Friday, January 28, 2011

Stream of Consciousness…Thoughts on Nepal...almost a year lator and I have finally stopped procrastinating!


On April 6, I hucked my trusty Gregory pack on my back and flew to Nepal. I make it sound as though the process was quite simple to puddle hop to other side of the world. In reality, it was a quite lengthy and tedious process with two international night flights and a 10 hour layover in Heathrow London. Fortunately, I slept through my night flights and my layover in London was during the day. At the airport, I bought tickets for a double-decker bus tour that allowed me to get on and off different buses as I pleased for the next 24 hours. I caught a train to Paddington Station in downtown London. It was drizzling (big surprise there) but I didn’t let that stop me from charging to the rooftop seats. The whole London tour was a blur of stone buildings, important religious, government and historical landmarks and bumbershoots. The most memorable and important part of the London tour was walking around Kensington Gardens. While doddling about the beautiful fountains and flowers, I discovered the famed statue of Peter Pan, the very same statue used in the movie Hook when Robin Williams’ character, Peter, awakens from his Never Never Land slumber. It was magical!

April 8th Kathmandu
36 hours after leaving Missoula, I finally stepped out of the plane onto the Kathmandu tarmac. It was 15:00 hours and the light was muffled by a very unhealthy looking layer of smog. The air was oppressingly hot and humid and the air smelled of jet fuel and dry dirt. After a ridiculous mini bus ride of about 100 feet from the plane to the airport, I collected my luggage and headed for the exit of the airport. Sarah was right there at the door waiting for me. She had on a giant lime green backpack that dwarfed her small frame. I gave her a giant hug and we twirled. I have never been met by a friend at the airport who has already spent a month getting to know the language, customs, and lay of the land. I was thrilled to watch her negotiate with the taxi drivers, laughing with them, but not falling for their inflated prices. We actually managed to walk a ways from the airport before we got a taxi driver to consent to our price.

The taxi ride to Thamel, the tourist district, was a blur of catching up with Sarah, taxis, bikes, motorcycles and pedestrians. The streets were crowded and choked and I tried hard not to pay attention to my careening taxi. Sarah had been in Nepal for the past month with a Rotary exchange and had a lot of stories to tell. We had barely caught up when we scrambled out of the taxi and began looking for the Tibet Peace Guest House. Sarah had scoped out the hotel the day before, but the narrow, twisting streets of Thamel all look the same and are difficult to navigate so we spent about an hour retracing her steps and looking for it. After finding it, up the hill from the main part of Thamel, we dropped our packs and ventured out again for supplies, rupees for me and sustenance in the form of momos! We heard music blaring from an upstairs bar and restaurant so we went to check it out. It was a dark little joint with low tables and pillows to sit on. We ordered Blue Moon martinis and listened to the band rock covers of CCR, the Eagles, Tracy Chapman and a number of other really entertaining covers. They were energetic and sang with gusto. They were really good and we were quite amused! Then we bought a bottle of wine at a corner grocery and went back to the guest house to chat and relax in the peaceful garden.

April 9th Kathmandu
We ran a bunch of errands in preparation for our Annapurna circuit trek. We had to change more money, buy bus tickets, get trekking permits and get equipment. I bought a puffy down coat and walking sticks. Sarah rented a sleeping bag. We had tea with the shop keeper, Samden Lama, and he showed us pictures of his family. It was nice to trust him as we didn’t trust many Nepalese who we thought were just trying to take advantage of our supposed naiveté and “riches.” We dropped off our gear and decided to go to a Hindi movie. We caught a taxi to a really nice, and very out of place, glass windowed shopping complex with escalators and air conditioning. It was surreal for many reasons. It was much too extravagant for its surroundings which consisted of dingy shacks and open air markets. The movie we watched was an action flick called Prince. It had enough English peppered in the Hindi and the plot was simple enough that Sarah and I were able to easily follow the mellow dramatic action. Unfortunately, about ¾ of the way through the sound went out. It was several minutes before they corrected the problem. However, we had watched about 20 minutes worth of film without any sound and the crowd put up a fuss. So they rewound the film by about 30 minutes. When the film got to the problem area it cut out entirely. We waited about 20 more minutes before they got the film started again. By that time, Sarah and I were wondering if it was worth it stay. When they finally started the movie back up it was soundless again. We left amidst an upset crowd demanding their money back. We weren’t going to mess with it.

April 10 Day 1 of the AC
We packed up and walked to the Green Line bus stop at 7:00am. The Greenline bus was nice and air conditioned. They gave us a bottle of water and we stopped for a buffet lunch at a really nice resort with a blue swimming pool on a glacial river. The road was harrowing and the smog was disheartening. The ride was about 6 hours long and when we were dropped off in Dumre, we were a bit shell shocked. We negotiated a bus ride to Bhulebhule amidst a blossoming Maoist demonstration. I fear that we overpaid by way too much but I was nervous about getting stranded when the demonstration started. In our panic to secure a bus, we just threw our bags on top of the bus and climbed up after them. We spent a very pleasant hour or two in the breeze with several young Nepali boys. The road was much more docile than the Pokhara highway. At Besashire, it started to rain and they got us inside the bus. We met a really nice young gal named Kakum who helped us navigate the bus to jeep transfer who, I think, stuck up for our well being several times when the Nepalis didn’t want to go as far as Bhulebhule. It was a relief to finally get off the cramped jeep and check in at the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) check post. From there we shouldered our packs and walked three miles to Ngadi. The village was a long string of hotels and each hotel proprietor solicited their “fine” hotel rooms to us as we walked by. It was overwhelming to have them plead with us to stay with them in such a desperate manner. Finally, I chose a hotel due to the fact that it was a young lady with a small child who was offering us a room. She even offered us the room for free if we would only eat there. We had read that the prices on the circuit were fixed and that trekkers shouldn’t negotiate on prices. We also knew that the villagers on the circuit depend on trekkers for their livelihoods so we assured her that we would pay the set rate for both our room and board. She cooked us dahl baat, rice and lentils with a tasty potato curry. It was the first of many dahl baats for me and the next in a long line of dahl baats for Sarah. It is the only food that the average Nepali really enjoys eating. We were exhausted from the bus rides so went to bed soon thereafter.

