5 days in Nepal with Pomalo

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About 4 years ago, I caught the travel bug and boy did I catch it bad. As I planned my honeymoon to the Greek islands, with little to no experience booking a trip, I pleaded for help on a Facebook page. Random strangers came to my aid and quite a few of them recommended I reach out to the lovely ladies of Pomalo Travel – the designers of custom-made travel itineraries specifically based on your preferences.

Fast forward 4 years, the best honeymoon anyone could ever ask for, and 20 countries later, I found out that I was actually their first client to make a booking through their website. And because life is funny like that, they wanted me to also be with them on their first ever female-only hosted trip to one of my favorite countries on the face of this planet, Nepal.

Having been there once before and having absolutely fallen in love with the beautiful nature (think views of rolling mountains, spectacular sunsets, and out-of-this-world sunrises), warm people, interesting history, and food that you won’t mind packing on some kilos for. I was super curious to see how Rana and Mona would be able to transform the beautiful, yet humble Nepal I had come to know, with an action-packed, yet luxe trip that I had come to expect from Pomalo Travel.

Although this was a hosted trip, I am by no means coaxed, or paid to give a good account of the experience. This is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Ready?

 

Day 1.

The kind folks at FlyDubai and Lawrence Travel PR hooked me up with some Business class tickets straight to Kathmandu. So a good nap, movie, and 3-course breakfast later and we were getting to know our guide Mr. Mahish and heading straight to our first hotel.

 

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That morning view though!

 

A short drive later and we were rolling right into our very own piece of heaven in the bustling streets of Kathmandu.

The staff at Dwarika’s Hotel greeted us with some sindoor powder said to give us good luck and happiness and to welcome us into their home and their country.

 

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Mona and Rana with sindoor powder 

 

We were welcomed by our gracious hosts at Dwarika’s Hotel, shown around the estate, and promptly taken to our room to recharge and get ready to hit the streets of Kathmandu.

I was taken up to my suite and was instantly gob-smacked. I could already tell this was going to be a totally new experience of Nepal. The suite was so luxurious, I could’ve spent the entire holiday just lounging in the sandalwood-smelling sheets, taking in the skies of Nepal from my window.

 

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A room with a view (Dwarika’s Hotel – Kathmandu)

 

But then again, how could I rest when there was so much to see, explore and, most importantly, EAT. Equipped with my camera, rain gear, and curiosity,  I was ready to explore Kathmandu Durbar Square with Mona, Rana and our group.

 

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Monkey’s roaming the temples of Durbar Sq. and the Crematorium

 

Having visited Kathmandu Durbar Sq. in late 2014, I was almost moved to tears to see just how much of the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site was destroyed by the infamous earthquakes of 2015.

Built in the 10th century, the medieval ruins of the palaces (Durbar means palace in Nepalese), leave you in awe as you see the past unfold right before your eyes. I was stepping into the unknown with sights of palace ruins, live goddesses, and people flocking for prayers and religious rituals.

 

 

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Kathmandu Durbar Square

 

After Durbar Sq. we made our way to the crematorium area, where we were able to witness a funeral and cremation procession taking place. A truly unique and very intimate look into the local culture. From afar (as tourists aren’t allowed on the other side of the Bagmati River in Kathmandu Valley), we tried to discreetly and respectfully feed our curiosity.

 

 

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Cremation near Pashupatinath Temple

 

Then we made our way throughout the temple grounds while Mr. Mahish explained the historical and religious significance of the place. We even got to meet a few Sadhus that offered us their blessings in exchange for alms.

 

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Blessings from Sadhus

 

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Mona from Pomalo receiving blessings from Sadhus

 

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Day 2. Kathmandu

Next morning, it was time for an early wake-up call and a delicious Nepalese/international breakfast Dwarika style before we began our first adventure.

Pomalo Travel had planned a morning plane ride above the Himalayan mountain range and I was giddy with excitement at the prospect of maybe seeing Mt. Everest in all her grandeur.

 

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En route to see the Himalayas

 

A sight so beautiful it’ll almost bring you to tears. The cotton-like clouds, the snow-capped mountain range, the giggles throughout the plane as someone sees the peak of Mt. Everest — truly a sight that should be on the top of your bucket list.

Unfortunately, the weather was a bit too cloudy to capture the magnificent mountain range or even Mt. Everest on camera, but I’ve got a few mental images that won’t be leaving me during this lifetime, I assure you.

 

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Mountain range views

 

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Rana from Pomalo in awe of the view

 

We were even lucky enough to get a sneak peek of the view from the captain’s cockpit. A beautiful panoramic vista, that kind of leaves you feeling a tinge of jealousy that the staff from Buddha Air get to see these views all the time.

