Monday, December 28, 2015

Turning dreams into reality.... go Nepal to see vultures migration.

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I doubt I could do this trip if I had not do anything on my crooked spine. In case this is your first time you drop into my blog, my scoliosis started when I was about 8- 9 yrs old. It started from mild progress to moderate 45° cobb degree when I reached early adulthood. Over the years it continue to progress. In year 2005 I did Mount Kinabalu climb, my scoliosis curve is estimated to be about slightly above 50° cobb degree then. I recalled due to my imbalance posture tilting to my right, each step I trek up more pressure is being exert on my right pelvic. I was in great soreness. I need more stops to catch my breath as  my abnormal spinal curve has restricted my lungs to function normally as well.  I recall I cried like a baby when I entered Laban Rata guesthouse.

In October 2013 when I was at Chumphon for the migration raptors birding trip, Dr Robert de Candido a researcher stirred up my interest on witnessing vulture at Nepal,Annapurna  foothills. He told me it is very easy to see vultures there. Besides vultures it is also good to to experience the stunning view of Annapurna mountain range. 

Vultures is a group of scavenging birds of prey that have wide wing span, little feather/no feather on the neck or head. Vultures are important in our eco-system, their function as “garbage/cleaner of the earth”. Vultures are near threaten and extinct now.

Since I have seen most of the raptors species that flyover Khao Dinsor (the raptor site at Chumphon), I intend to make Nepal trip in 2014 . However On 30
th of Dec 2013 my Nepal trip need to postpone as on this very day I got a devastating news. The clinical consultation with a spine specialist on this fateful day revealed to me that my abnormal spine curve (Scoliosis) has progress to severe curve. Having scoliosis is not dealing with postural, self-confidence and cosmetic issues only. It is life threatening if left it “un-touched”. For severe curve surgery is required to prevent it from worsening.  I am so glad got to know that with today spine medical technology curve can reduce to a safest point and fatal risk is just 1% for my case. So year 2014 I need to priorities on what need to act and do to my body.

 Nevertheless Nepal trip is still in my wish list. I even went overboard I forewarned my spine doctors that no matter what the outcome of the surgery is I need to be able to walk. It is my desire that I  want to trek up to a mountain at Nepal to see vultures. As I reflect back, I am indeed too extreme cause he has already informed me earlier that all his cases are 100% successful. Hmmm....this really indicate that I verbally convey a very clear message that “I want to have better quality of life, therefore I present myself to get the “back cut”. I still have many things/tasks that I yet to fulfilled in life..” To makes sure I could wake up after the scoliosis surgery I set my mind to think off what I have yet fulfilled in my life. As the general anesthetic is being injected I quickly image that I am standing at the ridge of the mountain holding up my camera gears in a ever ready mode to photograph vulture flyover. 
This is the spot where I imagine myself standing. I could not use a better words to describe the joy and gratefulness when it comes to reality on 17th Nov 2015.
When I was back to the ward after the surgery, beside battling with the soreness discomfort on my back, wound pain, I feel so low spirit, helpless and weak. How to achieve Nepal vulture trip?  I don't even have the strength to lift up a ceramic cup. It  is too heavy for me.  I start to recall all the motivation quotes from those leadership training that I have attended. Reaching goals need strategies planning  and execute it moving step by step. First I use my brain to control the pain. I keep telling myself pain will be lessen in the next hour and it will continue reduce. When I am given the green light from my spine doctor that I am allowed to go outdoor, I started brisk walking in the morning. Gradually as my recovery progress to 4th month post ops onward I gone into swimming and I do superman exercise to build my core back muscles. Little by little I made stepping my feet on the land of Nepal to become reality.

