A steaming glass sat in front of me on the kitchen table. I eyed it dubiously. The woman in the chair opposite had just poured a heaped spoonful of black powder into the boiling water, where the majority of it still sat floating happily on the surface.
‘That’s because it’s so light,’ she said, resealing her vacuum pack plastic bag, and shaking the powder within. ‘Your stomach’s probably too acidic, so the charcoal will help balance it out…’
‘…because it’s an alkali,’ I finished for her. Unluckily, no more GCSE chemistry knowledge was swinging into view to substantiate exactly why I shouldn’t be drinking a glass of ink coloured water. And so I started sipping.
It’s been three weeks since I arrived in Nepal, and at the dawning of my third to last day in the country – 5am to be specific – I had to admit defeat and run to the bathroom. My stomach had been gurgling strangely all night and sleep had not come easily. Today has been a chance to catch up on said missed sleep, except for the horrible feeling of my abdominal muscles playing frantic tug ‘o’ war with themselves, which hasn’t made it too easy.
I knew I was going to succumb to that most wonderful of Asian travel sicknesses at some point, but I really hadn’t reckoned on it being so soon! As a result, I’ve been laying low all day, within a metre sprint from the bathroom and the all-important Western-style toilet, and attempting to drink as much water as possible. I feel very liquidy.
My day of forced rest has also proved a good time to catch the blog up with the rest of my Nepali adventures – because I head to India in just under two days! In fact, by this time on Saturday I should be attempting to navigate the joys of Mumbai airport and praying I don’t get royally ripped off by a cab driver (my hotel is a good 45 mins from the airport).
The last few weeks in Nepal
It feels like all I’ve detailed so far is the cold, the lack of hot water and my walk to and from various buildings that house various children. And while this is certainly what the bulk of my time has been taken up with, there are also a few other elements of Kathmandu that I’ve discovered.
One of the teachers at the school offered to take me city touring in my first week. This obviously had to happen on the back of his motorbike, as Kathmandu’s streets are so hectic you’d never get anywhere in a car. This led to over six hours weaving perilously close to other vehicles, careering through the countryside, and hurtling down pretty steep mountain passes at around 65 miles per hour.
For someone who’s never ridden a motorbike in their life before, this was a pretty good intro, and we managed to see about 50 percent of the city, plus Pashputinath, the Hindu temple dedicated to the god Shiva and the one of the most sacred of its kind in the world. We drove up into the hills to drink tea and talk philosophy, religion and a number of other huge subjects – by the time I got home, my face was covered in a thick layer of smog dirt, but I felt a lot more knowledgeable about the city.
That said, I’ve also managed to get completely lost a fair few times while wandering.
Getting lost in Kathmandu
I’ve discovered over the years that, depending on which city I’m in, I either immediately get my bearings or I fall flat on my face – and Kathmandu is definitely the latter.
The ‘Auntie’ of the orphanage helps out at the blood donation centre twice a week, so I eagerly said I’d come and see her work. After school, I set off into the streets, with a pretty set idea of which way I was heading. The ten minute journey I’d been promised slowly became twenty minutes, then a half hour, and still there was no sign (actually, there are absolutely no signs at all in Kathmandu – a fellow volunteer reminded me of street names in the Western world the other day and we both sighed nostalgically…).
After about 40 minutes of wandering I called it quits, but only to work my way backwards and set off down another huge main road that I was adamant would lead to the centre. Obviously no such luck, and I eventually returned home sweaty and confused at my lack of directional capabilities.
A weekend trip to Pokhara
But never mind – for the last five days I haven’t even been in Kathmandu! Myself, the other volunteers and two girls we met at the orphanage (one from the States and another from the Netherlands) decided to head down to Chitwan National Park for a couple of days, and then onwards to Pokhara, a lakeside hippy hangout and one of Nepal’s most beautiful cities.
Our visit came at just the right time, as we were all starting to tire of the constant noise and stress of the capital city – not to mention looking forward to clearing our lungs of the thick pollution for a few days (I’ve had a cough and a runny nose pretty much since I arrived).
Chitwan National Park was pretty much a dream. We ended up paying a little more than was expected (nowhere near extravagant, but definitely in comparison to the 6 hour bus ride costing about 3 pounds…) but it was definitely worth it. One of the volunteer co-ordinators had booked us into a lodge with all the Chitwan-esque experiences as part of the package. That meant on arrival we were met by a jeep, driven to the lodge, sat down for lunch, and given a rundown of what the next two days would hold. Namely:
- an elephant safari through the jungle
- an elephant bathing session (one of the most hilarious experiences of this trip so far)
- a canoe ride down the river
- a jungle safari walk – keeping our eyes peeled for rhino, tigers and the sloth bear (don’t think they sound cute – they’re terrifying!)
