Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Old Pokhara Town

After our trip to Devi's Falls and the Bat Cave, we took a stroll through old Pokhara, which is remarkably unaffected by the throngs of tourists staying just a few kilometres away by the lakeside. Old Pokhara is a rustic and charming place, which is exactly what the first travellers found when Pokhara first appeared on the hippie trail many decades ago.

Pokhara looks very different from the Nepali towns further to the west, with painted houses and little porches. This particular house is a small watch shop. The whole place is filled with such small family owned shops. Not a single fancy, Western brand outlets here. Not that there is anything wrong with Western consumerism as such, but still nice to see that there are place that it hasn't gotten to yet, even so close to a tourist hotspot.

Our taxi driver for the day eating in a small local restaurant.

Susanna at another local restaurant, waiting for her momos (Tibetan dumplings).

The basket maker's house.

Old ladies at the front porch. On the small pent roof, they are drying some orange things, that seemed to be a kind of food or snack.

Potter's house.

Local boys.

More local children. Look at the boy to the right. Now, that is a hearty laugh!

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Pokhara: Devi's Falls and the Bat Cave

After a pleasant bus ride we arrived in Pokhara, a really nice town with both a lake and mountains. After checking out the very touristy lakefront (which I didn't bother photographing) next point on the itinerary were some interesting falls and caves.


First up was Devi's Falls, which you see in the two pictures above. It is not so powerful outside the monsoon, but by looking at the mini canyon that the river has carved you get a sense of the power in play when the river comes roaring down in the monsoon.

The falls seen from the other side, with Susanna standing on top looking down. "So where is the water?" you may ask. Well that's the cool thing about these falls. The water simply disappears into a big hole in the ground. By the way Devi's Falls is allegedly a corruption of the name Davis falls, referring to a Swiss visitor who killed himself by falling into the hole, and pulled his girlfriend with him.

What is even more cool abotu Devi's falls is that you can visit the cave underneath it. The light streaming in from the left side of the picture is from the same hole you just saw from above. It may be hard to get a sense of size here, but the cave you see here, must be at least 25-30 metres high.


A couple if interesting walls of the cave. Notice how sparkly the rock is behind Susanna.

After Devi's Falls we went to my favourite place of the day a bit outside Pokhara: The famous bat cave, where thousands of horseshoe bats hang from the perhaps 20 metre high ceiling of this huge, dark cave. There is no lighting in this cave apart from what you bring with you, making photography a bit of a challenge. Obviously a flash would do no good in such a huge cave, so this pictures was taken by mounting the camera on my tripod and leaving the shutter open for 40 seconds, while I tried to light up the bats with my flashlight as evenly as possible. I'm pretty happy with the result.

Even more challenging was it to take a picture of Susanna and the bats in the same picture. Obviously the flash was once again quite useless, so again I had to leave the shutter open for a while. But in order to not overexpose Susanna and under expose the bats I had to keep the flash light one her for a second only while she sat very still, then run away and light up the bats without any more light falling on Susanna. It was challenging but fun. Even though the light on Susanna looks a little strange, I still think the result came out quite well given the material we had to work with. It could have been better, though, if we hadn't been constantly disturbed by Indian and Nepali tourists walking in front of the camera and flashing their lights everywhere in an attempt to provoke a reaction from the bats.

From the bat cave you can go out the way you came in, or you can walk up a narrow path and wiggle yourself out a tiny little hole, which we opted for - as you can see on the picture. As it turns out we had to walk in the complete dark up a path next to an unmarked, unfenced edge leading 5-6 metres down. Afterwards our driver claims that a few people fall down and die every season! I don't know if he was pulling a fast one on us, but he seemed absolutely serious about it.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Kathmandu to Pokhara

After Susanna joined me in Kathmandu we could finally leave the valley and head westwards for the town of Pokhara. The way there was quite scenic and here are a few pictures to illustrate that (I cheated a bit with the chronology - these pictures cover the return trip also)

A small farm, lush with crops.

A small house on a big terraced hill side.

A huge suspension bridge crosses a river.

A guy crossing same bridge, seen from a different angle.

Hill tops disappearing in mist. But lovely lush area.

Three young girls walking with grass. It looks like walking bushes.

A very fitting picture taken from inside our bus. "Good luck" is indeed what you need when travelling on Nepal's roads. I also wanted to include a picture of Susanna sleeping in the bus, but she vetoed it.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Bhaktapur

The third major town in Kathmandu Valley is Bhaktapur, also once the capital of an independent Kingdom. It is easily the most charming town I visited in Nepal.

One of Bhaktapur's major landmarks is the impressive 5-storey Nyatapola Temple, which is the highest in all Nepal.

