Saturday, 31 May 2014

bhaktapur: where i fell in love with a goat, and nepali street food

Schoolgirls look dashing in uniform.

A taxi ride that cost us 900 NPR (~$10.50 AUD) after some haggling in Kathmandu, and we arrived at Bhaktapur at the crack of dawn. Super early, but the locals were up already and going about their daily routines. People going to work. People going to school. People just hanging out. All against the backdrop of amazing ancient architecture.

Soon afterwards, we saw a goat and started taking pictures of it. He noticed, and came galloping right towards me. I stood there flustered, wondering if I was about to become a victim of a random goat attack.

And then, and then... he nuzzled his head against me, and I instantly fell in love. Grinning from ear to ear, awash in unexpected delight and affection. "Simon, he's just like a cat!"

I still consider that to be one of my best moments in Nepal.

Here, meet the best goat ever.

He comes to me and shows me unexpected warmth and tenderness. Bless!

But back to the rest of Bhaktapur. I like it. It has a certain air about it, as the town awakens with a gentle flurry of activity...

Morning market.

It's spring onion season,

So many bunches of spring onions!

and one can handle both spring-onion-bunching and baby-minding tasks at the same time.

More spring onion activity, and a baby.

Then we start seeing street food by the roadside, just right out the front of houses and shops.

Time for breakfast.

The Nepali doughnuts looked really good.

Sel Roti, a Nepali doughnut made from rice flour.

They tasted really good, too. Still warm from the fryer, the thin, crisp layer gives way to a pleasant sweetness, a yielding chewiness.

The cross-section of a Nepali rice doughnut.

Then there is Jeri (also known as Jalebi), they look like pretzels but that's where the similarities end.

A woman making Jeri, or Jalebi.

It's soaked in a saffron-cardamom sugar syrup and it's incredibly sweet. Perhaps too sweet for me, and yet, I enjoyed it (in small doses)... a freshly made jeri is such a fragrant, enticing combination of crunchy, dewy goodness.

A sweet, succulent Jeri.

But wait, there's more!

A man frying up some chickpea fritters and pakoras.

Observe here crunchy golden chickpea fritters and crisp, tender pakoras. They were just the savoury snacks we wanted after a sugary start to the day. We went back for second helpings.

Crunchy golden chickpea fritters and crisp, tender pakoras.

All the street snacks we had above were only 5 NPR ($0.06 AUD) per piece. Satisfying in so many ways!

Energized by our happy tummies, we continued along, catching more glimpses of life in Bhaktapur...

Getting water from the well.

Wondering why there is a puppet in a window...

A puppet in a window.

Fascinated by the butchers and their bloodied workstations...

A butcher's business.

Longingly gazing at the variety of pickles, and wishing I could have a taste of each one...

Assorted pickles.

Marveling at the huge chariot, a remnant from the Bisket Jatra celebrations just a few days prior...

A chariot from Bisket Jatra - Nepali New Year celebrations.

Checking out adorable handicraft at the pottery square...

The pottery square.

Admiring the colourful fabric shops...

Fabric shops.

Hunting down Bhaktapur's famous juju dhau / king curd, a creamy, sweetened buffalo yoghurt...

Juju dhau - king curd / king yoghurt: a creamy, sweetened yoghurt which is famous in Bhaktapur.

And finally, tired but fulfilled, saying goodbye to Bhaktapur.

A lovely afternoon in Bhaktapur.

The next day, we flew back to Australia with lots and lots of magnificent memories.

This concludes my Nepal series for May. I hope you enjoyed it!

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Monday, 26 May 2014

langtang valley trek: an epic nepal experience - my first snowstorm and so much more!

A local bus weaving down the mountain road.

It's not easy getting to the destination where we start our 7-day Langtang Valley trek. It starts with a drive from Kathmandu up to Syabru Bensi village, and my oh my, that is quite a harrowing ride, even in a trusty jeep. The mountain roads are super narrow, and not all of them are well-maintained or with safety guards. I wish I took a photo of the scary parts, but I was too busy mentally making sure we weren't going to fall off a cliff, plus it was too bumpy to hold my camera still. The picture shown above was taken on a much better stretch. And yes, that's a two-way street. I was in disbelief at first. How do two big vehicles even get past each other? Somehow, they always manage. I sort of got used to it, but it's still crazy.

But we made it there alive. Phew.

There is a river along our trekking route.

On our first day of trekking we stopped at a tea house and met this little girl, who absolutely adored the water vessel and got into a little bit of trouble for that. So cute!

Little girl at a tea house along the trek.

It was springtime in Nepal, and pretty rhododendrons were in bloom.

A rhododendron tree.

The food offered by guesthouses on the trekking route can be very repetitive. It seems that they all have very similar menus, but at least there is still variety in that you can choose from bread, porridge, pancakes, muesli, and eggs cooked in various ways.

This is tsampa porridge, a local porridge which I believe is made from roasted barley flour, and has a pleasantly nutty taste. They tend to serve it plain so I recommend adding generous lashings of honey.

Tsampa porridge, a local breakfast.

I also occasionally had apple pancakes when I felt like something light. Again, they can be bland by themselves, so I like to mix a little bit of my hot ginger tea with sugar and drizzle the makeshift syrup over the pancakes for more flavour.

