Last Updated: April 2007 [Note: You can see the full sized versions of many of the pictures (those without a black border) by moving the mouse over the thumbnail. Move the mouse away to resize]

Introduction/Overview

Paddy fields and Annapurnas Lyn and I have talked about trekking in Nepal for a number of years, and in 2000, we finally made it reality.

But as we looked through the first brochures, Lyn wondered whether three weeks of heavy duty trekking and sleeping in tents was her cup of tea. So we opted for a moderate Ramblers hotel/hiking holiday (we’d been pleased with our Ramblers trips in Morocco and the Lake District) that took us to five different locations in Nepal: each with two full days hiking at each stop and half a day’s traveling to the next location.

Since we were going through Singapore on the way back, we decided to add a week in Malaysia and Singapore. As it turned out, this leg took nine tenths of the planning. Eventually we settled for four days in Penang, an island off the West coast of the Malaysian mainland, and a couple of days in Singapore.

We put the money together, found the time, began planning, and in October 2000...

The trip was a roaring success. Nepal was wonderful, hiking excellent; Malaysia was more or less what we had wanted (if we’d wanted more we might have been disappointed); and two days in Singapore turned out to be just right. And all these experiences were completely different.

Nepal

I’ll just give a brief run-down of each place, and then a curry of overviews. (The Nepal Maps may be helpful in understanding the geography, but be prepared for a few minutes of loading.).

Days 1-3: Nargot

Hotel Chautari: This is the only picture I had to steal from a poster. Evening around Nagarkot and more views of LangTang As you can imagine, the first day or so in a new country is a potent experience and Nepal didn't disappoint. We flew into Kathmandu separately from the main group, arriving from Canada via Seoul and Singapore at around 10am, expecting to meet the Ramblers charter flight from the UK around 5pm in the afternoon. We'd thought about going into Kathmandu for a look round for a few hours, expecting, like novices, to find a place at the airport to stash our bags. Fat chance! And just beyond the terminal building, barely kept at bay by the police, a horde of beggars and touts waited, to set upon each tourist as they left the airport and tried to get a taxi or reclaim their car. This was not a storm we wanted to weather just yet. So in the end we hung around the airport and read. The police made not-so-subtle efforts to get rid of us...which turned out to be because the Prince was arriving. Once we'd seen him whisked through the airport and into a waiting limo, things settled down. The Brits arrived and we joined their flying wedge to their chartered bus and quickly left town.

It was getting dark as the bus drove through town and out into the countryside: forty odd miles directly from Kathmandu airport to Nagarkot. The trip took two hours, and introduced us to both Nepal and driving in Nepal: lean on the horn and hope that all the people, goats, cows and motorcycles wandering about in your headlights somehow avoid your bus.

Nagarkot is a village of about 50 houses stashed on a ridge, about 2,000 feet above the Kathmandu valley. It was the highest location we stayed at, and even at that was only 2000m above sea level so we didn’t get nosebleed high on this trip.

Naturally we were all keen to see the views when we awoke the next morning, but a heavy mist hung in the hills and even partly obscured the valleys below us. We were forewarned that it might be like this and so we were stoically prepared to NOT see the big peaks for a while, even a week or so, and yet there was plenty of novelty to the surroundings to keep our interest: flowers, trees, and glimpses of deep valleys.

After a quick breakfast, we began our first hike: an 11Km wander taking us now along dirt roads, down through fields, up through a sort of trail...and so on. We had arrived in the middle of the Hindu festival of Diwali, and had the disconcerting experience of seeing within the first half an hour of our walk, a goat that had been led past us only minutes before now being dismembered by the side of the path as we passed.

The mist had burned off but there was still plenty of higher cloud so we resigned ourselves to not seeing anything big. But at around 10am, I looked up and was startled to see a peak sticking out abovethe cloud. And when I pointed it out to Lyn, she couldn't see it until I got her to raise her gaze 30° from where she was used to looking! It was our first glimpse of LangTang (7,000m).

While you can supposedly see Everest from here it is so far off that it cannot be distinguished easily from the surrounding peaks.