What makes Bhaktapur truly great is not just the architecture, but also the fact that it is one of very few virtually traffic free cities. The roads are mostly too narrow for cars to enter the town and the streets laid with bricks, so you get a very nice walking street experience that is otherwise hard to find outside Europe.

I was in Bhaktapur on a school holiday, so everywhere I ran into smiling children, including this beautiful girl...

...and her brother. Notice the earrings.

I was also followed around by these girls, who wanted to show me around.

And here the same girls are posing for the camera on some old sculptured elephants.

Another picture displaying elephants, in this case a particularly humorous one with a couple of Elephants in the missionary position with trunks interlocked.

More erotic art, which is exceptionally prevalent in Nepal. Here a lady seems to be washing her hair while doing something else also. I know women are supposedly good at multitasking, but I think this is taking it to an extreme.

As with Patan and Kathmandu, Bhaktapur also has a Durbar Square. Since most buildings here were destroyed in the great earthquake of 1934 it seems very bare compared to the other Durbar's, although the more airy feeling is not all together a disadvantage. The white building ont he left is the old royal palace.

Some colourful tourists at the square, here seen from a slightly different angle (The stone Temple is the same as in the picture above).

Bhaktapur has many nice squares. One of the really cosy ones is Tachupal Tole, which you see here. The dominating building is Bhimsen Temple and in front is a dance platform and a column with a big lion on top.

Another Square with a very obvious name: Potter's Square. Most of the square is filled with clay pottery left int he sun to dry.

Old lady by an old gate.

A very typical Bhaktapur with lots of detail. Click to see further details. By the way I have changed my pictures format a little bit, by lowering the resolution. If you have clicked on my pictures before the enlarged picture might have been way too large to fit your screen, but now it should be mode moderately sized. If you miss the old high resolution pictures let me know, but for now I think this is an improvement. Also takes up less of my precious storage space.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Pashupatinath

Here on the outskirts of Kathmandu you see Pashupatinath , which is considered to be Nepal's holiest Hindu Temple.

Not only is Pashupatinath a very important temple, it is also where many Nepalese Hindus come to send their deceased loved ones on their final journey down the Bagmati river. On this picture taken at dusk you can see a funeral party in front of the red building, all standing at the ghat (steps) leading down to the river.

As you can see from this picture taken a bit earlier, funerals here are quite a "spectator sport" with locals and tourists alike standing on the bridge to have a good look, and in some cases even taking close-ups of the funeral and the mourners. Watching respectfully is okay, but taking photos so closely I find a bit tactless, which is why I can't show you any photos of a Hindu funeral. Instead I opted to take my pictures from a more respectful distance, like this one below:

As it is the case in India funeral pyres also play a big role in the funerals here, with the vast majority being burned before they are given to the river. In fact the whole Royal Family of Nepal was cremated here after the world famous royal massacre where the Crown Prince murdered his parents and all his siblings, thus clearing the unlikely way for his less than popular uncle to the throne.

An atmospheric sight from earlier in the day with funeral smoke and sharp sunlight providing a special light.

A saddhu at Pashupatinath. As it is usually the case at tourist hotspots saddhus gladly pose for photos but expect (generous) tips afterwards. Fortunately I had the pleasure of experiencing at the Ardh Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, that most saddhus do love having their picture taken and wouldn't dream of charging for it. You should never judge a population of any kind by the individuals you meet hanging around the tourist attractions.

By one of the bridges as night was falling and the fires were dying out, I caught a photo of this single young man standing on the bridge for several minutes. He must have had something to ponder about. In fact at Pashupatinath thoughts do start rolling in your head, as this as you can see is a place very alive and pristine, yet so intimately connected to death.

Patan Museum

This is the small but highly recommended Patan Museum. Fortunately they are one of very few museums in the Indian subcontinent allowing photos without restrictions, so here are a few pictures of my favourite parts.

One of the exhibition halls. A lot has been done to make the museum very appealing with good lighting, nice restoration of the old buildings and exceptionally good written explanations for what you are looking at. The Museum focuses especially on metalworks such as cast-bronze and gilt-copper work, for which Patan has long been renowned.

A four-headed monster.

An erotic piece.

And my favourite piece. This Buddha reminds me of those little grey aliens from 50s and 60s cartoons. Maybe they came to Nepal also?

This museum is pretty high tech. This is an amazing hologram showing a piece that the Museum couldn't get to display, but based on a scan you can still see it in 3D. It works incredibly well. I had to check the backside to make sure it wasn't actually a real piece in there. But no, it is completely flat.

A shiva lingam with fresh flowers. in the Museum's courtyard.