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Published: March 9th 2013
With incense in the air
The strength of the Nepalese is one of the most incredible phenomena in nature. When travelling in this mountain country one should not be deceived by appearances, as the load bearing capabilities of the locals are nothing short of prodigious. As an example, let me introduce my young guide Rajan from Green Valley Tours. He started with the company as a porter at the tender age of 18, embarking on long treks along the Annapurna ciruit and to Everest Base Camp, while carrying 35 kilos on his back for 12 days or more. As you can appreciate this means walking all day, while rising up to altitudes of over 5,000 metres with all the gruelling climbing that entails. I asked him out of curiosity today, so how much do you weigh Rajan? He replied that he weighs 55 kilograms, and I was absolutely gobsmacked. He was promoted to the position of guide after two years, but it's scarcely believable when you look at his physique that he's able to achieve what he does for a living. He told me that back in his village he began hauling baskets at around 9 years old, initially with 7 or 8 kilos, and the
loads increased to a staggering 50 kilos by the time he was 15. He would haul the baskets on his back for up to 8 kilometres, and his load may well have weighed more than he did at such a young age. The Nepalese use a large strap around their foreheads to secure the basket, and bend their backs as they trudge relentlessly on with their crushing burdens. We are talking men, women, and childern; both young and old. They seem to have superhuman strength, and Rajan informed me it's a local tradition in Nepal for people to bear burdens on their backs.
So let's relieve the burden momentarily, dear reader, as the travel journal continues. We left off in Kathmandu where my travel itinerary had been sorted, and I boarded an early morning bus with Rajan to start our tour of the countryside. We rode on the tourist bus bound for Chitwan, but alighted before the final destination, so we could catch a ride on the only cable car in the country, for a scenic journey up to gorgeous Manakamana. This mountain village is at 1400 metres, and is home to one of the most famous temples in
Nepal. We checked into our hotel, enjoyed our lunch and soon headed out to explore the town. The crowds were gathering in line to pay pilgrimage and make their offerings at Manakamana temple, where some visitors leading their goats would no longer have the animals with them as they came out the other side. Here in present day Nepal it's still common practice for the ritual slaughter of animals, being offered up as a sacrifice to the temple gods. The town up on a hilltop is gorgeous for strolling around, but can involve some steep climbing.
We were up early the next day for a 16 kilometre hike in hilly country to Gorkha Bazar, which we knocked off in a little over five hours of tough marching. While chatting on the trail, Rajan suddenly called out 'Manaslu' and I began to gawk straight ahead in sheer amazement. There's nothing on earth to compare with the first sighting of a mountain over 8,000 metres high. The summit is close to cruising altitude for jet airliners and truly an imperious sight. It's lucky I didn't fall off the winding trail from all the staring!
As mentioned in the
previous journal, 8 of the world's 14 mountains over 8,000 metres are in Nepal, and Manaslu weighs in at number 8 in the world. There was a thick layer of fog hovering over the hills during our trek, thereby precluding any shots of mighty Manaslu, but the first view of this imperious mountain will remain in my memory. In fact Manaslu seems to stretch all the way up to heaven! At the conclusion of our trek we arrived hot, sweaty and tired in Gorkha Bazar, and dumped packs to chow down over a quick lunch. After lunch we headed out in the afternoon for a gruelling climb of 1,600 steps, in order to reach the hilltop that features Gorkha temple. There are great views of the city from the hillside, and the elegant temple is surrounded by walls similar to a fort. However, I've been paying the price for the gruelling walks over the last few days, and my carves are twisted up so tight I can barely get around just now.
During our Nepalese adventure the Maoist opposition party called a general strike for a day, which then stretched into a second day, so we were unable to
push on with our tour as planned. There's no transport available at all during a general strike, and if a driver tries to run the gauntlet he risks having his car pelted with stones by the Maoists. It seems that all over the world nobody likes a scab! Therefore we missed the chance to experience the mountain views at Bandipur, and had no alternative but to spend a second night in Gorkha Bazar. Fortunately the Gorkha Bisauni hotel provides good quality accommodation, and as an alternative we headed out on a pleasant hike on the second day to pass the time. Then it was up early (again!) to catch the 6:00am local bus to Pokhara. During our bus ride some guys were left hanging on the side of the bus for a while, and we were packed in like sardines. As our journey concluded we arrived safely at our destination despite things being a bit squeezy, and the bus ride is a little over four hours. Pokhara is a gorgeous Nepalese city set on a beautiful lake, and features spectacular views of the Himalayas from the surrounding hilltops. There are plenty of tourists strolling around, and the lakeside road has
loads of restaurants, hotels, and tourist shops to keep visitors entertained. During our first afternoon in the city we drove up to the hilltop to check out the Japanese pagoda temple, and enjoy spectacular views of the lake and the city of Pokhara.
My visit to Nepal seems to be tearing by, and with the time available I'm glad I chose to go on a tour. We've seen so much more than I could have managed by myself, and Rajan is a kind and considerate guide. There's plenty more to come before this visit to mighty Nepal concludes and it's got me to thinking, basically all of you should be here now!
Beware of the man whose god is in the skies." George Bernard Shaw
As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now
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