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Back in Kathmandu

Returned to Kathmandu afternoon via the hotel shuttle (NR 1000) from Bakhtapur driven by the most reckless and laziest driver in Kathmandu who dropped me off a few blocks before Thamel.

Picked- up my laundry on the way to Avalon House which by now, has become a very welcoming place for me.  Actually, feels like coming home especially with the wide smile from the elderly security guard greeting me (gotta give him a good tip when I check-out for good) each time I arrive.  I got the same room (104) at the first floor.  

Just got settled a bit and then went off to Mandalay Book Point a block away from the Garden of Dreams.

Its reputation as the most well-stocked academic bookstore is well-deserved.  The store is crammed full with sgelves overflowing with books with titles in the humanities, social sciences, history,  religion, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and fiction.  Most of the  books are arranged topically.  I didn’t see any shelf marked “music” the shop keeper pulled out some books somewhere.  Spent about NR 5500 for 5 books, three  of which are ethnomusicological books on Newari music and musicians.  Jackpot!  Have chrcked out the bookshops at Thamel and none handed yielded any books on Nepali music.  Mpst have guide books, maps, and books on Buddhism and yoga.  

Had dinner at the ever reliable and ever delicious Gilingche Restaurant.  Tried the sizzling buff momo, a Westernized take on the dumplings which was topped with mushroom gravy and came with a siding of vegetables and fries all served on a hot iron plate.  It’s a good way to have momo differently from the usual steamed, panfried, or deep fried.  Downed a glass of lassi to help keep my acidity at bay which had been troubling me since the hike last New Year’ Day where I skipped lunch.

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The Way to Pokhara

Here’s a trip account of my bus ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara:

Tickets

Chanced upon the Greenline ticket office just underneath the North Face store where I came from along Tri Devi Marg, the same street as the Garden of Dreams. Dec 30 tickets were all sold out so I got Dec 27 outbound and Dec 31 inbound instead which meant changing my travel plans as I had originally planned on heading to Dhulikhel on those dates.  Got front aisle seats on both dates which the ticket guy wrote on the white envelope for my tickets.  The ticketing system doesn’t seem to be automated as in order to get my seat number and confirm my Dec 31 return ticket, the guy at the counter had to make a call, perhaps to their office in Pokhara.

Paid USD 50 for the RT tickets and my bus seats were booked!  Easy!  
Departure
Arrived about 10 minutes before 7am today and saw the bus idling by the roadside in front of the office and a few tourists by the curb.  I showed my ticket to the bus conductor who was stuffing large backpacks underneath the bus and was told to go to the office to “check.”  Inside, the guy at the desk put a check mark on my name, remarked “seat 2” and put a check mark on my seat number written on the white envelope.

Yes, there’s a seat number

After using the toilet (head to the marble steps at the left outside the office), I climbed back to the bus only to find a young white girl who looks like a funky version of Hillary Duff seated on seat # 1.  I gave a weak smile (I prefer to be seated beside guys as there’s no need to be conscious about personal space) and just as  I was about to take my seat, she said “My boyfriend . . . my boyfriend,” while putting her right hand on the seat.  “But I’m in seat #2,” I said.  “There are  seat numbers,” she exclaimed wide-eyed and quickly skeddadled out of the seat and out of the bus.  A few minutes later she boarded the bus back again this time with her boyfriend.  I took a peek and saw they’re seated at the 2nd to the last row.  Hahaha!  

The conductor handed out 1L bottles of water and then we departed at 7:30am with the bus less than 2/3 full.  

The Trip

Contrary to what I was expecting, the ride wasn’t so bad.  The worst part was getting out of Kathmandu’s traffic jams and getting stuck in another jam somewhere along a narrow mountain road just outside the city. Other than that, the ride was comfortable.  Our elderly driver drove carefully, albeit a little too slow for me, and I felt safe all throughout.  About two hours into the trip, we took a toilet stop.  

Lunch

At 11:30, we pulled into the Riverside Springs Resort at Kurintan, Chitwan for lunch which was included in the bus ticket.  Served buffet style, it was good—- rice, dahl, vegetable curry, spinach, chowmien, pork with chili, and green salad.

