THE TRAVEL GAME
Recently I returned to Nepal for the first time since the heady days of the great Asian overland journey. So much water has passed under the bridge... Nepal was paralyzed by a murderous insurgency until a few years ago. The old monarchy has ended in dramatic circumstances, supplanted by a turbulent democracy. Kathmandu now sprawls unrestrained across the once-bucolic valley, yet much remains of the old magic: the great stupas and the implacable faiths - intertwined, in peculiarly Nepalese fashion - of Buddhists and Hindus. Beyond all this lies the countless villages, the terraced slopes and towering above them all, those impossibly perfect snow-capped peaks.
And the wildest dreams of Kew... lead some, like Kipling, back in time to Kathmandu. The semi-mythical city, which Kipling never set eyes upon, now sprawls unrestrained across the once-bucolic valley, yet much remains of the magic kingdom: the great stupas and the implacable faiths - intertwined, in peculiarly Nepalese fashion - of Buddhist and Hindu believers; the magnificent legacies of the three historic city-states of the Kathmandu Valley. Seemingly engulfed by the metropolis, Patan nonetheless best preserves the ambience of a medieval city, with a minimum of artifice.
Chitwan: Watch Out for Sleeping Crocodiles! We are gliding through the mists in a dugout canoe.. the monsoonal jungle fringing the riverbank stands motionless. The only sounds are bird calls and the rhythmic slopping of the water beneath us. Then a dull thump - and Hari, the guide standing in the prow, gestures urgently to the fellow poling from the back. Get back! We have slid right over a mugger crocodile, which, fortunately for us, hasn't reacted to the intrusion. Nepal's Chitwan National Park preserves a tract of lowland forest - tiger, rhinoceros and elephant country - far removed from the snow-capped Himalaya for which the landlocked nation is so well known.
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