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February 1st, 2004


babu_bwc
12:41 pm - The Pleasure of Pokhara
Shortly after Nepal opened its borders to the outside world in 1950, tales began to trickle out of a remote valley in central Nepal, a place of tranquil beauty rarely visited by outsiders. Filled with lush vegetation and dotted with shimmering lakes, the valley had a backdrop containing one of the most dramatic vistas in the world: a 140-kilometer panorama of towering Himalayan peaks that in the clear air seemed close enough to touch. In fact Machhapuchhre, the famous “Fishtail Peak”, is only forty-five kilometers from the hotels on Phewa Lake, without a single mountain range in between.

That secluded valley in the heart of Nepal is, of course, Pokhara, a city 200 kilometers west of Kathmandu that lies at the foot of the Annapurna Massif. The area’s present-day popularity makes it easy to forget that until recently it was little more than a sleepy village. Even transportation by wheel was unknown here until 1961, when an airplane, ironically enough, delivered the first primitive oxcart.

Today, connected to the outside world by two highways and numerous daily flights, Pokhara is no longer remote or secluded. But it remains as beautiful as ever, and only slightly less peaceful. The valley’s low altitude (900 meters) and sub-tropical climate allow bananas, citrus trees, cacti, and rice to flourish. Behind this magnificent scenery rise the snow-covered mountains. Dhaulagiri, Himalchuli, Machhapuchhre, and the five peaks of the Annapurna Massif fill the horizon, rising, it seems, directly from the valley floor and close enough to touch.

No matter where you are in Pokhara, Machhapuchhare dominates the horizon like an ice-capped pyramid. From the valley, it appears as a single soaring white spire, but from a few days’ walk to the northwest, the twin peaks which form the fishtail become visible. The 6,977-meter mountain remains officially unclimbed. The single expedition that was given permission to climb it in the 1950s stopped just below the summit, out of respect for the deities who are believed to reside there.

This spectacular setting has made Pokhara justifiably popular with Nepal’s visitors. Pokhara can be reached in thirty minutes via flights from Kathmandu, or an all-day bus ride, or, more comfortably, in a rented car with driver. Those with enough time can take the traditional route to Pokhara, travelling on foot through Nepal’s hill country. The week-long trek from Kathmandu is easy, ideal for families with children. It passes through the ancient capital of Gorkha. Simple food and lodging are available in small villages along the way.

Pokhara’s sprawling layout may surprise you upon arrival; it is one of the fastest-growing cities in Nepal. It’s easiest to describe Pokhara as three distinct areas. The ‘new town’ around the bus station is full of modern shops selling everything from instant photos to videos. The town’s old bazaar, stocked with traditional goods like copper pots and cotton cloth, stretches along two main streets in the northern section. A half-hour walk south of the bus station is Lakeside, a neighborhood of lodges, restaurants and shops–area favored by travellers. Lakeside is also divided into two sections, one near the dam and one along the lake shore.

Lining the lakeshore are a number of good lodges and restaurants. Budget travellers looking for a quiet place should try the side lanes leading off the main road. Several larger hotels near the airport offer upscale accommodations with expansive gardens and mountain views. The Fishtail Lodge at the east end of the lake is worth a visit, even if you aren’t staying there, just try its unique method of transportation: a wooden raft pulled by a rope that connects the lodge to the “mainland.”

Pokhara is fortunate to possess beauty below as well as above. The main attraction in Lakeside is the aquamarine Phewa Tal, one of the largest lakes in Nepal. Swimming or fishing are best done from a boat. Rent a rowboat for a few hours or an entire day and visit the opposite shore, stopping at the small island temple of Barahi in the middle of the lake, or find a secluded corner of your own. As you’re floating on the lake’s placid surface with a picnic lunch, admiring the double range of mountains appearing first on the horizon, then reflected in the water, it’s easy to forget the rest of the world and realize why Pokhara has become such a popular visitor destination.

The mid-lake temple has one of Nepal’s more entertaining legends associated with it. A long time ago a god came to earth disguised as a traveller looking for shelter. Everyone turned him away but an old couple offered whatever they had to him. The next day the angry god sent a deluge upon the village in punishment for their selfishness, and, of course, everyone was swept away but the old couple. The Temple of Tal Barahi is erected on the island in honor of their generosity.

Once settled in Pokhara, you may be content to relax for a few days and admire the beauty. Getting up at 5:30 in the morning may not sound very relaxing, but it’s worth it for the beautiful view of sunrise on the Himalaya. Dawn is also the time to pick out the summit of Annapurna I, the first 8000-meters peak in the world to be scaled by man (by the French in 1950), and the first of the five Annapurna summits to be illuminated by the rising sun. The large grassy meadow in the middle of Lakeside offers a clear view of the mountains and is also a good place to watch the fishermen, some still paddling old-style wooden dugout canoes, heading out for their morning’s work.

Others enjoy the peaceful valley for its relaxed pace –a good antidote to urban Kathmandu –and its many recreational opportunities. Away from Phewa Tal, a morning or afternoon could be spent exploring the old bazaar. It’s a two-hours walk from Lakeside or shorter by rented bicycle. The dozens of small shops lining the street sell everything from silver jewelry to soap. Often the craftsmen are busy making their wares inside the shops. The narrow lanes make it easy to imagine the days when mule trains from the north would file through the streets of Pokhara to trade loads of salt and yak wool for local products. Even today, mule trains can be seen in the town, usually led by a Tibetan or a Thakali and recognized from a long distance by the sound of their jingling bells.

Pokhara’s pleasures extend beyond the town itself. Day walks and overnight trips in the valley and surrounding hills give a glimpse of rural Nepal to the visitor without the time or stamina to trek. One of the most popular journeys is the three–hours walk up to Sarangkot, the prominent 1,700-meters hill just past the lake’s distant end. Take the trail from the main Bindebasini Temple in old Pokhara, or follow the less-clear path west of the lake, and then up through terraced hillsides and tiny villages of traditional Nepalese houses until you reach the bald hilltop crowned by a crumbling wall. Here your reward is a breathtaking panorama of the valley floor and the Himalaya stretched out directly in front. It’s possible to stay in Sarangkot overnight, or to continue several hours further along the ridge to the village of Naudanda, another popular viewpoint, before heading back to Pokhara via Suikhet.

