Thursday, February 28, 2013

I think I'm going to Kathmandu

That's really really where I'm going to, if I ever get out of here...
I've known this Bob Seger song forever. I never dreamed that I'd actually be going to Kathmandu, but that's exactly what I did earlier this month. Most people associate Nepal with Mt. Everest and the Himalayas, but there is so much more that makes up this small nation.

The greater Kathmandu area has a population of over 2 million people. It is a very crowded city teeming with people, pigeons and stray dogs. The most prevalent religions practiced here are Hinduism and Buddhism, and there are many temples and important religious sights that you can visit in and around the city.

I was most fascinated by the stories of the Living Goddess. This is a young girl who is chosen from a specific village when she is around the age of  3 - 5 years old. She must possesses the 32 attributes necessary in order become the Living Goddess or Kumari. Once chosen, she is taken from her family to live in a palace with caretakers, where she will be worshipped as a goddess and where people come to be blessed.
Her feet must never touch the ground unless she is walking on red carpet. Problem solved - in the palace she wears red socks! She lives this way until she reaches puberty. At this time, she is sent back to live with her family as a common person and the search goes on for the next Kumari.

My travels through Nepal took me from Kathmandu to Chitwan National Park and also to Pokhara. In Chitwan, I stayed at a very modest lodge called the Machan Country Villa. From here as a base, you can enjoy an elephant back safari through the forest, jeep and boat safaris, village tours and nature walks. The wildlife we saw included fresh water alligators, one-horned rhinoceros, langur monkeys, barking deers, and a variety of birds. If you're lucky, you may get a glimpse of a Bengal tiger or a sloth bear, which both live in the forest.

Pokhara is a large town, about a 4 hour drive from Chitwan. It is a base for hikers who want to do the Annapurna circuit trek. The Annapurna moutain range of the Himalayas can be seen from most points in and around the city. The snow-capped peaks are breathtaking. The city itself has lots of shops and restaurants geared toward tourists. The main street is set along Phewa lake, where you can take a leisurely boat ride on the calm water.

The Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge is a great place to rest and relax after a long day sight-seeing or trekking. It is located outside the city on a mountain, with wonderful views. Individual cottages dot the mountain side with stone walkways connecting them with the main lodge. The rooms are spacious and the staff thoughtfully places hot water bottles in the beds to keep you warm on cold nights during the winter. There is also a lovely outdoor pool for those warm, sunny days.
The Managing Director, Marcus, is very hands on and makes sure that all of his guests are happy.

One 'must do' in Kathmandu is the flight-seeing trip to Mt. Everest. It's best to go first thing in the morning and hope for a clear day. Everyone gets a window seat, so one side of the plane has a front row seat to the Himalaya range on the way out and the other side gets it on the way back. Each passenger has a chance to go up to the cockpit, one at a time, to see the view from there and snap a few quick photos. The flight attendants hand out maps of the whole range with the name of each peak and its elevation labeled. It was a very cool experience and one I'd recommend doing. Then, you can say "I've been to Mt. Everest!"

Are you ready for Kathmandu?! Call on the Travel Specialists at Bee Kalt Travel to help you plan your next adventure!

Tel: 248-288-9600 or Toll-free 1-800-284-5258
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Wednesday, February 27, 2013


For the "been there, done that" crowd, Bhutan seems to be on everybody's travel wish list. This tiny landlocked Asian nation is bordered by China in the North and India in the South. Bhutan is untouched and unspoiled, has only 700,000 citizens in the whole country and opened to tourism relatively recently, in 1974.

The number of tourists has been steadily increasing each year. The infrastructure is trying to keep pace to accommodate the growing number of visitors. At the time of my visit, in February 2013, the single road that connects all of the towns was being widened. Having said that, there is no traffic, in fact, there is no traffic light in the entire country. I think this is the most uncrowded place I have ever been, especially after arriving directly from a visit to Nepal.

Bhutan is known as the "Happiest Kingdom on Earth". This small country was never colonized and thus has been able to retain its homogenous culture and traditions among the people. Much of the culture is centered around the predominant Buddhist religion. Each town has a Dzong, which served as a fortress and now holds both religious temples and government offices. These beautiful structures are hundreds of years old and are identified by their white walls, red roofs, and intricately carved and painted woodwork.  The temples are filled with brightly colored paintings on the walls and ornate sculptures of the gods. If you are lucky, you may be able to observe a service with the resident monks chanting and playing instruments.

Along with the culture, hiking and outdoor activities are the big draw to Bhutan. It is incredibly mountainous, at the eastern edge of the Himalayas, and affords many options from short to full day hikes. Beautiful views of snow-capped peaks seem to be around every corner.  Many of the hikes are centered around a trek up to see a temple or monastery on the top of a hill. The most famous of these is the Taktsang Monastery, also known as the Tiger's Nest.  It's the quintessential photo that one always sees of Bhutan - a monastery built into the rock, clinging to a cliff on the side of the mountain. It is an important pilgrimage site and you see all ages on the trail, from babes in arms to the elderly.  The trek up should take about 2 hours at a moderate pace. And then you have to come back down!

Bhutan is also known for producing beautiful and intricate textiles. You can visit the very informative National Textile museum in the capital city of Thimpu. Visits to a painting school and Traditional Medicine Institute are also very interesting.

Bhutan is very unique in how it manages tourism. U.S. citizens must have a valid passport and obtain a visa. All tourists must make their travel arrangements through a government approved tour company. This is not a place where you can just show up and travel around at will. You must be accompanied at all times by an official, licensed guide and driver. No rental cars here. That being said, we partner with the best tour operators who provide a seemless travel experience: from obtaining the necessary visas, to booking the flights (there's only one airline that flies here), to reserving the top hotels in each city.

Has Bhutan piqued your interest? To book your personal adventure, contact the Travel Specialists at Bee Kalt Travel today!    

Tel: 248-288-9600 or Toll-free 1-800-284-5258
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