Sunday, 18 November 2007

Doolally for Diwali

Varanasi is notorious for rip off merchants and liars who will mislead you and do anything to extract your apparently boundless wealth. If you get a taxi or auto-rickshaw you will probably not get taken to your hotel because it will have burned down or been flooded, instead you'll be taken to their 'other hotel' and charged way over the odds for it too. Watching the cows in the station and considering our options while waiting for the tourist information center to open, we got chatting to an Irish couple who led us through the now familiar gauntlet for them and showed us their very nice hotel where we promptly made a booking.

It is in the old part of town. A labyrinth of tiny alleyways and footpaths, crammed with people, cows and motorbikes. Traffic frequently backs up if two cows meet in an alley (the alleys are only about as wide as a pregnant cow) and some gentle persuasion is applied to the holy animals to find a solution to the situation. Cows are everywhere in India. Because they are considered holy animals, no-one interferes with them. The result is thousands of cows that idly wander the streets and back lanes, regarding the traffic with indifference (often acting as roundabouts), and sadly, consuming no end of the bountiful rubbish that is strewn everywhere you look. The subsequent result of this is the vast spread of dung that is absolutely everywhere. Walking through the lanes can be a bit of a dance as you have to avoid the mines, and the traffic and while passing the cows themselves, their swinging poo'y tails.

Varanasi is famous for its Ghats, stone stairs leading down to the shore of the Ganges. The length of the town lies along the water course and there are dozens of these ghats, harbouring dozens of little boats each, and food sellers and silk merchants trying to tempt you into their shops. We had arrived in Varanasi during the festival of Diwali, the festival of light and for the first couple of days the town was a little bit quieter as some people had closed their businesses and headed to their home towns to celebrate with the family. We weren't actually aware of this until a couple of days later when the town exploded back to full life.

What we were aware of though was the explosions in the sky and on the pavements. The festival of light is celebrated with fireworks and we spent a couple of evenings up on the roof of our hotel watching the sky glowing and dancing in colours all around us. It also seemed to be the festival of big bangs as plenty of kids were throwing bangers all over the streets, lots of them big enough to probably be classed as a bomb back home. The biggest fireworks of all though belonged to our hotel owner who put on a show on his roof with quite the arsenal of explosives. He was setting off mortars that exploded into star bursts that wouldn't look out of place in a big organised firework display and he had plenty of them. Excitement gave way to terror when one of the rapid-fire fireworks fell over and started launching rounds into the crowd but we were soon all enjoying ourselves again, especially when he brought out his piece-de-resistance, a massive box that once lit took about five minutes to launch about 240 fireworks into the sky.

The fireworks and explosions lasted for about a week after the actual festival, though it didn't seem to bother the cows who didn't even batter an ear at the biggest booms that had us cowering. In the pursuit of some calm we headed out of town to Sarnath, another Pilgrim stop often visited in conjunction with Lumbini in Nepal. This is the park where the Buddha is said to have delivered his first sermon, sitting in a deer park under a bodhi tree. Today the place remains a serene park with several ancient monastic remains, another Ashokan Pillar and a Bodhi tree said to be a direct cutting of a direct cutting, and a couple of times more of the original tree he sat under. There's also a deer park here though no claims are made about the ancestry of those.

We spent a week in Varanasi, acclimatising to the Indian way of things, the noise, the cows and the bustle and also, the very very slow service in restaurants, the like not seen since Cambodia. The record was waiting over an hour for a cup of tea and a piece of toast. By the end of the week all that was left was to go out on the Ganges in a boat.

We had almost been putting this off because, despite being such a holy, and cleansing river, the water is really dangerous. It is full of heavy metals and toxins, dumped by industries up stream and it is full of rubbish floating along and nourishing the odd bathing cow. People come down to bathe and purify themselves in the water, seemingly blind to the true state of the water. Our Irish friends had witnessed floating animal carcases when they took a boat out into it.

The Ganges is a very holy river though and Varanasi is a very holy town. Apparently, if you die here you automatically gain immediate enlightenment and thus escape the cycle of reincarnation. As such, lots of old people see out the last of their days here, and once the last day has come and gone, they get cremated in open pyres at the shore of the Ganges, just to make doubly sure. There are two 'burning ghats' in Varanasi, one at either end of the town, where day and night the orange glow of the flames illuminates the ancient and majestic buildings behind.

We had pretty much seen everything Varanasi had to offer, and we had pretty much acclimatised to India's ways now as well. It was time to head out of town and toward the one place with an even harder reputation for scams - Delhi.