Some other ideas for day-trips from Pokhara include:

-Rupa and Begnas Lakes, fifteen kilometers east of town, are less-visited alternatives to Phewa Tal. A bus ride, to Dandako Nak on the Kathmandu road is followed by a two-hours walk north to the village of Panchabbaiya, bringing you to the twin lakes.

-Kahun Danda, the ridge to the east of Pokhara, can be identified by the view tower atop it. It’s about a three-hours walk from the edge of town.

-Mahendra Gufa, a series of large limestone caves near the village of Batulechaur, can be reached in about a two hours walk past the end of the bazaar.

-The Tibetan Refugee Camp at Hyangja is an interesting destination and a good place to shop for Tibetan crafts. Past the Shining Hospital and the end of the bazaar, the prayer flags of the village soon become visible. It’s about a one and a half hour walk from the edge of Pokhara, and about two and a half hours from Lakeside. The level trail from Hyangja continues through fields and villages of thatched-roof houses, making a pleasant walk.

-For some, Pokhara is the starting or ending point for a trek into the Annapurna region, one of the most popular trekking regions in Nepal. The week-long trek northwest from Pokhara up the Kali Gandaki River to Jomosom, the famous “Apple Pie” trek (named so due to the wide range of accommodations and restaurants along the route) passes through one of the deepest valleys in the world. If you continue onward over the 5,400 meters Thorang La (pass), you can circumambulate clockwise the entire Annapurna Range in three to three-and-a-half weeks, concluding the 300 + kilometer trek at Dumre (following the route in a counter-clockwise direction allows an easier crossing of Thorang La).

For a more moderate trek, the trail to the Annapurna Sanctuary takes you into the heart of the great mountains in less than a week. Another favorite, especially during the spring rhododendron bloom, passes through Ghorepani and Gandruk villages, offering excellent views of the Annapurna in just eight to ten days round-trip.

Each trek can be accomplished independently or combined with guides, porters, or even ponies. A variety of camping equipment is available for rent in town, and local trekking agencies can help you obtain the necessary trekking permit from the Pokhara Immigration Office. Pokhara’s pony trek outfitters can also arrange short day trips to many of the nearby areas mentioned above. Whenever
you go, and however you do it, you’ll be glad you took the time to visit Pokhara.

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January 27th, 2004


chaiwala
08:49 pm
There is a new interview with Gyanendra in TIMEasia. Actually, he sounds very sane and like he is really working for peace and the people of Nepal, but I only wish his actions spoke the same. I mean about totally abusing people's human rights in Nepal these days.

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January 21st, 2004


chaiwala
07:52 pm - Human Rights Situation in Nepal
Hello there. I just want to make a comment on how serious the human rights situation is in Nepal right now. Nepali citizens are being arrested by security forces with impunity. People cannot protest. People cannot work for human rights organizations. People cannot print all sides of a story in the newspapers. It's an emergency! The King has taken over and suspended democracy -- how do you "suspend democracy"?!?! The U.S. is backing the King and the King is becoming more fascist. It's Gyanendra! This is not Birendra or Mahendra!!! Those dudes would be way cooler than Gyan baby. Gyan has an evil look in his eye. When I was in Nepal last time, a rickshaw driver spit on the new 5 Rupee note with Gyanendra on it. He showed me the old 5 Rupee note and said "This is my king." Isn't that fucking amazing?! Doesn't that say SO much about the lack of credibility that the existing government has among the common people of Nepal?

Anyway a couple days ago -- it's in the Kathmandu Post -- a guy was arrested in his own home in Kathmandu and they pointed guns at him when he asked to see their ID cards and they beat him and said "We don't need to show you ID! Put your hands in the air!"

I mean, that's the government. And so the Maoists are brutal too but if this is the government, people are just gonna think "What do we have to lose."

Meanwhile the U.S. energy corporations are drooling over... they can't wait to get their hands on the hydroelectric power there in the Himalayas. Look -- it's like this -- there's a place where the Kali Gandaki loops back onto itself, only a couple km apart. So Impreglio SpA, a German company, invested the money and built a tunnel and a turbine and a spillway. That's it -- it cost $130 million or so they say $180 million and they're suing Nepal's National Electric Authority for the balance of cost overruns, the greedy bastards. Anyway, once this Kali Gandaki 'A' plant is going, the Italian company and it's banks will be raking in millions every year, and in a few years they'll make a profit and then it's just free money for the next 50 years when it's handed over to the government of Nepal.

So it's been done and all the mechanisms are in place for a quick hydro plant for a few million. Investors are drooling because there is up to 80,000 or 90,000 MEGAWATTS of power in the Nepal Himalayas that could be developed. We've only been talking 300 MW plants so far, but Enron was eyeing a 10,800 MW plant! So much power -- can you imagine -- just for the capital investment. The problem is that Nepal has no capital so they get taken advantage of but anyone lending credit. Nepal get's 2% and charges no income tax. Look, if they're gonna sell out their future and their children, then they might as well be getting 15% right? Not that the little people see any of it anyway. But still, just for national dignity.

So it's always ke garne. Man I got the ke garne blues. I'm sick of it. We got to get some serious capital investment terms, like 50% of the electricity comes to us, if we're gonna LET you build the dam, that's right, if we're gonna LET you build the dam. We need to stand up and say we deserve to get a fair share of the world's pie. It's just ridiculous to have a gross income per capita of $240. Two hundred forty dollar per year. Yeah dal and bhaat is cheaper in Nepal but it's not THAT cheap.

So we got the mountains and the hydropower. But who's gonna buy the power. India can make their own. They have some of the Himalaya and the Meghalayas too. There's Bhutan and there's China. They all have hydro. And India has the gas underground (and here's a little secret, Nepal has some too in the Terai, but nobody's reporting it. But I looked up the geological petrochemical surveys, and it's not accident that James Baker was in Delhi doing some deal on behalf of a U.S. energy firm based in Texas that nobody has ever heard of except for this one project in Nepal. So anyway...)

Well, who NEEDS the power, who's the market? It's the U.S. and other "developed" nations rich banker class. They have the money to invest in factories and processing plants, etc. They need the electricty for their factories, to power the machines that allow them to exploit us as cheap labor.

