My last summer in India was spent travelling through the northern part of the country and Nepal. Of course, I couldn’t resist visiting some more UNESCO sites.
#100 – Great Himalayan National Park – For the special occasion of this being my hundredth UNESCO site, Emma and I set out on a rugged hike through the Tirthan Valley in the southern part of the park. The park is famous for its variety of birds and its relative isolation from human activitity as there is only one resident in the park (a kindly old lady living in a hut – it was one of our overnight stops). Of course we had to pay the price for the tranquility of the place with the park paths thick with numerous thorny bushes and stinging nettles.
#101 – Valley of Flowers National Park – Another absolutely beautiful national park at the foothills of the Himalayas, well-known for its colourful seasonal changes due to the bloom of flowers at different times of the summer. The park is not accessible by cars, and instead one must hike around 14 kilometers up to the village of Ghangaria, the gateway into the valley. So there I was, with my backpack and hiking shoes ready to tackle the hike. I didn’t realize that the trail was also used by the pilgrims to the Sikh holy site of Hemkund Lake, so the trail was actually a large paved pedestrian road with many people wearing their finest saris and kurtas. In fact, due to the fact that the majority of the hikers were going to the holy lake, the valley was almost free of any people, and it was really easy to simply get lost in its vast beauty.
#102 – Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha – With Bodh Gaya and Sarnath, Lumbini is one of the major Buddhist pilgrimage sites. The site is centered around the Mayadevi temple, which preserves the supposed birthplace of Buddha. Just outside of the temple are the Bodhi tree, the bathing pond and an ancient pillar, erected by the king Ashoka, granting special rights to Lumbini as the birthplace of Buddha. Outside of the main temple, there is a vast monastic zone, with stupas, temples and monasteries built by various countries.
#103 – Chitwan National Park – The park is famous for its populations of Bengal tigers and single-horned Asiatic rhinoceroses. The peak time to visit is in the winter, when the mild weather combines the absence of rains and ensures a pleasant safari through the park. Having arrived in July, my experience was significantly hotter, wetter and sweatier. Exploration of the national park is only allowed with guides, as the fauna can prove to be dangerous for many tourists (my guide talked about how he had lost at least five local friends to tiger or rhino attacks in the park). We didn’t see any tigers, but we did see a sloth bear waddle across the path and multiple rhinos bathe in the river in an attempt to cool down in the oppressive heat.
#104 – Kathmandu Valley – The site includes a variety of buildings: the royal palace complex at the Hanuman Dhoka square, the buddhist stupas at Swayambu and Bauddhanath, and the Hindu temple at Pashupati. Unfortunately, a lot of the sites have been affected by the 2015 earthquake, and entire buildings are covered in scaffolding or closed for renovations. For example, only public spaces of the Hanuman Dhoka are open for visit, so you definitely hope that your hefty entry fee is going towards the restoration of the palace and adjoining buildings.