Adventure in Nepal
Copyright 2019 by Dee Canfield
cable car came to a complete stop and we were dangling over a deep
green mountain valley in Nepal, almost 4,000 feet below. “We
Nepali guide told me. “Don’t
he said. “They
will fix it soon.”
I had arrived
in the country in the season of Dashain, the 15-day Hindu religious
holiday, and we had just come from visiting the Manakamana Temple on
the mountaintop, where prayers and incense had been offered during
the sacrifices of goats that had taken place. Besides Bhim and
myself, there were two other men in the car. One of them was holding
a plastic bag, from which a few drops of blood slowly dripped onto
the floor, a remnant of an earlier sacrifice.
these things happen.”
I smiled and
told him that I was alright. And I was surprised to find I was not
worried, but instead I felt over-the-moon happy. I was in Nepal on an
adventure of a lifetime, having hired Bhim as my guide, upon the
recommendation of a friend. Had I known of this experience, along
with many of the other adventurous mishaps that were to occur,
perhaps I wouldn’t
have taken this journey. But all my life I had wanted to have a great
adventure in an exotic, far-off land and, at age 67, I had decided
that it was a was a “now
or never” type
If I didn’t
do it now, I told myself, I would never go. So I decided to bypass my
fear and make the journey. I had always loved the adventure of
traveling solo, and so I came to Nepal alone.
had not witnessed any of the sacrifices, but had been fascinated in
the walk to the temple complex, first through the market place, alive
with vendors hawking their wares, immersed in the sounds of the
Nepali language, the sound of temple bells, and the bright colors of
beautiful saris worn by all the women. I appeared to be the only
Westerner in the entire crowd and I had been absorbed by every thing
I heard and saw.
temple complex was jammed with people. Some were sitting with
offerings of incense and flowers; some were reading religious texts;
others were giving and receiving the tikka blessing (a mark on the
forehead made with a red powder-like substance), and family groups
were talking and taking photographs. Many people were standing in
line with their goats, waiting to go into the area where the animals
would see their last minutes. Other people were going into other
areas of the complex where incense was burning and bells were being
was about one week in to my four week journey that was to include an
airplane ride around Mount Everest, an elephant ride in Chitwan
jungle, a trek up the mountains to the villages of Chisopani and
Nagarkot, a stay at my guide’s
mountain home, several days of work, helping to build a house with
Habitat for Humanity, and sightseeing in Kathmandu. But, as arduous
as the trip was to be, it was not as difficult as the inner work it
had taken to get myself there in the first place.
years I had dreamed of such a trip and for months I made my plans. I
bought all sorts of clothes and gear and I researched and bought an
insurance policy as well as coverage for the return of remains (all
part of the standard policy recommended by Habitat). I read up on all
the health issues and ways to protect myself and to stay healthy. I
got vaccinations, got prescriptions filled,
signed up for the
travel alerts about Nepal. I purchased a book to learn some of the
language and then I began to practice squats in anticipation of the
toilet situation and reminded myself that I would have to use bottled
water to brush my teeth. And all the while I began to experience
terrible, gnawing apprehensions that grew into a terrible anxiety.
What am I thinking?!? Doing this at my age?
several weeks of worry, I took a big step back and decided that I
needed to not be such a control freak. I began to pray. I prayed to
be of one mind, and that I would be fully committed to going. I told
myself that there was nothing that would prevent me from flying to
Kathmandu. I determined that, even if I turned around and came home
on the next flight, I was going to Nepal!
in the cable car, it was very warm and sunny and, after a few more
minutes of waiting, we heard a “clunk"
and the whirr of a motor and then felt a bit of a jolt and the cable
car began its way back down, finally depositing us at the foot of the
mountain. I breathed a sigh of relief, so grateful to be on this
journey and happy that I had overcome my fears. I wouldn't have
missed this trip for anything; for, indeed, it did turn out to be the
adventure of a lifetime.
* * * * *
my first day, after arriving in Nepal, Bhim hired a driver who took
us everywhere around the city. We spent most of our time at Buddhist
stupas and Hindu temples. Nepal is about 84% Hindu and about 14%
Buddhist. "We all get along," Bhim said. "We all like
each other." In fact, I have read that there are many places
where beliefs and practices of both religions coalesce into one, and
I was to experience examples of that blending of religious cultures
during my time there.
of my very favorite travel experiences occurred at the huge
Boudhanath Stupa. Tibetan merchants have rested and offered prayers
there for centuries and it is the center of Tibetan Buddhist worship
in Nepal. When refugees entered Nepal from Tibet in the 1950s, many
decided to live in the area.
was a combination of tourists, pilgrims, worshipers, and monks in
yellow shirts and red robes. Tibet has always had a sense of great
mystery and romance for me, and I have had a deep longing to visit.