So here's what we have to do. First take control of our own governments, South Asia. Then use SAARC and SAFTA in a good way, instead of an extension of the West's WTO. I mean, come on. Is this a complete sellout, just like the Saudis? Really. We have dignity.

So then, we get together -- and I mean the G77 nations, like it's started to happen now in Cancun and we have to keep the momentum -- the G77 nations say "You're not getting our energy resources so you can power your machines and exploit us in your factories."

And we have to charge them more for the power, and we have to charge them more for our labor, because we are human and it's our precious lives, and we are not cheap. And we have to do it all together, all at once, in solidarity, because if any one country continues to work for $1 a day, then all the factories will move there, overnight, like they're on barges or something.

But once the U.S. and the seven dwarves no longer can get cheap labor so easily, nor cheap energy to waste on making plastic trinkets or steel appliances etc... then they'll have to deal with us. They'll have to go back to making their own things, and we can make our own things, and exports will be smaller but they'll still be important, but not for everything under the sun like everything in fucking WalMart...


Well I have rambled, changed topics, perambulated, but I hope you think it was worthwhile, and I hope it touched some soft spots in you.

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January 12th, 2004


babu_bwc
07:28 am - more Nepalese words
some useful Nepalese words
kehi upayogi Nepali sabdaharu</u>

Bato = Road | Jantu = Animal
Rajmarga = Highway | Ban = Forest/Jungle
Nadi = River | Basti = Town/village/country
Khola = River (small) | Upatyaka = Valley
Samudra = Ocean | Muso = Mouse
Pahad = Mountain | Syawoo = Apple
Sagarmatha = Mt. Everest | Kera = Banana
Kalam = Pen | Aanp = Mango
Kapi = Notebook | Chhori = Daughter
Vidyalaya = School | Chhora/o = Son
Kharkhana = Factory | Pani = Water
Barsha = Rain | Garmi = Hot (weather)
Tato = Hot (temp) | Piro = Hot (test)
Chiso = Cold | Gulio = Sweet (test)
Dai = Brother (older) | Bhai = Brother (younger)
Khir = Rice pudding | Bhat = Rice (cooked)
Chamal = Rice (uncooked) | Dahi = Youghart
Bhater = Feast | Geet = Song
Sangeet = Music | Murali = Flute
Kapada = Cloth | Jutta = Shoes
Ghadi = Clock | Kapaal = Hair (of head)
Raun = Hair (general) | Mutu = Heart
Maya = Love | Sapana = Dream
Biswas = Trust | Sarta = Condition
Aankha = Eye | Gori/(o) = White/(male)
Kali/(o) = Black/(male) | Charitra = Character
Naitikata = Character | Saundar = Beautiful

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January 11th, 2004


chaiwala
02:18 pm - NepalGroup
Hello, I hope you don't mind me advertising here about a new Nepal community. It's got a different focus from this one, I think, so the two can work together on LJ. So far it's more about political issues in the conflict especially. This one seems to be about culture. Anyway, it is nepalgroup if you want to join it.
- Sage

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December 16th, 2003


babu_bwc
11:23 pm - Traditional Music and Dances of the Kathmand valley
By Gert-Matthias Wegner and Richard Widdess

Performance in Newar culture serves a variety of ritual and entertainment functions, establishing intimate connections between ritual, space, time, and society, and between the material and spiritual realms:

Newar civilization climaxed under the Malla Kings (13th-18th centuries), whose rival kingdoms of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur competed in architectural, artistic and cultural splendour; several rulers themselves excelled as musicians, dancers, composers, poets and art patrons. Newar autonomy was brought to a sudden end by Prithvi Narayan Shah of Gorkha, who conquered the Valley in 1768-9. Until today, the Newars maintain many aspects of their culture, including an elaborate round of urban rituals in which music and dance play a large part.

Contemporary pressures inevitably ensure that Newar culture in undergoing rapid change and decline, but in 1987 a survey of Bhaktapur (70,000 inhabitants) identified 220 music and dance groups still functioning.
Performance in Newar culture serves a variety of ritual and entertainment functions, establishing intimate connections between ritual, space, time, and society, and between the material and spiritual realms: each genre is performed at specific ritual occasions, in specific places (temple, monastery, street, public square, river crossing, paddy field, cremation ground), at ritually determined times (according to the lunar and solar calendars), and by specific castes and associations, in homour of one or more specific gods, goddesses, Boddhisattvas, etc. A universal feature is the worship of the god of music and dance, Nasadyo, by all Newar communities. He resides in shrines and in musical instruments. Offerings to him, accompanied by special music, must precede and conclude any music or dance performance, or any period of musical apprenticeship.

Newar music and dance are almost exclusively performed by men. Apart from the Jugi tailor-musician caste, performers are not musicians or dancers by profession. Some genres or instruments are restricted to members of a particular caste, but performance may require intercaste co-operation, as for example when Jugis are required to provide melodic accompaniment on Shawms for Jyapu farmers’ drum or dance performances. Many performance-types are organized by societies (guthi). Thus a particular guthi may be responsible for providing daily music at a particular temple; a land holding, sometimes a royal donation, would have provided the guthi with income for the maintenance of instruments, copying of song-books and other expenses, but these holding have now been abolished by the central government, and the surviving music guthis are impoverished.

Tantric Buddhist Songs and Dances
One of the oldest surviving repertories of Newar ritual music and dance is that performed by the Budhist priests (Bajracharya). These caca songs have texts in esoteric Sanskrit and are set in priestly singers accompany themselves on small cymbals, and the meaning of the words may also be conveyed through dance. This performance, which normally occurs only in the secrecy of the Tantric shrine and in the context of highly potent rituals, is a form of meditation in which the singer or dancer invokes the deity to take up residence within himself; caca is therefore held to confer magical powers on the performer. At particularly important festivals, the caca dance is accompanied by an ensemble of drum (panchatala), cymbals and five pairs of trumpets. Similarly-constituted ensembles accompany Hindu Tantric dance-forms (pyakhan) established during the Malla period (Navadurga pyakhan of the gardeners, Mahakali pyakhan of the farmers and other castes, Bhaila pyakhan of the potters). Nowadays a popularized version of some of these dances is presented to tourists in hotels.