Days 4-6: Chitwan Royal Reserve

Off to see Mrs. Rhino and her kid Baktapur: Lyn and the (Hindu) shrine for Buddha We drove down into the small but historic town of Baktapur (almost a suburb of Kathmandu) to look at the temples in Durbah Square, then continued on our longest drive: to Chitwan Royal Reserve, in the far south of Nepal. The road, descending by degrees the 2,000 feet to the Indian continental plain, sliding down and along a long river gorge that seemed to capture the Hindu philosophy: a steep hillside above on our left could not be seen but the opposite hillside, scarred constantly by recent landslides hinted at what the road ahead, with its numerous fixed sections, gave evidence of: the transitory nature of existence. And on our right, usually a precipice beyond which nothing was visible.

We emerged eventually onto the lowlands, passing now along the banks of massive, slow-moving brown rivers, and through flat dense bush. The village of Chitwan appeared and suddenly we were at the gates of an old style colonial villa. We disembarked and were welcomed into even more shamelessly decadent surroundings, which we thoroughly enjoyed for 3 days. We walked a little in Chitwan but these were 5Km walks at most with no altitude gain rather than the 12Km/2000ft hikes we were used, but there was no shortage of highlights. Have a look at the itinerary (just move the mouse over "itinerary"

(See “Wild Things” further down).

Click for more Chitwan pictures

Buddhist temple in Pokhara. Machhupuchere framed

Day 7-9: Pokhara

Heading down from Sarangkot temple hike In the sauna at the bottom treks in the Annapurna range. Our own walks would be in and around Pokhara— day hikes in the hills rather than the 3-4 day treks with guides up into the Himals. We drove north from Chitwan, up through the slide-ridden gorge of the Trithuli and again reached the east-west highway. This time we turned left/west towards Pokhara instead of right for Kathmandu. Because of the mist and overcast in Nagarkot and distance in Chitwan, we still had seen only occasional partial glimpses of the massive peaks of the Himalayas in northern Nepal but in Pokhara we were expecting to see more. Suddenly, an hour or so after the turn off, we had our first clear views of the big Himals and even at this distance their sheer immensity was impressive. Having been seen the Rockies, the Alps and the Atlas mountains, we were not unfamiliar with snow-capped peaks but the Himalayas really are in a different class.

Our hikes were walks in and around Pokhara, and each one was scenic and interesting, including visits to a temple and a boat trip across a lake. On one of the full days we hiked part of the so-called “Royal trek”, named for Prince Charles’s visit here some years before, and on this trip we called in on the home of our guide (see “People” below). Views of the Himalayas at this time of year are subject to the whims of weather, but we were in luck and got great views of the Annapurnas from the roof of our hotel, and even better views from several places we hiked to.

Day 11:Gorka

Gawking out from Gorka. I think that’s the Annapurnas we’re looking at. Faint in here but double-click… We left Pokhara and drove East, back in the direction of Kathmandu, but turned North at about the half way point and drove towards the Himalayas, reaching reaching Gorkha (1400m) after about an hour.

Pokhara and Kathmandu are filled with tourists so are relatively Westernized but Gorka has its own people who are far less accustomed to visitors, so these few days had a subtle difference in flavour. Our guide in Gorka was excellent—a Brahmin who took a great deal of pride in his role in the community and spent a lot of time showing and explaining to us the local way of life. Imagine having to haul 40Kg of supplies up a mountain path with a 600 meter vertical every morning. We visited a school here and caused pandemonium. Schoolteachers make about $100 per month. In a pattern that was now becoming familiar, our hikes took us up, round and over hills, down through valleys with small farms and terracing. These gradually steeped us thoroughly in a hard but peaceful way of life. We were sometimes under tree cover, or walking along a clay/stone road; or making our way through the maze of pathways through rice-paddies.

There were fewer birds and animals here but an incredible number of the same very large spider (about the size of the palm of one hand) everywhere, especially outside our hotel room window.

Hiking Days 14-27: Back to Kathmandu

we headed back down and then up to Kathmandu (1400m above sea level) for a last few days hiking around the city and the valley and visiting some impressive temples and marketplaces.

