Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Rhinos & Momos: India & Nepal Part 5

We saw rhinos doing it.

Rhinos. There are two. Look closely. 


Chitwan National Park was already hitting high marks in our memory books. Our early morning canoe ride had an unexpected surprise. Rhinos.  This was absolutely fascinating to everyone- including our guide.  




Elephants- our favorite. 
Chitwan was 360 square miles of preserved ground.  From vast mustard seed fields to vividly painted elephants, the air felt clean and the landscape was vast.  Our pace had slowed.  Later that afternoon, we went on a safari with our group through the the park - rumor had it that one jeep had spotted the illusive Bengal tiger, but our folks just managed to spot some storks which sparked a brief moment of banter involving bringing home a Nepalese baby through customs and me advising those storks to keep flying.


We also found a lot of silliness- like... a LOT.  Over the last few days, our entire travel group had really begun to gel.  Very quickly, I was falling head over heals in love with these people who were strangers just a week earlier. That's what hours on end in buses will do. Nepal also just felt easier. 

From Chitwan we traveled by public transport to Pokhara, a trekking town 30 miles from the Annapurna range. The views were breath taking.  The air was clean. That night, our whole group went out for dinner and I encountered my first of many momos.  Momos are a Nepalese dumpling stuffed with veggies or meat and served with a soup-type sauce for dipping. They were amazing. Dinner turned to large pours of red wine for me and Long Island ice-teas for a few of our friends. Hangovers felt looming, but the wine felt better.  Caution had been thrown to the wind. 

World Peace Pagoda 
The next day, after a trip to the World Peace Pagoda and more tremendous views, T.J. and I took the opportunity to do some much desired shopping. We found prayer flags to remind us of Lumbini, beautiful woolen blankets, a handmade elephant quilt, and I began my search for the perfect pairs of pants which continued through the remainder of our trip.  We found trinkets for everyone.  In one particular store, The Women Skill Development Organization, T.J. fell in love with a handmade stuffed elephant. We decided to bring one home for a friend and at the last minute decided to purchase a red one for our some-day kiddo. 

The following morning, we traveled by bus to Kathmandu.  The largest city in Nepal.  After getting settled into our hotel rooms. we went out for one last family dinner and night on the town.  Kathmandu had a similar city vibe to India, but still felt far less intimidating due to the strong tourist nature.  After a great meal, we headed to a hookah bar for more drinks. A few from our group would head out the next day.  The bar was dark, we sat on pillows with our shoes off, drank rum and smoked too many cigarettes. There was an acoustic guitarist playing everything from Radiohead to Tom Petty and he was good.  I almost wish he had a cd, although I know now, that it wouldn't have sounded as good anywhere else. It was a perfect vision of a group of strangers that had joined paths briefly and would part again soon. He played Stand By Me and the hair on my arms stood on end. This was one of those moments that would stay with me for the rest of my life. There are very few times I've been aware of those moments.  One was on my wedding day and this was another. We were all present in the truest sense of the word and it was grand.  

video


Everest! 
New Years Eve morning, T.J. and I, along with a few group members boarded a small airplane for a vision of Mt. Everest.  It was our homage to T.J.'s grandpa, Ralph, who nearly 50 years before had been in Kathmandu managing construction of communications towers under Sir Edmund Hillary. We had to see her. After flying so close to her, I can't quite fathom what would posses someone to climb that mountain. Nonetheless, it was absolutely amazing.  We had seen Everest upclose and personal. Bucket List item- checked. 


T.J. celebrates our arrival to Hotel Shanker 
In honor of the new year and the ending of our trip, we opted to upgrade and spend our last few days at Hotel Shanker- an old palace turned luxury hotel.   Much of our trip had been budget-friendly. We had modest accommodations that often included cold or lukewarm water and questionable mattresses. The Hotel Shanker felt anything but modest. We both reveled in taking the hottest shower we could stand.  I believe I even shaved my legs for the first time in two weeks. TMI? Well, you're the one reading this. Talk about indulgent.  



Our NYE dates
For the New Year celebrations, we met the remaining tour group members at an expat bar towards the center of the town for dancing and drinks.  Locals mixed with the tourists. People were dancing on tables. It felt very comfortable yet so foreign.  People, no matter where you are in the world, love New Years Eve.  I'm not sure if it's the excuse to have drinks and hug strangers or if there's something sweeter to relishing the beginning of something new.  Maybe both. I think for me it's both.