Buddhist Processional Music
Constrasting with the refined and cloistered traditional of caca are public musical performances of the Newar Buddhists, which reach a climax in the processional month of Gunla (July/August). Daily processions to the Buddhist shrines are accompanied by ensembles of trumpets and clarinets (for the high-caste gold and silversmiths) or shawms and flutes (for the low caste oilpressers). These wind instruments are played not by the Buddhist themselves but by Hindu tailor-musicians (Jugi). At the same time the oilpresser children play three varieties of goat-and buffalo horn, and the adults play ten different drums, cymbals and natural trumpets, saluting each Buddhist relic or shrine with a deafening invocation.

Butchers
The Newar butcher caste (Nay) play their drum, naykhin, to accompany funeral processions to the cremation ground. En route their drum patterns reflect the passage of every street corner and every stone related to the spirit world, ceasing at the moment when the funeral prye is ignited. They also play during other ritual processions, always indicating with their drum patterns the nature of the ritual and the phases of the procession.

Tailor-musicians
The Jugi are believed to be the decendants o the sect of Indian mystics, the Nath or Kanphata Yogins, who settled in the Kathmandu Valley. They took up the profession of tailoring, and also that of playing shawms in temples. They are the only players of shawms among the Newars, and provide musical services on this instrument to other castes. Today they also play value trumpets and clarinets in Indian-style marriage bands. In Bhaktapur, there are only seven shawm players left playing only one variety of shawm (Gujarati mvaling). Among these, only the two senior players remember some of the traditional melodies. Since the confiscation of the guthi land in the early 1960s, the Jugis do not receive their payment or most of their musical services, resulting in the present state of decline not only of their daily music at shrines but also of those large instrument ensembles comprised of various castes, which cannot perform without the Jugis.

Farmers and others
The large, middle-cast, Hindu communist of farmers (Jyapu) constitutes a veritable repository of Newar musical and other traditions. Several types of devotional music are performed in temples, of which the oldest dapha, is believed to date from 17th century heyday of Newar civilization. In Bhaktapur there remain some sixty dapha groups attached to different shrines and deities. Song texts in Sanskrit, Newari and Maithili many ascribed to Malla royal authors, are contained in manuscript song books which specify the raga and tala for each. The songs are performed by two antiphonal choruses, accompanied by cymbals, natural trumpets and barrel drum.

In Bhaktapur, eight of the ritually most important dapha groups are expanded beginning with two royal donations in the early 18th century) to include sets of nine different drums (navabaja). These are played at festival times by a master-drummer, in a three-hour sequence of contrasting drum solos, accompanied by the shawms of the Jugi and interspersed with dacha songs. Unfortunately most of these ‘navadapha’ groups ceased playing or perform only once or twice a year. As the musicians do not get frequent practice, they forget the complex repertory. The younger generation is mostly interested in commercial music.

More recent types of religious group singing with drum accompaniment include the Indian-style Hindu bhajan (with harmonium and tabla), and its Budhist equivalent called gyanmala bhajan, intermediate between these and the older dapha stands dhalca bhajan, using dhalak instead of tabla. These groups combine members of various castes. Some of the bhajan groups have adopted the Indian malpractice of eletronically amplifying their sessions, thus drowning all over traditional forms of music.

Processional music of the farmers, bricklayers and potters is played during civic and family rituals. These are ensembles of cylindrical drums accompanied by cymbals, or of transverse flutes accompanied by drums and cymbals (and sometimes augmented by violins and harmoniums). The flutes play the melodies of folk-songs related to seasons or types of agricultural work. Among all the instrumental ensembles of Bhaktapur, only one single genre of processional music of the farmers (dhimaybaja) is still really popular among young men; one reason may be that they can attract the attention of the girls while playing their drums.

The Royal Nagara Drums
In 1690, King Jitamitra Malla of Bhaktapur donated two large cooper kettledrums (nagara) to his favourite deity, the goddess Taleju, to be played along with the daily offering. These drums had been in the state of neglect for years, until Bernardo Bertolucci decided to restore and use them during the production of his film ‘Little Buddha’. Unfortunately, the original room for these splendid drums has been occupied by an office. For the time being, they are kept behind wooden screens in two dank cells below the Bhaktapur palace, where only the rats can play them. Hopefully, local authorities will re-install these unique kettledrums in their original home facing the large bell of Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square, where their regal roar can be appreciated by every visitor.

Dance
Apart from the secret dances of the Budhist priests, the most sacred ritual dance is the Navadurga pyakhan of Bhaktapur, performed by members of the gardner caste, whose annual cycle of performances in every quarter of the town and surrounding countryside ensures the blessings of the Tantric Gods and Goddesses for the current years. The dance and its accompanying music are but one element in a complex of rituals including the making, painting, stealing, and consecration of the masks, their destruction by cremation at the end of the annual cycle and frequent blood sacrifices.
Other dance types, though often superfically similar, are performed mainly for entertainment: the enactment of religious narratives connected with festivals may bring merit to the participants and observers, but the dancers are not possessed by the deities they represent. During the festival for the Dead (Gai-jatra) in Bhaktapur, about 60 different dances and other entertainments are performed, including a circular stick dance using face paint instead of masks, masked dances of the Tantric Gods and Goddesses, acrobatic entertainment and cabaret with political themes.

Department of Music
In an attempt to document, preserve, and teach the endangered musical traditions of Nepal Kathmandu University founded a Department of Music at Chupin Ghat, Bhaktapur in 1996. This institution conducts the only fully fledged B.A. and M.A. courses in ethnomusicology in South Asia, as well as ouuering practical music and dance classes which are open to all.

About the authors:
The German ethnomusicologist Dr. Gert Matthias Wegner has been appointed by Kathmandu University as Associate Professor and Director of the Department of Music, Bhaktapur, Dr. Richard Widdess is a senior lecturer in ethnomusicology and Head of the Department for Music Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

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babu_bwc
11:20 pm - Annapurna Calling
By Ashim Pradhan

People from all over the world come to see Nepal's mighty and magnificent Himalaya. Surprisingly many of us in Nepal have not considered trying to know more about the mountains. This ignorance may be because we don’t have the time, the Travel industry does not cater to the locals, we feel it's expensive to visit the famous trekking areas or may be we are not interested at all! Whatever the reason the majority of people, especially the city people have not seen the Himalayas from close, the very element for which this country is so famous!

