We departed Sunday at 12:50pm from SFO. We arrived at 12:05pm today, Tuesday January 17th, nearly 35 hours later. We feel as if we have already been on quite an adventure, though in truth we are just beginning. The flight from SFO to Seoul was the longest leg with a flight time of over thirteen hours. We sat next to a lovely little lady returning home to Bangladesh. The meals were terrific and entertainment satisfying. We kick-started the first leg with a “Singapore sling” (the country’s signature cocktail). For a long time we have been wanting to see Moneyball and were disappointed that we would be out of town on Friday January 20th when it is shown at Flicks (www.flicks.stanford.edu), but lucky for us, we watched it together on the plane. We supplemented our entertainment with a UFC fighter movie for David and a mindless chick flick for Krista. One of the strangest parts of the flight is that it seemed to be perpetually dusk – the sun never truly set, as we were moving west at just the right speed to stay just ahead of it. We moved about the cabin as much as we could during that long flight, but when we arrived for a short layover to refuel in Seoul – David was ready to exercise! He stretched and did some core exercises, as Krista tried to take a nap. Thankfully we slept for most of the flight to Singapore. Upon arriving in Singapore at 2am, the airport was quiet, but filled with lots to do. We visited a butterfly garden, enjoyed a foot and lower leg massage at automated machines throughout the terminals, we walked-jogged-ran in intervals to the correct terminal, and we watched Chariots of Fire in one of the two free movie theaters in the airport. We slept a little more and soon it was time to make the final flight to Kathmandu.
After a solid sleep of close to 12 hours, we were off for an early morning walk about Thamel. We ate some leftover momos from the night before, still delicious though only cold leftovers. There seemed to be slightly fewer cars and motorcycles in the morning, making the walking a bit safer and more enjoyable. Surprising to us, many people were picking up trash and sweeping the streets. Most of the storefronts were still closed, but in their place were men and women sitting in front with blankets covered in produce, clothes, and knick-knacks for sale. Some men were pushing bicycles with huge baskets filled wit fruit. At one roadside stand of newspapers, ten men stood shoulder-to-should all reading a different paper. Some children accompanied a mother or father to the marketplace, helping to sell whatever good their caregiver was tending. We happened upon a square with many people walking about a Buddhist temple in a clockwise procession while carrying prayer beads, sometimes praying aloud, and ringing bells that echoed beyond the square. We ate breakfast outside at a hotel café just down from our guesthouse. David had a “Mexican breakfast” of fried egg, corn bread, beans, and salsa; Krista had a Nepali omelet of eggs and vegetables with a side of toast. We packed up our belongings, divvying up what we expected to need for the next four days and packing this into our small bags, in hopes that we could leave everything else in our big packs as we headed out to the countryside.
We took a taxi to Patan to meet with Olga. As many streets don’t have names and houses don’t have numbers, we were instructed by Olga to have our taxi driver call her Nepali cook to have the directions explained over the phone. It all worked out and we made it to Olga’s beautiful home and gardens – an oasis right within the city. She was absolutely wonderful to meet, with a huge heart and amazing stories (check out Nepal Youth Foundation website for more details of all her projects). We enjoyed a lunch of soup, quiche, and salad (a special treat – with fresh vegetables from her own garden). We plan to meet up with her again before David leaves and hopefully more times throughout Krista’s weeks in Patan.
We hired a taxi to take us to Nagarkot, a mountain town about 1.5 hours outside Kathmandu. The ride took us through more city, some farming land, and into the hills. The road became windy and steep. David thought if it was in better condition and there weren’t so many crazy honking vehicles, the path would have made for a beautiful bike ride. We were hopeful to stay at the Farmhouse Resort, recommended by a couple of different friends, but since it was beyond the main town of Nagarkot we weren’t sure if the taxi would take us there. The driver did not know where to go, but after stopping to ask a townsperson for help, we were all set with directions. However, less than a kilometer beyond stopping for directions, the road transitioned from paved with some potholes to one made of rocks, dirt, more rocks, and giant potholes. The poor taxi kept driving us out further, even though with each bounce we were quite sure a tire might pop or part of the car would break. We followed some signposts until we had reached the small gate of the Farmhouse, passable from here on out only by foot. We were greeted by a friendly staff and immediately offered tea and coffee. We toured the grounds and opted for a deluxe corner room with two walls of windows offering breathtaking views of the Himalyas. We read a bit, relaxed with “milk tea”, and enjoyed a traditional dinner of dal bhaat, spinach, curried cauliflower, potatoes, and hardboiled eggs. With “Everest” beer for our beverage and a delicious honey-filled crepe for dessert. we were the only guests at dinner and the whole resort was catering to our every need. We lit a fire in our in-room fireplace with brief success, but then the smoke started coming in the room and we aborted that mission. Hot showers were refreshing and we went to bed with hot water bottles to help keep us warm.
