After a totally bizarre few days surrounded by dead bodies in Varanasi I head off to Kathmandu. The day almost starts in disaster when the young kid who assists in the running of the guest house decides that I am not leaving until he has got some baksheesh out of me. Baksheesh for those that have never travelled in Asia or the Middle East is like an informal service charge. Whilst travelling around these regions it is not uncommon to be asked by beggars, taxi drivers, hotel porters, waiters and just about anybody actually for baksheesh. Their justification for requesting this can sometimes be a valid reason, for example they have carried your bag for 2 miles. More often than not though it is people trying it on to see how much money they can extract from the perceived rich foreigner. This particular morning I was a victim of the latter type of baksheesh extractor.
My travel partners for the trip, a couple of Kiwi's that I had recently met in Varanasi had left the guest house a couple of minutes earlier than me whilst I got my morning head together. The distance involved between Varanasi and Kathmandu was some considerable mileage, which meant that it was a 5 am departure. I am never good in the mornings and had therefore not managed to get up when I should. As per usual my inadequacy at getting out of bed on time had left me in a very stressful rush. For those that have seen me in a stressful rush, I am sure that you will agree that it is not enjoyable experience. So when the guest house assistant, a kid of around 10 years old decides that it I am easy prey for a baksheesh trick, I am like a raging bull. I am late for my bus and this kid has the audacity to hide the key for the large bolted door which stands between me and the outside world. He puts the key behind his back and is saying "baksheesh, baksheesh, baksheesh". I am literally hopping mad. I hop from foot to foot and try and grab the key from behind the kids back, but they kid keeps evading my lunges. Eventually, the stress gets too much and I shout "baksheesh, how about the back of my hand". In blind rage I knock the kid to the floor, take the key from his hands and let myself out. Please note that this is a few days after I met Mother Theresa but already my new found charitable state of mind has dissipated.
I emerge onto the street and spot the Kiwi's who are also looking stressed and wondering where I have got to. They let out exclamations of annoyance but detect from my countenance that I am in no mood for protest and soon shut up. We hail a rickshaw to the station and just about make it to the Kathmandu bus on time. The bus is however rammed to the rafters which means that there is a possibility that we will have to stand for the next 10 hours. I am offered an alternative to ride on the bus roof and seize the opportunity with both hands. The Kiwi's decide better of it, so I ascend the ladder at the back of the bus alone.
On top of the bus there are around 20 Indian guys all wearing headdresses, long flowing robes and sandals. They appear to be honoured that I have come to join them on the roof and offer me a veritable feast of chapatis, samosas and chai. The bus sets off into the sunrise and I begin to relax. Although there is a language barrier, my new friends and I are getting on famously. There's a real party atmosphere up here and I'm trying to imagine the same scenario in Manchester. I have the image of a load of stiff upper lip British gentlemen with bowler hats and umbrella's, riding to work on the top of 473 bus, whilst sharing their bacon and eggs.
We're approximately an hour into the journey when one of my new friends pulls out a chillum (smoking pipe) and they all start to pass it around. At this point in my life I have only smoked weed on a few occasions and on 2 of these times I have managed to fall head first down flights of stairs. Now given that I am on top of a bus that's hurtling towards Kathmandu, I would say that to start blasting on this chillum would be a very bad idea. However, this thought does not cross my mind at the time and eager to enhance my pleasure levels I take my hit when the chance affords itself to me. After the initial coughing and spluttering has calmed down I realise that I am well and truly blasted. In fact everybody seems to be blasted and consequently having a wail of a time. Our roof top party has just taken on a new dimension and I am loving it. We're having a right laugh on the top of the bus, although I have no idea why. My mind is caught up in the absurdity of the situation and I am laughing so much it hurts. My friends get caught up in my laughter and this intensifies until one of the Indian guys yells something that I don't understand and the whole lot of them dive to the surface of the bus roof. I am dragged down by the 2 guys next to me and just in time.
I hear a whooshing sound and feel a rush of air whistling through my hair "What the fu..." I exclaim but have no chance to finish my sentence before I am dragged down again, "whoosh" , my god this time was even closer. This time I stay down and realise that this is a wise decision as I hear whoosh after whoosh for a period of about 2 minutes.