And in this moment I had a taste of that country We walked around the
stupa for some time. The huge circular white stupa sits on a site
that is encircled by many interconnected buildings. Inside one of
them was a beautiful temple and I entered and looked around for
several minutes. Later, high up in another part of the building
complex, we heard monks slowly playing the large drum and cymbals and
I was simply transported. And when I heard the sound of that
incredible long horn, it carried me away in my imagination to the
tall mountainous regions of Tibet. Being there in that moment was
utterly magical for me.
went next to the Pashupatinath Temple
— a huge
complex of Hindu temples in another part of the city. Bhim told me
that today, the first day of the 15-day religious festival of
Dashain, was the day wherein people remembered their dead family
members. There were groups of people sitting picnic-style, offering
up food and herbs and spices all along a huge, three-tiered structure
along a river. Across the river we could see a group preparing a body
for cremation and then carrying the body to the place where it was
burned. The air was filled with sounds of an occasional drum and horn
that announced parts of various ceremonies that were going on in
temples all along the riverbank.
experiences of the streets were something else. Many "streets"
are simply bumps and dips and loose rocks, all narrow, all congested,
with cars and people and motorbikes, rickshaws, cows, dogs, and
people bicycling while carrying tall loads of bananas or snacks or
baskets of baby chickens. I had never ever seen traffic like this.
People in Nepal drive on the left side of the road (more or less).
Almost on every block we weaved in between foot traffic and cars and
all of the things mentioned above. Many a time we came just within
what appeared to be a couple of inches of the other vehicles. Many a
time pedestrians would direct traffic, helping an overloaded rickshaw
make a difficult turn so that a small van, crowded with people could
get through, but waiting until a man moved a
ladder, while looking
out for the toddlers that were playing right next to the route of
traffic. I have never squeezed my way in between moving vehicles
before, but that's the way Bhim went, and so I followed.
* * * * *
my second day in Nepal we began a two-day trek - first to the village
of Chisopani, then, the second day, on to Nagarkot. Bhim hired Umesh
(a young man as a porter for my backpack and gear), and a driver who
took the three of us to the drop off point on the outskirts of
was so happy to be in the clear, fresh air of the countryside after
the congestion of the city. The scenery was lush and beautiful. We
climbed up and up amongst green vistas and the sound of waterfalls
cascading down the hillsides. Although the surrounding scenery was
gorgeous, I was a bit disconcerted in that the first portion of our
climb was on very steep concrete steps. They went on for quite a long
ways. I thought it was fortunate that the steps were at the beginning
of our climb, since they would be quite a challenge once I was worn
down and tired. And I was glad I had invested just a few dollars for
a pair of trekking poles, since I had to use them to hoist myself up
continued to climb past waterfalls and up and up and up. As we
climbed I asked Bhim if there would be very many more steps. "Yes,
there are some," he said. We passed by small houses with goats
and chickens and children with bare feet in the yards. There were
some occasional entrepreneurs along the way —
people had set up little tables and had glass cases of cookies and
chips and bottles of Coke. We climbed and climbed, and I occasionally
stopped to catch my breath.
about two hours of steep steps and subsequent steep rocky paths, we
stopped for lunch at a little house. Fortunately, there were already
nine customers on the front porch, which meant we had to wait at
least an hour for our meal. I was most grateful for the rest.
three of us sat and conversed about everything - politics and
religion, the world, our families, our hopes and dreams —
I do mean
everything. We were sitting in the back yard of the place at a little
table under an umbrella. The perimeter of the yard was surrounded by
marigolds that were four and five feet tall. Down below was the
valley from which we had ascended. I looked at the mountains around
us and asked how tall they were. "They aren't mountains. They
only about eight or nine thousand feet. They are hills!" Bhim
said. I asked him for his definition of a mountain and was a bit
taken aback when he replied, "About 19,000 feet!”
lunch we resumed our hike. I had been told that children like to
receive pencils. Rather than buying the kind that had to be
sharpened, I had bought about three dozen of the kind that did not. I
also bought packets of little notebooks, thinking it wasn't much good
to give a kid a pencil if they had nothing to write on. At one point
we passed a little house with a little girl and I said the word,
"Pencil?" which she immediately understood. She held out
her little hands with such anticipation and when I showed her the
notebook she was so delighted. She took them into her hands and gave
me such a look of happiness.
is an astounding place. It is filled with poverty and squalid living
conditions, both in the city and in the countryside. But as the
country itself is so incredibly beautiful, the people are even more
so. They have nothing materially speaking, but they meet you as
equals, with self-respect, sincerity, and such kindness. They have
nothing but what they have made out of what is available to them. We
saw houses made of bamboo poles and tin roofs, houses made of mud —
whatever people could scrounge from their environment. Each person
gave me a warm smile and a kind “Namaste,”
together, prayer position, at their forehead. I was beginning to wish
I had bought a suitcase or two full of shoes and clothes and had
hired extra porters to climb through the villages with me. What I
gave them was nothing. What they gave me was priceless.
continued to climb. I asked Bhim if there were very many more stairs.
"Yes, there are some more," was always his reply. I asked
him how much longer. "Oh, maybe half an hour." We continued
to climb and as I saw a child we would stop and offer a notebook and
pencil. Invariably, when I had given gifts to one child, another
child and another would come running. They simply stood and looked,
and when I offered the notebook and pencil, each one seemed more
delighted than the last. Many of them said, "Namaste," some
of them, "Thank you.”
reached a little settlement where I gave out the last of the
notebooks and pencils. As we were leaving another little girl came
running up, but I was out of notebooks. I couldn't bear the look of
disappointment, so I offered her three pencils and my apology.
about 5 p.m. we reached the high point that was decorated with
Buddhist prayer flags and they took a photograph of my triumph. "How
much do you think we climbed?" I asked Bhim. "Oh between
3,500 and 4,000 feet. Somewhere in there."
only I had known what lay ahead I might not have felt so triumphant.
