Nepal: Land of dreams

NEPAL - My dream to visit Nepal with my daughter materialised recently, thanks to the affordable AirAsia X flight.

Most people go to Kathmandu, capital of Nepal, for some arduous trekking, but we were content to shop at Thamel, the tourist district of Kathmandu.

At Durbar Square, the Living Goddess made a brief appearance at a window of her abode, drawing applause from the audience who paid homage by bringing their palms together above their heads.

We visited the Swayambhunath temple, but rather than climb to the summit, I sat on a bench at the foothill.

Middle-aged trekking guides did vigorous exercises and drank freshly prepared aloe vera juice and rubbed their faces repeatedly with its skin. I followed suit, though the only vigorous exercise I had done was observing them.

Our next stop was Pokhara which is famous for its lakes and mountains. The climb up the Peace stupa (for a breathtaking view of the Annapurna mountain range), International Mountain Museum and two Hindu temples was enough to bring on the aches.

At the temples, it was refreshing to see all the female devotees clad in red saris, and fashionable red or green blouses, with several strands of bead necklaces. Red is the favourite colour of the Hindu goddess.

Going anywhere meant climbing and more climbing. The masseuse suggested rejuvenation massage. After all, all that climbing was not normal for an urban whose idea of exercise is slow yoga.

Rejuvenated, we took the four-hour trip by car to Chitwan National Park. The winding road cut through valleys and mountain passes. We could not take our eyes off the picturesque scenery.

In Chitwan, we watched elephants with their gaily decorated faces walking leisurely through the centre of town alongside cars, motorcycles and horse carts, while we had our dinner.

All restaurants were on the first floor, which required more climbing. Sigh! But the quality and large servings, cheap prices and hospitable waiters more than made up for the strain.

During the elephant safari, there were four of us, besides the tobacco-chewing trainer. The elephant walked, swaying rhythmically into the virgin jungle.

We had to push the tree branches away from our faces, as we walked past a rhinoceros in a swamp, and two deer. The baby rhinoceros was resting its head on its mother's stomach.

The elephant stopped suddenly above a slope, as if wondering how it could clamber down to the river.

We were instructed to move forward for better balance. We held the posts for dear life, with our legs astride. My head was reeling from the two-hour safari. I swayed back and forth.

The next day, limping, I got into a canoe for a ride through the forest. The day before, I had viewed the jungle from above the ground. This time around, we were almost at water level. I was more impressed with the colourful kingfishers than the dead-looking crocodiles.

Chitwan is noted for its tall grass which grows to a height of two metres.

"Elephants pick up their food with their trunks, and hit the grass on their heads to get rid of the sand," a notice at the elephant breeding centre informed. But the four-month-old elephant hit the grass on its head, then rubbed it against the soil, then hit it again, wondering why the grass was never good enough to eat! It was both hilarious and a sorry sight.

The three-week-old baby, on the other hand, was sleeping with its legs sprawled, under its standing mother's body. We felt gratified that the entry fees we paid would defray the expenses incurred by the 40 elephants at the centre, which protected them from poachers.

After a day's rest, we flew back to the capital. Kirtipur, an ancient city in Nepal, is reminiscent of a scene from the James Bond movie.

We then visited Patan, an ancient fortified town which is known for its beautifully carved wooden structures. Patan is a World Heritage Site, and a craftsman's haven.

There was more walking and climbing along irregular paths, and this time even a trekkers massage could not help me, as I limped back to the plane. Well, adventures and misadventures go hand in hand, don't you think?

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