National Geographic: Best Spring Trips 2017

Pokhara is the second largest city of Nepal and tops the list of must visit places. With its bewitching beauty extended in forms of snow-capped peaks, tranquil lakes, greenery, adventure sports and trek trails, Pokhara is a place for anyone and everyone. With the magnificent Annapurna range forming the backdrop and the serenity of three major lakes – Phewa, Rupa and Begnas – Pokhara is the ultimate gateway for relaxation. While most famous treks begin here, Pokhara also offers adventure activities like paragliding, ultralight flight, and the world’s longest and fastest zip line.


Nepal is widely known for its vast trekking trails and spectacular views, however, there are many short trails as well that offer views equally stunning and splendid. Ghandruk, a beautiful Gurung settlement, takes you through rhododendron forests and rural areas, giving you an insight into the conventional lifestyle of the locals with glimpses of Machhapuchhre and Annapurna.

Ghorepani – Ghandruk Trek – 10 Days

Lhosar Tashi Delek!


Pola & Mola (Tibetan for grandfather and grandmother) are an old Tibetan couple living in Nepal. Originally from Lhasa, Tibet, they migrated to Kathmandu in the late 1950’s to begin a new life in Nepal. A young 20 year old Pola had on his shoulders, the responsibilities of educating his younger siblings and taking care of his parents. Despite cultural and language differences, he set foot exploring the streets of Kathmandu.

Initially, he bought Nepalese spices, tobacco and candles; and exported them to Lhasa. He recalls those days when there were no roads and they had to send men on foot till the border carrying the supplies for days. “The Nepalese people are very hard working and with a Khukuri attached to their shirts, they carried goods on their backs,” he recalls. This went on till 1969, after which the highway was built and the Tibet – Nepal trade flourished. Since then, he traveled back and forth for 48 years between Nepal and Tibet, importing raw wool, musk, Tibetan thermos, campus shoes and later the famous Tibetan carpets from Lhasa to Nepal and likewise, exporting herbs, cotton, jute, ghee etc. to Lhasa.

While Pola sold Nepalese imported goods in the popular Barkhor Street in Lhasa, Mola stayed in a small retail shop they opened in the busy streets of Ason in Kathmandu selling all types of clothes, shoes, accessories, etc. “I made a lot of friends in Ason”, she says. “Those were the carefree days; chitchatting and drinking tea with fellow shopkeepers is how I improved my Nepali.

After 57 years in Nepal, Pola & Mola share fond memories of Tibet and Nepal comparing similarities & differences between the two places they call home. “The same astounding landscape, mountains, hard-working people yet so distinct in culture and language.

With 4 children and 6 grandchildren, they now live a happy retired life in Nepal. “Life has shown us so many phases, between being born and brought up in Tibet and retiring in Nepal. We love our life and are happy but what is important to us is that we do not forget our Tibetan culture and heritage, the place that defined our existence. We are proud of our traditional dress – Bakhu and our Tibetan language. Also, on this happy occasion, we would like to wish everyone a very happy Lhosar. Lhosar Tashi Delek!”

Learn Five Fun Facts

BHUTAN:

1. Bhutan is the only country that measures its progress by its “Gross National Happiness.” This tiny nation is arguably the happiest country on earth.

2. Bhutan’s people planted 108,000 trees to celebrate the birth of their new prince in 2016. Not to forget, plastic bags have been banned in Bhutan since 1999.

3. Bhutan is the only nation in the world where the sale of tobacco is banned. Those who bring their own tobacco products into Bhutan are subject to duties and customs at the Paro Airport.

4. Until the 1960’s, Bhutan had no roads, automobiles, telephone, postal system or electricity. Bhutanese had no access to TV or Internet until limited access was permitted in 1999.

5. The first foreign tourists were allowed into Bhutan in 1974.

NEPAL:

1. The flag of Nepal is the only National flag that is not rectangular in shape and is over 2000 years old.

2. 8 of the world’s 10 highest peaks are in Nepal, including the highest point on Earth, Mount Everest at 8,848 m (29.029 ft).

3. Nepal has the world’s densest concentration of World Heritage Sites.

4. Nepal has over 80 ethnic groups and 123 languages.

5. “Better to die than be a coward” is the motto of the world-famous Nepalese Gurkha soldiers who are an integral part of the British Army since 1815.

TIBET:

1. Titled the “Roof of the World”, Tibet is literally the highest place on earth with an average elevation of 4,500 m (14,764 ft).

2. Tibetan people by tradition place prayer flags around their houses & properties for spiritual protection. These prayer flags are made up of 5 natural elements each a different color of blue, white, red, green, yellow each symbolizing Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth.

3. Tibet is known as the world’s “Third Pole” as, after the North and South Poles, it holds the third largest quantity of glacially stored water.

