Ripples Following Ripples ~ RIDING AND TREKKING

It was good to be back in Malacca, even if it was only for a week. Knowing that I wanted to get a mountain-bike to take to Nepal with me, Leong, DV’s younger brother, offered me one he’d had in storage for some years and hadn’t used; it was a good France-made bike, and a nice gift.

Flying into Kathmandu via Bangkok on a round-trip ticket valid for 6 months, I found that the chain on my bike had been broken in transit. I filled in a complaint-form to take to the office of the air-line, and got a taxi-van to take me in. I checked into a hotel, then went to get my bike repaired, getting a receipt to take to the Thai-Inter office, where I was paid for the damages ~ about $10.

The air of Kathmandu is so polluted that I soon became sick and had to resort to antibiotics (it happens every time). It was quite cold, with daytime temperatures no higher than 15 degrees, and night-time very much lower. Fortunately, there was constant hot-water in the hotel. I bought some cooking-equipment: stainless-steel water-jug, heating-element, bowls and cup, and cooked one of my daily meals of fresh and cheap (for me they were cheap, though not for the locals) vegetables; I enjoyed this. I also made coffee and tea whenever I felt like it, using milk-powder.

One of the reasons for coming to Nepal this time was to look for herbal medicine for diabetes. I went first to a Tibetan doctor whose clinic I came across, and was given some pills, which I took as prescribed. I also found an ayurvedic medicine-shop where I was assured that the tablets I bought were efficacious, but neither these nor the Tibetan pills had any noticeable effect. I’ve tried so many things over the years.

I extended the distance I rode on my bike until I was going for long rides, several times riding up to Nagdhunga, and down the other side to Naubise or further. More than once, I took a bus to Daman and rode back to Naubise; once, I rode from Daman to Hetauda in the Terai, some of the way on road that was being re-surfaced; I had often to stop to tighten nuts that had shaken loose. I greatly enjoyed these rides, especially as I’d never been to Daman since my first trip to Nepal in 1970. There is a wonder-ful view of the Himalayas from there if the sky is clear, stretching in a glittering semi-circle on the horizon.

Internet usage was quite cheap in Kathmandu, but varied from place to place; I frequented a cyber-café charging Rs20 per hour (about 30 cents US). Not surprisingly, there were frequent cuts and power-outages.

One of the hotel-boys was suffering so badly from toothache that I took him to a dental-clinic and paid for his treatment there, but it didn’t really solve the problem.

After two weeks in Kathmandu, during which I got a new, double-entry visa for India (the hotel handled that for me; I paid them $65), and one for Pakistan, I left for Pokhara, and spent a week there, making a half-hearted attempt at writing my memoirs, but it didn’t come to much. Compared to Kathmandu, it was quiet and peaceful there, with a greatly-increased number of hotels by the Lakeside since my last visit 5 years before. Cyber-cafes charged more than in Kathmandu, and at Lakeside, where most of the tourists stayed, it was Rs100 per hour!

From Pokhara, I went to Tansen, and stayed 24 hours there, hik-ing up to the hill behind to catch the view. I then descended to Bhutwal and Bhairawa, where I loaded my bike with my stuff and rode to the border several kms away. I had too much baggage for cycling, and it was hard to ride, especially because there was quite a bit of heavy traffic. I got there, however, and crossed the border. There, I was assailed by touts, and before I knew it, my bike had been loaded on a bus to Gorakhpur that was about to leave, and I climbed inside, only to find it grossly over-crowded. They gave me a seat, as they’d charged me double because of the bike (the bike should have been charged at half-fare. Usually, in Nepal, I was not charged at all for the bike), and then began a horrible journey, with frequent stops to pick up more unfortu-nates. Many people were standing, hunched over because of the low roof, and no-one offered to give up seats for anyone. Finally, tired of sitting jammed into a narrow seat, I got up and gave my seat to an old woman, intending to stand the rest of the way. This embarrassed the conductor, and he made a younger man give up his better seat for me.

Arriving in Gorakhpur after what seemed an age, but which was no more than 3 hours, I got off near the railway-station, opposite which was the hotel recommended by the Lonely Planet guide-book; it was called The Ellora. I got a room there, then went over to the station, with the aim of inquiring about trains to Lucknow, but was repelled by the swarms of people there, and quickly came out, abandoning my idea of going by train. I rode off to the bus-station where inquiries were easier, and got the necessary information. I then went to a cyber-café for a couple of hours; At Rs15 per hour, their rates were quite reasonable, but the connec-tion was very slow. On the way back to Ellora, I bought some vegetables, and was soon cooking my dinner, intending to get a bus to Lucknow the next morning.

That night, however, all hell seemed to break loose in the hotel, with people ~ demons ~ running through the corridors yelling, screaming, and banging on doors; I never understood what it was all about. Apart from this, there was a cacophony of truck and bus horns blown at full-blast, and the ubiquitous loud-speakers of the subcontinent, blaring out harsh music. It was impossible to sleep, and because of it, I made up my mind to abort my intended trip in India and Pakistan, and return to Nepal forthwith; I had no desire to remain in this country of demons.

