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Paddling around the Langkawi Islands.

An isolated beach among limestone formations on a tiny island off Langkawi

“A woman’s place is in her kayak”

After a prolonged stay at Rebak Marina, most of the boat jobs were completed for the time being. It was time to renounce our position on “B” dock and drop the lines. We had hoped to sail west to Sumatra, Indonesia. A 300 nautical mile puddle jump. The northern most tip had an island called Wei with Sabang as an entry/exit port. Over the past few years there have been very fine reports of sandy beaches and good snorkeling. Since we were due to renew our Malaysian visa, a trip to Indonesia and then back via Penang would have suited. Alas, no. The weather gods had other ideas.

Direction from Langkawi to Sabang

Brahminy departing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 1st, saw us endure a frightful crossing from Rebak to Telaga Harbour Marina. We were booked to meet a refrigeration mechanic there to check our compressor and gas lines. Being only a short hop, we did not prepare the boat adequately. The surrounding seaway was a total washing machine once we cleared the protection of the island. Swell of 2 meters was pushing against the wind and us. Salty waves flew against the hull beam-on and into the cockpit. Loose items below decks slid off counter tops and then proceeded to round the galley floor. Burney, who never gets seasick felt decidedly unwell. Fortunately it only took an hour to regain marina calm.

Even a few music sessions with Warren

So much calmer in Telaga Harbour

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new bird for Burney:
a finch called, White-headed Munia

Local Grey Leaf Monkey looking for a hand-out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a few days of befriending our neighbours, having the fridge lines patched and a spot of local birding, we were off. Not to Sabang, as the weather still looked nasty in the west, but east along the northern shore of the main Langkawi Island. The further we coasted east, the better the sea conditions became. By the time we approached the Rhu Resort white sandy beach area, it was becoming more inviting (see map position 3). There was also an anchorage marked D on the map with river access to the inner mangrove labyrinth that’s part of the Kilim Geopark. (Before sailing to Thailand earlier this year, we had ventured into that wonderland via The Hole in the Wall access on the eastern side of Langkawi) Burney had hoped to explore that Rhu Beach location, however the skipper had other thoughts given the unreliable weather patterns during these monsoons.

The wet season was upon us

Rhu Resort, beach and anchorage

1. Rebak
2. Telaga
3. Rhu
4. Outside Hole in the Wall
5. Kuah
6. Singa Besar

The north-eastern approach was totally protected by high terrain. So protected that not a breath of breeze ruffled the surface. Therefore not a whisper of cooling vespers would reach us if we anchored inside the passage called Hole in the Wall, marked as C on the map. We noted a familiar yacht, Santorini, at anchor outside the passage. Taking their example, we spent the next couple of days in safe waters with the occasional sea breeze and internet reception. (A wonderful bonus.) Lee and Jason, on sv Santorini, were from Australia and intended on circumnavigating the globe when the seasons permit. Their initial foray into Malaysia was hampered by a lightning strike while berthed at the Port Dickson marina. Apparently, 6 boats were damaged after a very large Lagoon Catamaran took the hit which then transferred it along the marina finger. They have had to replace all there electronics. Poor buggers. Needless to say with each new electrical storm, they felt apprehensive, to the say the least. Rumor has it: Don’t park near catamarans in an electrical storm. We have met one W.A. sailor berthed in Rebak, who has had his vessel struck 3 times! Yep, and he was on a catamaran.

sv Santori in the foreground

Black steeples of rock

Cave visit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kilim Geopark, covering an area of 100 square kilometers had lots of limestone formations, many like organ-pipes. Also several caves could be found. Always interested in exploring our surrounds, one morning, we visited Gua Cechita. Although not a deep or complex cavern it did surprise Burney by presenting a new bird, the Rufous-bellied Swallow (and she did not have her better camera at hand). Then in a separate overhang, we surprised a colony of tiny bats hanging in the gloom. The landing beach had a freshwater stream emptying from the jungle laden hillsides. Unknown birds called from the forest gloom. Hmm Burney was keen to return with the kayak and loiter longer….

From Google images

Perched in a recess were 2 Swallows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another sandy beach hidden behind a jutting headland

Kayaking towards hidden alcoves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burney had also hoped to go exploring the vast mangrove system with the local bird guide Wendy Chin. Wendy, who also kayaks, knew of some quiet boardwalk area further into the maze of tributaries. Unfortunately, the environment was/is seriously under threat from tourist boat activities and pollution due to littering. The boatmen who use engines above 200-horsepower (hp) through the Kilim River created a tremendous wash and disturbed the peace of the natural surroundings due to the loud noise. Furthermore, at the “Eagle feeding site”, we had seen the helmsmen over-rev the engine sending up a loud noise and high plume of water into the air which signaled the Brahminy Kites and White-bellied Sea-eagles to perform for scraps of chicken skin.

Eagle feeding, attracting the birds

However, the new solar panels which Hans had ordered, presumably arrived in Kuah, see nr. 5 on the map. Well, so the “consignment tracking notice” said. Fun and exploration was put on hold as we cruised back to town. That time heading south along the coastline, we passed through the narrow passages near the islands Timun and Bumbon Besar. But, ho-hum, it was all for naught. The tracking app was not working. Indeed our order had not yet left the depot near Kuala Lumpur.

So after restocking our larder, we instead continued venturing westward to the lovely northeast anchorage on Pulau (island) Singa Besar. Tucked in between the smaller isles of Singa Kechil and the white sandy shores of Singa Besar we were well protected from the prevailing south west season. Shortly after settling in to that location sv Santorini  appeared behind us. Sundowners!! ( Anchorage 6 on map)

Santorini sundowners, Hans and Jason.

Lee and a rain shower

Our time at Singa was delightful. Well may the heavens open in the afternoon with a torrential deluge but the mornings were often perfect for a walk through the mangroves to the waterfall or kayaking the isolated shorelines around us. [Long before living on a sailing boat, Burney had enjoyed the pastime of kayaking. Initially, it was in the company of a group of like-minded folk. They discovered interesting waterways around south-east Queensland, NSW and the south island of New Zealand. Then, as a birdwatcher, Burney found one could approach quietly and often gain a closer viewing position than stalking the shoreline by foot. Apparently, some birds feel less threatened. Then when Hans bought a sit-on-top kayak’ it became a shared activity. Together, we had observed a Black-necked Stork on a creek bank and were able to come within 5 meters of it. (Each time we attempted to come slightly closer, it moved a little further along.) Furthermore, it offered the best access to narrow winding creeks and mangroves.]

Hans swimming in a section of the waterfall

 

Strange fungi in the damp Singar Besar forest

Just so you can see how big this cluster was

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many White-bellied Sea-eagles sighted while kayaking

Now, living full-time aboard, it offered both a healthy form of exercise and independence when one partner was away with the tender.  Since visiting South-east Asia, there have been several very rewarding experiences paddling the smaller islands, caves and hongs in the area.  In Thailand, many of the hongs (inner rooms) within small limestone karst islands can only be reached through sea caves and even then access depends on tidal movement. (During high tide, the entrance maybe underwater.) Many of the caves have low ceiling heights even with an ebbing tide and the fumes of outboards were strongly discouraged. That was when kayaks really came into their own, however, the current could be alarming. One particularly memorable experience was encountering a colony of tiny bats while paddling under beautiful stalactites before arriving at a sunlit opening surrounded by trees. Sometimes the hong proffered a sandy beach.

Kayaking through the tunnel

To an inner beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we first arrived within the Langkawi Island group in Malaysia, Burney found the Brown-winged Kingfisher by kayaking to a tiny nearby limestone isle. Not an easy bird to see as it prefers coastal mangroves, tidal forests, mudflats, estuaries and brackish creeks. Low tide was advantageous in some areas as prey such as crabs were detected by the bird from perches in mangroves. At other stages of the tide, fish were caught.  With a sudden flash of orange and blue, both Hans and Burney encountered this species again. That time while paddling around the quiet shores near where Macaques beachcombed the tidewrack.

