Friday, 26 August 2011

pkr – ktm: the moment that took my breath away

first of all, sorry for not updating more often. as everyone knows, i was on VACATION back in bear hill, so was a bit lazy to wanna do much writing. and now i’m back in sandland, i’ve been busy catching up with work that i just don’t feel like doing much writing. haha… anyway, i’ll try to finish writing about my trip as soon as possible.


the alarm went off at 4am in the morning, and i can hear that it’s raining quite heavily outside. i half hoped that they would cancel this part of the itinerary so that i can snuggle back into the bed. but then i thought, me coming all this way, paying all those money, all those effort… so i dragged myself out of bed to get ready.

when i came down to the lobby, there was only one person sitting there and when he saw me, he made a phone call to my guide to inform him that i’ve arrived. i guess the guide didn’t wait for me at the lobby because maybe he’s hoping i’d wanna sleep in in this weather?

anyway, when he appeared 15 minutes later, off we went in a bigger car than the one i rode in the previous day, something like a 7-seater mpv, but it’s smaller than our regular mpv and sits only 4. we drove in the dark along some path, turning here and there, and finally going uphill. it’s still very dark and because of the rain, the mist were very thick. i was quite worried the driver will drive us off the hill because he was going quite fast up the winding road even though visibility was only 1-2 meters! but of course that didn’t happen and we arrived at the top of sarangkot hill after 45 minutes drive.

we were the first to get there and my guide brought me up some uneven steps and dirt path and we arrived at a sort of clearing. everything was very dark below, with only some lights here and there. i was wearing shorts and didn’t bring a jacket, so i was quite cold. my guide said normally the coffee shop near the clearing would be open and went to check. i guess due to the weather, the owner decided to sleep in as well.

after a very short while my guide came back, followed by an elderly man who set about removing the wooden planks of a shack. we went into the shack out of the rain and sat down at the table. my guide ordered chai (tea) but i didn’t want anything, because i wasn’t sure if the water used would agree with my stomach. so i just sat there shivering, staring out at nothingness.

P1080966 preparing chai…

30 minutes later, a chinese couple appeared. it was still raining, so they were standing about in their umbrellas. by then, the sky has lightened a bit, and i could see the green hills around pokhara. truthfully, i’m not a big fan of sunrise watching. and standing up there at sarangkot hill, cold and sleepy, it all looked not much different from the sunrise viewed from panorama hill in sungai lembing (also another rainy trip!) and broga hill. so i was like, “okay, whatever”. but of course, i still hung around because by then, more people has arrived and the rain has tuned down to a drizzle.

P1080971 not like we’ll be seeing much sunrise in this weather anyway…

DSC_0180 then at around 6am, the clouds and mist start to clear a bit and we saw something else unfold beyond the green hills…

slowly, we saw more and more of the annapurna himalayan range revealing itself and it was spellbinding. of course, it was still very cloudy and the machapuchare peak (a.k.a “fishtail”, the sharpest peak near the middle in the photo below) was completely hidden behind the clouds. but standing there, with more than a 180 deg view of the majestic himalayan mountains in front of you, bigger than life, it can only take your breath away.

initially i had wanted to stitch up a series of photos of the range, but since it were too cloudy and i don’t think you’ll be able to see anything, i’ll just post up this shot of a postcard that i bought.

untitled this is the view you’ll get if you go during the non-monsoon months

i lingered around for quite some time, hoping that the clouds that enveloped machapuchare would dissipate. i even initiated conversations with a bunch of tourists from hong kong while waiting, something that is so not my style! :D but in the end, i had to leave without seeing the “fishtail” peak.

ok, i think this post is getting a tad too long, so i’ll just leave it here and continue the rest in another post. and anyway, since this is a one-of-a-kind experience, it deserves a post by itself, dun’cha think? ;)

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

ktm – pkr: stranded at the airport

after a good night’s sleep, i woke up at 6.30am coz my flight to pokhara was at 9am and i needed to be at the airport 1 hour before.