Unwilling to get on a bus to the border like the one I’d come in on the day before, I haggled for a taxi, and settled for Rs800, which was rather a lot, but worth it. Less than 24 hours after entering the country, I was leaving it. The Indian Immigration-officer ex-pressed surprise that I should stay so short a time, and asked why; I told him it was long enough in hell.

Getting a new visa for Nepal was easy, and cost $30 for a month. I then caught an already-packed Pokhara-bound bus, and had to squeeze into the strange little driver’s cab, with so many others. Eventually, I got a window-seat there, but it was over the wheel-arch, so my knees were stuck up until we got to Dumre 7 hours later, and I was able to move into the front seat. I was charged ~ Indian-style ~ Rs120 for me, and 80 for the bike. I didn’t mind all this; it was such a relief to be away from India! I actually felt that I’d got that monkey off my back at last, after it being there for so many years. As it turned out, however, it was only temporary.

Among the people in the cab was a young boy named Dipak who spoke some English (and from whom I learned the Nepali word for vomit: ‘ulti’. So many people throw up on buses there that I needed to know this word). When we reached Dumre, he came to sit beside me in the front seat, and I gave him an old watch. He was pleased with this, of course, but soon afterwards, he moved, and I didn’t see him again ~ he didn’t say anything. I think his older brother and some others didn’t like me giving him a gift; perhaps Nepalese are afraid of gifts from strangers.

It was almost 6 o’clock when we came into Pokhara, and I wasn’t surprised when a hotel-tout got on and asked where I intended to stay. I asked what he had to offer and he showed me pictures of nice rooms in a Lakeside hotel called ‘Miracle,’ with constant hot-water, for Rs200. I told him I was thinking of paying only Rs150 for a room, and he agreed to this. So, getting off the bus at the bus-station, he helped me with my stuff and I loaded my bike ready to follow him on his motorbike; he took one of my bags and away we went. It was a nice hotel, so I told him ~ Padam was his name ~ that I would pay Rs200 after all.

Needing to send some post-cards, I went to the GPO in the town, and bought the necessary stamps, but there was no water-dish to moisten them with, as there usually is, so, being averse to licking them, I asked for some water. A minute later, someone appeared with a jug and poured a small puddle on the counter for me! I laughed and said: “I wanted water and water I got!”

I decided to go trekking, and signed up for the Muktinath trek, with a young guy named Santosh as my porter-guide. Negotiating with Padam on behalf of the hotel, I paid $350 for 10 days; it in-cluded plane-fares to Jomsom for both of us, all my accommoda-tion and 3 meals per day for me. My trekking-permit was extra.

Searching for a bamboo staff, I got a farmer to cut me one from his clump. While doing so, he told me he was a Christian, but I made no comment; missionaries were hard at work in this area. I paid him Rs30. This staff would serve me well on my coming trek.

With my bike and excess baggage stored at the hotel, early on the appointed day ~ February 11th ~ we got a taxi to the airport, and after paying the airport-tax, boarded the light plane and were soon high above the mountains, with spectacular views. It was a flight of only ½-an-hour or so, then we descended steeply to land at Jomsom and the ground rushed up to meet us. There was a noticeable difference in temperature. We breakfasted in a hotel before setting out for Kagbeni, but it took ages for them to pre-pare it. I met two Dutch girls, Melanie and Lisa, who had come in on the same plane; they had a porter-guide named Hera, and were going up to Muktinath, too. Apart from a tractor or two, there were no vehicles in Jomsom; the absence of noise was very nice.

It was a good walk to Kagbeni; Santosh said it would take about four hours, but we did it in three with two rest-stops. The track was rough, with stones that slipped and slid; constant attention was needed. I matched Santosh’s normal pace; my feet were al-right that far. We checked into a lodge where I got a room with at-tached bathroom/toilet. The Dutchies and three others caught up with us and also stayed there. The food was reasonable. Having already paid, I didn’t pay much attention to the menu-prices. It was very cold at night. Lucky that I’d asked for a thermos of hot water to take up to my room, as there was only very cold water in the bathroom. I shaved and washed with it in the morning, and had enough for coffee, too. I also made a bottle of coffee using cold water, to drink along the way; I enjoyed this.

After a warming breakfast of buckwheat-bread and tea, the hotel-people presented us with kataks (Tibetan silk scarfs, offered as a mark of respect), which was good PR. We started off at 7:45, climbing all the way, puffing and panting and stopping now and then to rest; I was unused to the thinner air there. We were on the southern edge of the barren Tibetan plateau, where the hills and valleys bear the heavy scars of erosion. There were great views as we climbed. The Dutchies and their guide caught up with us halfway at a roadside lodge named Romeo and Juliet. There were patches of snow all around. We stopped in Jarkot for lunch of spaghetti, then pressed on to Muktinath, 5 hours’ walk from Kagbeni, excluding stops. There were many birds ~ choughs ~ in the sky, with an occasional eagle; and ponies, mules and hybrid yaks on the trail; also, lots of trekkers coming and going, some friendly, some not. I was to notice this on sub-sequent treks, and couldn’t understand why many people didn’t even bother to return greetings.

