Sunday, October 31, 2010

Off to Pokhara - Gateway to Annapurna region

Pokhara is the end point for the Annapurna Circuit trek and the starting point for a dozen more treks through the mountains of the Annapurna Range, including the Annapurna Sanctuary trek which I am doing.

Pokhara as compared to Kathmandu is quieter, lesser traffic but more touristy.  Thou like Themal, the streets are lined with shops selling trekking stuff, but the area is more spectacular as Mt Machhapuchhare (6,997m, "Fish Tail" in Nepali) looms high above Pokhara and on a calm day, being reflected in the placid waters of Phewa Tal.

One side of Phewa Tal
After almost like 6-7 hours of bus ride from Kathmandu, we finally reach Pokhara.  Thou, Pokhara is 400m lower than Kathmandu, it was cold (for me) with the wind blowing at me unlike our 1st day in Kathmandu where it was stuffy hot.  The hotel for the night was Green Tara Hotel which was much more decent than the one we stayed at Kathmandu. Well, added points to my liking for Pokhara. 

Street of Pokhara main tourist area

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Arrive @ Kathmandu -> Swayambhunath Stupa

Our 1st and last days were spent in Kathmandu.  We stayed in the tourist area – Thamel.  It was lined with hundreds of trekking shops selling almost like the real The North Face trekking items.  Down jackets, trekking pants, boots, down sleeping bag, Leki trekking poles, you named it they have it.  You can just come empty-handed and get all the items you need and start your trek.

But I really don’t like Kathmadu, all the cars, motorcycles zooming past you on the street of Thamel. 
Hawker at Thamel, Kathmandu
It’s so dusty, noisy from the honks… I just cannot fall in love with this town.  The 1st day was like a maze and we just walk on the street of Thamel in circles without even realizing it.  It was only on the last day that I actually got my bearings right.  Well, it’s actually not all that bad, I liked the supermarkets, bakery and the biscuit shop there.

Street of Thamel
On our 1st day at Kathmandu, Durga brought us to this temple, Swayambhunath Stupa.  Took a cab there (cost NRs 200, I wonder if it is too expensive actually).  It is atop a hill in the Kathmandu Valley, west of Kathmandu city.  

View of Kathmandu from the hill top
It is also known as the Monkey Temple as there are holy monkeys living in parts of the temple in the north-west. 
Monkey god??
The Swayambhunath complex consists of a stupa, a variety of shrines and temples, some dating back to the Licchavi period. There is a Tibetan monastery, museum and a library. The stupa has Buddha's eyes and eyebrows painted on. Between them, there is something painted which looks like the nose - but is the Nepali symbol of 'unity', in the main Nepali language dialect. 

Buddha's eyes and eyebrow

Turning, turning, for well-being

The flame
The site has two access points: a long stairway, claimed to have 365 steps (being everyday for a year??), leading directly to the main platform of the temple, which is from the top of the hill to the east; and a car road around the hill from the south leading to the southwest entrance.  We walk up the long stairway, probably some warm-up for us before ABC trek??  Half-way a check point requesting only tourist to pay entrance fee of NRs 200.

365 steps to the temple
Lovely cat at the stupa