DSC_0077hotel breakfast…

oh, before i proceed, i wanna show you this:

DSC_0075 how impractical is this for a keychain? that’s why i always left it at the front desk when i go out.

DSC_0078the domestic airport’s check-in counters. check out the antique weighing machines!

DSC_0083water dispenser in the waiting room before boarding. see the 2 glasses there? most of the people will use those, instead of the white plastic disposables. they’ll just wash it, fill it with water, drink it and wash it before putting it back. a bit backward and icky, but so environmental friendly! anyway, they used bottled water to fill those tanks up, i saw it with my own eyes.

as mentioned, my flight was at 9am and was supposed to take 25 minutes… but 15 minutes into the flight, there was an announcement by the captain that the pokhara airport has closed due to bad weather and we were gonna turn back to kathmandu airport. i was stunned for a while… now what??? i had a hotel reservation in pokhara and my pokhara guide and driver would be waiting for me there! and what about my return flight from pkr – ktm the next day? would that be burnt too?

back at kathmandu airport, i asked the people at the counter. they said they’ll wait for the pokhara airport to open before announcing the next flight, but there’s no saying how long that’ll take. i tried calling my tour agent with my cellphone, but don’t know why, i can’t make any calls out. seems like digi was experiencing some issue with the roaming codes for some countries. then at the boarding hall, i saw a phone there with a sign that said, “free local calls”. imagine my relief!

so i called my agent and told him what happened. he asked me what i wanna do: to wait for the next flight or to cancel my plans to pokhara and they’ll arrange something else for me (like bring me to nargakot instead, where i can take a mountain flight to see the himalayas from the air). i said i’ll wait for an hour and if there’s any flight out, i’ll take it. if not, then i’ll go with plan b.

DSC_0086 i befriended a young nepali guy (actually he chatted me up first, coz i guess i kinda stood out from the crowd) who was also going to pokhara for a short getaway. i don’t remember his name, but he helped me take this photo with gil the globetrotter ami-inu.

at about 10.30am, we were called to board the plane again. i quickly used the free phone to inform my agent before passing thru the gate. but then we sat in the plane for quite sometime, without any movement. and again, the pilot’s voice came on, informing us that the pokhara airport has closed again and we had to get off the plane. wth!

again, i called the tour agent to inform him of the delay. and again, i said i’ll wait for another hour. this time, there were quite a few passengers who were pissed off and were making a fuss at the counter. don’t they understand that it’s for their own safety? they wanna risk their lives by having the plane flying and landing in bad weather, just because they don’t wanna be late getting there? *sigh*

DSC_0094 bored with all the waiting…

DSC_0096at about 11 something, close to 12pm, i saw a lot of people crowding around the airlines counter again, and they looked like the same crowd from my flight. then the young nepali guy, who was walking pass me from the counter, told me i can go collect my snack. at least they bothered to pacify us with some peanuts and coke, even though it wasn’t not their fault the weather was so bad. and because i was sticking out like a sore thumb, the guy at the counter served me first instead of the noisy locals there. i didn’t even have to jostle like the rest. talk about discrimination! :P

at about 12.15pm, we again got called to board the plane. i called my tour agent and told him that this will be my last try. if i’m still unable to get to pokhara, i’ll give up and opt for plan b. but fortunately this time, we were able to arrive at pokhara safely.

the airport at pokhara is even more run-down! the arrival room (i won’t even call it a hall) is like an abandoned building, with part of the wall crumbling off! sorry, didn’t take a photo of it coz i had to see to my luggage.

after checking in to the hotel spectacular view, i set out for some sightseeing with my guide and driver.

DSC_0098 first stop was the international mountaineering museum

then i was brought to a cave with a hindu temple in it and photography was not allowed. anyway, nothing really much to see there lar. i think our batu caves is more interesting.

DSC_0101 next was devis fall, a very rapid waterfall that got its name when a swiss woman named mrs. devis who died after being swept away while bathing there with her husband. you can see how rapid the waterfall is if you click on this link.