At Muktinath, we checked into Hotel Mona Lisa, where there were other trekkers. After some rest, I went on up to the temple ~ Muktinath’s main claim-to-fame ~ but wasn’t impressed; the ‘eternal flame’ ~ from a natural-gas vent ~ was little bigger than a lighter’s flame. There was no hot-water in the hotel, of course, but luckily, I got a thermos of hot-water for use in the morning as I’d done in Kagbeni. Rather than sit long in the dining-room, where there was too much smoke ~ some people were even smoking dope ~ I retired early for some meditation, and slept around 8:30. I was warm enough in bed, but the bedding stank of stale vomit or something.

It was freezing, but I still got up early, and meditated a while be-fore brushing my teeth and shaving; lucky I had my flask of hot-water, as the pipes were frozen solid. I went down to sit over a brazier in the kitchen to thaw out before being the first to get breakfast of buckwheat-bread and tsampa porridge. The Dutch girls ~ with whom I’d arranged to descend to Jomsom ~ came down and ate; we left at 8:30, but going down was harder than going up, and my toes got the brunt of it. It was very windy as we got halfway to Jomsom; the wind just whistles up the valley of the Kali Gandaki from noon until sunset.

We stopped in Jomsom at the hotel where we’d had breakfast; in terms of the trails, this hotel was luxurious. I got a room with at-tached bathroom and toilet, and waited for the water to become warm enough before taking a shower, but slipped and fell heavily on the smooth-tiled floor just after I’d dried myself; fortunately, no bones were broken. One of my toe-nails was already turning black from the walk down, and would eventually come off. I quit wearing the shoes I’d had and resorted to sandals. Lisa had blis-ters on her feet but pressed on manfully; Melanie was unwell with something she’d had for a while; she was a chain-smoker, which might have accounted for it.

Next morning, I ate something in my room and then went down. While waiting for the others, I went outside and met an elderly Belgian couple I’d met the day before; they were traveling with a dozen porters, and had been to Upper Mustang, which they said was fantastic! They said it had been 2° in their tent last night.

These people were considerate of their porters, but others were not, making them carry huge loads. It is shameful to see them used as beasts of burden, when the campers ~ who must spend a great deal of money ~ could afford to employ more porters to share the loads; the campers would never be able to carry such loads themselves, so why do they expect others to carry them, regardless of the fact that they pay them? It’s undignified!

Eventually, the Dutchies being so long-winded, Santosh and I set off without them. What little snow there had been in the night had melted and hadn’t frozen, fortunately.

It was just over an hour to reach Marpha by fast walking; we had breakfast there. Afterwards,

I sat on the topmost
Of a flight of steps
Up to the monastery of Marpha,
From where there was a fine view.
Below me, the flat clay roofs of houses
Surrounded by ramparts of logs split,
And beyond them
The fields delineated by dry-stone walls
And paths that criss-cross them.
There were orchards, too, of various kinds –
Apple, apricot, peach,
Though their branches were bare.
Then, behind, rising in tiers, the hills
And mountains rose, culminating
In peaks capped with snow which never melts.
I heard, instead of engines and
Man’s machines, the sound of bells hung
Around necks of ponies, mules and cows
As they trudged along beneath huge burdens –
A pleasing sound, though indicative of pain.
Then, from behind and within, came the
Sound of boy-monks playing, off for a while
From their studies; life was not hard for them.
The wind blew slightly, not strong, as yet,
But later would increase in force and cold;
I did not sit there long.

Lisa, Melanie and Hera came along, so I explained a little about the inside of the monastery to them. I wished we had stayed in Marpha the previous night instead of Jomsom, as it was so much nicer. My legs and feet were alright while I was walking, but be-came stiff and ached when I stopped for a while.

By the time we reached Tukuche, another 1½ hours on, the wind had begun to blow, so we stopped at the first place in the village ~ a lodge run by a Dutchman and his Nepalese wife ~ and got a room there. The food was very nice; I had tea, pumpkin-soup and croquet-potatoes. Perhaps I should mention here that guides and porters were given free accommodation for bringing in customers, and if they didn’t eat free too, were charged very little for food.

While walking, there was little talk with Santosh, and I was alone with my thoughts, usually reciting something syllable-by-syllable as I paced along, so that it became a form of meditation. Most of the time I had to watch my steps, eyes down, as the way was rough and strewn with stones that slipped and twisted underfoot; you could not ~ dared not ~ look around too much, unless you stopped to gaze for a while.

I noticed ~ in others, as well as in myself ~ the strong urge to talk at the end of the day, when we would gather to eat and sit around a fire or stove; but, repelled by the chatter of so many voices, I preferred to sit aside, and having eaten, retired to my room. This might have been antisocial, but many trekkers were smokers, and I didn’t want to put up with it. I restrained myself from then on, speaking when I had to, although I did meet a couple from near Crewe in Tukuche ~ Alan and Linda ~ and had a nice talk with them; they were going up the trail while we were going down.