Another fabulous sighting of this beauty, Brown-winged Kingfisher.

Macaques beachcombing the high tide rubbish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also when drifting over the shallows at lowtide, the kayak offered a good viewing platform for observing coral and skittish sealife. Quietly positioned without fear of damaging the coral with a propeller, one can see the hidden fish return to foraging.

Coral and fish seen from the kayak

There’s a peaceful meditative element to paddling a kayak induced by the rhythm of the strokes. Lifting and pushing the paddle continuously with relentless steadiness, gliding forward, rising and falling with the swell. If it weren’t for the spectacular landscape one could surrender to a trance-like vagueness. The gothic steeples of black stone, we saw at Hole in the Wall and the many islands which exhibited towers of giant cubic boulders assembled like blocks. Quite the “wow factor”.

Wow!!

Sunday the 13th, saw us taking advantage of a rain-free afternoon with favourable winds to sail back to Kuah from Singa Besar. Our solar panels had allegedly arrived.

You may note the word “allegedly”… Fooled again !!

Looking from the beach towards the Bass Harbour anchorage with dinghy dock right

“Eagle Square”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have anchored in Bass Harbour near the township of Kuah many times. Both before going to Thailand and upon returning, we stayed a few days at anchor doing our necessary check in/out procedures with the port authorities. We usually chose a position close to the large statue of a Brahmny Kite which perches on “Eagle Square”. Our dinghy dock was the blue floating pontoon attached to the Naam Tourist building. Surin who was the go-to Ms. Fix-it on Langkawi was our receiving agent for the parcel and had her store in the same building. Arriving at 7pm, we took up a position with ample swing room as our closest neighbor was 100 meters to aft and a lonely looking ketch 250 meters fore. It’s a large bay with many ferries and yachts: old, new and abandoned residing in the location.

Surin’s sign

Early the next morning, in the gloom of 3.30am, we awoke to an unusual noise. While groping for spectacles and clothing, Burney thought it was waves knocking the boarding ladder hanging off our starboard side. But we didn’t have the ladder out!! It was the abandoned ketch! We had dragged! The wind had swung around west and south west and was funneled upon us with a huge fetch. White-top waves flew with foam and our bow pitched. Rain teamed down reducing visibility as we nudged side by side with that boat. After powering up the engine, jostling away from the ketch and raising the anchor, we stared myopically into the rain avoiding collisions and seeking a suitable location to re-set the anchor. Thereafter, taking turns, we kept anchor watch till daybreak.  Yet again, a false notice, as our consignment had not yet left the depot in Klang which was close to the point of origin.

Rough

Life-line frayed

Stantion, bent and cracked

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the light of day, grateful that we had not sustained much damage we took a closer note of the ketch. It had no anchor light, no name or registration. Like us the only apparent impairment was a loose lifeline and damaged stantion. However when we saw her other hull, it was obvious that other(s) had scraped and torn her body and soul. So after that particularly unpleasant evening, we moved Brahminy Too to a more protected anchorage called Penarak.

Blue dot is the Penarak anchorage on Google Earth map screenshot

The bay had several smaller isolated hummocks of land dotted around its perimeter.  From the cockpit the shore appeared well vegetated with rounded hills. From the water-line of the kayak, it was much more detailed. The coast was not just simple ledges but a multitude of black pinnacles and razor sharp wedges of stone protruding from the saltwater like the pages of a book. On land, between projections dark crevices sported tall trees and freshwater seeped from overhangs. Lush plants grew prolifically on bare rock and a secretive bird sang quietly from a boulder. None of these subtleties would have been noted whizzing by in a noisy dinghy.

Around the headland was a beach

Mature trees growing from dark crevices

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Female Blue Rock-thrush quietly singing.

Kingfisher Brown-winged, showing more of its blue rump

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detail of same photo

Lush plantlife on bare rock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ultimately, after a few phone calls and daily text messages, we hounded those couriers till we took delivery on Friday the 18th. Lickety-split, we motored around to Bass Harbour and Surin’s store, then high-tailed it to Rebak Marina with the solar panels in our possession. That evening surrounded by familiar faces, we enjoyed the sunset at the beach bar and some fine tunes.

New solar panel being installed

Friday night session playing the harp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The wet season was upon us. Since the south west conditions continued, making it illogical to sail to more distant shores, we whiled away our time enjoying the various habitats around Langkawi. Hans had installed the solar panels shortly after berthing and the fridge will shortly be attended to, again. Our next little adventure will be a short visit to Siem Reap in Cambodia. We have booked to fly from Penang Sept 3rd. Brahminy Too will remain on “B” dock in Rebak till we return.

Stay tuned.

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Posted by on August 23, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

A Year Sailing Asian Waters

Heading off.
See you out there!!

Reminiscing, this time last year, we had just departed Thursday Island and Australia. 5 days and nights to cross the Timor Sea into Indonesia. Similarly, the 2017 Wonderful Sail 2 Indonesia rally had commenced and we, who were following them via internet, awaited word of their arrival in the Kei Islands.  When it came, it wasn’t all cheering. Some had damaged props or rudder from fishing nets. Tales of 7 nm long wire cables supporting nets with tiny buoys near PNG.  This year, the rally had 67 yachts. Whew!! Too many for our liking. Apparently, the alternative Sail Indonesia rally from Darwin had ceased.Rally members from our year 2016, were scattered far and wide. Sv Bamboozle  had completed their world circumnavigation and  arrived in Sth Africa . Sv Continuum and Lusi  had arrived on Reunion Island  and were heading to Madagaskar. Fritz and Marian on sv Argonaut was lingering in the Mauritius waters. sv Matilda and crew have returned to Indonesia from the north enjoying a different rally. Others have left their vessels in marinas in Malaysia while they visit home and the rest are scattered from the west coast of Thailand to the east coast of Malaysia playing in Sth East Asian waters. Where will we all be in another year’s time? Sea gypsies, changing latitudes with the pull of seasons and whimsies.

Rob and Mona on Reunion Island

Dutch boat: Argonaut

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crew from Matilda visiting West Kalimantan

El Gato on the hard while Grant and Mary 4xwheel drive around Australia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As for us, our stay in Rebak Marina was drawing to a close. Hans had booked our berth for 3 months till the end of July; then extended it till August 5th due to a music competition he and some locals had entered. Except for our month in Nepal, we had become “mooring minders” or “marina huggers”, seldom venturing far. The occasional dinner with a group at a restaurant, a visit to a night market for snacks of sates and fried langoustines or provision shopping were our outings.

Roast Beef at Coco’s was a nice change from Asian food

 

Langoustines

Sea Coconut drinks at the night market

The July weather was oppressing.  High summer in the monsoon season meant occasional thunderstorms with gale force winds in the afternoon but mostly it was still, not a whisper of a breeze. Although the temperatures seldom rose above 32 degrees, the humidity was sopping. By 8am without any exertion, a film of moisture lay sheening the skin, clothing quickly showed high-tide lines. Even lounging in the pool was unsatisfying with the water feeling tepid. We had taken to cycling, instead of walking around the marina. Burney limited her contact with the elements to only early morning and late afternoon forays, choosing to remain within the marginally more comfortable conditions onboard with the aircon. Poor Elba did struggle!

