Pokhara to Kathmandu, Nepal
June 20, 2023-June 26, 2023
Day 15: Pokhara, Nepal
June 20, 2023
As mentioned in our last update we used our second day in Pokhara as an additional rest day. We figured we all but deserved it after 8-days straight of trekking through the Himalayas. Saying we did nothing is a bit of a fib, as technically we were more productive then originally planned.
After getting some lunch nearby we took a brief walk and explored the lakefront and some of the shops. We kept it short though, being sure to return to our room once we felt even the slightest bit hot or tired. We attempted not to get PTSD climbing the stairs to our hotel room as flashbacks from our never-ending hike protruded our thoughts.
The biggest accomplishment of the day, for me at least, was completing our tourism visas for India. I’ve never had to fill out something so comprehensive for an under-30-day visa. The questions they asked seemed incredibly irrelevant to whether I may be admitted to visit or not. Information about my religion, parents’ birthplaces, parents’ religion, U.S. contact, and, strangest of all, India contact were all necessary. I was sweating having to write in “None” under a religion as they only had a handful of choices listed. And don’t even get me started on the panic that ensued when I tried to remember if my dad was born in Minnesota or Iowa. I was trying to figure why in the world I would have a contact in India if I was visiting on a tourist visa, eventually settling with putting down the hostel contact information. Lawrence tapped out almost immediately, saving the stress for another day. 2 hours after I had started, I finally finished. No wonder tourism is way down in India, I was ready to call it quits before even finishing the visa!
Other than starting our India visas we cleaned and packed up our bags yet again. This time in preparation to visit the small town of Lumbini.
Day 16: Pokhara to Lumbini, Nepal
June 21, 2023
Another long bus ride awaited us today. We made our way to the Pokhara bus stop and found our small, yet better equipped shuttle for the 9-hour ride ahead. The ride, like most, was uneventful. Nepal offers mostly narrow, winding roads along the mountainsides. With the aid of some motion sickness medicine, I was asleep during most of it. At least it wasn’t nearly as bumpy as our trip from Kathmandu to Pokhara!
We were on our way to Lumbini, Nepal. This town is most notable for the Maya Devi Temple, known as being the birthplace of Prince Siddhartha Gautama, more commonly known as Buddha. You’d think such an important place for one of the world’s most popular religions would be a tourism mecca. However, when we did finally arrive in the small, poverty-stricken town, it was clear that this was no Disney World.
Possibly one of the wildest places I have ever been, Lumbini is but a small road only a few miles off the border of India. The Maya Devi Temple grounds take up most of the area with a few hotels, restaurants, and shops directly across the street. The hotels are far and few between, popping up randomly with no cohesion. We stayed in a building surrounded by long stretches of barren land. Even though we made sure to book a room with air conditioning, the power would cut in and out every hour or so turning the AC off with it.
Our hotel was only a five-minute walk from the bus stop. As we walked we watched motorbikes dodge the cows and dogs that freely roamed the streets. We saw permanent tents make-shifted into homes of the many living in extreme poverty. The family business was to beg for money, and the children were the hardest workers of all. As soon as they saw us they would run up and follow us until we were within our destination’s limits. We were told not to give anything to the beggars as it would only encourage them to beg again. I’ll admit, my morale was nearly broken after a boy that barely cleared my hip desperately asked “pani?” for water.
Day 17: Lumbini, Nepal
June 22, 2023
We started the morning slow, having breakfast, getting ready, and finishing Lawrence’s India visa. By around noon we had decided to walk to the Maya Devi Temple and explore the grounds.
We entered through one of the gates and walked down a long stretch of paved road. The exhibit we were most curious to see was the famed “Birthplace of Buddha.” Located in the middle of existing ruins from the palace walls that were once home to Prince Siddhartha Gautama. Most of the intact ruins are protected by a large white, castle-like structure.
