Monday, December 26, 2011

Asian Adventure: Day 5 Change of Plans

The possibility of heading further off the beaten path had gotten us excited, so early the next morning we headed to the office of a local trekking company to explore our options. After an hour or so of debating options, we finally decided to complete the majority of the Annapurna Circuit as we initially planned but instead of hiking the second half of the circuit into the Annapurna Sanctuary we would then head into the remote district of Mustang. Mustang is an ancient kingdom located on the Tibetan border with a primarily Tibetan Buddhist population. Up until 1992 the area was closed to tourists and it is still a restricted area - requiring that all foreigners purchase special (expensive) permits and travel with a licensed guide. It was described to us as "Tibet before it was China" and we were sold.

After making all of the necessary arrangements to leave Kathmandu on our trek the next morning, we headed out across the city to explore the Pashupatinath Temple Complex.

Talking his goats for a walk

Pashupatinath is a Hindu temple around the Bagmati River. The Bagmati River is considering highly sacred. Pilgrims or Sadhus flock to the site to bath in the river and the banks are the site of traditional funeral pyres. The main temple complex is closed to non-Hindus but it was possible to sit on the bank opposite the temple and observe the processions and funeral rites being performed.

Pashupatinath Temple
Ghats on the Bagmati River


Unfortunately the temple was also home to one of Dave's least favourite animals - monkeys.


Wanting to escape the monkeys, we continued on to the Buddhist temple of Boudhanath. Despite being located in the middle of a bustling Kathmandu suburb, the temple complex was amazingly peaceful. A tight circle of brick buildings with a colourful monastery at the head, the plaza was filled with monks, pigeons and the sounds of chanting. In the centre of the complex is a towering white stoupa draped in prayer flags. We spent hours walking around the circle enjoying the sounds and absorbing the bright colours of the traditional Buddhist buildings.  

Boudhanath Stoupa
Boudhanath Temple

After a long day and a little last minute supply shopping, we returned to our hotel to pack for our early start the next day.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from our family to yours.

An attempt at a family photo in front of the tree - Jersey would not sit still!

Amy and David

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Asian Adventure: Day 4 Bhaktapur

Waking bright and early on our second day in Nepal, we decided to grant ourselves a temporary respite of the big city chaos and crowds and take a day trip to the town of Bhaktapur - an ancient Newari town perched on the hills above the Kathmandu valley.

After some considerable searching we managed to locate the correct bus and headed out to Bhaktapur . The buses in Nepal are not marked - instead a young boy rides along with the driver and hangs out the front door yelling the bus' destination to potential passengers.

Local bus
The town is a tight collection of intricate brick buildings set on a maze of narrow alleys and plazas surrounding an impressive central Durbar square. Entering Bhaktapur is like stepping back in time. Despite the crowds of camera-wielding tourists, the town offers a glimpse into the real Nepali life. We got to witness first hand the locals going about their everyday lives - buying and selling fruit in the markets, spinning wool into yarn, husking grain by hand in the wind, spreading grain in the sun to dry and gathering hay to store for winter.

Wheat drying in the sun
Husking the wheat by hand

The town is famous for its pottery and the Pottery Square is crowded with piles of raw clay, pottery wheels, giant wood burning kilns, finished pots drying in the sun and, of course, the mandatory pottery souvenir shops. I ended up buying a large Tibetan-style lion figurine for 600 rupees ($8).

Pottery drying in the sun
Pottery Kiln

For lunch we got brave and tried our first street food - spicy vegetable pakoras, steamy buff (water buffalo) momos and fruit from the market.


Street vendor
Vegetable market

We spent hours wandering the streets absorbing in the buzzing town life, fascinating architecture and massive temples.

Typical Newari architecture
Durbar Square

Once we were thoroughly exhausted we caught the bus back to Kathmandu. It had been our intention to catch a bus first thing the next morning to the trail head of the Annapurna Circuit trek but Dave had begun to have second thoughts about our itinerary. He was worried that the Annapurna Circuit would be to busy and commercialized for his liking. He had found a brochure for a trekking agency advertising trips to the Kanchenjunga region on the Eastern border of Nepal which had peaked his interest so we spent the night scouring the guidebooks and Internet looking at what other trekking options were available.

Nothing like changing plans on the fly to make a vacation interesting!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Asian Adventure Days 1 to 3: Going to Kathmandu

Like any good travel adventure, our trip began with an eternity in airports and airplanes. Four planes, five airports and 35 hours to be exact.

The almost twelve hour flight to Beijing went surprisingly fast considering neither of us were able to figure out the video-on-demand system on our Air China plane and ended up watching Mr. Popper's Penguins over and over again.

