HIGH IN NEPAL (3/3) The final story… (Archive 31. Oct 2010)

The last note ended with me writing something about the spirit of the mountain, I think… Anyway, flying past the Himalayan giants, to the roaring of the jet’s engine, and back toward Kathmandu and it’s crowded street, dust, roaming stray dogs, blaring horns and piles of trash was a bit depressing. I immediately wanted to go back to the serene landscapes I left behind. I spent a couple of days in Kathmandu’s Thamel district pondering on what to do. I don’t recount much aside from having had an insatiable sense of hunger after 15 days of walking all day. I was sitting in a café at 9am, having my second breakfast of the morning, a nice steak, when I through random encounters I met Louise, a fellow traveler. We decided to meet in Pokhara and 3 days later I was off trekking again – this time Annapurna sanctuary trek via Annapurna and Machapuchre base camps.

 

In those 3 days was Dasain festival, the biggest yearly festival in Nepal. I visited a friend’s house in a small village nearby Pokhara. After another gruelling long and bumpy bus journey along this so-called main highway, and confused faces as to why I would want to travel to this little village, I arrived. The bus driver asked me if I knew where I was going and I said no. I really didn’t. As the bus drove off and left a cloud of dust, I stood on the village road in the middle of nowhere somewhere near Pokhara. I asked some women sitting on the street if there was a phone I could use to call my friend. They all mustered me with amusement. They obviously didn’t understand what this strange foreigner with a big backpack was saying. Finally I found a phone, and also found that there was no reception, and had no house address with me. The only option was to ask some random people on the street if they knew my friend, and luckily the third or fourth person I knew told me he was his village brother and led me to the house. I only spent two days there and pretty much did nothing except watch village life go by, switching views from the balcony to the shop front, and eating Nepali food. Dasain comes with the biggest goaticide I’ve witnessed – the countryside’s many goats appeared on dinner plates in large portions (usually meat is not eaten much in Nepal). Dasain also comes with a Tika ceremony in which one must take a shower then have a Tika (red mixture made of rice) placed on their foreheads for good fortune. As the day went on, every so often some of this red mixture would crumble off. Maybe also because of the trekking tan, but many people told me I look Nepali. The journey to Pokhara during Dasain was a bit hectic as everyone visits their relatives during this time. Bus after bus I was only offered roof space (but 3 hours on a roof and a dusty road didn’t seem like a good idea), but finally I got the last seat inside of a bus.

 

A day later I met my fellow trekkers-to-be, Matt, James and Louise. Although all different in age, country etc. we got along well from the start. This time our trek would be independent. On a well trodden path such as the Annapurna trek, a guide seemed unnecessary. And porter? We packed very lightly instead! I think a trek should come with figuring out your way by using maps and carrying your own things (unless your solo, camping or not good at packing lightly…). It was so nice to be back in clean mountain air! The first evening we did Yoga on the roof (with James, our private Yoga teacher), saw a million stars, and felt so happy. We were attempting a 10 day trek in 8 days so every day we had to trek a couple of (tiring) hours more. Altitude wasn’t such an issue though as the highest point was only(?) 4150m. The trek was maybe even more tiring than the last because we hiked all day and the mountain was continually ascending or descending steeply. It was a bit disheartening going down 1000m in a day when you knew that the next day you’d have to go all the way back up again. It started to feel like the mountain was playing an joke on us. Because it was peak season, lodges were often full. We had to contend ourselves on sleeping in dining rooms (and being woken up at 6am by early-bird trekkers munching on their breakfasts) or going the extra mile to get to village that had available rooms. Once this extra mile happened to be a little too late in the day. We were trekking and at 6pm the sun suddenly plunged from the sky and the countryside descended into pitch darkness. Using our head torches, we continued on to the next village – it started to feel like extreme-trekking, or some kind of crazy trekathon. I was pretty exhausted to see the fun in it and was happy to see lights appearing in the distance. The four of us had dinner and immediately passed out. A never-ending humour were the menus, fromwhich you could order things such as apple filters, sweat lassis and korean fak soup.

 

Once again, the temperatures were freezing, especially at base camp where we were all huddled in bed in our spartan rooms, wearing everything. I had lost my trackpants and perhaps packed a little too lightly, and had to wear even my trekking pants to bed. Taking showers only to have to wear the same clothes again was not fun. We drank hot chocolate with rum, covered ourselves with 3 thick blankets, wore thermals, wooly hats, gloves and down jackets, tried running lying down in bed and still felt cold. The next morning was amazing. Surrounded by mountain, with Annapurna I in front (over 8000m and 10th biggest in the world), and Machapuchre behind us, coated in a pale shade of pink from the sun. Everyone was in awe, it was very beautiful – you gotta see it to believe it!

 

The day after returning to Pokhara, due to time restrictions, Louise and I immediately departed for Chitwan National Park, a jungle in the south near India. The bus ride was again fantastic –an old local bus sold to us as a tourist bus, in which we were thrown about like popcorn and Louise bumped her head many times. We were really tired, but our sightseeing started from day 1. It included typical and touristy stuff like a jungle trek, elephant ride, bird watching, and traditional Tharu culture performance. We had a pretty tight schedule and every hour break we had we would fall asleep. I think no other guests required as many wake-up knocks as us. It started to get a bit embarrassing. We were warned of dangerous animals we could encounter, such as tigers, rhinos, sloth bears and crocodiles, and how we could escape their attacks. We didn’t encounter any – not sure whether to feel disappointment or relief. Our guide was nice – although his rhyming was not the best, he amused us with witty replies such as ‘don’t worry, chicken curry’ ‘why not, coconut’.  I think he felt more disappointed than us at not having seen any dangerous animals in the wild during our sightseeing. All this talk about tigers in the dark, and rhinos hiding in the fields made it seem almost like a myth. During our museum visits however, we did see rhino, tiger and elephant fetuses in glass jars… On the last morning, we were woken up at 6am to loud knocks on our door and “rhino!! rhino!!”. We stumbled down to see a grey blob appear in the distance out of the mist. So in the end, looking like wild animals ourselves, we saw a rhino.

 

Coming to Nepal I remember feeling like I was thrown into the past into an array of eras: cassette players, lack of electricity, candlelight, horse carts, land ploughed by buffalos, water collected from communal taps, grass carried from fields, chickens roaming the streets, Britney and Avril Lavigne-imprinted t-shirts, 70’s hippy buses, potholed highways, basic classrooms with blackboards, a societal system based on castes… Houses are, especially in Chitwan, often made of mud, cow dung and reeds. If it rains a lot, the mud has to be reapplied. It reminded me of the fairy tale about the pigs, “and a huff and a puff…”. Although it often feels like you’re a few years behind, it’s actually the year 2067 in Nepal this year. And then there’s that extra 15min time difference to be different from India (or so I’ve heard…). So I really don’t know whether to look forward or back. Tomorrow I am leaving Nepal. The most interesting and diverse country I have ever visited, and where cows are king. Although people here are mostly quite poor, they always show much hospitality. I read the other day that people come to Nepal to get high- either through marijuana (which grows in the wild just like any other plant), through climbing up a mountain, or spiritually through moshka, a spiritual transcendence like the Buddhist Nirvana. For me it was the mountains that inspired me and will one day draw me back to this country. I met many adventurous, interesting and stimulating people  with who I will hopefully one day cross paths with again. Until then, so long, Nepal!

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