The resort was really nice and plush.

The Trip continues

Back in the bus and we continued the trip passing through towns and some mountain roads.  No traffic jams anymore and as we neared Pokhara, it became noticeably warmer, enough for me to remove my jacket.  You could also the majestic Himalayas. There was ond final toilet stop before we arrived in Pokhara.

Arrival

We arrived at the tourist bus stop around 3pm already.  I was surprised at how traffic Pokhara was.  Got off the bus and was approached by a taxi driver.  Took his offer of NR 300 (guidebook pegged it at NR 200, albeit a little hard to bargain down to) for the ride to Hotel Celesty Inn.   You could actually walk from the bus park to Lakeside by exiting right and following the road but I’m glad I took the taxi instead as it turned out to be quite some distance from the bus park.

Welcome to Pokhara!

It’s easy going to Pokhara.  Simply book your bus ticket and ride.  There are cheaper USD 10 tourist buses but I chose Greenline since I’m particular about staying in front.  Read accounts of how some conductors don’t follow the seat numbers just so they can put Nepali people in front because they’re prone to motion sickness.  Saves the conductor from all that cleaning.

There’s also a bus company called Travel Nepal that has super deluxe buses with a 1-2 seat configuration which is great for solo travelers if you snag one of the solo seats on the left side of the bus.  Same cost as Greenliner, USD 25.  I had bought my Greenliner bus tickets when I found out about it.

UPDATE ON THE RETURN TRIP (DEC 30)

Since I bought a return ticket, I simply showed -up at the Greenline office located at a side street by the main road across the Bahanduri Park.  NOTE: The bus doesn’t depart from the bus park.

Followed the same procedures of checking-in, etc.  

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The Walking Tour I Never Completed

I tried following the Lonely Planet walking tour this morning that started from Tha Hiti to Durbar Square but only got it right up to Annapurna Temple at bustling Asan Tole, the old commercial area of Kathmandu,  after hanging a left af the street where the tree stump with coins are, offerings to the deity of the tooth aches.

From Annapurna Temple, I took the street on the left side and ended-up at a main road.  There were very nice sites though including a stupa.  

Backtracked and tried to guess the correct road based on where Durbar Square is.  Apparently, this was where all things brass were sold from bells, statues, trays, pots, pans, and a whole lot of stuff.  Made a mental note of coming back here to get some brass plates similar to what I ate on at Thamel House Restaurant.

The architecture along the street was stunning.

I soon came upon the Krishna Temple crammed between brassware shops and whose octagonal shape is unique.  

Shop owners keep shop at ground level.

Opposite the temple was a small shrine made of colorful mosaic tiles.

Continued down the road passing by more brassware shops. Made me feel like I was walking along a Middle Eastern souk with all the gleaming brass.

Passed by this 3-tiered temple and near it, a ruined one being restored.

Finally hit busy Indra Chowk where Mahadev Temple sits at the center and festooned with colorful blankets for sale.

This is where I should have turned right to continue with the route but I got confused and I also needed to pee so I ended-up entering the square and heading to the toilets.  Took a look at the vendors on the square and bought a small Nepalese double-headed drum for NPR 1,500 down from the original NPR 4,000.

Parked my feet at one of the benches fronting the Gaddhi Baihak all covered-up with tarp.  Looked at the map again and decided to try to follow another section of the route doing it in reverse from Durbar Square. Followed the narrow street at the end of the square past some music shops.  Ducked into one and inquired about a narrow double-headed drum and was quoted Rp2500.

First stop was Yatka Bahal which was easy to miss as it is quite hidden from street and accessible by a short narrow alley.   

At the center of the large courtyard was a stupa.

Surrounding the courtyard were beautiful buildings crammed in between modern concrete ones.

However, the real treasure is the lovely building behind the stupa with a portico supported by carved posts.

There it stood silently like a jewel waiting to be discovered.  

Back to the street and this time in search of the famous window in all of Kathmandu  and it did not disappoint never mind that it’s now atop a shop.

Turned right at the corner and stumbled on what looked to be a shrine for this red elephant.