April 11 Day 2 of the AC
We broke our fast on boiled eggs and milk tea. At first I thought that the milk must be fresh but in hind site, it had to have been powdered. We left the small family hotel and began the longest and most grueling day of the whole trek. It began with a great hill to Bahundanda. It was quite a climb in the heat and humidity and we were soaked with sweat by the time we collapsed on a bench in the middle of the village. That hill was the first of many to come… We decided to press on and get lunch in Gharmu a couple hours down the trail. We learned a valuable lesson about meal ordering. We ordered egg and veg momos and they took about an hour to be prepared. At small restaurants like that, where they get on or two orders a day, it is important to order something that doesn’t take a lot of time or fuel to prepare or to order all of the same thing. Momos, it turns out, are really time intensive. While waiting we met a really nice Australian couple. They were really fun and positive. We are hoping to meet up with them further down the line. I had thought we were almost to our final destination but closer examination of the map revealed that we were only half way. After lunch, we trudged through the rest of the day, past construction sites (they are making the AC a road), up and down hills and through hot humid jungle. We were so beat by the time we reached Chamje that we ordered dhal baat and laid in bed groaning and rubbing our feet until they called us for dinner. We were asleep by 20:00.

April 12 Day 3 of the AC
In the morning, we spent about ½ hour culling our belongings of any extraneous weight. I sloughed away extra paper, envelopes, my broken purse, toiletries and packaging. Sarah left behind toiletries and a very old bra. I am not sure if the weight we shed actually was substantial but it made us feel better. We met a Japanese lady and her guide and porter and played leap frog with them all day. The guide spoke English well and was fun to joke with. We stopped by a waterfall for lunch. It was a really scenic and peaceful place but after a while we started hearing a really disconcerting squeaking sound. It was probably just a bird but it unnerved us enough that we packed up and left. We rested in a valley town named Tal and had tea with the Japanese lady and her group. Then we followed the river, crossing it often on giant steel suspension bridges. In Karte we witnessed our first traffic jam. It wasn’t your typical traffic jam with honking and idling cars. It was more of a mule jam with two different pack strings going in different directions and two lines of porters going in different directions all bottle necked at a narrow gap in between buildings in the village. Sarah and I watched it slowly sort itself out from rock benches. We heard jackhammers and pounding all day along the river trail. They are building a road that follows the trail we were on. Sometimes the construction was on our side of the canyon and other times, it was canyon from us on impossibly steep cliffs. That afternoon, it rained torrentially and we got soaked through our rain gear. The down pour occurred about a half hour before we got to Beggarchamp our day’s destination. We dried out as best we could, showered and had omelets and Tibetan bread. In Beggarchamp we had our first views of snow capped peaks. They were small and veiled behind haze, but their brilliant white still glowed and pulsed in the distance. We were asleep by 19:15.

April 13 Day 4 of the AC Nepali New Year’s Eve
After a restless night of spectacular lightening and thunder, we ate breakfast and started out by 7:15 am. We walked around a Buddhist stupa a couple of times and met up with two Europeans for the high route to Temang. We had excellent views of a high snow capped peak complex! We wound down through Koto and saw beautiful apple and peach tree blossoms. There were a lot of stupas and Buddhist or Tibetan influences in the towns now. We slogged into Chame at 13:00, a record breaking 9 miles in 6 hours. There were lots of fellow trekkers conglomerating here and we supped with the Australians and Spanish folk. I slept really well that night.

April 14 Day 5 of the AC Nepali New Year
This was an absolutely wonderful day; the weather was glorious, Sarah and I were high spirits and the scenery was breathtaking! We trekked through pine forests that were dry and sweet smelling. We had amazing Annapurna views and bluebird skies. We had developed camaraderie with many of our fellow trekkers, guides and porters and chatted with them as we trekked. We arrived in Pisang and contemplated continuing up the hill to Upper Pisang. A couple guides warned us that Upper Pisang as dangerous and one of the residents had gotten away with murder a couple of years ago. Even though Upper Pisang looked like it afforded better views of the mountains, we opted to stay in Lower Pisang, for safety’s sake. We had lunch there and worked up our courage to hike to Upper Pisang. It was a very steep climb and we encountered several trekker groups descending. We also encountered several groups that we knew that were staying in Upper Pisang. The village seems to be welcoming and friendly. We shed our fears and enjoyed the great views of Annapurna 4. We went into a Buddhist monastery, a gompa, strung with prayer flags and ran into many fellow trekkers. We all watched the sun set behind the Annapurnas from the high vantage point of the gompa. Sarah and I strolled around Lower Pisang too and chatted with some guys who were painting ornate patterns on a prayer wheel stand that went through the middle of town. One of them, Karma Sunam, painted a green lotus flower on the palm of my hand. Worn out, we went home and snuggled into our sleeping bags. We probably would have forgotten about dinner if a woman from the hotel hadn’t of reminded us to order food. It was too cold in the dining room so we huddled with the other Nepalis in the kitchen. I watched them make my garlic soup-sautéed garlic, water and some crazy thickener from a cornflakes can. Sarah had an entertaining, if not confusing conversation with a drunk Nepali on her other side. To be honest, I had no idea what they were talking about, and I’m not sure that Sarah did either!

