17 May Never Ending Peace and Love
Nepal was a mixed bag for me. In my mind it was going to be all soaring peaks, Sherpas and prayer flags, but the reality, (at least in the places we visited) was quite different. The locals like to think that Nepal stands for ‘never ending peace and love’ … but I am not sold on that acronym. It is certainly beautiful, but not in the hippy, mountain, mung bean way that I was expecting. And peaceful …. not so much.
We started off in Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, where our guide proudly showed us the exact rock on which Buddha was supposed to have been born (in 623 BC). I tried to buy it … I really did, but my inner sceptic just couldn’t be silenced. “How do you know that’s the exact rock?” I enquired. “The archaeologist tested it,” our guide Mickey replied. “Tested it for what … 2500 year old placenta remnants?” I Probs cursed myself with a lifetime of bad karma and I will likely be reborn as the rat that I smelt.
After Lumbini we drove for 10-hair raising hours to Chitwan, along mostly unsealed roads, in a small sedan that bottomed out regularly (occasionally on the wrong side of the road). By the time we arrived I was a hangry nervous wreck, so when we pulled in to nirvana, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. To say that Barahi Lodge is out of the way would be an understatement, but that is part of its beauty. One of only a handful of lodges on the eastern side of Chitwan National park and far from the madding (and maddening crowds). It is understated but luxurious. The service was the best I have encountered and the food was incredible. If there wasn’t so much to see, you could easily just hang out at the lodge and soak up the tranquillity (which I suspect Amanda may have been keen to do) … had it not been for Captain Action Pants that signed us up for a sunset elephant safari, a sunrise jeep safari, elephant bathing and a sunset canoe safari (in 2 days). Yep …. I know, I am a punish to travel with.
We saw one horn rhinos (the unicorns of the jungle), deer, wild boar, a python, monkeys and a million spectacular birds. But the real prize is to spot a rare Bengal tiger. About two hours in to our sunrise jeep safari, we parked our jeep by the banks of a river and our guides set up a beautiful ‘camp style’ brekky for us. Not five minutes after I jokingly said, “how cool would it be if a tiger walked out of the jungle” … than bingo. We hit safari pay dirt. A huge Bengal tigress sauntered out. Our guide, Sake’ did that screaming whispery thing … “Behind the jeep!!” … I suspect more so we didn’t tip off the tiger than for our own safety. She wandered down to the river and then gradually retreated back to the jungle. It was incredible and back at the lodge we were inducted into what we later found out to be a very small and exclusive club of tiger spotters It was impossible to top that … even our close encounter with a cranky rhino who started to charge us and the infamous (and apparently nut job) monkey who chased our jeep didn’t compare with the adrenaline rush from watching “our” tigress.
From Chitwan we headed to Pokhara for our two-day meditation and yoga retreat. Again … words cannot describe this experience … but this time, for all the wrong reasons. To get to the ‘retreat’ we had to navigate a very steep path that climbed about one kilometre past where you could park a vehicle. Let’s just say that most people who go there seem to carry their belongings on their back, because when we called up to say we needed help with our luggage, I don’t think they were expecting and nor had they ever seen, anything of the likes of Big Red and Big Bertha before. There were a few other hints early on that this place was not going to be our cup of herbal tea. The first was a sign advising that alcohol or any other intoxicant was “extremely prohibited’ … apparently one step past prohibited. The second was our program, that was a little more woo woo than I had anticipated and incorporated chanting, nasal cleansing and a steam bath in a contraption that looked like a large tin can. It was barely bigger than your body with your head poking out a small hole in the top, like Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz … and I feared that a photo of me resembling a large can of (steamy) baked beans would end up as some hilarious meme on facebook. The third was the presence of large hairy spiders … and lots of them. As an arachnophobe … that was almost a deal breaker from the get go. The fourth was … how to say this delicately without sounding like a princess … the u-hum … level of hygiene. Our sheets were dirty, our towels stunk of massage oil and I think the last time the bathroom saw a dose of domestos was circa 1982. Not to mention the eastern loo (a polite way of saying a squat toilet) in our bathroom that had no flushing system and required you to ‘deposit’ all toilet paper in a small bin to the side. Suck it up … I said. It’s all part of the experience I said. And so we did … for approximately 20.5 hours. We did the chanting, meditation and yoga … passed on the nasal cleansing and steam prison and survived one night in our room that resembled a small jail cell. The deal breaker however, was of all things, the spiders. As the gong sounded at 5am for our morning mediation and chanting, I opened my handbag and a huge, hairy spider ran out. That right there sealed the deal. Straight after yoga we checked out and absconded back to town .. stopping at the bottle shop along the way. Nama-stay in a five star yoga retreat next time.
Out last stop in Nepal was Kathmandu. FYI … it is nothing like the sleepy mountaineering town you see in the movies. It has a population of over 1 million … traffic as bad as India and the sounds and smells to match. The closest thing to a mountaineering vibe were the multitude of shops selling hideous nylon, zip-off pants and Sherpa(ry) ponchos in fabric that looked as scratchy as all get out. The city itself was interesting, full of temples, colour, carvings and characters. It is impossible to download all the things I am absorbing … but perhaps one worth mentioning is the concept of kumari … or living goddess. Young girls (aged about three) are ‘selected’ and bestowed the honour of Kumari, based on a long list of requirements (many physical). They are then locked in a house with their family, not allowed to walk (they are carried everywhere), not allowed outside and not educated. In return they are paid a small amount by the government to appear at the window of their home periodically throughout the day, so locals and tourists (including us) can worship them (or satisfy their curiosity as the case may be). But wait … it gets better. When they reach puberty, they are stood down as kumari and kicked out. They aren’t educated, some can’t walk and as if that weren’t enough … they are now considered bad luck by any potential suitor, so most never marry. (I knew being a goddess was over rated.) There are only a handful of Kumari in Nepal and it is considered a privilege. A revered role in Nepalese, Hindu culture that goes back centuries. Just another one of many cultural impasses that are almost impossible for us to understand.
So that’s it for India and Nepal. Bhutan beckons. I am having the time of my life. I feel lucky beyond words and every day brings more ‘pinch yourself’ moments. My travel buddy and I have shared so many adventures and a few other things best left unsaid. Let’s just say that when you’re travelling through India and Nepal in close quarters, you get to know each other a little too well. We have coined the euphemism of “dropping the kids at the pool” as a less crass substitute for a certain bodily function. Let’s just say that the kids should be Olympic swimmers by the end of this trip!
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