Our final country

We were up early the next morning and after a spot of breakfast and a very bumpy taxi ride for about 6KMs, we were standing at the border ready to leave Nepal for India. We first had a couple of things to do in the border town, namely change our money and get processed by immigration. We don't like border towns. As a rule, they're seedy, dirty, noisy and nasty. Everyone seems to exist in them to impair your progress and take your money. Everything in them is overpriced and of dubious quality and anything anyone tells you, usually turns out to be a lie. For a more in depth analysis let me refer you to our earlier posts, The Cambodian Immigration Incident and The Carry On to Kathmandu.

We had had a tough time entering Nepal and we were braced for the same leaving it but as it turned out we had one of the best times yet. The money changer seemed fair and the staff at the immigration desk were laughing and having such a good time that they stamped Nikki's exit visa with an entry one. India's immigration was a little less friendly but as it consisted of a man sitting behind a desk at the side of the road he probably had reason to be a little disgruntled anyway. Then we got ourselves bundled into a jeep to head to the nearest train station at Gorakhpur. For the 3 hour journey, four of us sat in the back seat (for 3 people) three people sat in the front seat (for 2 people) and five people sat in the boot (for 2 people). We considered ourselves lucky that the driver couldn't find that one last person he was looking for to 'fill' the car before leaving.

At Gorakhpur station, a sight familiar to us from our days in China greeted us; Hundreds of ticket counters - each for specific destinations only, all with huge unmoving queues, and no clue where to go for our tickets to Varanasi. There was also a less familiar sight in the foyer, standing between the queues. A great big cow, which once it got a bit tired lay down for a bit, then got up again, relieved itself and lay down in a different spot, presumably as baffled by the queues as we were. After much stress and fighting with queue skippers we got to the front of the MP's, female's and foreigner's queue and then after further stress and hassle had ourselves a sleeper ticket to Varanasi. We had a long wait first though so took a brief sniff outside, decided it was all too much and far too scary (even this far in to our trip, India is still quite the assault for the new visitor) and hid in a retiring room at the station until night time.

This gave us time to reflect on Nepal, the country that we only visited because it was in the way, and only expected to stay in for about a week and a half but didn't leave for five weeks. It had been quite the little gem on our tour and definitely one of our favourite countries of them all. Somehow we never managed to do what most people do in Nepal which is launch ourselves off on a trek but we have most definitely not ruled this out for the future, though maybe we'll leave the white water alone. The array of adventures and activities and the cost of them is possibly at the best ratio in the world. The availability of western comforts, in terms of nice hotels and good food surpassed any of the other 'scary' countries we went through, and the people were some of the most friendly, and well informed we have had the pleasure of being with too. We very much liked Nepal and definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a cheap get away, that's not quite off the peg.

At 11 o'clock our sleeper train trundled into the station. We were sleeper class, which is the basic class for those who want to travel horizontal. The beds are three high, the foam mostly worn flat and you get no linen, pillows or privacy. It's fine though, so long as you don't have the bottom beds because if you do, you can say cheerio to any hope of getting a lie down as it seems perfectly normal practise to share your bench with anyone else who wants to sit there too. We had the top beds and had a reasonably good trip. The only horror of the trip was the sight that faced us in a toilet as we boarded the train and walked passed the flapping door. In a good news, bad news scenario we had the only carriage probably in the entire train that had a western toilet. The bad news being that someone who didn't know how to use it had stood on top of the seat in their familiar crouch position, somehow avoiding a broken neck in the jostling train but as a result actually missing the target and leaving a very neat smoldering deposit on the toilet seat itself. We managed the trip without a need to face the horror a second time and reached Varanasi early in the morning.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007


