Sunrise over the Himalayas and Goat for Dinner

We conducted our visa application business at the Indian Embassy, on Monday morning. It is a lengthy and largely pointless ritual which involves the Kathmandu embassy faxing the Indian Embassy in the applicant’s home country to ask for permission to issue the visa – naturally this embassy never replies as they receive hundreds of these faxes, and therefore the Nepalese branch assumes that if they haven’t heard back after 5 days that means it’s OK, and issues a three-month tourist visa.

The whole process therefore takes three separate visits over 5 days and involves lengthy queuing processes – the first day we arrived at 8.15, queued until the embassy opened at 9.30, then got our numbers, queued some more, then went to hand over our telex forms, at which point Everitte’s was approved and he went to queue once more for payment, while I was refused because I had an expired 5 year visa in my passport, something only available to non-resident Indians, and had to wait two more hours while two separate security officers questioned me about my Indian family members and my many Middle Eastern stamps.

Eventually stage one was completed, however, and we set out for the hill station of Nagarkot, only 60km from Kathmandu, but 3 hours away by bus due to Nepal’s joint problems with poor roads and heavy traffic.

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Snow and Cedars

The cedar tree is the national emblem of Lebanon and is the centre-piece of the Lebanese flag. Cedar trees used to cover 70% of Lebanon, however nowadays due to excess deforestation they are a protected species and cover only around 7% of the country. Most of them are found in two protected groves, with some trees over 1000 years old.

We went to visit the biggest of these, the Chouf Cedar Reserve, which covers around 5% of Lebanon’s total land, back in January, to see the beautiful cedar trees in the snow.

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Return to the Qadisha Valley

Despite the somewhat terrifying experience of my first trip to the Valley of the Saints it is such a beautiful place that when my aunt Chantal, who loves hiking in the mountains, came to visit me I simply had to take her there.

We spent the first couple of days of her visit in and around Beirut, drinking tea and eating biscuits and smoking argileh on the corniche watching the sunset. We went on a day trip to Byblos, which, along with Damascus, claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, believed to have been founded in 5000BC. Continue reading

Adventures in the Valley of the Saints

Stalactites and Stalagmites… and bedbugs

The Qadisha Valley in Northern Lebanon is often referred to as the Valley of the Saints, due to its enormous concentration of monasteries and hermitages, some of which date back to the 4th century AD. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty, the valley itself rising steeply upwards from the river, its lower slopes covered in pine forests, fringed with a high rocky cliff above which small towns perch precariously on the edge of the deep gorge. Above these rise Lebanon’s highest peaks, reaching heights of 3000m above sea level.

On our first trip to the valley Everitte and I took a minibus from Tripoli to Bsharry, the birthplace of the famous Lebanese artist, poet and writer Khalil Gibran. With a population of 13,000 Bsharry is one of the biggest towns in the Qadisha valley, Continue reading