 

 

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Cockpit view

 

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Sunrise views of the Himalayas  (Sarangkot)

 

After the sensational views, we were off to a local house to learn how to cook Nepalese food. We got to learn the rituals and eating habits with the chef, his wife and their teenage son — a truly wonderful experience. Spicy potatoes and buffalo meat for starters, a Nepalese Thali dish, and sweet momos for dessert were all on the menu and I was on Cloud 9 the entire time.

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Day 3. Pokhara

On the morning of the third day, we jumped on an hour-long flight to beautiful Pokhara – personally, my favorite city in Nepal.

After arriving at the airport, we took a jeep and drove upwards for about 45 minutes till we reached the summit of Tiger Mountain and were greeted with a view that will leave you at loss for words. The highlight of my trip was staying at Tiger Mountain Lodge – Pokhara.

 

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View of the mountain range in Pokhara – Tiger Mountain Lodge

 

An all-inclusive, secluded estate with the best views all day long and the best Nepali food I think I’ll ever have (I’m salivating just thinking about it now).

 

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Pathway from restaurant to lodges

 

 

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Beautiful Nepali ‘high-tea’ platter at Tiger Mountain Lodge

 

After settling in, we then headed to a local school for the Pack for a Purpose initiative that Tiger Mountain Lodge is part of. We packed school supplies, books and other essentials in Dubai and brought them to a local school. We got to meet the students, talk to the teachers and enjoy the walk through the village from Tiger Mountain Lodge to Sri Shiva Shakti School.

 

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Sacred tree on our way to the school

 

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Taking photos of a water buffalo we found on the way to the school

 

 

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Rana and Mona from Pomalo and me:)

 

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The amazing students of Sri Shiva Shakti Primary School

 

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Mona from Pomalo and the students of Sri Shiva School
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One of my favorite photos of this little guy giving me a full smile

 

Then we headed back to the lodge for a Nepali dinner with views fit for queens.

 

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Nepalese Thali spread for lunch

 

 

Day 4. Pokhara

 

The next morning we woke up just before sunrise to a cup of ginger tea and a sunrise view of the Himalayas. Groggy, still in my pajamas and with a warm blanket wrapped around me like a burrito to protect me from the crisp dawn mountain breeze, I was blown away by the view.

 

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Sunrise view from Tiger Mountain Lodge

 

Then we headed to Pokhara town to take a look at the famous Fewa Lake and Peace Pagoda and to take part in a meditation session with our guide and guru.

We took a row boat to the steps of the mountain with a meditation guru and trekked to the top of the mountain to partake in a private meditation session in one of the rooms of the pagoda.

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Fewa Lake
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Row boats of Fewa Lake
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Rana in front of Fewa Lake taking in the view

After an adventurous trek to the top, we took our yoga mats and headed to the meditation rooms near the pagoda to learn about our chakras and how to meditate.

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Buddha’s watchful eyes on top of the pagoda

 

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Mahish praying in front of another pagoda in Pokhara

Unfortunately, cameras aren’t allowed near the prayer rooms, but I left feeling 10 times lighter than when I arrived.

 

After our meditation session, we headed to Sarangkot summit for a paragliding experience, soaring above Pokhara Valley and taking in the views from the top that only paragliding could offer.

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Getting ready to paraglide above Fewa Lake
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Me discovering that I may have a fear of heights

 

After our paraglide, we hit the streets of Pokhara for some well-deserved plates of momos and went to explore the fairtrade market filled with pashminas, meditation singing bowls, and handmade ayurvedic beauty products.

 

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Delicious vegetarian and chicken momos

 

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Mona learning all about Tibetan meditation singing bowls

 

Day 5. Dhulikhel

A short hour flight back to Kathmandu and we were on our way to Dwarika’s Resort in Dhulikhel. A holistic retreat perched on the beautiful mountain tops of Dhulikhel. Perfect for chakra balancing, yoga, meditation and spa treatments.

But before reaching Dhulikhel, we stopped on the way at Bhaktapur City (the city of devotees) a UNESCO World Heritage site. A city well-known for pottery, the grand Malla dynasty remnants and the Dhulikhel Durbar Sq.

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Lady selling local pottery goods
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Local fruit vendor with fruit baskets

Little did I know that the ladies from Pomalo Travel had yet another experience in store. They had arranged a pottery class with one of the local pottery masters — an experience I’ve honestly always wanted to try ever since the movie Ghost (Don’t pretend you don’t get the reference, you totally do).We rolled up our sleeves and took a shot at a pottery class.

With Unchained Melody in my heart, it was time to roll up my sleeves (figuratively) and get those wheels spinning (literally).