Off and on I grow very impatient I would ask my spine doctor when my weight lifting restriction is lifted, when my spine is ready for tough terrain trip. Starting of year 2015 I start to gather information and plan for my Nepal Vultures sighting trip. I asked around can I tag along with you all? Somehow along the lines they miss me out in their emails exchange even I initiated the email. They are under the perception that I need more recovery time and conversation contents got distorted along the way even further. The worst thing is some even think that I need revision surgery. Anyhow as I have determined that I will go to see vultures at Nepal and I trust that it would be no problem for a lady to travel alone. Pack with Phil 4:13 and I am sure God up there would shield me and protect me cause there are still long list of tasks I yet has accomplished in life.

Pre trip information gathering and preparation
  • From Malaysia compare to others air flight companies, AirAsia provide the cheapest airfares to Kathmandu
  • English is widely spoken there. Therefore should not have communication problem.
  • Currency that use in Nepal is Nepalese Rupee (NPR). This is different from it's neighboring country India currency which is also call Rupee (INR). USD is also acceptable currency in the town. People from Malaysia either convert MYR to USD and exchange it to NPR at Nepal. Foreign exchange at Malaysia do not trade NPR even though we have recruited and brought in huge numbers of Nepalese foreign workers. Money changers at Tribhuvan International airport (Kathmandu International airport), some foreign exchange traders at Thanmel and Pokhara do transact in MYR. Some money changes do imposed commission therefore do not get alarm thinking that you got cheated.
  • Meat are scares at Nepal not to mentioned seafood as Nepal is surrounded by land. It would be safer to mentally prepare and accept that will go vegetarian through out the trip.
  • Baggage need duffle  bag rather than suitcase.  These will ease the potter.
  • The average temperature in the month of Nov is 15°c to 23°c. Fleece jacket, wind breaker, gloves, thermal stockings is a must to pack. Since I foreseen the temperature at Thulakharka which is 2050 asl is much more lower than 15°c at night I also prepare sleeping bag that can withstand 10°c.
  • Visa is required for Malaysian to enter Nepal. Visa application can be done prior to the trip at Embassy of Nepal office at Kuala Lumpur. At present Embassy of Nepal office is host at Wisma Paradise, Jalan Ampang , 50100 Kuala Lumpur (near Menara AIA). Best to do google search as they may be relocated. Visa application required Passport size photo in the size of 2 inches x 2 inches with white background and the fill up  visa application form with your details. Got to know that we need to inform the camera shop of the visa photo specification requirement as each country requirements is different. Do not expect that Nepal embassy is a nice and cozy place. I got shocked in my life that this place is full with mass of Nepalese men that have something to do with their passport. It was such a big huge crowd that I could not see where is the counter for visa application submission. Am I suppose to line up like them but I am not sure where is the definite queue? Hush... I am so relieve that visa application do not need to follow their queue, just need to walk to a specific counter and within 10 mins can walk away from that unorganized place.
    It is also possible to do visa application at Tibhuvan International airport.  I was being informed that this may takes about 1 hr plus depending on the queue.
  • It is preferably to do the accommodation booking prior to your arrival.   Some do not required upfront payment to secure your booking. Some accommodation provider even do airport transfer that save your hassle of getting a taxi. FYI Nepal international airport do not have airport shutter bus.
  • I was being advise to request the guesthouse/hotel personnel to prepare and buy tourist bus ticket for me to travel to my destination place.

My Nepal Vulture trip journal.
It was a horrify news (earthquake)  that shattered the whole world on April 25th 2015. Nepal is in chaos. Everyday we being feed with bad news of how Nepal is affected. Mum and others family members advice me to just “waste up” my air ticket cause it would takes months and maybe years to clear and reconstruct what has been damage by this nature disaster. Oooosh I need stuff cotton buds as my mum continue her nagging...” maybe they have disease outbreak... after shock...have you forgotten that you have screws, nuts and rod on your spine?... what happen a brick drop on you? … no one will rescue you...”
One of my vendor even said “it is indeed very dangerous...what? You will be traveling alone? … you are female and Nepal has being strike with a big earthquake.. people can go disoriented and wild when they are in stress and hunger..a tame cat can turn out to be lion... how safe is Nepal? Haiz if you are in the age range of 60 to 70 then it is ok for you to take such risk but you are not....

