One week back in Beirut and I’m struggling to get back into a routine now that I’m not in the office everyday. I’ve spent a lot of my time baby-sitting little Sam, celebrating his first ever easter by decorating the little tree on the balcony with easter decorations (Sam was far more interested in the packaging that the decorations) and dying eggs to make a colourful easter basket. Sam loved the dye, as he is going through a phase where he is obsessed with water, and very much enjoyed splashing the colours all over me, himself, the table, the floor, his high-chair and everything else in a three-metre radius.
On our last day in Nepal Everitte and I decided to pay a visit to Patan, a city very close to Kathmandu with its own Durbar square, one of the Kathmandu Valley’s seven UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The city was originally built in the shape of the Buddhist Dharma Chakra, or Wheel of Righteousness, and is, if possible, even more full of beautiful old temples than Kathmandu. Continue reading
Our return to Kathmandu was once again very temple centred. We returned to the Indian Embassy to hand in our visa forms and passports and pick them back up again in the afternoon on Friday. In the meantime we filled our time with a visit to the ancient cit of Patan and a visit to Kathmandu’s two biggest, most important and most spectacular Buddhist temples, Swayambhunath and Boudhanath.
Swayambhunath is on a lovely wooded hill to the west of Kathmandu, around 20 minutes walk from Kathmandu. On the way we crossed the Bagmati River, which sadly is one of the most rubbish-filled, polluted stretches of water I’ve ever seen. Continue reading
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.
While Kathmandu is in many ways a thoroughly modern city, a walk through the rambling maze of beautiful medieval houses and temples in the old city is like stepping back into another time.
Everitte and I arrived late on a warm Friday night and got our visas from the most friendly and cheerful border guard I have ever met in my life. We made our way to Thamel, the backpacker hub of Kathmandu, a confusing sea of twisting alleyways lined with a seemingly endless series of cheap hostels, varying standards of restaurant and colorful clothes and scarf shops.
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.
Baalbek is one of the world’s largest and best preserved Roman sites, christened Heliopolis, or City of the Sun, by the ancient Greeks. The city itself is situated in the fertile Bekaa Valley almost exactly in between Beirut and Damascus, and is famous not only for its spectacular ruins, but also as the headquarters of Hezbollah.The site has been continuously inhabited for over 9000 years, with constant building and rebuilding under the Temple of Jupiter.
Rated one of the 10 best Roman sites outside of Rome, Baalbek is well worth a visit – or even two.