Back to Bhaktapur, Nepal: 25 – 26.09.2013

Our morning started early; we had chai with our couch surfing host Hem this morning, a brief but nice opportunity to get to know him a little more; he shared some stories and photographs, and we discussed more about life in Nepal and in surrounding countries such as Tibet, Bhutan and China. We could tell he is a generous and genuine person, with a real passion for his country and for politics. He was really intelligent and it would’ve been great to have more opportunities during our short stay to talk with him like we did.

We took a taxi from Milan Chowk area – close to Hem’s home – after bartering the taxi drivers down to a reasonable fee: we were headed for Bhaktapur, a UNESCO heritage town some 13kms away in Kathmandu Valley that is apparently renowned as “Nepal’s cultural gem” – a historic city famous for its beautiful temples and pagodas, its Indigenous Newari community, and its arts and culture: traditional art and crafts, dances, festivals, food and music. Bhaktapur is also one of the three royal cities in Kathmandu Valley. I’m fascinated…

Arriving into Bhaktapur, we were amazed at how close we were in distance to Kathmandu’s chaotic sprawl, but how far away we felt; it’s much quieter here and so incredibly beautiful – it feels like a world away.

There is a 1100 Nepalese rupee ($11AUD) entrance fee to enter the main area of Bhaktapur; Durbar Square – a fee that we feel is well worth it for the two days we plan to spend here. This beautiful town and its historic structures seem to be quite well maintained and preserved, so the fee is justifiable. Also, this place is simply incredible.

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We wanted to find a nice guest house here and weren’t in a real rus; our packs were not too heavy and we were happy to wander about and look at a few places, before finding a coffee shop with free wifi and enjoying a cup of caffeine whist scouring the internet for guest house recommendations.

Eventually, we settled on a place – Kumari Guest House – which is in a nice area of Durbar Square, situated a tiny bit out of the main area where all the bustle and noise is. The staff offered us a room for 1500 NR, which he dropped to 700 NR when I continually said “no, it’s too much. If we stay for 2 nights will you give us the room for 700?”  I’m getting better at this whole batering thing. Yessssss….!

Our afternoon was wonderful; we walked around as we pleased, explored the temples and pagoda areas, the square, the market and shop stalls, the pottery square (where a cute old man let me play on his pottery wheel and then became not so cute when he demanded 200 NR. I left feeling momentarily annoyed.) The pottery square is full of people making, drying, carving, stocking the large open-air kilns, firing the clay, and selling the end products. It’s smokey and full of people and clay hand-made goods, and a really interesting place to see. There are chickens scratching in the hay whist men and women work to make traditional products from clay – both by hand and by wheel.

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Cute old man...demanded money and then wasn't so cute.

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Durbar Square is difficult to describe; it’s just so magnificent and so beautiful, so relaxing and enjoyable. It’s pulsing with life and people, locals and tourists alike. Momos are being steamed in huge pots in lane ways, there are local chia stands dotted about, women in traditional Newari red and black saris wander the lanes and sell their fruits and vegetables, and the men wear gorgeous traditional hats.
It’s touristy, of course, with every second shop selling souvenirs and handicrafts at inflated prices, cafes selling coffee and free wifi, children selling their guide services and too many offers for taxis to Kathmandu at a “good price.” Regardless, it’s oddly nice; it’s still calm – it’s easy to spend hours walking around, the shops sell some beautiful handicrafts and it’s nice to browse.

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Bhaktapur is surrounded by stunning greenery and mountains, the skies are a beautiful blue, there is little traffic, and the people are friendly. As it got dark, religious ceremonies began to take place around the square and the sound of cymbols, bells and singing could be heard.

Our evening was spent eating beautiful fresh curd, kulfi ice cream, sipping chai and relaxing; we chatted with a fellow traveler who had some impressive stories and experiences to tell. We feel so happy to be here, and look forward to a great day tomorrow – especially because I am not setting the alarm.

   

We woke on our first morning in Bhaktapur feeling refreshed and hungry! Juju Dhau – a curd served in a ceramic cup – is famous in this area, and after enjoying it last night we wanted more. It feels as if today has just involved eating and drinking: we ate curd for breakfast and then visited a café we’d heard great things about. We ordered two coffees and two meals – one coffee and one meal came out; the staff member had “forgotten” the other two orders she’d written down, but we weren’t at all fussed. It meant we could eat momos at a tiny hole in the wall place we discovered, hidden from the road – the Tibettan Momo Shop. We enjoyed beautiful vegetarian momos and delicious chai. Our cheapest meal in Nepal to date, and also our best; it always seems to be the case. As we keep finding out, plastic chairs, metal plates and barefooted staff seem to offer up the best food experiences.

We wandered about the town looking into shops here and there and a few nice hours were spent in the shady court yard restaurant outside our guest house, drinking more chai and just being. We are loving the relaxed pace and the ability to just enjoy such a quiet space here in Bhaktapur – I could literally hear birds tweeting and nothing else, it was beautiful!

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So many dogs!

So many dogs!