April 15 Day 6 of the AC
I gave a bitterroot flower postcard to Karmasunam, the boy who painted the lotus flower on my palm. He seemed convinced that there were bitterroot flowers in Nepal, too. I don’t think so though. Then he painted his phone number on my palm so that I could call him in a month when I was back in Kathmandu. I let the number rub off without copying it down, but the thought was nice. We hiked the upper trail ad more scenic trail to Braka. Along the way, we had great views of the Annapurnas. We leap-frogged with the big English speaking group and the Polish folks until lunch. It was a steep climb to Gushu. Then it was a level climb past stupas and baby animals to Nhyama. We had a lunch of potato momos and omelet chapatti in the warming sun! The humidity is gone as is the dense foliage. We were in pine forests and now we are above them. In Braka, just before the “metropolis” of Manang, we found the New Yak Hotel. It had rooms with a private toilet and a warm solar heated shower. We were sold. Diki invites us in…she is a grandmothers type and obviously the brains behind the hotel operation. Her smile was so warm and inviting. We had steamy hot solar heated showers and chatted with other trekkers on the rooftop deck. The sun went down and it got too cold to stay outside-we are finally at altitude. The inside restaurant was warmed by a wood fire. All the trekkers crowded in as the evening progressed. We drank local alcohol called chang and ate Swiss rosti with tomatoes and cheese. We finished the evening off with a sinful slice of carrot cake, a startling, yet tasty item on the menu. The altitude exhausted us early and we slept well.

April 16 Day 7 of the AC
Today we climbed without out packs to Ice Lake high above Braka and Manang. The hike, though straight up, afforded breathtaking views of Annapurna I, II, IV, Gangapurna and Tilcho peaks. They all have glaciers cascading off of them. The Gangapurna Glacier has a large powder blue lake at its foot. The view only got better as we ascended. Francesco, an Italian, hiked with us. He filled us in on names and heights of peaks as we went. He also talked about old climbing lore and described a French expedition to the Annapurnas that went horribly wrong. At around hour 3.5 we arrived at the 1st lake. It was then a slight climb to Ice Lake. The view was a little less panoramic and the lake was not icy nor did it have bergs floating in it. But it was amazing non-the-less. We napped for about 30 minutes by the lake. I got a horrendous sunburn on a thin strip of skin on my stomach that had been exposed between by shirt and my pant line. We had a great lunch of chapatti and peanut butter and hard boiled eggs. We lingered at the lake for quite some time but then huffed it down the mountain. For dinner we had sea buckthorn juice, a staple and highly nutritious berry grown in the area. We also had nak cheese sandwiches (a nak is a female yak)

April 17 Day 8 of the AC
We got a super early start at 6:30 am. We stopped in Manang, a major city on the trek about .5 hours later. Manang has an airstrip and several downtown streets. It shows movies, has a post office and a medical clinic. It is the recommended acclimatization stopover on the trek. We stopped for the infamous apple pastry and tea at a guest house. We also stocked up on Indian samosas, a thing that we had come to really love. It was a short walking day for us because we needed to ascend slowly in order to acclimate to the altitude. One highlight of the trek was passing by the yak herds with new born babies. We had great views of the Annapurnas receding behind us. We had made a turn from the main valley and the Annapurnas were starting to recede around the corner. We lunched on garlic soup and yak cheese sandwiches. I had bought 100g or cheese from a big round at a bakery in Manang along with brown bread for 150rs. The weather turned very windy and cold so Sarah and I retreated to our sleeping bags for the afternoon. We emerged for dinner and card playing and guitar playing until around 21:00, well past our bedtime. Our room was right near the bathroom and all night we could hear the door slamming all night. It seems that a symptom of being at altitude is the need to pee all the time.

April 18 Day 9 of the AC
Porridge and tea for breakfast with apple-our only fruit for days. Apples are Manang’s staple. Just a short walk to Thorong Phedi and a long break. There are so many trekkers resting here, drinking tea, eating pastries, chatting and playing music. Our Israeli friends made us milk tea and we shared our chocolate and peanut butter. A sign on the wall declared that there had been 19 yak attacks so far this year. We started off again with a group of other trekkers. The trail switch backed straight up for over an hour. The view was stunning the whole way, though very different from the snow covered Annapurnas. These mountains were much barer though they still held tumbling glaciers. Our guest house at High Camp was sparse but the common room was bursting with fellow trekkers. Most people seemed to be dealing with the altitude well but one or two have had bad headaches. Sarah and I feel good and very strong! We wiled away the afternoon playing Wist with our Israeli friends, Leor and Jonathan. They were very interesting boys. I fear that we will not meet them again though. They plan to get up at 2:30am to hike the pass. After 13 rounds of Wist and a bad total loss on my part, Sarah and I had dinner and ordered breakfast and lunch for the next day too. We retired early and Sarah read to me from Tigers in the Snow, a book about sherpas in the mountain climbing world. I slept poorly and awoke feeling short of breath every time I rolled over in my sleep

