A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: alexchan

Homeward bound


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To my surprise, Dragonair and their Kathmandu ground staff turned around the big jet in an hour. We left around 0030 for a 2h30 flight to Bangkok. Within half hour of takeoff the inflight service of hot pastries and juice was over, leaving us all to rest.

The fuel stop in Bangkok is, necessary due to border issues with India, meaning that the landlocked country is rather short of fuel. All but the shortest international flights require a stop. We filled up and go in an hour for a 2h flight to Hong Kong.

For the second sector, we were offered a more substantial meal with bread roll and fruit. With the time difference, we landed in Hong Kong around 0900. I was out with my bags in no time; perhaps most people were connecting elsewhere.

I made my way to the Plaza Premium Arrivals Lounge for a 3h complimentary stay from 0930 to 1230, where I also enjoyed a much needed shower. That left me “homeless” fro 1230 till 1455 when check-in opened for my 1755 flight. It isn’t always worthwhile turning up so early on standby as one normally gets asked to wait to flight closing anyway.

Today was definitely one of those situations and the airline staff in charge told me not to inconvenience myself queueing; just come back 90 minutes when the flight is nearly closing. So it was back to doing things on the computer and internet. But with the sleeplessness setting in, I didn’t want to do bills and serious admin.

When I came back 90 minutes before departure, they told me to wait a bit more. Some customers had turned out without proof of exit from New Zealand and another had forgotten his passport. Eventually they called for the standby passengers but they realised that I hadn't been marked as here and waiting. This was quickly fixed and a few of us made our way promptly to the the gate, only to be held up in the massive crowds at security and immigration.

Inflight, the reading lights of the Boeing 777-200 were playing up. This had already happened on the flight to Hong Kong but it would take 3h to fix, so the Captain decided that it is a lesser inconvenience to operate the flight "as is". When I turn on my reading light, someone else's comes on but after a long lag. And there's no rhyme or reason; it could be someone different the nex time I turn it on ... it is all quite random. To make matters worse, the lights had been readjusted as people try to "steal" the light from others (unlike on Airbus aircraft which have fixed unadjustable lights). The crew were telling passengers to not fiddle with the lights. I suggested to the crew that it might be helpful to have the cabin lights on because people want the lights to do their arrival forms before the meal service.

The end of a short trip with one big highlight and very little else. Not a bad way to add sparkle to my Christmas break.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

To Kathmandu and flying off


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Quite unusually, I didn’t get a good night sleep. For a start, being Friday night, the clubs were pounding out music and even though it wasn’t loud, it was enough to disturb me. Then it was a little milder tonight. My sleep was light and short, waking up at 0400. Perhaps it was the beer I had with dinner. I lay till 0600 before having a shower.

I had my breakfast downstairs and settled the breakfast for the last four days. The hotels.com site had said it was included but it wasn’t when I checked; at USD9.60 per room night, I couldn’t push it to hard. Breakfast normally costs USD2.50 and their was not any different, so I decided to let it go.

Today is a big day. I bus to Kathmandu [Kathmandu-travel-guide-1138212] wait a few hours, fly to Hong Kong arriving the next day. Tomorrow’s a big day too as I’d wait most of the day in Hong Kong before flying to Auckland. All flights on standby.

I had opted for the 0800 bus instead of the 0730; half hour makes a big difference in the early hours. The earlier buses left about 15 mins and we pulled out on time; so we not far behind them.

Leaving Pokhara, we saw the petrol queues (for motorbikes) in full swing. This is the queue for legal petrol at normal prices rather than black market petrol at higher rates. Yesterday, we had seen people parked up (queued up) in preparation for today but we saw it for real now. The queues were orderly and people appeared calm, I’m sure it would be more chaotic in other countries.

The journey today only had 2 rest stops. The lunch stop proved more expensive than that on the outbound journey. We arrived in Kathmandu near Thamel around 1500. I was told it was only 10 minutes to the heart of Thamel. It seemed longer than that as I probably took the longer route which had less unfamiliar alleys.

After holding on for a while, I was bursting to go, and went into the first ground floor café to use their loo. I killed about an hour of my 4 hours till I had to go to the airport.

Next was Yang Ling Tibetan Momo shop which I loved from last time. Unfortunately it closed early being the weekend I guess. I wandered around with my pack, making myself more susceptible to hotel touts, until I found a place I liked for dinner.

It was getting rather cold around 1700, so I sat indoors for a leisurely vege curry and rice, followed by cake and Nepali tea.

I headed to the airport soon after 1900, a little earlier than I had planned, because the flight load looked OK. I got to the check-in counter a little more than 3h prior to departure. The signage wasn’t up yet but they were processing people. Unfortunately, they couldn’t give me a boarding pass immediately but was given it about 1h20 before scheduled departure.

Then came the delay of initially 25 mins then 1h25 mins. I don’t know how the flight could have left Hong Kong 20 mins late and got to Dhaka an hour late (and then it gets further delayed). I managed to get 30 mins in the lounge courtesy of my credit card . It was nearly closing time (aligned with the scheduled departure of my flight somewhat), so most of the good food had just be put away. I got some tea, cake and brushed my teeth in the posher bathroom instead of the commoner’s version.

