Amazing 3 Days at Sauraha

I went to Sauraha – the eastern entry point to the Chitwan National Park to spend a couple of days with family and friends. Sauraha, a popular tourist destination, is a must if you are visiting Nepal. Accessible by road (4-5 hours) from Kathmandu and Pokhara, if offers entry to the wilderness from within the moderately developed small town.

Here is how we spent three days at Sauraha as tourists and enjoyed every second of it.

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Meeting Tiger in the Wild

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat.
What dread hand? & what dread feet? (From Tiger by Willian Blake)

January 1, 2016: Tiger is an animal that co-holds the titles of both – the beauty and the beast. Meeting a tiger in its wilderness is a treat – not only for the eyes but for your heart too as someone termed the experience as equivalent ‘achieving orgasm during first sex by a lady’ – a possibility but a rarity.

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A Day at Ghalegaon

I spent almost 20 hours at Ghalegoan, Lamjung – a popular tourism destination for community based rural tourism and left wondering why exactly the village is so popular during the return trip on a jeep through rocky risky road (that took almost three hours to reach Besisahar – the district headquarters).

Ghalegaon, Lamjung

To say, the village is nestled on the lap of mountains including Lamjung, Annapurna II, Macchapuchhre and Manasalu, the village is at 2,070m (well, Nagarkot which is at one-hour easy drive from my home is at 2,175m), but the scenery I was offered was, well, not breathtaking.

For me, it looked almost foolish to travel/trek/ride that far for the views of the mountains that are offered better at many other easy destinations.

The homestay facility is something to look for. The food/night at a Ghale home was worth experiencing but I like it, I am not fond of homestay. However, my first experience of homestay at Goljung, Rasuwa felt much better (even the mountains).

The traditional-ness of the village is somewhat intact (despite the fact that the traditional Gurung house photo on the brochure is the only one of such type in the entire village).

And, the thing I was expecting but did not get was the briefing. Despite being a member of 30-member team to visit the village, the local tourism committee did not brief us on anything. We were left with hours with nothing to do other than roam around the village.

* * *

Welcome offered at Ghalegaon.
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I love Bhaktapur

One of my favorite activities while on holidays is roaming in and around the Bhaktapur Durbar Square – a UNESCO heritage site in my home district.

Being rich in art and artifacts, the mediaeval palace and its surroundings offer me something new every time I spent time there. Sometime, I discover an art I have never noticed, other times, I walk through a new alley and most of the time the square offers me a different kind of tranquility despite never being deserted.

I love sitting on a corner watching people’s activities: tourists taking photographs, children playing around, elders sitting together chatting and smiling and people moving. I feel almost like watching a favorite program on a muted television.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square is different than Kathmandu or Patan Durbar Square, for it seems lazily peaceful; for it offers glimpses into lives of people still to be touched much by modernity. It looks more a community backyard than a touristic attraction.

Last Saturday I was there for a peaceful evening just strolling around with my beloved wife and taking a few photographs and the most interesting piece I discovered, that I had never noticed before, was a statue just beside the famous 55-windowed-palace.

It’s a woman walking with a dog and dragging a child [distinctly a boy]. Here it is:

More about Bhaktapur: Nepal Tourism Board, Wikipedia & Virtual Tour to Bhaktapur Durbar Square.

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Daman, I’ll come again!

daman1

At 2322m, atop of a hill on the old Tribhuvan Highway, 80km from Kathmandu through winding/old/narrow road, Daman has nothing much if you do not stop. It could pass without you even noticing if you happen to be in the one of very few vehicles that plies on the almost forgotten highway.

But, if somehow you spend a few minutes looking around; you will fall in love with it.

I spent a weekend there with a few of friends and family members: the choice of time was not very good as there was only a glimpse of Himalaya peaks. But nevertheless, the journey was a worthy for without the white peaks too, the green hills were majestic.

daman2

The greenery and wavy landscape, with a few groups of houses afar and clouds moving all over and fogs convering everything now and then provided us a beautiful view from a View Tower at the View Tower Daman Resort: a budget place to spend a night (Rs. 1,000 for a room with attached bath /Rs. 600 for without attached bath with 33 per cent discount/no AC). The manager told me that the tower, with a eating space plus viewing space, was build 53 years ago.

If I had been there in season/got the clear weather, I would have seen mountains peaks on three side, from Annapurnas and Machhapuchhre on west to Mt Everest on east along with all peaks of northern side. The Lonely Planet Nepal says it’s arguably the best place to view of Himalayas: wow!

