“We would use this Tour Group again without hesitation!”
This is going to be long – in order to cover some facts as well as give an adequate description of the nature and spirit of the group. I hope it’s helpful.
First, let me clarify some things that might be confusing: When we booked our tour it was through Bohemian Tours located in West Bengal, India, and we originally got our information about them via an excellent website of the same name. For airport pickup, however, we were told to look for a sign that said either Bohemian Tours or Earthbound Expeditions. From that point on Earthbound Expeditions was the name used. Also, the listing says Day Tours, which could be misleading. Earthbound Expeditions offers tours of various lengths, from 1 day to 16 or more. I want to add that generally we’re not “tour” people (or we didn’t think we were). We love exploring on our own and an organized tour like this wouldn’t usually be something we’d choose. What happened is that I came across it in a Groupon promotion with a price that was tempting, so I investigated further. Their website was so impressive that I convinced my husband and son to give it a try.
Ours was the 8-day Taste of Nepal tour. Our initial communications with Tara, the International Director, were always prompt and clear. The website is extremely well done, providing useful information about flight booking, possible side excursions, vaccinations, money exchange, voltage/electrical requirements, travel insurance, visas, what to bring….and specifics regarding the food, water, weather, accommodations, etc. (with useful links where appropriate.) I highly recommend reading it thoroughly. This same level of care and attention to detail was present in all our dealings with them. Shortly before we were to leave the U.S., Tara sent a letter with additional instructions and offered to answer any last minute questions we had. He provided information about airport pickup and gave us names & numbers for contacts in Nepal in the event we ran into difficulties. One of those individuals, Rajan, was at our hotel to meet us and remained in touch during the tour, though he turned us over to Kumar, who was our guide throughout.
It turned out that our group (with the exception of one day, when we were joined by 2 women from Australia) consisted only of my husband, son, 4 year-old granddaughter & me. It was clear to us that this would not be a lucrative venture for the company, yet no corners were cut. Kumar covered everything on the Itinerary and more. He also was attentive to our particular interests. On the way to Chitwan National Park, as we drove along the river, we saw suspension bridges leading to the bank on the other side. These looked intriguing and when we commented, Kumar asked if we’d like to cross one. When we got to a good stopping place he had the driver drop us off so we all could cross, take photos and explore a bit. Obviously this was an advantage of being a small group. In a larger group it might not have been possible, though I’d venture to say that in any size group Kumar would do his best to be accommodating. He’s extremely knowledgeable and provided an abundance of information about the history and culture at each site we visited. Many times this was more than we could absorb at once and he was infinitely patient with our questions – even when he had to repeat things he’d already told us. He was always helpful and professional, yet over the days we spent with him we also came to view him as our friend. He went above and beyond anything we ever could have expected – even helping to carry our tired little one at times when the rest of us were worn out. In addition to Kumar, Deepak, the driver, was with us throughout the trip. Although he didn’t speak much English, he communicated with a ready smile. He was always prompt, pleasant and helpful, handling precarious traffic and roads with skill and apparent ease.
From our arrival in Kathmandu until we left, our days were filled with an amazing array of activities. It was a perfect mix of scheduled and “free” or individual time to explore (or rest!) as we chose. Seeing the ancient temples, stupas and shrines was fascinating. The beauty and history – there was so much to take in. The streets of Kathmandu were bustling, with rich colors and eye-catching architectural elements everywhere, even on the simplest structures. We loved seeing the medieval city of Bhaktapur, a World Heritage Site. There’s still much to marvel at, despite the fact that particular area suffered a tremendous amount of damage in the April 2015 earthquake. Chitwan Park was almost tropical in spots – serene and beautiful. Among many other things, we were thrilled to see a mother white rhinoceros nestled under a shrub with her calf.
We booked our trip prior to the earthquake. Apparently quite a few people were put off by the quake & rumors of widespread damage and cancelled previously made plans to visit. We did give it consideration, primarily because of safety concerns but after some research we determined it was safe to proceed. Moreover, we understood that one of the things crucial to the country’s recovery is the return of tourist dollars. As far as earthquake-related damage, we definitely saw some, as well as many repairs and restoration – both completed and underway. During our time there, however, we were much more aware of the economic and social impact of the new constitution Nepal ratified in September. A significant effect of this – and there are various takes on exactly why – is that the borders between Nepal and its neighbor, India, have been blocked. Nepal is dependent on India for the majority of its trade and this has caused a restriction on the transport of goods including petroleum, cooking fuel, medicines, and many other supplies and daily necessities. Almost every aspect of life in the country has been affected – many restaurants were forced to shut down or convert to restricted menus because of food & fuel shortages. Petro lines snake through the streets, with people waiting 2 to 3 days to put gas in their cars and work vehicles.
These factors didn’t have a huge impact on our trip, though there was the difficulty of riding in a comfortable, spacious van, looking out at others stuffed into busses and even riding on bus roofs in order to make best use of precious petroleum. The restricted menus were a bit of a disappointment but paled with the recognition of how difficult it was for the restaurant owners simply to remain open.
As foodies, we’d looked forward to some exotic meals and especially the Indian spices. The meals that were included with the tour were always ample, good and hearty. They were not highly spiced and we learned that’s probably typical of Nepalese food. Our free-time meal experiences were somewhat hit-and-miss. Because of the shortages, places that had previously received high recommendations might not be open or – if open – might only be offering salads (and not always too exciting.) We did come across one sure bet for both food and atmosphere and that was the New Orleans Café in Thamel, Kathmandu. Unlike it sounds, this restaurant has a large menu and offers an amazing variety of food – everything from hummus to Tandoori chicken to Thai curries – and everything we tried was good. In addition, it had a charming ambience. Once we discovered It, we ate there 2 or 3 times. Another excellent place we didn’t find until one of our last days in the city was the Roadhouse Café, also in Kathmandu. They had wood-fired pizza, so were unaffected by the lack of fuel and the pizza was outstanding!
Amendments to the constitution apparently are being considered even as I’m writing this and it’s hoped that the situation will be resolved in the near future. For us, we were glad we didn’t cancel. Both Kumar and the tour group as a whole let us know they were glad too. They did everything possible to make our trip memorable. They showed great willingness to be flexible, helping us negotiate an unexpected schedule glitch (on our part) and also arranging airport transportation for us at the end of some additional personal days we spent in the country.
In summary, Earthbound Expeditions/Bohemian Tours is a first rate organization. We thank them for their kindness and proficiency and for helping to make our visit to Nepal such a great success. We’re considering a trip to India at some point in the future and will most definitely seek them out again.
– Judith Bryan, USA