DSC_0112next, i’m brought to see this suspension bridge

DSC_0119 and the last place for the day was this seti river. the water is white in colour, because this river runs through a series of limestone caves before arriving here.

as you can see, there’s not much to see in pokhara. that’s why at every small attraction also we need to pay an entrance fee.

DSC_0121 back at the hotel in the evening. the room has a nice view of the fewa lake, the lake that made pokhara a popular getaway destination for tourists and locals alike.

as it was still early, i decided to venture out on my own, as well as to look for some food. other than the breakfast at the hotel, i’ve only had the packet of peanuts the whole day and i was starving! chatting with the young nepali guy at kathmandu airport earlier, i found out that the typical nepali meal is the thali. so i set out in search of this.

DSC_0128 i wandered into this 4 or 5 star hotel with a nice restaurant and ordered this, a chicken thali. and it’s not expensive at all, considering it’s a hotel restaurant. i think it’s only npr 280 (≈ rm 11.70), with an additional npr 50 (≈ rm 2) for a glass of lemon soda.

DSC_0133 walking along the fewa lake (some spelled it as “phewa”) on the way back to the hotel. as nepal has no sea, this lake is the main source of seafood for the people in pokhara.

pokhara is very different from kathmandu in the sense that it’s less congested, has less traffic, not so polluted and less noisy.

DSC_0134 as it was still early, i decided not to go back to my hotel yet and was taking a longer walk when i stumbled upon this concerto cafe. so i went in for some desserts… superb rum raisin gelato!! a few moments after i took this photo, the electric power went off and plunged the whole town into darkness. but it seems like the people here are used to this, as they quickly cranked up their generators and its business as usual. the power came back on quickly tho’, much to my relief, coz i was starting to worry about having to take my shower in the dark, with cold water!

back in my hotel room, the wi-fi signal sucked, so i turned in quiet early. might as well, coz i had a very early start the next day!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

dxb – ktm: flying cattle class

DSC_0010 waiting for boarding…

DSC_0012flydubai, emirates airlines’ budget flights…

cattle class. that’s how one would feel when flying budget. well, i guess budget flights would be the natural choice for workers flying back to their home country. and with so many nepalese working in dubai, it’s no wonder that nearly 90% of the passengers on flydubai flight bound for kathmandu are nepalese. not that i have anything against nepalese, but the way some of them act can really give you a bad impression of the people as a whole.

DSC_0013dunno if they really don’t understand english or really obstinate, but some of them really act like boh tak chek (hokkien: never go to school). this guy was still talking on the phone even after numerous announcements for us to switch off our phones. and he was not the only one! even the flight attendants don’t seem to care! *rolls eyes*

then my 7.00 am flight was delayed for more than half hour, because some passengers didn’t board the plane after checking in their luggage.

DSC_0015 after numerous calls for them through the p.a. system, the crew decided to fly off without them. but they had to remove their luggage from the plane.

it really makes one wonder. how can someone just “forgot” their boarding time like that? these kinda incidents always make me think back of my late poh-poh. she was always flying off to hong kong and china by herself to visit my uncle, and never once had she missed her flight. if an elderly, illiterate woman, who can’t understand a single word of english can find her way around the big maze of an airport, i really don’t understand why other younger, literate, working class people can’t! looking at the picture above, it’s obvious that those luggage belonged to a whole family, and not a single individual stuck in a toilet somewhere due to diarrhea. *rolles eyes*

ok, enough of ranting. not a good start to a long-awaited adventure, right? so, i arrived at kathmandu airport at about 1.00 pm nepal time, and quickly found the sign with my name on it. i’m just so glad that i’ve booked my driver and guide in advance, coz the whole airport, the people waiting outside, the taxi drivers and tour agents accosting you trying to get you to engage their service… it’s all pretty daunting.

anyway, as soon as i got close to the guy holding the sign with my name, he grabbed my bags from me and asked me to follow him to the car. but once he put my bags into the car boot, he turned to me asking for tips! as it turned out, he’s not from the tour agency at all, but just some guy tying to get extra tips by helping tourists to carry their bags. and my tour guide allowed it! the guide and driver were just sitting in the car, waiting for this “porter” to bring me to the car. weren’t they supposed to do everything, instead of making me pay extra for such things?