Before entering the temple area, you are required to remove your shoes as a sign of cultural respect. Unfortunately, the walkways are pathed with clay stones that boil under the hot Nepalese sun all day long. Instead of leisurely strolling through the gardens we found ourselves running at top speed to find the next strip of shade or grass. It felt like walking on coals it was so hot! The caretakers of the area had a few old sacks placed along the ground acting as mats to protect your feet in some areas, but not enough to make it through the whole garden.
We went inside the main white temple where photography was strictly prohibited. They had a stone beneath an encasing of glass to mark the exact spot where they believe Buddha was born. This research was done very recently in the 1990’s, so there is another un-exact spot marking his birth outside the white temple as well. Also, inside are bedrooms and living areas where Buddha and his family resided, while outside are mostly ruins of pagodas.
We first heard the story of Buddha when in our last country, Thailand. According to the story the Maya Devi Temple would have been the place where Buddha’s mother squatted beneath a fig tree and Prince Siddhartha Gautama was born. He would immediately take his first steps and be prophesied to become a monk. Later in life, after Prince Siddhartha was married and had a son, he yearned to go outside the palace walls and explore. He convinced a palace worker to take him on a tour of the surrounding villages. Once outside the palace Prince Siddhartha came across a sick man, an old man, and a dead man. Having never seen old age, suffering, or death the Prince was horrified. He became determined to learn the ways of the universe and how to stop suffering from becoming him or his family. He would then go on to permanently leave the palace to be a monk, eventually reach enlightenment, and become known to all as the Buddha.
There are a few holes to the mythology. For example, Buddha’s exact birthplace is pinpointed to be within the structure’s walls, not in the gardens, making it unlikely there would have been a fig tree involved at all. They also do not have any information on the science of how they found the exact spot of birth, or how they know this palace was that of Buddha’s family at all.
We looked around the grounds some more. Plenty of monuments are featured here, a lot of them donated from Buddhist communities in other countries around the world. Some signs were too faded to read, but others, like the “Baby Buddha” statue gifted by Thailand, were shiny and new.
We stopped at one of the water features before calling it a day at Maya Devi. We were lunch-less, waterless, hot, and tired so it was time to head back into the main town. After food, and some more to-go, we returned to the hotel for the day.
Day 18: Lumbini, Nepal
June 23, 2023
We admittedly had too much time in Lumbini. There isn’t much to do besides the Maya Devi Temple, which isn’t really a 2-day excursion. We did walk further into town and try to do a bit more exploring, but I’m pretty sure we were the only white people in the entire province, and we stuck out like sore thumbs. Getting a lot of gawking and begging, we tired after a while.
Instead, we mostly used the day as a catchup day to get all our ducks in their respective rows for our next leg of travel. Lawrence was still waiting on his visa approval, and we were meant to fly out in 3 days! We booked flights, hotels, and excursions before turning in plenty early for our all-day bus ride back to Kathmandu tomorrow.
Day 19: Lumbini to Kathmandu, Nepal
June 24, 2023
As far as bus rides go this was one of the more enjoyable. We had plenty of legroom, and most importantly: the bus was air conditioned! Our trip started at 6:00 a.m., and even though the bus stop was in the middle of town, no restaurants were open yet for us to purchase coffee. Nepal doesn’t seem to value coffee as highly as the rest of the world. They prefer tea, or weirdly enough, energy drinks to get you going in the morning. This meant that on our stops through small villages we were out of luck to find the beverage. We settled for off-brand Red Bulls instead, but the day didn’t feel like it had truly started without coffee.
For lunch the bus stopped at a Dal Bhat restaurant. We opted out since we were low on cash, but did go in to use the restrooms. While walking past the patrons I couldn’t help but do a double take and noticed most people were eating the curries and soupy textures directly with their hands. It was jarring to see because when I picture eating with your hands, I think of those in extreme poverty who were never taught how to use a fork or spoon. But these were full-grown adults, dressed for the day, paid in full for a 12-hour bus ride to the largest city in Nepal. I did not think I would see my put-together co-passengers eat in such a way. We would later find out from Jay that this is the way most Nepalese people prefer to eat. He himself prefers it, but due to a nasty bit of frostbite on his finger had doctors orders to keep his hands clean. He said it makes the food taste better when gathering it with your hands rather than a spoon. Perhaps he’s right, but I’ll never know as I was not courageous enough to try it for myself.