The view from the Beijing Airport
Landing in Delhi, we proceeded to the International Transfer Desk to ask about getting checked straight through to our flight to Kathmandu which had been booked on a separate ticket. The agent informed us it would take 2 hours for Air China to release our bags to Spice Jet and for Spice Jet to issue our boarding passes. I remembered reading about 2 hours turning into 17 hours on the same connection for Jeremy and Kathleen and neither of us felt like dealing with Indian bureaucracy at 2 AM in the morning - so we chose to collect our bags, clear customs, find some comfy lounge chairs in the departures hall and get some sleep while waiting for the check in for our flight to open at 6 AM. Surprisingly, the Indira Ghandi Airport is one of the better airports I have ever had to sleep in.

On the flight to Kathmandu, we unfortunately ended up sitting on the wrong side of the airplane and were only able to catch our first excited glimpses of the Himalayan mountains through the passengers on the opposite side of the plane.

View taking off from the Delhi Airport
We landed in Kathmandu and followed the crowd towards the customs hall. We chose to find the bathroom before joining the line up. Big mistake. We ended up standing in line for almost 90 minutes before we finally reached the front of the line where we quickly realized why it was taking so long - you had to pay the $40 visa fee to a first guy who issued you a receipt, then you passed your receipt, passport, forms and photos to the next guy who stapled everything together, which got passed on to a third guy who pasted the visa into your passport and then onto a fourth guy who entered the information into the ledger by hand.

Thankfully when it takes that long to clear customs, it means you don't have to wait for luggage so we quickly collected our bags, found the driver from our hotel in the masses of taxi drivers swarming the exit and headed out into the chaos that is Kathmandu.

After six months of anticipation, we had arrived in Nepal.

We checked in to the Thorong Peak Guesthouse, and after a much anticipated shower, we eagerly headed out in to the maze of alleyways that is Kathmandu.

A calmer Kathmandu street
Cycle rickshaw stand
The streets were jammed full of people, cars,  motorbikes, dogs, cows, goats... you-name-it. We were fortunate enough to arrive at the start of Diwali festival season. All of the streets were being decorated with tinsel, lights and flags. The street vendors were out in full force selling florescent tikka powder and fragrant garlands of orange marigolds and purple daisies.

Decorating the streets for Diwali
Tikka powder vendor
Flower garlands
We waded our way through the crowds to Durbar Square, the historical centre of town with the old royal palace and an eclectic collection of Hindu and Buddhist temples. We spent the afternoon absorbing the energy of the busy plaza and exploring the narrow lanes that radiated out from it. We were too tired/overwhelmed to bring our selves to tour the palace but we did visit the temple of Kumari, a living child goddess believed to be possessed with goddess Durga.

Buddhist statue with tikka blessings

Buddhist stupa

Pagoda-style temples

Royal Palace
Royal Palace
Kumari Ghar
 By 5 PM we were absolutely exhausted so we returned to our hotel for a short (2 1/2 hour) nap before dinner. It had been a long three days.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Asian Adventure: Nepal & India

Yes, I know we have been home for over two weeks.

Yes, I know I have not posted anything to the blog (or Facebook) yet.

I started to write the "Cliff Notes" version of our trip but quickly realized there was no way I could condense five weeks of action-packed travel into a handful of blog posts.

So I have now begun the process of translating the 100 page notebook of journal entries and 4456 photos into a story - partially so we can share with it everyone and partially for our own personal memorykeeping.

It is going to take some time (maybe months) to write and post everything - we are still trying to complete the house renovation afterall - so please be patient and stay tuned.

We hope you enjoy our story, we certainly enjoyed living it!


PS Hopefully we will have some progress on the house to share soon too!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Home Sweet Home

We arrived home from our five week adventure in Nepal and India this week.

In Nepal, we enjoyed the ancient architecture and fascinating temples of Kathmandu before heading into the mountains for a three week trek through the Annapurna and Mustang regions. In India, we explored the maze of bazaars, palaces and forts in the old cities of Delhi and Jaipur and stopped in Agra to see the quintessential Indian landmark - the Taj Mahal.

At the summit of the Annapurna Circuit, Thorong La Pass, 5416 m
Other than the unseasonal heavy fogs that plagued for the last two weeks - leading to canceled flights, delayed flights, delayed trains, an unplanned three day bus trip and almost not being able to "see" the Taj Mahal - it was a fantastic trip.

I am hoping to post all of the details of our trip but it is going to take some time for me to sort through the 4000 photographs we managed to take!

It was simply fantastic to arrive home to our "new" home and see all of our hard work with fresh eyes. Hopefully it will provide us with the motivation to finish quickly!


Sunday, November 27, 2011


It has been two years since since our little girl Jersey joined the family.
At the time we had no intentions of getting a second dog - let alone a 9 month old with bad manners! But when we met her some how we knew she was meant to be ours.

Jersey is one part wild-crazy and one part sugar-sweet but her antics are always good for bringing a smile to your face.

Post surgery to repair a broken pelvis -
she had to learn the hard way that she couldn't fly

Scoping out the buffalo

In the Yukon

Snoozing after a long day on the trail
Poor sick Jersey!
Too bad she can't connect the horrible upset stomach with eating a full meatloaf the day before!

Crazy girl


Sleeping in the flowers

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