Kathmandu valley hike

Very enjoyable day. Short bus ride to the northern outskirts of Kathmandu (you can see the road snaking up to the right in the picture). Visited the Reclining Vishnu. at , one of two immense statues of Vishnu that were lost for centuries and then found by a farmer in a field. The head of Vishnu is at the left, surrounded by eight cobra heads. Worshippers line-up from either side, and deposit flowers and coconut offerings.

From here we hiked up the road a little and began an ascent of the range of hills marking the northern edge of the Kathmandu valley. The road runs into a wildlife sanctuary and we needed permission to enter. We were joined on the road by a group of kids who turned out to be just walking about. They stayed with us all the way to the nunnery, asking us questions and just chatting.

The Nunnery is one of several temples on the hillsides: this one has a statue of a female Buddha statue/

The kids went their own way, as we began our hike down. We descended through a rhododendron hillside that must be glorious in the spring. And then through this beautiful grove of pines, heading towards the Bodhnath Stupa. Ran into a very ornery cow not long after this.

We took a similar tour the next day to yet another major buddhist temple, this time routing back via the markets, and staying within city limits for the whole day.

Kathmandu is a city though, and tourist locations in particular are prone to all manner of hawkers and con artists. By the time we pulled out, we were glad to leave.

VARIOUS TOPICS

Our fellow hikers

Had a great group, fourteen of us: three in the group aged 63. I wouldn’t normally expect to spend sixteen hours a day for sixteen days in a tightly knit throng without suffering some chafing, but there was very little problem at all. All were Brits except Lynda and I.

Hiking

We generally rose around 6am (sunrise), had breakfast and were out on the “road” by 8am—this to take advantage of the coolest time of day. For some hikes, we’d take the bus to a starting point but on about half the routes we walked directly from the hotel. On a few days hiked first for three hours, returned to the hotel for lunch, and headed out again around 3pm for another few hours. But most full days we were out until 5 or 6, hiking between 10 and 15 kilometers and climbing anywhere between 1500 to 2500 ft (sorry about the mixed measures but I still do heights in feet). The frequent stops were a bit long for me—15-20 minutes—and lunch was about an hour so we weren’t hiking all day.

Trail conditions varied. We usually followed the numerous clay pathways going hither and yon across the hillsides. Sometimes we’d take a path out and a dirt road back or vice versa. Any pathways going down or uphill, would have been filled with water during the monsoon and were trickier. What footholds there were down these were uncertain and uneven. We’d end up slithering down on the dust, or scrambling up. Occasionally, we’d have the blessing of long flights of stone steps.

Many of the trails had tree cover, but we’d spend a fair amount of time out in the open getting stinking hot. Everyone remembers the hike down into Hades from Sarangkot: we were in the shade and coming down stone steps so it should have been cooler. Yet perhaps because the air was trapped, it was like walking into a sauna that got progressively hotter.

Detailed List of Hikes

Things that tried to bite us

In Canada, as in most of the places we’ve been to, fresh air is inseparable from mosquitoes and other bugs. So we took a gallon of various bug sprays to Nepal...and came back with most of it. We encountered few insects in Nepal and their absence was disconcerting. Imagine walking through a tropical jungle or standing by a swamp and not getting swarmed—it was odd. True, they have made a concerted effort to wipe out malaria in Chitwan but they must have used means that I'm not sure I'd want to know about. We had so few bites that we abandoned repellent and gave up on malaria pills within a few days. Unfortunately, we took a large bottle of natural but highly aromatic citronella that leaked on the flight there, so it was about a week into the trip before we didn’t stink of bug spray anyway.

There were other pests though. The group ran into leeches and wasps in Pokhara. I got a leech in my boot but managed to stave off any further attacks by walking behind Lyn, who attracted half a dozen or so. However, while leeches provoke repugnance, the actual during-and-after-effect of a leech is negligible. Leeches inject a mild anesthetic so you don’t even know you’re being drained and only notice the bite later if you’re looking for it. Mind you, these were fairly small leeches; I don’t know whether I’d feel quite so forgiving about something that took off with a pint of my best.