NOW we had to go down AND it was beginning to get dark. There were no
more stairs —
only a steep,
rocky path filled with jagged rocks. I took one slow, deliberate step
at a time. I didn't look around me or up or at anything but my feet.
A sprained ankle would be a big problem —
solvable somehow, but not a problem I wanted to deal with. We made
our way down slowly and the twilight got dimmer and dimmer and
pulled my little Petzl headlight out of my backpack and put the band
around my forehead. I turned on my light and asked Bhim to go in
front of me. I grasped the strap of his backpack at his shoulder with
my right hand and held the trekking pole in my left hand. Umesh had
his own tiny hand-held light and he went on before us. I didn't look
up because when I saw the steep trail that lay ahead it was too
terrible to contemplate. It was better to look down and concentrate
on each step I had to make. I would stab before every step, making
sure the pole was secure. It got very, very, very dark and all we
could see was each little bit of rock as it came within the small
range of light.
dew was falling and places were getting slippery and small snakes and
large spiders began to appear on the trail. My clothes and hat were
drenched with sweat and I began to feel cold. I had to go to the
bathroom and my nose was running and drool was running down the side
of my mouth. And then a moth began to dance in my headlight, and then
another moth and another and then I had to blow/spit the moths as
they began to fly into my mouth, but I was remarkably calm. I had
been silently praying almost all of the day and I really intensified
my prayers now.
is good," I said to Bhim. "All is good. I am very happy."
And somehow I did feel deeply, truly, unexplainably happy. Perhaps
some kind of natural drug was coursing through my limbs and brain
because I also felt absolutely no fear. After about an hour and half
of going down in absolute, complete darkness, we made it to our place
we entered, there was a group of eight Germans enjoying their meal at
a long table. They gave us a bit of a stare. "Are we so
unusual?" I wondered to myself. We climbed upstairs to the
sleeping quarters. The toilet and shower were next to each other,
both behind large, ugly metal doors. The "shower" consisted
of a faucet in the wall with a bucket underneath and now I was faced
with my first opportunity to use a “non-European”
resting a bit I went back downstairs where it was still dark, save
the candle on the Germans’
and the candle
that lit up the second table, where I sat with my two companions and
the Germans' porters. I sat and waited for my food. The trek that had
been predicted to take “about
taken ten. As I waited for my food, I watched a moth slowly die and a
small black bug crawl over the table. The soup and the food were good
and hot; and after eating, I went back up to my room. As I was taking
things out of my backpack, I found three more notebooks —
could have given to that little girl. What with the adrenalin, the
exhaustion, and the overwhelming emotion of the day, I thought of her
with three pencils and no notebook to write in, and I began to sob.
* * * * *
next day we were to hike to Nagarkot. Our day began early. "Today's
walking will not be as difficult," Bhim told me. Fortunately,
what he said turned out to be pretty true. By this I don't mean to
imply he had previously lied to me, although he had been circumspect
at times: "Are there many more stairs?" "Yes, there
are some." "Do we have much farther?" "Yes, a
little ways." Over time I came to understand the differences we
have regarding evaluating difficulty and length and the time it would
take for a particular section of a walk.
had specifically told Bhim my age and relative physical condition
before I hired him, hoping to give him some understanding as to what
my physical limitations might be. However, women my age in Nepal can
squat, sit on the ground, stand up in a spritely manner, work the
fields, pick loads of greens, and carry them with tump lines across
their foreheads all uphill for miles. He was judging me by the women
in his own culture. This is just one example of learning about each
other and our differences and figuring out how to accommodate them.
knew I could make it for a few hours, but last night Bhim had said
"For you, it will take ten hours to reach Nagarkot." As we
walked I turned to Bhim with a determined look and said, I am not
going to walk ten hours today. I know I cannot do that. We need to
make a different plan."
walked for a while and then Bhim said that when we get to a small
village he would see if he could get a bagel. We walked in silence
for a few moments and then I asked him, "Bhim, what did you say
we could get?" He repeated it two or three times and then I
finally understood “Bee-a-kul!"
It became apparent to me that the “V”
sound is not
in the Nepali alphabet.
had begun walking about 7:15 a.m., and at about noon we stopped at
one of the two villages that are between Chisopani and Nagarkot. It
was comprised of two or three restaurants and houses. We had "Nepali
food" (dal bhat - lentils and rice), then Bhim told me there was
no bus to Nagarkot. "We can stay here," he said. But I had
no desire to stay "here." I asked how far it was and he
told me "It will take us about three hours.”
I told him,
"Let's just go!”
that point the road began to climb. And climb. And climb. The road
wound around the mountainside and as I would see the next turn I
would hope for a flat surface; however, that would turn out to be
another steep climb. We went up and around hill after hill after
hill. It was one nearly impossible steep climb after another. At one
point I began to cry with exhaustion. Fortunately I was ahead of Bhim
and Umesh (they allowed me to set the pace) so they couldn't see me.
