Ripples Following Ripples ~ FURTHER TREKS

Back in Malacca again, I prepared to fly out on September 28th. DV was unable to drive me to the airport, so got a taxi to drop me there. The flight was on time, and I changed planes in Bangkok, arriving in Kathmandu after noon. It always takes quite a while to get through Immigration there, as most people don’t bother get-ting their visas in advance, and have to wait in line to pay for them in foreign currency. Passport duly endorsed, outside I was accosted by taxi-drivers and hotel-touts, and spent some time haggling. Finally, I got a taxi for Rs150, and on the way agreed to go to Dolpo Guest House in Thamel for a room at Rs200. Actu-ally, this was better than the Yeti Guest House of my last visit.

One of the first things I did was set about buying a bike, and went to see Dipendra, from one of the bike-shops I’d had dealings with the year before, thinking I could trust him. Alas, my trust was mis-placed. He took me to a wholesaler, and I negotiated with him about a new China-made bike, not knowing that he was grossly overcharging me, but Dipendra must have known and colluded with him. And not only had I been overcharged and Dipendra must have got a cut of it, but as I was soon to find out, I’d bought a lemon; the bike was of poor quality, and it wasn’t long before it began to give me trouble. I went to Trisuli on it, stopping off to see Milan Lama ~ the young boy who had helped Jivan after his spill ~ on the way. By the time I got there, nuts had fallen off, and the gear-levers needed replacing. Back in Kathmandu, my com-plaints to Dipendra were to no avail, and whenever I went to see the wholesaler, he was conveniently not there. I fixed up the bike as best I could and had some good rides on it even so.

I sent money through the post-office to Yam Bahadur and Bishal, but it was two weeks before they acknowledged receipt of it.

Then, I came down with a chest-infection, as I usually did when I was in Kathmandu, where the air is so polluted. I felt so ill at one point that I had to sleep for 14 hours; eventually, the antibiotics kicked in, and I recovered. The weather at this time was also quite bad, with lots of rain, so there was little I could do but wait for it to clear before setting off trekking, as such was my intention.

One day, I stopped by a small restaurant to ask if they had dahl-baht, and when told yes, said I’d return later. When I went back after some time, there were a number of young girls lounging around, but being the innocent, I didn’t realize it was a whore-house. I ordered dahl-baht, but they asked so many questions that I thought they either didn’t know what dahl-baht was or were stupid; I left, and went to look for dahl-baht elsewhere.

The weather cleared up, so, leaving some of my stuff at the hotel, I set off to Syabrubesi. We stopped at Trisuli for lunch, and this is probably where my 35mm camera disappeared, as I left my bag on a table while I went to the toilet ~ a mistake, but I was glad it wasn’t my digital. The road from thereon was rough, and we’d not gone far when, at an army-checkpost, someone approached me below the bus-window, and asked if I needed a porter (I was the only Westerner on the bus at this point); I asked him how much he wanted; he said Rs300 per day ~ much less than I expected ~ out of which he would pay for his own food. I agreed, and he climbed on the roof. An hour or so later, halfway to Dunche, there’d been a landslide, and we had to get off the bus and walk for 30 minutes to get another bus on the other side; Subha ~ my porter ~ carried one of my bags.

At Dunche, I paid Rs1000 for a trekking-permit. It soon became dark, and the road was the worst I’ve ever been on. Half-an-hour out of Syabrubesi, one of the double rear tires blew out; many people got off and walked the rest of the way by a short-cut, al-though how they saw in the dark I don’t know. We continued, which was very risky, given the state of the road. Arriving about 7:30, we checked into Hotel Lhasa, and I got a room at Rs100, and then discovered I’d not brought a sweater with me. I’d had two concerns ~ unfounded, as it turned out ~ about my bag on the roof of the bus: 1), that someone would sit on it and burst my water-bottles, and 2), that my porter, who I knew nothing at all about, would make off with it. At the hotel, discussing payment, he said he would like Rs150 on a daily basis, and the rest at the end of the trek; I felt good about this, as it meant he wouldn’t gamble or drink it away, as many porters do at the end of the day. Nor did he smoke. At 26, he was the father of three small children, and needed to save all he could.