April 19 Day 10 of the AC
We got up at 5:30am, munched on some Tibetan bread with cheese and were hiking by 6:00am. It was frigid and even with all my layers I was cold, my hands especially. The morning was clear and many trekkers had already started up. We made good time because of the cold. My pace was faster than Sarah’s so I sat to wait a couple of times. It was too chilly to linger for long. The landscape was moon-like and full of rocky moraines. We had a lot of ups and downs. The ups really dragged but we had great views of the Annapurnas and nearby -Thorong glaciers. There were a couple false passes, then I saw the tell-tale cairns strung with colorful flapping prayer flags. I stopped to wait for Sarah so we could approach the pass together. It was a triumphant affair and we took many pictures. There was a small tea shop run by a hardy Nepali who hauled water, fuel and tea from High Camp every morning and served chilly trekkers Nepal’s most expensive tea. His labor is worth it because everyone needs to warm up at the top of that windy pass. A very affectionate Frenchman served as our photographer and we as his. Both Sarah and I got multiple kisses and embraces. He was fun! After more ogling and picture-taking, I huddled in the tea hut to eat a bar of chocolate and the rest of my Tibetan bread with cheese. My hands were so cold that I couldn’t zip my puffy. The nice French man did it for me. We started our descent and were down out the frigid cold in no time. I though that my knees and ex-broken foot were going to ache and ache but they didn’t! Our new view over Mucktinath was not as spectacular, but gorgeous nonetheless. We stopped for lemon tea in Chambu and went another hour to Mucktinath. It was very disappointing, dirty and spread out. There were even dirt bikes and a bus depot. The visitor’s center was closed and there was a general feeling of malaise about the place so we decided to walk to the next town. We both felt deflated after the close camaraderie of the guest houses and the excitement of the challenge of the pass. We weren’t in the middle of nowhere anymore and our friends are spread to the wind. We found a nice place to stay in Jharkot 3550 m, 11360 ft and the sun is warm and we are clean. I even washed some clothes.
We walked around town, wondering how and what Nepali people did with their time. We found four really adorable baby cows in a small pen along the cobbled street. Actually, actually many cows in similar pens throughout town, the babies were just so cute. There were a lot of veggies and greenery growing in pots on the roofs. We also found a historical gompa to explore. We tried to check out a German bakery but it was closed. We came home and ordered dinner. Then we watched our hotel mamma weave a belt. She had a really cool loom with four pedals. I would love to learn how to operate it. We had dinner and retreated to bed with warm Roxshy, homemade wine.

April 20 Day 11 of the AC
We slept in! 6:20 am… Didn’t get onto the trail until 8:45 though. We were very shell-shocked by the jeeps and motos flying by. We tried to get off the road by going onto the stream bed. We had to cross a stream braid and we wore our Tevas as shorts to cross. It was quite refreshing to expose ourselves so. After the crossing, the wind picked up and we battled sandy gusts and jeep and motos for the next four hours. Hell on earth. We were cursing and dazed by the time we reached Jomsom. Then we had to walk through and past the city, past two check points to a hotel that some fellow trekkers were going to stay. The bus station was across the street. We decided to catch the 4:00pm bus to Ghasa. It was a harrowing journey across stream beds and on roads falling away under us and steep canyons below us. I was petrified on the slope down into the stream bed. It was awful. The stress went up another level when it became dark out. Finally, four hours later we arrived in Ghasa. A bus boy took us to a hotel where we had dinner and shared a beer. We retired early in order to catch the “5:00 am” bus the next morning.

April 21 Pokhara
We got up at 4:30am, waiting for bus boy at 5:00am. Walk to bus stop of 20 min. Tea for 30 min. Find out that local bus is canceled. We move to a new bus stop to wait for 45 min. Finally, we board the bus at 7:00 am. Bumpy, cramped and hair-brained! The road was very muddy. Finally we arrived in Beni at 10:30. We bartered for bananas and crackers and caught a big bus at 11:15. That ride was also awful. I was dehydrated and uncomfortable and most of all, hot! I did sleep some but not a lot. I was woken by toes tickling my but through a gap in the seat back. Finally, we arrived in smoky, smoggy Pokhara at 4:30 pm. We cascaded off the bus and walked for an hour to find Lakeside and our guesthouse. We finally found it, showered and worked on hydrating. After some decompressing and a disappointingly rotten melon and a door that wouldn’t lock, we went to Punjabe, an Indian restaurant with superb food! We had dosas, little deep fired things that start with a P and curry with garlic naan. We were stuffed. We walked the shops a little but were home and in bed by 9:30. Andrea met her group for dinner and got a separate room. We never saw her again…

April 22 Pokhara
I awoke with déjà vu of a morning in Ghana. The roosters were crowing, birds were chirping and the air was hot and oppressive. We had clearly left the barren wasteland of high altitude. We did some business in the morning. Sarah made phone calls and we accessed the internet etc. I also researched Lukla plane flights and battled the ATMs. Sarah finally got a hold of a Rotary Club member who is buying a reduced price Lukla flight for me! So Everest is on! Then, in the heat of the day, the humid oppressive 41 degree C heat, we hiked 6K up to the Peace Pagoda. We followed a crazy non-trail to get there and were so wiped by the top that we could only sit in the shade and drink Fanta and Sprite. The Pagoda showed four stages of Buddha’s life-was beautiful and peaceful but HOT. We splurged on water and tried to get a bus down the hill, but we had to walk. We found the actual trail and made a nice quick descent. We got caught in a hail storm of epic proportions. The clean up sweeping after was pretty cool too. Then we had dinner with Jiandra, Nuryan and Jiandra’s son at a steakhouse. What could I do but have a steak? I ordered the original curry spiced steak. It was actually pretty good though Sarah told me that it was fairly marginal as far as steak goes. She got a flaming steak. That was exciting. We were both a little sick the next day. I wondered where the steak came from…must be India since it is illegal to kill a cow in Nepal.

