#41 - Nepal
Willner - 22 May 2002
Chitwan Park, NEPAL) – We
bumped down the side of the mountain on a rough gravel road, descending
into warmer air and lush jungle. Despite the slow progress we were happy.
Women strolled between shops wearing brightly colored saris, water seemed
to stream everywhere off the mountainside glistening in the sun, and
the people waved at us happily. Then the road went from gravel to pavement.
It was then that I had the first inkling that Nepal and I would share
was exactly what I thought Tibet was going to be. A dramatic backdrop
of snow capped mountains, jagged cliffs covered in foliage, wide open
grasslands. Nepal is called the Middle Kingdom because it is the bridge
between India's hot humid plains and Tibet's barren fastness. I had never
really had a grasp of what Nepal was all about. It was just a little
country stuck in the middle of two headliners. I had low expectations.
Actually, I had virtually no expectations of the place - I just wanted
to get through without being blown up by Maoist rebels. I had no idea
it was such a jewel.
the great scenery and relaxing drive toward Kathmandu I started having
sharp pains in my stomach. Too early for lunch. What the heck is going
on. You get used to traveller's stomach on the road, there's no choice
really. Too many new cuisines, too many meals at roadside shacks, aside
from blowing the budget on posh restaurants who offer mediocre facsimiles
of western food, there is no avoiding it. And anyway, why wouldn't you
eat Chinese food when in China - it's worth a day on Pepto. But the cramps
I got on the road to Kathmandu were different and they kept getting more
intense. By the time we got into town and found the hotel where we were
to pick up Stacey (a friend from Canada who was joining us for four weeks)
I was about ready to curl up on a patch of floor.
I had eaten some bad yak meat in Tibet just prior to crossing into Nepal,
maybe it was Tibet getting it's revenge for my journal piece. It took
almost a full 24 hours of continuous stomach cramping before things finally
settled down - my single worst stomach attack on the trip. Still, it
didn't take away from the allure of Kathmandu. The city is a mecca for
hikers and an entire backpacker city has sprung up. It was a feast of
for our senses, rows of cheap internet cafes, clean hostels, restaurants
with western menus, real chocolate bars, genuine Energizer batteries.
Funny how your needs get boiled down after a couple months of hard travel.
drove down the steep escarpment, barely skirting a landslide (that would
later re-slide and close off the highway for an entire day) on an excellent
paved road, heading toward Pokara. Situated on the side of a lake, Pokara
is the jumping off point for the Anapurna circuit. The backpacker maze
was smaller but still outstanding. Frankly I just didn't have the energy
to hike. At almost twelve full months on the road I was worn down. I
mean just tired. Tired of having to gut out the hassle of daily driving,
keeping the expedition on schedule, dealing with bad food, breakdowns,
visa issues, and just the nightly routine of hunting for a decent place
to stay. There was a campground in town that only cost $1 per night.
But after one night of rain, swatting mosquitoes, and sweating in the
night heat - Stacey and I unanimously agreed to splurge on the $3 per
night for a nice hotel room. Yeah - I know. It wouldn't even cross the
mind of a sane person to consider that choice for long. But the year
on the road had not only beat up our bodies, it had also put the hurt
on our budget.
Sally, and Stacey decided to hike up to a lookout on a nearby mountain
the next day. Stacey was keen to see the Himalayas, Kathryn wanted to
rough it, and Sally was drawing on some mysterious reserve of energy.
I contented myself with a late breakfast of bacon and eggs, a cold Coke,
and a morning of happily typing away on my laptop. Downloading pictures
from the digital camera and formatting them for the website, answering
emails, and making slow progress on yet another journal.
was close to dark with the woman finally got back. "Well that was
a bit tougher than we thought, plus it was all foggy so we didn't see
a thing, AND these rascal kids kept telling us to go the wrong way so
that they could charge us to be guides and take us back to the path!" They
started peeling off their outer layers. "There were some leeches
out there too", said Sally conversationally, "but we kept moving
so we didn't pick up any". "OH MY GOD." Kathryn pointed
to her sock. It was soaked in blood, and a very happy, very fat leech
was stuck to her foot. "We totally got leeched!" Pandemonium.
"LEECHES." "AHHH." "KILL
THEM, KILL THEM." Those are the times when you can really rack up
the man points. I sized up the situation and issued my calming words, "that's
probably the only one." No sooner said than I saw another leech
going end over end, up the side of the bed, right for my bare feet. I
have to admit I was pretty grossed out - but nothing like the women who
made mad leaps for the high ground on any available furniture. We managed
to whack the crap out of several unfortunate blood suckers and calm was
restored. Sally and Kathryn promptly decided that spending $3 on a hotel
room was a lot preferable than going back out to the grassy campground.
So we all relaxed in luxury on the next day.
think the mood carried over because after driving to Chitwan National
Park the next day, Sally and Kathryn allowed themselves to be talked
into staying at a really nice hotel. The Rhino Residence had a pool,
gorgeous little wooden huts with A/C and immaculate beds, and all the
amenities of a game park lodge. Thank goodness they gave in because we
had an exquisite stay. And despite the mounting tyranny of the schedule
(to get the trip done we would have to average almost 500km per day)
we stayed an extra day - just to soak up the peace.
was an outstanding experience. We had no problem with the Maoist rebels,
the roads and tourist infrastructure is outstanding, and the scenery
is just drop dead gorgeous. I will absolutely go back and visit again!