Maybe because of the strong coffee I’d drunk before going to bed, I couldn’t sleep much, so got up to meditate, repair my bag and do odds and ends. The sound of the river behind the hotel was conducive to meditation; it was a nice place.

In the morning, when I went down, I met other trekkers, one of whom ~ a guy from Perth named Michael, who was on his way back ~ learning that I didn’t have a sweater, immediately took off his fleecy jacket and gave it to me, saying he didn’t need it any more and would only have thrown it away. I gratefully accepted.

Our first day was quite a walk, and Subha and I were each to see what the other was made of! Up and down over a rough track of many steps beside a raging river through jungle we went. I kept my eyes open for bamboo, but it was all too thin. At the first stop along the trail ~ a place named Bamboo Lodge ~ a porter assist-ing a Dutch guy on his way down found me a sturdy bamboo, and I cut it to size; it was a great help. I would not have been able to walk half as well without it, but Subha eschewed one, and in-deed, for the first two days, wore only flip-flops, like most of the porters and guides; they are as sure-footed at mountain-goats!

Not having slept much the night before, I was tired when we reached Rimche, and decided to go no further that day. A room there ~ very basic, of course ~ was Rs50, and the dahl-baht (which in Kathmandu I got for just Rs35), Rs125, but I should say that most of the food and everything else had to be carried up by porters from the lowlands, and before that, brought from Kath-mandu by bus; consequently, the prices increase the higher one gets. The lodge-keepers earn their living that way, and perform a useful service; without them, without porters, we would not get very far into the mountains. The toilet here, of the squat-type, was surprisingly clean, but I found it hard to squat at my age!

The next day, we set off for Langtang, and Subha was surprised at the pace I set. We overtook everyone, trekkers and Nepalese, and got there in less than four hours. The track had led upwards through forests ~ or jungle ~ and then we rose above the tree-line, where it was too cold for trees to grow. Entering the village of about 500 people and perhaps 20 lodges, one lodge-keeper called out to us to have a look at his rooms. When I asked how much they were, he said Rs10. asked again to make sure I had heard correctly, but it was so, and indeed, many lodges charged nothing at all for their rooms, making up for it in the food-prices. I decided to stay there and avail myself of the solar-powered hot-water for a shower and to wash some clothes.

Because I’d brought provisions like coffee, milk-powder, oats and biscuits, I was able to make coffee, tea and even porridge in my room with the thermos of hot-water I got every evening; I would also make a bottle of coffee, using cold water, for the walk ahead; I did this every day, and it tasted really good. Because I wasn’t able to boil water myself, I added purification drops to the water, and although it didn’t taste very nice, I didn’t notice any ill-effects.

The next hike generally takes about 3.5 hours, but we did it in 2; this place ~ Kyanjin Gompa, was the furthest point we would reach before turning back and retracing out steps to take another track leading in a different direction. But at Kyanjin Gompa (Gompa is Tibetan for monastery, of which there was one there), was a peak overlooking the settlement, with prayer-flags erected on it. Needless to say, this beckoned me, and thinking it would af-ford some great views, I set off to climb it; halfway up, however, I took the wrong track, and climbed and climbed without getting nearer to my goal. Eventually, after 2 hours of hard-going, during which I halted every few steps to get my breath, I reached a ridge above a glacier, and far below me, was the 'peak' I’d originally set out to reach. It took an hour to return to the lodge, by a different path; this one was very steep with few rocks in it to afford places for feet to grip, and it was easy to slip and slide; fortunately, I had no mishaps; my mishap of this trek was a few days ahead.

That night in Kyanjin Gompa, I began to suffer from sleepless-ness, as I'd done the year before on the Solu Khumbu Trek, not knowing then that it was a symptom of altitude-sickness, which can be dangerous and even fatal. I could sleep no longer than 5 minutes at a time, and would then wake up, unable to sleep again for hours. As a result, I didn't sleep much at all, but the surprising thing was, I didn't feel tired, just like before.

The young keeper of the lodge we stayed in told me that he'd been a monk for several years, but when his mother fell ill, he felt he should disrobe to care for her, and the next thing he knew he was married; he expressed some regret for not having remained a monk, saying the life of a monk was so much freer than the family life; needless to say, I agreed with him.