I woke in the midnight
And immediately heard the sound –
Incessant – of the river
Not far below my windows –
The Kali-Gandaki that we’ve
Been following since coming down
From Muktinath and will continue
To do so for several more days.
It was a soothing sound – sshhhhh ----
But there was another sound – a surprising sound –
That seemed out of place there at that time:
A man-made sound. I raised my head
From the pillow to make sure it wasn’t in my head,

Mind-made. It wasn’t; ‘twas still there,
And seemed to be coming from below me.
I rose, swathed myself in blankets,
And sat upright,
Having slept enough for now; it was an ideal time
To observe my breath and let the mind be calm.
And then I got it – the sound’s cause –
It was from a refrigerator –
So then, I let it go, and slept once more,

then rose again at 5:30, by which time it was very cold and the electricity had gone off; luckily, I had prepared my bottle of coffee earlier. At 7 o’clock, I was the first up, followed by the landlord. I went outside to take some photos of the river ~ it was freezing! Came back and ordered tea and a bowl of tsampa-porridge, but Santosh was slow about his brekky, so I set off before him, at 7:45, leaving him to catch up with me, which he did an hour later, as I had taken a long-cut up and down a track above the river-bed, while he followed the low way. It was a tough walk, and we rested briefly after 1½ hours, then continued to Kalopani, where,

I heard the sound of the wind
Entangled in the branches of
The pine trees on the slopes behind me,
Struggling to free itself, soughing as it did.
Wisps of it, escaped, brushed past me,
Gently touching my face with cool fingers;
It had come from Dhaulagiri’s icy peaks.
To one side, a chicken, destined for the pot,
Went about its daily round,
Blissfully unaware of what lay in wait;
Are we also not like this somewhat?
From somewhere came the muted sound of a radio,
And human voices, one of the most disturbing
Sounds of all, because so meaningful.
Approaching, up the lane, and passing by,
I heard the bells hung around mules’ necks –
Pleasant sound to me, but a sound of bondage;
What karma to be born a mule?
Flies buzzed past me as I sat still upon a step
Of a mountain-lodge at Kalopani
Where we’d stopped for lunch;
It was a hard walk to get there that morning,
And we had a similar stretch ahead, too,
With my energy almost gone, my legs
Aching and my ankle playing up.

Not long after, the girls arrived ~ they’d made good time, as they had left after us, and we’d walked fast. They sat down to order food, and we went on, Santosh saying it would take 2½ hours to reach Ghase, the next stop, but we made it in less, stopping for a few minutes to rest beside a waterfall. We checked into the first place we came to after I’d ascertained that the girls would be staying further on; I’d had enough of their smoke! Here they were, breathing some of the cleanest air on the planet, but still polluting themselves and others around them.

It was cold there, too, and my room was draughty, but it sufficed. My legs and feet ached a lot, but I managed alright. Neither the solar-panels nor the geyser were working, but I got a bucket of hot-water and washed the smelliest parts of me; I’d do until I got something better. I fed the last of my Pokhara bread to some chickens there ~ perhaps hastening their demise thereby; maybe they knew this, as they were not very enthusiastic about it!

Some Americans I’d met at Muktinath came, but I deliberately segregated myself from them in the dining-room because most of them smoked. I had potato-soup, chapatties and tea, then retired to my room, to sleep early. Again, the bedclothes were smelly.

The next day, our sixth out, was to be the best yet. We set off at 7:20, and I soon fell into a fast pace, feeling like a mountain-goat, fairly dancing along, even though the way was rough. It must have been the tsampa-porridge I had for breakfast. Santosh was almost worn out! By 9:00, we’d passed the place where he ex-pected to have lunch, and he kept asking if I wanted to rest, but I said ‘No’ and that we’d have lunch when we got to Tatopani. We crossed 3 or 4 suspension-bridges. At one point, I took a wrong turn and found myself on a path that had been carried away by a landslide, and had to back-track and find another way down. We stopped for 20 minutes about half-way and reached Tatopani at 11:00 ~ just 3½ hours, without our break; normally, it takes 5 hours. Santosh said it was like running in a marathon!

Tatopani is a place that everyone looks forward to, as it has hot springs; indeed, the name means ‘Hot Water’. There were citrus orchards there, so there was an abundance of oranges, lemons and mandarins. We checked into a hotel, and I got a room with a bathroom and toilet ~ one of the few there, and quite high-priced. I sat in meditation for 45 minutes before having a veggie-burger for lunch; all sorts of food were available there, including apple-pie and cakes of various kinds; the owner had made his fortune from all the trekkers passing through, but good on him; he pro-vided a useful service. I washed some clothes and hung them outside; it was quite warm, so they dried pretty soon. My hunger appeased, I went down to the hot springs by the river and show-ered in cold water before entering the hot pool ~ gee, it was hot, but once I got used to it, it was so relaxing and soothing; I spent about an hour there, soaking away the dirt and the soreness of my limbs; it was surely good for my legs and feet. The black toe-nail was almost off, but there were no blisters on my feet, which was really quite surprising, as I’d always been prone to getting them. I felt quite high from it, and slept well that night.

We stayed in Tatopani an extra day to rest up, and I went down to the springs for another hour there. While there, the sky turned gray and overcast, and I was apprehensive. It had become rather cold again. In the night

There was a new sound ~
One that wasn’t there before.
I could still hear the river, dimly,
As it rushed ever on,
And if I strained my ears;
It was almost drowned out
By the sound of rain on the
Roof over my head,
And it was ominous for the trek ahead
As the dust would turn to mud,
Making for poor grip on the track.
Also, if I did not change my mind
And take the high road to Ghorapani,
What here is rain might there be snow.
I awaited the dawn before deciding,
But the steady downpour seemed to favor
The lower road to Beni.
I slept again, as there was nothing I could do
About the weather; it was out of my hands.