Hardware shopping lists

To-do-lists

 

 

 

 

 

But life wasn’t really sedentary. If you owned a cruising vessel, there were always jobs. A dance card full of jobs. Like a waltz, the to-do-list  was actually circular as some items merely rotated from top position to bottom, yet to be addressed in the not too distant future. Others were surprises and not “oh what a lovely surprise” type, but more: “Bugger, look what I just found” surprise.  But it was measurable if dealt with in daily doses, then we added our reward system into the equation. Hans has recently referred to himself as “Half-day Harry”. (Quite understandable in these tropical conditions and recommendable to all.)  After coping with awkward positions in hot dark corners drilling new through-fittings or sitting in the sun above decks tightening bolts into cleats and fairlead; cool drinks and relaxing with a movie in the air-conditioning by 2.30pm became a regular practice.

 

Hans drilling

Burney tightening through fittings

 

Re-painting the depths on our anchor chain

Another reward for Hans was his music. On Rebak, he finally found a few like-minded folk who would gather for a session, frequently. The venue varied from the sunset beach bar to a late night café. The performers were often transients but generally there were always a few players. Sailors came and went, it’s the lifestyle, but Fred (NZ) and Rosie(Malay) from Lara Pinta were locals. Some regulars were based at Rebak and only departed for a visa renewal, like American Mike.  Most were like us, cruisers that were sheltering from the monsoon while attending to other tasks and/or preparing for new horizons.

Sunday night at the Tipsy Gypsy with Michael from Wishful Thinking another 2016 rally member.

Friday beach bar with American Mike on the right next to NZ Fred

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One vessel, sv Windchimes returned to Rebak after an absence of 8 years. They had been to Japan, a destination seldom mentioned among yachties we have met. Full of tall stories and charm, Greg and Janise had quite a few miles under their keel. Remarkable considering Greg had just celebrated his 75th birthday!

Beach Bar: Greg Janise and Gary (right to left)

Burney was also pleased to meet the authors of a blog site she had been following: Trippin Turpins. Kelly and Dwayne were regularly including information about joyful snorkeling locations with an extensive list of sea life seen or “must see” places of interest. Our own explorations of Ipoh and Penang had been prompted by Kelly’s blog information. Like Burney, they are both seriously into cooking and experiencing new flavours, so it was, with not a moments delay in decision making, that we accepted a bbq invitation on their boat sv Thorfinn. Hans even skipped music practice to attend.

TrippinTurpins: Kelly

Dwayne on Thorfinn

Now, where to from here?

You’ll have to wait and see!

A sailor went to sea, sea ,sea

To see what he could see, see, see

But all that he could see, see, see

Was the great big sea, sea, sea.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Kathmandu Valley….conclusion

Durbar Square archive photo before the eathquake

Although the Kathmandu Valley may have been inhabited since 300 BC, the first written evidence was dated at 185 AD. Whilst the valleys were no doubt fertile, it was not until the 11th century that the trading posts and villages were converted into a kingdom. Then the period of the Mallas began. The Mallas (which actually meant “wrestlers”) were a powerful clan and were considered a distinguished noble class. By 1200, they had taken control of the valley and ruled for the next 600 years. However the time of the early Malla kings was not really one of consolidation, but rather a period of upheaval as Muslim Turks raided North India and parts of Nepal. Not only did the Malla kings defend invasion for over 100 years, they also had to contend with natural disasters. (In 1255, an earthquake wiped out one-third of the valley’s population.) Nevertheless, the Mallas greatest achievement was in bringing art and culture to the valley.
Indeed when one of the Malla dynesty died, the united kingdom was divided between 3 sons and thus three royal cities: Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan.
It was during that time that the Kathmandu Valley under the three kingdoms truly blossomed into a place of unique culture, art, architecture and prosperous trade.
It has been implied that because of the brother kings’ one-up-manship as to whom had the most beautiful city, resulted in a wealth of historical palaces, temples and monuments. Hence present day, most of what could be seen was due to sibling rivalry.
(It was only when the British tried to take reign and employed the help of the fierce Gurkhas that the dynasty faltered.)

Newari style

Woodcarving, doorway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of Kathmandu’s (and actually Nepal’s) architectural heritage was the preservation of the traditional Newari style of construction which was marked by bright brick work and creative wood carvings. A renaissance in Newari courtyards, stupas, monasteries and houses belonging to distinguished owners were created during the Malla period. Unfortunately, more than 30 such monuments in Kathmandu, alone, were damaged by the recent earthquake. We did not visit any of the Durbur Squares (Royal Palaces) in Katmandu or Patan. It was our intention and we did come close, however, heat, dust and the expense of paying $10 -$20 each to see scaffolding around damaged monuments didn’t inspire us.

Durbur and rubble

Instead, we sought alternatives

Mandala Street wall frieze

 

Mandala Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One example was Sagarmatha Bazaar in Mandala Street. Unlike the constant hustle and bustle of Thamel, Mandala Street was a quaint motor-bike free alley that zig-zaged between and connected two main thoroughfares. The hotel, shops and cafes were all in Newari-style red brick and dark carved window frames which looked down onto a cool dark passageway. It was only after Burney researched a little further did we realize that it was established in 2009 and was a privately-owned pedestrian street. Our first encounter was purely by coincidence. After arriving from Pokhara, we were considering different dining venues when Hans saw a sign: “The New Orleans Café” that led us along a cobbled easement. What a surprise! Built around a dining courtyard were a restaurant on one side and a café on the other. An enclosed pagoda style dining room offered slightly more upmarket décor while the courtyard presented an ensemble of different furniture and sitting niches. A 3 piece band of young musicians playing traditional instruments sat slightly elevated on the fourth side of the inner square. Their music was an interesting blend of modern jazz riffs interwoven through classical Nepalese folk songs.  As the evening fell to shadows, the artistic bead-lighting around the garden added an enchantment. We had entered a different world or time or a fusion of several. By the way, the food was brilliant; butter-soft steak and spicy Jambalaya.  Gazing skyward, Burney noted the Newari architecture and so began the question asking and daytime investigations.

New Orleans cafe

New Orleans cafe Thamel

From the upper level of our hotel, gazing over the rooftops was the Buddhist Stupa, Swayambhunath.

Perched atop a steep hill looking over Katmandu and the valley, the temple was also known as “the monkey temple” due to its resident primate guests.

Swayambhunath as viewed from our rooftop

zoomed up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whilst a damaged stone tablet at the site confirmed that King Mānadeva had work done there in 640AD, some records suggest an earlier date. A series of smaller temples on the hill merged into the large stupa complex. It was one of the Mallas, King Pratap who built the long stairs that led to the large white stupa during the 17th century. Earthquake damage was apparent although most renovations had been completed.

Older ruins

“Monkey Temple”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ronaldo and our healing bowl

It was high on this hill that we bought our healing bowl which has a deep resonating sound and vibration. The sky was a flutter with pray flags. Not all flags are the same. One could have special prayers made; for example prayers for the health of a loved one.

Very steep stairway to the main stupa

Between 2008-2010 Swayambhunath was renovated with over 20kg of gold used to re-gild the stupa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surrounding the stupa were bells and large brass prayer wheels which could be rung/spun to bring good fortune when om mani padme hum is recited. “hail to the jewel in the lotus” . Both monks and devotees walked around the white dome chanting mantras while holding their prayer beads to help tally the number of times they recited a chant. Others preformed the ultimate pilgrimage and prostrated themselves on the road leading up the hill. They would then stand, take a step forward, raise their templed hands to heaven before placing them on the ground and again laying full length on the road in reverent submission. Fortunately, the women we saw had dressed for the occasion in gloves and thick socks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Devotees prostrating

Even the cow did a circuit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resident monkey eating the rice offering

View from Swayambhunath Temple towards our hotel

Garden of Dreams although built in more recent times promised a reprieve from the sounds of the city.

