Pokhara

We spend three full days in Pokhara (the second largest city in Nepal) and are staying at a hotel on the outskirts of the tourist strip that looks like a Swiss village – it is a very weird sight in comparison to the last 17 days. They do however have hot showers and a Western toilet. As much as I don’t mind the outback dunny it is nice to sit and contemplate the world without fear of falling in or peeing on your shoes.

Pokhara is lovely. It is built around a huge lake and in the distance you can see the Annapurna Range. It is so sereal that is looks fake. The mountains sit above this weird fuzzy fog bank above the clouds that makes them look like they are suspended in air. Then you have bright green rainforest hills underneath the clouds. The photos do not do it justice whatsoever.

Whilst in Pokhara we visit three cave systems, one with a Hindu priest who gives me a blessing and rubs a tikka on my forehead (I am certain he is not a real priest and is taking the piss as he more or less smears it on). Another cave has a waterfall inside which looks very odd and stinks to high heavens, and the other with hundreds of sleeping bats. The caves are all within a short distance of each other but they may as well be worlds apart as they are all so very different. We take a long boat ride on the lake for half an hour and pass the Hindu temple on an island where people voyage across daily to pay their respects.

We visit an aquaduct running from one of the caves which sits on top of a narrow canyn. This is very odd as you just walk off the street and all of a sudden you are standing above a canyon with rushing waterfalls that run underground. We go into the Gurkha Memorial Museum across the street and I am in awe about this history. In 1815, Nepalese soldiers clashed with the British troops in the northern border of India. After a fierce battle they showed respect to those Brave ‘Goorkhas’ by erecting a stone with engravings. Soon they became close friends and the

We also take a paraglide with Kev!

Kevin is an Egyptian Vulture and is trained to take food out of your hand whilst in flight on a tandem paraglide. The company is Frontier Paragliding and I recommend it to anyone. Although I don’t cope well with the vertigo it was a great experience. You have a pouch of meat in front of you and a falconry glove on and when your pilot makes two wistles, Kev comes in, lands on your hand, eats and then dives off into the thermal for another round trip. It is amazing and very, very cool. BECOME KEV’S FACEBOOK FRIEND: Kevin Neophron Pernopterus - they are trying to get Kev 1000 friends before Christmas. He is awesome! The trainer who I flew with, Scott, has a rescue program as these birds are becoming extinct – check it out.

We have some awesome food in Pkhara and one place I recommend is Cafe Concerto. The food is FANTASTIC and some of it the best I have eaten anywhere in the world. We buy so much stuff here we need to buy another pack to bring it all home. Lucky we know how to pack well. When we weight in at the airport on the way out we each have just above 19kg. Lucky we don’t have much more shopping we want to do after this.

In Transit – Lukla

After waiting for two hours as the fog is low in Kathmandu and no flights have arrived yet, we enter the departure area of Lukla airport and the first thing that springs to mind is KAOS. There are piles upon piles of baggage everywhere, some in orderly lines, others dumped in the middle of anywhere and there is barely room for people to stand. Mix that witha  whole bunch of waiting tourists waiting to get home and very disorganised flight desks and you have the picture. Lucky for us the lodge owner (a practicing monk and certified business man) takes care of everything for is while we wait. I call him Buddha man. He is the fattest Nepali we have seen to date, very tall and wears gold rimmed sun glasses, new boots and a top of the range down jacket. He looks the mafia king of Lukla. He’s is fabulous!

He has arranged everything by jumping the queue behind the desk because he knows the guy, gets us our tickets, we all say a very fast goodbye after receiving our farewell scarves and we are in the exit lounge. It is all very fast and after about 45mins we are on an aeroplane heading down the runway of death! The runway is short and on the exit flight we shoot off the end over the valley before anyone can say ‘ we are out of runway’, and surprisingly it is smooth.

In Nepal at the airports men and women are separated at security to be searched, men by men and women by women. It is all very proper. Although I don’t recall opening my bag once and after a frisk search (mainly of your pockets) as long as you say no to carrying a lighter, tape or matches, you are free to go. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to take down a plane here, they are all too polite. And I think they feel the same way, it is anything but formal. Brett has a different experience though and he must unpack his bag every time and pull everything out for examination. I guess women are the trustworthy ones?

We wait at Kathmandu airport for an hour before Dolpa arrives to take us to Thamel. I use a nice young strangers phone to call Pasang to check before though to make sure she has not forgotten us as they are usually punctual. He assures me she is on her way and that the traffic is very bad. Nonetheless it is nice to sit and wait and people watch – one of my favourite past-times. Back to the same hotel we head out for a lunch straight away as we are on the 3pm flight to Pokhara – the second biggest town in Nepal and one with topical weather – can’t wait! We eat lunch at Rum Doodle and have the most amazing pizza – wood fired oven baked and mixed with a tonne of cheese – so good. Pizza in the mountains is weird as no one has an oven. Don’t order the pizza until you are in Kathmandu.