There is also a short hiking on offer. We walked some distance on road to a cemented gate to the temple of Risheshwor Mahadev. Thirty-minutes of moderate jungle walk brought us to a peaceful place [the temple is combination of natural big stones but considered holy].

daman3

On the way, seeing a small water fall, three of us deviated from the normal route to take photos; and on the way back, I slipped off a stone and fell into a small pool of water injuring my left knee. Lesson learned: never deviate from normal hiking route.

60 kilometers from there is Hetauda which is two-hour away from Sauraha, the tourist point of famous Chitwan National Park. If we had time, we would have gone there but we had to return through the same windy road with majestic views of habitats and slopes of hills.

Just as we left, I thought: I will come there again in September/October to view all the white peaks; to absorb the pious of Daman.

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Chisapani: the coolness of hiking

Height: 2194m from sea-level
Distance: 14km walk (mostly uphill) from Sundarijal, Kathmandu

Walking uphill, especially on stone steps till you reach the end of Mulkharkha, is not easy but the rewards you get then after – almost three more hours of walk through the jungle of Shivapuri Wildlife Reserve and the place called Chisapani on a hilltop – are lifetime experience.

The most important thing not to miss on the way is the Kharka [plain grazing land on the hills] just five minutes uphill from the last house/teashop of Mulkharka.

cp2

The plain, with greenery and beautiful green hills behind, is somewhat hidden from the hiking path but it’s walking on it was one of the best part of the hike.

During the uphill walk, the local life and the Kathmandu Valley down below are something to watch.

cp1

I saw no animal on the jungle walk but the peace it gives to soul made me forget the aches on legs.

Chisapani itself is not a big village, only a few houses – half of them lodges. No mobiles. But it’s cool – for the cool breeze, for the fog that comes and goes covering hills.

From Chisapani, though my team walked back, we could have walked six hours to reach Nagarkot.

“That’s nice of you, we all Nepali should see our own country,” a villager told us after knowing we hiked to Chisapani. And, I agree.

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On Chaukathi, a short film

Threshold or Chaukathi, a 30-minute film made by my friend Deepak Rauniyar, was officially the first film to be selected to be screened at Cannes Film Festival. There were two more from Nepal same year.

Despite being screened at the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival in Kathmandu, where it was adjudged the third-best film, I had not watched it and when it got selected for Cannes, I just felt like I should have watched it.

Deepak was surprised when I asked him, after he returned from Paris, to inform me to screening of it. He promised he would and he invited me today at Kumari, where the film will be screened just before Terminator Salvation [oddly enough to comment] on the ticket for English movie.

To be true, I didn’t expect anything ‘very good’ from Deepak, a close-friend during our jobs at Nepal Samacharpatra daily. But he proved to be beyond my expectations; although I feel there are still a lot to be improved.

threshold

So, what’s the Chaukathi all about? It’s a story of a woman, educated till standard 10 before marriage, who is amazed by the talks of a census data collector woman. The woman says the household Tarai woman that she left her husband because it did not just worked. Then, during the night, when her husband asks her for an intercourse, he refuses and leaves the room as she was in no mood for it.

Very simple storyline but told nicely – a strong message of women empowerment. I loved a few things about it:

  1. There is no villain, even the husband of Saraswoti Gupta, the woman, loves her dearly.
  2. Messages are told vividly yet nothing like preaching.
  3. Natural story – I didn’t felt like even a piece of it can not happen in my neighborhood.

Rooms for improvement: yes, the film is unnecessarily long – it will lose nothing if brought down to 20 minutes; acting is not the best; in few scenes camerawork/editing leaves scars.

Somewhere in Facebook, Deepak wrote that a popular commercial director told him that since the film is produced/written/directed/edited by him, only he would watch it. I am not interested in what he answered, but here is my answer: it is a lot better than a few of your films that I have watched.

And, before I conclude here is an encouraging comment from a man sitting behind me: It looks like a Hindi film dubbed in Nepali. Well done, Deepak!

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Moutain Flight: A Unqiue Experience

Lovely Moutains!
Lovely Moutains! Mount Everest at the middle.

That’s beautiful, isn’t it? The photo was taken from a Buddha Air airplane during a 45-minute mountain flight on February 13, Friday [scary date to go on mountain flight!]

Two times before the date, I had returned from airport without flying because of the weather. But this time, despite being on the date that many consider unlucky – one of the earliest computer virus was called Jerusalem infected computer only on Friday the 13th, I was lucky enough to get the flight.