April 23 Pokhara
This is a strike day. Nothing was all the way open. Many shops had their doors half-way up…some restaurants were open but you had to sit in the back. No taxis or private vehicles were on the road. Only six tourist buses went to Kathmandu escorted by police that morning as well. A Bandah is a curious thing. In many ways, it was more peaceful to not have cars and motos zooming around. It was also nice to not have wares dealers nagging you to look at their ware. I actually kind of enjoyed the Bandah atmosphere. We did manage to get coffee and bananas for breakfast and the Hindu temple on a island in the Lake Phewa was open as well. We had to make a short boat ride with two really nice rowers. I actually rowed on the way there. The temple was small and the inside had a small shrine, a statue of Ganesh and a holy man. It was strewn with flowers and rice. It smelled really bad and I noticed ants everywhere. I got a rice and red stuff tike for good luck. We gambled on the Mountaineering Museum being open. We had a very long walk there in the heat of the day. We bet it would be closed and it was. We sadly walked back to Lakeside and encountered a couple striking groups marching. They seemed to be much disorganized and were closely monitored by police in riot gear. We encountered a lot people walking to and from the airport. Some tourists had to buy plane tickets in order to get back to Kathmandu on time. Sarah and I hope to catch and early bus tomorrow morning. We had beer and banana Lhassies at the Pizzeria, an open air brick over pizza place. The heat and humidity was oppressive. We chatted and read Tigers of the Snow and discussed the politics of strikes.
We watched 90210 on our crappy little television after trying to find English news. At around 7:30, 1.5 hours after the agreed upon time, Nuryan came to get us for dinner at Jiandra’s house. Jiandra was Sarah’s host dad in Pokhara. In the dark of evening, we walked for over 30 minutes on a road, now filled with cars and people. I guess the Bandah only lasted until sundown. Jiandra’s house was filled with Buddhist monks doing a Pujah-a Buddhist ceremony for good luck. We went upstairs for (what I thought was) dinner. We had a plate full of crackers, popped corn and nuts, bananas, two wedges of tangerine and some tangled snack as well as fried dough and a very spicy curry, closely followed by mutton (goat) curry and chicken sausage with raw veggies. It was delicious! We also drank beer and Roxshy, homemade. We chatted and met Jiandra’s lovely “girlfriend,” a very sweet lady. Then we were ushered downstairs for dhal baat, the real meal. Yikes, we had a healthy plate of rice, curry, dhal, chutney and curd. We both asked for seconds, as is only polite, even though we were stuffed to popping. Sarah had told me horror stories of dhal baat pushing during her time with Rotary. She had a friend who couldn’t stop throwing up after five dhal baths in one day. I felt like I was going to throw up after just one. Especially since, when we were finished eating Nuryan ushered us away and we speed walked another 30 minutes plus home. Jiandra’s was a really nice place, lots of carpets, over marble floor, three stories, two TVs, western and standard toilets with soap and TP. He also had two servants. Sarah and I wondering how it could be so nice on the inside and the outside Nepal looked so dingy…to bed to be up early.

April 24 Pokhara to Kathmandu
The Bandah was called off so we knew we were going to get a ride out of Pokhara. We walked to the tourist bus station and a man who we had talked to earlier about bus tix was there with “reserved” tix, just in case we came back! We enjoyed a cup of tea. At 7:30 sharp, our bus was off. As always, I didn’t quite fit its dimensions but it was nice not to have my pack bouncing on my lap. Dramamine put me to sleep but we had plenty of breakfast, lunch stops to wake me up. Breakfast was two samosas and a cucumber with chili sauce! We saw an overturned bus on the side of the road which was very eerie. We also had a really long wait just outside of Kathmandu where traffic was stopped in both directions. We finally arrived and found a new guesthouse. Then we caught a taxi in search of the Sisters of Charity in Chabahil. We had quite a time finding them as we could get no landmarks to match up with the map. Finally, we found it less than a block away from where our taxi dropped us off. Unfortunately, Sister Therese Rose was gone. We caught a mini bus back to Thamel and made friends with Teevan. We returned Sarah’s sleeping bags and made some phone calls. Then dinner at a Korean restaurant where I gorged myself on miso and kimchee. It was an amazing meal and under 600rs! We got lost on the way out and were harassed by drug dealers. It was actually quite frightening because we were lost too. We finally found our way out. I tried to call Mike and Sarah wrote emails. Now we are home and taking showers, letting the Kathmandu poo run down the drain.

April 25 Kathmandu
Plans change quickly in Nepal. Nothing happens in a timely manner and every answer could be as much right as it is wrong. Nepali folks mean well, but they don’t like to give a negative answer so they give an affirmative nod, especially if they don’t exactly know what you are asking. I always think “I can’t trust a yes, but I can definitely trust a no.” I triangulate to make sure that we are on the right course. Even that can cause problems.

This morning, Sarah really wanted to go see the Sisters of Charity, even though I needed to meet Gopaul at 9:30 am to get my Lukla plane tickets. So we caught a bus and were actually there well before 8:00, the time they had told us meet them yesterday. We had a cup of tea and waited. Presently two nuns clad in white robes with blue trim came plodding our way. We conveyed our wish to volunteer and they directed us o follow a girl to the Mother House. She took us to a place where kiddy corner of where were currently standing and right in front of where we got out of the taxi the day before and where we had gotten out of the bus earlier that morning. We had missed the Sisters of Charity sign both times. The nuns there recognized both of our names as biblical names. They encouraged us to come back tomorrow at 8:00am. We were disappointed to not be able to volunteer that day but agreed to come back the next day. We bought some sweets- two pie crust like and one ball of sugar with cardamom and another totally unknown sweet ball as well as my favorite, a sesame seed cookie cracker! We also had sweet milk tea and caught a bus back to Thamel. We walked to Gopaul’s bakery and café. He wasn’t there and we were almost turned away. Then a man working there realized that we might be the two American girls that he had been told to give an envelope to. It had my airline tickets in it. After some confusion, a lot of hand gesturing and a phone call, I paid another man who had entered the bakery in the mean time about 14010 rupees or $210. It was an incredibly stressful transaction for some reason. It exhausted us and we retired for three hours in the heat of the day.