4. Potala Palace, the chief residence of the Dalai Lama is exclusively constructed on “Marpori” that translates as “Red Mountain”. The 13-storied palace has no elevator with about 1,000 rooms to explore and houses 200,000 Buddhist images.

5. Namtso, ‘the heavenly lake’, is the highest saltwater lake in the world that leaves one spellbound by its glistening beauty, pure blue water, and spiritual element.

Nuwakot and The Famous Farm

A good three hours of bumpy ride, about 75 km north from Kathmandu, driving over a hill after another through the meandering Trishuli River brought us to the hills of Nuwakot. Embellished with rich history and traditional royal architecture, Nuwakot was once the capital of the valley. It is here that King Prithivi Narayan Shah, the unifier and the first king of Nepal formulated his strategy to conquer Kathmandu.

For the four of us, this was our first time to Nuwakot. Stories of the first king of Nepal and his beautiful palace, the famous Saat Tale Durbar, a seven-storey fortress built in 1762 were little details we had grown up hearing about. When we finally made it there last weekend, we were saddened to see the catastrophe caused by the April 2015 earthquake. While the seven-storey fortress still remained put, entering it was prohibited because the structure looked fragile. Little village houses and temples around the area were in ruins; and though slowly, there were signs of restoration. Big pictures of pre, and post-earthquake that now adorned the area gave us an idea of what life would have been here before.

With a heavy heart, we drove to our overnight destination, The Famous Farm which was a stone’s throw away from the durbar. At first glance, The Famous Farm was simply an oasis of tranquility. Built in a 100-year-old mud house, this place is an amalgam of old and modern. The Famous Farm beautifully combines village life with modern facilities like a clean bathroom, comfortable bed, hot shower and a scrumptious cuisine. We spent the night warm and cozy in the open courtyard by the fire as we sipped wine and sang along to old country songs. Later we walked to our rooms through small wooden stairs and doors and hopped into our bed waiting for dawn.

We watched the sun rise over the hills as we sipped coffee from our wooden balcony. The ambiance was spectacular as we breathed clean fresh air that is difficult to find in Kathmandu. Quickly we realized that day light accentuated the beauty of The Famous Farm as blooming bright pink bougainvillea adorned the building. Breakfast in the garden was a delight, one could spend hours simply basking in the sun or enjoying a drink but we wanted to make the most of our short trip so we decided to go for a quick hike around the village.

We walked through patchy settlements and terraced farms as little children waved at us while others went about their daily chores. We passed old men and women basking in the sun, looking up to smile at us before getting back into conversations that eluded us. The view from our highest trek point was exceptional as we overlooked hills of dense forests and the meandering Trishuli River flowing smoothly below.

As we returned from the hike, we had a chilled jar of lemonade waiting for us at the hotel. A surprise treat after the hike! Quenching our thirst and thanking the staff for their wonderful service, it was time to say goodbye. As much as we wanted to stay, we left The Famous Farm with tons of stories to tell and a promise to visit again.

Later we stopped at the bazaar for a hearty Nepali meal and left Nuwakot with bellies full and lots of memories to share.

That was a weekend well spent!

Learn to make – Nepali Style Tomato Achar (Chutney)


This tomato achar is a local’s favorite. It is often served as a momo (dumpling) dip or a side dish in a Nepali thali set. However, this can also be served as a salsa dip.

Ingredients:

– Mustard Oil or any cooking oil
– Dry Red Chilies
– Chopped Onion
– Chopped Green Chilies
– Turmeric Powder
– Chopped Tomatoes
– Salt
– Red Chili Powder
– Cumin Powder
– Ginger-Garlic Paste
– Coriander Leaves

Preparation:
Heat mustard oil or regular cooking oil in a saucepan and put dry chilies. Stir until the chilies turn dark. (Nicely fried dried red chilies bring out the flavor)
Add chopped onions and green chilies and fry them until they turn golden brown in color. Add some turmeric powder into it.
Now, put the chopped tomatoes and let it cook in medium heat. Add salt, red chili powder, and cumin powder to taste.
Add ginger garlic paste and cover it for about 15 minutes.
After the water dries, wait till the mix turns into a nice thick consistency. (Add water if you want to dilute it.)
Lastly, garnish with fresh coriander leaves. This is served cold.


Let us know how it went and we would love to hear your feedback. Good Luck!

Tihar – The Festival of Lights

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Tihar or Deepawali is the festival of lights celebrated widely in Nepal. The five day long festival falls a fortnight after the grand festival of Dashain during Kartik, the seventh month of the Nepalese calendar. A joyous annual festival occurring in late autumn, Tihar brings happiness, prosperity and good wishes into the lives of people. Each day represents reverence to not just humans, but also to the sacred cows, dogs, crows and oxen that are honored in the Hindu culture. Being the festival of lights, butter lamps known as diyos are lit and the entire country illuminates to celebrate with immense joy and ecstasy.