We left Pochara, a fortnight after arriving in town to finally make our way to the border with India. We had one more stop on the way first though which was Lumbini, birth place of Siddhārtha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism and better known as The Buddha himself.
The village of Lumbini is tiny, so small in fact that we missed it on the bus and got off a mile further down the dusty road at an even smaller village, with a single guesthouse and a friendly owner. This was not such a bad thing in the end as it was still just as close to the reserve and gave us a good glimpse at traditional Nepali village life without any of the touts and hard sells that are to be found at most tourist spots.
A traditional Nepali village consists mostly of a long straightish road, flanked on both sides by single story mud and cane houses neighboured by three storey concrete and often rather windowless houses. Barbers have little huts on the side of the road just big enough for the barber, a seat and a rusty old mirror. The road is fairly chock a block with cycles and motorbikes which toot at anything in their way, and the odd cycle rickshaw dragging a cargo of people and produce you wouldn't burden an ox with. There's plenty of oxes and buffalo pulling trailers too, with goods and people you wouldn't burden a van with. There are no vans. There are lots of chickens though, and dogs and cows which wander the streets to their hearts content, usually obliging the motorbikes with their doubly loud horns who would have you believe their journey must be of the utmost peril. Trying to make their way between all this 'quiet' village life were two backpackers on old curvy handle bar style bikes, heading into the birthplace reserve.
The reserve is a wonderfully peaceful area of grass, forest and lake, full of birds and other happy creatures and surrounded on all sides by a large wall and railings. It is quite some size, measuring several kilometers in each direction. In the centre of the reserve on an island, are some excavated relics of ancient monasteries. In the middle of these is a building which protects the most important remains on the site - the building where the Buddha is said to have been born, and as legend has it, immediately stood up, took seven steps and made a highly respected statement of some significance. Several archaeological missions have come here from around the world and the general scientific consensus is that this indeed is most likely the Buddha's birthplace.

Inside the new building are the remains of the walls, standing about three feet high now but clearly delineating rooms and doorways and such like. In one of the small rooms is a flat stone which is regarded as the spot of the miraculous debut to the world. There is a raised walkway which guides Pilgrims and the inquisitive around the remains and brings them right up to the spot of most interest where everyone takes a blessing from the wall beside them and a photo of their special moment. Considering the magnitude and religious significance of the site, there is a wonderfully relaxed attitude from the administrators. Everything is right there in front of your nose, there's no enforced distance to keep, no restrictions on photography and no over-hushed sense of reverence required of visitors. We considered how differently things would be run, say, if there was a similar site of Christian significance in the middle of the Vatican and how stifled it would be for Pilgrims.

Outside the building was a stone column, known as Asoka's Pillar, and placed there by the Mauryan king Asoka, as was often his way when visiting such places in the 3rd Century BC. This column is also particularly revered and when we were there it had a group of about 50 worshippers chanting and praying, prostrated to the pillar.

Because the site is of huge significance to the Buddhist community worldwide, many foreign Buddhist societies have paid homage to it by erected monasteries in their own style and practising their own brand of Buddhism in two adjacent sites, known as the east and west monastic zones. These zones have existed now since the 70's with large and small monasteries in various styles, from Cambodia, Burma, China, Thailand, France and several other nations. The most opulent and stunning belongs to Germany. For every monastery already on the site, there seems to be two more in construction and in another few years time it is going to be quite the monastic theme park.

We spent a full day cycling our old style bikes around the site and returned to our guesthouse just before dark for dinner, a beer and bed.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Highs and Lows

With all the excitement of the last few days behind us it time was time to hide in a dark corner and lick our wounds. Mine were nothing more than knocks and bumps and Nikki's nose, finger and toe had formed nice little bruises which dutifully faded after everyone had had time to give her maximum respect. It was my turn for a bit of sympathy next though which I earned with an ear infection and a bout of food poisoning. I say ear infection, that's my own rather unqualified diagnosis, based on it being quite sore all the time and my continual comedy falls owing to a lack of balance. A self prescribed course of antibiotics seemed to do the trick though. The food poisoning was a bit different. Suspected cause; a chicken curry - the first meat in a while and the last now till we're out of India. That had me laid up in bed for a few days while Nikki nursed me back to life. That passed too though I was left a bit week for the next couple of days and without any appetite.

As things started to improve it was time to either leave the town or do what seemed to keep getting put back at every turn - paragliding. We had left it till we came back from the kayaking, hoping that the weather which had till now obscured the mountains completely might improve and offer us a better view. They hadn't and we were resigned to go the following day regardless of the visibility. We awoke early, as is the way in Nepal, and looking out the window couldn't believe our luck. There were all the mountains, hanging above the wakening town, like a big secret thing trying to sneak passed without being spotted. We grabbed our chance to make a booking. Booking made, all that was left to do now was sit back and wait for our booked time, watching as the clouds all rolled right back in again and hid the mountains like they had never been there to start with.

Not to worry, the view will be second to the whole flying thing anyway, we'll be too busy looking down to look up. We get in the van, and are driven up the hill with our pilots who we will shortly be getting strapped to and thrown off a hillside with. Alas, a quick sniff of the air and our pilots correctly predict that there are no thermals in the air and all we can really hope for is as much time as it takes to float down the height of the hill and land at the bottom.

