No one can dispute that our world as we know it is being faced with one of its greatest challenges of all time. Seems like every day we hear via our media whether it be the radio, TV, newspaper, Google, Facebook, or Twitter, of yet another hurdle that this pandemic has thrown at us. The question is how much of this kind of information can we take in when it is to most people in the category of bad news? If we are one of those who are addicted to or on the receiving end of our relentless news feeds how it it affecting us?
How can I best sum up my one month stay in Ubud? On one hand, the month seems to have passed by much too quickly failing to give me enough time to really explore as much as I would have liked. On the other hand, it seems likes eons ago that I first stepped onto Bali soil again after a nine-year hiatus. It’s been a month of changes in many ways for me as in the weather, friends who have come and gone, my personal travel plans, but the most difficult has been getting to know the new Ubud which hardly resembles anything like the small village it was. It has, unfortunately, morphed into a far too busy and noisy town adjusting to the over development brought about by the influx of tourists, many coming from China.
Many times throughout my life I have noticed that Sundays are often a day when I truly come alive and get the urge to do something on the spur of the moment. I clear my mind of all the things I should be doing and open it up to doing something I will enjoy.
I arrived in Ubud, on the beautiful island of Bali almost two weeks ago. It’s been over nine years since I was last here, so I figured it was time for another visit to see for myself what changes this cultural and artistic centre for Bali has undergone. I wanted to see if all the horrible rumours of how it had been ruined by too many tourists and over development were true or not.
Isn’t it strange how events come about in our lives? Is it happen stance or is it destiny? There is no doubt in my mind that it’s the latter.
The seed which would grow into my visit to Nepal two years ago was planted as far back as the year of 1970 when my girl friend and I were back-packing around Europe. We kept running into other back- packers who were returning home to the US and Canada from India and Nepal. We were enamoured by their stories of Kathmandu and the vibrant scene of the ‘hippy’ life they had either experienced or witnessed there. It was a whole new world I had not even heard of opening up before my eyes. How naive I was! Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, we never got there since we were running out of money, or perhaps that was the excuse because down deep we were really afraid to test such unknown waters.
Nepal is similar to India yet somehow different. Shortly after my arrival, I noticed that the attitude of the men was distinctly different. Women travelling on their own are more accepted and can feel safer here than in India. Travel was definitely more relaxing. For example, men would always try to sell me something but quickly back off after a polite “no”. Women seemed to be more visible not so much in the shops, hotels, and restaurants as out in the streets with their babies and children. If they were in the public eye, they more than likely could be seen cleaning the hotels rather than working at less menial jobs.
My first stop was Kathmandu, the capital made famous to the western world by the hippies in the ’60’s. Today one still sees some young backpackers who seem to delight in looking as dirty and grungy as possible, grooving around in their carefree lifestyle. Today most tourists are of all ages taking a quick look at the charm which still lingers in spite of the traffic congestion due to narrow streets lacking any kind of infrastructure making it extremely dangerous for pedestrians, and with that there is terrible pollution. They stay a couple of days and then escape to other hot spots such as Pokhara, Chitlan National Park, and the Himalayas. Trekking is by far, the biggest draw for visitors to Nepal.
After two days in Kathmandu of sight-seeing which included numerous sacred Hindu and Buddhist temples and the famous Durbar Square where once the palace of the Royal family was located, I booked a flight with Buddha Air for Pokhara, Nepal’s second largest city, but because of its altitude can boast of a much cleaner and cooler climate. An interesting aside to a bit of historical background on this troubled country,which for so many years was closed to western visitors, is the plight of the Royal family and why their palace is now just a showcase of what it was in the past. In 2002 almost all of the Royals were massacred by one of their own members, a cousin who was reported to have gone insane with grief and despair after being denied marriage to his girlfriend from a lower caste, took his revenge by slaughtering all the members living in the palace before taking his own. Shortly after this atrocity, the monarchy was abolished. Apparently some of the family members who survived now live outside Kathmandu in a small bungalow leading a very quiet life.
Pokhara has to have one of the prettiest settings in all of Asia nestled at the foot of the Annapurna Mountains, a part of the famous Himalayan range running throughout the whole country, and resting peacefully beside the beautiful Phewa Lake.