Unfortunately, I must have made a wrong turn somewhere as I ended up at Indra Chowk again!  I just decided to head back to Thamel Marg and find the sights that I didn’t notice before such as this bas relief of Shiva in a shallow recess in a wall guarded by an orange Ganesh.

Across it is a really beautiful antique house that purportedly had the first glass windows in Kathmandu!  Looks like the originald are still in place and are badly in need of cleaning.

You don’t really need a guidebook to wander the streets unless you want to know what you’re seeing (which makes you better appreciate the sights).  One way or another, you’ll end up at Thamel Morg or at a street that leads tp it.

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A Square and a Garden

I woke up at around 4 am (about 6:15 am back home, my usual wake-up time) to freezing temperatures.  Snuggled into the soft comforter (plus points to Avalon House for the comfortable bed and pillows) and fell back to sleep.  It was still dark when I woke again past 6am.  Did a few wall push-ups in an attempt to keep me warm and fit (hahaha!).  Breakfast was just a packet of Ultra Green Coffee brought from back home and which I managed to dissolve in a glass of air-cooled water and some bananas I bought at a fruit stall last night.  I didn’t expect Kathmandu to be freezing cold.  I just thought it would just be as cold as Sagada when I was there last November.

Bundled-up into my jacket and headed out only to realize half way down the stretch of Thamel Marg that I had left the walking tour map printed from my pdf copy of Lonely Planet at my hotel room.  All I remembered was to head straight from Thamel Chowk (the intersection) to Netashewar Temple, which was the starting point of the tour that would end at Hanuman Dhoka Square.  

At the end of Thamel Marg, I came upon the small temple dedicated to Shiva.

Across it was a white stupa and a large board with a map to the square.  While I figured out if the street leading to the square was the one on the right or left, a Caucasian guy came along, looked at the map, and took the small street on the right.  I followed him.

A few hundred meters down past rows and rows of shops, I spied the square.  Ducked into this small temple first that was being fixed following damages from the 2015 earthquake.

Saw some really nice features in the old buildings in front of the square.

Paid the steep Rp1,000 fee at the ticket booth and was immediately accosted by a middle-aged man named Krishna who offered his guiding services for Rp2,000 but which I managed to bargain to Rp1,500.  I didn’t really need a tour guide but figured I might as well help a local.  Plus it will be good karma someday should I decide to become a tour guide (yup!  Always wanted to be one).  He was very helpful anyhow, pointing out to me that I could get a visitor’s pass at the office that would allow me multiple entries to the square during the entire duration of my visa.  Cool! 

The Hanoman Dhoka Durbar Square follows the plan of a durbar square in Nepal which is an open complex of structures such as temples and shops which is the heart of any Nepali town.

Unfortunately, many of the structures crumbled during the 2015 earthquake while others remained standing supported by wooden posts.  

The Royal Palace was one of those which collapsed.  Only the walls remained.

One of the more interesting temples was this one that had carvings from the kama sutra.  

One of the better conditioned structures is the house of the kumari, the living goddess who is currently a 4-year old girl that was just selected 2 months ago, replacing the previous one who had reached adolescence. 

We ducked under the low entrance and emerged into a quiet courtyard.

This is the window where she sometimes appears.

One of the things I learned from Krishna is one can tell which diety is a temple dedicated to by looking at the animal statue facing it.  If it is a garuda (half man, half bird), it is Vishnu’s.

If it is a nandi (bull), it is to Shiva.

Walking along the square is like being in a living museum where people continue to pray at the temples, sell stuff for offerings, and go about their daily lives.

These plates made from plants are used for offerings to the deities.

After my tour with Krishna had ended, I just went roaming around the square.

Headed south of the square for other interesting architecture. 

After the durbar square, I headed back to Thamel Marg for lunch at Kathmandu Kitchen.  

Ordered some egg chowmien and vegetable momo.  I guess servings are really hefty in Kathmandu as the fried noodles came heaped on a plate.  

I could anticipate indigestion coming-up from too heavy a lunch of carbs.  It also meant not going to my planned sight-seeing of Swayahambounath temple and climbing all the way to the top as I might just puke out my lunch.  Just stayed put and enjoyed the fast free wifi at the resto.