P1080958the streets of kathmandu are a total chaos! most of them are like the roads in our kampung baru (malay: new village), without road dividers or traffic lights. and they’re really using their honks to their fullest. every little obstruction, it’s honk!! honk! HONK!!! phew, what a noisy place!

after stopping by the tour agent’s office to make the balance payment for my package and checking into my hotel, we set off to our first stop: boudhanath stupa, a world heritage site.

DSC_0039 said to be the world’s largest stupa…

DSC_0026around the square of boudhanath stupa, there are little shops selling souvenirs and there are a few featuring the thangka painting. i feel the guide purposely brought me into this shop with the hopes that i would buy something and he’ll get a cut from it. coz when i went in, a guy in there proceeded to explain to me about the materials used to make the paints, the canvass, the meaning of the medallion and the images etc., to get me interested in them. really feel like when we go to china and the guides would bring us to the jade factories, tea shops, chinese medicine factories, jewelry shops etc. that really put me off and i lost interest for it immediately!

DSC_0043giant prayer wheel…

next stop is the swayambunath stupa, also a world heritage site.

DSC_0049also known as the monkey temple…

DSC_0053 view of kathmandu valley from swayambhunath stupa, which is on top of a little hill…

DSC_0056 smaller prayer wheels… that guy there is my guide in kathmandu, badri.

DSC_0059see why it’s also called monkey temple?

after visiting swayambhunath stupa, it’s already evening. so i was dropped off at my hotel for the day.

DSC_0060 my room at kathmandu resort hotel…

but i’ve not had anything to eat since 4.30 am and was famished! so i wandered off again on my own in search for food. it’s a good thing that my hotel is in thamel, the part of kathmandu where most tourists stay.

DSC_0064since it’s a tourist area, they have all sorts of restaurants. i chanced upon this korean restaurant in a side street, and since i was craving for korean food, i decided to give it a try. i know, many of you are thinking that i should try the local food right? hehe…

surprisingly, the bibeembab was really good! even the kimchi was nice. at least they didn’t incorporate in some weird local vege as replacement, as what happened in siem reap. and they’re cheap too! total bill for a bibeembab (with 5 complimentary side dishes) and a bottle of coke came up to (if i remember correctly) only npr 300 (about rm 12.50). the waiter and waitress were nepalese, who can’t really understand my english, but i still managed to have a small chat with them and they said that their owner is a korean. too bad i can’t remember the name of the restaurant… :(

DSC_0065a side street of thamel…

after dinner, i took a walk around thamel. it’s really a very touristy place, with shops catering to tourists. their streets are really a maze, and i had to really pay attention to where i was going so as not to get lost. but i only walked about for a little while, coz i got really irritated with all the honking vehicles!

DSC_0068 they also have baskin robbins, ok? dun pray-pray…

on the way back to my hotel, i saw a baskin robbins shop! whoa!! i bought 2 scoops just to see if they’re any different from those that we’re accustomed to. they didn’t have the regular flavours that we know, but the taste and texture are really that of the brand. i guess the shop can only survive in thamel, with all those tourists around.

so that ended my first day in nepal. as per my previous post, i had to take an early flight to pokhara the next day, so i slept quite early that night, after a good shower. oh yeah, i have to mention here that the tap water in kathmandu tastes and smells really weird! and yellowish in colour too! i had to be really careful not to swallow any when showering, and used bottled water to brush my teeth! :D

*more photos in my fb, if you’re my friend there (soon, maybe tomorrow – it’s late and i need to go to bed to avoid getting nagged by my parents tomorrow!)