I allowed myself a few tears but then I wiped them dry. At that point
to rely on
seemed like pure willpower.
looked up and saw what looked to be a hotel far up on another
hillside. "That's not where we are going is it?" I asked
Bhim. "No, that's not the place," he said. I breathed a
sigh of relief, since it was so far away. But there was little cause
for celebration because, as it turned out, that indeed wasn't the
place we were going. We were climbing even farther!
we made it to what turned out to be a rather nice hotel and, after we
had checked in to our respective rooms, I sat on the terrace outside
my room, surrounded by beautiful potted plants. We were up almost in
the clouds. Terraced rice and millet fields cascaded down the
mountainsides, valley after valley after valley - it was green,
green, green everywhere, and it was astounding. I could sense the
mysterious presence of the Himalayas around us, high and
cloud-covered and far beyond the treetops that surrounded
hotel. I was in
warm sunshine and mist, and the air began to be filled with the sound
of locusts. High above there were wispy, diaphanous clouds that
swirled like smoke against a pale blue sky. Black kites and crows
soared high up here, and the echoes of their caws could be heard as
they glided above the gently curved terraced farms that wound all the
way down the hillsides into valley after valley below.
* * * * *
next day was a rest day and I took a very brief walk into the
village. Like almost everywhere else, the village was quite sad
and dilapidated, very drab and dreary —
other places in Nepal, there was rubble everywhere. There were bricks
stacked everywhere or laying on the ground, higgledy-piggledy
fashion. I couldn't tell if buildings were in the process of being
torn down, possibly being renovated, or simply falling apart. This
was much more the case in the cities, but even here in this small
village I found the same phenomenon.
the first few days in Nepal I couldn't stop my gaping and wonder and
internal running commentary on the poverty and living conditions that
I saw. At first I had feelings of pity; however, I very soon came to
understand that to pity these people is an inappropriate response.
First of all, I am judging them by a standard of living and cultural
values which do not apply to their reality. Secondly, even though
they have nothing, they meet you as equals. They obviously do not
regard their self-worth in terms of their material possessions, or
lack of them, but from a deeper, truer source.
kept on thinking of the Bible verse: "It is better to light one
candle than to curse the darkness." And bit by bit I became able
not to ignore or become hardened by what I saw, but rather to simply
accept that this is how life is and to honor each person, and to
greet each person's humility and kind "Namaste" with
compassion and respect and a "Namaste" of my own.
people have nothing materially, but I have seen more gentle kindness
here than anywhere in the wealth of the West. Every time I left a
shop without buying anything I felt
sad because just
the equivalent of a few US pennies could make a difference in their
day; however, whenever I left without buying there was often a warmth
in their large brown eyes and, with a smile, they wished me well.
made my way up the road and soon realized I should never have
ventured out without Bhim. When I was in his company, our
conversation occupied my mind and allowed me some respite from
feelings created by the conditions through which we traveled. But now
I was assailed by a little boy who wanted to sell me postcards. How
could I tell him no? And so I bought. And then another little boy
with a canvas bag approached me with some nice calendars. "They
will make nice little gifts for people back home," I thought,
and so I asked the price.
wanted two hundred rupees for each calendar. "How much for
three?" I asked. "Six hundred," he said. But I only
had five hundred rupee notes so I held up three fingers and pointed
to the calendars and say "Three calendars for five-hundred?"
He agreed and we began to make the transaction.
older woman who had been standing nearby came over and began to speak
angrily in Nepali, first to the boy, and then to me. I assumed that
she was angry at me for some reason and I just stood there, not sure
what to do, and the next thing I knew, the boy said, "Okay, bye
bye lady" and he ran away.
she pointed in another direction and says, "One fifty," and
then she pointed to the boy who was running and said, "Two
hundred!" She was angry because she thought the boy overcharged
me by a few pennies and this was not right, in her opinion.
okay. Okay!" I said and then I turned to the little girl who was
standing shyly beside the woman and said "Namaste" to her.
The woman calmed down and explained in very rough and limited English
that her son lived in Kathmandu and this was his daughter. "My
bebe," she said
sons?" she asked. I held up two fingers. "Two." She
looked at me with awed, approving eyes and said, "Two sons! Very
good!" Then, in pantomime fashion, I molded one son and his wife
and a second son and his wife and their three children and she smiled
she pointed across the dirt road and says "House, come" and
she picked up the little girl and jumped the little gully between the
road and hill and then nimbly climbed up the natural dirt steps that
have been shaped by her feet over many years.
made it to the outside of her house —
a little shack
she pulled out a very small stool, about about one and a half inches
off the ground. She proudly motioned for me to sit. As I was
determining how I would get down there gracefully (and then get back
up again) she made another sound, urging me to take the seat of
managed to sit and then found I was in the direct line of smoke from
a slow burning fire at the side of her house, where she was cooking
her rice for the day. We managed to struggle through some more
after which I made my way back to my hotel.
next day, as we were leaving the village, I happened to see her as
our car passed her house. I quickly rolled down the window and waved.
Just as our car turned the corner she looked up to see me
she waved back.
God bless her!
* * * * *
drivers different from everybody else," Bhim had said to me on
our first day driving around Kathmandu. "Yes, I've never ever
seen anything like it" I had replied. Little did I realize the
full significance of those words until the day that we made our way
on a drive down to Chitwan, to spend a couple of days in the jungle.