The rain had ceased before I rose, although the sky still looked full. I breakfasted on porridge and Tibetan bread. We set off at 7:15, but I wasn’t optimistic about the journey, so not far down the track, when we crossed the river and got to the junction, I asked Santosh if we could expect snow at Ghorapani, and he said ‘Yes’. So, there and then I decided to take the fork to Beni instead and reach Pokhara that day. He had told me earlier that, even at our speed two days before, we could not get to Beni in less than 5 hours. I determined to prove him wrong, and set and maintained a fast pace ~ even though there were muddy and dangerous patches from the rain ~ for 2½ hours, when we were halted for some time while blasting was carried out on the road being built from Beni to Tatopani. There were some tremendous explosions before we were allowed to proceed, and then only by a precipi-tous path that climbed high above the blasting area before com-ing down on the other side; this was perhaps the hardest part of the journey, although by the time we reached Beni two hours later, I was very tired; it took 4½ hours, not counting the time we had to wait, but if we hadn’t been stopped, I would have walked straight through. Santosh, I could see, was more tired than I, and wished to stop to rest and eat earlier, but I insisted on walking on to Beni, even though we could have taken a taxi from a place ½ an hour earlier, where he said the food was better.

In Beni, we crossed our final suspension-bridge to get to the bus-station on the other side of the Kali-Gandaki, and found we had time to spare before the next bus left for Pokhara, so Santosh bought the tickets and we ate samosas and curry while waiting. The bus left on time and ran along a very rough track along the river, until it joined a better road from Baglung for the rest of the way. Even so, it took almost 5 hours, but I quite enjoyed it as the road rose and fell steeply through magnificent scenery. I didn’t feel tired, but Santosh slept beside me for a while.

We got to Pokhara and went to the Miracle, where I got my bag-gage and put new batteries into my blood-test-kit (the old ones had died at Muktinath, or wouldn’t work at such an altitude); I was pleased at the result of my first test since Kagbeni ~ 5.7! But if that day’s walk couldn’t bring it down, I don’t know what would! I was surprised ~ amazed ~ at my stamina! I learned something of what I was capable of, and although my feet were sore – especially the heels ~ I still didn’t have blisters!

After showering, I felt refreshed. Two days later, I transferred to a different hotel ~ The Paramount ~ where I got a room for Rs150 per day, with a hasp on the door so I could use my own lock, as I prefer. Later, l walked up to the Shanti Stupa overlooking the lake ~ quite a climb! At the bottom of the hill, a boy attached himself to me all the way to the top, and then asked for money to help with his studies; I gave him Rs50, feeling I’d been conned..

On the way up, we met a man with his young son searching for their buffaloes, The boy greeted me ~ Namaste ~ and his expres-sion was lovely to behold when I took from my pocket a candy left over from the flight to Jomsom and gave it to him; there came a quiet ‘Wah!’ from his lips and his eyes shone!

From the stupa, I watched the paragliding from Sarangkot Hill. Lisa had told me she’d done it, and said it was fantastic. I felt in-spired to do it myself, and later checked out the prices.

I went for some good rides, one of the best being to put my bike on a bus as far as a place called Khare, just over an hour out of Pokhara on the way to Baglung, and ride back from there. Most of it was downhill, and it took about an hour to get back to town, not stopping at the Tibetan Refugee Settlement as I had earlier intended to, as I’d been turned off by two pushy Tibetan women I’d met the day before at Lakeside, selling handicrafts; following up on their polite and friendly approach, they had really pressed me to buy something, and when I refused, they were visibly not happy; I would be cautious with such in future. Actually, they were forbidden to do this, as many tourists had complained about them, but they did it anyway, and their prices were very high.

Lisa and Melanie had returned, and told of lots of snow at Ghora-pani; I was glad I hadn’t gone. They also said that their porter had claimed his wallet and address-book had been stolen in Tatopani.

On the way back, I stopped to buy something for my ankle, which had been really sore again. The shop-owner tried to sell me some Tiger Oil marked at Rs180, but I haggled with her for Rs150, and gave her a Rs500 bill. While waiting for her girl to return with the change, I saw a picture of Sai Baba over her desk and asked if she was a follower of him. “Yes,” she said, “I like him very much!” I asked if she’d been to visit him in India; she hadn’t. She tried to persuade me to pay Rs160 for the oil, but I refused, and then I noticed it was from India, and picked at the price-tag on the box, uncovering the Indian price of only Rs35, making it about Rs50 in Nepalese currency (the Nepalese rupee is pegged to the Indian rupee, 1.6 to 1). I refused to buy it and asked for my money back, saying some profit is justified, but not such a mark-up, which was pure greed. She cursed me as I went out! It was clearly enough for her to like and believe Sai Baba, not follow his teachings. But this is normal, is it not?

Back at the hotel, I asked the manager, Khem, to book me for a paragliding flight two days later, with the proviso that if the weather was unsuitable, I would get a refund. He would get a small commission for the booking.