Penang

We arrive across the water from Penang. Penang is an island but it is not your average expected tropical version. It is a high rise paradise and full of tourist places and a huge mall. It is far from the paradise you expect from an island. As I was not feeling too well from the home stay at our retreat I went straight to my room and to sleep. Only waking later to venture out and get a vege pizza and returning back to the hotel to sleep. I miss out on the walking tour in the morning and after a restless night sleep of fever I think I have come through to the good side of it and look forward to dinner tonight. I meet the rest of the gang at a local cafe and have spaghetti bolognaise for lunch only to realise it is made of chicken mince – I really need red meat as am a little aneamic and haven’t had beef in over a week. Give me the cow!!!! Muslim countries mixed in with Hindu’s and Indians make for interesting cuisine but it is to the detriment of my health. Am really looking for to moving on to Thailand tomorrow.

It is one of the girls birthday’s today and we are going to go for Indian food. I doubt I will be able to get beef but you never know your luck in the big city. So this afternoon I will spend in the mall in the air conditioning. So sorry to say if you ask me what Penang is really like, I have no idea as my time here has been mostly spent in the hotel room. Here’s hoping I can pick up a bargain in the mall…

Suka Suka Island Retreat

After KL we take a bus to another twon and then are mini-bused to a small jetty in the middle of a village in the middle of seemingly no and where. We take a boat to a small island in a dam system called Suka Suka. The island itself is not more than 8 acres and is shadowed by mountains of rainforest. It contains self-contained huts and a communal area with games. The family who runs it has been there for years and is frequented by Intrepid travellers once or twice a week (depending on season). We have two nights here and as there is not much to do I take the opportunity to get stuck into one of my books. It is peaceful here. The grass is green, the only sounds are those of geckos, frogs and crickets, and the water lapping against the bank.

We take a small tour of one of the nearby villages and a lengthy walk through the rainforest to a waterfall. Am happy to say that I had no leeches attach to me but you could see them everywhere along the way – disgusting little yukkies. I hate leeches. Whilst walking you could hear gibbons in the background and at the waterfall we saw a snake making his merry way through the water. A hot but rewarding advernture.

All the food on the island is provided by our hosts, Aziz, Ashia and Azam their son. They are a muslim family and provided us with some traditional Malaysian cuisine. On our last night we sat down on the floor of their house and ate a traditional meal with only our fingers. Unfortunately something did not agree with me on this ocassion and I ended up waking in the night to a churning tummy and fever. Happy to say two days later I am on the mend but am really wanting western food. The experience here was really nice and I hope that we could all be so lucky to find our own little piece of paradise.

Kuala Lumpur (KL)

KL as it is commonly known as is a vibrant and cultural city (as is most of Malasia) but it is a busy and fast city. We arrive in the afternoon and walk about 10 minutes along a busy road to our hotel. We are located half a block away from the night markets and a few minutes walk to the craft markets (which is air conditioned (bonus). We take a walking tour to oriente us with the surrounds and then I spend the rest of the afternoon cruising the markets. We all meet for a train ride out to one of the local Malls. This place (KLCC) is amazing; it is the biggest mall I have ever been in. It stretches over 1km in length and have seven floors. It is clean and westernised and houses some of the world’s top brands. Apparently by the year 2010 the KL government wishes to have the city completely westernised.

We are in KL for two nights and I have not been bored here once. I have seen the imfamous Petronas Towers (pics coming soon), the Menara tower (like Sydney’s Centrepoint Tower) which has a viewing platform 276 metres above the skyline, I see a movie for $3.50, visit the Aquarium, the Islamic Arts Museum and National Mosque – unfortunately we couldn’t go inside as it was the day for sacrifices.

Malaysia is made up of 60% Muslims. I learnt a lot about this culture and its history and feel a little more informed about why they do some of the things they do. Like women covering up and multiple wives, it is all relative and relates back to the time of Muhammed their prophet which is similar to the link for Christianity with Moses and the burning bush. All very interesting. KL is great for a cultural education.

Melaka (also Malacca)

After we have a quick and untroubled entry across the border in to Malaysia we arrive three hours later in Melaka. Melaka is a an old trading port. Everyone has tried to conquer it in the past and everyone has left their mark (and their culture). As mentioned earlier I have no concept of Malaysia so am surprised to find that it is such a multicultural place. Having been influenced by the Dutch, Portuguese, French, British, Chinese, Arabians, and India you can imagine the contrast of not only people but architecture. There is Buddhist temple across the street from a Chinese one dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy which is down the street from a Dutch post office. It’s crazy.

We take a walking tour and then a trishaw ride when our guides are funny and informative. We learn about the spice trade from centuries ago from our 11 year veteran guide Kamil and sample some of the herbs from his garden that he has picked for us. I really liked this particular inclusion in our trip and hope that our next port is as friendly as this one. Keep in mind we have been reminded five tomes today to be careful of bag snatchers here.