The wasps were something else: fortunately, I was at the front of the pack for the attack in Pokhara and unwittingly helped stir them up so that they came out and attacked the people further back in the line; those who were bitten were sore for days. Lyn was at the very back in this section so avoided the attack too.

Hotels

In hindsight, it helped to wrongly anticipate Hotel Chatauri in Nagarkot (and see this in the poster shot at top). That’s our small bungalow off to the right of the main hotel we might be sharing primitive beds in run-down hotels. We actually stayed in comfortable—sometimes luxurious—colonial style hotels, with English breakfasts and hot showers. Our relief at finding this helped us overlook the following small discomforts:

Weather

We were a bit concerned about this, as our trip was hard on “the end” of the monsoon season— there are no reliable boundaries when it comes to weather. But it turned out just fine. It was chilly in the mornings in Nagarkot, but warm-to-baking for most of our time away. In fact we often didn’t hike during the middle of the day. Rain looked imminent on a couple of occasions in Pokhara, and on one occasion we only just made it back to the hotel in time to avoid a downpour from an evening squall. Other than that there were just a few drops, and the views in the mornings got progressively better.

Views

Terraces…just about anywhere We spent much of our time hiking the foothills on the edges of the midland valleys, and these provide—at least the potential for—grandstand views of the various Himals only some forty kilometers to the North...weather permitting.

Each location brought us close to a new and different range so we weren’t always seeing the same views. We saw only the tip of Langtang from Nagarkot and we were too far from anything in Chitwan. But on our first morning in Pokhara we had stupendous views of the Annapurnas—about 7 major peaks including Machhapchre—looming over us before the clouds closed in. From then on, each day brought better and more prolonged views. From Gorka we could see both the Annapurnas and Manasuli; in Kathmandu the Ganesh Himal (I know, it was all a bunch of names to us for a while too).

Everest from the cockpit The views downhill were more constant and equally spectacular in a different way. Even the modest foothills where we hiked are between two and three thousand feet up from the valleys, and so the views down across terraces, woods, villages and paddy fields, and across river valleys and lakes were magnificent. People grow rice (of course), millet, wheat, mustard, etc; and in the house garden, banana, papaya, and yes, marijuana. We sometimes hiked up through the terraces. Very intricate.

The whole group signed up for one of the tourist flights past Everest in a little turboprop on the second to last day in Kathmandu. The flight lasted little more than an hour but it was a memorable one. We had a clear weather and the pilot brought everyone up (one at a time.) into the cockpit to have a look through the front as we flew by Everest.

People

Luckily our worst impressions came early, dissipated, then returned—both low points in Kathmandu. There was a horde of pushy touts at the airport when we arrived, and even the kids along our first hike seemed to be pestering us constantly for “pens” or “rupees”.

But this negative impression swung to its opposite. Wherever we went, adults smiled and greeted us with “nameste” (“nammestay”) as we passed, and it gradually became evident that “give me rupee” to a five year old is just another way of saying hello. Kids were so excited to see us. They ran down the hillsides to meet us, held our hands, and walked along the paths with us asking where we were from. A couple of times a groups of kids followed us for hours and behaved towards us and to each other in the kind of way that you might pray that your own kids might behave some day. Only once or twice in the whole time we were there did I suspect hostility or reserve at our intrusion into their lives from either kids or adults.

We made several sorties through villages, meeting villagers and seeing their way of life. The guides would lead us through, explaining the crops, the way of life, the caste that lived in that village, and how the houses were built.

Religion

The Reclining Vishnu temple in Kathmandu Religion in this part of the world is not a background practice but more an hourly part of life. There are shrines everywhere to Shiva, Buddha, Ganesh, and Kali to name a few favorites. People pay their respects here constantly; shrines are always covered with fresh flowers. We happened to arrive in the middle of Dasain, an important Hindu festival. On our first morning in Nagarkot, we were having a break when some people led a buffalo down the hill past us; half an hour later we passed the same group further down, and they had just sacrificed the buffalo. Later the same day, we saw goats being sacrificed by the side of the road. We were told that in Kathmandu that day in a special ritual, 32 buffalo and 108 goats were sacrificed at one temple.