Field Marshall Kaiser Shumsher had the gardens built in the 1920’s after visiting England. Inside, only a hint of the cacophony pierced the thick garden walls. People, mostly young courting couples, lounged on garden furniture; others posed for photos on the grassy steps of the semi-circular Greek-style amphitheater. The well-kept lawns, sculptures and fountains were only half of the original garden. Much of the property had fallen into ruin until funds were provided by the Austrian Government for (partial) restoration. Most entertaining were several very small squirrels that were snacking on blossoms.

Only partially restored

Garden of Dreams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a few days in and around Thamel, it was time to commune with nature again before returning to our boat in Malaysia. We had intended on spending a couple of days in Patan but instead of travelling to a separate royal city it was now part of the huge metropolitan sprawl of Katmandu.  The same dust and heat and noise. Stepping out of one bus, we promptly stepped into another that took us further afield.

Rooftop birding

People of Kathmandu Valley still hang chillies and onions on their windows.

Destination: Godvari (or Godwari) was situated under a small mountain in the southern parts of Kathmandu Valley. Burney had read that apart from the Botanical Gardens, the road leading up Mt. Phulchoki was “abundant in bird life and the area was known as one of the best bird watching sites in the Kathmandu Valley”. After finding a very ordinary hotel, we walked to the gardens. Little did we realise that we had chosen World Environment Day to visit the Botanical Gardens.

Large stirring spoon for Environment Day picnic

The fellas have the same hat

 

 

 

 

Yes it was very busy and the bird life was scarce but it was also great that so many people had come to celebrate nature. Being the only white visitors we had several lovely interactions with people. One young man was preparing to study in Melbourne. (We hope Australia threats him kindly, as the incidence of foreign students being mistreated in Australia is a blight on our conscience.)

 

Mt Phulchoki

Onwards and upwards, 2,800 meters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birdwatching from the roof top of the hotel was pleasant but it was the 3 hour morning walk up the mountain where we saw several new and beautiful birds that caught our enthusiasm. Also, while sitting quietly, a wild sow came out of the woods with a litter of striped piglets in tow.

Wild pigs

piglets!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great Barbets mating

Verditer flycatcher

 

Puffing up the incline, we were overcome by a putrid smell!

Worms??

The immediate surroundings was seething and roiling with worms!

Worms, hundreds of thousands!

Apparently there had been a massive migration of earthworms across and beside the roadway. Recent rain had no doubt flushed their usual habitat and in seeking higher/drier terrain thousands had found the roadway. Others were rotting in a pink soup in the ditches. Yuck….

Sometimes the elements could disturb a nature-lover. We decided to head back down the mountain to town. Then back to Kathmandu for our flights.

Back to Thamel, Kathmandu

Yak Cheese, yum.
But no yettis.

 

Upon reflection, our month in Nepal had been extremely informative. When we read that the Himalayas had a weak geology, we were perplexed. How could such gigantic masses be considered weak?  Then having seen that the foundations were mudstone, siltstone, sandstone and clay, small wonder that it offered poor bedding for construction. The Himalayan arc, as the highest, youngest and most highly active mountain range was an on-going collision of tectonics. Add monsoonal erosion and ice melt, toss in an earthquake and one has the recipe for land slippage, mineral leaching and massive damage. However, the folk were gentle and friendly, hardworking and deeply spiritual.  We had travelled to the foot hills of the Annapurna range from the southern plains of Terai, referred to as the gangetic plains which were rich and fertile. We saw the head waters of the rivers Ganges and Indus. That terrain was less than 200 m above sea level but thick in alluvial deposit with great boulders, gravel, sand and clay distributed along its bends. Regularly, as our transportation crossed long bridges over wide water causeways, tractors and trucks were loading these resources onto their trays. The actual river was but a thin ribbon of water in a vast dry bed. The monsoonal flow was yet to come. Great engineering skills had built suspended foot bridges slung across rivers where upon folk moved from hamlets and farmland to the arterial roads carrying produce. Large woven cane baskets rested on women’s backs, the weight of their agriculture transferred to forehead straps. While their skin was sundried, their garments were bright happy colours that went with their dispositions. Although the highways proved challenging, the scenery and wildlife enthralled us and all the while we were learning more about another wonderful country.

Sitting in our “bubble” aboard Brahminy Too, tucked safely in Rebak Marina, let us hope that when our life is beset with difficulties we might remember lessons learnt and hardships experienced by a community rebuilding after an earthquake. When our galley tap decides to quit, may we recall seeing folk gather at the local water pump to fill their urns. And may we never forget the ready smile and heart felt greeting: “Nameste”, ( I see the god in you”.

Prayer Wheels

 

 
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Posted by on July 11, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Rupa Lake View Guesthouse

Views from our guesthouse at Rupa Lake

 

As thunder rumbled reverberating through the valley and lightening speared the misty clouds surrounding our guesthouse, we watched a pair of Spangled Drongos preform a courtship dance, midair.

We had decided to leave our larger backpacks in Pokhara and spend a few days in the Begnas and Rupa Lake area. It was a nature–lovers’ dream location. Mountain Macaques leapt from branches and a squirrel scurried down a nearby tree trunk. Up there, looking out over the rainy lake, moss and lichen-clad branches supported orchards dripping with the latest shower. The hillside breathed with a soul invigorating freshness. Our room was on the upper level, a corner room with wrap around veranda and huge views. Hans would sit watching stacked clouds rush up the valley and obscure the snowy mountains as he played his harmonica. The roof-top with its 360 degree vista gave Burney her first sighting of a White-rumped Vulture soaring the thermals above terraced hills, farmlets and flat pastoral plains. Our immediate “backyard” full of fruit trees and flowering scrubs echoed with Barbets and Drongos calling.

Woodpecker,
Fulvous-breasted

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Burney’s day visit to Bergnas Lake and further research, we found a guesthouse on the ridgeline above the neighbouring Rupa Lake. The hosting family lived on the ground floor level. An extended family that with each day grew more familiar and welcoming. Hans entertained us with his music and we taught the toddler English childrens’ songs both in the sunny garden and in their private sitting room. In the space of 48 hours we had experienced bright sunshine, dreadful claps of thunder, misty shrouds and patchy skies but one thing remained constant: clean cool air. Oh and bird calls.

Our balcony eerie

The neighbours farm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking a rough footpath from our lodgings, we skirted a razorback spine into a lush forest. Few people were seen except locals carrying woven work baskets on their backs, each with the single carrying strap straining against their foreheads as they leaned into the incline. In a shady clearing, a large fig tree bright with ripe red fruit and a recent hatching of white moths had the birdlife active. We lingered enjoying our first clear sighting of a Great Barbet, a Long-tailed Broadbill and the cackling of a group of White-crested Laughing Thrush. So many wonderful moments whipping our binoculars’ focus from branch to branch as birds seldom remain still. The birdlist grew as did the number of new birds to study and identify back at the guesthouse. Unfortunately, the owner was away visiting family. He was an avid birdwatcher and would have been a great asset identifying mystery raptors and fleeting glances of rushing feathers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great Barbet

That evening after requesting fresh fish from the local lake, we all enjoyed a couple of meals that didn’t involve chicken or Dal Bpat. When we were leaving for our early morning walk that day, we had passed 3 men each carrying several different fish. The request must have been relayed down the hillside at the crack of dawn. They had scaled the steep hillside to present their catch to our cook. Whatever she had decided, it was a lovely change. (Burney thought that if she ate any more chicken, she would start laying eggs.)

