After any fantastic time somewhere there is a necessary journey back.. and so there was from the village where the story in the previous posts took place. And what a journey it was. It took us 13 hours to go back to Kathmandu.
After the 5:30 wakeup, Bhim and I left at 6 to walk in a different direction from the one we’d come from. After about one hour we reached another village, where maybe a bus would have arrived at some point – and it actually did! We got on this bus which was almost empty, but this privileged condition wouldn’t have lasted long. As we proceeded on the bumpy soil (you can’t really call it “road”) we collected more and more passengers, until this bus ride became the busiest I’ve ever been on. The corridor was so full of the usual colored crowd that it literally overflew: I was on the aisle seat but was firmly compressed against Bhim, and at some point my head was actually laying on someone’s chest and I couldn’t move my left arm anymore – watch to believe!
In addition, the bus stopped 1000 times to let more people on the roof or let people down (every time it would take long minutes) or for various small mechanical problems. Four hours of this pleasure and we arrived to Gorkha, where we had lunch and at noon we took another bus to Kathmandu.
On this new, delightful bus, the room to sit was so small that my legs didn’t fit and had to be stretched towards the corridor. The music was terribly loud and the wind was very strong as Bhim wanted to keep the window open the whole time. At least there were the most beautiful girls I’d seen in Nepal so far, all with their kids and their men (mostly older than them).
I was looking forward to arrive in town before 7pm as I wanted to recollect my backpack from Bhim’s office. But that wasn’t going to happen. The journey was so long, slow and with so many stops that we only made it for 7:30 pm, when the city was totally dark, and I spent another night at the hostel. The next morning I went to Bhim’s office to collect Ferrino (he hasn’t been very lucky so far, has he?) to find out a funny happening: the office had undergone a flood in the meantime, as the water storage below it had some problem.
This helps me highlight another attitude that I think I have noticed in people from this country (and I guess it’d apply to people from all similarly poor places). The way they face unexpected problems is remarkable. They just take it without turning a hair, and find a way to fix it. So far, so good. But when it came to me, they applied the same attitude, so Kamel (Bhim’s friend that was in the office at the moment) looked at me with a big smile and said “hehe, it’s wet! Hehe just laundry and then ok!”
Same when we traveled to Bhim’s village four days before: I didn’t know that after Gorkha we’d have to trek for five hours, and I found out only 30 seconds before. Big smile on and “hehe is it problem to walk for few hours?”.
The last two days in Kathmandu were actually spent recovering from a bit everything, strolling around the town and planning the next move.
I spent some time with a French girl who we’d met on the Everest trek and who works in Kathmandu for a tourist agency. I’ve had some lovely walk around the city and played the harmonica as a last goodbye to Durbar Square & Basantapur, my favourite spot in town.
Alright this post has already grown longer than I thought. Soon it was time to move to the airport! The first flight was a short Kathmandu – New Delhi; oddity of the journey, the guys of Royal Nepal Airline (although Nepal isn’t a monarchy anymore) had assigned me and another person to the same seat! Brilliant.
Then New Delhi airport: I had to wait there for TEN hours! I wisely stayed in where the shops are (remembering how difficult it was to get in there, which I described in the post Rush), and time passed by quickly, thanks to a book that Nick gave me at my Haircut Leaving Party and to a German girl (hey Christa!) that offered me the 200 rupies necessary for a snack as I didn’t have any and my cards were not working!
Then the flight to Koala Lumpur, on which I talked to a few people, in particular I listened to incredible stories from a Australian / Dutch lady who used to live in Indonesia before the war (the Country was still a Dutch colony by then) and was therefore captured by the Japanese forces and imprisoned in a concentration camp for three years!
The flight connection in Kuala Lumpur was short, but it let me see something cool: they have a dome in which they recreated a Jungle environment a bit like it happens in European botanical gardens. You can walk in for free, it’s hot and humid as the aforementione greenhouses… and only then you realize that the “dome” is actually an open air space! As in, it’s OUTSIDE the airport, which is in turn a “greenhouse” where they recreated European climate!
The next flight finally took me to the land where I am now. Those who don’t know, guess which one is it from the image!
the next thing to visit in Nepal after Kathmandu was the Chitwan National Park, but first I needed to take care of another thing in Kathmandu: the VISA extension. Upon entering the country, I had purchased a 30-days VISA as I didn’t have enough money (I should have selfishly followed John’s advice and brought more with me, instead of leaving it for the household! :D). My stay in Nepal would actually be 32 days.
Thanks to Bhim I find the Immigration Office, which I’d never been able to find alone, and inside there I experience a bit of the Nepalese corruption. I get explained that if I pay the regular 30 dollars I would have to fill a lot of papers, come back in the afternoon, then maybe it takes a few days… I opt for the second option I’m given: to pay 10 more dollars corruption fee and there you go, my VISA extension is ready in 10 minutes!
The next day it was time to leave for Chitwan! On the way I actually stop to do some rafting on a river with a few rapids! I’d never done it before, and this was a “beginner” rafting with 8 other people in a rubber dinghy, still we went pretty fast at some points and had to row very hard! At the end we were completely wet; that wasn’t a big problem as the Sun was shining, but I hadn’t realized that it would be a death sentence for my Birkenstock sandals! The water penetrated between the sole and the actual sandal, and I know that’s the beginning of the end.
Chitwan is very different than the Nepal I’ve seen so far. The country’s combination of latitudes and elevations (from 60 meters above sea level to the 8.850 meters Mt. Everest!) gives it a broad spectrum of climates and environments: Chitwan is indeed more like a tropical region, and for the first time in my life I slept under the mosquito protecting nets! Houses here are huts made of stones, wood and mud, and people’s appearance is different.
