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2014 - 2015


 Map + Plan  


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In an effort to be affiliated to a new project at the university, dealing with the in vitro propagation of endangered plants from Nepal and other areas in the foothills of Himalaya, I found it necessarily to make a expedition to Bangladesh, Bhutan and northern India as well. While literature lists various characteristics within the flower, they fail to list the growing conditions for these plants. That is what I need to know, and it seems like visiting the original habitat, is the only way gain this information.  

I will be able to observe, learn, measure and understand their preferred conditions in the wild. I will analyse light, humidity, pH and concentrations of nutrition along with other factors like ventilation and animal interaction. This is a very little studied subject, and with the array of species found in a relative little but climate diverse area, Nepal offers a perfect study.

I hope to be able to visit nurseries, private growers and botanical gardens along the road. However, this present diary does not deal with those experiences; it merely describes the adventures I encored along with the studies, which took me pretty much all around this beautiful and friendly country. The scientific work will be published elsewhere, and used in my daily work.

Some facts about the country. (Jump to diary)
Nepal is squeezed in between southern China and northern India. The official name is the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. It was a monarchy from 1768 until after the civilian war in 2008.
Considering the vast frozen mountain areas, its population of 29,4 millions is rather dense. Kathmandu is the capital and home to one million. Over 80% are Hindi while only 16% are Buddhists in the birth country of Gautam Buddha. Around 4% Muslims and a few Christians.

MONEY: The currency is Nepalese rupee (NPR) which are worth little.100 NPRs equals 0,80 and 6 DKK. As the rats reveals, it is not a rich country in money. GDP; US$240. In Denmark, it is US$58,894.

CLIMATE: Nepal is commonly divided into three physiographic areas: Mountain, Hill and Terai. The northern part of the country is dominated by a mountain range, containing 240 majestic peaks above 6.000 meters.
The most famous is of cause Mount Everest with its 8848 meters. Fascinating, but I'm not going anywhere without plants! The Terai, on the other hand, has a subtropical to tropical climate, and hosts so many interesting plants and animals. At the lowest elevations is the Terai-Duar savannah and grasslands eco-region. These form a mosaic with the Himalayan subtropical broadleaf forests, which occur from 500 to 1.000 metres, and include the Inner Terai Valleys. Himalayan subtropical pine forests occur between 1.000 and 2.000 metres, while the  temperate broadleaf forests are found between 1.500 and 3.000 meters. From 3.000 to 4.000 metres are the eastern and western Himalayan subalpine conifer forests. Above that, up to 5.500 meters, the western Himalayan alpine shrub and meadows is found, after that, it is the ice and snow.

ANIMALS and PLANTS: Because of the variance in climate, from tropical to arctic, Nepal has a large variety of plants and animals. There are 181 mammal species. Here are everything from the Nepalese snow leopard, Asiatic rock python, elephants, tigers, Indian rhinoceros and wild yak to the Gangetic dolphin, which can - with loads of luck -be found in the wild. My friends did see them, but they somehow forgot me. Well, I was in Australia at that time...

900 bird species, quite some reptiles and insects, and 5067-6500 species of plants from 200 families. 400 species of the vascular plants are endemic to Nepal. The Rhododendron arboreum is the national flower.
I ought to be able to find a few of the plants which interest me privately: Caudiciforms. Agapetes serpens, Euphorbia fusiformis, Talinum cuneifolium, Typhonium venosum, and Sarcoca acinosa. Further more, here are 350 species of orchids, among them are two: Pleione coronaria and Oreorchis porphyranthes.which are endemic. I still like to gather information on growing conditions on those orchids, for another project am affiliated to.

Last time I thought I was going to Nepal, was in 2004. There was some commotion, and all roads out of Kathmandu were mined and the busses grounded. Figuring it would be rather dull, to be stocked in the capital for six weeks, we altered our plans, and went on an epic tour in northern India.
This time however, I will succeed! My 40L backpack is quite stuffed, but I'm afraid, I might be wearing most of the worm clots for a considerable amount of time, and then it is quite slim and down to 6,5 kg, including all, except the case with technical equipment, adding yet 2,5 kg more.

A late morning flight brings me to Istanbul, with three and a half hour to spend, before the last leg to Kathmandu during the night. Just before boarding, we are treated with yet three and a half hour more in Istanbul. Way too much time for a dull airport, in my humble opinion! Only two flights out of 60-70 are delayed - why mine? The bright side is; it was at least the second flight, which was delayed. Then, as a special treat, we get additionally an hour and a half at the runway.