Garden of Dreams

Spent the rest of the  afternoon at this oasis of quietness in the middle of noisy Kathmandu.  On the way, stopped by a small tour office to book a private vehicle and driver for a day trip tomorrow to Kokana, Bungamati, Pasupatinath, and Boudhanna for Rp3600.  Yes, I’m such an anti-social.  No group tours for me.

The Garden of Dreams (open until 10pm, Rp200 entrance) has a French garden feel with a small square pond and some pavilions.  You can easily forget your in Kathmandu and just a few meters away from backpacker central that is Thamel Morg.  The garden is quite small but makes for a nice place to just park your bum on one of the many benches strewn about. There were not too many people when I got there around 3pm.  

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Hello Nepal

Finally!  After years of dreaming of it, I made it to Nepal! I arrived at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport a quarter to 1pm on board Thai Airways from Bangkok where I spent the night after taking a morning PAL flight from Manila.  The flight was pleasant and smooth and an empty seat was between me and another passenger.  I finally got to watch “It” courtesy of the in flight entertainment. The movie wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be.  As we neared Kathmandu, the Himalayan peaks became visible from the right side of the aircraft.  It was cool using the camera function of my in flight screen as I could see the mountain peaks right in front of the plane as it maneuvered to slowly descend to the runway.  It must have been such a beautiful sight from the cockpit.

At the arrivals area, it took about 45 minutes to line up to pay for my visa fee and to then to line up at immigrations to get my visa on arrival and get stamped in.  By the time I got out of immigrations, my luggage was already going in circles at the carousel.  Several luggages were scattered on the floor waiting for its owners who were undoubtedly still in the long and slow lines inside.

Found the airport pick-up I booked with the hotel and we drove through the traffic, uneven, and dusty streets of Kathmandu.  It took about 30 minutes to get to Avalon House located at a quiey side street off Leknath Marg and just across the tourist ghetto of Thamel.  The hotel was gonna be home for the next 5 days before I head to Pokhara.  

Had a late lunch of fried rice and a plate of  momo, Nepalese dumplings at Gilingche Tibetan Restaurant at Thamel.  

Welcome to Nepal!

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Because Taiwan = Relax

Got a cheap Eva Air flight to Taipei (around 7k!) a couple of months back for the Holy Week so I grabbed the chance to head back to my favorite Chinese city.  This coming from the heels of my Yangon trip just 2 weeks back and what should have been a Batanes trip last week.  I gave the latter up.  It was just too much.  

At the Starbucks at the corner of Chengdu and  Kunming now.  Check-in at the hostel ain’t happening till 3pm.  Perhaps, some study time is in order while deciding what to do.

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Rainy Day in Chiang Mai: Brunch at The Garden, Another Massage, Sunday Market

After doing the laundry (see my other post), I headed to The Garden, an 8-minute walk from the hotel and highly recommended at Trip Advisor.  The rain shower hadn’t ceased yet so walking generated a little heat as it was quite cold.

The Garden That’s Really a Patio

Well, if you’re thinking of a garden with lots of plants and outdoor seating, The Garden was really someone’s (the owner’s) patio surrounded by potted house plants and next to a garage.  In fact, I was seated a few steps from a parked vehicle and moto.



In spite of this, the checkered cloth covered tables and wooden benches and the overall homey feel of the place still managed to make it cozy.


I ordered toast, omelette, sausage, pan-fried potatoes with onion, and coffee.   Food was good, servings quite big, and the coffee was served with steamed milk.  Big big plus.  Breakfast also came with a small glass of orange juice.  Everything was just perfect! 


 It was such a quiet enjoyable breakfast until a not so elderly man came from the house, sat at a garden chair by the moto, and started watching tv on his gadget.  In a single instance, my tranquil morning ended.  Such a pity because I could have sat there the entire morning drinking coffee.  Just rested for a few minutes then paid my bill and left.
Headed to the old town and followed the sound of music instruments playing to Wat Phan Po where a children’s group was playing.


Took a Grab car to Chaya Spa for my 5pm appointment (Uber was at 1.7 surge rate) and was fetched by a guy with his wife and baby girl in a Honda CRV. Had another 2-hour hot oil massage.  The masseur wasn’t as good as my previous one, though.  The rain showers were still falling when I came out of the spa and took anothet Grab to Thae Phae Gate.

