use to decide on your accommodation?!” And I say… well… YES. Aesthetics are important to me!)…

 

Hotel Space Mountain

Hotel Space Mountain

Hotel Space Mountain

Ho

flowers

Plants

Light bulbs

Light bulbs

Light bulbs

So we took a room, but had to wait an hour or so for it to be cleaned. No problem! We’ll eat lunch at the hotel restaurant, and that will give them plenty of time. And in fact, it did because we ended up waiting for our food for an hour, much less the time we spent eating it. Sheesh. Turns out there was a large conference of Christians at the hotel, Nepalis and Koreans mostly – at least 100 people, I’d say – and the kitchen/dining room staff of 3 or 4 people were feeding all of them before us. Sigh. Luckily, we had a great view and entertained ourselves by taking pictures…

 

Lunch views

Lunch pictures

Lunch pictures

After lunch, we headed out for a lovely (and long) walk to ‘The Tower.’ We weren’t quite sure what that was exactly, but we figured it involved a good view and it seemed to be one of the things ‘to do’ in Nagarkot so off we went…

Walking around Nagarkot...

Walking around Nagarkot...

Water buffalo

Another water buffalo…much closer this time – he looks sad because we eat his friends.  Again, sorry buddy.

Walking around Nagarkot...

Walking around Nagarkot...

Walking around Nagarkot...

Way to...

Turns out there is a large military training area along the road we took to ‘The Tower,’ so we saw a surprising amount of camouflage and barbed wire that day – who knew? I certainly wasn’t expecting that! It was still beautiful and green, though, and we were lucky to see some fantastically funny motivational signs for the troops along the way…

 

Motivational sign

Motivational sign

Motivational sign

This one had me singing Billy Ocean’s “When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going” for the rest of the afternoon.  Anybody remember that jewel from the ’80’s!?

On our long walk to the ‘The Tower,’ we found some other spots with nice views of the valley…

Views

Views

Views

Views

I love how these folks just brought some chairs up there – spending a lovely afternoon with the Valley views…

And, we managed to pick up two friends who followed us for just about the entirety of our walk. I affectionately named them Herbert and Small (don’t ask – I don’t know where I come up with this stuff)…

Herbert and Small

I was particularly fond of Herbert (the black dog) – it was clear that he was our buddy, through and through. Small was just along for the ride, following Herbert. They were a cute little duo, though, I must say.

Herbert

As we walked, we encountered many groups of Nepali teenagers, walking or driving their motorcycles up or down the hill (coming in from Kathmandu for the afternoon, we guessed). They were friendly, smiling, waving, and saying “Hello!” and “Welcome to Nepal!” I couldn’t tell if it was genuine friendliness or if we, as ‘bideshi’ (foreigners), were the butt of some joke. But no matter… it was fun, nevertheless.

When we finally made it to the base of ‘The Tower’ we found a small market place of sorts, full of snack food and bottled water. It was a bit strange, and I realized how touristy our destination was…

Tower market place

We walked the last few stairs to the top of ‘The Tower’ to be greeted by….. (drum roll)… clouds. Darn. So needless to say, we weren’t so impressed with ‘The Tower,’ but at least the walk there was nice! And our time at ‘The Tower’ was a fascinating sociological experience, as all of the Nepali teens we encountered on the way up were there – talking, taking pictures, flirting. It was fun just to sit and watch their awkward interactions…

Last Stairs

The Tower

Just as we left, we were reminded that it was monsoon season with the sudden appearance of a torrential downpour. Lucky for us, we were near a gazebo situated on the side of the road and sheltered there for a few minutes with some of the Nepali teens we’d seen earlier. Then, as quickly as it came, the rain stopped and we were left to walk back down the hill through a dense fog that made for great pictures (and jokes about “The Nothing” from that 80’s movie “The Never Ending Story” – anybody remember that one?). Drew had been saying all day that he wanted to be “inside a cloud,” and I was happy that he finally got his wish…

Fog

Fog

Fog

Fog

And here’s a little viewing area on our way up to ‘The Tower’ before the rain…

View spot

And then after the rain…

Viewing spot

We returned to our room exhausted, sweaty, and in the need of a shower and a good nap. We ate dinner and turned in early, so we could do the thing that all tourists in Nagarkot do… watch the sun rise over the Himalayans!

