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Traveller’s seek…….. a forgone conclusion

There is only one species that is going to change the consciousness of the planet – the seeker and the cross cultural traveller!

Some 30 years back the planet opened up. Countries that were closed because of internal policies, wars and turmoil became peaceful and opened their door to visitors. People left borders behind and took travel as a human right. They went out exploring, learning and connecting to other cultures, continents and places. Of course it was not all sunshine out there. Many western people realised the power of their money and brought suffering in forms of prostitution, drugs and other human abuse to many places and unfortunately to some extend continue to do so.

Yet, travel became the means to connect and getting to know each other. Because of this keen seeking to keenness to understand the world enjoys today a variety of wonderful manifestations.

We enjoy fusion music, world cuisine, student exchange programs, international researches in almost all fields, and so many more. Without the curious seeker, on whats beyond the boundaries of his home land much of this would never have happened.

If I look at todays world, it seem that travel is often no longer a human right, but slowly turning into a privilege. Right wing politics, racism, religion and “the so called war on terror” are closing down ever more borders and from the look of it, travel will even get more restrictive in the years to come.

Even the knowledge that it is just a few big conglomerates that benefit from the present war mongering is not going to change the situation as it stands.

However we can live without Avocados from Chili that turn vast landscapes into desert.

We can live without mangoes and beef from the amazon, who’s production destroys thousands of hectares of land each year. We can exist without changing the car every two years and we certainly can live without the handbags and shoes from high end fashion brands, because we know that they produce them at minimum wages in horrible conditions in Bangladesh and Vietnam.

What we should not live without, is travelling the globe. Experiencing new cultures, learning new ways of live and fill our memories with un-deletable pictures from what we experienced. Even the carbon print produced by travelling is offset by a long shot if we live a little bit more local at home.

Tourism is the only industry, not dominated by the very few big and dominant corporations. Its core drivers are local hoteliers, local money and local employment. Tourism weaves a string between cultures and is by all means forged by human spirit. If you choose well, you will always find the local spirit in where ever you go.

Easter is symbolically the resurrection of the spirit and if we travel, we will continue to use the experiences we make to transform our inside. Even Emperors like Akbar realised it in his vision of “Din-i Ilahi”; which says that if you merge all your knowledge and experiences of all cultures and religions, your wisdom and tolerance will be without limit.

Nepal Impressions July 2015

A trip to remember….

You could say that I am a little “tainted” with my love for Nepal, since I had been working there in the Mid Eighties. After that my good fortune took me to the Travel Industry and I was fortunate to build up many programs for India, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet and even Pakistan. Besides looking for new opportunities and regions to travel, I had been guiding far more than 100 groups all over the place.

The last time I had been to Nepal was 2 years ago. The trip in July was planned before the Quake and there was never a question in our mind to cancel. Sure, when you believed the Media we were awaited by a completely “bombed out” country with enormous destruction. The social Media on top showed too many selfies of eager first aid pilgrims in front of chartered Helicopters and destroyed houses.

Fortunately “Shit storms” last for maximum a month. After that the media found a capsized boat in the China see with lot’s of casualties and the selfie pilgrims went back to the usual good time portrayals of food and drinks.

So when we arrived in Nepal, we were still a bit unsure of what to expect. The airport offered no surprise, the toilets still smelled the same, but the immigration was really fast and friendly. Outside, my friend Aman was waiting and off we went to Kantipur Templehouse, a small and cosy Boutique Hotel at the fringes of the popular Thamel district.

To be honest, 2 years ago, when I was here the city looked far worse. The administration was in the process of widening the roads and had bulldozed literally trough the living rooms of people in houses that were built too close to the road. Needless to say that the exercise included almost all the houses. When we left the airport, morning traffic was on the rise and the roads were busy and intact with little damage to be seen. The hotel was without and sign of damage and even the afternoon walk to Thamel showed little signs of the Quake.

The next morning we took a stroll trough the old town and there we saw the impact of the Quake. Some of the old mud brick and mud mortar structures had collapsed and others were supported by beams to hold them. Still the city was far from a standstill and people were busy removing debris and rebuilding. Shops were open and the day to day life had the city back in control.

Since we had come to take a Monsoon ride to Muktinath by Motorbike, we decided to leave the city behind and leave towards the West. So we chose two Motocross Bikes to be our rides for the next days and left the city.