If you are wondering what it takes to see the Himalayas here's a little something. A wee-bit of your time, some savings, a sense of adventure and most important the willingness to be in the midst of the Himalayas. No, you don’t need to carry your food and camping equipments; all you need is some money and a suitable place to go within your time frame. ‘Teahouses’ as they are locally called are the most common form of accommodations nowadays, in the majority of the popular trekking routes. A very simple room and reasonable standard of food (which can be ordered from the menu, which is a variety of foods) are the basic things provided by these teahouses. Very basic toilets are usually outside the lodge, they have a common dinning room (clean) and at lower elevations they even have electricity in the rooms.
One such viable place that has the charm, beauty and magnificent sceneries is located in the Annapurna region. The Thakalies are the dominant tribe of the Annapurna valley, related to the Gurungs and Magars of the southern slopes. This valley is the most geographically and culturally diverse region for trekking. The Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) working along with the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation have declared this region as an area for conservation and sustainable development. Stretched over 2600 square kilometers, this area boasts of a variety of cultures, tribes and castes of Brahmins, Chettris, Newars, Gurungs, Magars, Manangis and the Tibetans. This area has sub-tropical lowlands, valleys, bamboo, oak and rhododendron forests, alpine meadows, windswept desert plateaus and the towering Annapurna Mountains. It has the worlds deepest river gorge, Kali Gandaki, lying some 6900 metres/22,563 ft. below some of the world's largest and most beautiful mountains, the Annapurna I (world's 8th highest) & Fishtail (one of the most beautiful). Rich in flora and fauna, animals and birds are in abundance in this region. 440 species of birds and animals like the marten, deer, langur and the elusive snow leopard live in this area.

The trek begins with a vehicle ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara and then to Nayapul which is one hours away from Pokhara. Upon arrival, we trek down the river for five minutes and cross the new suspension bridge, thus the name Naya Pul (literally translated means 'New Bridge'). Soon we have to follow a trail along the Modi river for another 25 minutes to arrive at Birethanti a small village (1,037 meters) We pass the village at the end of which there was a small bridge. At the other side of the bridge is a check post where the National Park entry permit must be purchased prior to starting the trek (Nepalese citizens do not require the permit).

After completing the formalities, we take the right hand trail and a gradual ascent leads us through fields, of paddy in summer and mustard in winter, to arrive at the upper Birethanti village after about an hour. Walking further through more terraced fields and bamboo groves on a gentle ascent along hillside and we arrive at a riverbed. We then take the trail leading into the forest. The forest provides a welcome shade and we came to know from the locals that this was an ideal place for the porters to prepare lunch, as water is readily available from a nearby stream. Continuing the walk through the forest and following the trail along the hillside, after about twenty minutes we arrive at the settlement of Shauli Bazaar, located along the banks of the Modi river. The trail from here continues to climb steadily for about two hours until we arrive at a gate with a signboard saying, “Welcome to Ghandrung”. This sign is misleading as it takes another twenty minutes to arrive at the main settlement of Ghandrung Village! Upon arrival we can arrange for an accommodation in the local teahouses and rest for sometime. This village is located at an approximate altitude of 2,073 meters. From here we can see the Annapurna South and the tip of the Machhapuchare – the Fish Tail mountain.
Ghandrung is one of the main Gurung villages in this region where the male members of the local community have sacrificed their lives serving the Gurkha Armies and security Forces around the world. The brave and chivalrous Gurkhas have earned themselves the reputation as the most loyal and indomitable soldiers in the world!

Some recreation in the afternoon can be a visit to the Annapurna Conservation Museum and also an exploration of the numerous Gurung houses and meeting the local people, which can be fascinating.

The next day, if it's a clear day you can wake up to a marvelous sunrise and enjoy a hearty breakfast in the sun, is an hours descent from the Ghandrung village to the valley bottom. Here, we cross a small bridge and trek on a winding trail on a hillside cleared for making terraced fields. From this point begins an hours ascent to reach Landrung. We stop for lunch at Landrung. After Landrung the trail somewhat levels as we trek through the paddy fields but still continues to climb steadily for another hour, after which we reach Tolka village. Resting awhile, ascending further for another hour will reach us to Deurali. This is the highest point of the trip (approximately 2800 meters). From the end of the forest the path descends till we reached the campsite for the day- Pothana. From Pothana we can see Annapurna II (7,937 meters), Annapurna III (7,555 meters), Annapurna VI (7,525 meters), Annapurna South (7,220 meters), Machhapuchare (Fish Tail) (6,993 meters), Lamjung Himal (6932 meters) and Manaslu (8,163 meters) among some of the mountains. It is indeed a delight to see such a range of the Himalayas in all its grandeur. No words can describe the beauty of these glorious and picturesque mountains.

On the final day (day 3) we have to start early and trek starts immediately with a steep descent through mixed forests and taking about an hour to arrive at the Mina Lodge, which marks the end of the steep path and arrival at the Dhampus Plateau. From here the incline is much easier as the trail continues to descend steadily in more forested areas and after two hours arrives at the first check post at the entrance to Dhampus Village, which has a maze of houses and alleyways of stone walls. From here we can see splendid views of the mountains from west to east of the Annapurna South (7219 meters ), Hiun Chuli (6,441 meters), Mardi Himal (5,587 meters) and Machhapucchhare (6,993 meters) to the north. Here the trail further descends steeply for about two hours to reach Phedi (Suikhet). From Phedi, we board the pre-arranged pick-up vehicle which will drive us back to Pokhara (30 minutes), from where we catch the flight back to Kathmandu.

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11:19 pm - Buddhist Pilgrimage Places
In Kathmandu valley


The Kathmandu Valley is rich in places of pilgrimage for both Hindus and Buddhists. For centuries pilgrims have come from India, China and Tibet to circumambulate the great stupas, climb the sacred hills where Buddhas and Bodhisattvas dwelt, and visit the temples of the valley. Here are a few of the most important sites.