Steps up a terraced section

Rupa Lake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 31st saw us bidding the Annapurnas farewell. We had returned to Hotel Trekkers Lodge and been welcomed liked family. Such good people and caring proprietors. We asked their assistance in booking a coach to Kathmandu. Burney was prepared to pay for a more expensive deluxe coach, no more local buses, thank you. The journey of 200kms would follow the Prithvi Highway, a “better” road. Hans opted to gamble on a less expensive option as suggested by the hotel management, $7.50 as opposed to $25. “Let it be on both your heads if it turns into another rodeo” Burney warned the men with arched eyebrow. The next day, in a vast unsealed allotment several gaudy coloured buses filled the Tourist Bus Park. Inspecting our transport, Burney conceded that it looked quite comfortable considering the legroom and seat size and it was air-conditioned. While we waited for the departure time to tick around hawkers carried trays of freshly baked pastries and long vertical sections of cucumber. Then like a festival parade several people with instruments came singing “ Hari Krishna, Krishna Rama hari hari” and exited with a trail of devotees in their wake.

Hotel Trekkers Lodge, Pokhara

Bus park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 7.5 hour trip went very well along reasonably well bituminised roads that wound around the ranges. Burney had to think about the engineering and hard labour that went to into building the Prithvi Hwy and the Tibetan contribution. Then, as now, most rocks were carried by women on their heads and hammered into road-base chips with basic hand tools. It was as we were approaching the outskirts of Ktm city that everything came to a brake-squealing halt. And there was that powder fine dust, again. We assumed it was roadworks, although it was impossible to know as the road wound through a crumbling township with traffic banked fore and aft of our sight. Grit snuck into the bus as we occasionally inched toward piles of sand, mounds of gravel and broken concrete that bordered the street. Shopfront windows grimly protected some goods while other items lay under a patina of greyness which the proprietors beat with long haired brushes in a futile effort to remove the dust only to watch it resettle on their merchandise later. Several structures wore great rents in their facades, others had lost complete walls exposing stairwells and now empty rooms. Yet others remained complete. We were seeing remnants of the earthquake damage that had killed and injured many. (Over 9,000 lost their lives, 17,866 were injured.) The vast majority of survivors still struggled to rebuild their lives. Over 300,000 houses were destroyed and another 292,000 damaged. World financial support had too often disappeared into pockets of politians and middlemen or lay in government coffers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gone was the shining luster of long black hair and pristine saris. Here everyone wore their grey mantel like a uniform of dust over dirty faces and feet. Some attempted to protect themselves with face masks or scarves covering all but their squinting eyes. Young boys and women hoisted shovels like professional construction workers. If they wanted a home, they obviously had to do it themselves. There was no indoor plumbing, women and children carried water urns and plastic containers to communal irrigation pipes. Some even bathed there partially clothed. We had much for which to be grateful, yet often grumbled while they were quick with a smile and a heart felt “Namiste”.

By 4.30 pm long after our scheduled arrival time the bus driver’s assistant came looking for us…?

We had a telephone call?

It was our lovely hotel owner from Trekkers Lodge checking that we had arrived in Kathmandu, safely.

It was obvious from Hans’ body language that he was reassuring our caller that Burney was indeed fine and although we were delayed did not hold him responsible.

Wow, that was beyond the call of duty!

A city of contrasts

Pristine gardens in hotel grounds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were finally deposited in the narrow streets of the Thamel district of Ktm, again. Back to the city of contrasts where small cars and noisy motorbikes competed with wooden carts. A city of 2.8 million residents who shared crumbling old streets and ancient architecture with high-rise hotels, where cows lay dozing in the middle of busy thoroughfares and street dogs were loved by all.

Grand Hotel in Thamel with a muddy doorstep

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Nepal continued: Pokhara

Phewa Lake

Situated at about 900 meters above sea level with snow-capped ranges around the 2nd largest lake in Nepal, Pokhara offered comfortable temperatures. Whilst it was an extremely popular tourist destination we were visiting in the quieter pre-monsoon season. With the advantage of good restaurants, live music, comfortable hotels but no bustle, we felt very happy with our lot. Unlike Kathmandu (Ktm), it was far from the earthquake epicenter and appeared completely unaffected. 200 kms west of Ktm, it lay under the gaze of the Annapurna Range with several magnificent peaks tempting trekkers. Getting there had been the vexation.

Our journey with John from Wild Trak Adventures to Kohalpur then by bus to Butwal had been great. We had again decided to break the journey, as sitting in a bus for 15 hrs did not appeal. (Had we but known) Our overnight stopover in Butwal was pleasant enough. We had a progressive dinner, first trying the local momos in a café then sampling street food bbq’ed chicken and finally a goat meat Dal Bhat. To Pokhara, the next day, we anticipated an 8 hr trip with an early start.

All began fairly sedately, although Burney did notice that we were heading due east rather than north. Then we started to climb over a ridge line. It was most disconcerting seeing a group of people marooned on the mountain side with their luggage being passed from their bus to the roadside. The coach had toppled into a stormwater ditch leaving the side of the bus leaning firmly against the hill. Later, when we saw our driver don his dust mask, we should have guested…..Well it was more like a Wild West (road train) rodeo. Imagine the bus bucking like a bronco over unsealed dusty roads as we clung onto whatever we could find. Unfortunately, we had boarded a bus taking the longer route. Ho hum. After hours of this, we then stopped for a short lunch break, Dal Bhat, all you can eat.

So dusty, it was a white-out!

No lanes, the biggest wins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once back on board with 181 kms to go and having only traveled for about 20 mins, we came to a standstill. Roadworks!! Buses, trucks and cars continued to queue. Hours edged slowly by like the ticking metal of the vehicles in the midday heat. Waiting, waiting, 4 hours later, oh yes, that’s four hours later, movement!! Like mad men, the trucks and buses vied for front row positions standing three abreast the roadway, revving and racing to overtake each other, 2 or 3 vehicles shoulder to shoulder faced oncoming traffic and it was still unsealed road. It was better not to look but with our front row seats, we had little choice. We were just grateful; we were not sitting on the roof like the poor goat on the minibus before us. It had turned into the Paris to Dakkar truck race and our driver was keen with the pedal to the metal. One of the trucks before us had a rear window sign “Good Luck” it said. Phew.

Poor goat

Black diesel cloud puffing out of the roadworks truck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having eventually arrived in Pokhara, in rain, well after dinner time, we were unprepared for the sight we encountered the following morning. (Back at Bardia, the German couple Jakob and Lowena had suggested the Hotel Trekkers Lodge in Pokhara as reasonable accommodation. It had mixed reviews but having an address when it’s raining with which to direct the taxi driver, always helped.) We were accommodated on the top floor of a 3 level building, with our own balcony. With birds singing and the sun shining, Hans opened our balcony doors and exclaimed: “Ice mountains!”. Flinging back the covers, yes it was cool enough to have a sheet; Burney grabbed her camera and bounced out on the balcony. Fantastic!! What a dramatic change to the flat dusty plains of Terai. “Fishtail” or Mt. Macchaphurre, an unclimbed sacred mountain, stood regal amidst the range of peaks in the background. The hill of Sarangot had hang-gliders whooshing near its summit in the midrange with a pair of ultralights winging towards us, while our immediate foreground was the rooftops of the tourist strip. Through a park of trees opposite us on the left, was Phewa Lake while immediately below our balcony was a neighbour’s field of corn, haystack and vegetable patch which the birds loved. That was our backyard for a while.

Mt. Macchaphurre rising above the clouds

Hotel neighbours garden

The hill of Sarangot (1596 mt) with the range behind

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although not renowned for its cultural endowments, Pokhara nevertheless held several places of interest. The pretty Lakeside district lounged beside a nearby hill topped by a World Peace Stupa, (one of many). Painted a brilliant white, four golden images that depicted Buddha from birth to enlightenment faced each point of the compass. Built just after WWII by Japanese Buddhist monks to inspire peace for all races and creeds, it was one of 80 such pagodas in the world.