We wandered around with no real direction again this evening, just enjoying the beauty surrounding us. This area would’ve been simply incredible in its heyday, and it’s nice to imagine how it would’ve looked. The temples and pagodas, buildings and cobbled streets – all still in such good condition offer a glimpse of how things would’ve looked. This place really has captured our imaginations, and our hearts.

We went back to the Tibettan Momo Shop again for dinner. It’s a tiny place completely hidden from view (lucky we chanced upon it during our explorations), and obviously a local-only type place. It was packed with locals enjoying Thukpa soup and momos, and the family running the place seemed quite excited to have us there. We tried fried buffalo momos, or “Buff Momos” as they’re known everywhere around town, and they were so delicious we ordered a second plate! I hadn’t expected to be eating buffalo here, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

We enjoyed more delicious curd for dessert – straight fresh from the ceramic bowl – whilst the man in the shop watched on with delight.

Back at our guest house, we could hear the cymbals and bells, the drumming and chanting coming from the nearby temples. It’s a beautiful background noise, and I felt really at ease here. We could spend longer here, quite easily, café hopping and strolling around. It would be nice to do some walks from here too, but we were happy enough just exploring the small area for the time we had here.

Tomorrow already we have to head back to Kathmandu – our passports and visas are ready to collect (and MUST be collected!) and we are meeting our hosts for the next three nights. We’re really looking forward to meeting them and enjoying Kathmandu with locals. There is a lot we want to see there and we only have 2.5 more days.

2.5 more days! It seems difficult to believe, we only just arrived here, right? It’s exciting and a little bit unbelievable that in a very short time, we’ll be in Japan!
I wonder if we will feel “culture shock” in a way, once we arrive in Japan? I know that after more than three months of travel in less developed countries and traveling on such a small budget, we will feel a bit of a shock in that sense. At the same time, I think it will be a wonderful “break” between where we’ve come from, and where we’re headed.

Being in Bhaktapur has allowed us to take a step back and travel slowly, enjoy our selves and our surroundings and begin to feel rejuvenated to the point where, I feel we’re back to our “optimum.” By the end of our time in India we were exhausted and a bit tired of traveling and being on the move constantly, but now I feel ready again and so excited to be somewhere new, pick up my pack and move, put it down somewhere else, meet new people and share stories and great food, explore places and try new things.

I absolutely adore traveling, more than I can express, and I can not even begin to portray or describe how overjoyed I am to be here, in Nepal… in the world… simply traveling.

Simply traveling...

Simply traveling…

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Inside the Fort: Galle, Sri Lanka

Arriving in Galle after 5pm – exhausted, hot and sweaty, dirty and frustrated – having only minutes earlier been prayed upon by a sea of tuk tuk drivers ready and willing to rip us off, we arrived inside the Galle Dutch Fort.

Instantly, we were taken a back by the impressive forte walls and the beautiful UNESCO heritage streets and  lane ways, lined with quaint, old-fashioned Dutch homes with intricately carved window frames, peeling paint and charming little gardens. Handicraft shops, art galleries and cafe’s are all around, and I was very much looking forward to exploring

Early morning empty streets inside the fort

Early morning empty streets inside the fort

Surveying a small area of the fort, we hoped that local touts would be quick to identify us (how could they not, with our bulging packs and disheveled looks) and show us a room somewhere – and it didn’t take long. We got a good little room for a good price, above the family room of an elderly couple who, although spoke no English, were happy to smile at us every time they saw us.

It took four face washes before the white cloth would run clean on our skin, and two hair washes before the shampoo foam was no longer a grey colour. Never before had a cold shower felt better, and with the dirt, grime and pollution that the water washed away, so did any past frustrations and stress; with that, we were ready to spend our first evening in Galle exploring the fort.

Inside Galle Fort is beautiful and intricate, with quaint little shop fronts, tea houses, antique boutiques, homes, miniature gardens and cafes. A mix of old and new can be seen there; old in the architecture and buildings, lane ways, and of course the large fort walls, and new in flashy cafés, stylish shops and refurbishments. Tuk tuk drivers line the streets – as like everywhere else in Sri Lanka, but the vibe here is relaxed and laid-back, and the salty sea air and crashing waves beyond the light house and fort walls makes this place idyllic.

Galle Fort Light House

Galle Fort Light House

Quaint Dutch House Windows

Quaint Dutch House Windows

Heritage building inside the fort

Heritage building inside the fort

Street Art

Street Art

Heritage building inside the fort

Heritage building inside the fort

A section of Galle Fort

A section of Galle Fort

We settled in very quickly, thanks to our very generous couch surfing hosts, our beautiful surroundings and copious amounts of tea!

Our first day in Galle was spent simply walking around the Fort – we explored the little handicraft and chic shops, selling exquisite teas, beautiful gem stone jewelry and hand-made all sorts. We visited the lighthouse, and walked along the historic walls of the massive Dutch fort. We passed through the streets to the ocean, and found a perfect way to wind down after hours of exploration – lots of cups of tea.

King Coconuts for sale

King Coconuts for sale

The locals here are so friendly, with big smiles on their faces, and on our second day, when we moved guest houses, we were welcomed by an incredibly generous couple who looked after us well for our short stay.