"Harrowing" doesn't begin to describe my ride.
couple of days after our trek we got in the private car Bhim had
rented with a driver who appeared to be no more than about fifteen
years old. Well, this was THE day that everyone was trying to leave
Kathmandu to go home for the festival and the city traffic was
appalling. Absolutely unbelievable! With all I knew and anticipated
about Nepal, I had not expected that every vehicle would be powered
with filthy diesel. It took us a couple of hours to make our way out
of the congested traffic in the city. But then we were in for a
different kind of adventure. There were not only cars with reasonable
amounts of people; there were huge, colorful buses jammed with people
inside and on top. Also on top were suitcases and goats (being taken
to the villages for ritual slaughter). Approaching us on the other
side of the highway were large tourist buses and huge trucks; truck
after truck after truck bringing in goods of all sorts from India.
They were painted in many bright colors and adorned with colorful
streamers and many had incense burners on their front grilles. There
were also tuk tuks and motorbike after motorbike after motorbike, and
everyone was in a race to see who could reach their destination
we were on a paved road that was in fairly reasonable condition;
however, it was winding, winding, winding, with many blind curves.
There were only a relatively few stretches where you could actually
see what was coming, and there were steep drop-offs at every stretch
of the road, all the way until the end of the journey when we arrived
at our destination on the Terai, the extension of the Indian plain,
where the jungle in Chitwan is located.
was wild. We were passing people while others were trying to pass us,
just as oncoming vehicles were approaching with someone trying to
pass them. But somehow, at the last moment, everyone sailed into two
lines, just missing each other by literally inches. Sometimes the
large, over-packed busses would lean and veer into us as they made
the sharp turns; however all of the goats placidly maintained their
footing while gazing straight ahead and they didn't seem fazed at
would ride three alongside, all veering for the first position, and
as an oncoming vehicle approached, order would somehow be restored in
an instant. There was no rhyme nor reason as to who would go first,
but split-second decisions were made and there were two single files
again. There were times when I felt I was watching a road race and
times I felt I was in a road race. I found myself silently rooting us
come on! come on! you can do it!" —
times when I just put my face in my hat —
not only to
avoid watching, but to give my lungs some respite from all the diesel
fumes as well. It was tragic to see all the greenery along the
roadside all dust-covered and white in the pall of diesel fumes
filling the beautiful countryside.
geography is fascinating. The country is approximately the width of
Illinois. If one visualizes the Chitwan jungle at the Illinois’
on the Mississippi River, then in the relatively short distance of a
couple of hundred miles, Mount Everest would be in the location of
Chicago. From jungle to highest mountain range in the world —
quite dramatic and varied scenery.
* * * * *
a good night’s
sleep in a comfortable bed with ample mosquito netting I awakened and
showed up for breakfast at 6:30. The highlight for me was to be
seeing the elephants. However, the night before Bhim had asked if I
wanted to go in a canoe ride to see if we could spot some crocodiles.
Bhim said “we
have to walk back and there might be rhinos. If we one, you will have
That gave me
some pause; however, I figured I did not come all the way to Nepal to
sit in my room, so I said I’d
like to take the canoe ride.
at the beach there were several dugout canoes with little wooden
chairs (seats and backs only, with no legs) hanging over the side of
each one. Our
in, put a chair down and invited the first tourist to sit. A chair
was provided for each of us in this manner. One guide stood at the
back with his long pole and another guide stood in the front,
narrating our journey.
was early and the river was very very peaceful and quiet and quite
lovely. There was only the calm, gliding river and the thick, long,
reedy grasses that grow along each bank. Our guide pointed out the
trees from whence the canoes were fashioned. Each canoe is an entire
tree and is dug out by hand. He explained that earlier peoples had
lived off the river and that the canoes had been an item of everyday
use; however, once agriculture took on a more significant role,
canoes were less used. “Now
they are more for tourists”,
guide constantly looked through his binoculars and at one point
whispered "Crocodile!" We all strain to see a croc with
only his eyes sticking out of the water. Several minutes later we see
another. "We usually see more," the guide says, but there
was barely any protection offered by our slight craft and so I was
happy we didn’t
experience any closer encounters. Our canoe was guided to the bank
were we disembarked and given instructions to stay close to each
other and to use our eyes and our ears as we walked through the
jungle. I walked right up in front behind him and in front of Bhim,
feeling somewhat comforted, being surrounded by two fellows who knew
a something about the environment.
walked for an hour or more, then came to a rhino hole —
a large pool
of muddy water; however, as I'm getting ready to take a photograph, I
found the guide and Bhim are busy down at my feet. "Leeches,"
Bhim says, as he and the guide furiously picked them off my pants.
Some were burrowing into the fabric and already into my skin, but
the two men worked fast. I lifted up my pants legs —
a leech was
making its way into my leg. They picked it off and flick it into the
bushes. "Leeches hurt nothing," the guide said. "They
just suck your blood and then fall to the ground," and I think,
"Oh well then, no problem”
afternoon we went to the elephant breeding center and saw many
elephants - moms and dads and babies and teens. In the education
center there were posters providing information, including a list of
about twenty or so commands that elephants learn. Some of them were
very specific: "Walk up to that elephant and stand on its left
side." -- “Leave
it" --- "Lay down on your right side" --- "Pick
it up" --- "Go faster" -- “Stop."