World Peace Stupa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To reach it, Hans and his recently acquired trekking guide, Santos, had hired a row boat to cross Lake Phewa, from the shoreline they followed a steep forest incline to the top. Burney, on the other hand, took a taxi most of the way then walked the last 10-15 mins up dozens of steps. Both parties met at one of the cafes overlooking the lake and Pokhara Valley. At leisure, we soaked up the views and the serene atmosphere around the stupa. Hans who was in training for a teahouse trek, took an alternative route off the hill while Burney did her own thing, birding.

Santos in the row boat

Phewa Lake from Peace Stupa

Farms on Stupa Hill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following day Hans and Santos set off by taxi to Nayapil to commence the Ghorepani – Poon Hill trek in Annapurna. The first leg was to Tikhedhunga which followed a river valley gaining only 400 meters in altitude. However, the second leg was arduous. With over 3000 steps, the steep altitude gain took its toll. The charm of the valley vegetation and excitement of suspension bridges was largely lost with the drudgery of fighting dizziness and nausea. It was documented that at 2,400 meters “altitude sickness” could set in. Unsure if it was that or a dodgy Dal Bhat, he felt as weak as a kitten. Instead of pushing on the third day for the final high hill push, Hans chose to return to lower altitudes. Sensible:” We’re here go a good time, not a hard time”.

Ghorepani Poon-hill-trekking map

Gaining elevation

Terraced agriculture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vibrant green rice paddies

Mountain ponies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mt. Macchaphurre from a different view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Hans’ absence, Burney visited the Tibetan Refugee Camp of Tarshi Palkhiel which lay to the north of Pokhara. The monastery was donated by the Dalai Lama. Sadly the Tibetans’ status in Nepal was tenuous. When they first escaped death and persecution by the Chinese, the Tibetans spent days and nights risking their lives crossing the Himalayan Ranges. Some went to Bhutan, others to Nepal and India. Some were able to become daily wage earners in construction and helped build the Siddharth Highway which joined Pokhara to Kathmandu. However, recently, due to pressure from China who invests in development , Nepal has denied the Tibetans the right to work or gain citizenship. Making and selling their handicrafts was their primary income source. After visiting the local monastery and school, Burney endeavoured to purchase one piece of jewelry from each family stall vendor. Having accomplished that, those beautiful selfless folk realising Burney’s attempt at fairness then tried to give her gifts!! Such kind and gentle people.

Tibetain Refuge Camp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bindabasini Temple sat atop a hill in old town Pokhara city. The pagoda-style temple was dedicated to the Hindu Goddess, Durga, Pokhara’s guardian deity. Obviously it was a ritual hub for devotees as dozens of gaily dressed women in saris puffed as they ascended the stairs to the queue which wound around the temple. Burney took advantage of a shady tree in the park-like landscape to observe the various gestures and rituals. There were several other shrines and stations of worship around the perimeter of the hill to Shiva and his bull, and Ganesh. The smell of incense and candle wax wafted. The ringing of bells was heard as devotees prayed and placed floral offerings. One shrine was covered in red. Originally, it was once made from blood offerings but these days it was a vermilion shaded turmeric paste. This, they pressed on their foreheads. Animal sacrifices still occurred but fortunately not that day.

The line waiting for the Bindabasini Temple

Turmeric not blood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newari style, Old Bazaar

Winding south from the temple many aged shophouses lined the streets of the old City. Built in the same style as the Newari architecture of Kathmandu Valley, those structures were becoming lost under the pressure of modernisation. Back in the 17th century an important trading route from Tibet to Kathmandu flowed through Pokhara. As the reigning Malla Period of the Newari folk spread its control, so followed the red brickwork and intricately carved wood work of its time. The Old Bazaar was one of the few remnants of that period still intact. The dark eves and window frames embellished with figures and designs contrasted against the flat-yellow stucco and small red bricks. Bronze-coloured butter lanterns still hung from chains and foliated airways dotted the walls. Shop fronts had low doorways with step-downs so that the actual storage area was almost below the road. Unusual and historic, it was definitely worth preserving.

Newari woodcarving

Old Pokhara, shophouses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bergnas Lake boats

Whilst very picturesque, Phewa Lake was but one of several lakes in the vicinity. Taking a local bus, much to the amusement of the daily passengers, Burney went to nearby Begnas Lake. Merely 17 km from Pokhara, Begnas and Rupa Lakes were separated by a steep forested ridgeline. Although only a 5 min walk from the bus park to the lake, Burney chose to follow a road and ridge line to a viewing point at Begnas Coffee House. The walk was steep but very rewarding with new bird discoveries, Woodpeckers and enchanting photo moments. Once, on the hill top and ensconced at the coffee house, it was time to take in the view of the lake. Of course there was coffee, fresh organic coffee from the crop to the cup. Nearby was the small garden of a Hindu Temple with a Blue-throated Barbet sitting secluded in a tree and in the area, a Eurasian Cuckoo called like a Swiss cuckoo-clock. Hmmm, more time might be spent in the precincts, birding? The lake itself was disappointing. Rubbish littered the streams and roadway leading from the village to the lakefront. The cafes were tardy in their service and the general atmosphere lacked warmth. Ignoring that, once there, the lake was charming with reflections of Annapurna IV shimmering on the bow wake of a rowboat. Pokhara may have looked the same 10 years ago.

Bergnas hill walk

A steep walk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

View from the coffee house. Among the clouds are snowy mountains

Recuperating back at Hotel Trekkers Lodge, Hans was happy to let Burney take him to eateries that sold anything but Dal Bhat. Apparently, each and every overnight teahouse offered the same meal. Even t/shirts boasted “Dal Bhat power, 24 hour” for those intrepid trekkers doing the Annapurna circuit. Time for some freshly made Italian ravioli, light fluffy spinach pizza and a good steak. Not all at the same sitting, mind you. We also visited an underground waterfall in the neighbourhood.

Gupteswor Cave

Descending toward the cave entrance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The stream, Pardi Khola flows from Phewa Lake down a steep waterfall, now called Devi’s Falls. The flow could also be seen from Gupteswor Cave as it wended its course further underground. The entrance to the caves presented as a Hindu Temple which received daily devotees to an underground shrine. Squeezing through low tunnels and damp passages we came upon some shimmering crystal formations before descending to the edge of the stream. There gazing from the gloom through a split in the cave wall we could discern the constant rush of white water. The thundering flow was all-consuming, no other sound permeated. Resurfacing above ground, we considered our options. Where to next?

Cave shrine

Shining crystals

Devi’s Falls

The end of May was drawing nigh. It was time to move again.

Perhaps not yet back to Ktm, but soon.

High altitudes were off the menu, so how would a hilltop retreat suit?

Okay.

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Bardia National Park Jeep trip

 

Mottled Wood Owl

On the 17th of May, we headed into the park for an entire day. That time, it was a jeep journey deeper into the park and we shared it with a young German couple, Jakob and Lowena. Charlie and Miriam, from our previous excursion, had departed for England after an unsuccessful walk with Krishna, the previous day. Unsuccessful in that they had not seen a Tiger but had other good encounters. Hans and Burney had spent the day (16th) at the lodge, bird watching and taking their meals in the viewing pagoda above the dining hall. As a small group of 4 with John and Sitaram, we went into the community forest the afternoon of the 16th, though. Most of the wildlife uses the park and the neighbouring forest as a corridor into more southern terrain. John wanted to show Burney a rare sight. The Mottled Wood Owl had been sighted in the vicinity. Although a resident of the Indian peninsular, until last year, it had never been recorded in Nepal. With just enough light for reasonable viewing, we were amazed at the size of the owl when it flew over. Other birds tried attacking it but it was too big to be discouraged. And it had a mate calling from somewhere nearby. Fabulous experience! We also enjoyed an evening viewing some of John’s photos and videos from treks into the alpine regions of the Himalayas. Refreshed after an evening’s rest, birding was still High on the agenda but all wildlife was part of the wishlist for another dalliance in Bardia NP.

