Sunday, April 3, 2016


One of the things i was delighted about in terms of my flights on this trip was that i had a 12 hour, daytime layover in Shanghai. For some reason i've never been that excited about visiting China but the pictures of Shanghai that i had seen all looked very nice and i seemed like an ideal spot for a long layover.  The really great thing is that China has a 144 hour layover thing where if you have a long layover on the same ticket you can enter the country without a visa.  I expected to be hassled at the border, but i was not; i only had to show my ticket onwards. The other really great thing is that the airport is connected to the city by the Maglev train - the world's fastest train, topping out at 301km per hour.
It is more expensive than the slower means of reaching the city, but when time is short, why would you not ride the world's fastest train?  Finding my way and getting tickets was a breeze and before i knew it my train ride was over.

I switched from the Maglev at the end stop to the subway and got off a stop 2 blocks from the Bund in central Shanghai. Success!

The weather in Shanghai was a bit of a shock after blisteringly hot and oppressively humid Delhi. It was cool and raining and the clouds were socked in. It felt like...Vancouver. My first order of business was to get an umbrella. Fortunately the subway ejected me on a decidedly commercial street - high-rises, neon signs, familiar retailers, and less familiar shops all unpleasantly (but interestingly) crowded with shoppers.

Armed with my cartoonishly tiny (child's?) umbrella i walked to the Bund to get the postcard view of the Pudong district across the river. The Bund is a stately strip along the river, lined with a pleasant pedestrian walk and large, European looking buildings. Across the river is Pudong, which is notable for its conglomeration of modern, almost futuristic looking buildings. Unfortnately, my view was obscured by the clouds, but it still was a pleasant sight.

On a nicer day i might have walked longer along the Bund, but in the rain i decided to take my pictures and head elsewhere. Following my now-soggy map, i easily found my way to Yu Gardens and the surrounding neighbourhood. It was a good walk. I passed through a park, past a bamboo 'forrest', past small shops, down narrow lanes which were not picturesque, but were filled with interesting dingy eateries and lines of street vendors grilling up meat, fish, tentacles, and tofu.

Right next to Yu Gardens was a large complex of temples. I did no reading about it so i'm not sure if it was a palace or if it is more like a museum, but there were things on display but also areas where people were praying and lighting incense.  I didn't find it super interesting, but there was a nice bit of traditional music played in an elaborately decorated room with buddhas. It was worth visiting, but i didn't stay long.
Exiting the temple complex i found my way to Yu Gardens. At this point it was still raining and everything was so crowded that the gardens didn't have the serenity i imagined, but they were very beautiful, even as i was constantly assaulted by umbrellas.

From the gardens i was ejected into a super busy area filled with shops and restaurants, super crowded, and surrounded by traditional style buildings. It was a fun area to wander around in. I was starving at this point though so i didn't linger too long in any shops, but tried to find a place to eat. This proved difficult, as i speak no Mandarin or Cantonese (and for the layover i hadn't learned anything aside from hello and thank you) and i could not determine what, if anything was vegetarian. Almost every place i went into sold dumplings, which are a vegetarian's nightmare - doughy mystery bags of (likely) meat. Or there were vendors selling things on sticks that might have been fish, meat, tofu, or gluten, but i couldn't tell.

Finally i found a place that was buffet style, not as in 'all you can eat' but as in i could walk around from station to station and help myself to plates of pre-made food, so i could select identifiable tofu cubes, broccoli, and mushrooms. None of it was particularly good or cheap, but it was filling.

After that i wandered aimlessly. Had i had more time there were other areas i would have checked out, but i started to get nervous about missing my flight (and it was getting dark) so i walked a bit (still in the rain) before heading back to the airport. Shanghai didn't strike me as a place i would want to purposely holiday in (it just didn't capture my imagination), but it was a great place for a layover and i would love to have another there (hopefully with better weather). I am aware that some of my lack of enthusiasm for Shanghai was likely due to the weather and the fact that prior to arriving i had gone without sleep for a night, so i was exhausted. A rested me on a sunny day might have had a more favourable account of the same visit.

And with that, another trip concluded and planning for the next to begin.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Viva Nepal!

I arrived back in Kathmandu from Nagarkot mid-afternoon and felt pretty pleased with myself because while the first time i arrived in Kathmandu it was just a confounding tangle of streets and tributaries, this time i was able to give directions to the taxi driver to find my hotel.

I spent the majority of that day in my hotel, partly due to a thunderstorm but mostly due to the hotel i was staying at. As has become my habit, i booked my last two nights in a fabulous hotel. This time is is the Hotel Dalai La. It is gorgeous. Fancy and with a terrific courtyard restaurant. I felt so sloppy on arrival with my dirty clothes and my dirty self, as i had not showered for six days, but not only were they polite to me, but they upgraded me to a superior room. I spent the evening luxuriating in a needed hot shower and watching movies.

This morning, after breakfast, i taxied to Swayambhunath, aka "The Monkey Temple" a hilltop collection of Buddhist and Hindu temples surrounded by trees and countless, curious monkeys. Arriving at the temple involves climbing up 365 steep stairs, flanked by Buddhas and frequented by those ubiquitous monkeys. 

The temples at the top are similar to others i have seen on this trip, but it was splendid how crammed together they all were and how busy they were with pilgrims, people praying, and making offerings.

I walked around for quite some time, watching monkeys steal food from people and visiting craft shops (me, not the monkeys). One man, attempted to open my chakras by hitting a large healing bowl with a mallet and moving it about my head, chest, and back. I felt vaguely uncomfortable, which may or may not be the feeling of open chakras. 

I descended the mountain, wandered around a few more stupas, spinning prayer wheels as a went, then taxied back to Thamel.  

From there i just walked aimlessly for a few hours, weaving with the traffic, declining offers of of guides, rickshaws, taxis, and pashminas. I walked through an area that sold nothing by dentures, then another that sold only textiles. It is all endlessly fascinating.

But come to an end it must. I am now in the excellent courtyard of my hotel having a cigar and dinner and that will be it for me for Nepal. I fly back to New Delhi in the morning. Nepal has been amazing and i have seen only a sliver of it. The takeaway from this is: selecting vacation destinations based on Eddie Murphy movies is an excellent idea.