The alarm went off the next morning at 5:00am and we were out the door in just a few minutes. The hotel staff were already awake and directing guests to the top of a tiny hill where some sort of small shrine was being constructed. What an incredible view it was…

Shrine hill

Shrine

Sunset view

Sunset view

Sunset view

Sunset view

The mountains were quite far away, but you could still see their snow-peaked caps. I was just thrilled – this was my first time seeing the Himalayans in person. No photograph, just me and the Himals! And a beautiful sunset to boot – it just doesn’t get much better than that!

I’ll never forget the hush over the crowd of tourists gathered there with us – silent, reverent, respectful. That is, until a late-coming French family of four joined us. Their young son, maybe 8 years old or so, began shouting “Oh oui, oui, oui! Regardez, le pointe! (Oh yes, yes, yes! Look, the peak!).” His parents hushed him, but I didn’t mind at all. His excitement and enthusiasm for this gorgeous place matched mine exactly – even if I didn’t voice it out loud like he did. What a lovely moment to witness…

French family

After the sun finished rising, we went back to the hotel’s rooftop (the scene of our long wait for lunch the day before), and looked at the view from there. Again, we saw “The Nothing” and it’s claw like hand descending over the land…

The Nothing

Views

Drew looking...

We left the roof, a bit sleepy, but happy…

Sleepy and happy

 

After an early morning breakfast, we packed our bags and decided to look for another hotel. Unfortunately the flowers, plants, and awesome light bulbs of Hotel Space Mountain couldn’t overcome the terrible smell of mildew that perforated our room. We’d had enough, so off we went…

We were in search of a hotel with a rooftop terrace that we’d seen while watching the sun rise that morning, and found it just around the corner and up yet another hill. On our way there, we met a precocious young boy named Buddhabikka (not sure about the spelling), 9 years old…

 

Buddha B

His spoke English very well, and once we got through the initial business of telling him that we did not want to buy one of the post cards he was selling, he walked along with us, talking our ears off. I think he was mostly just curious about us and eager to practice his English more than anything else. We left him outside our new digs, Hotel View Point, as we checked in, and he told us that he would take us to his house later if we wanted. So funny!

Here are a few pictures of our lovely (and much less mildew-smelling) hotel…

Hotel View Point

Hotel View Point

 

Hotel View Point

Hotel View Point

It was still early morning and we were a bit tired after waking so early, so we decided to take a short nap before going out for the day. We figured he would get bored and leave once he realized we wouldn’t emerge right away, but surprisingly, that wasn’t the case! He greeted us as soon as we stepped out of the hotel an hour or so later, and asked again if we wanted to buy a post card. I figured that by this point, he had earned it with all of that waiting around, so I bought one…

 

Postcard

I admired his tenacity and persistence. And let’s face it, the kid had charisma! So much that I began referring to him in conversation with Drew as “the Mayor” of Nagarkot. He invited us to his house again, but we declined. Here’s a picture of it, and if you look really closely you might be able to make out where he has written BUDDHA B on the door. Pretty cute…

 

Buddha B's house

After we left Buddha B in town, we found a hiking trail that cut through a wooded jungle much less populated than our walk along the road to ‘The Tower’ the day before. In fact, we were the only people on the trail, which was really nice. It made me realize that up until that point, and apart from being in our apartment in Kathmandu, we were constantly surrounded by people in Nepal. Walking along this wooded path, just the two of us, was quite a refreshing change!

Unfortunately, I don’t have many pictures from our walk that day because my camera was having memory card problems – I had issues the day before and bought a new card that was apparently defective. Sigh. I ended up recovering a good majority of the ‘lost’ pictures from this defunct card, but not all of them. Here are just a few from our lovely forest path…

Forest path

Bamboo rain

We ate lunch after our long walk at another hotel built into the side of the mountain. Their restaurant had what I’m sure was an incredible view, but unfortunately, it was covered by a wall of clouds (oh, monsoon season!). We were lucky, though, because while we were eating a group of eagles were flying about in the clouds just in front of us – at least 8 of them, gliding and riding the air currents. What an absolutely gorgeous sight! I took pictures of this too, but unfortunately, the defective memory card struck again. Boo.