Leaving Kyanjin Gompa, we descended in four hours to Rimche. I was even prepared to go further, but Subha wasn't enthusiastic about this, so I told him that if he could negotiate a free hot shower for me, I would spend the night there. I mentioned earlier that porters are not charged for accommodation, and the food they eat is at a greatly-reduced price than the tourists are charged; I had yet to ascertain how much reduced.

The descent of the peak the previous day had hurt my heels, and, upon checking, I discovered they had cracked. I had to put up with the pain until returning to Kathmandu, as I had no ointment with me. Every morning, it was hard to start because of the pain, but after a while, when I got into my customary swing, the pain re-ceded. I also discovered that I'd had blisters that had burst. My trusty sandals served me well, and wearing a couple of pairs of socks with them, my feet weren't cold.

We followed the river down, then took a track that led upwards through the forest away from it, until we arrived at a village strad-dling a long ridge, and found rooms in one of the numerous lodges there ~ lodges that have sprung up over the less-than 20 years that people have been trekking in these parts. There are really too many lodges, which is why some of them don't charge for rooms, trying to attract people to stay. Bedding is usually pro-vided without extra charge ~ though not always ~ and sometimes it is reasonably clean, and sometimes not; sometimes, it smells musty, or of vomit, but if it has been hung out in the sun as soon as the guests of the previous night have left, it smells fresh. Whatever, one has to put up with what one can get; in my case, I do not carry a sleeping-bag with me, as do most trekkers.

Day Six was a hard uphill slog, and we took what was supposed to be a short-cut. Now, Subha had never been this way before, but I told him we would probably be able to ask directions from people we met; however, four hours passed without us meeting anyone on the way. Luckily, the trail led us to a ridge where there were some tea-shops and small lodges, and we stopped there for some minutes to rest before going on to the next settlement an hour further on. This was a place called Laurebina, and in the lodge we chose to stay in, we met a Japanese couple and their 12-year-old daughter ~ the Sakai family ~ with their guide and porter. Below us, as far as we could see, was a sea of clouds. It was very cold that night, and there was no hot-water for washing when we got up ~ or indeed, even cold water! There was ice a foot thick in the water-tank outside. Solar-panels were not an op-tion; they would not work there as they did in other places; the water in the pipes would freeze at night and burst them.

By this time, I had somehow come down with dysentery, perhaps because of the unhygienic conditions of the kitchens and people preparing the food in the lodges; cleanliness is not really one of their virtues. This was quite inconvenient and embarrassing, and painful, too. Generally, I was able to control myself long enough to get to the toilet (whether in the lodges or somewhere outside), but there was only a watery issue, and lots of gas. I had no medi-cation for this, but Mrs. Sakai kindly gave me some herbal pills which seemed to help somewhat; however, the condition contin-ued. (I got dysentery when I was in Kathmandu in '74, and lost 35 pounds because of it, and I was only 155 pounds to begin with).

The next day was the shortest walk of the entire trek ~ two hours brought us to a series of small lakes in the mountains at a place called Gosainkund, just short of the snow-covered pass we would have to cross. There was a peak overlooking the small settle-ment, as at Kyanjin Gompa, and again, I felt the urge to climb it; this one, however, took only 45 minutes, and I had lunch upon re-turn. The Sakais later caught up with us and stayed in the same place. It was even colder here than the previous day, but I got two blankets for my bed and passed a reasonably warm night

In the morning, the water in the cup in which I’d put my dentures had ice in it, but fortunately was not frozen solid. After breakfast, we set out for the pass, but contrary to my expectations, it wasn’t so difficult, as the snow was firm and not slippery; it took us an hour-and-a-half to reach the top, then we began our descent, but this was the hardest and longest day of all, down ~ for the most part ~ rock-strewn paths. We halted for a while, and I shared a Snickers-bar and some biscuits with Subha, and sat in meditation for 20 minutes. We made it to the next settlement two hours later, but the lodge-people weren’t very friendly, so I decided to press on to the next place, another two-and-half-hours on. Needless to say, we were very tired when we got there, almost nine hours af-ter starting in the morning. After checking into one of the lodges, I sat a while waiting for some food and then went to bed, unaware until the morning, that the Sakais had arrived in the same lodge three hours after we did. This was Subha's record-day as well as mine; previously, the longest he'd done was seven hours.