First Day – Kag Tihar
The first day of Tihar is Kag Tihar where the Kag or crow is worshipped. Considered to be the messenger of death, people try to ward off grief and death in their families by offering food to crows.

Second Day – Kukur Tihar
The second day of Tihar is dedicated to the most loyal friend of mankind, Kukur or dog. Dogs are especially important to Nepal’s Hindu practitioners and are regarded as mount of God “Bhairab” as well as “Yama” (God of Death). They are said to guard the gates of afterlife and represent the concept of dharma, the path of righteousness.

On this day, dogs are worshipped as a gratitude for their loyalty and service. A garland of marigold flowers that are in full bloom during this time is draped around their neck and an auspicious red tika applied on the forehead that signifies their devotion and friendliness. They are offered delicious food and the day is marked to treasure the relationship between humans and dogs.

daisy-pie

Third Day – Gai Tihar and Laxmi Puja
The third day is one of the major days of Tihar. The morning is Gai Tihar meaning cow worship. In Hinduism, the cow is regarded as Goddess Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. She is considered holy and sacred and in ancient times, cow milk, dung, and even urine were utilized as a source of purifying oneself. The cow is fed plenty of grass and garlanded with the auspicious marigold flower this morning.

In the afternoon, houses and offices are cleaned and floors painted with Red Mud (Rato Mato) and cow dung (gobar). Rangoli, a pattern made of colored rice, colored sand and flower petals, is drawn at the main entryway of the house and traditional butter lamps (Diyo) are lit to welcome the gods and goddesses. Doors and windows are decorated with fresh garlands of sayapatri (marigold) and makhamali (chrysanthemums) flowers. In the evening at a scheduled auspicious time, Goddess Laxmi is worshipped and thanked for the well-being and prosperity of the family. Various sweetmeats are offered to the goddess and relished amongst family and friends. After the prayers, girls and boys go out to the neighborhood houses singing and dancing to the customary songs, Bhailo and Deusi for which they are bestowed with money, fruits and selroti, a Nepalese delicacy made of rice and sugar.
Firecrackers and sparklers light up the sky although the government has imposed a ban to avoid any mishaps and protect the environment.

Fourth Day – Goru Tihar and Mha (aatma or self) Puja

This day different types of prayers or Pujas are held depending on one’s cultural background. People who follow Vaishnavism perform the Gobardhan Puja (honoring Gobardhan Mountain) or Goru Puja (worship of the oxen). The ox helps farmers plough fields and draw the carts in the paddy fields of Nepal, a predominant agricultural country. They are fed and worshipped and Govardhan Puja is performed, where a paste of cow dung is applied outside houses as replicas of the Gobardhan Mountain.

At dusk the Newar community perform Mha Puja also known as self-puja. It is done to purify the body and soul for one’s prosperity and longevity. A Mandala or mandap, sand painting of a sacred diagram signifying good fortune and long life, decorated with marigold flowers, sweets, fruits and a special garland is set for each family member who sit cross-legged behind it. The elder female member then begins applying the tika on their foreheads and performs the rituals handing over shagun, auspicious food consisting of boiled eggs, fruits, sweets, fish, and the traditional rice wine. Later they indulge in a scrumptious feast and revel in the festive ambience.

This day also marks the new year of the Nepal Sambat, the Newari calendar.

Fifth Day: Bhai Tika
The final day of Tihar is dedicated to the siblings, particularly brothers. At an auspicious time scheduled a day earlier by an astrologer, the entire nation’s sisters apply tika of five colors on her brother’s forehead and pray to Yamraj, the god of death, to ensure his long life. She also ties a sacred cotton thread of Tantric value meant to protect them and offers him sweets and fruits. Similarly, the brothers give tika to sisters and offer her gifts and money along with an assurance to protect her forever. Those without sisters receive tika from cousins and relatives. The impact of this day is to strengthen the bond between brothers and sisters.

Tihar is the second biggest festival of Nepal after Dashain. The proximity of the two major festivals gets people in the merry-making mood the entire month beginning from Dashain and lasting until the end of Tihar.

Flying Safari – Tigers & Rhinos

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FLYING SAFARI – TIGERS & RHINOS (Fixed Departure 2017)
India & Nepal

This tour takes us on a wild journey through jungles of central India which was Rudyard Kipling’s source of inspiration for his “Jungle Book”. We visit both Kanha and Bandhavgarh National Parks, being rated as the best for tiger spotting the world over. Later we fly to Nepal and into Chitwan, a place rich in flora and fauna and famous for its wildlife and jungle activities. In March / April the days start getting warmer; most water sources start to dry up and the game is concentrated around the few remaining water sources, making this period the best time to photograph and observe tigers of central India and one-horned Rhinoceros in Nepal.