My ankle was still aching, so I abandoned my idea of walking up to Sarangkot. When I went out for breakfast, I met Hera, on his way to see me. He told me he’d had Rs1600 and papers stolen from his room in Tatopani; I felt sorry for him and gave him Rs500; Lisa and Melanie had probably given him something, too, apart from paying him the agreed-upon daily rate. I told him I was thinking of going to Ghorapani from the other direction, in order to complete that trek, but that I didn’t want to get another trekking-permit; I said I might engage him to accompany me. He said we could by-pass the only check-point on that route, so I wouldn’t need another permit.

The day dawned cloudy, not good for viewing the mountains while flying. I went to the paragliding office to see if I could post-pone my flight until the next day, but on second thoughts decided to go, as there was no guarantee the sky would be any clearer. Because there was still plenty of time before the flight, I went down to the boat-pier and ate samosas and curry. When the ven-dor tried to charge me Rs25 instead of Rs15, I protested and told him that he shouldn’t try to cheat people, as by so doing, he would become poor in future. I gave him Rs15, and he didn’t pro-test or argue, just kept quiet; I’d made him think.

Several others were flying, including a woman from Liverpool, and two elderly ladies. We were driven up a very winding and rough road to Sarangkot from where the flights were launched. The ‘chutes were laid out on a steep incline ready for take-off; we were to fly tandem, and I was first in line, harnessed up in a seat-pack to an Indian pilot named Ajay. We readied ourselves, took several steps forward, and were airborne, soon rising high above the launch-pad, riding the thermals. It was fun, but I soon got used to it, maybe because of the way we live ~ I’d done it all be-fore, vicariously, through TV and movies. My flight lasted over an hour. At one point we descended and had a hard time climbing again, but finally succeeded, though not as high as we’d gone at first ~ almost 6,000 feet asl. With dark clouds approaching from the west, Ajay decided to land rather than risk being ‘sucked in’ by the clouds. Coming down, he did some tight spirals, leaving me feeling nauseous; I landed sitting on the ground. It was quite an experience, and worth the cost to feel like a dandelion-seed borne on the wind.

Hera came to see me again, just when I was thinking of visiting him; he didn’t want to lose a prospective client. I said I was unde-cided, as the weather was still unsettled; I’d make up my mind the next day. I was almost ready, but my ankle was still painful.

The next day, the sky was quite clear, so I decided to go. Leaving my bags and bike at the hotel, I walked round to Hera’s; he was ready and waiting for me, and we got a taxi to the northern bus-station, and a bus from there to Khare. After drinking tea, we set off at 9:00; it was a steep climb of over an hour to Pothana, where we had an early lunch of dal-bhat; I’d agreed to pay him Rs600 per day, which was really too much. This was what Lisa and Melanie had paid, and I hadn’t bothered to check, thinking it was standard.

After a bit of a rest, we set off again, up and down, and along the trail we met Rajan, a guide we’d met in Tukuche. He greeted me by name and told me that Alan and Linda – who he was guiding – were just up ahead, resting. As we were talking, they came down and it was good to see them again, especially unexpectedly. I asked if they would visit Glen for me when they got home, and they said they would. (They never did).

It was a hard slog ~ much of the way crudely stone-stepped ~ and took about 4 hours (not counting our breaks) to reach Tolka, where Hera suggested we stop for the night instead of pressing on to Landruk. Well, I was ready for this, particularly as the sky had darkened, portending rain, and the mountains weren’t visible; indeed, soon after we got there, it did rain. The inn was basic, and the wind whistled through gaps in the walls and shutters of the rooms, but it sufficed, and there was electricity, too. Food-prices were high, unreasonably, but what to do? I chose cheaper dishes, like fried rice.

My ankle had held out quite well; while walking, it was generally alright, but started to ache a bit when I stopped, and the pain took a while to abate when I started again, so I limped a little.

There wasn’t much rain in the night, but the sky was still overcast at dawn, with Annapurna briefly visible. I breakfasted on Tibetan bread with some kind of soup. Hera was late in getting up, so we didn’t start as early as I wanted. It was hard-going, mostly down-hill, to New Bridge, where we stopped for tea, then an uphill crawl, with many rest-breaks, to Gandruk, taking us three hours altogether from Tolka. We checked into Mountain View Hotel, where I got a room with attached bathroom, but there was no hot-water, because of insufficient sunshine.

After a short rest, I had dal-bhat, then slept awhile before going for a brief walk; while visiting the local monastery, it began to rain, and the sky turned very dark, so we returned to the hotel. It then started to thunder and lighten, and heavy hail fell; this did not bode well for our onward trek; there would surely be snow further up. I would decide the next day whether to go on or turn back.

A friendly English couple ~ Ian and Tilly ~ checked into the room next to mine, and we had a nice talk over dinner. They’d been married in a monastery in Pokhara a week earlier, and were on their honeymoon. I gave them a book I had with me by the Dalai Lama. They’d just come from Ghorapani and said there was a lot of snow there; they’d been caught in the rain and hail ~ and gee, did it thunder in the mountains afterwards! ~ on their way into Gandruk. This caused me to decide not to go to Ghorapani again, and turn back to Pokhara.