We did a walking tour of Durbar square. We grabbed samosas and pakodas along the way. The walking tour was like running a gambit or superman’s bros. We were constantly dodging away from taxis, trucks, bikes, rickshaws and motorcycles or mopeds. We were always in someone’s way or they were in ours. It took a lot of concentration to not get hit. We saw lots of little Hindu shrines, Ganeshes tucked away under dentist shops. We saw several stupas too and a monastery with young monks chanting and drumming. We wound through a glass bead market. The funny thing is that everyone sells the same wares. The bead market had 20 to 40 stalls all with the same selection of beads. The next alley had numerous people all selling the same clothing and shoe styles. It happens over and over ad nausea. How does anyone make money? Durbar square was a nightmare on the outset. We were accosted by a really insulting guide who wouldn’t leave us alone and the hawkers were incorrigible. We took refuge on the steps of a temple and watched the chaos for awhile. We identified some building from afar and finally descended to get a better view of some. We saw a rather scary relief carving of Shiva in his angry incarnation and a lot of mini Ganeshes. We also saw the home of the living Goddess. I must read a book written by a previous living Goddess. There, a very nice guide offered his services in a very appealing manner. Everywhere people thrust themselves up us. We had a holy man do an American handshake with us. He prefaced his approach with a “no money” but he did try to give us tikas. Finally, we had enough negative attention and we ran the gambit back to Thamel. What a crazy mess of traffic! I managed to get a picture of a holy blob of wood with coins nailed into it on the way back.

We decided to go back to the Korean place for dinner. This time, we did a self-cook meal. It was delicious. We had lettuce to wrap rice and stir-fry in as well as five side dishes including a kimchee which they brought right away because they knew I liked it from the night before. We also had a kimchee pancake and complimentary tea! We read the paper, which is worse than watching the Weather Channel when it comes to Maoist rebels and Bandahs. Then we made our way home and to bed.

April 26 Kathmandu
We are pros at the bus thing. We made it to the Mother House spot on time, watched the poor little kids get clean clothes on and dropped off for day care (oh how the toddlers cried for their parents). Then we walked with two sisters to a home for the elderly near Pashupaninath Temple. We scrubbed beds and mopped floors. We washed dishes when they were served dhal baat for lunch. They were repairing the leaky roof in the men’s and women’s dorm rooms and we used stick brooms to sweep the chinked cement out of the old bedrooms. We wore dust masks but had to take breaks often to breathe normally. Then we used chisel and hammer to chink more chunks of old concrete of the floor in prep for a new layer of cement. Several other Americans were there too. Carlin and Peter, as well as Fannie, from Belgium. We got to eat dhal baat and rice that had been cooked in giant pots over fires and served from slop buckets. They also had the biggest rice cooking pot that I have ever seen. Sarah could fit in it. We washed well and ate with our hands. Then, dying of thirst, we left only to find that the sisters had gone and our bag with water was locked up tight. After some help from the director and 30 minutes lator we got our bag and walked around Pashupaninath Temple area. Hindus on the banks of the Bagmati. They cremate people here on gaats and shove the ashes into the river. Most holy Hindu river, the city also pumps raw sewage effluent into this river. We walked to a nearby stupa which was wonderful, clean, organized, happy, not pushy, great! We walked around clockwise three times and entered a mandala art school. We learned all about different mandalas-circle or time, wheel of life etc. The differences between the master artists work and the apprentice artists’ work is remarkable. The detail increases exponentially with experience and training. Sarah bought 4 masters’ mandalas. We made fairly good friends with the sales folks and I promised to come back and buy mandalas from them when I returned from Everest. We went home then via two different buses and the one bus boy recognized us!

We sold back Sarah’s pack and then had hummus, baba ganush and stir fried veggies and a new Orleans café. We ended the dinner with a Bailey’s and chocolate ice cream blended drink. It was delicious and very un-Nepali. It was a very interesting interaction to procure the drink. It seemed very typical of Nepal. They had a list of mixed drinks and prices. We asked if we could get drink A but substitute Bailey’s for rum for 300rs. He said, we could do that but for 400rs. Then we asked if we could get drink B, which already had Bailey’s in it without the whiskey and with chocolate ice cream instead of vanilla. He said that would be okay and that there would be no price change. So 300rs. Our first request was for exactly the same drink as the second request; the only difference was the drinks that we modified. ????? That’s Nepal.