SWAYAMBHU STUPA:

This holy place is situated in the Kathmandu Valley about six kilometers west of Kathmandu. The stupa is dedicated to the supreme Adi-Buddha. Its significance is described in the Swayambhu Purana, written in the fifteenth century. According to an inscription, the stupa was already in existence in the fifth century. The viewing places surrounding the stupa of Swayambhu offer a wide panorama of the Kathmandu Valley. The stupa stands on a massive plinth, and is surmounted by a square harmika, on which are painted great pairs of eyes, symbolizing the all-seeing powers of the Buddha. Around the main shrine are niches enclosing figures of the Buddhas of the five directions.

KATHESIMBHU:

This stupa is a replica of Swayambhunath and is also known as Singha Bahal or Ghata Vihara. Constructed in the sixteenth century, it stands in a courtyard in the center of old Kathmandu. It is a common belief that the stupa was built in the heart of the town for the old and infirm who could not climb to the main stupa on Swayambhu hill. Buddhists believe that if one performs ceremonial rites at Kathesimbhu stupa one will obtain the same religious merit as if one made the journey to Swayambhu. The name Kathesimbhu literally means “Swayambhu located in Kathmandu.”

KIMDOL VIHARA:

On the left side of the road to Swayambhunath there is a big Bodhi, or pipal, tree. On going up a small, narrow lane one comes to Kimdol Vihara, which means the vulture’s beak vihara. In olden days while travelling from Tibet to India many Lamas stopped at this place and found enlightenment. Among the great Lamas who practiced here were the l3th Karmapa, the 10th Sharmapa, and the 8th Tai Situ. Kimdol Vihara was actually established in seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It has several shrines with marvellous images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

BOUDHA STUPA:

This stupa is one of the largest in the world, standing on the ancient trading route from Tibet as it entered the outskirts of old Kathmandu. It is said that the stupa stands at the center of a natural mandala, and is a powerful focal point of psychic energy in the valley. It is a geometrical and cosmogenic representation of the universe: the cubical base symbolizes the earth, the dome symbolizes water, the central tower above the dome represents fire. It is believed that the Boudha stupa enshrines the spirit of the Bodhisattvas, the Buddhas of the ten directions, and the Buddhas of the past, present and future.

NAMOBUDDHA:

On a hill about thirty kilometers east of Kathmandu stands a stupa dedicated to a Buddha of a previous time. According to legend, the Buddha in a previous life came upon a starving tigress and her cubs. In his great compassion he cut pieces of flesh from his body to feed the tigress. At this place is a carved stone depicting the legend. The name Namobuddha means “Hail to Lord Buddha.” Near the stupa is a small monastery where monks live in retreat, and to the north, the backdrop of the Himalaya. Namobuddha is a fine day-hike from the resort village of Dhulikhel.


YANGLESHO:

On the road from Kathmandu south to Pharping is a place called Yanglesho. At this place it is said that the great teacher Padmasambhava, or Guru Rimpoche, attained mastery of Mahamudra, the ultimate and supreme attainment. There is a cave where Guru Rimpoche meditated. On the ceiling of this cave, the guru’s hand and head prints are visible.


THE TEMPLE OF WHITE MACHHENDRANATH (Jana Bahal):

This shrine is considered one of the most sacred shrines of Kathmandu. It stands in the heart of Kathmandu on the narrow market street which connects Indrachowk with Asan Tole. The image is of white Avalokitesvara, and standing beside him are images of White and Green Tara. Tibetan Buddhists believe that the image was made from a single piece of sandalwood in the seventh century at the time of Emperor Songsen Gampo. The image is worshipped by Hindus and Newar Buddhists as well and is the focus of two major festivals, the jatra, or chariot procession, of the god in the spring, and the ritual bathing of the god in the middle of winter.

MAHABUDDHA:

This is one of the most unique temples of the valley. Lying southeast of the Durbar Square of Patan and built in the tall shikhara style, it is a masterpiece of terra-cotta. The temple was built by a Brahmin scholar named Abhaya Raja and his descendants in the year 1601. It was rebuilt after the great earthquake of 1934. It is also called the ‘temple of a thousand Buddhas,”- as each brick in the structure is impressed with an image of the Buddha.

HIRANYA VARNA MAHAVIHAR (Kwa Bahal):

This monastery is also called the Golden Temple and is situated a few minutes’ walk from the main Durbar Square complex of Patan. Its principal image is Sakyamuni Buddha. This multi-storeyed temple is one of the most elaborately decorated in Nepal, with a particularly fine repousse front facade. On an upper floor on the north side is a Tibetan Buddhist shrine room. In the temple courtyard are several sculptures of Bodhisattvas from the early Malla period, among the finest metal sculptures remaining in Nepal.

FOUR ASHOKAN STUPAS:

There are four ancient stupas at the four corners of the old boundaries of the city of Patan. It is commonly believed that Ashoka, the Buddhist king of India, had erected them, although archaeological evidence does not agree. Some are plastered and others are grassy mounds. By the northern stupa are some especially fine, very old, stone sculptures.

FOUR SACRED PLACES:

According to Buddhist legends, there are four sacred places at the four cardinal points of the Kathmandu Valley: Siphucho on Shivapuri hill, north of Kathmandu; Jamacho, the top of Nagarjun hill to the west; Dhyanacho, near the hilltop town of Kirtipur, and Phulchok, on the hill south of town. On Jamacho, legend says, Vipasvi Buddha sat in meditation. He threw a lotus seed into the lake which once filled the valley. From the seed grew a lotus shining with the light of the Adi-Buddha. Manjushri came from afar, and drawn by the light, cut the Chobar Gorge to drain the valley–thus the fertile valley became a place for human settlement.
It is mentioned in the Buddhist literature that only a person who pays homage to these places can become a teacher of the doctrines of the Vajrayana. Indeed, some of the greatest Vajrayana masters have lived and meditated in the Kathmandu Valley. These places have long been, and long shall be, the sources of inspiration and the destinations of devout pilgrims.

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11:17 pm - Kapilvastu that Buddha renounced for peace
The Lord of Salvation
By Madhav Prasad Upadhyaya

KAPILVASTU – 26 km. to the West of Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Buddha – and approximately 12 km. to the South of the East-West highway, and 19 km. to the North of the Indian border check post, Khunuwa, is proved, by several Buddhist scholars, to have been the Shakya Kingdom where King Suddodhana, father of Lord Buddha, reigned, 2600 years ago.