Leaving the Valley on Motorbike riding on the “wrong” side of the road amidst heavy traffic is no small feat. Tackling black fume belching trucks working themselves up to the valley rim that engulf you with their smelly clouds has been one of Nepals less savoury trade marks since my first travel in 1983. But all in all we managed to get out of the valley into the clean, green country side. The road of course is loaded with trucks, no wonder, after all this is the most important supply route from and to India.

To our surprise the road is in great condition and no sign of a Quake or damage at all. We ride between trucks and buses up to Mugling, from where the road heads off towards Pokhara and traffic reduces to a trickle. Finally we turn into the small mountain road to Bandipur that winds itself up the slope, much like the mountain roads back home in Switzerland.

Bandipur

Bandipur is village life at its best. A very clean, small and prosperous village on a  ridge high above the plains one side and a splendid Himalayan view on the other. It is a must see place while traveling to Nepal. The Lodge, Gaun Ghar is simple, but has all one needs in a place like this. Great food, friendly staff, nice clean rooms with attached bathrooms and a great view of the Himalayas, if they don’t hide behind masses of clouds, like now during Monsoon time.

One can do nice walks to nearby villages, climb up to a temple and watch the life go by on the village road. Imagine, Bandipur is like Zermatt in Switzerland – a car free zone, which make a stay here even more pleasant         DSCF5958DSCF5962 - Version 2

Pokhara

After Bandipur the road took us to Pokhara. A pleasant drive with little traffic. We stayed at Lake side in a nice place called the “Mount Kailash Resort” ideal for parking the bikes as well. Taking a stroll in the evening we did not see any damage, no fallen or cracked buildings and the locals told us that there was no impact at all.

Well there was a huge impact after all. The place was deserted and people sat in front of empty shops, restaurants and resorts. Not even the customary Indian traveler was to be seen.   Media had completely forgotten to report that the West of Nepal was OK and so the place was almost turned into a ghost town. It felt really sad to see the place without the usual hustle and bustle of tourists from all over the world.

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Pokhara to Tatopani

Today was the first day where our wobbly tyres were supposed to find some more appropriate grip than tarmac roads dotted with pot holes. We hoped that the rains would give a chance to reach the Kali Gandaki without being drenched all the way. Hey the only rain we got was refreshing 🙂

Up to Beni the road was asphalted, if I had not taken a wrong turn at Kusma and finally we ended up at the wrong side of the river on a country road that would have been more appropriate for lessons in climbing. Well, adventure comes when you loose direction and finally we found our way back to the “highway” at Beni. Next time I make sure to carry some water …..DSCF5761DSCF5776DSCF5770

Shortly after Beni the road ended at the massive Rockslide that had blocked the valley some weeks before. The army had  already been sent out to evacuate the villages when the river found a new course before it turned into a massive flash flood. There was a mud bath , ehh sorry a mud path for the next 7 Kilometers to reach back on the original road. Just imagine the size of the Slide that required to make a 7 KM detour!

We reached Tatopani completely drained and dirty. The Annapurna Lodge was such a treat, clean and good food.

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Tatopani to Ghasa

I had done the Annapurna Trek 3 times before so todays aim was to reach behind the Monsoon. But it was not so easy. Monsoon time is after all a blessing for the farmers from above and a curse for the roads in general. Hmm, lets not call it road anymore, it was rather a washed out river bed with two tracks that were dotted with football size rocks, endless mud sections, water crossings and puddles that drowned have your bike. The road climbed over the next 20 km from 1100 Meter to more than 2000 Meter above sea level. It was steep, muddy and ran along the deepest gorge in the world. Riding this part was accompanied by constant adrenaline rushes when a football size boulder pushed your front wheel out of the track and a bit too close to the edge.

Then there was the Pupse waterfall with no bridge to cross. The locals stood grinning at the new found business when we arrived. We haggled the passage and then they simply pushed and half carried the bikes across the water fall dangerously close to the edge. Luckily we had opted for the Motocross versions with a very high sitting position. The tank did not fill up and we did not have to block petrol tubes and exhaust to cross the river.

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Finally we called it a day at Ghasa, a place that was once a major overnight halt for trekkers before the “road” came. Now people want to go around the Annapurna in one week and do half of the distance by four wheel driven cruisers that run the route after the rains have stopped. During this time of the year we were about the only “crazies” on the road. Today Ghasa lodges have no more business as most trekkers ride past the small town to reach Thorong La (5400 Meter) faster.

Ghasa to Jomsom

The next day we finally reached the rain barrier. The big massive mountains of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri block here the clouds and rains are more scarce. In Lete we drove into an alpine like climate with Pines and lots of fresh air, a big relief after the humidity of the Monsoon valleys. Nice place to stay for a couple of days to make a day trek or two.