Quite eventless flight to Kathmandu, with some sleep and a good film, but only one serving: Breakfast right after take-off, around 2AM. Despite the clouds, the in-flight is amassing. High mountains and small villages on steep slopes. The landing strip cuts right through town, in-between the mountains.

14/12. To treat my self, I have ordered an airport pick-up. Well, the hotel offered it for free, and I kind of feel welcome, when someone awaits me with a big sign, baring my name. It is a short ride, but very slow to the pre-booked hotel: Kama Traveller's Home.
 The traffic is fare from as intense as in Colombo; Sri Lanka, where I drown my self. Can't figure why I can't do it here? Somehow, I have managed to get here on the only cold and rainy day this winter.

As no surprise, the manager tries eagerly to sell me a complete tour packet, but I convinces him: I am capable of going by my self, and I won't pay. A bit peckish, after twelve hours without any food or drink, I head out to find an ATM and a restaurant. Fried rice with vegetables and a fried egg, chased by a Nepalese tea: Real tasty, slightly spices tea with milk and a bit of sugar.

I am in the middle of a huge maze-shaped tourist area, with endless shops of cloth, bags and useless souvenirs and a few restaurants. The drizzle is persistent, and I find it hard to capture the cosiness of the area. Due to my late arrival and the bad weather, I postpones today's agenda for tomorrow.
The locals are friendly and not that persistent, and I start looking for a small bag to carry my guidebook and a bottle of water during the day.
I cruses around the entire area for some hours, find what I'm looking for, and finish off with a tiny serving of stirred mutton - which is translated to goat?
To my big surprise, I don't get lost, and I end up at my hotel, as it get real dark around six. I re-organises my bag and start the daily work:

Process the plant data from the day
Transfer new photos to PC in RAW folder
Copy new photos to NEW folder
Delete bad ones in NEW
Tag the surviving ones
Copy the tagged ones back to RAW folder
Go through NEW folder with Picasa, deleting more, re-framing, clearing
Export selected to SMALL folder
Transfer them to the Slide folder
Write diary
Insert photos in diary from Slides
Write comments on diary photos
Select special photos and place in folders
Optionally: make slideshow with jAlbum
    Shift photos to Slides
    Run Find&Replace
    Upload slideshow
    Make links to new slideshows in diary + photo
Upload to web-page
Make back-up to two USB sticks
Delete photos on camera
Make accounting
Plan tomorrow; waypoints, maps, info
If there is time: sleep...

My room is only 15C, and my fingers start to be too stiff to write. At least, there is a duvet stored in in a cabinet. Unfortunately, I can't tell the difference between the cold water and the alleged hot: 5 and 6C? I just realises: I don't need a shower! Alternately, I head out in the city in a hunt for cake and hot tea.
Despite it is only nine, all the shops are closed, and besides from drinking, here is little to do. I manages to get lost on my way back, but a friendly trishaw driver gets me there, giving me a tour around the area, because he don't know the hotel. Despite that, he is satisfied with the R100=0,80 we agreed on at the start. I could be use to that...

The hot water has been turned on, and I manage to get warm, before heading to bed; 16.00 Danish time, 21.00 local. After some time, I figure the madras is way too cold: A layer of springs with a sheet on, does neither feel comfortable, nor warm! I fold the thick blanket, and sleep as a sausage in a hotdog. Considering I'm in the capital, rather central, it is surprisingly quite. No voices, no dogs, no horns, just a bit of rumble from a few passing vehicles.

