Thursday, April 21, 2011


Dawa 1 and Dawa 2

Future guides

Before I totally leave Nepal, I would be amiss not to bring a bit of tribute to the Dawas that were our loyal assistants not only because of their obvious traits of strength, agility, and local knowledge but also their subtleties and endurance of my constant antics to communicate in a way only I know…comic absurdity.  Since Dawas had no last name that we could ever figure out, Sharon and I added a numeral suffix to each of their names so we could identify  them in our western way. Being oldest by a year, our porter, earned the title Dawa 1. Our guide defaulted to Dawa 2.

Dawa 2 spoke passable English so we knew a bit about his background and family and devotion to Buddhism, a strong point I could spoof on with him. We would enter a village for a tea break , I’d walk into the small restaurant and demand a beer for myself and whiskey for my Dawas, a demand that raised a huge smile on Dawa 2’s face while Dawa 1 stood deadpan until the joke was translated, then he would partially smile not totally understanding my brand of humor.

Transporting the first automobile to Kathmandu
Dawa 1 understood ten times more English than I understood Nepalese so for me to communicate with him I had to resort to absurdity to get a reaction from this lovely timid, observant, gentle young man (30 yr old). First I compiled a mental laundry list of his mannerisms and idiosyncrasies and began to carefully play on them by bending of the norm such as, the long succession of Nepalese stone stairs up the steep mountains always had wonderfully built rest walls every so often. The design of these 20’ long stonewalls allow you to back up to the wall and remove your pack, leaning to the small stem wall behind. A simple design that created much relief when finishing 1500 stairs at a snails pace. Once the weight of the pack is relieved from the shoulders, you can lean back and recover without slipping out from the straps. I found this mundane routine an opportunity to get a reaction from Dawa 1 who was usually first to the wall. He would lean back and I would lean back next to him leaving a comfortable universal space of 18 inches. No rule has ever been established but the topic was breached on a Seinfeld episode discussing the “close talker”.  The idea pertains to how close is normal and what happens when someone breaches that space.  This situation had the ingredients of language, cultural, and religious barriers, was the perfect reaction test. After holding back a chuckle and putting on my straight poker face,  I began to edge slowly closer to him moving slowly closer and closer. At first, no reaction but when I got within six inches he began to take notice using his periphery vision though still maintaining a stoic straight forward look. When I encroached into the red zone of two inches the uncertain uncomfortable  “too close” sensor alerted him and he couldn’t any longer maintain and gave way to a slight turn of the head towards me with his eyes reaching to the far corner but his stoic look now softened to bewildered. I didn’t want to take this any further because I didn’t want to think I was coming on to him, besides, my guts were beginning to burst trying to hold back my laughter. When I let go he quickly realized I was goofing on him and he let go a laugh and began to understand my brand of humor.  As for the experiment of universal space, I believe the hypotheses could state, if in a large space with no other person around and an unfamiliar human encroaches within 18”, posing a breach of normal behavior, warranting a concern of the unsuspecting bystander even if he is a Sherpa in the remote mountains of Nepal.

Another Dawa 1 idiosyncrasy I took note of was when he approached a chair he was about to sit upon, he would bend down with his head within a few inches and gently blow to remove any particles from the seat. This was more than a utilitarian routine, it was more like a ritual before being seated…like blowing away the evil butt gods reassuring yourself a comfortable sitting.

When we arrived in Pokhara after our six days trekking, we invited our Dawas out to dinner at a really nice restaurant in town that served great salads with fresh greens. Before sitting Dawa 1 blew off his seat.  When the waiter asked what we wanted to drink to start off with our Dawa 2 responded in his best cowboy draw, “Whiskey!”

As a tribute to our sherpas of the past and future mountain guides, we mention the three little boys that hired themselves to guide us through Devis Falls just outside of Pokhara. They may someday mature into responsible guides instead of little hustlers. Finally recognition is due to the sherpas that delivered the first automobile  on their shoulders through the mountain passes to the king in Kathmandu in the 1940’s.

Our India, Delhi to Agra

Internet communication is not 100% even in a large metro area in the US so why do I keep thinking when I stay at a hotel and the front desk assures me they have wireless internet, I am such a believer they mean now. I've discovered having wireless doesn't necessarily mean now or even the day you ask. Some clerks are up front and say yes but clarify it will work in about three hours. Then there is the situation after you check in they discover I have a MacBook and explain their network isn't compatible with Apple.  A couple days ago a brand new issue thwarted my attempt to complete my India blog, the country of Turkey has blocked Google Blogspot because it was used to stream "football" games and on March 5th, 2011 it blocked out Google. So I apologize to my readers for the delay (this sounds like my excuses in high school for not handing in my homework on time) but the government of Turkey prevented me from blogging for a few days. We've moved about quite a bit and now we are on the Mediterranean coast and that seems to permit me to use my site. Hooray, so let me tell you a story about Our India. It must be reported in a few segments because of the time spread and the number of experiences.

I've gotten spoiled about having someone meet us at a major airport when arriving into a country for the first time especially when we arrive late in the afternoon or evening. Having a sign with our name on it when we step out the door from immigration is comforting and cuts through the hassle of arranging a taxi to find a room. But I am still held by the risk of selecting from the internet without getting to see the room first but that's the trade off from wandering around late at night.