And, I found out how lucky I was and what I missed after a few minutes [a bit quicker than half of the crew who were seated on the other side]. Beautiful mountains as if I was seeing them from my rooftop – so near and so majestic.

Lovely Moutains!
Lovely Moutains! Mount Everest at the middle.

I was not carrying a camera because I could not charge the batteries because of load-shedding but I took a few shots from the camera that my friend was carrying with him. When the beautiful lady [the air hostess] asked me if I wanted to go to cockpit to take photos from pilot’s window [yes! they let you do so], I said no and she glanced at me for a second surprised.

I thought, who wants to see such beautiful mountains through lens. It was truly an amazing experience [not as good as trekking to Everest base camp though, but I you have no time to got the EBC, the mountain flight is something not to miss in Kathmandu].

However, you can not take picture of you and mountain together with an amateur camera
However, you can not take picture of you and mountain together!

Here are three tips for you if you want to go for Mountain flights in Nepal:

  • Go to Buddha Air [disclosure: I was on the non-paid ticket that the airlines provides to my association as sponsorship]
  • Get into plane as early as possible [I was the last and I got a seat on wings, so some obstructive views]
  • Sit on the left side row. [so you are first half to see the mountains plus while returning, you can either sleep or talk]

Thanks to S. for these photos.

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Is Kagbeni As Good As Publicized?

My straight answer is: NO!

Kagbeni is one of two first Nepali digital cinemas directed by Bhusan Dahal. Even if you don’t care about Nepali television or music videos, its unlikely that you haven’t heard his name. From Nepal Television’s Sunday Pop to Kantipur Television’s top post, Dahal has a long history in the glamour media and is, no doubt, one of the best music video directors of the country.

Even to watch his music videos is a treat itself. But when he moved to big screen, with Kagbeni, he did some good things but failed to live the expectations – at least for me, and a dozen of people around me at the theatre.

Something that I liked most in the cinema are among others no use of Hindi terms by the actors (sadly true for many other Nepali movies); the brilliant cinematography that was backed by Dahal’s realistic approach and the Nepaliness. And, is there anymore?

The theme of the movie is ’Be Careful for What You Wish For’ and the storyline is derived from The Monkey’s Paw which is beautifully put into Nepali context. But is the story so strong enough to make a movie in 2008? I believe no. The attempt of the movie to gain a realistic theme through a unrealistic storyline is a fallacy in itself.

And, the audience suffer the attempt to lengthen a short story into a full length two-hour long movie with yawns and changing of sitting position. The weaker story make the whole effort of direction, screenplay, cinematography and acting (which is brilliant as far as I am concerned) look unnecessary.

The closing remark of the young man seated behind me: Since the name is Kagbeni, I should have understood its a Kage (unrealistic) movie!

I believe if you have been lately bored by seeing too much Bollywood imitation in Nepali movie, its a must watch! But if you are one who needs a fast pace story, just ignore it.

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The Magic of Harry Potter

  • On 21 July, I knew some of the book shops had specially arranged to bring the last part of Harry Potter series to Kathmandu – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
  • On 22, I read news about it that Kathmandu natives –especially youth and children – were thronging to get a copy. Until the afternoon of 23, I resisted the lure but then gave away and tried to get a copy in the evening but I couldn’t.
  • On 24, I got a copy and immediately start reading and what a great fun it was.

I do not call myself a big fan of Harry Potter though I have read all seven parts and seen all the films and frequently visit a few sites about it. People have looked at me with wide eyes when I told them that I love to read Harry Potter and most of them often asked ‘aren’t they meant for the children?’

‘Ya, but I too love reading them,’ my answer. After finishing the seventh and sadly the final part, I sat satisfied the boy wizard at the end won the battle and it was a happy satisfying conclusion. Then I started recalling what had happened in the story and asked myself, ‘how on the hell can I believe all that thrash?’

I just looked at the collection of seven Harry Potter books – each new version bigger than earlier and asked myself why I enjoyed the books so much. I turned the first page of the first book – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and read a few lines:

Mrs Dursley was thin and blonde and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck, which came in very useful as she spent so much of her time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbours.

I smiled! The humour in those gripping lines is so simple yet powerful and I understand why I enjoyed the unbelievable story so much. JK Rowling, I see, has not only given the gripping suspense that makes me turn each page as soon as possible but has also put a huge amount of simple humour that keeps me smiling and satisfies me like nothing else.