Spotted Deer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we traveled further into the forest, we heard Indian Pitta calling everywhere! It was breeding season and they were calling their hearts out. Other fabulous sights were of the Indian Roller sitting brightly in the sunshine and an Asian Paradise-flycatcher flying backwards and forwards over a pond with its long white ribbon tail undulating behind him. Herds of Spotted Deer stood partially camouflaged in the dappled light of the tree line. In a drying watering-hole, Sitaram and John showed us various tracks imprinted in the mud. A single Elephant print was bigger than Burney’s hat.

Elephant track with hat

Rhino droppings next to Hans’ boot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After parking the jeep and fording a strongly flowing river, we walked through some tall scrub noting Rhino droppings along the way, till we were lead to a viewing location. High on a bank looking over a wide terrain divided into minor and major streams separated by grassland and pebbly beaches, we took up positions to wait. We were waiting to see what wildlife was coming to cool themselves. Several smaller birds kept Burney and John busy in the meantime.

Sitting high on the edge of a bank looking over alluvial grasslands

Then the word went up in excited whispers: “Tiger”. On the stony bank by the distant stream, a beautiful big Tiger sauntered out of the jungle and stepped into the water to submerge itself. After quite a while sitting still, it languidly swam towards the opposite bank and slowly drifted off into the woods. The sound of motor drives firing off repeated photos finally slowed as our Tiger disappeared. High 5, all round.

“TIGER” whispered very loudly

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then as we were driving to another location, we heard a noise. Hans thought it was a truck blasting its horn. Nope. It was Elephant trumpeting John said, coming to an immediate stand still. Large clumps of grass had been uprooted, the succulent bulbs eaten and the rest discarded. Elephants. While John went striding off into the bordering tall elephant grass in search of them, we climbed onto tall boulders and the jeep seats for a safer view. They were very close and several of them. Whoohoo!

Elephants!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later in the day, Sitaram found 4 Rhinos. We had to scale numerous steep steps ascending a forestry tower to see them.  Moving from one shaded patch to another, the Rhinos grazed semi obscured by bush or branches.(However we clearly noticed that one was much smaller, a juvenile.) Apparently Chitwan had donated several Rhinos to Bardia and their numbers were growing. They estimated there were 40 in the park. Unfortunately poaching affected all wildlife still, whether in the park or the buffer zones, education in conservation needed more emphasis in India and Nepal.

 

 

 

 

 

Although the parks’ origins began in the late 60’s when some 368 sq kms were set aside as royal hunting grounds, it wasn’t until 1982 that the Royal Bardia National Reserve was officially formed, and even then it didn’t become a fully-fledged National Park until 1988. The aim was to preserve the diversity of decreasing species, in particular the tiger and its natural prey species. Considering that of the nine species of tigers, Balinese Tigers, Caspian Tigers and Javan Tigers had been declared extinct. The Royal Bengal Tiger needed protecting. Nevertheless one had been killed in the park as recent as 2016.

Many of the local farmers living in the zoned area were removed to provide a greater area for the species within the park. A buffer zone and community forest was also established around the park in an attempt to reduce subsistence poaching within the park by the locals. The increase in Tigers and Rhinos was a testimony to better management. Furthermore, Bardia’s relatively remote location meant the Park had enjoyed less impact from tourism, and though access has improved significantly over recent years, visitor numbers were still much lower than Nepal’s most famous park, Chitwan. It was for these reasons Burney had decided to go to Bardia; more authentic and far closer to a natural experience completely removed from touristic hype, bright lights, shops, restaurants, bars and traffic.

Our neighbours

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tharu Hutments storm damage

Sitaram’s brother repairing the bamboo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes we had our early morning coffee delivered to our room. Then a few minutes for a tune!

Babai River Turtle

Sadly, our time at Wild Trak Adventure Lodge was drawing to a close. We needed to see more of Nepal and hopefully enjoy some cooler temperatures, at last. With John’s assistance we decided to take a private car and driver to Kohalpur 70km away and then the bus from there to Butwal. After spending some time with Sitaram’s family, we bid them all farewell. Much to our surprise and delight, John came with us!! Before approaching the East-West Highway we crossed the Babai River. Together with the Karnali River, the Babai helps form part of the Park boundary. With his encouragement, we followed John on foot across the bridge.

Golden Masheer

 

 

 

 

 

There below were schools of large fish, Golden Masheer, which were known to attain 80kg in weight. A single turtle was sighted and then Crocodiles!!

 

 

 

Both species were present, the narrow snouted Gharials and the aptly named Muggers! Once Burney could take her eyes off the crocs she spotted a Stork. It was a Painted Stork! Another new bird and such a beauty.

Mugger

Thank You,  John and Wild Trak Adventures for a Fabulous Five day 60th birthday in Bardia.

Painted Stork

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Bardia and Burney’s Birthday, May 15th

We shared the birdwalk with another couple, Charlie and Miriam. Charlie was very interested in birds and photography. He also proved to be a great companion that morning. With John and Sitaram, we set off from the lodge following the river towards the official national park gate entrance. Falling back Burney and Sitaram started the birdlist with various “common” species calling: Asian Koel, Greater Coucal and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters. Then something different, Green-Pigeons. The female showed a lovely patterned tail while the male had an orange breast, as John indicated. Lovely!!

Sitaram’s cousin was one of the park’s mahouts.

Moving further away from the park administration compound, our group stopped by an Asian Elephant with its “mahout” lounging atop her back. The mahout was a relative of Sitaram, who provided tourist excursions into the park. (That was something about which Burney had serious reservations. Many elephants suffer serious back weakness after carrying too many people on large seated platforms. Furthermore, the young ones are taken at a very early age from their mothers for training whereby both parties suffer enormous emotional stress.) John tried to explain the importance of trained elephants in an emergency. As an example, he related that tigers never attack an elephant, therefore if there is a rouge tiger terrorizing the villages or if a visitor has taken refuge in a tree due to tiger attack, elephants are used to rescue the situation. Furthermore, when flooding occurs they have been used to retrieve stranded victims from drowning. Having taken that on board, we were nevertheless, walking.

Tiger prints

Sitaram said a Tiger had gone up this rising the previous night

White hairs in a Tiger scat

Along the softer sandy paths, animal tracks were found! Deer, Rhino and Tiger!! Sitaram could estimate when the tiger had passed and which way it was possibly heading. Then shortly thereafter, a tiger scat was dissected to reveal a clump of short white hairs. “Possibly Spotted Deer, a tiger’s favourite meal”, we were told. It was very exciting. Coming to a lovely creek crossing, we stopped for an early morning-tea snack of freshly made samosas which John produced from his backpack . It was there that Charlie invited Burney to play “Pooh Sticks”, he was quite a character.   It was also there, that  Burney said she heard Pitta calling, “We need to get onto these, guys!”  She was very eager to see an Indian Pitta, a lifer.

And it was Charlie who gazing through his binoculars quietly said: “What’s this…it’s got a brown head, a bit of blue and a bit of red?” “THAT’S IT!”

We all got great views as a pair flew across the stream then proceeded to jump about the forest floor. Never close enough for a great photo but definitely a great experience. It was also there that we had an uncluttered view of a White-rumped Sharma, its bluish black head and orange belly contrasting with a very long black and white tail. Not a bad birthday treat, for us all.