Suddodhana, the Shakya King, represented the Shakya dynasty of Kshetriya solar race who remained at the throne of the tiny Kingdom, Kapilvastu, lying in Nepal’s mid-western terai (plane), bordering India. Maya Devi, the queen of Suddodhana gave birth to the child Siddharta Gautam (Lord Buddha) in the Lumbini garden under the big sal tree in full moon day of May while traveling to her parent’s home. The child was called Siddhartha, Gautam being his family name. Born in 623 B.C. as scholars opine, Siddhartha renounced his Kingdom and the city state of Kapilvastu at the age of 30 and pursued enlightenment.

The child Gautam was endowed with super-natural power congenitally, a few say. Legend say, no sooner baby Siddhartha was born than he walked 7 steps in each direction, East, West, North and South.

Kapilvastu, is where Shakya Muni (Shakya saint) – Buddha’s disciples preferred to call him by this name – grew up and gained worldly experience, influenced his thought process and made a lasting impact towards transforming both his character and personality. Behind the name Kapilvastu, one legendary tale lay. Long before Shakya dynasty ruled the Kingdom, a saint called Kapil Muni descended down from the Himalayas and found the bank of Bhagirathi river (present Ban Ganga river), marked with peace and tranquillity, an ideal place for mediation. The Kanchanjanga snow range on the North and the dense forest on the South, West and East, Kapil Muni mediated for years and years. It was after the name of Saint Kapil Muni, Kapilvastu derived its name.

An hour drive distance from Lumbini, Kapilvastu used to be a prominent center of Buddhist culture and religious edifices during Shakya regime, as Chinese scholars Huen Tsang and Fa-Hien describes in their early scriptures. However, most of the rich cultural and religious heritage have disappeared, and what remains is the ruins and mounds of the early kingdom of Kapilvastu, in Tilaurakot (1 km. to the North of Taulihawa), the center of present Kapilvastu district.

Archaeologists have identified Tilaurakot as virtual ancient Kapilvastu reigned by Shakya Kings. Nevertheless, the shape and frame of the glorious Buddhist Kingdom which remained buried underneath for centuries have been excavated and preserved, though a lot more are yet to be dug out.

Tilaurakot, traced as the capital city of Kapilvastu, virtually remains a forlorn place though barb wire is used to encircle and preserve the mounds and the ruins of the Kingdom. Poor accessibility and lack of publicity has still kept away the old Kingdom of Shakya dynasty, Kapilvastu, from the world’s Buddhist pilgrims.

Kapilvastu, where Lord Buddha lived till his 30s, is associated with several incidents influencing the child and youth of Buddha’s life.It was in Kapilvastu that Crown Prince Buddha excelled in athletics competing with other princes. It was in this ancient Kingdom, Prince Buddha mastered archery and, here he shot an arrow which hit the ground causing a spring of water shoot up. Buddha in his youth threw an elephant killed by his cousin Nanda, in Kapilvastu. Here, Buddha converted 500 Shakyas and 8 princess to Buddhism where after the enlightenment, Buddha preached his father and his son Rahul.

A few tragic incidents too, occurred in Kapilvastu, which wholly transformed Lord Buddha from a prince to a saint. The Prince brought up in luxury and lavishness of the Palace met a sick person, and next, sighted a funeral which grieved Lord Buddha to the extent that he eventually decided to give up the Royal luxury and comfort in pursuit of power which he expected to redeem the worldly people from sufferings.
The remains of the fortified city state of Kapilvastu buried in the forest near the bank of river Ban Ganga still lay intact.

Chinese travelers Fa-Hien and Huen Tsang who traveled to the Kingdom of Lord Buddha, eulogizing it, write in their travelogues that Kapilvastu, ‘The snow covered peaks of the Himalayas look down on the place of Kapilvastu; the Kingdom sits at the bank of Bhagirathi river.’

Going by the travelogues of early Chinese scholars duo, the present Tilaurakot, consisting of ruins and mounds of ancient Kingdom, is indisputably the ancient Kapilvastu as it lies on the bank of river Bhagirathi (Ban Ganga now) and that snow peaks eternally looks down on it.
Even the excavations carried out by the Indian Archaeologist P.C. Mukherjee at the end of 19th century too, were instrumental in determining that the remains of Tilaurakot were actually the ancient site of Kapilvastu. Further excavations by the Department of Archaeology, HMG/Nepal and the Rissho University of Japan have further supported the authenticity of the site.

Apart from Tilaurakot, there are several other locations strewn around in Kapilvastu district which possess the remnants of the ancient Kingdom. About 9.5 km. northwest of Taulihawa there is a rectangular fortified area which is popularly known as Arourakot, near the village Aroura. The fortified area is identified by P.C.Mukherjee as the natal town of Kanakmuni Buddha. Remains of ancient moat and brick fortification around Arourakot can still be clearly located. The fortified area measures about 750X600 ft. A brick lined wall is seen to the South and an elevated mound towards the northwest corner. The pottery here is mostly redware.
Likewise, about 3 km. north of Taulihawa, there is a village called Chatradei situated on the right bank of the Ban Ganga river. Towards a furlong west of the village the habitational ruins extend in the form of a large triangular mound. Most of the pottery and antiquities found here belong to Sunga-Kushana period, while remains of the structures may relate to early medieval times.

About 3 miles (4.77) km. southwest of Taulihawa, there is a village called Gotihawa. Almost in the center of the village there is an Ashokan pillar standing. The upper portion of the pillar is broken and lost, and only the lower portion of the pillar 10 ft. high is intact. The circumference of the pillar is 8 ft. 6 inch. Mauryan polish is visible in its exposed upper part. Adjoining the pillar towards its northeast, there is a huge stupa with successive ring of wedge shaped Mauryan bricks. The stupa is now over built by three tiled and three thatched houses. About 200 yards north of the pillar, there remains structural ruins which is used as barn by the villagers.

About a mile (1.60 km.) southwest of Taulihawa, on the left side of the Shohoratgarh–Taulihawa road stands the village Kudan having a huge structural ruins with a cluster of four mounds and a tank. The mounds were excavated in 1962 by Devala Mitra, an Indian.