15/12. Start the day with a hunt for breakfast. Not much activity in the city before eight - or nine for that matter. I find a classic English Breakfast, on my way down south to the attractions. The weather has not improved that much, but at least it is dry. The streets, on the other hand, are so muddy. I can't imagine how they will be during the rainy season! I make some photos despite the greyness; they might actually work. Here are quite some butchers with fresh meat on the street. Here are small temples with praying people in many blocks. On small squares, bigger temples are found. I reach the old city with wooden buildings and a lot of electrical wires.
I find Asan Tole, a market place with some vegetables and fruit. It does seem a bit quite, but it is still early and cold. Some people are gathered around a small fireplace, and I feel like mingling. The next square is Seto Machhendrath, covered in different temples. Excellent wooden carvings, plenty of pigeons and noisy bells. As I continues towards Indra Chowk, more shops are opening. Indra Chowk is a combined temple and market square, and lively. I enters the pigeon-filled Janabaha temple, filled with cupper and stone work, along the usual wooden carvings. Feeding the pigeons are a religious act, and very appreciated.
The square has its temples, but it seems to have been taken over by fabric dealers and trishaw drivers. I reach Ratna Park, which only consist of a badly keep lawn. Pass the General Post Office to the 62 meter tall Bhimsen Tower. In front of it is a dry Gath - more dry than the roads!
It is ten o'clock, and the sun just breaks through, although not that convincing. I head for a cup of tea, letting the sun burn some of the mist of the mountains. 213 steps leads me to the viewing platform, and through the suspicious brownish mist, I can see the mountains surrounding the city. The tower was original build in 1825, destroyed by a earthquake in 1934 and soon rebuild. The 360 degree view is nice, and I'm sure rather impressing on a clear day.

I have reach the end of my trail, and returns, persisted to find the missing Itum Bahal temple square. I have to ask quite a few times before I'm guided to a small entrance, I have passed some time ago. If it is the right place, it is not that impressing. The large square with playing children, a large Bodhi tree and surrounded by rather tall buildings, make a better motive. I walk back through the sights, making additionally sunshine photos, and head back on New Street. One thing that strikes me, is the lack of food stores and mobile shops. Other Asian cities I have visited seems to contain of 30% mobile shops! Many of the side roads are dominated by one kind of goods. Sowing machines in one, bikes in another and so on.
I find the right Durbar Square, significantly more impressing that the round-about I passed earlier, and thought was it. A massive temple, numerous souvenir salesmen and some well fed and sleeping dogs. The whole area I have been walking in, is a perfect pedestrian network, unfortunately heavily infested with cars, mopeds, trishaws and way overloaded bikes. In a large, open yard, I find a stupa. The brass shops look impressing in the sunshine, but somehow, most shops are still in the shadow like everything else.
I get a bit too fare north, and the streets are a pool of slimy mud. Back at my hotel at two, to rest my legs, write some diary, check photos and hopefully make the last arrangements for the Bhutan tour. My room is still 15C, and after an hour and a half of work, I have to find some warmer place to get my fingers to work.

I head into the city to find some sun, but the only place I can find it, is on a rooftop. And the sun is not powerful in any way. Back in the street, I find a spiced tea with milk, to warm my fingers on, and then I track down the two nurseries within the city. Nothing special, but many plants. None are grown efficient, and none of the present people speak much English. I find some buns for my breakfast, a bottle of water, which only come in one litre, and half a litre Sprite - just for the bottle.
Then I organises my tour to Chitwan National Park. The ordinarily busses takes forever - and that, I do not have. A tourist shuttle can do it in four hours, which sounds more reasonable. It has become dinner time, and I'll go for a Nepali dish: Non-vegi Khana with dahl, bhat, veg curry, chicken curry, pickle, papad and salad. Just as I am about to leave, they bring a gas heater. I grab another cup of tea, and start chatting with a pleasant English bloke. Well heated, I head home rather late to do the last work, including the first slide-show: Kathmandu. Considering the time; six in the morning, I order a wakeup call at the reception.

So fare, I have enjoyed the tour, despite it is significantly colder than I prefers. The capital seems so friendly, but at the same time kind of rural. I can only imagine how the countryside must be. Well, tomorrow will be the first taste of it, although I might get into serious tourist territory.

16/12. Heavy thunder, arctic cold and the usual stress by an alarm clock, set way to early, prevents me from getting much sleep. It is still pitch dark at six, but lightens a bit half a hour later, when I'm walking to the "bus central". It is called a tourist bus, and supposed to be luxurious, but I just don't fit in. Further more, I'm told to sit at the very back, in the rather empty bus. It slowly fills with locals, and even two tourists, as we drive out of town, through the rain and misery.
Next to me sits a Nepalese student from Norway, heading home to visit his parents for the first time in three years. The windows are steamy, the mountains covered in clouds, and I just doze off, till the first brake at ten, in the village of Malekhu. I walk it from one end to the other, in the drizzle, but having a hard time finding any interesting things. A fast cup of tea, before we head on, and I get yet another nap.