It was an awesome ten minutes though. The hardest part was the running down this very short grassy slope that immediately gave way to falling trees and cliffs. Then with a sudden whoosh you get lifted backwards, up and then forwards. You then have to shimmy this wee seat down that is behind your back and then all that is left is to sit back and enjoy the world's highest armchair as it swoops about miles above houses and trees and gorges and suchlike. It was great.

Following discussions with our respective pilots, they are of the opinion that I was more scared than Nikki, something I put down to residual food poisoning and my ear infection. Just before landing we did some swoops and acrobatics to bring us down the last 100 metres or so in next to no time. It felt like free fall only with the ground a matter of seconds away if something went wrong. Nothing did of course and before I knew it we had landed, only I rather ungracefully landed on my rear end, and Nikki, who had landed minutes earlier, and had come running over to greet us got tangled in our glider as it fell on her head.

It was a really good ten minutes and better yet, because it was such a short trip, we got some of our money back too. Nikki even got a chance to fly her glider too taking a few sweeps and turns. I instead took a few photos and a little video.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Up Seti River without a Paddle

Pokhara is Nepal's second city. The tourists and thus us too, stay in the district called Lakeside, which it will come as no surprise to the enlightened reader, is situated beside a lake. People come here for all kinds of attractions. For those seeking enlightenment there are yoga courses and meditation classes. For those who want a little more activity there is the lake with boats and pedalos to hire, and a few walks in the surrounding hills - namely up to the world peace pagoda which looks back over the lake, across the town and up to the Annapurna mountain range beyond with the staggering peaks of several mountains exceeding 8000 meters and as you'd expect covered in snow.

For the little bit more adventurous again, Pokhara has in one town what many countries would be envious of and at prices they could simply never match. There are countless treks in the mountains, from day treks right up to the 18 day round trip all the way round the whole range taking you through the Indian, Tibetan, Chinese, Mongolian and Middle Eastern influenced corners. If you don't fancy walking far for your thrills there's kayaking, para-gliding, white water rafting, micro-light flights and of course endless shops selling the same ripped off North Face and Columbia trekking accessories.

We thought we might spend about 5 days here and maybe take in an activity if we could motivate ourselves - our travel slogan has become "sleep in, see nothing". Our first full day in town was the Christmas day of the Daishan Festival. Everywhere was closed and the town was eerily deserted on what was a lovely morning. We found the one German owned bakery that was open for breakfast and we joined the throng trying to get some sustenance for the day ahead. The day sailed by then as the town slowly rose from its slumber to party night in the evening. The next couple of days were spent with the usual wandering, and a bit of rowing and a trip to the peace pagoda. On our first evening we had caught a glimpse of the towering snowy peaks beyond, glowing in the setting sun light. We didn't know it at the time but that would turn out to be one of our very rare sights of them in what was an unusually cloudy spell over the town for the rest of our stay.

We changed hotels after our first choice invoked a one booking one toilet roll policy and then made some research into maybe going on a kayaking course. The trip had become a little sedentary, we felt we needed some sort of adrenaline kick just to keep things interesting. We booked ourselves on a four day course. Day one would be spent on the lake, learning all the basics including how to do an 'Eskimo Roll' which is what you call it when you right yourself after a capsize by flipping your paddle in a special way and popping back upright. Day's 2, 3 and 4 would then see us out on the river, getting more confident as the river increased from grade 1 (fastish flowing calmish water) up to grade 3 and a bit (boulders, froth, destruction and terror). There were ten of us on our course, 3 instructors and a supply/rescue raft.

Day 1, on the lake, went reasonably well. In most cases we could paddle in the direction we intended. We could all successfully capsize and in varying degrees of success some of us could even right ourselves. We could all get ourselves out of an upside down kayak too if the roll was unsuccessful, an exit maneuver that by the end of the week we were all quite expert at. Escaping from the kayak by this method though leads to a boat-ful of water, a drifting oar and a wet kayaker so if the roll is not successful we learned how to approach an inverted comrade from the side so they could grab the front of our kayak with their searching hands and right themselves that way too. Nic and I had much practise at that but we stopped after I came in too quick and crushed her right hand pinky between our boats creating the first bruise of the expedition. There was some concern from Nikki and I that we hadn't fully mastered the Eskimo Roll yet but we were assured there would be plenty of time for that on the grade 1 river. Relaxed, except for a sore pinky, we went to bed looking forward to our first day on the river.

