The One About Nepal

What are two friends to do with two weeks to spare? Plan a getaway of course! It all started sometime around mid last year when the local airline had a really good sale on flights to Singapore. So we bought that, and mulled over possible destinations for a few weeks before deciding on Nepal, and India. I have to admit the cost of travel played a big role in deciding on the destinations.

Nepal is such a beautiful country and there is so much to do and see. A lot [almost all] the travelers we met in Nepal were there for trekking [that’s a no brainer]; but Shel and I are not exactly the hiking/trekking type of people. We are content viewing the mountain ranges from a distance, there is not need for us to conquer them. The only exception was our hike up to the Peace Stupa in Pokhara.

We split our five days in Nepal between Kahtmandu and Pohkara and did most of what one could do if not trekking in Nepal. The major highlights for me apart from eating momos and dal bhat were:

1. Bhaktapur Durbar Square

The Bhaktapur Durbar Square is one of the better preserved Squares in Kathmandu since the 2015 earthquake. It is also the most expensive Durbar squares to visit as the entrance fee is 1500 Nepalese Rupees [30FJD]. However, much to our surprise we were only charged 100 rupees each. It turns out that the entrance fee for SAARC members is only 100 rupees [2FJD] and since Shel had spoken in Hindi at the ticket counter, they just assumed we were Indians. So we had more money for momos!

One could easily spend an entire day wandering around the square. The square is closed to normal traffic so it also provides an escape from the noise pollution of the city and for us, a chance to get the perfect shot without the danger of being run over.

2. Pashupatinath Temple

This Pashupaninath temple is the largest temple complex in Nepal and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple is only accessible to Hindus but the surrounding grounds and other temples can be visited by all.

3 . Rowing in Fewa Lake

While we did the Fewa Lake boat ride as part of our trip to the Peace Stupa, we enjoyed the lake far more than the hike up to the stupa. Although, I must say that the Peace Stupa does have great views.

NB: The hike up to the stupa is basically going up a stairway, but the steps are quite high, so its a lot of quad work. Also, not good for people with bad knees.

4. Gurkha Museum in Pokhara

We were initially reluctant to go the museum in favour of resting a bit before our night time adventures but both Shel and I were really glad that we visited this place. The museum has 3 levels of galleries on the achievements of the Gurkha regiments in Nepal. There are accounts of some very amazing human feats which is sure to leave you in awe.

5. Flights Between Kathmandu & Pokhara

The flights between Kathmandu and Pokhara were one of the most scenic flights I have taken. We had made trips to view points to see the Himalayan and Annapurna regions but due to the smog, the view was never wow enough. These flights more than made up for that.

The One About Sri Lanka

You know that feeling of wanting to be on the road soon after being back at home? Well, Vee and I aren’t too good with managing our itchy feet so we were scouting for a new cheap destination soon after our Indo-China trip last Nov-Dec. In the running were India, Philippines, and Sri Lanka. Since we didn’t have too many leave days left [having been just back from a three week long trip], the destination had to be reasonable for a 10 day trip. So India was out as both of us felt we should do multiple states per trip and it could get overwhelming in 10 days. Similarly Philippines didn’t make it because Vee had wanted to do Bali and Philippines in the same trip to that side of the world – again too much for a 10 day trip. So we went with Sri Lanka and it turned out to be one of the best trips.

Having decided to take advance of the long Easter weekend and taking a few more days leave from work, Vee and I were set to celebrate our our dating and wedding anniversaries in Sri Lanka, 9 and 3 years respectively 🙂

So Sri Lanka is an island country in the Indian Ocean separate from India by Palk Strait. Truth be told, I know Sri Lanka because I know Ceylon tea and had probably seen some TV adverts early in my childhood. For those who know a bit about Hindu mythology, Lanka features quite prominently in the ancient Hindu epic Ramayana. And those who are into myths or mysteries of lost lands [example Atlantis, Hyperborea, or Thule]; Kumari Kandan aka Lemuria mentioned in South Indian literature would know a bit more about Sri Lanka. I do so because I read Sumathi Ramaswamy’s Lost Land of Lemuria in Year 1 of my undergrad years which started my fascination with narratives of lost land [this is a story for another time].

Now to the travel details, those residing in my island country would be glad to know that you could take a return trip from Nadi to Colombo for as low as FJD2,345. I booked with Fiji Airways and SriLankan Airlines during their sale period. Both airlines take excellent care of you and make travelling long hours a breeze. Our accommodation costs came to around FJD800 for the 10 nights in Sri Lanka. We used a mix of Airbnb’s and hotels [via Agoda]. And the total of our daily expenses despite heavy eating and tea tasting came to FJD1,500. So the whole trip was approximately FJD3,500 per person. That is inclusive of the dozen sarees I may have bought 🙂

These are a few things I thought to share [there are many other travel tips available online]:

  • Travel light if you plan on taking a train or bus.
  • Eat local food at local joints. Local food is extremely tasty and cheap. Even the most nitty-gritty food joint is reasonably clean. Look out for “Sri Lankan curry and rice” on the menu, the rice comes with 5-8 different curries – all for FJD10.00.