Nepal is officially Hindu yet it has a strong Buddhist presence. There are two “Buddhisms”. The Gautama Buddha led a break from Hindu belief around 400 B.C. in a departure more radical than Luther's "protest" and essentially formed a new religion. However, around 200 BC, Hindu leaders, in a shrewd move perhaps to reclaim converts to Buddhism, declared the Buddha to be a Hindu god, an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. “True” Buddhists scoffed at this, since they believed that the Buddha himself had dismissed even discussion of “gods” as being irrelevant to proper practice of Buddhism.

Yet in Nepal today, the two Buddhisms exist side by side. “Hindu-Buddhism” is common practice and there are many Hindu temples worshipping Buddha. Yet some of the temples seem pure Buddhist…with an odd little Hindu shrine tacked on. My guess is this. Nepal is wedged between Tibet, a stronghold of “pure” Buddhism, and India, the center of Hinduism, so it is not surprising to find the hybrid belief, of Buddha worshipped as a Hindu deity, in Nepal. However, when the Tibetan refugees entered the country and set up temples of “pure Buddhism” creating a problem. Simple people passing a Buddist temple would no doubt wish to pay their respects to the Buddha the god, and would be confused at not finding a shrine. So perhaps the Tibetan Buddhists realize this and place a Hindu shrine at the entrance, while the monks themselves practice “pure” Buddhism.

The whole experience was most interesting for me. I’ve read a great deal about both Hinduism and Buddhism, but books woffle on about high-minded beliefs and philosophy. This is a long way from the actual practices that we saw. It’s one thing to watch a TV documentary about bodies being cremated in the open at a temple, and another to actually see it taking place. At Swayambunath in Kathmandu, we were able to walk through the hall where the monks were chanting prayers (photo at left). It was fascinating to be one of a steady stream of onlookers filing round the room in which the prayers were taking place, seeing the monks yawning, and occasionally watching us watchers while they went through this spiritual practice. The “real” practice of Buddhist meditation seems more down-to-earth than our Westernized version of it. It also seemed evident that these beliefs had an enormous practical impact on how people react…but that’s another story!

Wild Things

Birds were the most common and constant item of interest because they were so prevalent. We saw many varieties and heard more. The bird sanctuary in Chitwan was a twitcher’s dream (see photo at 20,000 Lakes). Within half an hour at this remote swamp, I saw more exotic birds flitting around—cranes, herons, darters, a jacana, a luminescent kingfisher, kites, osprey, parrots, parakeets—than I’d seen in zoos. (Also saw the sinister back of a marsh mugger: a large crocodile). On our last morning at Chitwan reserve, we watched two huge rhino hornbills flopping about in a fruit tree only 50 meters from our hotel. Throughout the trip there were brightly colored birds everywhere: orioles, kingfishers, woodpeckers, tree pies, bulbuls, drongoes, parrots, kites and on and on.

Chitwan was the real place to see every form of wildlife. It is a jungle nature reserve in southern Nepal in a region called the Tarai—flatlands (which I’d never expected to be part of Nepal) that are geographically indistinct from Northern India.

On our first day in Chitwan, we went, on the backs of elephants, to see a rhino and calf in a jungle pool (without the elephants Ma Rhino would have stomped us into the mud had we approached, but her eyesight is so poor that she could only see the elephants, who aren’t a threat). The next day, we were floating downriver in spotting birds and cayman crocodiles, while the macho guides were winding us all up with stories about the danger of the river because of the rhinos. Then both canoes went suddenly quiet and the guides began frantically paddling for the bank. A rhino had emerged from the river about 200 meters ahead of us and we were about to drift right into her! We made the bank and froze hoping she didn't catch sight of us, but she just swam stolidly across. She emerged on the other side of the river and disappeared but this was not much of a relief either. We’d planned to disembark from the canoes just down river on the same side, and hike back right through the area she was now grazing in!

As you can imagine, the group was a bit uneasy as we began the trip back and the guides were definitely on high alert. To our relief, we eventually spotted the rhino on the far side of a large clearing; she made her way across in front of us and disappeared in the direction of the river. Some cattle herders right in front of us seemed alert but organized; they probably deal with this hazard all the time.

