My weekends in Nepal have offered a number of great opportunities to travel around the valley and into the surrounding hills. There are a number of fun and interesting places that make great weekend trips but getting there can sometimes be a little frightening. The main source of my terror on these trips has been the buses. Pretty much everywhere I go outside of the city is best reached by bus. The only problem with this is that the roads are by no means designed for buses. Most of the trip is spent on tiny one lane mountain roads that are filled with buses and huge trucks. On my first trip I did not really know what to expect, and the next thing I know I am looking straight down a cliff on a tiny road with no guard rail. Needless to say, I have learned not to take a window seat on these buses. On subsequent trips I have gotten more used to the buses and have realized that the drivers know what they are doing, but I am naturally a nervous passenger so the anxiety I feel on the roads never really goes away.
The good news is that the destinations are definitely worth the trip. My first weekend here one of the people at the office helped me arrange a car to drive me to a number of historic sites and temples around the city. In one day I visited two temples and two towns that are the historic locations of two of Nepal's former kingdoms. I soon realized that visiting four of these places in one day was a little bit ambitious. The whole day was a whirlwind, but I was able to take in a lot of history and see some great sites like historic temples and palaces. I also have had the opportunity to go back to two of these places sense and explore them more extensively.
The next trip I want to highlight was a white water rafting trip that I took on my second or third weekend. This was my first experiences witht he buses that I described above. The place where we got into the river was about a three hour bus ride outside of the city, and most of this ride was going along the edge of the mountains. The trip was arranged through a group of local travel agences as a benefit to help raise money for building a medical clinic in one of the rural areas. This was actually my first time ever white water rafting, and I must say that I was impressed with my ability to take instructions in Nepali. It probably also helped that I made friends on the bus who interpreted for me when I needed. The rafting itself was an incredible experience. The river wound through tall green hills that were covered with terraced fields growing rice and corn. I spent a good deal of time on the river staring into the hills and just taking in the landscape. There were also a number of rough spots in the river where things got interesting, but I am proud to report that nobody got knocked out of our boat. I also learned an important lesson this trip. Taking eight grown men who have never been white water rafting before down a rough river is about like taking a seventh grade class to Disney World. By the end I felt bad for the guide who was having to contend with people jumping out of the boat for a swim and attempting to knock their friends out of the boat.
The final trip I would like to highlight in this post was to a small historic town about four hours to the west of Kathmandu called Bandipur. This was my second experience with riding the bus outside of the valley and this time I was smart enough to take a middle seat rather than a window seat. This trip also helped alleviate some of my fears with the buses because I was able to see that the drivers actually communicate with hand jestures and horns to let everyone know what is going on up ahead. I apologize for dwelling on the buses, but really getting there is half of the adventure in Nepal. Bandipur is a beautiful historic Newari town that sits across the ridge of a hill overlooking a river (I call this "hill" a mountain, but apparently my definition of a mountain is laughable). I spent most of the weekend hiking around to the tops of nearby hills and just enjoying the fresh air, which is impossible to come by in Kathmandu. One of the most exciting parts of this trip was the ride back down to the main road to meet the bus back to the city. I rode in a tiny bus that was filled so I had to stand. I received a number of smiles and laughs from the other people on the bus who watched me attempt to stay upright as the bus flew back down the hill along windy mountain roads. But the good news is that I did not crush anyone and was able to provide entertaiment for the other passengers.
These three trips are just a few of the great trips that I have taken since I have been here, and I am looking forward to taking a lot more.