Highlights of the tour:
• Most comfortable way to see tigers in the wild
• Visit best Tiger Habitats
• Stay in first class award-winning boutique jungle lodges
• Exclusive vehicles for game drive with English Speaking Naturalist
• Fly between the parks in charter planes maximizing game viewing time
• Fully accompanied by expert naturalist
• One horned Rhinoceros

Bandhavgarh National Park: Bandhavgarh is set among the Vindhya hills of Madhya Pradesh, India. It is large in biodiversity and densely populated with tigers. With tigers at the apex, it is also rich in birdlife and other wide range of game. The elephant and jeep safari is an exhilarating experience that takes you through the lush greenery and natural habitat of the varying wild species. It is a safe trip to get a closer look at all the imperial creatures including the royal tigers.

Kanha National Park: Kanha National Park is spread across the Maikal chain of hills, Madhya Pradesh, India. It is popular as a tiger reserve and for preservation of the rare Swamp Deer (Barasingha). Conservation programs for the overall protection of the Park’s fauna and flora, makes Kanha one of the finest National Parks in Asia. The safari takes you on an amazing journey into the wild offering excellent outlook for keen photographers.

Chitwan National Park: Chitwan National Park – ‘the Heart of the Jungle’ is situated in the mid-southern Terai, Nepal. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is regarded as one of the best wildlife- viewing national parks in Asia. Home to rich flora and fauna, the park boasts one – horned rhinos and other alluring species like bengal tigers, leopards, asiatic elephants, wild boars, sloth bears, gharial crocodiles, monkeys, deer and more than 600 species of birds.

Hotels

Trident Gurgaon Hotel, Delhi:
Trident Gurgaon Hotel is a five-star hotel owned and managed by the Oberoi Group. It has a resort-like ambience with the designs influenced by Moroccan, Mughal and Rajasthani architectural styles. The rooms represent graceful style and sophistication in every detail with touches of traditional artifacts and elegant furnishing. It welcomes in its warm embrace with magnificence and style accompanied with modern amenities ensuring a comfortable stay.

Kings Lodge, Bandhavgarh:
Situated in an incredible location between the Sal forested hills of Bandhavgarh National Park, Kings Lodge assures a great wildlife experience, outstanding hospitality and an experienced team of naturalists. Its air-conditioned cottage rooms with a large verandah offering views of the forest, are well appointed with wood furniture in honey hues and inviting crisp cotton linen. They have a multi-cuisine dining hall with a fire place overlooking the wild grasslands back dropped by Sal forested hills. They offer an experienced naturalist team with focus on birding tour and an overall holistic wildlife experience. An eco-friendly construction with eco-sensitive waste disposal systems, the units are designed to blend with the surrounding landscape.

Kanha Earth Lodge:
Kanha Earth Lodge lies in the natural forest, tucked away in a small hamlet bordering Kanha’s buffer zone. The luxury bungalows with en suite bathrooms and open verandahs have been inspired by Gond tribal architecture which offers environmentally sensitive, low-impact accommodation through designs and use of local stone and waste wood. It creates an ideal setting for nature walks, birding and cycling trips through the surrounding forest. Earth Lodge offers a variety of Indian and Continental cuisine; all dishes served are prepared from local sources of fresh products.

Barahi Jungle Lodge, Chitwan:
Barahi Jungle Lodge is situated on the banks of Rapti River in Chitwan reflecting the tranquility of the National Park. It offers a refined luxury experience with excellent services and amenities. The hotel assures to be an ideal place of stay for those seeking charm, comfort and convenience in Chitwan. The ambience, architecture and interior style, blends with the jungle giving a stunning insight into the Tharu culture of Nepal mixed with wilderness, strengthening the bond of nature and mankind. The lodge offers authentic Nepalese, Continental, Indian, Thai and Chinese Cuisines. In the evenings, the Tharus perform a cultural show making the environment lively and vigorous.

Itinerary in detail

National Geographic: World’s Best Hikes

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

This year National Geographic asked 20 outdoor luminaries—from trail runners to CEOs to beloved authors—about the trails they dream about. Here are their picks for the world’s best hikes.

1. Everest Base Camp, Nepal
EBC
Follow the footsteps of legends like Messner, Bonington and Hillary, up to Everest Base Camp (EBC) and experience how they felt during their quest to Everest. Home of the renowned Sherpas, the mountain hardy people and the realm of Everest, this region needs no introduction. Itinerary in detail

2. Snowman Trek, Bhutan
Snowman

Listed as one of the most difficult treks of the world, the spectacular Snowman trek takes you into one of the country’s most remote valleys. Bhutan’s pristine landscape, friendly people and fascinating Buddhist culture provide the ingredients for a memorable journey into one of the world’s most remote kingdoms. Itinerary in detail