Apple pancake.

As we climbed up to higher altitudes where the climate is cooler, we started to see yaks. They tend to come in black, white, gray, or brown colours.

A nice looking yak.

Speaking of which... yak cheese sandwiches are fantastically delicious.

Yak cheese sandwich with local chapati bread.

We also tried yak curd, or yak yoghurt (though elsewhere they are two different things, it seems that curd is sometimes called yoghurt in Nepal, but correct me if I'm wrong). We like the authentic sourness, and the one in this picture also, for some reason, had an intriguing smokiness to it.

Intriguingly smoky yak curd / yak yogurt.

Apparently this is a type of lavender. We would see it along the trail, and when I want a pick-me-up, I would pluck a leaf, bruise it a little, inhale the scent, and feel better.

Lavender in Nepal.

Seabuckthorn shrubs grow at higher altitudes, and one of my favourite drinks here is seabuckthorn juice, or seabuckthorn tea. Apparently seabuckthorn berries are strongly astringent, and our drinks are always sweetened to mellow the taste. Anyway, it's delicious - the flavour reminds me of passion fruit, and for Simon it is reminiscent of quince.

A warm cup of seabuckthorn juice/tea.

We also had copious amounts of quite tasty garlic soup, which is supposed to help with the high altitudes. But as for my favourite dish, it would probably have to be sherpa's stew. A nourishing bowl of handmade noodles in a thick, chunky vegetable soup. True comfort food.

Sherpa's stew.

One of the days, after a lunch break, we proceeded with our trekking, and it was snowing... gentle enough at first, but it soon got heavier, and I could hear thunder in the distance. It was my first proper snow experience, and I wanted to take pictures, but it was just too cold, too difficult. We wanted to get to our next stop, Langtang Village, as soon as possible.

By the time we got there, a couple of hours later, everything was blanketed in snow.

A horse in the snow.

I scuttled into our room and this was the view from the window.

A pretty blanket of snow covers Langtang Village.

There was a fireplace in the common area, and we all gathered around it to warm ourselves up. These kids are awesome - they collected the snow in their mugs, and then added Tang (orange-flavoured beverage powder) for an instant slushy treat. So resourceful! They also amused themselves by dropping spoonfuls of it on top of the fireplace, which instantly sizzled out, leaving behind a gorgeous caramelised scent in the air.

Gathering around the fireplace, away from the cold.

May I also mention dessert momos? I love the fusion thing they've got going on here, where fried Nepali dumplings meet Western sweets. There are apple momos, which taste like apple pie; and Snickers momos, which I would describe as sticky, nutty, chocolatey goodness. The dessert momos are usually giant momos, but I've got a picture here of the usual bite-sized ones.

Snickers momos.

The next morning we found an endearing little snowman, which the kids must have built after they finished their snowball fights.


On our third day of trekking, we reached Kyanjin Gompa at 3870m / 12697ft.

Buddhist monastery Kyanjin Gompa.

There was a bakery in the area, and we popped in for cakes and coffee.

You have no idea how wonderful it is to have cake after three days of trekking.

At the bakery, Simon and I were asked about our relationship. I had some trepidation about telling them that we still don't have plans to get married after how long we'd been together, but it turned out to be an enjoyable chat about how Australian and Nepali culture and expectations are different.

Marble cake.

The next day, we went back down again.

A stupa (Buddhist monument) in Langtang Valley.

Down and down...

A calf trotting down the steps.

While donkeys carrying goods go up and up...

Donkeys carrying provisions uphill.

Traversing various suspension bridges, wondering how we did it in the slippery snow just the other day...

A suspension bridge.

We continued to stop at lodges.

Horse and foal.

And of course, we continued to eat.

Pasta here is stir-fried in the Asian way. It can be hit and miss but this one in particular was tasty.

Stir-fried pasta with vegetables, egg, and yak cheese.

This is a local dish called rhildu (potato roll soup). I was keen to find out more, so I ordered it. Imagine mashed potato rolled into balls, in a spicy turmeric soup... warm and satisfying.

Rhildu (potato roll soup), a local dish.

By the way, this is our guide, Ratna. He's a fun, jovial dude. Here, he dances to a Nepali tune that he plays from his mobile phone.

Our cheerful guide.

Towards the end, the route back isn't exactly the same way we came up.

I think this is a tamarillo tree. Tamarillo is also known as tree tomato!

We are really glad that we got to visit Thulo Syabru, a gorgeous little village inhabited by the Tamang tribe.

Thulo Syabru, a lovely village.

Our final day of trekking was via an alpine forest trail. It was quite a gentle and leisurely walk most of the time. It was nice to relax and not have to deal with tricky ascends and descends.

A fallen rhododendron flower on the forest floor.

We end up in Dhunche, and this is where I get my first taste of Tibetan butter tea, brewed with tea leaves and then beaten with yak butter and salt. Yes, it is savoury, so it's almost like soup! I also had fried Tibetan bread for breakfast, and that was utterly delicious. It's deep-fried bread... you can't go wrong.

Numtrak Balep (fried Tibetan bread) is yummy.

And finally, we took another jeep ride back to Kathmandu. What an incredible week.

The end of our Langtang trek.

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