Sun down in Galle Fort is a sight to be seen, and a really wonderful experience. People are just, suddenly, everywhere – locals and foreigners, young and old, school groups, families, couples, friends – they all come out to enjoy the evening; to walk along the fort walls overlooking the crashing waves of the ocean, to play cricket in the grassy area, to eat ice creams and street foods, to swim in the shallow water, and to socialize.

An evening in the fort

An evening in the fort

We passed so many people along the fort walls at sun down, and everyone seemed to be so simply happy. We passed a group of young men – one with a drum – who were singing and clapping and moving to the drum beat as they danced along the fort walls. We joined in with them – more by force than choice – and it was wonderful to share smiles and hand shakes with the locals.

Singing,  Dancing, Drumming and Smiles

Singing, Dancing, Drumming and Smiles

Sri Lankans seem to love hand-shakes; we’re forever putting our hands into the open, outstretched palms of smiling locals… but, then they never seem to want to let go: they hold on after the initial shake and continue to hold your hand until they’ve finished talking with you. People are so friendly with each other, with us, and it feels wonderful to be so welcomed.

We got caught up in the crowd of young singing and dancing boys who all wanted to talk to the foreigners – one was apologizing and claiming “I sorry, we are a little bit drink” – at which we all burst out laughing. It ended with the large group taking photo after photo after photo of us whilst they posed in every different way they could’ve thought of. After thanking us a hundred times over, I was able to put into practice the one Sinhalese saying I know – “pachnayak ne”  (no problem) – and the response was a group of boys all squealing with delight, and so, so many more hand shakes and smiles.

...Old Mate in the pink wants a piece.

…Old Mate in the pink wants a piece…can you guess which one is a little bit drink?

When we haven’t been exploring the fort, we’ve either been in the bustling, busy New Town area, taking small day trips to near-by coastal beach towns, or drinking cup after cup after cup of tea.

In new town, once you exit the walls of the fort, things are much more happening and lively; where you can easily get caught up in a whirl wind of people and traffic, beeping horns and touters, food vendors, lottery tickets and market stalls.
We found the old Dutch Markets where colourful vegetables are sold (and cheeky cows munch on stray egg plants), the fish mongers selling their massive tunas and other daily catches, and the fruit market area where we’ve been buying bunches of bananas and rambutans on a daily basis.

New Town bustle

New Town bustle

A cheeky cow sneaks an eggplant or six

A cheeky cow sneaks an eggplant or six

Back in the fort, we spend a happy couple of hours at the start, of end – or both – of each day drinking pots of tea at “our local haunt.” The owner of the café knows us already as his regulars; we sit down and he doesn’t even have to ask – he just says “I’ll get you a pot of tea” with a huge smile on his face. We can easily spend hours watching the passers by, and the frequent, but short lived, massive downpours of sudden rain.

Close to Galle city, easily reached by bus, we’ve been taking small half-day and day trips to beautiful beaches with wild, crashing waves. The places have been as equally fun to say, as they have been to actually visit. Hikkaduwa, Welligama, Koggala, Mirissa and Unawatuna; all little beach towns with palm trees hanging over the sand and waves and roti shops catering to western taste buds.

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Along the stretch of coast, on the road from Galle to Welligama, stilts jut out of the ocean with fishermen perched, somewhat precariously, on tiny seats. The ‘season’ for the fishermen is not so good at the moment we’re told – the oceans are rough and wild, the waves big and the rain heavy. We were lucky enough to see a handful of fishermen amongst many more empty stilts, and the sight of them alone is really fascinating. The stilts are passed on from generation to generation, and there is an absolute art to their trade – including making sure no foreigner captures a photograph of them without handing over a wad of cash.

Empty stilts

Empty stilts…

The weather in Galle has been on and off rain; enormous down pours that last just a little while, but dump massive amounts of water. Last night the rain was heavier than I’ve ever seen, and within minutes the water was flooding the roads and gushing down the streets.

Our mornings and evenings for the past three days have been spent with our couch surfing hosts (if you don’t yet know what Couch Surfing is, google.com it and get on it – it’s amazing!) who have been incredibly generous in making sure we are extremely well looked after, and just as well fed. On our last evening they requested pizza, and we were only too happy to cook for them. Finding the appropriate ingredients for western dishes, and furthermore, cooking in a foreign kitchen was a bit of a challenge – but we hope our pizza made them happy; it was a lot of fun to make! It’s been a fantastic experience to share the home of a local family, and we will miss our Sri Lankan family when we depart Galle tomorrow morning, with our sights set on Colombo.

We’ve been in Galle longer than the average tourist generally stays here; but then again, we don’t consider ourselves tourists – we’re travelers. Hours just spent watching and ‘being’, has meant that some of the locals have started to get to know us – they wave to us and come up to say hello. Being involved in Couch Surfing has meant we are not so much looked upon as tourists, but instead another friendly face in the fort.
It’s true – we could’ve left days ago, but we’ve been happy to mull about and explore a little longer, and Galle, and it’s people, have truly been a highlight destination during our in Sri Lanka.

Galle Fort Clock Tower

Galle Fort Clock Tower