After lunch we found a ‘local’s path’ through the terraced fields on the side of a hill. We even stumbled onto someone’s small farm…

 

Local's path

Local's path

Farm

After our day of walking, we returned to our hotel for blissfully hot showers (a rarity for us in Kathmandu, remember), and hour-long massages. I know, I know… how lavish! But it was only $15 for an hour-long massage! And my legs were sore from all the hiking – I just couldn’t resist. It was quite lovely to take advantage of such luxuries that I usually have to scrimp and save to enjoy maybe once a year in the States.

But I do have to say that it was… umm… an interesting experience. I won’t go into too many details, but will share this: the massage therapist answered a cell phone call during my massage (which is quite normal in Nepal, I’ve noticed – people seem to answer their cell phones pretty much at all times, no matter what they are doing!), and at one point the therapist jumped right up on the massage table with me to get better leverage. Not exactly what one expects during a massage in the States! And I had trouble relaxing because I was so preoccupied with the cultural implications of this occupation in a country which is quite conservative when it comes to nudity and sexuality. Would this job make it difficult for the therapist to find a wife, seeing as he touches naked people all day? Is it insulting or degrading for him to touch my feet? (you are always supposed to remove your shoes in people’s homes and you are never to point the soles of your feet at anyone, as that is a great insult). I felt more like an anthropologist than a massage client – perhaps I’ve been spending too much time with Drew. Hmmm… :- )

After our massages, we had dinner with the other guests in the hotel’s restaurant and spent some time lounging on a couch tucked away behind a small partition afterwards. Turns out this area functioned as an unofficial ’employees lounge,’ and we met many Nepali men there, all employees of one kind or another – workers from the hotel, trekking guides, drivers. Once they discovered Drew could speak Nepali, they were practically lining up to sit and talk with him – he was such a celebrity that night! It was pretty cute, and I was happy to see that Drew was getting such good practice with the language.

The next morning we woke at dawn again to watch the sun rise. It was a bit cloudier and the crowd was louder (and a somewhat annoying to be honest) but it was beautiful, all the same…

Sunset

Sunset view

Sunset

Looking back on the hill where we watched the sun rise the previous morning…

Shrine hill

After sunrise, we napped, ate breakfast and then set off to hike out of Nagarkot to a nearby town, Sankhu, where we planned to catch a bus into Kathmandu. We said goodbye to Buddha B, who was outside the hotel once again watching some men work on a car engine, and headed back through the wooded path from the day before. When we reached the road at the end of this path, we went straight instead of turning right towards Nagarkot, and walked for three and a half hours, along a dirt road that led us down the ‘hill.’ We walked through small villages and past terraced rice fields as far as they eye could see along this road where butterflies fluttered about in the sun, crickets chirped, and the sound of cicadas was almost deafening at times. We walked past small creeks and waterfalls, and women working in the rice fields…

The road to Sankhu

Village

village

Village

Road views

Village goats

Rice fields

Look closely and you’ll see how this tiny stream of water has cut a path right through the tree!  Remarkable…

Water in tree

Flowers

Road views

women working

Road virews

Hot, tired, legs aching, and with a growing sense of delirium, we finally spotted Sankhu. (We were so loopy that I even made up a little rap about our journey at one point – I don’t remember it all, but I believe it ended with “..this is how we do in Sankhu!” Oh, delirium!)…

Sankhu

Sankhu was an interesting blend of both rural and urban landscape, and I wish we had spent more time exploring there…

Sankhu

Sankhu

Sankhu

Sankhu

But we were hot and tired and hungry, and since we had trouble finding a restaurant that looked ‘safe’ (i.e. one that wouldn’t make us sick), we just jumped on the bus and headed straight back to Kathmandu. Here we are waiting to depart, exhausted but happy…

Tired but happy

After a slow, bumpy, and crowded ride, we made it home to showers and deep, deep sleep…

And that’s about it from our weekend in Nagarkot! Coming up next: four-day trek in the Annapurna range – Woohoo! Until then, namaste and au revoir!

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