April 27 Kathmandu
Uhg, I feel quite sick this morning, diarrhea and lack of sleep. I laid low while Sarah did some hotel research. Dogs have been barking all night for the past couple of nights. It has been awful. Sarah finally shut one of the dogs up last night by throwing a water bottle at him early this morning. Sarah came back from researching all distressed about how convoluted the process of finding a nice cheap and quiet place to stay is. Ultimately, we stayed in the same room with the promises that the owner would keep the dog quiet. At 9:30 we embarked on the taxi ride from hell. We made our driver turn on his meter, which due to tons and tons of traffic, turned out to be a very bad idea. It took us 1 hour and 15 minutes to get to Patan and I hit my head so hard on the roof of the taxi when it went over a bump that my head hurt for hours. We met Chitra, Sarah’s favorite host dad, at the Chowk. Then we went to his house for lunch. His daughter and niece, 9 and 5, were watching a Hindi TV cartoon of the story of Midus touch. We watched with them. They weren’t in school because the private schools were striking over increasing school fees. We drank apple juice and ate dhal baat in the dining room. We had a lentil dhal, nettle soup, chicken curry, sautéed veggies, a really tasty bean pickle dish and papaya for dessert. The younger girl was adorable and we finally loosened her up with finger tricks. The older girl had a couple tricks of her own. I must remember the rubber band trick and the pointer fingers along the nose trick. The wife was very nice, a nurse, and very into healthy living, i.e. nettles. We finally caught a bus home and walked to the US embassy, which had moved 1 mile away from where the map showed it. Finally made it there, got registered and met a lady who was finalizing a visa for her newly adopted Nepali son. She has been in the process for 5 years. The whole story made me cry and the Embassy guards pulled me back into a private room where an American woman consoled me. Finally made it back to Thamel and to bed.

April 28 Kathmandu to Luckla
Up early and at the airport by 6:30 am. I have learned that it is better to take the taxi driver’s lowest offer than to have them turn on the meter. My flight left about 40 minutes early and was about 40 minutes long. The plane sat about 20 people. We had a brief view of snow capped peaks through the clouds and a crazy but smooth landing on a runway that goes uphill. I had been prepared to be accosted by people selling their wares at the airport but actually no one said a word to me. I stopped to buy, write and send post cards and started walking. I saw yak trains and porters with t-shaped walking sticks. Immediately forgot my hiking poles after my first rest. Arrived in Phatking and napped. Then had tea and dinner with a huge trekking party on their way down from Everest Base Camp. I met “Seppo,” a nice Australian who had been living and working in the US for a seven or so years. We had a really great conversation and it sounded like their trekking party had a lot of fun with their adventure.

April 29 Everest Base Camp Trek
I slept very badly and dreamt that I had been poisoned. My stomach was exploding with gas. By morning, I felt better. I got an early start with small views of some mountains and then clouds set in. Steep and long hike to Namche. I stopped and had lunch and decided to push on. The way out of Namche was very poorly marked and I got lost and had to backtrack a couple of times. Then the hike was up and down pas a really cool stupa and then straight down, ugh and no mountain views. It tried to rain and storm but didn’t. I finally stopped short of Tengboche by 2 hours. I didn’t have the ascent in me. Now, I am staying in a rat hole room with no electricity or pillow for the same price as last night. Am very tired and will eat veg pasta and sleep.

April 30 Everest Base Camp Trek
Stupid Ukrainian doesn’t know anything about beauty, plus he snored all night long. I had to move to the bed on the other side of the room to get away from his vibrations! I started at Phunki Thenga at 3250 m, 10,400 ft. I hiked 1 hour and 30 minutes up to Tengboche, 3860 m, 12352ft. I had my first somewhat cloud shrouded view of Lhotse, Lotshar and Everest as well as the very close and very obtuse Ama Dablam. I think I also saw Island Peak, a very popular summit with everyday Joes and Jill on group treks. I descended from Tengboche amidst an ethereal forest of rhododendrons, junipers, and pines and firs. Many wildflowers, irises. I stopped often with Lhotse and Everest glowing white to take pictures with flowers in the foreground. By the time I reached Pangboche the clouds had descended and the trees gave way to scrub juniper. I got a room, much nicer than last night, have a pillow and electricity! Then I dropped my bag and started walking further up the EBC trial. It was actually quite lonely. There were not a lot of porters and only big trekking groups. My left calf, weak from the broken foot boot episode really started hurting and I sat down for lunch early. I almost turned back then, but realized that I could see the pass that I had been aiming for in the near distance. I hobbled up it behind a string of yaks and took my triumphant pictures. I made it to 4270 m, 13664 ft. I sang my way home and now eagerly await my dinner of garlic soup and chapatti at 3930m, 12576ft.

May 1 Everest Base Camp Trek
I could not sleep at all. I finally looked out my window at 5:30 am and the Everest Massif was cloudless. I rearranged my bed so that I could see the mountains lying down. I watched the sun begin to kiss Lhotse and Everest. Around 7:30 I got up to look for breakfast but I guess my order was forgotten. I sat on a bench and watched the mountains until 8.When my porridge with apples was remembered I slowly walked towards Tengboche. I stopped for a rest and watched the mountains for about 10 minutes then I looked down the hill and spotted a goat, then I spotted another and another and then a cow. I watched them for quite awhile. I have had stunning views of Everest all day. After arriving in Tengboche I climbed up the prayer flag strewn hill behind it. Alas, my view is gone behind clouds. I must fin a sherpa stew recipe. That is what I had for dinner and it was like and everything minestrone soup, very yummy!

May 2 Everest Base Camp Trek
Perhaps it is the first day of an indefinite strike here, not sure. Khumjung and Kunde sure seemed empty and deserted. It rained all night and probably snowed where I stayed the night before. The clouds are low so no final view of Nupse, Lhotse and Everest before I descended. In fact, the whole day has been nothing but overcast. I took the high route to Namche Bazaar, passing Hillary’s school and hospital. Khumjung is really nice and quite. I liked it. It is also where Ang Tsering has his lodge, or so a local who claimed to be his schoolmate told me. So mystery solved. I met Sabine on the way down to Namche and followed her to the Namaste Lodge. I got the last available room for free. However it was right next to the bathroom and toilets, underneath the kitchen and near the entrance door. I haven’t been sleeping well anyway so whatever…I explored the town a bit and discovered the peaceful and westernized Everest Bakery. I sat with Sabine and ate popcorn until dinner. Then I ran back to the lodge for veg-egg soup and then back to the Everest Bakery for apple pie. It was good and my premeditated Namche Bazaar treat but it didn’t have any spice or sugar still good though. Then I chatted with and Australian couple who had retired and were traveling. I want to be them when I grow up. They have traveled so much, renting vans and motor homes in the USA and New Zealand. She was born in Ghana and he grew up in India. They met in England with the 7th Day Adventist Church. Then I read “The Red Dragon” until midnight.