The childish story with all usual message – good will win over evil and courage is everything needed for success – got the largest audience ever, earned Rowling a fortune and there are many fans like me who would never call themselves a big fan of her but will always read/see the Potter Magic with intense interest.

I don’t know if I would get another such series in my lifetime but I don’t see that coming in near future, sadly!

***

It was not Harry Potter that kept me away from blogging for more than a month rather it was a series of events and illness that surrounded me in the last few weeks. I broke my ring finger in a cricket match keeping me away from keyboard, then my wife was ill, then I was ill myself with severe cold.

In between I was kept busy with my master’s thesis, which thankfully has now completed, reporting of women’s cricket, the inauguration of Nepal Photo Agency from my photojournalist friends and I helped them in a few matters and then preparation for the Players of the Year Awards from my association – Nepal Sports Journalists Forum.

Blogging at the same speed is not possible – a bitter truth I had already experienced yet hopefully now on I will try not to be absent from it for so long.

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Amazing Experience of Paragliding

Friday, May 11, 2007 at 10:30 AM: I jumped off a slope at Sarangkot, Pokhara to glide freely on air. As I jumped off the slope, I was on air, flying freely. After a few minutes, as I looked down, I could see the whole city of Pokhara and famous Fewa Lake under my feet.

I looked up, afraid that I may fall down the long way and my stomach twitched. ‘Are you alright?’ my pilot Damodar Parajuli asked me. ‘Ya’. Why should I tell him that I was little afraid and my stomach was kind of twisting.

‘No twitch on stomach?’ Either this man is a devil or knows all about paragliding. ‘Little bit,’ I answered as he swirled around the Sarangkot hill making cold air pass through my body. It was really an experience worth life-long cherish because although I was in a tandem flight with pilot controlling the flight and everything else and I was just hanging to him looking around for hills and city.

‘Are you enjoying?’ What an absurd question? ‘Surely, it’s a big fun and I have never imagined that paragliding was such an amazing experience.’ He chuckled for he has been flying like this for five years – first two years solo and then piloting enthusiatics like me through air. As one of the few Nepali pilots working for Blue Sky Paragliding of Pokhara, Damodar had heard such answers for many times.

‘Mostly foreigners, Nepalis are increasing,’ he said adding that more females are interested in paragliding than males. [I thought maybe that’s true or maybe he is using his position in his office to allocate females to his flights]. The half-an-hour flight costs Rs 4500 for Nepali and US$ 75 for others.

I wasn’t flying in the season and my off-season flight costed me the view of the beautiful Ananpurna range. ‘You should have come during September-October,’ he said and I consoled myself thinking that I wanted the experience of paragliding, not seeing moutains from paraglide.

After a pleasant 20 minutes flight around the hill [of course letting photojournalist Chandra Shekhar Karki click a few photographs on flight], we were ready to decend. On the smooth decending flight, Damodar showed me the his village, his house and other things of Pokhara.

Once we were above the Phewa Lake and just about a few minutes away from landing, he asked me ‘if you are not afraid, I can show you some tricks.’ Why would I be afraid. He somehow manageed to slant the paraglide and then swished giving me the feeling of freefall of bungee jumping.

He did it twice and I was enjoying. On the third try, my stomach twitched and I told him so. He just instructed me to vomit on my left if I feel like and on the fourth swing, I vomited a little.

Then he instructed me how to land and I did that well, ran to the lake water, washed my face and sat on the ground thinking how pleasant the flight was.

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Top 5 Joys Nepal Offers

I am going to Pokhara once again! Hopefully, this time I will be able to do paragliding. For me, the biggest attraction in Pokhara apart from usual scenic beauty and lakes is paragliding.

Nepal, though more known for its beautiful mountains, lovely people and cultural heritages, offers more. Rather than going through the usual things tourist guides usually recommend in Nepal, I have here my top five list of the things that a little bit adventurous people should do in Nepal.

Some of them, I have already experienced; some other I dream about.

Trek to Everest Base Camp
Not easy, but this is something you will cherish lifelong if you accomplish. The routine: fly to Lukla (usual dangerous looking hilly airport), trek two days to reach Namche – the gateway to Everest, and leave behind the usual life to embark a trek of a week to reach Everest Base Camp and return.

You will not only see mountain tops so near that you feel like you can just casually walk on the top of it, but also will have time to think about what life exactly is (that thinking comes as you see the hard lives of the people living happily in the remotest areas). I have done that and here is my diary of it.