Chhoti Haveli, our bed and breakfast in New Delhi
I've heard horror stories about arriving to New Delhi with all the beggars, touts, thieves, and hustlers before leaving the airport. I was mentally prepared for the worst. We breezed through immigration and the non existent customs, walked out into the greeting area and a handsome young man holding a sign with our name smiled and met us at the end of the barrier area. He was our driver to take us to Chhoti Haveli, a bed and breakfast located about 20 minutes from the airport. I arranged this place the night before and the proprietor, Surinder Maini was kind enough to believe I was serious about arriving and held the room for us without prepayment. The young man grabbed Sharon's bag and we followed him to the parking garage to a nice SUV and off we went through the streets of Delhi. The streets were busy but not any more than any other big city but I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of trees and parks. We pulled off the main boulevard onto a small road with a guard station. The driver went right through to a slightly dismal apartment looking complex and parked. Sharon and I looked at each other with that look of "what have we got ourselves into", grabbed our bags, hiked up three flights of stairs, walked into a small living room/dining room with children and a couple other adults. It was as if we arrived as the aunt and uncle from the US. Our driver directed us to our room up more stairs to a smallish clean bedroom with attached bath and a small balcony. OK, not bad but not quite the quaintness from the internet description. Within a few minutes later a knock at the door and in the doorway was Surinder, the person I had communicated with the night before. She introduced herself and we discovered how wonderful and fortune we were to meet her. Surinder and her doctor husband, Pawan lived in North Carolina for six years but returned to India about six years ago. During her stay in the US she had picked up all the subtle mannerisms of the language and became a great asset to us in understanding so much of current India, where to go, and what to eat. We stayed three days and with her help we got to see much of New Delhi. It was getting late and we asked about a close good restaurant. She suggested The Flaming Chile which was only a ten minute walk away. After our absolutely delicious meal we returned to our room and quickly fell asleep. The next day Surinder arranged a driver for us to tour New Delhi which allowed us to see quite a few places in a short time period but what we got to see was very nice. So you folks who believed like I used too...give New Delhi a try...I think you'd like it.

Sharon with new friends at the Fort
A life's dream fulled...standing in front of the Taj Mahal
Our fourth day in India we boarded a 6AM train to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal. The airconditioned second class car was very nice and included tea with a little breakfast. By 9AM we arrived at the Agra station and decided not to stay in Agra but to immediately purchase a late afternoon ticket to the Rajasthan city of Udaipur. This train is an overnight run so we thought to see the Taj Mahal and the Fort that day and return to the train station later to spend the night going to our next city, arriving there early the next morning. Purchasing the ticket was a circus to get a seat and we wouldn't know our seat reservations until a half hour before the train left the station so we left the train station by an all day prepaid taxi onto one of the seven wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal. Again I've heard stories about this temple looking better in photos than in person but I must emphasize, you can't believe what you hear until you experience it first hand. The Taj Mahal is truly magnificent! From afar it's like what Sharon described as a hologram and the closer you become the building is immense and incredibly designed and crafted. This was the real deal. We wondered around for a couple hours and returned to our driver who wasn't being very cooperative with our requests. Taxi drivers are trained to take tourists on a route which includes stopping at handicraft shops so they can earn extra rupees each time they haul a couple heads into the shops. We had no interest or time to play this game and demanded he take us directly to our next site. First I needed to stop by an ATM for lunch money and the next historical site so our driver went to a parking area, stopped and pointed across a street and small courtyard to a hidden ATM. I walked over to the machine inside a small space, waited for the person at the machine to finish his transaction and then stepped up to begin my withdrawal request when suddenly a group of people squeezed into the booth. I'm usually pretty paranoid about people hovering around while I do my business but in this case, it was far beyond hovering. This was like how many people can fit into an ATM booth because it was air conditioned and the temp outside was a bit high I guess they all felt the right to keep cool while they wait. I image it's a cultural thing so I continued with my transaction hiding my PIN entry the best I could and withdrew as much as these folks make in a month.

