Ravi Bhave, Prakash’s father’s younger brother (#11 out of 13 brothers and sisters) lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife and daughter. He visited us this week for a short 3-day trip on his way to India. We had a fabulous time together!
A go-with-the-flow, happy-go-lucky personality and ease on a bicycle in the developing world – two prerequisites to a wonderful visit in Nepal (okay, you can get by with taxi and on foot, but bicycle is so much better!). Ravi Kaka had both criteria down solid (Kaka = father’s brother or close uncle). On Day #1, we covered the top sights within the Kathmandu Valley: Swayambhunath Temple – also known as the Monkey Temple because of the hundreds of monkeys that live on the Swayambhu hill, it is a famous temple for Buddhist and Hindu devotees ; Pashupathinath Temple – the most famous temple in Kathmandu, a major pilgrimage destination for Hindu devotees of Lord Shiva ; Boudhanath Temple – the largest Buddhist stupa in all of Asia! We both enjoyed Boudhanath best… and it all boiled down to cleanliness. Offerings of rice, flowers and sindur (red powder) aren’t adequately cleaned up and therefore litter the floor along with the standard dust that plagues all cities within developing nations. Within Boundhanath, offerings are limited to oil lamps and incense thus the stupa and surrounding areas are clean and emanate peace.
Later in the afternoon, we drove to Nagarkot, a small village on the outskirts of the KTM valley where spectacular mountain views are potentially visible. The dense cloud and pollution mixture covered much of the view, but the snow-covered mountain peaks were partially visible. Given that a trek into the Himalayas is out of the question on a 3-day trip, views from Nagarkot are a great substitute. It is said that even Mount Everest is visible from Nagarkot, although just as a small dot on a crystal clear horizon. A yummy pizza dinner at Roadhouse Restaurant was the end to a very long but very nice day.
On Day #2 we set off on bicycle to Patan Darbar Square, the main community center that is centuries old. A familiar face approached and offered to give us a tour (Raj gave me a tour several months ago). He shared several tidbits of information, knowledge and stories about the history of the Square. Much was destroyed in an earthquake in the 1930s but has been successfully rebuilt. We also toured a Thanka Art Studio, healing bowl shop and Pashmina shawl shop – all very famous to Patan. In the end, we visited the famous Patan Museum that houses stone and metal sculptures from Hindu and Buddhist religions dating several centuries ago.
We also managed to squeeze in badminton and football (soccer) in our backyard, a trip to the local bakery and a sample of the famous local cuisine – momos! All in all, an enjoyable, relaxing and fun first visit of Ravi Kaka to Kathmandu! Next visit… trekking :-).
Less than 2 days later, Ashwin Honkan and Chitra Lele visited us. Ashwin Kaka knew Prakash’s family back in California when Prakash was as little as Sumanth! Back then, he was the “cool, young, fun Uncle” and frequently played games, attended school functions and hiked with Prakash’s family . Now, they live in Pune and came up to visit Nepal for one week. Initially, they visited Chitwan National Park and Pokhara before coming to our place. Luckily their trip overlapped with the weekend, so Prakash and the kids could also join in the fun…
On Day #1, we went to Bhaktapur, one of the 3 kingdoms that used to exist in the Kathmandu Valley (Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur). It is a quaint village made of bricks, cement and wood, full of temples, shops and homes all intermixed together. Their specialty is juju-dhau or sweet yogurt and we all sampled this very rich, tasty treat! Bhaktapur, along with many other areas in the Kathmandu Valley are receiving a quick makeover in time for the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Summit which will take place here later this month. Replacing temple decorations, resurfacing roadways, painting medians, cleaning rivers and roadways – SO much work is currently in progress. We got to witness some of this in Bhaktapur; I challenged the kids to imagine how they changed the shiny, red cloth from the edges of the pagoda tiers in the temples! The lower tiers are imaginable, with a tall ladder, but how do they work on the top tiers?!?
We made a quick stop in Boudda to see Asia’s largest stupa then headed to the Garden of Dreams in Thamel. The Lonely Planet describes it as a 2-minute walk from Thamel but worlds away… It is an incredibly well-maintained, ornate garden full of flowers, manicured shrubs, gazebos, ponds, sculptures, and fine coffee shops. It reminds me of the CalTech campus where Prakash did his graduate work. Again, this long but very fun day was rounded out with a yummy pizza dinner at Fire and Ice – a popular family-friendly restaurant (that evening, we ran into 5 families we knew!).
Day #2 was a bit adventurous! We hired a one-way taxi to take us near to Changu Narayan Temple on the eastern edge of the Kathmandu Valley. Ashwin Kaka’s former employee, Rabi Shreshta, also lives in Kathmandu and he and his family joined us for the day. They hadn’t met in over 12 years, but it wasn’t too difficult to spot Rabi, Charu, and their 10-year old son, Rijul, at the intersection we decided to meet at. They jumped on board the large SUV and we headed east. Rabi is an avid cycler and has familiarity with the “trails” in the Valley. Trails in Nepal, however, are more like what we would consider rural dirt roads in the USA, not like marked trails within county, state and national parks.
After only 15 minutes of hiking, we reached Changu Narayan Temple – complete with a multi-tier pagoda temple, old stone sculptures, and a well-made museum showing various cultures from all regions of Nepal. We continued hiking for another few hours, often asking locals along the way which is the correct path to Telkot, our destination, when we’d encounter a fork in the road. After reaching Telkot, we fortunately came upon an empty, parked bus that was headed towards Kathmandu in minutes! We all climbed aboard and claimed our seats – only 40 Nepali rupees (equivalent to ~ $0.40 USD) per person. This was our first try on the public buses and it was a great success. Key is that we got on first and had seats for the hour long journey; after the third or so stop, the seats filled up and many were left standing.
The main highlight of this day was meeting the Shreshta family – atypical for the average Nepali family, they are into outdoor activities and traveling the world! They’ve completed three treks in Nepal including the one we did last month (Poon Hill), the Annapurna Base Camp trek and the Langtang Valley trek. They’ve also vacationed is several countries including France, Switzerland, Belgium, Thailand, Mauritius, UAE and Australia. Rijul has his heart set on vacationing in the USA next! Charu and Sumanth became good friends quickly — she was a whiz at interacting with little ones…
Chitra Kaki and Ashwin Kaka spent the rest of the day thoroughly enjoying the kids – watching silly videos, telling jokes and riddles and singing songs. All in all, their visit was really enjoyable…
Note to Readers: thinking of vacationing in Nepal – DO COME! YOU WILL ENJOY!!