Nepal 2012

This was my third visit to Nepal. My first was a group holiday, with all the joys and limitations that implies. The second was during my long trip. Tika met me in Kathmandu, and we travelled together through Nepal and into India.

This time I was largely on my own. Tika organised hotels and transport, and a guide when I needed it. But I was confident I could manage the mysteries of the country without him beside me now. And I could (well, most of the time!)

Water buffalo wander in the lake.

I flew to Kathmandu, and then straight to Pokhara. To flop about by the lake for a while, potter in the hillsides, and watch the water buffalo wandering though the still waters of Phewa Tal.

I spent a week in Pokhara. It is a busy town now, with its restaurants and trinket shops. It is even possible to buy pizza there - unheard of ten years ago, but welcome to many a footsore trekker who has eaten little but rice and lentils for a few days.

Annapurna South - through the clouds.

Tika talked me into trekking. Well, if I didn't go now, I never would. Trekking in the Himalayas - even in its foothills, where I was, is not to be undertaken lightly. My wonderful guide kept me safe - and the reward, glimpses of the mountains through the clouds. It was worth every aching knee and sore toe. It was even worth slipping onto my bottom and landing in a puddle.

Crossing a wobbly bridge in the mountains.

I even managed to negotiate wobbly bridges and more steps than I thought it possible to climb in one day. I have included this picture of me on a wobbly bridge to remind myself I really did it!

From Pokhara to spend two nights in Tansen, perched on a steep hillside in the foothills of the Himalayas, and with many of its old wooden buidlings intact. And far fewer tourists.

Before heading for Lumbini - and the birthplace of Buddha.

The holy tree to mark the birthplace of Buddha.

Lumbini is an extraordinary place: countries with Buddhist communities from around the world are invited to build temples and monasteries here, and tourists make a pilgrimage between them. It was a long, hot walk. Many tourists use rickshaws. But there is something about this place that makes the effort of walking - even in the heat - part of paying homage to the place.

There is an unremarkable building over the place that marks the actual birthplace. But the central focus is a magnificent tree, dressed in prayer flags and with chanting monks beneath. Even the most raucous tourist quietened here. A meditative place to celebrate the Buddha.

From Lumbini I went to Bardia - a remote National Park in the south-west, and apparently the best place to spot tigers.

An elephant washing in the river

No, I didn't see a tiger, though I heard one far closer than was comfortable.

But I was lucky enough to see wild Indian elephants. This big male was washing himself in the river. On the far back a group of females lurked in the elephant grass. He was, apparently, making himself clean and beautiful before attempting to woo them. What a respectful elephant!

I spent several days there, pottering on the edge of the park, hearing the leopard and the monkeys and the deer. Which was fine for me - but not so fine for local people. Electricity is rationed throughout Nepal; we had no power for three days in Bardia. Which was not a problem for me. But for villages whose only protection from marauding leopards is an electric fence, the lack of power presented serious difficulties.

A street in Kathmandu

So it was a bit of a shock when I had to go back to Kathmandu.

This gives you an idea of the wonderful mayhem that is Kathmandu. I can't, of course, add the noises - the hoot of horns from cars and motorbikes, the calls of traders offering 'very good price,' the hawking and coughing that seems to beset everyone in Kathmandu after a few days in the smoggy air. Nor does it convey smells - the stink of deisel, the whiff of incense, the warmth of hot bodies.

A temple in Durbur Square.

But it isn't all chaos. There are tranquil moments, in the temples or around the huge stupa at the Bodhanath. And so - a more peaceful picture, of a temple in Durbur Square in Kathmandu to finish with.