After Lete the valley opens up and slowly turns into a desert. No more rains reach this place and we are finally on the same level as the Tibetan Plateau less than 100 Km from where we stand. The road becomes more of a road and easy to ride. Sibylle enjoys it so much that she decides to drop her bag right into the stream at the last river crossing. Luckily at a spot where the bag does not swim back to where we came from 🙂

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Jomsom is the hub for treks to Lo Manthang and it is also the only permanent airport in Mustang. We decide against Lo Manthang and the permit fee of 500$ for just 3 – 4 days. Instead we park the bikes and take a bus ride to Muktinath. It felt like a holiday! No helmet, no gear, no bike, just a camera, a bottle of water and a relaxing ride. The weather was fabulous and we had spectacular views of Nilgiri and Dhualagiri all the way.

Muktinath

Muktinath has changed since I was first here. Besides the small Shiva temple there are now buddhist Gompas and “Bakshish Babas” waiting for a donation. Somehow it has lost that special touch of simplicity and being truly spiritual. There is also a big tourist village now with plenty of rooms and lodges. But again, we were more or less alone.

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The drive back

The Himalayan roads force you often to see the same thing twice. The road back was the road we came from. Only downhill it went faster. So we reached Pokhara in two days.

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Mountain view

Hey this is great! Sit down and listen! We had Mountain view in Pokhara and Bandipur for the next 4 days! It was even better than during the regular season, because the clouds played with the peaks and the peaks with the clouds. Imagine we saw the mountains during the Monsoon! So we decided to stay in Bandipur for 3 nights,just enjoy the amazing country side.

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Helpful Nepal

What do you do when you have a flat tyre? You fix it at the next possible place and it costs you 1$. Yes 1$ to fix a tyre. What do you do when you have a second puncture and no more tube? Well, that is a problem, but not in Nepal. First they try everything possible to find a tube, which is not so easy for a Japanese made Motocross bike. And, if they do not find one, they jack up another bike, remove the tube and give it to you! Costs you 7$ including the tube. This was to help us out, so we could reach back to Kathmandu. The donor of the tyre agreed to wait till a new tube arrived the next day. This is what I love so much about Nepal. This incredible hospitality is just humbling and amazing. Thanks guys!

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The Kathmandu Valley

Back in Kathmandu we visited Bhaktapur, Changu Narayan, Gundu, Lalitpur, Bungamati and Bodnath. Gundu and Bungamati were on the plan because of a small project with we got involved in, to assist in some way with quake relief. But first the tourism view, the relief topic will de described in another blog.

Bhaktapur

There is damage and one part of the town has been severely destroyed. For guest’s however there is no reason not to visit the city. Most of the monuments are intact and the people are working very hard to remove rubble and rebuild the city. Some of the temples and monuments will take time to be restored and the impact will be visible for some time, but the city is back on track and the infrastructure intact.

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The main temple is damaged and the museum and buildings around it have all collapsed. They told us that it will take around 5 years to restore the complex.

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The Stupa has been damaged at the top but will be rebuilt by latest September. After that there will be no visible damage in the area.

DSCF6473DSCF6443Kathmandu and Lalitpur

These two cities face the same situation as Bhaktapur. There is visible damage at the old squares and tourist centers, but there is No reason not to go there. The grandeur of the cities is still there and visitors get a very good impression about culture and history of Nepal.

Chitwan and Everest

Even tough we had no time to go there we know that both areas are open and there are no infrastructure problems. Even the road to China is open again.

The impact

There are two major impacts on Nepal because of the Quake. First, the tragedy of the Quake that has been reported to the entire globe with selected gruesome pictures and exaggerations. Help organizations have sent Marketing teams and photographers to Nepal to paint the grimmest possible picture so that the can lure money out of people. The result of this negative marketing is much more severe than the damage of the Quake. Media reporting has stopped and the picture that we carry is that of a country heavily damaged. Today we carry the impression of Nepal like we do about Kabul.

Just today I received a mail from my friend Bharat who runs a travel company and 2 small lodges in Kathmandu and Bandipur.

This is what Bharat writes: 

It is going to take long time  for people to recover. I personally feel grateful that when the earthquake hit the country we were lucky to survive. As the time passes and I see my cost and there is nothing coming into the account now I start to realise how powerful the earthquake was. You see all places that I have been operating  have no guest at all. It has been more than 3 month and we have no business people are not booking the  holiday to Nepal. It is going to be very  hard to sustain. The autumn used to be the best season for Nepal. Spring is quite less and looks like we need to wait for minimum 6 months before we  start seeing  guest arriving to Nepal.