The sky had cleared by morning, permitting some good views of the mountains, especially of Macchapuchre (otherwise known as ‘Fishtail’). I stuck to my decision to turn back, however, as the trails further up would still have been under snow; so, after break-fast of Tibetan bread and tea, and another chat with Ian and Tilly (who spoke Nepalese quite well, working as they did with Gurkha soldiers in England), we set off down the steep stone steps until Hera wanted to stop and rest. We then had an easy stretch along the flat for sometime before crossing the river and climbing stead-ily to Chandrakot for about two hours, with several rest-stops. It was good weather for trekking.

Chandrakot was once a major stop on the trekking-routes, but when the road was extended to Baglung, it lost its importance, and there was only one functioning inn there now. We decided to spend the night there, and ordered dal-bhat, but it was very slow in coming. By this time, a wind had blown up and clouds ob-scured the mountains, and it became quite cold. While waiting for food, I watched some young boys just out of school; one of them bought cakes for 3 of them, but excluded the fourth, so I bought him one; no-one likes to be left out.

After lunch and a nap, I decided I didn’t want to stay there as the room-charge was Rs150 and the toilet-bathroom was outside the inn itself. I decided to go on to Pokhara. We packed our stuff and told the innkeeper, who seemed a bit sad, and only charged me for the food and cakes, but I gave him something extra for having a nap in the room, and we set off for Lumle, about 35 minutes away. When we were almost there we saw a bus coming up the road and the conductor-boy saw us; we signaled to him, and the bus waited for us down on the road; if only the internet connec-tions of Nepal were like that!

There were plenty of empty seats, and we had a quick ride to Pokhara, and got dropped off at the top of Hera’s road, so walked back instead of taking a taxi. I left Hera, paying him and giving him a bonus, as is customary, and continued on to Paramount where I took a nice shower before soaking my tired feet. It had been only a short trek, but I’d done alright.

Before my visa ran out I went to the Immigration office to extend it, but this was easily done: I filled in the application-form, paid Rs2,335, and collected my endorsed passport in the afternoon. That day was the Hindu festival of Shivaratri ~ but all I saw of it ~ or in it ~ was a lot of hocus-pocus; the Hindu gods have the same reality ~ or unreality ~ as the gods of other religions. Raj ~ a boy in the hotel ~ told me that people are expected to smoke dope that day in honor of Shiva, and of course, he complied. What bull!

I’d decided to accompany Hera to Ghorka, as he was going to his home-village in that region for 10 days; I would come back alone. I bought bus-tickets to Ghorka for the following day, and arranged to leave my stuff in my room while I went, with my own lock on the door. I was the only guest in the hotel at that time; the tourist-trade was down as a result of the Maoist-insurgency, and most hotels had very few clients.

Our bus left unusually promptly at 7:00, and we had quite a good ride, arriving in Ghorka about 11:00. After checking into a hotel, we ate samosas, puris and curry, then climbed to the temple on the hill ~ apart from the views on a clear day (and that day it wasn’t clear), it is Ghorka’s only claim to fame, and a disappoint-ing one at that. Taking photos was not allowed inside. A couple of dumb sadhus sat smoking dope there.

My feet ~ especially the heels ~ and ankle were sore when we got back to the hotel, where I had a nap, in spite of monotonous singing from upstairs that went on non-stop for hours; it was some kind of concert. I went out to get away from it, and ended up eating the same food as lunch. By then, I’d already seen Hera with the address-book he claimed had been stolen in Tatopani; it was just a con to play on the sympathies of Lisa and Melanie ~ and me ~ and get more money from them!

The next morning, when we were ready to go our different ways, he tried to extort another Rs200 - 300 from me, but I hadn’t em-ployed him to accompany me this time, and gave him just Rs60. I got a bus as far as Dumre, and went directly to the sundry-shop of someone I knew to ask about Yam Bahadur, and was sur-prised to find his father there. He was pleased to see me again and told me that his son was in Kathmandu, but was due back the next day; also, that he was married and had a daughter, and that they had rebuilt their home. The shop-keeper was able to get Y.B. on the phone for me, and he told me that he would visit me in Pokhara when he returned.

Back in Pokhara, I changed another $100. The guy scrutinized it carefully, as it was a few years old; I told him it was alright, as I’d printed it only the day before, but I don’t think he understood my joke. I was getting tired of Pokhara, as the internet-connections were so slow and unreliable. I had Khem call through to the shop-keeper in Dumre and leave directions for Yam Bahadur to get to Paramount, but he didn’t get the message, as he came directly from Kathmandu to Pokhara two days later. By that time, I had bought a bus-ticket for Kathmandu for the next day, but when he arrived I postponed it until the day after. Then, with a whole day in between, I took him hiking up to Sarangkot to see the sunrise on the mountains, but even though we started early, it was such a climb that the sun had risen long before we got there. I decided to walk to Naudanda, 11 kms away, rather than returning the same way. It was an easy walk, compared with the climb, and we got a bus back to Pokhara.