About 3 miles (7.95) km. northwest of Taulihawa, there is a quadrangular tank surrounded by bushes which is known as Niglisagar. On the western bank of the tank, there are two broken pieces of the Ashokan pillar, the longer one laying flat and the shorter one stuck into the ground obliquely, about five feet (1.52 m ) away to the West. The longer one measures 15ft. (4.56 m) in length and 7 ft. 5 inch in circumference at the broadest, and bears towards the top design of 2 peacocks. The shorter pillar which is partly buried in the ground measures 5 ft (1.52m) in length and 7ft. 5.inches in circumference.

About 7 miles (11.13km) north of Taulihawa, there is a forest area called Sagarahawa. In the midst of the forest there is a huge rectangular tank which is popularly known to the villagers as Lumbusagar. The ancient tanks ruins which were excavated and identified by Dr. Alois A. Fuhrer as the ‘Palace of massacre of the Shakyas’ in 1895 can still be located on the West and South banks of the tanks.

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11:12 pm - National Parks and Wildlife Reserves of Nepal
ROYAL CHITWAN NATIONAL PARK:
(Chitwan is my home district & this park is next to my home)

It lies 120 km. south-west of Kathmandu with an area of 932 square kilometers. It was established in 1973 and was later declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984. Sub Tropical deciduous riverine forests, wooded hills and grasslands contain one-fourth of the world's endangered great one-horned rhinos as well as the Royal Bengal tiger, leopards, monkeys, and the splendid gaur bison. More than 440 species of birds are found in this ornithologist's heaven, including the giant hornbill, the rare Bengal florican and the paradise flycatcher.

Entry Fee Per Person Per Entry:
For Nepalese Nationals Rs. 20
For SAARC Nationals Rs. 200
For Other Foreign Nationals Rs. 500
(Note: Entrance fee not required for children under 10 years)


ROYAL BARDIA NATIONAL PARK:

It lies 585 km. away from Kathmandu, and is situated south-west of Nepal. Recently, rhinos have been translocated from Chitwan to this area of riverine forests, grasslands and low wooded hills. Lying along the Karnali and Babai rivers, the park is an important preserve for the rare gharial crocodile and the Gangetic dolphin.

Entry Fee Per Person Per Entry
For Nepalese Nationals Rs. 20
For SAARC Nationals Rs. 200
For Other Foreign Nationals Rs. 500
(Note: Entrance fee not required for children under 10 years).


KOSHI TAPPU WILDLIFE RESERVE:

The Reserve covers 175 sq.km. It was established in 1976. Numerous water-holes and marshes make this one of the finest birding areas in Nepal. The grasslands support an important population of the Asiatic wild buffalo.


ROYAL SUKLAPHANTA NATIONAL PARK

Royal Suklaphanta National Park is situated in the extreme south-west of Nepal and the park area is 155 sq.km. Lying in the Terai region, its sal forests interspersed with grasslands make this a prime deer habitat. It is considered the best park for wild elephants, and the lake of Rani Tal hosts many local and migratory waterfowl.


SAGARMATHA NATIONAL PARK:

Sagarmatha National Park is located north-east of Kathmandu and covers an area of 1, 148 sq.km. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. The park includes Mt. sagarmatha (Everest), the land of Sherpa people and some of the most spectacular scenery on earth. It supports the Himalaya's largest population of the goat-like Himalayan thar, as well as related species, the ghoral and the serow. In the mountain- forests Himalayan red panda, wolves, weasels and musk deer are found.
Entry Fee Per Person Per Entry: Rs. 1000


MAKALU-BARUN NATIONAL PARK AND CONSERVATION AREA:

Nepal's new national park and conservation area is in the planning stages. The park covers 2,330 sq.km. Bordered by Sagarmatha National Park, the Arun River and the Tibetan border, it includes the rich forested valleys of the Barun and seven other rivers. New trails will be built, providing easier access to Mt. Makalu basecamp, the Hongu glacier and Mera Peak. The populated southern and eastern portions have been designated a conservation area.


LANGTANG NATIONAL PARK:

Langtang National Park covers an area of l,710 sq.km. Alpine pastures, sub-alpine scrub and dense forests of pines, rhododendrons, maples and oaks support a large variety of mammal and bird species. In the lower forests are leopards, Himalayan black bear, and wild boars. In the higher regions are musk deer and Himalayan thar. Many varieties of pheasants and partridges, including Nepal's national bird, the danphe, can be seen in the alpine meadows.


ANNAPURNA CONSERVATION AREA PROJECT:

This area encompasses the Annapurna Massif, which includes middle hills, sub-alpine, alpine and trans-Himalayan dry plateau ecosystems. A world model for successful participatory natural resources management, the project has combined village development, education and conservation with the conservation education of trekkers. Annapurna Conservation Area Project covers an area of 2,600 sq.km.


SHEY PHOKSUNDO NATIONAL PARK:

Shey Phoksundo National Park is Nepal's largest national park and covers an area of 3,555 sq.km. Nepal's largest park includes Lake Phoksundo at its southern end and lies in the trans-Himalayan region. The park harbors some of the country's rarest animals, including the elusive snow leopard, the blue sheep and the thar.


RARA NATIONAL PARK:

Rara National Park is situated about 370 km north-west of Kathmandu and covers 106 sq.km. In the temperate conifer forests surrounding lovely Rara Lake are Himalayan black bears, yellow- throated martens, musk deer, and the ghoral and scrow. Here, ornithologist s. Dillon Ripley rediscovered the spiny babbler after 106 years.


KHAPTAD NATIONAL PARK:

The area of the park is 225 sq.km. This is the only park representative of the flora and fauna of Nepal's western middle hills. This rolling plateau of mixed forest and grasslands supporting leopards, Himalayan black bears, and musk deer is singular in that conservation efforts there have been led by a remarkable Hindu holy man, the Khaptad Baba.


DHORPATAN HUNTING RESERVE:

The Park area is 1,325 sq.km. Nepal's only designated hunting reserve, this is also an area of interest to the naturalist, being the largest preserved area of Nepal's central middle hills.


SHIVAPURI WILDLIFE RESERVEL:

On the hill of Shivapuri just north of Kathmandu, this is an accessible place to see orchids, rhododendrons and other flora of the middle hills forests.

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