Lumbini, birthplace of the historical Buddha
This is the Peace Pagoda reflected in a lotus pond.
Did I mention the Jomsom-Pokhara flight? What had taken us an hour in a car plus 5-1/2 days of walking was over in 20 minutes in a tiny plane. Unbelievable. The views from the plane were spectacular-- we could recognize most of the terraine below, and we wove our way between the mountains, never even making it close to the height of the highest snowcapped peaks.
We reached Pokhara on the 19th, and during the morning looked into our options for moving on. No flights were available to the border near Darjeeling (in fact, no flights were available anywhere within the country due to the holidays,) so we could either make our way to Kathmandu and hope to find a way to break up the 18 hour bus journey to the border or we could make a trip to Lumbini and then decide what to do. The bus to Lumbini departed at 6:30am and would take 5 hours, we were told.
Up early the following day, we checked out and took a cab to the bus stand, reaching with time to spare. The enterprising chaiwala sold us huge teas and a not-half-bad cinnamon croissant for too much money. It was just as well that we ate something.The bus was already full when it arrived (on time!) and locals were shuffled around to give seats to those of us who'd reserved. Besides us, there were 7 foreigners on board: three Israeli-looking French guys; a dreadlocked blond guy we'd seen walking barefoot in Pokhara the previous day; a solo French dude, who ended up on the roof for several hours after the child sitting next to him vomited; a Japanese guy with big owlish horn rims, who looked utterly clueless after being put on the bus by his Nepali handler; and a forty-something English woman who chain smoked greedily at every opportunity.
The ride began well enough as we made our way across the plains. Soon, however, we were winding up into the lush green mountains. The scenery was very beautiful, very Himachal Pradesh. For a while I was distracted by this, but eventually my defective inner ear caught up with me and I became quite nauseous. Thankfully, we stopped at a bend in the road around 10:30. The three Frenchies went into the "restaurant" along with a few of the locals and messily ate dal bath with their hands (V was impressed by this.) The rest of us paced back and forth in front of the several stalls and ate salty packaged snacks.
I'd thought that after our break we'd be pretty much through the mountains, but it wasn't so. We still had a range to cross (though I didn't get quite so ill,) then rather a lot of easy driving until we were let out at a chaotic bus stand at a town near Lumbini around 3:00. The dusty plains were a lot more India (read "insane") than the laid-back mountain regions Nepal. From there we had to cyclo it to another bus stand. The dreadlocked guy (Austrian, we learned,) and chain-smoking woman too were headed to Lumbini. V, the Austrian and I climbed up top with the luggage. My first ride on top of a bus! Exciting, though I must admit that it was a pretty pussy ride. The road was flat and straight, and we never managed to get going very fast. Our Austrian friend didn't even bother to hang on most of the time. At last we rolled into Lumbini around 4:30-- a five hour journey that lasted ten.After checking into a lodge, we quickly rented decrepit bicycles and made use of the last hour or so of daylight to have a look around the site.