In Jaipur, the Pink City, we found a warm welcome and great comforting care at Dera Mandawa, a home away from home we'd both like to revisit. Our time in Jaipur included ogling the stunning Palace of the Winds and wandering through the Jantar Mantar, Amber Fort, and City Palace. Best of all, our son's birthday occurred during our time in Jaipur. For a special gift, we spent the day with a pregnant elephant named Birli at Elefantastic, an elephant farm that helps people meet and appreciate elephants up close.
By the time our India portion of the trip was ending, we felt like we had been immersed in so many experiences that it didn’t seem possible we'd been there only one week.
Next, we flew to Nepal, where we visited Kathmandu, the capital; Chitwan, the wildlife park; and Nagarkot, the mountains. Just a month before the Great Earthquakes, as the Nepali people now refer to April and May 2015, we were lucky enough to see five of the seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu Valley (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/121/).
In Kathmandu, we spent hours at Swayambhu, a religious complex with the oldest Buddhist stupa, where we visited a monastery. We strolled along the Bagmati River behind Pashupatinath, the holiest Hindu temple in Nepal, where several families were honoring their dead with cremation ceremonies. We covered every corner of Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square, and waited for the Living Goddess Kumari to show her face at high noon through a tiny window above our heads. We wandered around Boudhanath, the largest stupa in Nepal, and met a Tibetan Buddhist High Monk on a rooftop.
Later, we drove down into the Valley, passing rice nurseries and san trees on our way to Chitwan National Park, where our first walk into the forest led us to four one-horned rhinos swimming in a tributary to the Rapti, which flows to the Ganges. We canoed that river looking for gharial and mugger crocodiles, and finding them, as well as countless colorful birds, such as the kingfisher. We stayed at Maruni Sanctuary Lodge, located on the border of the park, between two villages of the Rana Tharu Community, so every time we went into the forest, we walked through the amazing village.
We traveled a couple of days later back through Kathmandu and up to Nagarkot, known for sunrises that leave you breathless. We hiked for hours with our guide through Tamang villages, passing hard-working farmers planting corn and houses that looked like we could blow them over with a puff. We hiked up, down, and through tree-lined paths and out in the open until we reached Changu Narayan, climbing the last set of long stairs to the oldest temple in Nepal, built in the 4th century.
It sounds like a lot, and it was, but we didn’t notice or mind one bit. Sian arranged every movement, so we never thought twice about our next step. We had great and ample care from the instant we landed in Delhi to the second we left Nepal. And our travels were tailor-made for an adventurous 12-year-old, including plane, train, automobile, as well as canoe and elephant.
All the details taken care of for us by Smithsonian Tailor-made Journeys by Audley Travel, we were free to relax and observe and admire. Before we went on this trip, we were a bit concerned that we might be spending too little time in each place or too much time on the road, traveling between sites. But Sian knew what she was doing, and we never once felt anything except gratitude and wonder at everything and everyone we encountered.