I was quite impressed by learning that the elephant had such an
understanding of human language.
that afternoon we took a jeep ride out to the elephant docking
stations and I climbed onto an elephant and rode through the jungle
for two hours. What a thrill that was! There were four of us riding
in the "carriage." I was riding in the front, right behind
the mahout (the elephant “driver”)
and he told me a lot about elephants and their lives. I learned that
elephants begin to "work" (carry riders) at about age 10
and do so up until 60 or 70. Also, the mahout said he is always with
the same elephant. "Different elephant, very dangerous," he
said. Also, he told me that it is impossible to escape from a wild
elephant. "If you run, they can run faster. If you climb a tree,
they can knock it down. A bigger tree you can't climb. All you can do
is pray," he said.
* * * * *
go slowly!" I called out, even surprising myself as the
ambulance driver made a fast, ultra-sharp turn on our way up the
mountain to Bhim’s
home. Bhim spoke in Nepali to the driver then said to me "You
are frightened?" The driver turned to me and smiled. "Yes,
a little," I said.
leaving the Chitwan jungle, we visited the aforesaid Manakamana
Temple. And after coming back down in the cable car, Bhim had asked
our driver to take us to the small village of Dhading, where he
arranged for us to ride up the mountain in an ambulance to his
village, where we were to spend a couple of days at his home.
ambulance driver and his companion rode in front and, in the back,
which would maybe comfortably hold about four people, there were nine
of us, along with ambulance equipment, backpacks, suitcases, and
packages. With every bump and steep ascent and twisting, winding turn
I was jostled, shaken and stirred. I was bouncing up and down and
then trying to hold the end of the seat so as to avoid sliding into
Bhim's lap. For the longest while I braced myself against the little
white metal medicine cabinet opposite me. Whenever I would try to sit
up to stretch my neck we would invariably hit a major bump and I
would hit my head. Whenever I would think that it couldn't get any
worse it did.
many instances the smoothest part of the dirt road was far over on
the edge which is where the driver drove most of the time. From my
vantage point it always appeared as if we were nosing ourselves
directly over the edge of a steep drop to far down below. But this
did not seem to bother anyone other than me, as the conversation
carried on in a constant chatter while loud
Nepali music blared
over the radio.
roads are not built for cars" Bhim yelled in my ear. "They
were made for people to walk." Someone else had told me that, as
scary is it was going up, that it was not as dangerous as coming back
down. I was to appreciate truth of that comment during our descent a
few days later.
two hours we arrived at Bhim's house at the top of the mountain,
where his wife, Apshara, his nine year-old son, and his 16 year-old
daughter were waiting to great us. The children, like their father
both spoke some English; however, Bhim’s
wife did not, yet she gave me a shy smile of welcome.
other people were sitting on a small wall surrounding the courtyard
in front of the house, or on the hard-packed dirt floor of the
courtyard itself. Bhim explained that they were relatives who lived
nearby. "They will come back tomorrow for the festival," he
said, "and many more people will come too.”
was the perfect hostess, making sure everyone was comfortable and was
provided with food and drink. She carried a crescent-shaped khukuri
knife in her belt and
at one point she picked some
sat on her haunches and held the knife blade-side up with her feet
and then ran the ball-shaped pieces of fruit against it to cut them
open. Then she sat and tore the fruit apart and placed individual
helpings in bowls she had made by folding large green leaves
together. She passed a leaf bowl to each one of us. I enjoyed the
fruit. It tasted something like grapefruit.
after the extended family had left, Bhim brought me a plate of dal
bhat and I ate it while sitting on the porch. After I had eaten, the
family gathered around the fire on the earthen floor of the kitchen
and ate theirs. The porch had a solar-powered light (one of only two
for the entire house) and Bhim and I sat on the porch and played 500
Rummy (a game we played to fill our evenings of no TV or other
entertainment). He was unbeatable —
believe that I could never beat him. He was amazing. But I wanted to
play for as long as I could. I was not looking forward to the night
around nine o'clock I heard the sound of a conch horn and the ringing
of bells. Bhim answered my questioning look with an explanation.
"It's my father," he said. It was apparently part of the
old gentleman's routine of prayers before bedtime.
the time came for me to climb the steep ladder to the loft above the
water buffalo and goats where my bed awaited me. Like most other
Nepali houses, the windows had no glass panes and I was to sleep with
my head next to a large open window leading out into the cold, black
night. The bed was a typical Nepali bed. It was a box-like, wooden
structure, with some padding on the top. The bed's comfort is
dependent upon the amount of padding, and in this case, there was
very little —
of a couple of quilts, perhaps.
of my best investments were my Petzl light and my beautiful turquoise
silk sleep sack. The sack provided me with my own little cocoon and
the silk provided a surprising amount of warmth. I climbed into the
sack and, by the light of my Petzl, read my companion book, "The
Snow Leopard" by Matthiessen. I finally turned off the light and
tried to make my way towards sleep.
I had begun to develop a cold a couple of days previously and tonight
it was getting much worse. My head was very congested and I found it
very difficult to breathe while lying on my back. But I couldn't
sleep on my side either - the surface was just too hard on my aging
bones. Needless to say, it was a long night.
Bhim had told me not to worry about the mice and "other things"
that run around on the metal roof, and when the pitter patter began I
reached for my wax earplugs and put them in. It was quite an unusual
feeling, lying there in complete darkness and lack of sound.