This is the far greater damage and bigger suffering for the country. Tour Operators have to step up and are called for a positive role to fulfill. Sadly, if I speak to some of them I hear nothing but moaning and groaning about the loss of business. Some of them even reduce their offering for Nepal, because they feel that it will not do well next season.

Conclusions

There is no reason NOT to visit Nepal. Actually there is every reason to do so. The entire infrastructure is working. There are no disease, no war and there is no danger! The people are sweet and helpful. The mountains are the same, so are the rivers, the hills and even the cities. Apart from some visible damage and in some areas people living in temporary housing there is a country unchanged waiting with its incredible natural beauty. This is the time to make travel plans to go and see the highest peaks, the endangered Rhinos, Elephants, etc.

Hey, just be the next person to write ad experience blog about one of the most amazing spots on the planet. Looking forward to read from you!

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Himalayan Stories – Light plays

The play of the sun rising over the horizon, painting the sky in a myriad of shades and colours remind me of you…..

Himalayan Stories – Kala Bhairawa

I remember the story, told to me by a priest in the mid Eighties. The story is of Kala Bhairawa, the god that is said to assist the righteous and destroy evil. The Legend tells that in olden days people having a fight were brought in front of the Idol and were told to speak the truth. Their fears of this gods wrath was so big that they were scared to utter a single lie. So legend has it that this place became sacred, a place of worship and holy ground. Even today people flock here to pay homage to this magnificent god that tolerates nothing but the truth.

Returning to the Himalayas next month I curious if this magnificent god withstood the wrath of the earth. Looking forward to meet friends, visit places and assist with what ever help I can offer. Himalaya – more than 30 years ago I was invited to your lands, so I could learn humility, listen to stories, hear your tales tales and encounter places, so beautiful that one could not stop tears running down your cheeks.

Himalayan morning

The sun rises gentle in the east, painting the sky and the hills with myriads of shades and colours.

Let me be like this morning, gentle and calm

Let me be like this sunrise, bathing everything in gentle light

Let me be like this morning sun, warm and caring

Let there be no judgement in my heart and mind

Let there be no vice troubling my soul

Let me welcome you, like the sun over the eastern horizon

bathing you in colourful light, let me touch you like the morning breeze

gentle and soft, not asking, just giving

Let there be just joy and silent understanding

so the morning breeze may gently play between our souls

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Tea shop in Goa

The magic of travelling in India is that you get to see so many ways of looking at religion, faith and culture. Gods are simply part of their daily life and there is hardly a place where they are not smiling from a small altar, from a picture, or act simply as a decoration of a local tea stall. Faith is a constant companion of Hindu day to day life. The eternity of the soul and the freedom to express faith in a simple and personal way has managed to survive several centuries on Islamic rule in many parts of the country and it has survived the British Raj as well. Buddhism, who’s origin is in India and Nepal on the other hand has been routed and forced into exile by islamic invasions. Their religious structure was too easy to uproot, like the latest Chinese invasion of Tibet demonstrates. Christianity and Islam, probably because of their common roots have managed to increase their reach mainly because of hard line rituals and spreading fear of eternal hell and condemnation. Hindu faith, a mythology rather than a religion has been and remains till date one of the few faith with free flowing forms, accommodating different forms of expression, like demonstrated in the small tea stall. This really brings you to the basic question if organised religion should not be considered the enemy of faith and individual growth. History supports my claim. Where ever man benefits from spreading the message of any form of a supreme being it all went wrong. The self interest of the priest has sprouted into the most common affliction the world suffers today – “Greed and hatred for our fellow man”. Exploitation of the planet, our giver of life, the very essence of what we should call and respect as god is being ruthlessly abused and destroyed. We fight wars in the name of protecting our values against enemies claiming to protect the same values. The absurdity of it is so apparent and yet we seem to blind. So at this tea stall, once more like I did in 1984, I decided to abandon nationality and religion and follow just one voice, my voice within.

The Bodnath Stupa in Nepal

The Bodnath Stupa in Nepal

Bodnath is one of the really nice and peaceful places in the Kathmandu Valley. Especially around sunset hundreds of people flock onto the street around the Stupa to make their prayer rounds around the majestic Stupa. People from all walks of life begin a small pilgrimage to the self. Some of them alone,, some chatting with friends, but all in a deep sense of peace and harmony, creating a special atmosphere of peace and calm.