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

namaste from kathmandu!

hehe, so happy to know that all the 3 hotels that i’ll be staying for this trip have free wi-fi! but too tired to blog. it’s been a long day, not to mentioned tiring due to lack of sleep. will post about this trip when i’m back in the comforts of my bear hill home, ok? in the meantime, i leave you with this shot, taken from budhanath stupa, the world’s biggest stupa.

DSC_0031prayers in the wind…

ok, going to sleep soon. flight to pokhara tomorrow is very early!

woo-hoo, vacation!

my vacation has officially started! ok, not really. i’m still at my apartment, obviously. but my bags are packed and i’m ready to go! my first flight is at 7am, it’s now 1am, so i decided not to go to sleep but to update everyone here about my trip. noticed that i said “first flight”? well, i won’t be going home to m’sia straight, but will make a “detour” first. hehe…

P1080955namaste! this is gil the globetrotter, the ami-inu who will be my travel companion this time… ;)

my first stop would be to nepal, where i’ll stay one night in kathmandu, before flying to pokhara the next day. pokhara, also in nepal, is a town next to a lake and is said to be a very beautiful place. it’s about 8 hours drive from kathmandu, depending on the traffic condition, so that’s why i chose to fly. it’s only 25 minutes via the air, so it really saves up a lot of my time, coz i’ll only be in nepal for 4 days. anyway, i’ll stay one night in pokhara and then fly back to kathmandu for another night’s stay before flying off to my next destination…

…which is new delhi, india. actually my decision to stop for one night in india was quite impromptu. originally it was only nepal, and then back to kl. but since all the airlines from nepal to kl will transit in india, i decided that since i’ll be going to india anyway, so might as well just stay one night there and see what the place is like. coz truth be told, india has never been in my list of places to go, and i’ll never wanna go there under almost any other circumstances.

anyway, in new delhi, i’ll be going up to agra to see the taj mahal before flying back to kl. agra is about 5 hours drive from new delhi, again depending on traffic condition and my schedule in india is really very tight! but the tour operator has assured me that we’ll be able to make it back to new delhi to catch my flight at 9.55 pm. so just keeping my fingers crossed.

so in short, my journey will be:

dubai – kathmandu – pokhara – kathmandu – new delhi – agra – new delhi – kuala lumpur

complicated neh? hehehe… actually for all these places, i’ve already engaged tour agencies to handle everything for me, with private guide and driver. actually i could’ve just taken public transports and do like what N and i did in siem reap. but since i’ll be traveling solo, and these places are not exactly renown for their safety, i thought i’d better pay a lil bit more money to be safe.

nice girl natalie, who went to nepal 2 years ago, kept reminding me to be careful of my belongings when on the streets, and to be careful of people trying to sell me weed. weed as in marijuana! on the streets! she also reminded me numerous times to be careful of my luggage when checking in at the airport, coz of drug trafficking. how scary is that?!

then when another colleague, an indian, he found out that i’ll be going to india alone, he looked at me as if i’m mad. no, he actually asked me out right if i’m mad. then while i was still wondering how i can get to agra from delhi, i saw on the internet that there’s train service between these 2 places. so i asked my colleague if it’s easy to travel by train. again, he looked at me as if i’m some alien from outer space and said i probably won’t even make it to agra before i disappear into thin air and not even a strand of my hair would be found again in 20 million years. so better be safe than sorry lar, i guess.

the last time i traveled solo was right after i graduated, where i went to singapore on my own for more than a week. well, i can’t say i was on my own in singapore, coz i was staying with my cousin there. just that since she’s working, i went out exploring on my own on most days. so in actual fact, this coming trip will be my first truly solo trip. so now, the feeling is apprehension mixed with excitement. also a tiny bit of heartache for the amount of money i’m spending for this entire trip. solo traveling is really blardy expensive!

neeways, i’m not sure how often i’ll get to go online while traveling, but i’ll try my best to update my locations on facebook, so that if ever anything happens to me (touch wood!), at least it’ll be easy for the authorities to track my last location, right? of course, hopefully nothing of that sort would happen lar.