I got the urge to go to the bathroom, I made my way out of my sleep
sack and carefully climbed down the ladder and walked across the yard
to the outdoor latrine. Afterwards, coming back towards the house, I
stopped and looked up at the stars that shone with such clarity and
brilliance in the deep black sky. I searched for familiar
constellations and found the Big Dipper which appeared to have
cartwheeled upside down on its handle. It was a magical moment,
standing on a mountaintop in Nepal, alone in the middle of a night of
such silence. After a few moments I made my way back up the ladder to
my silky cocoon on hard wood and struggled with sleep until dawn.
* * * * *
next morning I dressed and climbed down the ladder and entered the
dirt-floor kitchen where Apshara was working.
spoke no English,
so our interaction was limited; however, she was so gracious and I
wanted at least a little bit of "face time" with her while
I was there.
came into the kitchen to translate for us and he explained what his
wife was doing. I understood that this morning, as usual, she had
milked the water buffalo and had already made yogurt. Now she had
placed the yogurt with some water into a tall wooden structure. She
was mixing it by pulling two ends of a rope that had been wrapped
around a pole.
she took some of the mixture and put it in a pan and cooked it over
the fire. I believe this was the portion that became ghee (clarified
butter) that she used for cooking. The remainder was milk which they
drank. Nothing was ever wasted. The flame under the pot was a
fast-burning flame and when the wood became slow burning embers, the
embers were removed and put in another clay oven where they were used
to slow-cook the rice.
worked all through the day. I learned that she got up at 5 a.m. every
morning and worked until nearly 10 pm every night. The women are the
heart of the engine that drives Nepal. Out in the countryside it's
very obvious that Nepal is a very traditional, male-dominated
society. When we were hiking, I saw nothing but women working the
fields. Women who appeared to be my age (and older) were out tending
animals, tending the crops and climbing steep, steep hills while
carrying loads nearly twice their size. "Why are only women
working?" I asked Bhim one day. "Men work too!" he
insisted, sounding somewhat defensive. "Men help to dig and
plant and they work the harvest. Women do the other work" he
lives in Kathmandu with the two children who go to school there.
Bhim's elderly father refuses to leave his traditional lifestyle in
the family home he built some 40 years ago, and although Apshara
wants to live with her family in Kathmandu, it is her responsibility
to stay in the family home and to cook and tend the house for her
* * * * *
next day was one of the most important days of Dashain, when everyone
was to pay a visit to the family patriarch to receive the tikka
blessing and to share the blessing with each other. Bhim's father,
Mukti, is the oldest male of the family and so the extended family
arrived at various times all during the day.
came for a tikka blessing from Mukti, but before he gave blessings,
Bhim's 16-year old daughter, Bhwani, blessed him first with her small
bowl of red mixture, a bit of which she took and put on his forehead.
Then, once Mukti had bestowed his blessings, every one else shared
the experiences of blessing and being blessed. Each person had a bowl
of the red mixture and some money. The person receiving the blessing
gave a bit of money to the person bestowing the blessing and then
each person would put their hands together and bow to each other
before moving on for the next blessing.
my cold was really taking over and I felt terrible. Apshara made a
bed for me on one of the side porches of the house. She put a woven
mat down and then gave me a big comforter which I wrapped myself in.
I got up on occasion to shoot some photos but would then return to my
bed. I asked Bhim if I shouldn't go to my "room" (the loft
above the animals). "No," he said. "This is where we
put people who are sick so we can take care of them." I slept on
and off all during the day to the sounds of talk and laughter.
of Bhim's cousins is a nurse. She gave me some pills to help
alleviate the nasal congestion and when I complained of a headache
she went to her home to collect her gear so as to take my blood
pressure and she also gave me something to take for the headache.
When she learned that I had brought some antibiotics with me she
recommended that I start taking them.
there I was, sick as anything, wrapped up and sleeping on a straw mat
on a side porch of a Nepali house at the top of a mountain far, far
from home. It was quite surreal. It was as if I was able to stand
outside of myself and to watch my own reactions. I was surprised at
how at peace I was in the situation and was just happy to be where I
the entire time I was there I ate the traditional dal bhat. There is
nothing wrong with this food. It tastes really good and is quite
nutritious; however, the Nepalis cook with no spices and the food is
very, very bland. After a few meals of it, it became rather difficult
to get down. During one meal on that porch, I resorted to imagining
the taste of a sausage pizza from a favorite restaurant back home and
tried to keep that taste alive while swallowing the dal bhat. The
next morning they brought me muesli with warm buffalo milk for
breakfast. And, after so many meals of lentils and rice, it was
* * * * *
next day we journeyed back to Kathmandu and I checked into the hotel
that would be my base for my stay in Kathmandu. The following day
Bhim arrived at my hotel at 5:30 a.m. with a taxi and we went out to
the airport where I was to take the mountain flight to Everest.
was a little nervous. Yesterday I had considered asking Bhim not to
buy the ticket; however, I did not come to Nepal to back out of the
experiences that had drawn me here in the first place! Air travel,
like ground travel, is comparatively dangerous in Nepal. Just a
couple of weeks ago a plane had crashed up in the mountains, and not
too long ago one of the Everest flights crashed into a mountainside
on the way back to the airport. Both crashes resulted in no
survivors. They never fly the small planes after dark and they avoid
flying in bad weather. When foggy, stormy conditions suddenly move
in, flying can be pretty dicey. But thankfully today the sky was
bright blue with lots of sunshine, and I felt confident and excited
and was looking forward to the flight.
waited in the terminal until my Yeti Airline flight was announced and
then walked out to the bus that was to take me and my fellow
passengers to the plane. All planes —
largest jets to the smallest planes —
are boarded by
climbing up outside stairs.
on board the bus we had another wait of several minutes. Looking
around at my fellow passengers —
about 19 of
them — I
realized I was the only Norte Americano on the flight. All of the
other people were from Argentina and my, they were a jolly bunch!