I headed to the public gate area where it would be more than another hour’s waiting till boarding and nearly 2 hours till departure. Blurred vision and yawns were starting to set in.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

A day of disappointments


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large_5550_14526783275281.jpgAnnapurna range hiding somewhere behind the haze and clouds as seen from Sarangkot.
My days in Pokhara [Pokhara-travel-guide-1138426] had been hazy so far. For that reason, I opted not to make the effort to go to Sarangkot [Sarangkot-travel-guide-1323015] to see the sunrise illuminating the Annapurna range. After breakfast, it was obvious I needed to fill in some time. I kinda thought it would be a waste of time/money going there, but I’d go just in case.

One taxi driver at the stand quoted NPR3000 (about USD30) to go there and back when my old guide indicated around USD12. One of the drivers Prakash pulled me aside and we agreed on USD15, which is good considering the fuel crisis (due to borders being closed with India which means that most fuel is blackmarket).large_5550_14526783302500.jpgDisappointing view from Sarangkot.

It was a 30 minute drive through the older part of town then uphill to near the paragliding jump-off point. We parked and climbed another 30 minutes to reach the viewpoint to see, errr, nothing really. Views of Fewa Lake was hazy and not new to me. The Annapurna range was obscured by the haze and if it wasn’t for the haze, we would have seen clouds in the distance covering them up too.

Prakash explained that since the earthquake, tourism has taken a downturn The skies off the hill used to be full of paragliders but now there are much less (still plenty by my reckoning).

The excursion killed the morning and provided a taxi driver some income. We agreed on a price of USD16 for going to the Tashi Palkhiel Tibetan Refugee Settlement at 3pm. Taxis (and eating too) are expensive in Pokhara unlike in Kathmandu.large_5550_14526783337236.jpgTashi Palkhiel Tibetan Refugee Settlement.And I agreed that Prakash could bring his wife and 3 year old along.

After my first lakeside lunch and a rest, Prakash picked me up. He added a couple of stops for me at no charge. First was a Buddhist and Hindu temple along the way, and the second was a long suspended bridge.

The monastery was a disappointment. It was a modern building. Fortunately it was prayer time and I managed to take my shoes off and stand inside of the entrance of the prayer hall to watch them chant, beat the drums and blow the horns.

But having been to the Tibetan highlands only a couple of months ago, the monastery and Pokhara just doesn’t compare. To make it worse, my parahawking experience was such a highlight the extra days that followed have been non-events. I needed to allow the extra time in case of bad weather postponing the parahawking.large_5550_14526783361713.jpgMonastery at Tashi Palkhiel Tibetan Refugee Settlement.I wish I could leave early but there were no flights I could take to Hong Kong in order to connect back to New Zealand.

I treated myself to a very good thin pizza tonight. It was what I was craving for, rather unusually. I needed to look respectable for the return journey, so finally had a shave at the shop which I had been invited in many times. It was about USD2 for a shave but the man proceeded to do my massage neck which I thought was a little extra but when he continued down my back, I thought ... hhmmm, how much extra will this be?

When he finished, he pointed to the price list which showed about USD14. I protested to his boss who told me not to worry about it. I paid for the shave and tipped the guy about 40 cents and that was all sorted. It was disappointing to be reminded that even though Nepal is more honest and straight forward, people do try it on every now and then.

I did a quick estimate of my spend for tomorrow and cashed some extra money. Nepal is a good place to make small exchanges as there is no fee, minimum fee or commission. I cashed up my Chinese Yuan and UAE Darahim (plural for dirham in Arabic, rather than dirhams!) a couple of days ago. I had held on to them for a while as I would have lost a fair chunk to fees elsewhere.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Shopping and a climb


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large_5550_145267795252.jpgI don't understand the attraction of watching the lifestory of Buddha performed by robots!
I had allocated the morning for shopping and the afternoon for climbing up to the World Peace Pagoda. Nepal is heaven for buying old weather gear and active wear. I spent USD25 on replacing my Keens sandals which broke a couple of years ago, USD15 on a Under Armour compression top, USD15 on a Haglofs thin thermal pullover and USD10 on a Mammut sports tee. Kim liked the Mammut tee so much (through Whatsapp) and asked me to get him one, which I did. I finally bought a Mammut light fleece jacket for USD12 as I was getting more ruthless, since I had discovered that the Mammut tees can come down to USD8 (shopkeepers tend to discount highly when you know you’ve bought somewhere else and are unlikely to buy again).

It isn’t as cheap as the bargains I’ve had in China in the past, but it is increasingly hard to get good copies in China anymore.large_5550_14526779566134.jpgWomen selling stuff at the lakeside jetty.They tend to sell their local brands at highly inflated prices. But I’ve had good bargains going to the right (but difficult-to-find) places.

After lunch and a rest, I set out at 1500 to the boat pier where I hired a boat/boatman to take me to the beginning of the trail that leads to the World Peace Pagoda, built by Japanese Buddhists. It was a quick row of about 15 minutes. The climb took 45mins and got me rather sweaty.