Alternate View of the Taj Mahal from the Fort 1 mile away
Agra Train Station waiting for train to Udaipur
I returned to the car and Sharon said she had a heart to heart talk with the driver and he confessed that he had to stop by handicraft shops to supplement his income so she asked how much would he expect to get from the scheduled stops. He said it usually totals 50 rupees which is a little over one dollar so we promised him the 50 rupees if he didn't stop. That satisfied him so went freely went on OUR way. It was about lunchtime so we asked for a good local restaurant but unfortunately he took us to a tourist place and when we entered, I was greeted by a 10 year old girl made up to be a 20 year old, singing and dancing and winking alternating eyes frantically to the beat of her accompanied musician. She grabbed my hands to dance. I politely danced a few steps but retreated. It wasn't was kinda weird and I walked by quickly into the dining room with other seated tourists not looking too happy but we were hungry so we ordered and ate the overpriced mediocre food. After the lunch we took off to the "Fort" which was a very large impressive compound with a great view of the Taj Mahal off in the distance. The weather turned very hot and we took our time walking about taking some great photos. After the Fort we still had about three hours to burn so we asked to go to a local city park to walk quietly without the crowds. At first the driver said there wasn't such a place (which I began to believe after seeing this city) but then dropped us off at a park which wasn't bad but not up to the parks we've walked through in other cities. After the walk we returned to the train station about 4PM and bide our time in a waiting room at the station until 5:PM when our tickets were to be ready. I walked over to the ticket office and the station master issued us tickets without seat numbers, only a cabin number. I didn't get what he was saying but he insisted all I needed was this cabin number hand written on the ticket I had earlier. I returned and was told by another rail employee that our train to Udaipur left on Track 4. We walked up the suspended pedestrian bridge over the other tracks and dropped down to track four. There were a couple other travelers and I asked if they were waiting for the same train. They said yes and we began to talk about our travels when word started spreading on the platform that our train was leaving on Track 2. We all quickly grabbed our bags and trucked back over the bridge to Track 2 and a train was waiting. All of us rapidly walked almost the entire length of the train looking for our car when word spread once again...this isn't our train...this train will leave in a few minutes and ours will pull here in a half hour or so. I paused with relief and a waterfall of sweat dropped off my brow. Once again I inspected our tickets and the car on our tickets didn't match any of the other travelers. Ummm....The train left and the other train pulled up but we still didn't see our car. I asked a gentlemen at the refreshment kiosk and he pointed towards the back of the train. This is not a good sign because usually all first class tickets are in cars at the front. We began our walk towards the back with all the third class general seating cars when we saw the car number on our ticket. It was an old car with first class stenciled on it. We stepped up into the car and found our cabin which turned out to be a great comfortable sleeper cabin with air conditioning. Wow, what a lucky choice...I guess this is what you get when I picked the most expensive ticket on the list. After the train left the station, the conductor paused at our cabin door, asked for our ticket. I presented him what I had which wasn't very official looking. He asked why my ticket was for starting at other station. I shrugged my shoulders and said I bought it at the "Cantt" station. He smiled, shook his head, punched the ticket and continued on through the car. I believe someone somewhere somehow got a little something and Sharon and I were just along for the ride. Next stop...Udaipur.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Beginning our six day trek

Reaching the highest point of our trek

Nepalese trekking steps
It’s taken a week of rest from our trek through the lower villages of the Annapurna mountain range of Nepal for me to properly digest the adventure we experienced.  When I first discussed with Sharon the six day trek before signing on with the offer from Sherpa Sarkee, we both had a bit of reservation the adventure might not challenge us physically and that it would be a soft touristy walk along rolling hills spending our evenings at quaint teahouses.  Even as we left our base location of Pokhara for the hour drive to the trailhead, on our drive out of the city Sharon mentioned that the scheduled three hours of hiking would most likely be an easy short day. Oh how assumptions can be so wrong and become the bain of one’s expectations. 
See the "deadly" sink between the two  doorways

 As I covered in my previous blog entry on Nepal, we took an hour flight from Kathmandu to the expedition base city of Pokhara. Our first day after getting our room assignment at the Hotel Meera, we walked along Lake Fewa watching the boats navigate to the other side or to the small temple island 100 yards off shore of a large reservoir the city hugs like a crescent. The pace of this city is much slower, though the methodology of driving reminds you you are still in Nepal. The hotel clerk recommended the restaurant Moondance for dinner, so we wondered down the main boulevard.  To our surprise they served a real Greek salad with real lettuce greens and other delights. Somehow in Asia, the thought of having greens in your salad is a rare foreign thought.  After dinner Sharon and I went through our duffel bags and consolidated all our necessary warm clothing and other sundries into a single duffel while the other we left at our hotel until our return from the trek. Our trekking guide, Dawa who met us at Katmandu airport traveled with us to Pokhara, was to meet us at our hotel the next morning at 8:30AM with a taxi and our porter Dawa. Both our companions were named Dawa because Buddhists name their children by the day of the week on which they were born. They were born on a Monday. I was born on a Saturday so my Buddhist name is Pimba.
The surprise at the most unexpected times

Within a few minutes of our meeting and making certain our gear was properly sorted, stored, and brought on board, our taxi driver used one hand to perform miraculous serpentine maneuvers and the other to freely sound his horn warning all those within blocks he was in route to our drop off point to begin our six day journey. The first half hour was mainly a congestion of every type of transport including livestock while the roadway was lined with haphazardly constructed vendor and service stalls after which we emerged into flat farm fields of rice, wheat and corn.  The road began to wind upward into the mountains and within a few minutes we pulled off the road to what seemed like a few roadside stalls, but was in fact the plan of typical villages we would soon encounter. Climbing out of the taxi I could see below the roadway edge the rest of the small village with a single dirt road dividing the row of short single story buildings.
Magical dancing for a good cause

Everyone grabbed their packs and began our downhill walk through the village on the roadway (confirming our original suspicions).  The road took a bend to the right but we dropped off the road onto a rough trail to the left  and walked along farms and started our hike up. My eyes were quickly checking out all that I could absorb and not paying attention to my Canon camera in my right hand. I caught the zoom lever on my pocket and the camera spun out of my hand and skipped along a couple rocks on the ground. Ooops…this is not good. But a tribute to the strength of their products the camera is still working like a plow horse.  We continued on enjoying the warm bright sunny day.

After an hour of our first introduction to the Nepalese stone step trails,  Sharon and I realized this was not going to be a walk in the park.