Day 2 started off pretty good. We were a bit wobbly as we slipped into the current but we kept it together and like a paddle of ducklings following their mother we made our way tentatively down river. In fact it was nearly five minutes until the first bend came and the fun began. As people tipped, and Eskimos failed, people popped out of their boats and the instructors shot off rescuing both people and crafts. Nikki and I found ourselves behind the crowd as we battled to go in the right direction. Then wanting some of the fun I took the first tumble for us into a sink hole, attempted the Eskimo roll, failed, ejected from the kayak and popped up looking for my rescue. It occurred to me as I went around the left side of the rock that we were supposed to have gone around the right side of, that there was no one around to get me. Nikki was doing everything she could to simply stay upright and watch as i got carried away to the rocks, my kayak left upturned, spinning infinitely in the hole. That was the first scare of the day but it passed on reflection that I didn't really get washed quite as far down river as I thought I did and the boat was salvaged by an instructor who had realised there were two people missing from the mess further down river. The day continued fairly well, the rapids rapidly increasing in size and with them the frequency of kayak/kayaker separations.

We were split into groups of three or four with an instructor per group and this proved pretty good. We were taught direction signs which were fairly intuitive. If the instructor waggled his paddles to the right it meant go to the right, a waggle to the left intimating the expected alternative. However instead of using his paddle our instructor just used his hand. For Nikki who was paddling without her glasses this wasn't ideal. Even I had trouble seeing what he was saying sometimes leaving the only other option which was going roughly straight on or following the person in front, hoping they had seen the signal and were in full control of their craft, almost a certainty in the negative. The result was that I tended to spot the danger just before I was on it, sometimes avoiding it, sometimes tumbling, for Nikki though, the first she knew was when she was ploughing over it all, time after time after time after time. While the rest of us were tackling grade 2 stuff, Nic was successfully conquering falls, holes, whirlpools, jaggy rocks and the like, by leaning forward and just paddling like there was no tomorrow, trying to get back out of the grade 4 stuff and coming out each time like a hero. Unable to match her dexterity the rest of us competed for the best tumbles and swims down river, I took a hard knock on the knee off a boulder on one of my swims.

Day 3. (day 2 on the river) It was unwise of Nikki to use up all her luck on the first day like that but without her glasses on, she can be forgiven for a little shortsightedness. For my part I had been moderately lucky and would continue to be so today. We had camped overnight on the beach, had a good breakfast and were off. The morning proceeded as the day before but during the last rapids before lunch we had a big one to get through. It was time for Nikki to stop being so good and start falling in like the rest of us. The only trouble was, she was rather good at that too.

Coming through the rapid she tipped, ejected and bobbed down the river a bit, watching as her kayak and her parted ways. I was ignorant to all this at the time until she came shooting past me as I did all I could to fight against the same outcome. She made good time as she raced past all the obstacles, beaten only by her kayak, quite literally, which also made good time and then spun round whacking her on the nose for good measure as it continued passed. A little dazed, Nikki's troubles were over as she fell into a pocket of calmer water off to the side and the instructor came to rescue her. Not knowing about the whack to the face, and fearing more for the kayak, our leader told her to swim to the side while he recovered her boat. White water is a funny beast though for those of us ignorant in its ways, and before you could say "where's my paddle?" Nikki was off on part two of her adventure, caught in another whirlpool and spat off again on another jaunt through the rocks, our instructor looking around, kayak now recovered to see a little white helmet and life vest bobbing off past our lunch spot. That particular adventure ended shortly after that, Nic paddling back up river in her delivered kayak with a bloody nose and a few bumps too.

That was most of the excitement for the day except the last rapids before camp where everyone got put through the spin cycle, my kayak disappearing completely and requiring a search party to find it. Due to my missing kayak, and fellow comrade, Esther's kayak doing a superb impression of the last moments of the Titanic, we got a lift through the last bit of choppy water on the raft and were the first people to set foot on the beach. Five minutes later a few successful kayaks came in, a few more were towed (including mine) and once again Nikki went racing past us all sans kayak as the Nepal national kayaking champion raced her down river to pick her up and bring her back. It had been a hard day but day 4 was yet to come.

Day 4 was a short day, a big rapid, then a HUGE rapid and then an early lunch and back on the bus to town. The big rapid was predictable, lots of us flipped, a few of us survived it and while I tried Nikki's lean forward and paddle paddle paddle technique, owing in part to finding myself stuck in a terrifying torrent, Nikki got swept under and pulled along for a bit down with the fish before getting spat out straight for the next set of rapids we were all told to stop before reaching. Plucked out by our instructor with a battered toe that looked (but wasn't) broken and being punched around a bit by the water and possibly a boulder in the face she sat out the final rapid which in secret I was wishing I could have done too.