On Aug 30th I received an email from Airasia informing me that my flight on sat has being cancelled and move to the following day and I can opt for any of the 3 option if I don't agree.
Option 1:
Move to the next available flight for any dates within 6 months (180 days) of your original flight date, w/out any additional charges (subject to availability), OR
Option 2:
A Credit Shell of the value paid, to be utilised within 3 months (90 days) from the date of issue, OR
Option 3:
A full refund

It was just coincidentally that there is a group of 6 birders Malaysian friends who will be taking the same flight to Kathmandu with me. One of their friend who has some business dealings in Nepal reported to them that Nepal is still chaotic. It is still best to avoid turning up at Nepal. They all opt for option 3 (a air fare full refund).

I was half-hearten. Should I or should I not? I wrote an email to Tulsi Subedi a researcher for Nepal Raptors and Ramesh (his email was forwarded to me by a friend) for some information. They gave me the assurance that Nepal is not having civil war and the situation is not as what was being informed by the media.

Along the way Nepal is being hit by another crisis-- fuel crisis
Nepal has yet to recovered from the earthquake and this fuel crisis hits Nepal with another blow. How real is this? How are they affected?  Along the bus journey within Thamel to Pokhara I have seen the super duper long queue (longer than our airport runway).  A big crowd of people (men) standing along with a long series of chained up gas cylinder queue.    All of them waiting patiently for their cooking gas refuel that they are not very sure when it would be.

Despite all these not pleasing news this stubborn headed titanium lady utter prayers to God asking for His protection and go ahead with the plan. Aiming to see vultures and Himalaya in year 2015.

Where is Nepal?

How I can reached Thulakharka on 16th of Nov 2015 before dark?
This is my itinerary map out.
th Nov 2015 Home --- TBS (park car with the rate of RM4 per day) --- KLIA2 ---

Yes my back is ready to lug around Water -700ML, laptop bag- 4KG, backpacked of camera gears -5KG , my waist pouch - 1KG . I am passing 20th months post of  scoliosis surgery.
 Tribhuvan International Airport --- Kathmandu Friendly Home  guest house --- 16th Nov 2015 before 7am Kantipath Bus Station to take tourist bus to Pokhara (we have a few toilet breaks and one lunch break stop along the way)
This is the effect of fuel shortage. Long queue of tourist bus waiting for refuel.  I asked the conductor why are we stopping here?  His replied with head swing left and right.."I am very sorry you know we are having Indian blockage. Our bus need to add gas.  Now we are waiting for gas to come.. We estimate to wait for 1 - 2 hrs.  The bus had just move out not far from Katipath bus station.  I know this is not far from Thanmel. Though it is only 204KM from Thanmel to Pokhara, due to winding mountain ridge road.  The journey is estimated to takes 6-7hrs. That does not include the time waiting for gas refuel.
Diesel cost 81NPR per liter that is estimated RM5
--- Pokhara --- taxi to Kande (the 1hr car journey, I paid 3,000NPR) ---- trek up to Australia Based Camp Thulakharka.
No doubt this is the fairly easy short trek route in Annapurna region. It is only 1.30 hrs trek, however it require some form of physical fitness. The path is rock trek going uphill that require good knee caps, lungs and spine. I reached here at local time 5pm. There is no potters around that usually will sit around her. After much negotiation in sign language and English with the local they managed to find a young man for me. He told me that I need to walk up to Australia Based camp within 1 hr as we are approaching dusk . In actual fact that this is 1.30hrs trek journey where some people need up to 2 hrs or more. With the amount of physical training (swimming 3- 4 times a week). I told him yes I try .. I think I can...

Initially I was in galloping steps. In about 15 mins later, I wish there is escalator. Goodness when is this trek finish? How far more? Still going uphill...let me catch my breath.. my pair of leg is tired.... Unlike in year 2005 I did Mount Kinabalu climb this time I have no soreness and back-ache. The terrain and condition is just the same and I am 10 years older now. Woow my spine is better after the scoliosis surgery..

