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Published: November 17th 2008
Been in Nepal for about five days now, and will give the general gist of what I have been up to, mainly as this blog doubles as my journal, so sorry if it gets a bit tedious.
I headed to Pokhara from Varanasi through a delightful array of Indian transport, starting with a 45 minute Rickshaw ride (oh how guilty I felt for the frail old man cycling my enormous rucksack and western bulk to the station). The night train arrived according to IST (Indian Standard Time ie. much later than timetabled) and took me to Gorakpur where I jeeped it on to the Nepalese border, and boogied on through to Pokhara, arriving about 21 hours after leaving Varanasi. The peace and quiet of Lakeside Pokhara hit me immediately and was just the break I needed from the mental streets of India.
I didn't hang about much though, as the next day a persuasive tour operator had got me "very good price" on a guide to take me on a 3 day, 2 night jaunt of the nearby mountains. The route was pretty self-explanatory (being as complicated as following a single path can be), but it was worth it, as we got on well, and he taught me a lot about the 16 castes of Nepal, and everything from politics to how rice is farmed. We had some fun, and was a bit of a joker saying that out of people from over 20 countries he had worked for, Israeli's were the craziest, hiring porters to carry EVERYTHING, but saving money on guides, instead just kicking off when the porter, laden down with all their stuff, was not at the front to guide them as well. I also saw another couple of Himalayan sunrises, igniting the Anapurna range a magnificent glowing red, which I would have missed if my guide was not there to force me up. I have to say though, that despite our bonding through the (minimally) treacherous terrain up to Sarangkot and beyond, my chronic inability to remember foreign names reduced me to just calling him B. I mean, remembering one letter of a guys name who you are with solidly for 3 days isn't bad is it? He didnt seem to mind though, probably as he new my guilt would show through in the tips.
Other news in Pokhara, I was moved by the Gurkha Memorial Museum (bless 'em) andslightly revolted by the remants of what looked like mass-chicken-genocide, where a hen is ritually sacrificed by a statue of Kali at a Hindu temple every morning. On my return from the mountains I also had to go around every place I ate several days before to pay them for the meals. A bit embarassing, as the trusted Nepali waiters had never said a word when I ambled out the restaurants, completely forgetting to pay for my delicious steak or daal-bhat. Actually on that note, yesterday evening in Pokhara was the first meal I had on my own in the company of a book, which shows how sociable I have found my trip so far, or how disturbed people are by my attempt at trekker's facial hair. It gave me time to to immerse myself in a novel involving a cloud of nano-particles taking over the world... but they are some other real benefits of travelling alone, particularly the cultural experiences that you may otherwise miss.
I hired a bike and set off for a cave, promising 5000 bats, discovered about 20 years ago and aptly named The Bat Cave. Unfortunately my Grandad's email stating "be careful of those Nepali women" came a little late. After negotiating the price at the gate, the man said I would get a schoolkid as my guide, with the money going towards his education (surrrrrreeee), but he sent a young lady down with me towards the cave for some reason. Stunning in the Nepalese way, and I guess also in the Western sense, she quickly took pity on me as a loan traveller with no wife, and said she could help me through the cave, without charge. Delighted at the prospect of a bargain (obviously for this reason alone) I duly obliged. She was also a student, and was of Brahmin (the highest) caste, and for a time it was really interesting as she explaining some parts of her culture to me. In the deepest depths of the cave things started to get a bit uncomfortable as, in hindsight what was obvious, dawned on me in the sentence "I like you, I want to marry foreigner."
Now this part of the cave to the exit was tiny, and she had insisted of going in front of me to "show me" how to climb over the rocks out. I was pretty claustrophobic, there were bats everywhere, and it was very dark with her having the sole torch light. So after an awkward silence, when I realised how bad things could go if I annoyed her, I replied. And I hope you see the reasons why, I maybe did not respond in a full out negative. Oh I wish I did.
So squeezing through the jagged rocks into the clear light of day, I thought I was save and could make my escape. At the gate however, the man stopped me. He put out his hand, and shook it firmly, whilst solemnly gazing into my eyes.
"What do you think?"
"My daughter, what do you think of her?"
(alarm bells) "Oh! haha"
"No, you doctor yes, what do you think of my eldest daughter?"
"Umm medical student actually, you see its another two..."
"Yes good Doctor, good job. You don't like her?"
"You not like?!"
"What? No, she is...ummm"
"Yeah, um very nice, beautiful"
In my panic when he demanded my mobile number, my thoughts were scrambled. I considered giving a fake one "44...4....4....4", I wish I knew the Nepali flirt-divert number, and considered whether my trekked-out legs would be up to the challenge of cycling me to safety on a rusty old Nepalese bike. Somewhere, from the depths of my mind, I managed to save myself from planning what the colour of the chair-covers should be at our wedding, by saying:
"I will call her, in my culture the man calls the woman"
So I have a name a phone number, and the words "bat cave" written neatly in blue fountain pen if I ever fancy a Nepalese bride. Nice to know I guess.
I then ended the evening cycling the 12 K back to the hotel through downtown Pokhara. At night. In a power cut. Grave-sized potholes and unexplained boulders on the roadside made the journey even more enjoyable, and John O'groats to Lands End look like an absolute breeze.
Also, I saw a wasplike-hornet-thing torment and kill a huge spider. I cannot think of a way of making it relevant, but I thought it made a catchy title. When you spend this much time watching insects, you know you really are living the laid-back travellers life.
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