The collection plate for an evening of pure enjoyment
As promised, roughly three hours after leaving the roadside village of Nayapul, we made our last upward steps into a very small village of Tirkhedunga and settled into the  Sushma Guesthouse where I asked for a room with a view and my request was granted.  Our view out the single 2’ x 3’ window afforded us a view of the village pathways and the lush green terraced farm fields. Once we unpacked and got comfortable in our 2 twin bed suite with the WC at the end of the balcony and the shower downstairs,  we both ventured to clean up for dinner. Even though every guesthouse proudly brands their advertising banners and sign boards with hot showers, truth be known, most of these places use the solar method of hot water and without a good amount of sunshine each day, the water is on the side of not freezing but certainly not even warm. In this case one of the young ladies didn’t find it necessary to fire up the backup boiler even though Sharon and I were sporting towels in the direction of the shower, the light didn’t turn on in her head until after we complained to our guide and he came back to us to inform us the water will be hot now….now that we already showered. We dressed and went to the dining room with a fantastic view of the steep fertile valley. The menus as we found out in a couple days on the trek are standard, pretty much the same in all the guesthouses. I only guess the standardization keeps things pretty simple in ordering of supplies, packing them in by mule, and training of cooks. They all learn the same combination of rice, curry, noodles, and once in a while a variation from the former that can really be a walk on the wild side.  I can’t remember what we ate but I can say it was really good because I was extremely hungry. The plus at these places is they all have cold Kathmandu Beer, a pilsner with great taste. We were almost done with our feast when our guide stopped by to go over what to expect the next day, especially the next morning. He quietly explained that one of the stretches involved 3000 steep stairs we’ll scale but it will provide us the first view of the tall snow covered peaks. Sharon and I raised our eyebrows, looked at each other concluding  “It’s only like 3 Bisbee Stair Climbs” back to back, except as we found out there was no break just up. Once Dawa delivered his message, there isn’t much to do after eating other than reading so we retired to our room, read a bit and drifted off into dreamland.

After a nice hot breakfast, a couple cups of coffee, and stock up on water, we began our ascension of stairs. About halfway through the 3000 step segment, we decided to rest on a resting wall, one of many designed to help you remove your pack and rest your weary legs, a couple about our age were already in the rest mode and when I removed my pack they happened to view the Burningman patch sewn to the top flap. I spied the San Francisco Giants hat on the gentleman so I asked if he was from the bay area and confirmed that he was. He asked about Burningman and at first I didn’t connect his question to my patch but Sharon and I affirmed that we are burners and after introducing each other discovered Jane and John are deeply involved in the Burningman organization and assist in the planning of the event.  Hokey smoke what a small world. Meeting people in the remote area of Nepal who are like family you never met. Later on we would randomly run into these folks again, at the Dream Garden back in Kathmandu where we had a better opportunity to shoot the shit for two fun hours.

Shortly after resting, we viewed our first snow covered mountain peak  for a couple minutes before it became enshrouded in clouds. Within a half hour we crested the 3000 stairs only to discover more stairs but these all were not in secession.  The remaining thousands of stairs were in sets of hundreds, not thousands. That type of reassurance kept us motivated for the rest of the four hours. Keep in mind we are not only becoming pretty damned exhausted from the stairs but the lack of oxygen is a factor as well. I quickly noticed the sherpas and guides performing what I labeled as the Nepalese shuffle.  These guys don’t stop but they are like a diesel truck, always moving very slowly and then slower. I certainly didn’t have a problem with that but in the ultra slow mode my heart was pounding and my knees were audibly crying uncle.  After seven hours, multiple stops for tea, bottles of oxygen, and lunch, we reached the outskirts of  Ghorepani. I use the term outskirts because we passed many guesthouses, all with placards boasting wonderful amenities but Sherpa Dawa had something else in mind. We finally walked to the peak of the center of the village when Dawa signaled a left turn where we looked up to more steep stairs. I looked longingly to the number of doorways I was within a dozen level steps but our guide insisted on us following him up and up again til we came to the “New Mountain View” guesthouse.

 The last little hurrah up the stairs took it’s toll on my left knee. I’ve never had knee trouble ever but I felt the strain and I knew from this point on I would have to develop some way of compensating to move forward.

For now we made it to today’s destination and the rough hewn lobby had an oversized potbelly stove fired up to warm our now freezing bodies. The weather had begun to drop below freezing. We walked “up more stairs” to our room which was a corner room with a spectacular view of snow covered mountains surrounding the village. The down side is there is no heat in guesthouses except in the main lobby (sometimes). Also with all guesthouses, primary power is limited to only so many hours a day so you always have your headlamp ready in case you are in mid stream in the toilet. The really good news is we had a great hot shower to warm the body and relax the muscles.  Then downstairs to order off the standard menu, hang around a few minutes for Dawa to brief us on tomorrows assent to Poon Hill.

The shy Buddhist guide made his appearance and saw that I was really favoring my left knee as I descended the stairs from our room earlier and asked how I was. Sharon reassured him I would be ready in the morning for us to reach our highest point on the trek. Of course I agreed with Sharon. He then went on to explain we are going to see the sunrise over the Annapurna mountains but to do that we need to leave the hotel no later than 5:30 AM and the trail is steep but in good condition and since we will be rising 1500 ft. in 45 minutes, we must go slowly. No problem here Mr. Sherpa I thought reaching down to massage my left knee. He reminded us to bring our headlamps before disappearing as quickly as he appeared.