From the bed in our room at the Farmhouse in Nagarkot, we woke to a beautiful sunrise. We put on our warm clothes and ventured outside for an even closer look, as the sun began to light up the mountains. There was frost on the ground and the prayer flags were blowing in the wind. The scene was majestic, the mountains mighty.
For breakfast we enjoyed apple pieces, muesli with hot milk, scrambled eggs, and Nepali bread with butter and peach jam (homemade from Farmhouse peach trees). As always, we enjoyed our “milk tea” as well. We then made plans with the Farmhouse staff to arrange for a guided walk to a nearby temple. When we asked how long it would take us to get there, there was bit of a miscommunication that led us to think it would take anywhere between 2.5 and 8 hours. We decided to go for it!
We met our guide a few moments later, a 24-year-old local dressed in jeans, button-down shirt, black jacket, and tennis shoes. He was very friendly. We started our journey right about 9 o’clock, walking through small farming villages with incredible views of the Himalayas. We passed a couple of schools, with children in uniform aligned in the playgrounds. We crossed paths with chickens, roosters, goats, cows, and baby versions of almost all these animals. Whenever we passed someone, we greeted him or her with a hearty “Namaste.” The children seemed to be most eager to exchange a greeting, but everyone was friendly and pleasant. The path was impressively flat at times, as it cut through a very mountainy part of the countryside. At one point, we came across a full-size soccer field, albeit made of dirt with no grass, which nonetheless was undoubtedly hard to create on the side of a hill. We journeyed down a big ziz-zagging road, several hundred meters, commonly being passed by motorcycles and overcrowded buses beeping their horns incessantly. After hiking for close to two hours, we reached a larger village at the base of the hill. We crossed a rickety bridge made of wooden planks and a chain-link railing and proceeded on a narrow trail. We climbed up through people’s terraced farmland, balancing between potato fields and tall grasses. Our guide protected us from barking dogs and only once stopped to ask directions to the temple. We got lost a few times, trekking “up and down, up and down” – as our guide stated. He knew where we wanted to get, we could see our destination with prayer flags blowing in the distance, however there was a big valley in the middle. Finally we reached a road that brought us right to the Vajrajogini Temple. There were dozens of visitors at this Buddhist/Hindu temple, though we appeared to be the only white ones. Perhaps the most captivating visitors were the half-dozen monkeys climbing about the temple and around the grounds. They sure were funny to watch, playful and mischievous. One little one strategically ripped a bag of rice out of the hands of one lady. Today the temple doors were open revealing a statue of a sacred goddess. We joined in with the visitors by removing our shoes and climbing the stairs to peer into the magnificently decorated innards of the temple.
From the temple, we journeyed downwards through more countryside to the town of Sankhu. We proceeded right through two lines of instrument playing locals, banging of drums and blowing trumpets. We have no idea why there were playing. A couple of kilometers away on the other side of town, was a big festival; we think it was religious of some sort. People were selling trinkets, clothes, food, religious offerings; there was a ferris-wheel for the children. A couple of young girls approached us holding what looked like a holy book they were trying to sell to us. We said no, but later saw others placing money and flower offerings atop the books and bending over to kiss it too. There was a large pool of water in which some people were bathing, while others seemed to be ceremonially tossing water over their shoulders in some religious ritual. Many people were dressed in red. Many had burnt offerings of flowers. Many were praying. It was a loud and chaotic scene. Then we started the uphill trek back up to Nagarkot, passing through more farmland and tiny villages. It was now at least 2pm, we had not eaten lunch, though thankfully had packed a bit of water, but the sun was shining bright and we were beginning to get a bit tired. When we finally spotted the Farmhouse we picked up our pace, excited to be close to a cold drink and hot shower. We paid 1000 Nepali Rupees (about $12) to have a guide with us the entire day. We were very thankful to have him. It was quite a fantastic and unique way to explore the countryside.
Tonight for dinner, the Farmhouse was filled with many more visitors than previously. Last night it had been just the two of us for dinner, but tonight there were about 15 people there. We enjoyed similar traditional Nepalese food, though served buffest-style this time. We sat with a very friendly Dutch couple that had just arrived to Nagarkot after having spent four or five days exploring Kathmandu. They previously were art dealers with a high-end gallery in Amsterdam and exhibits throughout Europe and the U.S. Now they live in Italy for eight months of the year and Holland for the remainder. We discussed everything from travel to politics to healthcare. They highly encouraged us to someday embark on a bike tour of Europe. Interestingly, they had emailed the Farmhouse ahead of time to book a room, specifically room #15 – as the guidebooks said it was the best. Turns out we ended up in that room. They were understanding, despite the funny happenstance that we ended up in that very room.
Tonight we asked the Farmhouse staff to help us light the fire because last night we had brief success before our room was filled with smoke. Tonight the fire burned well initially, but when we added wood, smoke again came billowing into the room. Seems that perhaps we need just a bit more practice tending to indoor fireplaces here in Nepal.
Tomorrow we plan to pack up and head to Dhulikhel. We expect the hike to take about 6 hours. Now we will read a bit and then fall asleep. In fact, David may already be sleeping.