When we arrived in Kathmandu, we were both starving. We were staying at the same hostel as before and thus had access to the same rooftop bar. This time I went with another traditional Nepalese dish called Momo. Momo is similar to a dumpling, either steamed or deep-fried, and stuffed with your choice of either chicken, beef, or vegetables. It typically comes with a side of spicy aioli dipping sauce and does the trick for filling an empty stomach.
Day 20: Kathmandu, Nepal
June 25, 2023
The day was spent lounging around, doing some additional planning, getting some blog work done, and trying to not stress about the fact that Lawrence still didn’t have his visa approved for India.
The only thing on our itinerary was to meet up with Jay for dinner. We didn’t get the chance to have a final goodbye meal with him back in Pokhara, so were hoping to make up for it today. We met up with him at the diner below the travel agency office where we were treated to the best Dal Bhat yet! We spent the evening visiting and talking about our future travel plans before returning to the hostel for the night.
We were two days away from India and Lawrence still didn’t have his tourist visa approved. Despite my best efforts, it had me stressed. When we arrived back, to my great relief, (and I’m sure Lawrence cared a little bit somewhere deep down too) Lawrence had received his approval email! Thank god.
Day 21: Kathmandu, Nepal
June 26, 2023
It was our last full day in Kathmandu and Nepal as a whole. We had a long to-do checklist that needed to be completed before our flight. We decided to mail back some of the things we weren’t using including the bag we bought for trekking. It was too big for a personal item on a plane, but too small to use as a main backpack. We also took our laundry in, purchased some prayer flags which were a long-awaited souvenir, and re-packed our bags.
We spent the morning accomplishing all our goals then got ready for our grand finale in the city. First, we went to Durbar Square. Built between the 13th and 17th centuries it is considered one of the oldest remaining places still opporating today. The square really is like stepping back in time. It is roped off for foot traffic only and filled with dozens of temples and historic buildings dating back to 1562 A.D. We weaved through the buildings and street markets, and ended up in a café sipping on boba tea and watching the streets as a heavy rain started to pour.
Once the rain let up, we made our way back to the hostel. We decided to try one of the popular rickshaw bikes to take us back. A rickshaw is a cart attached to a bicycle and the rider pulls you along. We were under a mile away and thought it would be whimsical. However, the driver of our rickshaw had an especially beaten down bike and was not having success pulling us along. At one point he got off the bike and attempted to push it over a bump with his arms. I know we’re American, but geez, we’re not that heavy my man! He ended up only taking us halfway, claiming we “were there” but I’m guessing he had had enough peddling. Overall, I would not recommend the rickshaw for transportation. We easily could’ve walked faster, and they weren’t very comfortable or whimsical for that matter.
To round out our evening we met up with Jay one final time for a cultural dinner show. Like the show we saw in Rotorua, New Zealand featuring the Māori culture, this performance featured two girls performing different dances native to the many regions across Nepal. Meanwhile, we were fed a bottomless meal of native Nepalese dishes including Thali (a thick noodle soup), Momo, and Dal Bhat. In between dances we shared the similarities and differences with Jay between the Nepalese and Māori. Both female dances included wooden sticks the girls would throw to each other or hit together to the beat of the tribal music. But the delicate Nepalese dances were far more welcoming and celebratory, rather than the fearsome and intimidating Hakas of the Māori. Best of all, since it was the off-season, there was no one else in the dinner theatre so we were treated to a private show!
Nepal has been quite the ride. It’s crazy how fast our time has gone by! We’d been here a similar amount of time as Vietnam, yet it feels like it’s only been a week rather than 3. My favorite city overall was Kathmandu, since there was lots to do. It had an old, historic, and mystical vibe. What was perhaps my favorite individual activity was seeing Mount Everest, something I have always wanted to cross off my bucket list. The trek was hard, but it’s something few will ever get the opportunity to do, and for that I am grateful. Tomorrow it is on to the next country. Number seven: India.