We breathed our last breath of warm air and I creatively hopped up the two flights of stairs to our freezer suite with a great view and no insulation. I hobbled down the hall to shake the dew off the lily, hopefully not having to return until late morning. Before sliding into our silk sleep sacks (the slumber prophylactic, a third world country and New York City requirement ) Sharon pulled out the wonder drug Arnica  gel (the naturalist steroid treatment) and smeared it over both my knees. I let it dry a bit and slid into the sack. Within seconds I was a million dream years away from the freezing environs of Ghorepani.

5AM came way too soon but I was excited about getting up Poon Hill though my body gave a little resistance, as soon as my motor fired and the crank shaft had a few RPM’s, I knew Poon Hill would have gained another name to it’s visitor ledger. I walked out the front door of the hotel to be greeted by Dawa the porter (this guy I grew to love but that’s a whole different segment) flashed his timid smile behind the foggy breath we shared. A spattering of other hikers walked by as Dawa signaled for me to go ahead because Sharon had got a head start with Dawa the guide. I fired up the head lamp and followed the pack of other trekkers to the summit of Poon Hill for the religious rising of the sun.

The steps view by the light of my head didn’t seem too bad and my knee was providing full cooperation so I was making pretty good time and within 10 minutes I had caught up with Sharon. We then synchronized our steps and did the Nepalese shuffled to the top and reached the summit before old Sol made his own summit.

The top of Poon Hill was quietly buzzing with anticipation of the sunrise. Two structures graced the top. Once being a galvanized steel girder watchtower similar to those used by our US Forest Service and the other building a tea house made from found materials and blue tarps. The tea house suited my purpose better than the tower. Now the main event was about to happen, within minutes the laser like beam broke through the mountain passes casting upon the walls a wide variation of  red color to contrast with the icy gray blue of the predawn snow blankets of the slumbering Annapurna mountains. They seemed to sleep in because the sun hid behind the clouds like a snooze alarm.

The amassment of cameras rapid fired with the minds behind the lens trying to capture these moments with all the aesthetic gusto these shutterbugs can muster. I was part of the pack but hung back and took in my surroundings and left the obvious for others. The ice that hung on the browned tall weeds, the layer of frost on the stone walls, or the weather worn Buddhist prayer flags waving to all gods.  I openly gave thanks to our creator for this blessing, this moment, my good fortune.

I was hunted down by my party because it was time to descend for we still had five hours to the next village after breakfast but before we descended Sharon had to place a beautiful glass bead in an offering nook within one of the low stone columns. The nooks are triangular holes with about 12” sides where people place offerings. Here we will place the bead made by Kate Drew Wilkerson of Bisbee. Kate gave Sharon a hand full of these beads to place in special settings around the world or to gift to special people that inspire mankind. This being placed, a photo recording the placement done, we returned to our hotel for a hot breakfast, packed up, and returned to the trail. We stepped down the huge blocks of stone leading into the town center and I had in my head of a day going down hill since we reached the summit of our trek. Instead of turning left and going down hill, guide Dawa pointed straight ahead up a constant grade that lasted a couple hours until we reached a forested pinnacle and the trail became a moist jungle sending out a scent of decaying leaves and rich organic matter. Then one more long assent and we reached the extremely remote rough looking village of Tadapani and walked directly up to Pepto-Bismol pink Hotel Superview.  This guesthouse proved to be our biggest challenge to accept for human habitation but the weather was turning worse than Ghorepani and the other four options in this small town didn’t show any improvement. We went to our room and it had the standard two twin beds (Sharon and I called each other Rob and Laura Petrie now), a toilet down the hall which had a unique water feature, it’s own lake you wade to the throne, a single sink down stairs across the courtyard and the shower next to it. These delightful basic porcelain attributes were shared by 30 tired, beat trekkers.  As I mentioned the weather turned for the worst and by the time we got settled, a large group of French and Italians strolled in and were frantically trying to figure out how to get all them in the few rooms available…and then the rains came. The heavens above saw it fit to dump down on this crowd of dissatisfaction and they quickly resolved their issues while Sharon and I were in our sleep sacks shivering until our bodies warmed our personal pocket of space. While I was drifting on and off from sleep and letting my knee rest, Sharon went downstairs and helped in the kitchen and in return found out they had popcorn (it’s like heroin to Sharon) brought some freshly popped corn to my bedside. She asked why I’m not out of my bag and I told her I couldn’t , didn’t want to, didn’t feel like it and any other excuse for me to stay in my warm comfy cocoon. Eventually I got up about 4:PM after spending a couple hours in bed, and went downstairs to the dining area to join the boisterous goings on with the French and Italian group.  Well Sharon and I didn’t join them other than taking a table in the corner where we pulled out a deck of cards and drank tea until our dinner arrived.

Oh yes about dinner….in these guesthouses you order your dinner by writing down what you wish for from the “standard” menu (I got to the point I had the menu memorized) on a small guest pad, write down your room number, and put down what time you’d like to eat. The time is rarely honored but it’s a nice touch.  Like everything I experience, it’s always the worst that offers up the best. This bent up philosophy always catches me off guard but in this instance of freezing temps, crappy room, impossible shower and toilets, and all around dismal setting, when in back of this decrepit complex the clouds drifted away from the mountains like the curtains parting for a theatre performance leaving a display of massive shards of stone jetting to the stratosphere. The lighting engineer began to do his thing and the sunset was unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed.