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After the oddly soothing pottery class, we had a few hours to have lunch (more momos, yes!) and purchase some local goods, roam the ancient streets, strike up conversations with locals and just take in the beautiful durbar square.

 

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Local woman selling pottery

 

 

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Some buildings being rebuilt after the devastation of the 2015 earthquake

 

 

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Beautiful textiles and cashmere

 

 

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Every intersection has a shaded area where people of all ages come to socialize 

 

There is no greater testament to the patience, resilience, and pride the Nepalese people have for their country. All around the country, 2 years later, and the people are still working together to revive their heritage. A medley of beautiful memories of what once was, and the possibility and strength the future holds for the people of Nepal.

 

 

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Recovering from the devastation of the earthquake 2 years later

 

After exploring, we headed back to Dhulikhel to unwind.

Dwarika’s Resort is a wellness retreat that has different activities included in the price (and others paid separately).

There’s an organic farm on the estate and you can take a cooking class with the in-house chefs — starting from picking the fresh produce and ending in enjoying a delicious meal.

There’s a meditation area with 7 rooms, each signifying one chakra. You start at the first room, meditating into the first chakra and slowly make your way up to the 7th with the meditation guru.

There’s a Himalayan sea salt room filled from top to bottom with salt, buddhist chants, drinking water and dim lighting — all perfectly set up to ease your breathing, and help you meditate and unwind.

A fully-equipped spa is available on the estate with professionally-trained ayurvedic messeuses.

And if you’re lucky, you could even catch a glimpse of the some of the wildlife surrounding the resort.

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Breakfast with a surprise guest

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Dwarika’s Resort pool views

 

The perfect season for Nepal is right around the corner this October, and I wouldn’t have any one else help plan the trip.

The ladies from Pomalo have gone from being the driving force behind making my honeymoon the most wonderful experience of my life, to becoming friends I hope I can keep in touch with for years to come.

They are thorough, thoughtful and leave no detail to chance — always resulting in a trip that is nothing less than perfection.

In Croation/Dalmatian, the word Pomalo means to ‘go with the flow’ or ‘not to worry’, and there is no name better for these two — they do all the worrying for you, so that you’re always able to ‘go with the flow’.

Rana, Mona, Fly Dubai, and Lawrence Travel PR, thank you for making my trip to Nepal a truly unforgettable one.

The light in me sees the light in you. Namaste.

 

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Welcome to Morocco – اهلا بكم في المغرب

Moroccan breakfast

 

Prepare yourself for my most visually invigorating post yet–not because my photography skills have blossomed (they have not), but because Morocco promises beautiful pictures even if you were using a Nokia 3300.

I’ve been putting off writing my Morocco post for longer than I should’ve, only because I wanted to make sure it was as perfect as it could be and that it did the beautiful cities of Marrakesh, Chefchaouen, and Essaouira justice.

As a child, being a mixed kid always confused the heck out of me. I often wondered if I were more Arab than Hispanic, or vice versa. As an adult, I realized that being both was double the awesome–I wish I could’ve explained that to little 7-year-old Ahlam. I wish I could’ve told her that there would be a day you’d get to travel to Morocco and find city, upon city of people as vibrant, as culturally diverse and as authentic as you. With African, Arabic, Moorish, Spanish, Amazigh, Portuguese and French influence, Morocco stole my heart the second I landed in Casa Blanca.

A true feast for the senses–with sights, smells, flavors and various textiles caressing your being as you walk down the colorful alleyways of each city–Morocco needs to be on the top of travel bucket list, my friends.

Moroccan mint tea

Day 1

We landed in Casa Blanca, and hopped onto the airport train and straight to our hotel. We had lunch, slept at an Ibis hotel right next to the train station as we were heading early morning the next day to Chefchaouen. The hotel was clean, beds were rather comfortable and it was less than a 2-minute walk to the train station.

Day 2

The next morning we woke up at dawn to head to the beautiful blue-washed village of Chefchaouen. Located in the midst of the Kif mountains, painted from top to bottom in different blue hues and without a car in sight–it’s most definitely not a sight to be missed. We took a three-hour train ride to Tangier and then hired a petit taxi (a taxi cab) for an hour and a half to take us to Chefchaouen.

Then. We. Arrived.

I could try night and day to explain to you how beautiful this place really is, but I would never be able to do it justice. The people are kind, the breeze is gorgeous, the food and music and leather and..and…the list could go on for days!

ChefChaoun view

We commenced with the near hike through the steps, upon steps of blue that led us straight to the first hotel we’d be staying at, Dar Zambra. We were greeted warmly and taken to our beautifully decorated room. That photo above was the view from our window. The entire hotel only has 4 rooms, try to get the Green room–the room on the highest floor right next to the breakfast terrace. Put your stuff away so you don’t clutter the serenity of the room with every nook handmade to artisan perfection. Take a shower in the beautiful bathroom and just open the window and allow the golden Moroccan sun to warm you up as you lay in bed and feel the chill of the Kif mountain breeze and the sound of the adhan echoing through the air. It brings tears to my eyes just remembering. It was and is utter perfection.