Finally after walking 1.05hrs with very little daylight as it is already dusk.  I reached Australia Based Camp with my clothes soaking wet with sweat. I was greeted by my some of Malaysian birders friends that has reached there two days ahead of me. Some of them worry about my safety traveling alone.  I was excitedly narrate to  them of my solo traveling experience while waiting for my dinner to be serve on the mountain with the elevation  of 2050asl.  From this day onward while I was there I have  Dal Bhat.  
I would prefer vegetarian Dal Baht.  That piece of cracker is called Papad in nepalese language.

Food at Nepal

Vege Chowmein (China is their neighboring country, therefore use the word 炒面. But the taste is far off from chinese cooking )

Dal Baht

                                                         Momo - nepalese dumpling
Potato Rosty (Smash potatoes with vegetables with Yak cheese)  ... This is yum.. yum.  My favorite.  I had this everyday for lunch when I was at Thulakharka
Tibetan Bread 

Dal Baht.  The Nepalese eat dal baht twice a day.  I have this once a day when I was there.
Yak cheese Omelette

Chowmein (fry noodle).  A better phrase is fry spaghetti with vegetables.  The side dishes that is on my plate is fry fish. Nepal are surrounded by sea. I guess this is fish from the river. 

This is buffalo meat, intestines serves with dry flat rice.  Apparently this shop is very famous at Thamel.  This restaurant are patron by Nepalese man.  I was tempted to try this but a second thought cause I could not take the water buffalo meat smells. 

Dal Baht serve at the hotel where the room rate cost RM393 per night

This is after meal condiments serve at the hotel restaurant
Food Raw ingredients 

The colour of Nepal
Journey around Nepal (Thanmel – Pokhara – Thulakharka) gives me the feel that their culture is full of vibrant colour.
The whole families member and their extended families in all age range trek up from Kande. They stop over for pinic lunch break after they went for a religious worship before continue their trek to Dhamrpus. From Dharmpus they will take the local bus back to their respective homes.  I could not believe my eyes that they pack along metal pots walking up.

China is the bordering country. Pokhara have a few restaurant that serve chinese food.

This is Phe Wa Lake.  This is not a piece of watercolour drawing.  This is real. The photographer who produce this photo is me (yours beloved).

There is no township  systematic planning. Everyone are free to build to their own liking and design.  I got culture shock on this.

Colourful handicraft/souvenirs that you can buy from Pokhara. They are made from Yak wool. 

How do I view Nepal

From what I saw with my own eyes during my 11 days there, their main source of income is tourism, handicraft. People plants their own vegetables in the outskirts.  In the rural area water supply is by public tap. High school is just a bungalow.  Hospital building is equivalent to our 3 - 4 Terrence house.
Despite some progress in poverty reduction in the recent years, Nepal still remain one of the poorest countries in the world. Over 30% of Nepalese live on less than USD14 per person.

Tea store near Thamel

I grow up in a new village. I don't recall that my family are using public pipe.

All stainless steel, they are all very well arrange.

Actually I was being chase by this water buffalo at Pokhara (city) .  Actually I have not being running ever since my scoliosis surgery.  That day I run so fast cause I wish not seek medical help at Nepal.

This is not midst but haze. Everything are coated with brown soil.

All the hospital that I saw between Thamel to Pokhara are in this size.

This consider a mini medical center.

Raptors species I saw at Thulakharka  

Nepal need your presence to help them 

This is at Kathmandu town.  Originally this is a 5- 6 storey building. This building turn to rubble in the recent earthquake. I was there 11 days it is not as reported to us by the media, many places are still intact, roads are still accessible. It still possible to visit Nepal. 

Though many Nepalese people are affected by the recent earthquake and fuel crisis, that left many people out of jobs and no shelter over their head.  Through out my 11 days there I never did bump into a beggars. Nepal people are very innovative, the harder they are press, the stronger they become.

Yes Nepal is a very safe country. I travel alone using public transport.   Himalaya is indeed very spectacular and beautiful.