The view from the top was as good as it could get on a hazy day. The Pagoda, being relatively modern, wasn’t very inspiring. I made my way back down and in my usual style, took the same amount of time as coming up (most people come down in half the time).

I fed myself a Punjabi meal before another early night.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

What I've come for specifically - Parahawking


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large_5550_14525925542145.jpgWatching paragliders take off as we ready ourselves.
I woke at 0600 when it was still cold and dark. Today is the day I receive my Christmas present from Kim to do parahawking. I kept warm in bed till 0700 before slowly emerging from the covers and eventually left the hotel at 0900 after breakfast.

It was a 15 min walk to the parahawking office and I got there 15 mins before the 0930 report time. I would be the only one this morning and Scott didn’t come get me till 1000 in a small Suzuki hatchback taxi. He had Kevin, an Egyptian vulture on his left arm.

We drove out of town and uphill towards Sarangkot [Sarangkot-travel-guide-1323015] and less than 30 mins later we were dropped unceremoniously on an unsealed road in the middle of nowhere. We walked on a track which led to an open area where several people were getting their paragliders ready.large_5550_14525923035686.jpgKevin swooping in to land on my hand.

It was a calm bright sunny day but rather hazy. Scott suggested that we let a few of them go first, so he could see how the thermals were behaving. He kitted me out with my harness before 1100 and hooked himself up behind me. The instructions were simple: for the takeoff I need to have both hands holding the harness, walk forward when instructed (feel the parachute pulling you back) and finally jog a few steps.

We were airborne in no time and my immediate task was to open the pouch of buffalo meat hanging in front of my waist and put a piece into the crease between my left thumb and hand, then cover it with my right hand so Kevin wouldn’t see it prematurely.

Kevin was nowhere to be seen. Scott has a spotter to help notify him of Kevin’s location and when Kevin was swooping in.large_5550_14525923086034.jpgKevin lands on my hand and about to take the buffalo meat from between my thumb and finger. Eventually, Kevin came around and Scott blew his whistle which was the signal for me to put my left arm straight out. Kevin swooped in, sat on my hand and took the meat out.

We repeated this many times while floating over the hillsides of Pokhara [Pokhara-travel-guide-1138426]. It was a truly awesome experience being airborne, flying with the various big birds and especially having Kevin alongside us in the sky. Once in a while, Kevin’s right wing would flap on my head as he was sitting on my left hand.

We drifted towards the lake and had a few more rounds. I realised that we didn’t have life jackets while some paragliders did (there is only one company doing parahawking, and only me this morning).large_5550_14525923128667.jpg All good things have to come to an end, so we descended and landed on a clear patch on the lake shore. There were other people around but Scott manouvered us well and my only instructions were to jog a little forward till we stop.

The landing spot is the base for Scott’s operations. He has his aviary of rescued birds here and accommodation for those who wish to be a little removed from the hustle and bustle of Pokhara. I was shown the hand basin to wash my hands and offered a drink, which I kinda needed to soothe my slightly quesy stomach (combination of big breakfast and motion effects).

One of the staff took me through what they were doing here with their birds-of-prey conservation efforts. Basically, it boils down to one thing. Diclofenac (aka voltaren pain killer) is used for livestock and their carcasses are tainted with it.large_5550_14525923166501.jpgWhat a beautiful bird.Being a Hindu country, cows are not eaten and are left out for the vultures and other birds who eat them and die very quickly. So, the parahawking project uses captive birds (rescued, rehab’ed from young and cannot fend for themselves) to generate income to fund these projects. One of the initiatives is free veterinary service which uses alternatives to diclofenac, in exchange for villagers donating their nearly dead cows as supply to “vulture restaurants” (where carcasses are skinned and left out for birds).

Incidentally, use of diclofenac in humans also kills birds where sky burial is being practiced eg. Tibet.

By the time I completed my eco briefing, my photo and videos were ready. Flicking through them, I wish I had taken the advice of the young lady at the town office to wear sunglasses.large_5550_14525923201880.jpgBird's eye view of us soaring like birds. I looked really squinty without them. Also, I didn’t look too comfortable as I felt queasy through a large part of the flight. I took Scott’s advice to cross my ankles because “they look better in the pictures”. I didn’t know how right he was until I was back in town later, watching other people’s videos (used as adverts) in shop windows; many looked so silly with their knees so far apart.

Scott’s ride back into town wasn’t here yet and it was only 30 minutes walk back to town, so I did that. I rested and did some admin until my queasy stomach turned into hunger.

As Scott’s Mac didn’t like my USB drive for the photos, and my laptop didn’t have a DVD drive, I had to arrange for the photos to be transferred. Naturally, the little shop had a Windows computer and there wasn’t any issue at all.
Having had such an awesome experience, I wanted to share the photos with Kim who had given it to me as my Christmas present.

As I had two full days to come, I rested and did some admin for the rest of the day before another early night. I thought I’d keep myself on Malaysian time as it would mean less adjustment when I return to New Zealand and have to start work a day later.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

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