All around me these caped crusaders are rising up and they're all hysterically laughing. What's more I appear to be the target of their laughter. One for them helps me to my knee's and points behind me. I turn around and see that the stretch of road is littered with low hanging telephone wires. Remember now, I am totally stoned off my box and in no state to be avoiding wires that would no doubt garrote me. I try to give deep contemplation to my predicament but I'm so stoned that I keep forgetting what I am worried about. There's nothing I could do anyway. I am on a bus that's going faster than an Exocet missile and taking no prisoners. Anything that gets in the buses path gets a blast of the horn, if the obstacle does not take immediate action then it gets wiped out, it's as simple as that. My only alternative is to Indiana Jones it across the top of the bus, down the ladders and into the sensible persons compartment. If I was fully compus mentus then I would give my chances of carrying out this heroic act around a 10 percent possibility. In my current state of mental aberration I would give my chances of surviving this act of stupidity around 99 percent chance of death. I weigh it up for around 2 seconds and decide against.
We travel around another 10 telephone wireless miles and I am starting to chill out. The chillum comes in my direction once more and I even contemplate having another little toot. Fortunately my stronger self gets the better of me and I wave it away. I use the term fortunately because in the distance I see the next wave of wire predators. This time I am ready to limbo and even relishing the challenge. Here it comes, here it comes, "whoosh", I'm down and we're through to the next level. Next one, bring it on, "whoosh", ok that baby almost scalped me. I am getting more and more daring with each wire and have a little game of chicken going on with the Indian guys. We are seeing who can leave it the latest. My bravery has won their respect.
It takes a while to work out what they are saying but I eventually understand that the rest of the trip to Kathmandu is going to be telephone wire free. It appears that we have just passed through telephone wire valley and I've emerged triumphant at the other side. If this were a fairground, I'd be straight over to the t-shirt stall, to buy my "I've just survived telephone wire valley" memento. On the back of the t-shirt it would say "and I was stoned off my box". I am almost disappointed and realise that I will probably never experience anything like this again in my life. Safe in the knowledge that there are no more potentially lethal obstacles on the route to Kathmandu, I have another blast on the chillum. I lie back on my rucksack and feel totally at ease with the world. The sun is belting down, I'm the hero of my new mates and I am off to another country for 2 weeks of trekking. I am thinking that I am done with adventure for today but as I am to find out there is still one amazing travel memory to be discovered.
I have been dying for the the toilet for what seems like hours and I am in serious danger of soiling myself. So when the bus arrives in a village and people start to alight, I am eager to take my chance. I hear one of the Kiwi's shouting my name and peer over the top of the bus to see what they want. I am informed that this is the end of the line and we will have to wait for another bus here. It appears that I am not alone in my confusion, the whole bus has erupted into the type of erratic behaviour that all too frequently causes stampedes in these regions. I grab my bag and tread cautiously down the ladder. I am of course still spangled from the weed and no mood for hectic escapades. I ask the Kiwi's to guard my bag, wave goodbye to my new buddies on the roof and head for the toilet. Please note that the bus then goes hurtling off to where ever it is going and with it goes my camera, which I have mistakenly left on the roof. Nowadays losing your digital camera is a hindrance but you have usually got it stored or replicated by friends. But in those days, losing your camera was an absolute travesty, especially since this was the very roll of film which had the photo's of me with my arm around Mother Theresa. How many times I have tortured myself over this fact over the past 15 years.
We are in a village with one restaurant and more importantly one public toilet which I am informed is around the back of the restaurant and located on the edge of a precipice. I am both literally and metaphorically shitting myself as I edge towards the bamboo made structure that houses the toilet. I am walking over rough ground, wearing flip flops, stoned and in fear of falling off the end of the world. It is with great relief that I make it to the toilet without incident. Now, I am not expecting anything plush given that I am in a village in the middle of nowhere but I am also not prepared for the what I am about to receive. The toilet is a mud hole in the ground with some leaves surrounding the hole. This in itself is no surprise to me but what is a surprise is the fact that appears to be a creature down the hole awaiting it's dinner. I have assumed my position over the hole and am in mid turd before I feel this creatures snout hungrily sniffling around my ring piece. Had I noticed that there was a pig a mere few feet below me, I would have rather taken my business elsewhere but alas it was too late. I'm purging a days worth of Indian food and the pig seems to be feasting on his first food in days. Having a pig's snout circling your arse hole with intent is never great. This is made even worse by the fact that I am stoned and therefore hyper sensitive. I am not sure what is making the most noise, the Percy's squeals of delight or my squeals of anguish. Together we produce a harmonious accapella to grace any West End musical.
When I am reunited with my friends they pass comment on how pasty I am looking. They make enquiries about my well being and I'm thinking where do I begin to tell them this tale. I have battered a kid, travelled to Nepal on the roof of a bus, got totally stoned with a bunch of Indians, almost been garroted by telephone wires, lost my camera with a pictures of me and Mother Theresa in a romantic clinch, risked life and limb to take a dump and for the grand finale, I've just been rimmed by a pig.