The manager and his wife could arrange for a Morrocan cooking class in their quaint little kitchen.

Once the afternoon sun has subsided a bit, venture through the souks of leather bags, poufs and hand woven carpets and tapestries. Enjoy a conversation with the group of old men sitting on the ground, painting a masterpiece, conversing with friends and enjoying a drag of cigarette simultaneously.

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Day 3

The next morning, wake up at dawn (trust me, do it) and enjoy the sun rise over the mountains. Enjoy the sun set over the mountains. Enjoy the moon emerge from behind the mountains. Enjoy the mountains.

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Then head on out to the terrace and enjoy one the best breakfasts you’ve ever had.

Moroccan breakfast

We spent the rest of the day enjoying our room and scenery then once again, when the sun’s harsh rays subsided we walked through the alleys again. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch of Lahm wa Barkouk (a lamb tagine with prunes and almonds) at a restaurant called Ali Baba…and then we enjoyed that dish 4 times more before we left 🙂

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Then it was on to shopping for some leather, hand woven carpets and silver Amazighi jewelry.

Day 4

We checked out of Dar Zambra and in to Ryad Lina & Spa for a taste of a stay at a true Morrocan Riad and a Moroccan hamam.

The hotel was lovely, a bit more continental than Dar Zambra. The spa was absolutely lovely, but the staff didn’t add the personal touch that the folks at Dar Zambra did. The estate itself was lovely with a large terrace in front of your room where you could order room service.

 

Them it was time to take a taxi to the local bus station and head to Marrakesh. I warn you that you NEED to properly plan your trip. Geography-wise it’s not the best idea to head directly from Chefchaouen to Marrakesh it’s almost a 10 hour ride (and that’s if you ride the correct bus. We did not)

Word of advice, stick to the touristy CTM buses as they’re quick and they hardly make any stops. The bus that we got on, was a regular governmental bus that stopped every ten minutes. It almost took us 16 hours to get to Chefchaouen. Not the highlight of our trip.

Day 5

We arrived at Marrakesh at 3 o’clock in the morning which means we practically missed our first night there and were only left with one more night. Once we arrived at the bus stop in Marrakesh, we had no idea how to get to our hotel. Luckily for us, the riad manager, Desiree was an angel and when we called her in the middle of the night, she got out of bed and came to meet us on the street to take us to the hotel, Riad Farhan.

Day 6

Weary from the journey of the night before, we woke up without the slightest realization of the beauty of the space we were in. This riad is where you MUST stay if you’re in Marrakesh. YOU MUST STAY HERE! It is absolutely, jaw-droppingly beautiful! You won’t want to leave your room, I assure you!

It was like waking up in a dream. In a dream where you keep telling yourself that this could not possibly be real.

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In the afternoon, we ventured beyond the walls of the heavenly Riad Farhan to explore the city, with rows upon rows of souks of spices, leather, lanterns, mirrors and silver. We headed towards the famous Jamea Al Fana, an ancient square or plaza where the wonderful people of Marrakesh gather to perform acrobatic skits, theater, and music. With snake charmers scattered around, performing monkeys and horse-pulled chariots. With steamed snail stands, freshly prepared seafood stands with communal tables and walking vendors with fresh orange juice or fresh Morrocan tea strapped to their back. We realized we were light years away from peaceful Chefchaouen. Marrakesh was a different trip altogether–one not to be missed.

Day 7

Having had our short trip to Marrakesh be made even shorter by getting on the wrong bus, it was time to have one last lunch in Marrakesh and head off for a 2-hour bus ride to the coastal area of Essaouira.

Once invaded by the Portuguese, the dialect and food are totally different in Essaouira. The perfect place from some fresh seafood (especially sardines) and a good old-fashioned tan. We stayed at the lovely Le Medina Essaouira Thalasso and Spa. With a lovely sea view from accross the street and about a 3 minute walk to the city center, it was a good option in Essaouira.

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Day 8 and 9

The rest of our trip was spent roaming the alleyways and fortresses and then enjoying some beautiful sunshine and beach time until we head back to Casa Blanca.

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Day 10

We arrived in Casa Blanca, spent the night at the same ibis hotel and took the train back to the airport and back to Dubai 😦

 

I loved Morocco, I loved every second of it. Marrakesh and Chefchaouen were my absolute favorites. What a beautiful country!

I put together a little video of my stay here.