- visits to a local village and to the elephant breeding centre
Suffice to say, we had a blast. Having spent three weeks around Nepali people made us much more interested in what our guide, Ramesh, had to say about his own life and opinions rather than the plain facts about the park, which created a really good rapport between us all. Although he kept teasing Fiona for being Chinese (although she’s grown up in Australia) it definitely felt like he was striving to make sure we got the most we could out of our visit.
Sadly, we didn’t see any rhinos or tigers – although I wasn’t too sad about that, as we’d been told to get ready to climb up a tree if a rhino started charging. My current upper body strength is slim to non existent.
Elephant bathing, however, was so much fun that it would probably have eclipsed seeing those animals anyway. For those excited to see my awkward self clambering over an elephant’s head, there’s a video coming that’s going to have you in stitches…
After two days in Chitwan, eating three huge meals a day and being driven around in a jeep, we were sufficiently relaxed and ready for our next bumpy bus journey.
We left Fiona heading back to Kathmandu, and Kevin and I settled in for 7 hours to Pokhara. Kevin had more trouble with this than me, as he’s 6 foot 4 and used to play American football; suffice to say, he doesn’t fit into small spaces that easily, and Nepali buses are a tad on the little side.
Luckily, a very kind Nepali couple gave up their front seats so Kevin’s legs could unfold a bit.
In a landlocked country like Nepal, foreigners and natives alike flock to Pokhara, where wandering past the vast expanse of lake water is probably the nearest thing to a Nepali beach.
There was definitely a holiday vibe in the air – although this may have had something to do with Shivaratri, a festival celebrating the god Shiva, occurring during our visit. Because Shiva is the god of pranks and mischief, a whole range of tricks can be played on that day, most impressively being the temporary legalisation of marijuana (Shiva also liked to get high).
We were told that Shivaratri is celebrated to a huge extent in Kathmandu particularly, when everyone goes to Pashputinath and smokes weed together – but it was actually somewhat preferable being in Pokhara, where the mood was laid back rather than frenzied.
We’d planned on meeting the other two orphanage girls in Pokhara, but hadn’t been able to get wi-fi to email and arrange things – so imagine our surprise when we ran into them in a little bookshop on Pokhara’s main road!
Both the girls are vegans so we ended up in a little organic restaurant for dinner with tiny samples of a whole range of dishes – it was so lovely to eat out and choose your own dish for once, but very interesting that we all still chose to eat rice…
The next day we headed over to a Buddhist centre for a free meditation class, which was seriously relaxing although I spent much too long worrying about the positions of my fingers and whether or not my back was aching.
I’m really keen to do a meditation course in India at some point on the trip, so have been asking around for some good places – any tips, do let me know! Also, any insights into chakras and their mysterious significance wouldn’t go amiss. I’m still woefully ignorant.
Hiking up Pokhara’s World Peace Pagoda
After relaxing ourselves sufficiently, we started the long climb to the World Peace Pagoda that overlooks the Phewa Tal lake. Although we somehow misjudged the route we were taking, resulting in a hike that was nearly vertical and seemed never ending.
One of my vows for this trip is to not complain the way I normally would, so I kept quiet – but couldn’t help the occasional sweaty gasp as I reached for the water bottle again. Despite visiting the gym increasingly regularly over the last few months, turns out climbing uphill is a whole ‘nother ball game…
After a slight blip on heading back down the ‘hill’ (read: mountain) again, where we tried three different paths that ended in either impenetrable undergrowth or sheer cliff drops, resulting in me falling over and scraping up my knee, we ended up in tourist central again, and enjoyed our final evening by watching the Shivaratri celebrations.
Having tried freshly squeezed sugar cane juice for the first time that day, I very much enjoyed being handed a hot sugar cane (those things are actually pretty huge!) cracked down the middle – a result of bashing it on the road so it explodes like a firecracker – and peeling out the fibres to suck on.
The next morning I headed back to Kathmandu solo, while Kevin took another day to chill out.
Back to reality – and a flight to India!
And now it’s the end of my first sick day this trip, and I’m all blogged out – but thankfully up to date. I’m willing my body to get itself together and fight whatever nasty bug has lodged itself in my gut, because I seriously don’t want to start my time in India in this situation!
Hopefully all will be fine – checking the weather forecast today predicts Mumbai on Saturday as a casual 35’C, so this body of mine is going to have some serious acclimatising to do…