For a half hour everyone exited the dining room and stood silent on the edge of this saddle forgetting their cold and discomfort.  God dropped a beauty balm on this village.

Before bed, Sharon walked downstairs, crossed the courtyard to the other building and stood before the outside sink in the freezing early evening only to realize she forgot the drinking water to rinse her mouth after brushing her teeth. I can only attribute the freezing temps numbing the mind for her to logically think that since it rained so hard for so long that the large black water catchment tanks had to have fresh clean mountain water to rinse her mouth. Oh how wrong that logic was.

The next morning we left Tadapani and the Superview to begin our downhill trek through the dense jungle trails lined with giant moss covered trees reaching over us and fiddle ferns popping up through the layers of moldy ground cover.  Creative waterfalls stop me at every other turn and then the trees began to shake. High up on the left side of the canyon through the dense vegetation we see monkeys. Lots of big monkeys scrambling up vines and stepping stealth like on the avenues of tree limbs. What a great environ for these creatures to exist. The skies turned black, the air became dense, the moisture in the air strong, and the clouds let go. Fortunately we had just arrived at a small teahouse when the storm struck.  We ducked into this refuge, ordered tea and taught Dawa the guide how to play our favorite card game “Shithead”. He was a very quick study and we had a good time until the rains let up about 30 minutes later.

Back on the trail we arrived into a sizeable village with a nice restaurant for lunch called Hotel Madrid. While waiting for lunch Dawa the guide pointed across the valley a small white speck saying that was where we were to spend the night. We had been hiking for almost four hours and I could not believe what he was saying. Going there meant dropping deep into a gorge, crossing a major river by foot bridge and walking up more than two thousand rain soaked irregular stone steps.
At first I thought he was joking but after lunch we headed that way. I didn’t tell Sharon but she found out and was definitely concerned because she was beginning to feel achy and her stomach was beginning to act up. Never the less, we continued down into the river valley. I was getting exhausted by the amount of concentration it takes to step down on very wet slippery steps and Sharon was feeling it plus her illness coming on. By the time we arrived at a guesthouse at the bottom where we sought refuge once again because of the rain, Sharon was beginning to voice her concern about continuing on when we could just stay the night here at this nice little place. This made Dawa the guide concerned because we would be starting out with a large deficit the next day. I ordered a Coke which is rare for me but I could see both Sharon and I could use a little pick me up and after finishing our soft drink was agreed to try and tackle this straight up 2500 step climb to the village of Ghandrunk.

Sharon being the counter she is actually counted the steps and at each  100 stair milestone announced the number…500…..800….1000….1200…1500…1900….2000 and soon we were in the village but the steps continued…2100… and the guesthouse was in sight…2121..and we stopped being greeted by three smiling pretty girls on the porch of the Hungry Eye guesthouse. It was 12 more stairs up to our room, number 2, but using the lock and key for room number 1…..these number things fascinate Sharon.

After getting to our room, Sharon confided she was really sick and went directly to bed. We ate very little that night and in the middle of the night the deadly effects of the mountain waters of the Superview Hotel in Tadapani the night before shook her body and delivered its devastating blow commanding her body to evacuate everything everywhere.  I could only stand by in the chilly night air on the balcony waiting for her to emerge from the WC. She exited shaking and a bit scared. I reassured her this is a classic case of food or water poisoning and it must run its course but you will be fine after 24 hours.  Unfortunately we are scheduled to trek at 8AM so you might not be 100%.

The next morning we packed up with Sharon not well. The effects of this poisoning move from stomach cramps, the shakes, to headache and that last effect Sharon was experiencing full on. We took to the trail slowly but there were times I was really worried and began to run through my head the “what if’s” list as to what to do in the event she collapses.  Just about noon we reached a village and stopped for lunch. As the travel gods would have it, the little outdoor restaurant had a thatched roof eating area with a day bed on one side. Sharon laid down and was out. Dawa our porter got a pillow and then we sat and had a long lunch while the skies once again brought down the rain. While sitting under the cover and enjoying some nice soup, I looked at a large banner stretched across the walkway through the village. It announced a new government program rid this village of its “Deadly” drinking water. I am not kidding…the sign described the water in this village as deadly.