May 3 Everest Base Camp Trek
Rainy and cloudy all day. I began hiking at 7:40. No need to wait for my boiled eggs because, for some reason, they made them last night. Hiked down the god-awful hill then ate my eggs. The trail seemed to on and on and now views because of low clouds. I stopped in Phatding for lunch and returned the spoon that I had borrowed. I had the best Sherpa stew there too! Hiked and hiked on in the pouring rain. Lukla seemed to elude me. Finally I arrived, found a lodge, confirmed my flight and wandered around. Met GB, a shop owner and had Masala tea with him in a small shop. Then I had dinner with Paul, a very interesting German who had a flight out tomorrow morning as well. We chatted for a while and planned to see each other in Kathmandu.

May 4 Lukla to Kathmandu
Up at 4:00am because of pounding noised above me and anxiousness. I went with Paul to the airport. I was very early. The first four planes were delayed in take off because of poor KTM weather. When they finally did take off, it was hair rising to watch. They go on only 100 m lone down on a sloped runway. My plane landed and after the crew hastily ate noodle soup, we boarded and were off. It was terrifying. The drop after the runway was very sudden and steep! The flight was great though. There was a strike in Kathmandu so I walked from the airport to Bhondinath stupa and found Paul. The guesthouse there was full and the monastery wasn’t open so I found a rather expensive but charitable room at Rokpa. I can boil water if I want to. Then we went to Kapan monastery. It was very nice and peaceful there, beautiful gardens and stupa. Then ramen noodle with Tensing and Sherah. Maybe things will be open tomorrow.

May 5 Kathmandu
I decided that I needed to return the Milarepa book that I borrowed from the Yellowhouse Guesthouse. So I waited at the Hyatt bus stop for a “tourist only bus” but I got impatient and decided to walk to Thamel following the mini bus route. I actually found it with no problem. Everything was locked tight in Thamel. I went to Paknajol and found some necessary shops open. My samosa place was open so I had dhal and samosa and milk tea. Chatted with a guy who was working at his aunt’s orphanage. Had a hard time hearing him over the din but he seemed very nice and told an epic story about how he got his pair of Chacos from a Texan after meeting him 5 year ago. I waited until after 10 am for shops to open. None did and Thamel was dead. Only a few rickshaws and bracelet sellers were wandering the streets. I knocked on a couple doors and finally got a guy to let me in his shirt shop. I bought four shirts in his crowded shop, crawling over display racks to find the right size. He even had an Everest Brewing shirt-something I had really wanted to get! I crawled under a half open door to get an equipment shop and bought a puffy jacket for mom. It probably wasn’t what I would have chosen for her but the pickings were pretty slim. Bought an Annapurna map on my way out and passed a demonstration at the main Thamel Chowk. Fairly quite, police and army were present and some people had beating sticks but that’s about it. Had samosas and pakodas for lunch and walked back to Bhoudinath. I passed through Chabahil protesters with no altercations. I rested awhile and went to Bhouda to find a Mandala. Bishnu was there, remembered me and hopefully gave me a good price for my two mandalas. We waked around the stupa several times, turned prayer wheels and watching people go prone. Bishnu was a good teacher and told me a lot about Buddhism in general. I left to go get my camera and met Claus, Paul’s friend. We had tea at the Garden Restaurant and chatted. Really nice guy. We agreed to meet the next morning at 10:00 with Paul to walk to the airport. Then I went back to the Thanka to take pictures and learn more about Buddhist symbols from Bishnu. We sat on the stoop at 6 to watch devotees and he helped me shop around the sparsely opened shops for gifts for grandma and aunt deb. Finally, he left and I went to dinner at a Tibetan restaurant where I had momos with a Spanish guy. I bought eggs to hard boil and found my way home in the dark.

May 6 Kathmandu to Missoula
I slept poorly and got up early. I walked around the stupa and looked for potential breakfast spots. The one that I chose didn’t actually seem to have any food left though she made great tea! I had a couple cups and left to find bananas. I met Paul and Claus at 10:00 and we walked to the airport. From there, the rest is history. Delhi was a security check nightmare. I think I got patted down etc. about 6 times before it was all over. Met Megan and Andrew, twins I think, going to steamboat

3 comments:

Julie said...

LOVE IT! Thanks for writing it all out, I'm glad you kept records. :) I thoroughly enjoyed your journey and now I have so many more things to ask you about and discuss with you, since we hardly talked about this common journey. The Fried things that start with a "p" are poppadom probably. I toured the Home for the Elderly near Pashupatinath. Kopan Gumba, Boudanath, Patan, Durbar Square - all memories. :) And the harrowing busridse to and from Pokhara, yikes, I think back on it often and wonder if I could do it again! It was so refreshing and exciting to share in your journey. Thank you so much for posting it and sharing it. Love to You!

[chrisotto] said...

Yo freebird! That was quite the post! I love adventuring vicariously through your narratives. I hope to REALLY see you soon! Are you hittin' up Seattle anytime soon?

CRO

eyefocals said...

Far out
This made for a splendid several-cups-of-coffee read.
it's so wonderful to read about your adventures in abroad lands. it makes me wanna hop on a boat/plane/train and go exploring.