After a month in India, Donna, Debbie, Craig & I fly from Goa to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, a small Himalayan country north east of India. Nepal contains 8 of the planet’s 10 highest peaks, including Everest. Largely Buddhist, it is was peaceful monarchy when we visited. Coexisting with buddhists, Kathmandu is also home to a hippy population. It is cooler, cleaner and less crowded than many of the places we’ve been in India and is a welcome respite.
We find an inexpensive guest house in the centre of town and settle in for a week of waiting for our trekking permits. We plan to hike a route called the Annapurna sanctuary. As we are checking in to our rooms two American guys are leaving for the airport for their flight back to the US. They have a hunk of hashish that they can’t take with them. We gladly accept their gift. Our camp stoves and knives will come in handy when we decide to try the hash.
Day trips from Kathmandu take us to Bhaktapur and to an Everest look-out. Unfortunately it is the winter burning season and the sky is too smoky to permit clear views of the renowned highest peak. Bhaktapur is an ancient village known for its handicrafts. We manage to find room in our packs for a few souvenirs.
Swayambhunath is a buddhist structure outside Kathmandu that features the all seeing eyes of Buddha. A Unesco World Heritage site, it is a sacred ancient pilgrimage site, requiring a climb up too many stairs to count.
Once we have our trekking permits we take a bus to Pokhara, a city on Phewa Lake. It is the largest city in Nepal and is an important stop on the ancient trade route between India and China. Today Pokhara is a recreation centre and is the base for our trek into the Annapurna range. I don’t remember how we meet Jagan, our 16 yr old guide. No doubt, as is so often the case with guides, he spied us in the market and propositioned us. We agree on $10/day for him to guide us and, in a basket carried on his back and held in place with a strap around his forehead, carry our gear. Seems like a good deal. Craig will want me to be sure to say that Jagan carried Donna’s and my gear, while Craig carried his own. Male pride!!
Jagan himself has only a toothbrush and a pack of cigarettes. He wears the same clothes every day for a week, scrambling over rocks and tree trunks with his feet shod in flip flops that have seen better days. He stops only for bathroom and smoke breaks. We are in awe of his vigour and uncomplaining personality.
Craig too seems unstoppable. Donna & I feel like we have colds or the flu. In hindsight, we were probably experiencing altitude sickness, but do not recognize the signs and symptoms. We lumber along, working hard to keep up to Craig & Jagan.
We walk along an ancient trail still used by local villagers. As there is no road through the area, everything is transported on the trail. Donkey trains miles long haul all manner of goods. Humans, too, carry huge loads on their backs. Some are barefoot, sporting feet that are so thickly calloused that they don’t need shoes.
We eat and sleep in tiny villages along the way, staying in some incredibly basic rooms. One is nothing more than a hay-loft with rats running under our beds at night. Another features a bathroom that is really just an animal pen that we share with several cows. Toward the end of the trek we are enticed by a sign on the outskirts of town that advertises showers. The “shower” turns out to be a pipe sticking out of a rocky wall, spouting cold water. No privacy whatsoever and we have to wait for a local fellow to finish washing his bullock before we take our turn. At Ghorepani we wash using buckets of water heated over a wood fire.
After our 10 days of trekking we hope to get a bus to the small town where we will pick up our rafting trip, but the bus is full. It is the last one of the day so we end up on the top of an oil tanker. It’s free, the breeze is cool and refreshing, but it dawns on me as we are under way that it is not very safe. The mountain road is narrow and twisty. The driver is recklessly going too fast. And I am stuck on the break between the tank and the cab. Geeeeezzzz!!! I close my eyes and pray. We roar past the bus and make it to our destination in good time and in one piece. But, I mean, geeeezzzz!
The river rafting trip is a bit of a bust as it is the dry season, the water is low and we have to paddle a lot. But the nights camping by the river are peaceful. We are rewarded with a gorgeous sunset our last night. A perfect ending to a month of adventure in Nepal.
We make our way back to Pokhara, then to Kathmandu, back to our guesthouse where we pass on what’s left of our hunk of hash on to an appreciative fellow just arrived from New Zealand.
The next day we board an overnight bus to Darjeeling, back to India. The story continues in the India 1985 blog.