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Typical rice and Sri Lanakan curry serve

  • Indugle in the fresh coconut water. I over did it. You can get a coconut for FJD1.30 [100LKR]. So unless you are growing these yourself, these are a steal.

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That’s a happy me enjoying fresh coconut somewhere in Polonnaruwa

  • It gets hot an humid, wear cotton blends and carry an umbrella.

Side note: If you are planning on taking the train [and you should], you must book the seats as early as possible. Have a read up of the details on The Man in Seat 61. However, if you aren’t able about to book all your trips, do not stress too much. The unreserved seats will likely cost you approximately a dollar and some discomfort, but you can still travel. We were unable to reserve seats for the Kandy to Nuwara Eliya and Nuwara Eliya to Ella trips, so we ended up buying tickets for the unreserved cabin. Which is basically filled to the brim with people as there are no capacity limitations it seems. What you need to do is, put on your backpacks, navigate through the crowd and get on board as fast a possible. Better if there are two of you, so one can find seats and the other manages the luggage.

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Vee ready to board with both our backpacks.

This of course didn’t workout for us as I am no good navigating in crowded spaces. So even though Vee was carrying both our backpacks, he got on way ahead of me. Lucky for me, the people are extremely nice and one little girl gave up her seat for me [she sat on her mum’s lap], and shared strawberries with me. Vee got seats a few stations later when some passengers got off. Now because the scenery is so beautiful, so even if you don’t find yourself a seat, try and find a window and enjoy the views while the train chugs through the hills.

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Overall I felt completely safe and comfortable travelling in Sri Lanka; there were no instances of harassment or leering.  Everybody we met and spoke to, treated us with respect and care. I must say though, Vee got a few looks for conversing in English when he looks so Sri Lankan.

The One About The Great European Adventure

Early in 2016 Vee and I had made the decision to not be in Fiji for our birthdays (we have the same birthday). I had wanted to be in Egypt but things were still a bit unsettled in that part of the world so we went with Europe, a continent we had thought to travel when we had a bit more money. Unfortunately, with our itchy feet, it’s difficult to amass any substantial wealth; so off we went because there was no point in waiting for the bank balance to expand.

For this write-up, I will not cover each of the cities we visited but rather a generic overview of things to assist while planning a trip to Europe.

We almost always book our flights from and to Fiji months in advance, generally whenever there is a sale on the Nadi-Singapore-Nadi leg. The rest we fit in progressively keeping in mind sale periods and flight schedules. For this trip, we worked out the must visit countries, and then cities, and then the routes.

Routes

For our travels, Vee and I have very specific roles. I look into the travel and accommodation details and Vee works out the ground travel and city itinerary. Once we pin down our route, I look into accommodation options close to public transportation and interest points. The earlier you book the better. My go to site for accommodation searches and bookings are Agoda and Airbnb. Agoda because you collect points over time which can be used to discount bookings, and Airbnb because, lets face it, European hotels aren’t meant to be booked with Fijian dollars.

Side note: always read reviews of the places you are booking and take note of other travelers recommendations. When booking for our Venice hotel I had read that there aren’t any lifts in most of the smaller hotels because the buildings are old and its no fun carrying your backpack four flight of stairs. So I mentioned in my booking details that I prefer a room on the ground floor because I have a bad leg. Now this was done months before we checked-in so I was very confused (but pleased) to find we were provided a double door room with a huge bath (with seats and handles). It wasn’t until later in the night when it dawned on me that I am supposed to have a bad leg. Don’t get me wrong, I do have a bad knee, but not bad enough to warrant this lavish room. So for the reminder of the trip, I walked with a limp while entering and exiting the hotel.

The trickiest bit I found was booking intercity trains. Luckily, I found The Man in Seat 61 before I lost my sanity. Mark Smith, documents everything there is to know about travelling via trains in Europe and in many other countries. I am currently referring to his website for travels in Sri Lanka!

For the day to day itinerary, we used Sygic Travel. With Sygic Travel you could map out our itinerary or use itinerary templates. We simply looked at 2-3 day itineraries and picked out the items we wanted to do. Since this trip planner is map based, you could visualise the distance between your different interest points. Apart from Sygic Travel, Vee read numerous blog posts and TripAdvisor reviews for the attractions we were interested in. He listed out the approximate distance between the interest point (specially if we were to walk) and the entry fee.

Most of his work on Europe is available on this excel sheet.

Initially we were horrified at the prospect using public transport and getting lost in Europe. However, after a bit of online research, we found mobile apps which enabled us to navigate most of Europe like locals. We used HereWeGo for public transportation needs as it provided turn-by-turn navigation in offline mode as well. For walking around we used Maps.Me which allows you to download a city map for use offline. It provides walking distance and time between locations, as well as relevant information on nearest washroom or drinking water fountain for example.

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Overall, travelling across Europe can be easy, fun and less heavy on the pocket. Be sure to do a bit of pre-planning and leave the rest for adventure!