Indian Pitta

Google image: White rumped Sharma

A little later while some of us were viewing other birds, Charlie and Sitaram came rushing up saying they heard a tiger growling…Yikes! Should we follow the sound or move away? John said move away. So a little disappointed, we moved on, but our senses were enormously heightened. For defense, all Sitaram carried was a long stick. Burney decided she was the oldest and the slowest so therefore everyone else was in a better position for survival. Surveying the terrain she found some pretty good climbing trees. No worries, then. One tree with deep scars showed were a tiger possibly sharpened its claws while another held other marks where possibly a Leopard had climbed up the trunk. That had us looking into trees for more than birds!

Unusual tree growth due to erosion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See claw mark on tree. John decided it was from a Tiger not a Leopard.

Quietly perched in the shadows of tall well-foliaged trees was a family of Grey Langurs. Their black faces were lost in the gloom however the fringe of silver hair bordering their heads like a halo gave them away. Although we were seeing them for the first time, they are apparently common in forests and also around habitation. Sometimes called the Common or Indian Langur, their range extended from as high as 3500m in the Himalayas to throughout the deciduous forests of peninsular India.

Grey Langurs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day grew hotter as it approached midday. We rested in the shade by a river however the once rickety bridge was too dilapidated to risk crossing. Well, for most of us… John decided to have a scout on the other side….. While we all watched him scamper over broken slats of wood, Charlie gave a fabulous impersonation of David Attenborough. In hushed tones he commented on “the green-backed Baboon risking his life in search of a fertile mate in the forests of Bardia….” “There he goes, will he be successful, will we see him again?”   Hilarious

Green-backed Baboon

Will she let him live?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the heat, most of the wildlife took refuge, as did we. Apart from a herd of Spotted Deer moving through the woods and a Woolly-necked Stork flying overhead, all was still. A dry 38 degrees heat with shimmering mirages and perspiration. Gratefully, after phoning ahead and arranging a motorbike meet him at the entrance gates, John ran ahead. By the time we arrived at the gates, he had brought the safari jeep from the lodge and was waiting to whisk us back to the comforts of home. Many, many thanks, we were very distressed by the heat.

Wild Trak Adventure accommodation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our accommodation, which we only viewed in day-light that morning, was delightful. Strongly influenced  by the indigenous Tharu style, it was one of several huts made from local mud and clay with artistic relief work adhered to the front wall. Our hut had depictions of birds and elephants. A network of ponds surrounded by flowering trees and shrubs separated and screened the dwellings from each other. Near the ponds, a couple of follies or tea-houses provided ample shelter to double as a bird-hide when photographing the resident White-necked Waterhens or gorgeous Sunbirds.

Elephants with Mahouts relief over the windows

Birds over our door

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our arrival the previous evening was very late. After long deliberations, we had decided not to wait another day for the bus strike (Banda) to cease but instead hired a driver to take us from Bhairawa, the next 280 kms by private car. Fortunately, the roads were not as hazardous and we stopped every 2 hrs, stretching our legs and partaking of the local chai (milky tea made with cardamom and cinnamon spices) or the regional version of Dal Baht. It was in the actual vicinity of Ambassa, just 13km from the national park, that we had sump scraping moments and slow rocky dry river crossings. Darkness and no street lighting added to our hindered progress. Then, once in the village of Thakurdwara, numerous accommodation facilities lined the river bank. Like a welcoming beacon, we turned into our lodge driveway (thank you Google maps) and all was good.

Above a large, airy dining and bar facility there was a viewing gagoda

 

Ochre yellow buildings glowed warmly in the lighting, little bamboo bridges transported us across the ponds resounding with frog call to our room. A huge comfortable bed complete with mosquito net and prints of wildlife adorned the walls. (We were later to learn that John Sparshatt had taken all those brilliant photos.)  After a much needed shower in a very large western style bathroom, we settled down in the dining room for home cooked food, beers and to make plans for the following day. Bardia NP birdwatching for Burney’s 60th birthday. We had made it. It was close but it was a sure thing.

Teahouse by the ponds

Skittering Frogs in the ponds

Above a large dining area, John had a viewing storey built. It was there that we were to spend many hours watching for birds and waiting for a cool breeze. Burney also observed the lifestyle of the neighbouring villagers ploughing the fields with water buffalo as they have for centuries and also the domestic duties of Sitaram’s family. Their typical Tharu hutment adjacent to the lodge consisted of a long house with the extended family’s bedrooms, a separate cooking hut with huge clay urns built into the walls or as partitions held kilos of stored rice. The gas-fired burner was fueled by theirown buffalo dung processor. Another building held farming equipment and housed the animals. One dwelling had been damaged by a recent storm. The offending tree had been harshly pruned and the damaged awning was under repair as each clay tile was removed, cleaned and replaced once new bamboo supporting struts had been installed. Turmeric slices lay drying on tarps in the garden, goats and chickens ran untethered nearby. (Our morning eggs, no doubt provided fresh from the hens.) In the lodge garden, a pizza oven provided inspiration for a fabulous meal of oven-roasted pork. Succulent!! We were very happy to be at Wild Trak Adventure Lodge in the great care of John and Sitaram Chaudhary and his family.

Sitaram (left) and John of Wild Trak Adventure

 

With the sunset approaching and the heat of the day relenting, John took us all to a favourite river side spot near the elephant breeding centre, on the closing of the 15th. The facility held several females which were serviced by wild elephants from the national park. One had a youngster tethered nearby. The baby, being a female, was either destined to be a breeder or trained by a mahout…..

Baby’s sleeping

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to the river, birds worked the far water edges while local lads swam/struggled against the fast flowing stream in our immediate foreground. As the sunset colours took the skies and the hazy golden globe ebbed, a Rhino was spotted in the distance. It was Rhinosarus Unicornos, the One-horned Rhino of Asia. Just near it the huge antlers of a Swamp Deer vied for attention. WoW, not everyone could say they saw that on their birthday!!

Rhinosarus Unicornus

Rhino and Swamp Deer

Before returning to our lodge, we stopped at the local “watering hole” where local guides and visiting folk gathered in the garden. It was there, we met Krishna who was also a guide, a keen mountain trekker and a friend of John’s. As the beer flowed topped with a shot of straight whiskey, we eventually heard about Krishna’s narrow escape from a tiger attack. As related, he had been guiding and tracking with a guest from Holland when they were confronted by a very angry female tiger. Apparently she had cubs in the area and was not allowing anyone in the vicinity. Fortunately, the guest being an agile rock-climber scaled a tall tree while Krishna distracted the tiger and was thus badly clawed in the leg by the angry mum. Krishna told how he took stock of the situation and rising up as big and ferocious as he could, he charged at the tigress with his stick and sent her off into the scrub. Then after running a distance in an attempt to gain mobile reception, he phoned to alert a rescue by a mahout and his elephant.Retrieving the Dutch  guest from out of his tree, they heard that the tigress had returned and was warily circling below his perch.

 

Krishna

 Now, that was the pub story to top all pub yarns.

But it was true. We saw the scars and muscle loss and had the tale further confirmed the next day by Sitaram, a senior guide in the community. We learnt that Bardia was once a royal hunting ground with seriously depleted stock but now supported 85 Tigers plus two recent cubs. The likelihood of seeing a Tiger was far greater in Bardia National Park than in the more popular Chitwan Park. May, being a hot summer month before the onset of the monsoonal rains further increased the chances as wildlife came down to the narrow bands of river water  to drink and submerge themselves. Guides, such as John and Sitaram, attempted to remain well informed as to where the current Tiger sightings were, and where to steer clear of defensive mothers and their cubs.

Ready for a roast dinner pork

Okay that was a very memorable May 15th, but more was yet to come. This was not a one day birthday. This was 5 days in Bardia.

 

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2017 in Uncategorized