That day, we had reached the tree-line again, and because of the frequent cloud-layer, many trees were heavily draped in moss and lichens; the forest was dank due to lack of sunshine. We had two very cloudy days, and it tried to rain several times.

Misfortune lay just ahead of us. The next day, I set an energetic pace for two hours uphill, leaving Subha behind. Then we started to descend, and I was doing alright when suddenly, I tripped on a rock on a very steep part and fell forward and down, unable to save myself. A group of teenagers were directly behind me, but they never as much as asked if I were alright or offered to help in any way; they simply continued on their way. I was amazed and somewhat annoyed at this, and later explained to Subha that such indifference towards others is one of the causes of poverty (the day before, I’d stepped on a stone that moved beneath my foot, and, seeing this, he moved the stone and set it so it wouldn't rock anymore, out of consideration for others). Anyway, I picked myself up, fortunately not much hurt ~ only a scraped shin and a slightly bleeding nose and bruised hand; one of the lenses of my specs was scratched ~ and Subha caught up with me; he hadn’t seen me fall. I was a bit more cautious after this for a while, but then resumed my regular pace. Actually, though, I was very lucky, as there were thousands of times on this trek where disas-ter lurked, but then, this is life in general, is it not? One must be careful, and cannot plan in advance the next step; each step must be taken without thinking about it, without hesitation, and it was very interesting to observe how the feet seemed to have an intelligence of their own and knew how to act very quickly ~ rather like a dance somehow; all this, you see, was unknown ground, and you could have no plans for it.

Pressing on, we reached Chisopani, having been caught in rain the last 20 minutes; it had been trying to rain for the past three days, and we had quite a shower. It wasn’t easy to find a lodge, either they were fully booked or were asking Rs200. I was on the verge of pressing on to Kathmandu, but decided to back-track and try the first lodge we had passed as we came into the village. This one was empty, but at first the boy was asking Rs200, which I refused to pay. He then asked how much I was prepared to pay, and although it was the best lodge we’d stayed in so far, I said Rs50, and surprisingly enough, he accepted, with bedding and hot shower included. I was happy to get cleaned up, even though the water wasn’t very warm, and put on clean clothes. Two hours after this, the Sakais arrived, and hadn’t got too wet in the rain.

And so, we came to our final day on the trail. Having shared the trail with the Sakais, and stayed at the same lodges, a friendship had developed, and before parting with them, we arranged to keep in touch and perhaps even visit (the husband was working in Kathmandu as a physical-education instructor under the aus-pices of the government of Japan). Subha and I went on ahead, and the first hour or so was uphill, and then we settled into the descent to a small town on the outskirts of Kathmandu Valley, where there are buses to the capital. Going down was pretty hard, especially the last 1½ hours, as concrete steps had been constructed up to the villages, and these were harder on the feet than the rough tracks. Eventually, however, we got down, quite worn out, and had to wait an hour for a bus. It was already full when it started, and gathered more people as it went along. But did you think those standing inside paid half-fare, or those on the roof traveled for free, or those hanging perilously off the sides paid less? Not at all! The bus-companies are only concerned with the maximizing of profits, and care nothing at all about the com-fort or safety of their passengers, or of their own employees.

Reaching Kathmandu an hour or so later, I paid Subha off, and he seemed happy with the bonus I gave him. I was satisfied with him as he was honest and not greedy. He then went to get a bus back to his home-village, and agreed to return to Kathmandu early the next week in order to accompany me on my second trek, in the Annapurna region; I dared not leave it too late, as it would involve crossing a 5,500 m pass, and before long, deep snow would fall there. My shin was very sore; there must have been a battle going on inside. My cracked heels responded to the ointment I bought. I also had my specs repaired.

Sakai called and came to pick me up; I stayed overnight in their nice home and enjoyed it, even though their English wasn’t too good. They dropped me off where I needed to go the next day.

I got my trekking-permit, at a cost of Rs2000, and Subha turned up, so we got tickets for the next day’s bus to Besisahar. He brought me a bamboo staff to replace the one I’d given away. My bags were stuffed because of the extra food I was taking.

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