On our last day in Chitwan we heard, then saw, a rare wild elephant bull standing in the river about a hundred meters from us. It was trying to attract the attention of the domesticated females in the elephant camp we were passing through. All this took place within a few kilometers of our hotel!

We saw monkeys in Chitwan and in middle of Kathmandu, at the Monkey temple at Swayambunath. They can be quite aggressive, especially if you are foolish enough to try to reclaim the lunch you just lost! More animals (same as Chitwan pictures)

Penang, Malaysia

Expecting that sixteen days of continuous hiking and moving around would leave us exhausted, we wanted to spend the last week at a tropical hotel where we could flop by a pool within hailing distance of the bar and just relax—or perhaps mix in dash of sightseeing. We settled eventually on Penang island. It wasn’t our first choice as, from the comments we were getting, this was a booming tourist location. But the other coast of Malaysia heads into the monsoon season at this time of year and everything closes down; other locations had other drawbacks so this is where we ended up.

Well we got what we expected: thankfully not too much less, but if we’d wanted much more we would have been disappointed. The action happens along the Northern beach strip of Penang Island, where there has been a recent explosion of hotel/resort developments and yet neither the sleepy villages that used to be there or the island as a whole have fully adjusted to the new paradigm. The road along the North coast is still the same narrow, winding and treacherous one that used to serve the villages. There are a few “attractions” scattered around the island, and several of these seem to have had that status pressed upon them by the need to offer the tourists…well something. Fortunately, the average Penang tourist jets in on a budget package from Europe and the antipodes, and is probably content with the four hour island whiz-around tour…spending the rest of his or her time by the pool and the piano bar. I can’t help feeling that those staying at the upscale resorts and looking for more “culture” than a golf game might be horribly disappointed by their environs. At the butterfly farm: hibiscus breakfast

We hiked across a headland to “Monkey Beach” (no Monkeys at the beach, only trash) via a trail which was half concrete steps, and half slippery slope of orange clay. The destination had once been beautiful and the four hour hike was pleasant.

We did a lightning walk out and back from the bus station in Georgetown for about an hour, and found some interesting backstreets and temples. However, there is a wealth of shops (as well as McDonald’s) in the Komtar center that looms over the bus station so you don’t have to go far to shop.

On our Penang Hill hike: actually a bit hard to see because of the shrunken image but this small lizard is at the far end of the rock, just above the shadow.

Penang Hill Hike: This tortoise is only marginally easier to see.

The Botanical gardens were well worth the visit, and we hiked from there up Penang Hill (800m vertical). This trail was a bit more of a mystery, but we eventually staggered out onto an almost vertical road going up the last kilometer and came out on a delightful mix of gardens, old colonial houses, an interesting mosque, and a temple. From the art-gallery-come-restaurant, we had great views over Georgetown and the straits, and were treated to the sight of a troupe of monkeys with the most odd features making their way through the trees below us. Large stick insect Our other highlight was the butterfly farm. They have hundreds of butterflies flapping around in a confined space not much bigger than a large living room, and we arrived just after breakfast (hibiscus above). There was also an excellent presentation of various insects that inhabit the world, including some they passed around, like the stick insect on my shirt in the photo at right.

Do visit the orchid farm. DON'T purchase the orchids that you will be told you can get through customs at home using the certificate provided. The fragile flower you have nurtured over its 10,000 mile journey back to your homeland will be callously tossed in a bin (certificate ignored) by stone-faced customs officer.

Singapore

A busy temple Singapore was a soft landing, preparing us for our return to the citified world.

Singapore is an island connected to the toe of Malaysia by a relatively short bridge. It’s not much different from Penang, considered strictly in geographical terms. Here the comparison ends: Singapore is rich, a separate country/island citystate; the culture is primarily Chinese but there is a large Indian sector of the city.

John gave Lyn what seemed to be a rare looking orchid a few months before we left. In Singapore's Orchid Garden we found it growing like a weed!

We took a roll of film of the various trees and plants in the Botanical gardens—too many to publish unfortunately.

