Friday, 3 January 2014

Somebody stole my mum - Chapter 24

Despite being extremely polluted, I loved Kathmandu. It just seemed so old and not like a city at all. Part of my fascination with the place, was due to the fact that we were staying on a street known as Freak Street. During the 1960's and early 70's this street had been the epicentre for hippies on their way across Asia, on the so called Hippie Trail. They'd been lured there by cheap marijuana which they could purchase in government shops. Unfortunately, by the early 1970's the Nepalese government had banned the sale of marijuana, and had imposed strict dress codes for tourists to conform to. Those who did not conform were rounded up and deported to India.

Still, as far as I was concerned, Freak Street still maintained some of its character and hippy vibe. Our very cheap and basic room looked like it hadn't changed since the days that the hippies were there.

Our guesthouse had the added bonus of being very close to Durbar Square. Durbar Square is a quite magical place in the heart of old Kathmandu. During my stay in Kathmandu I could usually be found sat in the square watching the world go by from the steps of a temple. It was the most wonderful people watching place that I've ever witnessed. There were so many things going on in the square. From the sale of ancient looking artifacts, to the chanting of sadhus as they sat and prayed. The sadhus were naked apart from a small loin cloth, and most of them looked stoned out of their minds. Which to them is OK because they say that it connects them with their god Shiva. I liked their logic.

I purchased 30 rather ornate looking pipes and chillums in Durbar Square for less than 30 pence each. When I got home a few months later I sold them for 15 pounds each. It had been my intention to return there and buy as many as I could buy. But like most of my ideas it never evolved.

I decided to report my camera as stolen whilst I was in Kathmandu. Of all the years that I'd paid insurance I'd never done a claim, so I thought that I was due one. However, getting a theft report turned out to be laborious to say the least. Especially because I was lying that it had been stolen in Kathmandu. I sat for around three hours waiting for the fat, lazy desk sergeant to see to me. A few weeks later, while travelling through India I met a guy who said that he'd shared a similar experience in Varanassi. However his tale came with a strange twist.

Like me, the guy had sat waiting for an incredibly long time to report his stolen item. While he was waiting, there had been a rather loud and dramatic wailing sound coming from a room somewhere in the police station. Eventually the guy had got sick of waiting and had confronted the desk sergeant about the delay. To which the desk sergeant had replied "sir, you think you've got problems, the guy in the other room has had his mum stolen!" Apparently this poor guy had been taking his dead mum to Varanassi to be cremated on the ghats, and had shoved her in a suitcase to get her there. However, on the way to Varanassi somebody had stolen his suitcase. I could only imagine the look on the thief's face when he opened it up.

On one of my days in Kathmandu I hired a bike and cycled out the Swayambhu stupa, which is the most revered Buddhist site in the country. Years of travelling had been good for my fitness levels and I was able to cycle up the large hill in front of the stupa without pausing in for breath. A feat that I had never done before and have never since replicated. This was great preparation for my forthcoming trek.

Located eight hours away from Kathmandu, Pokhara was my next destination. From here I would purchase a trekking pass and head off into the foothills of the Himalayas. It was suggested that I get a guide, but I rejected the idea. This was partly to save on money, but mainly because I wanted to feel a sense of achievement when I finished the hike alone. I had no guide book, no real map, and no clue what lay ahead of me. It all felt very exciting.

A few days after my arrival in Pokhara I set off on a week long hike, armed only with a tiny backpack containing one change of clothes. As I set off out of the town I was bursting with enthusiasm for what lay ahead. So much so in fact, that I forgot to pay attention to where I was going, and an hour later I was back where I'd started from. "What are you doing back here?" somebody from the guesthouse shouted. "Oh, just had to nip for provisions,"I lied.

By the end of the first day I was no longer alone. Somewhere up the first big incline I'd met a Christian, a French lad who was also trekkng solo. He'd stay with me for the rest of the trek. I was kind of happy about this because I wouldn't have been in any of my photos without him to take them.

The trek took us first to Ulleri, then on to Ghorepani, Poon Hill, Tadapani, Chomrung and finally Tolka. Along the way we stayed in little guesthouses perched high in the mountains. Any supplies that the guesthouse needed to exist were brought up the mountains on foot by sherpas. It was quite incredible to witness. Christian and I were travelling faster than the majority of people around us, but these guys were flying past us with large loads on their backs. We even saw one guy with a filing cabinet on his back, full of Coca Cola. His calf muscles were almost as wide as his legs were long. I later read that the life expectancy of these guys was 40 years old. I could imagine why, the strain on their hearts must have been enormous.

I'd been very lucky because I'd arrived in Nepal at the best time to see the rhododendron in full bloom. We passed through valley after valley of them, it was a most uplifting sight. We also saw a lot of vultures on the trek, including a pack of them that were feasting on a dead donkey. Given my irrational fear of birds this was like my room 101.

On one of the days, Christian and I were sat having lunch in a little cafe in the middle of a beautiful valley, when a docile looking buffalo came wandering past us. A few seconds later a guy appeared with a large sledge hammer and smacked the poor beast right in the head with it. The buffalo died instantly and fell to the ground. Before we knew it, somebody else had rushed out with a saw, and sawed off its head. Although I'd been hungry my appetite disappeared in a an instant.

On the trek we were afforded a great view of Mount Annapurna, which is the 10th highest mountain in the world. I've also just read that it's the 94th most prominent mountain in the world. I'll let you do your own research on what this means, because I'll be fucked if I know. All I can tell you, is that it looked pretty prominent to me as I stood on top of Poon Hill and viewed it in all its magnificence.

We thought that we'd have the mountain to ourselves, but we were sadly mistaken. In almost every village that we encountered, we were followed by legions of kids who demanded (yes demanded) anything from sweets, school pens, and money. We heard stories about trekkers that had given into the kids demands and brought them bags full of sweets. This had caused the kids teeth to rot and fall out over an accelerated period of time.

You'd think that after six days of walking uphill practically every day, and not bathing, we'd be dying to see the finish line. This couldn't have been further from the truth. I'd broken through the pain barrier pretty early on, and I was revelling in my new found freedom. When the last day came I was actually wishing that I could carry on going.

As we headed back down to Pokhara on our last day, we passed lots of crystal clear pools which were fed by waterfalls. They looked so inviting, that we simply could not refuse their lure. I guessed that the water would be cold, what I didn't expect was for it to be so ridiculously cold that I wouldn't see my penis for the next month. Upon seeing us in the water, a passing sherpa insinuated that we were crazy. Nothing like getting called crazy by a man walking up a mountain with a cupboard on his back, I thought to myself.

On the trek we'd met several people, including an English girl called Emily. We all me up in Pokhara at the end to have a party. Emily's friend, who was also called Emily, had flown out to meet her. She turned out to be Jilly Cooper's adopted daughter. I'm assuming many people don't know who Jilly Cooper is, so I'll tell you. She's an authoress who's written some pretty steamy novels over the past five decades.

Any goodness that I'd given to my body with all the exercise and the fresh Himalayan air was wiped out by a week of partying in Pokhara. It was time to go back to India for the final leg of my journey. I calculated that I still had another month's worth of cash left, and there was still so much to see.

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