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Wildlife & Grassland Birds of West Nepal by Stuart Johnson

Scarlet Minivet (Janice Fiske)

Economically, Nepal is classed amongst the five poorest countries in the world. Being sandwiched between India and China must have its drawbacks, too. Consequently, as we prepared for our tour in the west of the country, we envisaged deprived people, in a dismal setting, devoid of many pleasures or pride. 

Arriving in Kathmandu, we were greeted at the airport by Hathan, our tour guide, and immediately ordained with a wonderfully colourful garland. This put us in the correct mood, after our long double flight. An instant jolt to our pre-tour thoughts. Passing through the streets to the hotel, we certainly experienced the poverty, with the road surfaces, the chaotic cycles, motor cycles and pedestrians, and the many roadside sellers. But we were in for a major surprise. On our wanderings around the capital we were dazzled by the amazing colours. The shops were draped in wonderful pashminas, bags and scarves, with others piled high with beautiful fruit and superb vegetables. The highly decorated rickshaws were waiting for the tired tourists, but the Nepalese people happily weaved their way along these narrow streets, seemingly full of pride and amazingly welcoming. 

Visiting the tourist areas in Kathmandu, like Durbar Square, we were intrigued by the local people going about their daily worship and mingling with the tourists, visiting their brightly coloured, and beautifully designed temples. Mainly Hindu temples, they had multi-coloured lions guarding the doors, and wonderful carvings, generally in wood, around the windows, created from a single, massive stone. Most impressive. The Buddhist Monkey Temple across the river at Swayambhunath, was equally beautiful, sited on the hilltop, with its many colourful prayer flags, streaming down like rainbows, and the amazing face of Buddha looking in all four directions from the harmika, above the dome. 

Away from the capital, we were equally impressed. As we flew to Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve, in the west of Nepal, we experienced superb views of the snow-clad peaks of the Himalaya Mountains, contrasting with the beautiful blue sky beyond. At the reserve, our main aim was to see the birds of Nepal. They were wonderful and most numerous, but the ones remaining in our memories were generally most colourful, yet again. To mention a few: the golden back and red crown of the Greater Flameback; the Scarlet Minivet, boasting a red male, but also a vivid, yellow female; the Spotted Forktail, appearing to flash, as it flittered beside the stream; the precisely and delicately marked Chestnut-tailed Minla. And, my favourite, the multi-coloured Fire-tailed Sunbird. Again, even the birds played their part in enhancing the charm of this country. 

The small village outside our campsite, on the outskirts of Mahendranagar, however, topped the bill. Strolling along the tracks we encountered the local people busy in their own way. The young children, just out of school, were full of smiles, and eager to try out their English - most successfully, too. The adults were usually in the yards, tending their precious cattle and goats - in beautiful condition - or in their wonderful gardens, so proud of their vegetables - and rightly so. We suddenly understood why all our meals had been so creative and tasty with such produce at hand. 

There were no cars in the village. The youngsters had never left the village. The cattle sheds often looked as good as the houses. The colourful washing was drying on the roof. However, the people were so proud of their way of life - full of smiles, colourfully and neatly dressed, particularly the women and children, and so welcoming to us. 

What a total contrast we had experienced to our thoughts before we left the United Kingdom, with its comparatively massive wealth. What a wonderful surprise.

The country may well be very poor, but the Nepalese people more than make up for this, so we can only thank them for their welcome, joy, pride and colour, and wish them every success in the coming years - they really do deserve it. They may be sandwiched between China and India on the Earth's surface, but they are the delicious, tasty filling.

For further information about our 10-day 'Wildlife & Grassland Birds of West Nepal' please visit the tour webpage.