Their guide had a video camera and he recorded all of the experience.
bag of coffee candies was passed around and some was offered to me
and then the group began to clap and chant "Ev-er-est!
Ev-er-est! Ev-er-est!" The guide indicated to me that I should
join in the chanting and so I did and he filmed me, clapping and
chanting along with the rest of the crowd. And then everyone
spontaneously broke into song —
and leaning together from side to side as they sang. We were finally
taken to our plane and a sweet Nepali woman with a long black dress
and a long apron with a striped, folk design greeted us.
was in seat 2-C, right in front. As was per usual on these flights,
only the window seats were filled so everyone had a window view. I
was sitting on the right side of the plane, in front. The folks on
the other side of the aisle had the mountain view all the way up and
those of us on my side had it all the way back. We were given a map
which showed the locations and names of the peaks and the stewardess
constantly went up and down the aisle and helped each one of us
identify what we were seeing at any given point.
flight path was all along the mountain range of about 20 or 30 named
peaks. Of the many thousands of mountain peaks in Nepal, only about
1,300 have been named. It was a real "high" in more than
one sense of the word. The sky was a beautiful bright blue and the
snow-capped mountain tops glistened white. I felt such happiness and
excitement flying along the tallest peaks in the world. And suddenly,
there was Everest! How amazing it is to say that I have seen it.
* * * * *
I had returned to
was on my own for a few days and I spent my time in Thamel, the
touristy part of the city that is full of winding streets and shops,
shops, shops. I enjoyed some time to wind down from my rather
strenuous adventures and I also enjoyed being on my own. Of course on
this trip I had hired a guide and was glad I did; however, I
ordinarily travel by myself when I go abroad. I love the freedom to
wander where I want. I find that traveling alone provides me with a
great deal of freedom and leads to serendipitous experiences and
encounters with other people that I wouldn’t
otherwise have. And now I was enjoying a bit of this freedom on my
own in Kathmandu. For example, the shopkeepers, were all friendly and
after I had made purchases a couple of them invited me to their homes
for tea. I also struck up conversations with other tourists in
restaurants and was occasionally invited to join with others for
meals. I never once felt threatened or in any danger.
time in Thamel, wandering from shop to shop, buying souvenirs and
gifts, dining in various and varied restaurants with cuisine from
several cultures and countries, and having interesting encounters
with natives and tourists alike was the perfect way to wind down from
a somewhat arduous trip. From Kathmandu, I was to go on a Habitat for
Humanity build with 18 other volunteers for several days in a small
village outside Pokhara. But that was another adventure in itself.
Once we completed the Habitat mission, I returned to Kathmandu for
one more night, before returning home the next day. And after nearly
a month in Nepal, I was most definitely ready to return to the
comforts of home!
coming back to the States, I felt such a “high”
joy that I had managed to make this trip of a lifetime, despite my
fears about going in the first place. I realize that I'm not the only
person on the planet who experiences anxiety, and I think that, to a
great degree, most human beings do not like change —
they do not
like leaving their comfort zone. Perhaps the desire for comfort is
our strongest motivating force. I like my comfort as much as anyone
else; however, for me, there is nothing like facing a new horizon and
going solo into the unknown. I am often in the push-pull of these two
true that many things in life provide us with calculated risks and
that in Nepal the risks may be higher than those in my own back yard.
Nepal I often felt trepidation; however, during times of very trying
circumstances my emotion was for the most part excitement tempered
with a quiet confidence in that which had called me there in the
first place. There were some risks involved in my going to Nepal;
however, I looked at them as part of the adventure.
being said, fear and anxiety have been my lifelong companions and
seem to be part of the bedrock of myself. But the thrill of adventure
is a saving grace for me. And saying "yes" to Nepal and
carrying through with it opened the door to tremendous freedom for me
the tyranny of the fears of my own mind. And time after time in Nepal
I felt elation at my liberation. During events that ordinarily would
have caused me no end of worry I could simply step back and observe
myself and wonder at my own calm. There were times when fear arose
and I looked at it squarely and then it dissipated into nothingness.
I found that I was always to be provided with all that I needed and
me, it is the call of adventure that awakens me, inspires me, excites
me. Adventure seems to be my own gentle nudge from the Universe,
calling me to be more of what I truly am. In going to Nepal, I had
said "yes" and had leaped into one of the greatest unknowns
of my life. It was one of the best things I had ever done, making me
feel whole and complete and so happy.
am a retired librarian who currently teaches English as a Second
Language to adult immigrants. I have traveled many places around the
world including walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. And, after
responding to an email on the spur of the moment, I moved to Alaska
for two years, where I worked as a librarian, performed in poetry
slams, and sang with a blues band. As much as I love to travel, I am
always thankful to come home.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher