Saturday, July 7, 2012

Birding and the Changu Narayan Trek

Nepal is the official bird capital of the world with more species than any other country. I have been intrigued by the birds in Nepal since I got here almost two years ago. I started taking pictures of birds whenever I could, but they are quite the challenge and then last week I decided to do a bird watching day. As it turned out, I ended up doing a bird watching week that is turning out to be a new interest for me.

There are so many familiar varieties of birds here: Crows, woodpeckers, pigeons, cow birds, hawks, eagles, swallows, to name just a few. It was such a lovely spring day I was hoping to spot some birds on our way to Changu Narayan, an ancient village with temples dating back to the 17th century. I can look out my window and see it off in the distance. The first time I went there I was low on money and assumed there would be an ATM machine nearby. That was a mistake. It’s Nepal. Don’t assume anything and you won’t be disappointed. Another thing I assumed was that I could get the ticket stamped so I could come back whenever I wanted. Wrong. The ticket to this temple village is only good for 4 days to a week. I got both answers, so if you go and want to return be sure to have someone write it on your ticket and have them sign it. Well, it’s only 100 NRs. for westerners and they are doing a great deal of renovation work. If your grandchildren get to come to see this someday then it will be 100 NRs. well spent.
Changu Narayan is the small hill in the center of this picture in front of the mountains. It's actually not so far away.
It really makes for a nice mini-trek when you hike or bike from Bhaktapur to Changu Narayan and stay at one of the guest houses there, then continue on the trail on to  Nagarkot and Dhulikhel. There is a national museum you can purchase the ticket for at the gate for a few rupees more and a private museum you can ask about. You can get to Changu Narayan by local bus, walking, bicycling or by motorcycle. Motorcycle is my choice, so I had Deependra spend the day with me. We had a great time, as did these bicyclists.   

Speaking of bicycling, I found a Bicycle rental place that provides a spare inner tube, lock, pump, helmet, map, patch kit-all at no additional charge. Being located in Bhaktapur, it’s close to the outskirts of the valley. You can easily ride to Nagarkot or Changu Narayan (a World Heritage Site) in less than an hour, but there is so much to see you will want to make this a two day adventure-minimum. They also have a guide service. Green Valley Mountain Bike Travel & Tours, Tel: 01-6617752, 9841 495695/9818638211 Bhaktapur. After writing this and referring someone to them my referral came back to me and said they tried to charge here double on a flight to Lukla. Beware.

After climbing the steps at Changu Narayan we had lunch at the Changu Guest House and Rooftop Restaurant. From where we sat we could look across to see a temple where people were having service, Bhajan. We could hear the men chanting doing Ramayan Bhajan. It was lovely to hear. During a service like this, the chants are the epic tales of the gods and any Hindu knows the words to many of these Bhajans.

I would like to mention another money saving tip from my e-book, Nepal: On a Budget. This little guest house is typical of lower end/budget Nepali guest houses. These guest houses can provide you a room with an attached bath for less than $10 throughout most of the year. They are cute, simple, near rural temples and locally owned. You may need to manage the hot water issue, which my book tells you how, but they can give you a more relaxing stay than having to commute back to Kathmandu. 

Here’s another tip from my book: Guest houses will take care of your things for you while you are in Nepal. So if you stay in Thamel or Bhaktapur at a guest house it doesn’t mean you need to go back every night. You can have them store your things for a few days at a time and go exploring. They actually manage this quite well at no charge, so don’t worry about how to manage with your suitcase. Just take your things to the desk and let them know when you will be back.

Go through here to get into the lovely, ancient temple grounds inside. Notice the man wearing red shorts; that's the way. What awaits you is one of the oldest temples in Nepal. This temple village was not as crowded or commercial as many of the other tourist sites. I actually got out of this village without the typical, "One rupee?" 

There are two museums in the village, one is the normal one that is listed in the travel books and the other one is new and privately managed by an INGO. If you have time both of these museums are worth seeing. The Living Traditions Museum will help you to understand the very diverse cultures of Nepal. The price for westerners is around 250 NRs.Living Traditions Museum

As we sat eating lunch Deependra spotted an owl in a nearby tree. I couldn’t see it at first and then it came into my view. In the same tree was a brightly colored blue bird. Soon the devotees at the temple were playing harmonium, thabula, chen-chen and singing. Then as we sat there listening to the birds in-between the music I looked over and saw a mammal in a tree. It was a large monkey. It was at this point that we experienced some technical issues with my camera, so we missed some very nice shots. The birds seemed to be everywhere until my camera began to work again. Then the birds were just gone. 

I could hear locusts and another insect that sounded as loud as a bird, but Deependra assured me that it was insects. Speaking of insects, I didn’t get to see a single fire fly so far this year. Perhaps it’s because I am on the opposite end of the Valley from where I saw them last year. They were the high points of my site seeing last spring. Since the birds left I decided to focus on taking a picture of anything that flies. Bugs are not cooperative, either.   

I’ve started trying to take more pictures of birds and nature. Surprisingly, the most fascinating bird I’ve seen is the crow. Most of the crows here are black with silver. 

As you walk up the steps you will notice this thanka shop. It is one of the largest resellers of thanka paintings in the area making it an excellent resource for this artwork. Sanjay will be happy to help you at: 9818847393.

When you are out and about and hear birds in the nearby trees take a moment to look for them and you will be in for a real treat. Sometimes you will see a hundred birds all yellow, blue or green in a single tree. Here are some additional pictures from Changu Narayan. You can see evidence throughout the temple grounds that the management company is using the funds for restoration.

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