The days in Pokhara, the second biggest city of Nepal, were like being in a totally different place from Kathmandu. Like day and night, Pokhara is just calm and peace, without pollution, without traffic, without noise... and located in a perfect setting between a lake and the Annapurna Range. If to this you add some paragliding and the best chocolate creppes I've have ever had, the days in Pokhara were some of the best ones so far.
After the Holi festival in Kathmandu, we jumped into another long distance bus. This time our destination was Pokhara, the second biggest city in Nepal and meant to be a quiet place good to relax by a lake, have views of the Himalayas and practice some paragliding.
The Holi festival was supposed to be one of the highlights of the visit to Nepal and it really was. The whole city stops for one day to celebrate this Hindu festival to say goodbye to the Winter and welcome to the Spring. Even if it was still a bit cold, the experience of being in Durbar Square surrounded by thousands of happy Nepalis and having the face totally painted with colorful powder was amazing! An entire day of celebration, of saying 'Happy Holi!' to everyone and ending up covered by dozens of different colors made our day!
We had the 5th of March as a special day in the calendar. It was the annual Holi festival day in the Hindu countries and we didn't want to miss it. So we took another painful bus from Chitwan National Park back to Kathmandu, stayed at the same hostel we were the first time and prepared to enjoy a day of total celebration.
After spending almost two weeks in Kathmandu, we decided to go to Chitwan National Park, located in the South of the country and said to be one of the best places in the world to spot wild rhinos. In addition, it is also one of the few places in the world where you can go on a walking safari, which made it a plus. We spent two days there, took the walking safari and also an elephant ride to fully use the entrance ticket, although this last activity is not something I would recommend. Oh, and yes, we saw rhinos!
Recovered from tiredness, sickness and used to Kathmandu's hectic life, we jumped in a bus at 7 in the morning that should take us to Chitwan National Park. It was our second experience in a long-distance Nepali bus and this time it was a bit better. But just the bus (not as crowded, not as old). The road confirmed that Nepalese roads, and consequently bus rides, are one of the most painful in the world.
Unfortunately I'm writing this post after the earthquake that devastated Nepal last April. We were lucky enough to leave the country 15 days before the tragedy, so we could enjoy this beautiful country and see all the impressive monuments. Now, most of the places we saw are just gone or are a pile of ruines and a lot of people we met are still suffering and trying to recover. However, Nepal is a really beautiful country full of lovely people, so the best thing you can do to help is go and visit it. Even after the earthquake, it has still lots of things to offer for the traveller. No doubt about it!
This is how we saw Nepal a few weeks before the earthquake.
The crossing from Tibet into Nepal was quite a shock. After the thrilling drive along the Friendship Highway, we just crossed the Friendship Bridge and we were in a total different culture: Women dressed in colorful sarees, English widely spoken, friendly people... and chaos, quite a chaos everywhere if only being a small border town.
Kodari, the border town with Tibet, is just an unpaved road with a few shops, guesthouses and restaurants around and a bus stop at the end of the road. The first thing we did was to have our Nepali visa stamped valid for 3 months in a small office in Kodari, and after that we went straight to the bus stop to take the first bus heading to Kathmandu.
We only spent 6 days in Tibet. We had to join a tour to go there and the guide was the worst ever. We couldn't visit some of the most important sights due to a heavy snowfall. We suffered some headache because of the altitude. And the whole trip was really expensive. However, and despite all these, Tibet is one of the best places I have ever been and, by far, the best place visited during the whole trip so far. So, imagine how beautiful, authentic, untouched and out of this world is the highest country of the world.
After spending two days in Chengdu we were finally ready to board the highest train of the world and go to Lhasa, in Tibet. We went to buy some food and in the evening to the train station. In there, after waiting a bit we jumped in the train. We were expecting a quite special train but actually the train looked exactly the same as all the other ones we had taken in China. The only difference were the oxygen outlets you found next to every seat or bed. They are like a small box you can open and there's a valve inside from where to attach a plastic tube and breath some oxygen in case you need it.
2 days spent doing the most famous trekking in China. They say it is one of the best trekkings in the country and it really is. Walking all the time with a jawdropping view of a deep gorge next to you made the trekking one of the best experiences of the trip so far.
The bus from Lijiang unexpectedly took us less than 2 hours to reach Qiaotou including a small break for lunch some 20 minutes before getting there. There were plenty of Tibetan people in it going to Shangri-La, so we could feel a bit of Tibet before going to the real thing.
After being in Dali and reading about Lijiang, we didn't really had much expectations about the town. But the first impression was totally opposite, as it was the rest of the stay there. Lijiang is full of tourists, souvenir shops, restaurants and so on, yes. But still, it is so beautiful that you don't really care about that. Walking around its narrow alleys and being surrounded by such a beautiful architecture was like feeling in a fairytale village for a couple of days. Lijiang is how you imagine a traditional Chinese village. Touristified, yes, but worth the visit anyway!
The day we woke up in Dali to go to the train station and catch a ride to Lijiang was raining cats and dogs. Anyway, we put the raincover on and went to the station to buy the ticket. We still had to wait for a couple of hours, so went for some dumplings to kill some time.
The reason to stop in Dali was mainly because it was on the way to Lijiang and the Tiger Leaping Gorge further north. After reading a bit about it we didn't have much hopes for the old town but some for the Erhai Lake. And we were right: while Dali old town is totally spoilt and focused towards Chinese tour groups, the Erhai lake and its surroundings were a beautiful surprise, so the point is going straight to the lake, renting a bike and give pedals around the lake and through its beautiful small villages.
It took us quite a while to get from the rice terraces in Yuanyang to Dali. One hour to Xianjie, another one to Nansha, 3 more hours to Jianshui, and waiting there 4 hours to take a 12-hour train to Xiaguan. The train ride was again overnight in a hard sleeper, only disturbed by the hordes getting on it in Kunming on the way to Dali.
During my first trip to China I visited the rice terraces in Guanxi. They were really impressive, but what you get to see in Yuanyang is a few levels up. Hundreds and hundreds of rice terraces flooded with water, plus beautiful tiny villages, local markets and hiking opportunities make Yuanyang one of the highlights of the trip to Yunnan.
After the pleasant days in Xishuangbanna we took the bus at 12pm heading to Nansha, which is the capital of the Yuanyang region. This one was not a sleeper bus but a normal one with seats and supposed to last for about 9 to 10 hours. Surprisingly, after a bit less than 8 hours and after a ride through beautiful jungle landscape, we were in Nansha.
Finally, after the failure of Kunming, we found the Summer weather in Xishuangbanna. Warm, sunny days and the feeling of being in Laos, Vietnam, Thailand or wherever in South East Asia (but definitely not in China) together with a landscape full of jungle and lush vegetation, made the 5 days spent in the South of China a really pleasant ones.
The bus which took us from cold Kunming to Jinghong lasted for 12 hours. Actually the drive was for about 8 hours, but in China they have a strange tradition of stopping for 3 or 4 hours (sometimes even more) in the middle of the night so the drivers can sleep. This is quite annoying, as you are left inside the bus, cold and surrounded by snorers. I don't get it: if they have two drivers, why don't they take turns as in everywhere else?
Born in Barcelona and raised in Olot, I've been interested in travelling since I was a child, when every Summer I crossed Spain from coast to coast with my parents. Listening to my siblings' stories about their trips all over the world also helped, as well as watching Around the World with Willy Fog on TV :)
As I grew up, and while I was still studying... read more