Bungee Jump
This is something, that looked daring! The second highest bungee jump of the world, 500 feet drop, from a suspension bridge. My experience says, once you are on the jumping deck, you see all white (nothing else) and when you jump, you feel like everything inside your body is bundled, then there is the feel of the rope and you have that exciting feeling never to forget again.

Paragliding
I don’t know how it feels but its something that I believe is a fun. From Sarangkot, the view point of Annapurna range, you are with a pilot thrown into air flying like a bird. A good view of Pokhara city. Here is more.

Rafting
Nepal’s rivers flow quick in mountain and hilly regions, turning and twisting making a lot of rapids for rafting. Rafting in the natural rivers that offers the joy of rapids is something everybody shouldn’t miss. I had rafted in Trishuli and found it more exciting than anything else. Within a short time, the joy you get from rafting – the cool water hitting you and the raft that twists and turns creating a kind of feeling mixed with excitement and fear, is unforgettable.

Visit a Temple
This is somewhat weird looking for quite interesting as far as I am concerned. The best time to visit any popular temple of Nepal is in the morning because I am asking you to witness the people visiting temples and their faces more than the temple or the art in it. I love visiting Pashupatinath temple, not because I want to pray but I love roaming around amidst the sounds of pray and looking at the people – most of them happily chatting, with tikas on forehead and flowers on head.

Have to done any of them? Share your experience!

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Delightful Reading

My friend Deepak Adhikari has written an article about blogging in NepalMonitor.com titled (Some) Thoughts from Nepal on Blogging.

An unprecedented numbers of visitors logged on to the blog and demanded more up-to-the-minute updates on events unfolding in Nepal. That was the time when I actually realized the power of the medium called blog. At times, I was exhausted, but I did not give up in that. I thought continuous update was critical in this technology-driven world. Amid curfew and massacres in the street, I gathered the nuggets of information and posted it instantaneously. It was painstaking. I could see how the Internet transforms the way we communicate.

And of course, there is a bitter truth for me and probably all the bloggers.

We bloggers in Nepal need to talk to each other and share our experiences. I must say this is what is lacking in Nepali blogosphere. We at Kantipur Complex regularly discuss blogs but that is a rather confined effort. The idea of Blog Association Nepal (BLOGAN) was proposed but it has not made much headway. One good example of a collective forum for bloggers is Nepali Voices, started in October 2006.

And, let me take this opportunity to congratulate him in advance for his marriage. May the poetry of your life be the best ever piece of poetry of the world.

Jan 28 is the auspicious day of wedding and her name is Kavita, the poetry of my life. Poetry apart, the joys and sorrows, I believe will be halved and shared. You need someone to care, more importantly you need to be loved and I feel fortunate to be worthy of this bond.

Some more reading on Citizen Journalism:

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Thoughts on The Royal Ghosts

Samrat without sex is better than Samrat with sex! (That is of course in what he writes.)

That was my first thought after reading more than half of Samrat Upadhyay’s new story collection, The Royal Ghosts. At that time I was really looking forward reading the title story that was the last piece on the book and it’s really a pity that I put down a good book with a disappointment.

The Royal Ghosts, the story is something that I feel is nothing more than a marketing ploy. The title itself, since it was carried as the title of the book, is more to serve the marketing purpose (huh, since the Royal of Nepal is so on the buzz these days) than the story under it. And it was again, Samrat with sex – the story on homosexuality. I would have probably liked the story if it has been treated differently in a different backdrop.

The other stories however are very good. I felt like I am reading the stories of my neighborhood. I loved the flow of the story and the build-ups (and also Samrat’s ability to pick up simple ideas and putting them into words brilliantly).

I loved the Father Daughter, Wedding Hero, Chintamani’s Women, The Weight of the Gun and the Refugee more than others after finishing the collection in less than 24 hours after it landed in my hand for Rs. 295 (it’s the cover price and you may be lucky as me to receive a little discount if you ask with the bookseller).

Samrat’s earlier story collection Arresting God in Kathmandu was a hit earning him Whiting Award and novel, The Guru of Love, too was a good piece. I didn’t read the first one until I finished the novel which I liked with some reservations despite many of my friends believing it’s not that good. Arresting God in Kathmandu was a bit of disappointment for me after the Guru of Love.

Both his earlier books earned him fame (and defame) as a Nepali writer living in US and writing about Nepali society (and sex) without ever trying to go to the depth. But The Royal Ghosts is a better and I recommend everyone get hold of it to read the stories of neighborhood and some as for me may carry a little story of your own.

Here is my friend Deepak Adhikari’s pre-release piece on The Royal Ghosts.

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