We took a cab from the airport to the downtown hotel we had booked. A point of nervousness here: the chinese cab driver informed us above the roar of his radio that he had never heard of the street let alone the hotel we were staying at. “It must”, he assured us confidently, “be a lower class place”. Fortunately, when we arrived at the “elegantly appointed” Perak Lodge, he had the good grace to look chagrined.

We arrived during Deepavali, the second major Hindu festival of the year in October, and by chance had picked a hotel in the Little India sector of town. Informed the streets could be a bit noisy, I awoke around 1am to hear the steady thrumming of distant drums through the walls of the hotel. Caught up in the mood, I dressed and went out into the street, thinking I’d join a swaying throng of celebrants. Nada: the streets were deserted! The noise turned out to coming from a late night disco down the alley from the hotel! I went back to bed.

Boy, is this a rich city. We took Singapore Airlines “hop on/hop off” bus that does a two hour circular route around the main city attractions and runs every half hour. The city is beautifully cared for (I heard that chewing gum is a crime here, and while it seems far-fetched, there were no gummy markings on the sidewalks or much garbage anywhere). Carefully preserved historical buildings are set in manicured combinations of palm trees and ornamental gardens. Orchard Street is a long street of upscale hotels and shops.

We “hopped off” the tour bus at the Botanical Gardens, which were impressive enough without the Orchid Garden within the gardens themselves. Visited other sites that day, and went out looking for a good Indian restaurant in the neighbourhood that evening. Unfortunately it was still Deepavali, and after a string of failures (“closed”, “full”, etc) ended up at a very seedy looking joint, that had clearly never ever served foreigners before. They were very nice, and served us something very “authentic” food on banana leaves. We were very thankful not to wake up the next day with the trots.

The Bird “sanctuary” in Singapore. Those are untethered condors and yes, that’s open sky above them. But these and other birds—eagles, storks and other predators/scavengers—have apparently decided that a steady source of food and a permanent home in exchange for performing a few tricks is a pretty good deal, so why leave? Birds flew in from hidden platforms, performed a natural trick, like catching food in the air, then left on command! Later it was the turn of the cockatoos and macaws.

We split up the next day—Lyn to shop and me to take a half hour ride on Rapid Transit through the extensive ‘burbs to the Bird Sanctuary. I was expecting a place to go bird watching, but this turned out to be a regular bird zoo, with an impressive difference: many of the birds are out in the open air. And I watched a couple of excellent half hour demonstrations with trained birds—eagles, pelicans, macaws and the like—flying around in open air. The reptile park just across the way was far less impressive but worth a half an hour.

The reptile park was only five minutes walk away from the bird sanctuary. Not nearly as large or elaborate as the bird sanctuary, but it isn't often that you get a chance to hang out with this variety of lizards and crocs.

At the end of the day, we met for dinner and almost didn’t make the airport in time to check in. A Singapore downpour sucked up all the taxis! But we made it, and spent our third night at the Transit Hotel actually in the excellent Singapore airport, and next day boarded our plane at the end of a fine vacation.

CHITWAN ROYAL JUNGLE RESERVE

Rhino shots taken from the back of an elephant.  (NB always take a large friend when visiting rhinos!). It took about half an hour (by elephant) to reach this secluded pool in the jungle. On the way, we saw a couple of kinds of deer. It is possible to see Bengal Tiger, leopards, and wild pigs, but perhaps fortunately, we missed them!

Seems a bit much, when dealing with a large beast, to expect it to carry you after you  tread on its nose and pull its ears…but this was a very decent sort of elephant.

We rode the elephants about a kilometer from this spot just outside the gates of the hotel, down to the river, and then washed them…this is Lyn getting a shower from the elephant!

(Lyn) walking a trail in the jungle not far from the river. This was just another bird watching trip, except that further along we sighted …

…a wild elephant. And that’s about as close as we wanted to be (1/2 Km?) from a randy wild elephant, trumpeting his stuff to the females in the pens to our left.

 

Close to the same spot. Last evening in Chitwan. We’d just seen two huge Rhino Hornbills (about the size of a large turkey) jumping around in a nearby fruit tree.