They marched us along the shore first to take a look at it and talk us through the route to take, the result being that I was utterly freaked and terrified of what seemed my inevitable death. Soon enough though we were all getting pulled through the machine by the current, our paddles really only serving to point our boats while we got dragged wherever fate had decided. I went round the big boulder, down the hole in front of it mostly up the other side of the hole, and then suddenly had nothing else to worry about as I tumbled about like upturned flotsam. My biggest concern had been the sharp S Bend I was going to have to take around the two very big and particularly Jaggy rocks, which hid inside two churning mountains of froth, betrayed only by the glinting sunlight. One arm over my face, I ejected from the kayak, and got carried along while I tried to work out which way was up to swim to the surface. The life jacket did it's stuff though and within a few seconds, which seemed like a few minutes I popped up, delighted to discover that all the peril was already quite a distance behind me. All that remained now was not to crash into the rest of the debris that was kayaks, paddles and bodies racing down with me.

The trip had been a lot of fun despite our various bruises and bumps. We had thought it was going to be a four day course, at the end of which we would be able to cope with the conditions we had gone through. Instead it was really just a guided trip where the instructors were mostly available to rescue you when the inevitable happened. As such we seemed to spend more time in total terror of situations we felt in no way equipped for. Despite that though, we survived to tell the tale and it was most certainly an adrenaline kick, and punch, and scrape and bump and dunking...

The road to Pokhara

The day we left Kathmandu was the big sacrificing day of Daishan. Goats were everywhere; on the roofs of buses, on walls, tied to trees, everywhere. People could not pass butchers for dozens of goats tied up waiting their fate. As our bus slowly crawled towards a junction we saw two goats tied to a railing beside a pool of blood and a frayed rope where presumably minutes earlier their friend had stood. Others were being led like a dog on a rope by their owners as the negotiated for the cheapest, 'kill (sacrifice) it, shave it and quarter it' package around. Often the goat in question standing, either unaware or trying to ignore the detached head staring back at it or the odd hoof here and there.

The traffic police struggled to keep traffic moving as there are no rules of the road here, except as we have become well used to, the biggest always wins. Today they were aided though by the somewhat unhelpful holy man who took it upon himself to try and give alternative directions to other traffic the police were failing to control. After a couple of hours though our bus had successfully got about 10 km out of town and the pandemonium started to settle.

We intended to break our journey at a small mountain village for a night called Bandipur. Bandipur has no traffic, no modern buildings, and owing to an oversight by the restaurant regarding Daishan, next to no food. So proceeded a day of easy walking to the top of the hill to enjoy the surrounding valleys, and generally settling down to the pace of the village. The gentle pace mercifully applied to the insect life too. There are giant spiders here which are like something out of a horror movie. They are not the fat hairy tarantula type, but the streamlined ones, with the long legs at the front and back and no hair. They were black and green and as big as a man's hand. Quite terrifying, as they hung in their webs from phone lines and tree branches. We never saw one move, but they looked fast. Our room was extremely basic, with a bed, a single sheet and a small table, but there was a tiny little wooden balcony behind a door which had a gob-smacking view over the whole area, trouble was, the balcony looked like it was just waiting for an excuse to collapse. I gave it one by jumping up and down on it repeatedly to test it, it seemed safe so I gave up and went back in doors.

To get to Bandipur, we jumped off our bus at a nearby town, got our bags thrown down from the roof of the bus and then caught a jeep up to the village at the top of the hill. The jeep was the same idea as the songthaews from S.E Asia - basically a pick up truck with two benches running down the sides of the back bit and a roof over the top. Normally you could fit maybe five people on each bench and sit a couple of children between the feet if you wanted a little bit of comfort while you travelled. Our car, counting the people on the benches, the people on those peoples' knees, on the bags in the middle, on the roof (using our bags for cushions), standing on the flap that closes to keep you in and sitting up front with the driver, crawled up the hill with 40 passengers on board.

After our stay we had a more pleasant journey back down the hill with only 6 or so of us in the car. We caught the next big bus going through town, then changed buses when it broke down and continued to Pokhara. We learned that today was the day that everyone travelled to stay with their families so we were very lucky that the bus was not any busier than usual, unlike the vehicles we saw arriving in town later in the day, presumably after everyone had come home from work. As such there was little excitement on our bus, except for the goat who enjoyed a rare trip indoors instead of on the roof. He is probably not around any more though to tell of his privilege.