By coming here, I realized that I could say I saw the Himalayas even though I didn’t climb them! I was absolutely thrilled as I got my first glimpse of these majestic mountains from the plane. However, once I got there, I was quite disappointed to find they had all but disappeared the next morning in a cloud of haze which lasted for three days. I was beginning to despair that I would ever get to see them again until the third night when we were treated to a rain storm with high winds blowing all the haze away. By next morning when I woke up and looked out my hotel window, there was this breath-taking monstrous peak sticking up into a clear blue sky.
The gift of this beautiful day was just what I needed to motivate me to do some trekking, so I chose the World Peace Temple, another sight looming before me from my bedroom window, as my destination. I decided to do the trek up on my own since the path was straight up following some well-placed, hand-carved stepping-stones. It was arduous; however, I received some help from a nice Nepali lady who was looking to earn a few rupees for her efforts. I thought, ‘Why not’ because it was a win-win for both of us: I got some company and she got some much-needed money. After saying our ‘good byes’ using sign language, I enjoyed exploring the temple and the magnificent scenery, all the time thinking how wonderful it was to be experiencing all of this.
My feelings of euphoria were short-lived. My troubles began when I couldn’t find the path I had taken to come up. Suddenly there were many paths to choose from, and no one had a clue about the one I was looking for. I felt pressured to start down because my time was running out. I had promised the boatman who brought me across the lake to access the short way up that I would be back at 1:30 p.m. After many false starts from both tourists and locals, I made a choice to take the recommended path that would take me around the lake meaning a 2km. hike. Before long, I met what looked like two large black cows coming towards me. I stepped away from their path giving them what I thought was ample room to get by me. The one with the big horns decided there wasn’t enough room for the two of us so before I could even gather my wits to get out of his domain, he ran full force into me knocking me down. All I remember was landing on all fours and swearing out loud ( I will not repeat what I said), but I was glad no one was around to see or hear. By the time I had recovered enough to get up, I noticed that both of them were racing up the stairs of the restaurant where I had a cold drink before heading down. They were out of control and probably very angry. The thought occurred to me that maybe it was the rusty, red shirt I was wearing that day that sent them on their rampage? I was beginning to feel an intense pain in my upper leg and abdomen where the two horns had hooked me, but thank goodness there was no blood! My 2km. walk seemed more like 10km by the time I got back to my hotel.
I hobbled in and made some mention of why I was limping but received no sympathy from the guy behind the desk for he quickly changed the subject. Perhaps he didn’t want any word about my adventure getting out to any of the other guests for fear of scaring them off. Later I found out that other visitors had run-ins with some of the many cattle which roamed everywhere. Such is the price we pay for being a tourist in a country which really has not been open to the rest of the world as a popular tourist destination for very long. Another thing I learned was to steer well clear of any critter with horns. Needless to say, I spent lots of time crossing streets!
Shortly after this mis-adventure, I met up with Cheryl and Neil from England, well-seasoned travellers that my husband and I met several years ago first in Laos and one year later quite by accident in Siem Reap, Cambodia. They made a special effort to meet up with me in Pokhara for which I was extremely grateful and ended up staying at the Silver Oaks Inn where I was staying which made it much easier to get together for meals and catch up with our travelling tales. We also managed to do one more trek up Sarangkot Mountain to see the sunset. In spite of still feeling the effects of my bull incident, I realized it was all worth while when we got half way up. To see the whole range of mountains laid out in front of us at sunset is an unforgettable experience. I’m told the sunrise climb can be equally as glorious! I will save this for another trip which may be a possibility.
Nepal is a good country to escape to in March when South East Asia is heating up. The climate while I was there in the latter part of March was cool nights and warm days. Although Nepal is known as a relatively wet country due to its mountainous terrain, March is probably one of its driest months. For the two weeks I was there, it rained a few times lasting just long enough to keep the air nice and clear. Trekking, from one-day treks to two weeks or more, is the main attraction, but for those who are looking for something more adventurous, there is paragliding and river rafting. Furthermore, I found there were numerous yoga and meditation classes throughout the city for those who want to get in touch with their spiritual side. Restaurants and hotels are abundant, many of which are doing a great job in spite of daily power outages. I was amazed at how the people coped with the hordes of tourists who are flocking there in spite of the short time the country has been open to having them, and the disadvantages they are under in serving them. To answer your question on whether I would consider going back, I have to say that ‘ yes’ I would if the opportunity presented itself. I found it to be a fairly easy country to travel in and so long as it stays politically stable it should continue to improve its infrastructure and tour services. It’s a beautiful country and has much to offer the rest of the world.