Having tired for now of the noise, dust and general madness of Kathmandu, we started planning a trip out to the Kathmandu Valley. We wanted to visit some small towns and villages and see some of the ‘real’ Nepal and it seemed to us the getting as far out into the Kathmandu Valley was the best way to do that and so, off we went.
We checked out of our guest-house early to catch the 7am Kodari bound bus from the Ratna Park bus station. The bus rattled along the bumpy roads of the valley, flying around corners and clinging to the edge of the roadway barely avoiding the sheer drop into the rushing river below. After a late night the night before I somehow slept almost the entire journey, surely a first on these roads!
Kodari is a small border town with not a whole lot going on. The town lies on the Nepal-Tibet border and from our guest-house window you could see the giant red flag of China, just a stones throw away, across the river.
Trucks were plentiful at the customs area just before the Friendship Bridge which links the two countries. A quick warning against taking photos and we were allowed through to walk right up to the border, marked by a red line half-way across the bridge. Chinese soldiers stood guarding the border and carefully checked the papers of people passing through. We learned from a Nepali guy on the bridge that the local people were allowed to cross into Tibet freely, with no visa, and many did to avail of the cheap prices just across the border. This soon became apparent to us when we saw a five foot tall Nepalese man carting three large plasma screen TV’s across the bridge on his back!
A small local farming village called Liping sat on the hillside just above Kodari, overlooking the Friendship Bridge and the Chinese flags across the river. A short hike up allowed us to take photos of the border control from a safe distance. The village of Liping portrayed a very simple way of life. Te views down through the valley were beautiful and the playful puppies and baby goats made the place feel full of life.
The next morning we took a ten minute bus to Tatopani, another small one street village and our next stop in the Kathmandu Valley. Tatopani is famous for its natural hot springs and this is where the town gets its name; tato meaning hot and pani meaning water. After deciding on a guesthouse we found out the hot springs were right behind where we were staying. We gathered up our towels and walked down the steps toward the hot springs located on the bank of the river below.
The hot springs were separated into a number of different sections all facing onto a communal courtyard area. Walking down the stone steps into the courtyard, facing us was the changing areas for men and women respectively. The reason for the separation eluded me as there wasn’t a door in sight and everyone and everything was clearly on show. Across from the changing areas were two shower areas, again one for each sex. Each shower area had four colourful stone dragon heads that had lovely hot water pouring from their mouths, under which everyone battled for some space to wash. Two hot stone baths were next to the shower area with the men’s being twice the size of the women’s. Each bath was enclosed in a sort of wire mesh cage with a padlocked door. The ten-year old guard of the gate only granted access after receiving his ten rupees. The bath was where we spent most of our time talking and playing with the local kids who were enjoying their Saturday off school. We left clean and refreshed and spent the rest of the day walking through town taking photos and talking with the friendly locals.
The next day started with a three-hour bus journey to Dhulikhel. Twenty minutes into the journey I realised I had forgotten my jacket. Arranging to meet everyone else in Dhulikhel, I got off the bus and began walking back the quiet country roads to where we had started that morning. A local guy in a 4×4 picked me up after a while and dropped me back at Tatopani. The woman at the guesthouse laughed at me when I told her how stupid I’d been but helped get me on the next bus to Dhulikhel, where I was to meet the other three at Snow View guesthouse.
Awake this time, the bus ride back towards civilisation was breathtaking at times, albeit for different reasons. The views down through the valley were spectacular and passing through villages it was cool to see the simple way of life and the ever smiling faces. The bus driver and his accomplice however took my breath away in a completely different way. Half the wheel off the edge of the road, overtaking anything that got in the way on blind corners and the whole time people sitting on the roof and climbing up and down the ladder on the side of the bus as the bus made its way closer to its destination at speed. After about five hours I reached Dhulikhel and a half an hour walk through the town, I was reunited with Noelle and our friends.
The following day we woke to amazing views of the snow-capped Himalayas from our guest-house window. After a quick breakfast it was out into Dhuikhel for a look around. Our friendly host pointed us in the direction of a giant gold Buddha and the Kali temple which stood at the top of the hill, a thousand stone steps up. After seeing the Buddha and the temple we walked out to the east of town for panoramic views over the tiered rice terraces and small farming communities which overlooked the valley beyond.
A quick stop for lunch back in Dhulikhel and we headed for the old town in search of a few temples which our host had advised us of. The old town consisted of one major square which played host to two temples and a series of narrow lane-ways which cut between tall, red brick homes. It was quiet around this part of town. Except for the dogs, goats ducks, chickens, roosters and cows going about their business there didn’t seem to be much excitement, at least at this time of day. We stopped for a while to watch a man unload his chicken truck and weigh the terrified birds for a customer of his and again to play table tennis with some kids on the side of a small stupa in the town square before making our way back to our homely accommodation to get ready for tomorrows trip to Panauti.
With one change of buses in Banepa we continued our journey to the traditional Newari town of Panauti. The bus trip from Banepa was refreshing, sitting on the luggage rack on the roof dodging electricity cables and admiring the scenery. We negotiated our room rate at Hotel Panauti and went walk about. We passed through some of the streets in the old town and found ourselves at the edge of the town where, looking away from town we watched people working hard in the surrounding farmlands. Looking back across the river we could see the Indreshwar Mahadev temple and we could hear the Hindu chants and music floating across the river from the temple complex.
Crossing the bridge to the temple grounds we were greeted by a very friendly, slightly eccentric holy man who wanted to guide us around Panauti. He was an interesting character and we stayed talking with him for a while. He told us how he sometimes lived at the temple and how he grew up an orphan in Panauti. Hungry for our lunch we politely declined his offer as a tour guide, said goodbye and made our way back towards Panauti’s cobblestone back streets.
Our original plan had been to spend the night in Panauti but unfortunately the weather wasn’t very accommodating. As the wind picked up, the rain came in and after some brief negotiations with the staff at the hotel we were allowed to cancel our room at no charge. We grabbed our bags and headed for the bus to Bhaktapur, our final stop in the Kathmandu Valley before returning to Kathmadu to begin planning our Everest Base Camp trek in less than a weeks time.