Walking (while trying not to step on another person) at the Sunday Walking Market

The length of Ratchadamnoen was packed.  The rain showers were probably falling without hitting the ground.  It was almost impossible to see the goods on the opposite side of the street.  Ducked into a wat where street food vendors had set-up. Ate this crab dumpling.


I wanted to eat some more but the place was crowded.  Headed to Wat Phan Po to eat some more.  The children were still performing.  Got some sausages and fried pork.  How to eat them at outdoor seating without getting wet?

Bought all of my gifts at the night market.  Everything was cheaper here.  I suddenly felt cheated after comparing the prices of some stuff I bought at the day market at Wat Phra Singh a couple of days ago.  Also noticed the discrepancies in prices between stalls.  The bookmarks were at TH 10/piece and TH 100/12 pcs while another stall had them at TH 30/piece and TH 100/4 pcs!  The fruit-shaped soaps were TH 39/pc at stalls closer to Tha Phae compared to TH 79 at stalls further down the road.  It was food that generally had the same prices.

The stalls started dismantling past 10pm as the crowd was thinning out already.  

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Puppet and Opera

The Hungry Ghost Month is a good time to be in Georgetown as you can get  a glimpse of some Penang Chinese (who are Hokkienese) practices.  Last night, we watched a potehi (glove puppet) performance at the Lee Jetty.   A small stage had been set-up at the parking space by the entrance. 

The performance started a few minutes past 8. The small crowd was mostly people from the ICTM conference.  Admittedly, the novelty soon wore-off and I was quite bored as I couldn’t understand a single word.  The puppets also didn’t move much, staying rooted in their position.  

Behind the scenes was more interesting as we could see the elderly couple singing and manipulating the puppets.

It was waay past dinner time and my tummy was really grumbling. We ducked to a nearby noodle shop.  On the way back to the hotel, we came across a Chinese opera.

It was fun to watch even if we couldn’t understand a thing.  Unlike the potehi show, this one had more audience.

Nearby was a large shrine.

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La Preciosa

La Preciosa is the other restaurant to go to for Ilokano dishes. The others are Saramsam and Herencia Garden Restaurant.

We arrived in time for lunch and was fortunate to immediately get a table for 7 at the ground floor annex.

The beef pinapaitan was good and had none of the scummy taste that usually accompanies the dish. The serving was a disappointment though. There was too much soup and too little meat. Makes you want to scream, “harang!”

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The chicken kare-kare Ilokano arrived in bright orange. It was quite tasty but the color and the texture of the sauce makes it look like it came from a mix. Or did it?

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The sinaglaw na tilapia was better. It didn’t try to be something it couldn’t be.

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The dinardaraan had chunks of chicharron but it was quite bland.

The best dish that we had was the crunchy deep-fried pig intestines. It tasted clean and was very crisp.

For dessert, we tried 7 different cakes including their best-selling carrot cake which was covered in freshly-grated carrots. The buttercream icing was good but the cake itself lacked moisture and spice. It was almost bread-like. Fortunately, the icing was thick enough so it helps moisten the cake. Much better were the cheese cakes.

I wasn’t too happy with our meal at La Preciosa. Saramsam was better. I’ll probably just go to La Preciosa for dessert.

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Sarap at Saramsam

Tucked in a side of Balay de Blas is Saramsam where you can have Ilokano classic dishes such as pinakbet, higado, or lauya. Their bagnet is crisp is served with tomatoes.

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The dinardaraan, the Ilokano version of dinuguan, is unfortunately dry.

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The poque poque is really good. Even my friend who makes a mean version of this dish agrees. It has the right amount of moisture from the tomatoes and the eggs.

What Saramsam is famous for, however, is their pizza versions of these dishes. We only got to try the Pinakbet Pizza which was generously topped with slices of eggplant, okra, tomatoes, sitaw, and mozzarella cheese.

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It is served with diluted bagoong, a condiment not associated with pizza but trust me, it’s really good.

Saramsam’s innovations doesn’t end with pizza. There’s Katil which they bill as Ilokano fondue. Fried bananas and kamote are served with hot molasses.

 

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