The roads follows the large Trisuli River downwards, but it is impossible to capture any of the else so magnificent motives, lining the road. That is because of the condition of the road: It is partly sealed, and it seems like the sealed parts are the most bumpy! Time and time again, I find my self in the air, just to meet the seat hard. Hard brakes almost every time we meet another bus or lorry, and here are a lot!
The lower mountains are covered in a dense forest, and a few of the upper slopes have tiny fields in terraces. At noon, we reach the lowlands, and the sun break through. Here are harvested rice patches and huge, yellow fields with flowering mustard.

We pass through the rather large city of Bharatpur, and the bus empties. The fare ends in the village of Sauraba, the centre of Chitawan National Park expeditions. I'm expected by the Safari Club, and we drive on, to a rather luxurious lodge, way above my usual standard. The usual price is $290, I pay half. Here don't seem to be any "backpackers options" anyway.
 The lodge is empty, and the friendly staff pay me way more attention then I like. Damu is assigned as my personally guide, and he has a plan for the next four days. I try to cut down on the tribal stuff, expanding the wildlife tours. I have read, I can rent an elephant for $10 an hour - I rather do that, than see some dancers perform, for free!
They insist on serving lunch, and I get some delicious noodles, fried vegetables, potato fries and salad. The hour I have to wait before, the tour to the local Tharu village, is spend on the computer, writing diary and receiving my Bhutan flight tickets. It is a comfortable 20C and clear skies.

The area is famous for the bird watching, and I see quite a lot in the lodge's garden. Oriental Magpie Robin, Russet Sparrows, Asian Pied Starlings, Red-vented Bulbuls, Indian Jungle Crows - and others. The entire park use to be the hot-spot, but due to the amount of tourists and general development, the numbers of rhinos, elephants, tigers, leopards, gharial and mugger crocodiles, rock pythons, hog deer, gaurs, wild dogs, jackals, sloth bears, spotted deer and giant hornbills within this 250 square kilometre park, has gone down. The new, recommended hot-spot is Bardiya, but it is a three day bus-ride out of my trail, and when asked, they stated: It is very cold here now!

At four, Damu takes me for a walk to the local Tharu village. The sun has gone behind some dark clouds, but the motives are here. Right next to the lodge, a happy looking female elephant stand between two huge stacks of rice-hay - maybe because she had a visit last night, from a wild male elephant? He destroyed some of the banana-plants nearby.
We reach the village, which is neatly clean with houses made up by elephant grass with a mix of mud and cow dung on, fitted with a grass roof. Ducks walks around in the small yards, while the vegetable fields take up the space in-between the huts. A man walk his oxen through the huts, while small kids play on the porches.
Then we passes through the rather empty tourist-shop village to reach the river. Here, the sunset reveals numerous birds: Oriental Pied Hornbills, Plum-headed Parakeets, Small Cormorant, Black Drongos, White-browed Wagtails, Scaly-breasted Munias, Black-breasted Weavers, Asian Pied Starlings, Common Mynas, Plain Martins, Ruddy Shelducks, Little Egrets and Oriental Honey Buzzards.
At the last moment, the clouds opens, and the sun sets over the park, on the other side of the river. We walk along the river in fine sand. Many animal tracks crossed this "beach", but the tracks from wild elephants and one-horned rhinos stands out. Apparently, they have no problem crossing the park's border at night time, to reach the farmers fields - or female elephants. It is dusk from 17.30 to 17.35, then it is dark, and the mosquitoes take over the watch, while the temperature drops. I try to skip the visit to the Tharu village cultural event this evening, but Damu insist on its interests - but we do it another night.

The power has returned. Both in Kathmandu and here, there are what the South Africans call "brown-outs": Planned power cuts. Here, it is ten hours during the day. Hotels and shops have their own generators, feeding a single lamp in each room, adding significantly to the air pollution.
I get a great supper, and start working in the restaurant, till I run out of power. A cup of milk-tea and then back to the room to finish up, and get a good night's sleep, while distant thunder warns of yet another night of rain - fifth in a row, and during the dry season!. "Global Warming" is not working here, compared with Denmark, which in my opinion can do with several degrees warmer.

 Despite I still in the fantastic Shitwan NP, the diary continues in Diary 2.
Mainly because the pop-ups seems to fail on larger pages...

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