There, I sent him to look for shoes while I did my email. He came back telling me he’d seen some he liked, but when I went with him to see them, he couldn’t remember where. I was hungry by this time and beginning to shake, and when that happens I can’t think straight and must eat something quick. His shoes were sec-ondary, particularly as he couldn’t make up his mind. Later, we again looked for shoes for him, but with no more success, so I just gave him some money to do with as he wanted; he’d told me that he earned only Rs1500 per month at his part-time job.

I paid my hotel-bill and was given a Rs150 voucher for my first night’s stay in Elite Hotel in Kathmandu. We ate dinner at a small restaurant next to the hotel, as Raj – who was supposed to be the cook – couldn’t get himself together and was on the phone talking with some woman he was forming a liaison with. Yam Bahadur had an amazing capacity for rice! I went to bed early, having de-veloped another chest-infection.

The next morning, Y.B. accompanied me to the bus-station with my loaded bike, then went back to Paramount. The bus left promptly at 7 o’clock, and the trip was quite good; we reached Kathmandu around 2:00, and someone from the Elite was waiting for me, but he was unprepared for my bike, so had to call some-one else to come on a bike and lead the way. Getting along on Kantipath was a bit of a nightmare, as the traffic was thick and I was unable to signal. I just had to trust that vehicles behind me would let me in, and luckily, they did. Imagine this happening in the West! I wouldn’t have survived very long!

At the hotel I got a room on the 2nd floor, though at first, they wanted to put me on the 5th. I don’t like climbing stairs. I soon went out to do various things. Got some more antibiotics for my chest-infection, and some silicone earplugs, but they were use-less. The barking dogs were ear-plug resistant.

One night in the Elite was quite enough, as it was very noisy; you could hear everything in the next rooms; the hinges on the room-doors squeaked and needed oiling; and some dummies on the ground-floor talked loudly until midnight. I went out first thing to find another hotel and ended up at Snow Lion Guest House in Dhobichaur, where I got a large room on the 4th floor with a good view of Swayambhu. At first they asked Rs200, but agreed to Rs150 when I said that was what I’d been paying. It was full of Nepalese and Indians, no tourists there. I made two trips back to Elite for my bags rather than bring them all at once; the people at the desk weren’t very pleased that I was leaving so soon.

The water in Snow Lion was as it was in ’98 – slightly rusty and smelly; very hard to find a place without problems.

I was considering doing the Everest Region trek, but needed to find out about weather-conditions there first. In the meantime, I went for long rides on my bike. I always stopped buses and put my bike on the top for the ride back to Nagdhunga, not being game enough to attempt that climb. On one such bus, a man sit-ting beside me started a conversation, in the middle of which, learning I was single, he insisted that an ‘alone-life’ is a hopeless one. I convinced him that I was not alone, ever ~ no-one is. I also showed him how dependent upon others we are by asking him, “Has anyone helped you today?”
“No,” he said.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Did you have breakfast today?”
“Yes, I did.”
“If no-one helped you, how could you have breakfast?”

On another bus, I got talking with some uni students, and asked them if they thought the gods were still useful. One of them said he supposed so, as they helped people become better. I dis-agreed, and pointed to the various pictures of gods above the driver’s seat, saying that the drivers imperil the lives of everyone on board by picking up so many people that the buses are dan-gerously overloaded, and many of them come to grief that way, with great loss of life. Moreover, the people who must stand or sit on the roof don’t pay half-fare or ride free, but are charged full.

Before we got to Nagdhunga, a tout from the Elite Hotel got on and tried to enlist me, but I told him what I thought of the place ~ too noisy ~ and he gave up.

I made my first trip to Trisuli. I’d expected it to be uphill all the way there and envisaged a long downhill ride back to Kathmandu, but it wasn’t like this. I took a bus and had gone quite a way past Kakani on the ridge of the valley and down the long, serpentine road before I realized it would be mainly like this all the way to Trisuli, so I asked off and began maybe my best ride yet, through magnificent countryside; it took me about 1½ hours to get there, and the bus I’d been on overtook me only just before the town, and that only just because of a short but steep stretch, part of which I had to walk up.

I’d lost a nut by the time I got there, so the bike was quite rattly, and I had to get a replacement. Then, with no reason to tarry, I got the next bus back, waiting only ½ an hour. A confrontation with the conductor ensued because an indicator-lamp got broken when I was hoisting my bike to the roof; he demanded R100 for it, but I refused to pay, saying it was an accident, and if my bike got damaged on the bus, they would not pay me anything. I had oc-casion to chastise this same conductor later on, when he spoke harshly to an old man sitting beside me on the bus.

Just before Kakani, I noticed a figure standing beside the road, like a Buddhist monk; it was so life-like, as we flashed past, that I wasn’t sure it was a statue or a real person, so before we came into Kakani, I asked off the bus, and rode back down to see; it took 10 minutes to reach it, and behold, it was a statue, but what it was doing there, I was unable to determine.

Riding back, it took 20 minutes to get to Kakani proper, and then, as I began the descent to Kathmandu, several nuts came loose again and began to rattle, so had to be tightened; later, my chain also came off, and I had to release the wheel to get it back on.
The onslaught on Iraq was about to begin, and I kept in touch ~ via newspapers and internet ~ with what was happening in the world, but, Nepal being quite remote, it all seemed so far away.

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