This park is also a World Heritage site, and the activities you can do are all nature-related. We visited an important Elephant Breeding Center, which actually holds a world record: the first documented birth of twins elephants, both of which seems to survive well.
Another peak is the safari in the jungle, riding an elephant!
One night, we looked at an amazingly starry sky with a few Germans and a Nepalese girl. For the first time I was able to spot the Orion Belt in all its splendor, and we even managed to see some 10 falling stars! I remember almost all the wishes I expressed and who knows, maybe they’ll become true someday.
Another fantastic happening in Chitwan: following Greg’s advice, I let a local barber treat myself. It’s fantastic! After the shave, the guy also provides a relaxing massage! It’s also a thrilling experience, as this unknown person holds a very sharp razor right next to your throat and could easily kill you in seconds!
The only part of the Chitwan experience you’ll regret is the journeys to go there from Kathmandu and back. To get an idea of the bumpiness, imagine the crappiest and most poorly maintained road the world, full of holes and ride it for ten hours drive on a bus with squared wheels. It’s so bumpy that at some point you’ll feel that your brain is moving independently in the skull. If you’re very lucky – and I was on the first journey – you also get this high pitch, repetitive, brain-eroding Nepali music, played through 50 years old speakers that sound like monkeys having sex on a spike bed.
If you survive the journeys, the rest will be a fantastic reward, spectacular sunsets included!
I’ve been 5 days away from any electricity, hence the lack of updates. Future posts will explain it all!
Once made it to the Everest Base Camp and back, another challenge was right ahead of us: getting back to Kathmandu alive. We had a flight booked from Lukla, whose airport is a tiny airstrip surrounded by mountains, and it’s one of the most dangerous ones in the world: If the tiny plane hasn’t got enough momentum at the end of the strip, your only alternative is that massive mountain in front of you.
I’d never been on such a small plane, and I have to say that the concept of “stability” is definitely different with what we’re all used to! As you have probably guessed we made it in one piece to the destination airport, just in time for the last strong emotion: at landing, you only see the ground when the plane is only 5 meters above the ground, so you really have no clue whether you’re on the right spot and the surrounding buildings are way too close for comfort!
After the flight back to Kathmandu, two taxis (that looked like the cars in the opening race of “Altrimenti ci arrabbiamo”!!) take us to Bhim’s house in the East of Kathmandu. He is the brother of Gopal, our guide for the whole trek, and long time Greg’s friend. His wife prepares a fantastic meaty Dal Bath for us, and the most interesting thing for me is to see a real Nepalese house from the inside.
Bhim, his wife and two kids live in one single room, directly accessible from the staircase. Four people in some 15 square meters. Two more “apartments” are on the same floor, and the shared toilet and kitchen are accessible from there. The staircase is a common space where people interact.
The lunch is fantastic. I notice that the women eat in the kitchen while men are in the “apartment”. Also, for the first time since we’re in Nepal, we all eat some food from the same plate, using our hands. The feeling is good, but I’m not sure about the hygienic side: for instance I had a cold and could have easily spread around the diners.
The building where Bhim lives has a ramp in front of the door for the motorbikes, which fill the city up (there are even more than in Rome!) and an egg storage / distribution place on the ground floor. I witnessed some “distribution” as we parted!
After lunch it was finally time to go back to the hostel and pass out after the massive trek. The first thing I did once there was charge up a bit my little Ubuntu netbook as I wanted to grab everybody’s pictures. I then took it down in the hall and… it didn’t work! A total anti-climax, as Joel put it, and my disappointment skyrocketed to about Jupiter or Saturn. That marked the beginning of a crusade: me and Guillame really did our best to bring it back to life – Guillame is a Linux kernel programmer and has worked lots with hardware, so I couldn’t have wished for better help, here you see him while we opened the little critter.
Unfortunately, we worked in vain. The computer decided it was too much of a cheap piece of shit hardware to work again, so Guillame took it back to Europe to ship it back to the manufacturer.
A few words about Kathmandu. First the bad news. Outside the touristic zones, it’s really bad. It’s like a huge slum. All the buildings are incomplete, wrecked, very poorly maintained if at all. This is a very common view.
Most streets are unpaved, so everything gets covered in dirt. Garbage is everywhere, and it is systematically burned at night (you can see the carbonized ashes still burning in the morning), which contributes to the pestilent air. Another major contribution to it is the reckless traffic. There is no other way to move around than on wheels, old cars or motorbikes which spit black smog at every acceleration. From the same source, the acoustic pollution is impressive. The frustrated honks are a continuous, overlapping flow of horrible noise, which sums up to all the other violent sounds: sirens, sawmills, building sites, people yelling. Even visually it’s like being punched: the visual field is constantly full, be that ad posters on any wall or private balcony, buildings grown one above another, incredibly dense tiny shops which all sell the same stuff.
Ok, now the good: there are a few really nice, well preserved spots, some are in the world’s heritages list. For instance this massive dome, one of the biggest of its kind. It’s a wishing place where locals do actually go and turn these huge metal cylinders (oh, we’ve made so many of them spin along the trek, only smaller) or light up candles.
The place where we’re staying is next to an incredible complex of temples around Durbar Square. I’m really happy to be here as it’s the most beautiful place I’ve seen in town, and of course it gives its best at night.
After one more day in Kathmandu, all the others left, and now I’m alone on this life trek. We’ll see how far I get, and how many walking mates will I find on the path!