In a couple hours the sky cleared and I woke Sharon and discovered the sleep relieved her headache. With my knee feeling 80% and Sharon feeling about the same we made time to our last village on the trek, Pothana. The trek this day was a nice trail and soon we stood in front of the lovely Hotel Yama, one of the best places to stay on our trek. The showers were hot, the room clean, and food was very tasty.
At dinner we were asked to come by later to join in the dance and music festivities of The Mother Group. Since we both were happy to be feeling much better it was only fitting to celebrate with these kind locals. About 7PM we arrived in the small dining room where they set a single long line of tables with chairs placed side by side against the wall. Only a handful of people started with the music and dance and soon the room began to fill with local town folk with a couple other visitors and us lined up at the table like the Last Supper. First we were each honored with a fresh flower lei.  Then both woman and men danced but then came the call for Sharon to dance and then I was summoned to perform some of my folk moves for this naive native crowd. My sacred steps gleaned from many different world tribes all brought together dazzled the entire audience. My dance partner soon conceded and I continued with a solo piece until I was in a frenzy and finally quit because I entered into a trance. (ok, exaggerating a bit here.) About three quarters through the mini fest the lights dimmed or doused and a candle lit platter was lit much like a birthday offering but this was clearly an offering plate for the community. I looked at this dedicated crowd of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and realized this is where my charity belongs. I placed a large bill on the plate and the crowd was very enthusiastic with their show of thanks. Then others joined to put what they could on the plate. The Mothers Group provide direct help to the community with anyone dipping into the pot. These groups are in about every Nepalese village and they maintain their traditions through music and dance and also raise support for the community.

The music continued and one older woman took the floor and a wonderful phenomena occurred. This old folded over woman on the floor emerged as a fluid butterfly as she danced and her smile radiated a halo cast about her head. She magically moved her body and her dupoty to the traditional rhythms’ of the drums, chants from the  choir of ladies in the corner and the light interspersed sounds of strings from the unusual instruments on the opposite side of the room. They did it…they pulled out the big weapon and I pulled out more notes from my pocket to reward the beauty, the heart felt love in the room. By the time 9PM came Sharon and I excused ourselves and left feeling 100% ready to return to Pokhara the next day.    

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Lifting the Veil

Leaving the Buddha Hotel surprisingly well rested the next morning, we trucked our duffels and day packs to our original hotel Manang at 6:30AM for breakfast and to store our luggage their until our room was ready. As part of our Annapurna trek, a private half day tour of Kathmandu was to begin at 8:30AM. We left our gear at the front desk and headed down stairs to the nice breakfast buffet which included yogurt, fruit, eggs cooked to order, pastry, toast, grilled tomatoes, and “Rosty” potatoes. Coffee and juice provided to wash down the meal. The dining room was nice with a lovely adjoining courtyard that is part of the hotel’s restaurant called the Thamal Base Camp.

Monkeys actually tour the visitors through the temple
After finishing breakfast we returned to the front desk and they explained our room wouldn’t be ready until about nine or maybe 8:30AM. As promised they delivered our room just about the time our trekking guide Sherpa Dawa and our city tour guide Tulsi were waiting for us in the lobby. Our new room was better than the Buddha but as we discovered after checking other hotels, basically all rooms are roughly the same…only the building fascia and lobby are different.

Singing bowl guru, Shree listens to our bowl we purchased

View of Patan Darbar Square from our restaurant rooftop
After the formal introductions to our city guide, Sherpa Dawa left us in the capable hands of Tulsi and his driver. It is important to note, driving and talking simultaneously is very dangerous in the Kathmandu traffic thus the need for a separate driver and guide. We sped as fast as one can move through the congested winding streets off to visit a couple temples such as the “Monkey Temple” where Shree a shop owner demonstrated the healing arts of singing bowls. He told us the story of being in Colorado to perform and lecture on bowls at the same time Barack Obama was stumping for the presidency, during the Democratic Convention. Someone from the presidential party had an incurable headache contacted him for treatment and within minutes of his treatment the headache disappeared. On top of that Chelsea Clinton stopped by his shop and he presented a bowl for the president. Little to say I'm a sucker for a good story especially when it was well presented, so we purchased a beautiful looking and sounding bowl to keep up with the Clintons and Obamas. Then we returned to our taxi to take us to Patan for a fascinating walking tour through the dark winding streets of the oldest part of Kathmandu and the home of the ancient palace, royal residences and the Patan Museum.  We ducked in and out of small openings that lead into private courtyards adorned with ornate woodwork all the while Mr. Tulsi explained in detail of each area we explored. He kept our interest all the time we followed like students to each classroom.

Typical Nepal Dahl Batt meal with Mr. Tulsi
Through the course of conversation with Mr. Tulsi, we discovered he was a school principal and it certainly showed with his complete knowledge of the history and understanding of the current sociological interactions of the Nepalese. Midday we stopped for Nepali lunch, sitting outside on top of the restaurant to enjoy the magnificent view of Kathmandu and the historical royal residences in Patan Darbar Square. After lunch was a quick view of a couple buildings and then we met up with our driver and returned to our new room for nap time and to get ready for the beginning of our six day trek through the mountains and villages of Annapurna mountain range.

By now we’ve come to understand a bit of the ebb and flow of the traffic in Kathmandu, what to expect or not expect in dealing with your expectations of nearly everything, and I began for the first time shedding the shroud of comparisons of my lifestyle at home. I felt the veil which we live in the US had been lifted and can understand, when to accept the current situation, or how to confront or press an issue. I can kick back and enjoy the ride.

BLOG PLUS FEATURE: How to walk the streets in Nepal. First, sacred cows trump all. There is an understood hierarchy regarding the use of the streets especially in Kathmandu. When a vehicle sounds their horn behind you, make a modest attempt to move to the side….remember there are few actual sidewalks and those are mainly used for extended display of merchandise, motorcycle parking, or to provide services such as tailoring or shoe repair…DO NOT radically move because this can be read as an irrational maneuver by the approaching driver. The same also goes for the approaching vehicle though this can be much more frightening…again make a solemn attempt and they will go past you, very closely yes but these drivers are way more professional then the likes I’ve ever experienced, especially the motorcycle riders. Crossing the road is really tricky. The newbie to Kathmandu could stand for hours waiting for an opening or pause in traffic so you must show your intentions and bravely with intention cross the road, again DO NOT hesitate or you’ll run the risk of being a messy hood ornament on a TATA diesel truck or tied up into the spokes of a bicycle rickshaw. This same instruction  for crossing the road is useful in Thailand as well.

Nepal Has It All - Part One

Having just returned from the streets of Kathmandu and settled into our room at the Hotel Manang after putting Sharon into a taxi to deliver her to “Singing Bowl” lessons, I can now sit undisturbed to deliver some stories of our last ten days in Nepal.

Cows trump all vehicles for yielding the right of way
As I mentioned in my last entry, we flew from Bangkok to New Delhi, India and transferred to a flight dropping us into Kathmandu, Nepal. Nothing could equal the immediate introduction into such a bizarre surreal first hour of any country I’ve ever journeyed. Compared to the other beautiful airports we’ve navigated through, Kathmandu International Airport sits on the opposite end of the spectrum. The building is reminiscent of  bland 1950’s red brick elementary school architecture challenged with an extreme need of repair. Even the normally high appealing merchandising of a duty free shop was closed and replaced with a small group of construction workers wondering about in the space looking lost as to how to restore the shop.

Wine, cheese, crackers and solitude for our first night at the Buddha
Once we made our way to the long queue to pass through immigration, we waited while each entrant stepped to each of the four stations before being released to the landside out on the streets. The drill to get through immigration consisted of filling out two forms before queuing, hand your documents along with $25.00 in convertible currency, then continue stepping to the left three more times while your documents were literally rubber stamped by the uniformed officials.  Once the sound of the last stamp echoed through the cubical, you rounded a corner, picked up your checked luggage where they did demand a matching luggage tag, (no other airport seems to care about this one thing that matters to a traveler, that they get their luggage!) and walked out to a glassed in area free to walk into the parking area. Before you walked through the doors, you had an opportunity to view all the creative signs pressed against the windows with names of arriving visitors. It was then we identified our name and met our guide, Sherpa Dawa. This young handsome meek man met us through the doorway and ushered us to our taxi only 75 feet away but between the exit and the taxi car door I was introduced to the swift persona of touts who scam to make a little bit from the weary travelers. While walking together this young man seemed to be with us and offered to take my bag to the taxi to which he did but then demanded to be paid for taking my bag 25 feet to the car.  The taxi driver and our guide stood silent but I got into the taxi and told the hustler I had no rupees to give and we were soon on our way. It was my first introduction to the way of life in Kathmandu but that little experience was mild compared to the most crazed chaos of a ride to our hotel that left Sharon and I bewildered. The cacophony of horns, buzzing of motorcycles whipping past cutting in and out, belching fumes of massive diesel trucks and buses, cows wondering in the middle of the intersections, revving engines of other taxis edging each other out, Chinese motorized buffaloes chugging at a slow pace overloaded with building materials, pedestrians dodging and threading between the darting vehicles, and they all are trying to thread through the deep canyons of buildings draped with endless advertising  into single lane streets being used for two way traffic.  It’s akin to delivering water coming from a 4” diameter pipe through a 1” hose.

We arrive to the buffer of our hotel and were gently greeted and invited to sit and relax in the lobby while the matters of check in were attended to. As we sat shaking off the traffic insanity, the lobby was full with a group of young worn out trekkers coming off an expedition. They wondered about stretching while a young girl sat a round bench in the middle of the room folded over in extreme pain rocking back and forth yet no one in the group seemed to pay any mind to her obvious physical discomfort. Fifteen minutes passed and she finally was shuttled into a taxi with the help of another young woman in the group, apparently destined for the hospital.

Sharon and I looked at each other not only feeling stunned by our ride from the airport but also the condition this young woman.  Sharon leaned towards me and mentioned she didn’t want to be in that condition and so we would take precautions to avoid it at all costs, meaning, we sterilize even the bottled water.

Hotel Buddha with security guard
Then Dawa our guide with the hotel desk manager walked up and delivered us the news that the hotel was full because another hotel guest had gone to the hospital the day before and was too sick to move from his/our room.  So our room was not available for the first night but they made arrangements for another hotel a short walk away.  The group of us shared our lugging of our gear a block away, down an alley, through a small courtyard to the Hotel Buddha. The Buddha hotel desk clerk showed Sharon and I two rooms, the first we refused because the double size bed resembled a sway back mare and the second having two twin beds seemed a slightly better choice but both rooms were equally a sad excuse for a guest to stay in, but we were tired and were promised it would be only one night. I went down stairs to register and reminded our guide and the other hotel manager that we would only put up with this for one night and we would be seeing them at 6:30AM the next morning for other arrangements. Our duffels were delivered shutting the door we collapsed in disbelief only to laugh it off.

The street scene was so intense to our newbie minds we decided to venture out to get some water and while at the market we purchased a bottle of red wine, cheese, and crackers, returned to the Buddha, feasted on our purchases, drifted off to sleep using our dreams to escape the reality until next morning to face our new adventure with rested minds.