Nepal

Chennai – Good bye

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This was our only photo in Chennai (CHUH – NYE) – our last dinner on the roof our hotel.

We only had two days in the city. The last two days of our 10 month long trip, and we chose to spend it at a buffet table and a shopping mall. We were tired, and wanted a couple of days to gather our stuff and relax before our next leg of travel back to our home and native land.

Suffice it to say, we didn’t have any grand tales to share from our time in Chennai.

Instead maybe some advice:

1. Go to more breakfast buffets.

2. Take your time there: don’t blow your appetite on an overfilled, first plate of waffles and pancakes.

3. Aim for four plates. For example, start slow with salad. Move over to the omelette station next, and pay service to some sausage and bacon. Then for your third plate, you could bring in some insulation like pancakes, waffles, or french toast. This means you can finish on a light note. As your reliever, go with some fruit.

4. Get the fresh stuff: is there one piece of french toast left in the container? do another couple of laps, or distract yourself with the colours at the salad bar then double back to get the new batch.

5. Treat it as your own food museum: people spend hours touring museums, taking history in slowly, one piece at a time. There’s no reason you can’t do the same. Consider a buffet, your own edible museum or art gallery that you can enjoy, bit by bit, digesting it all slowly.

Enjoy.

We’ve now been back in Canada for a couple of months, and I can confidently say that the first impression of life here is cold. Not groundbreaking news for winter in Canada – but we’d been living under sun for the past 10 months, and hadn’t been below zero in a long time. Our East Coast is having it rough, getting hammered with one snow storm after the next, which I think, is well summed up in this ditty:

Toronto is just cold. I know, in comparison to other parts of Canada like Saskatchewan, Alberta, Northern B.C, and Quebec we’re living in a paradise. My eyelids aren’t freezing shut, my nose hairs aren’t growing icicles, and it doesn’t hurt to breathe outside. And yet, I still feel cold. Maybe the sun has made me soft.

There’s a lot of good things to being back:
– fast WiFi
– good coffee
– personal laundry
– maple syrup

And some bad:
– The Toronto Maple Leafs

It was an amazing trip overall – with a ton of different experiences along the way, which I’m sure we’ll return to again and again as our memories are randomly triggered.

” Do you remember that drunk guy singing in a microphone on that Indonesian ferry?”

” Remember those mountain goats we saw off the trail in Nepal”.

” Remember that Chinese trekker who had a teddy bear on his bag to remember his wife”.

Blah, blah, blah. We can go on forever – and think it enormously interesting, while boring the shit out of everyone around us. However, in place of our subjective impressions, here’s something we can include people on: our trip by the numbers.

Months spent travelling: 10

Countries visited: 10

Planes taken: 32

Longest single flight: 14 hrs 35 mins. (Vancouver to Auckland)

Trains taken: 5 (overnight) + 2 (day)

Longest single train ride: 14 hrs (Delhi to Varanasi)

Buses taken: 2 (overnight) + 19 (day)

Longest single bus ride: 13 hrs (Mumbai to Goa)

Tuk-tuk/rickshaws taken: 100+ (at least)

Cars/Taxis taken: 40-ish

Cars we rented and drove ourselves: 2

Mopeds we rented and drove ourselves: 5

Boats/Ferries: 7

Longest continuous day of travel: 26 hrs (Phuket to Sukothai)

Guesthouses stayed: 84

Nights sleeping in airports: 2

Bouts of food poisoning: 2 – Marc 0 – Rose

Countries where one or more nationals mistook Rose as a fellow citizen : 8

Scuba dives: 12

Highest altitude climbed: 5416 metres (16, 878 feet)

Lowest depth swum below sea level: 30 metres (98 feet)

Trail hikes: 4

Longest hike: 20 days (Annapurna Circuit)

Major news stories of our disappearance: 5 (Google search: Marc + Rose + Nepal)

Strangers who asked me to pose in a photo with them: 4

Temples visited: beaucoup

How many times we changed time zones: 10

Most times zone crossed in a single day: 10

Total distance travelled: 98, 885.4 kms (two times around the earth + 18k leftover)

I may fill in a few spots here and there, add some more travel books and odds and ends. But otherwise, that was our trip.

Merci bien. Thanks for reading.

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Travel Books: Nepal

My eBook dependency ran out of room in Nepal – where WiFi is sparse, but also because I didn’t want to bring my Ipad on a 20 day trek (every lb on my back counted).

There’s plenty of bookstores in Kathmandu with used books, plus some along the Annapurna Circuit where you can trade in the latest one you finished. As a rule we each had one book at a time to keep the weight down, which got us through enough until we got to the next bookstore.

The funny thing, I thought, about a lot of the books available in Nepal are that they’re disaster based. Here most people are about to go on a trek, and as inspiration you can read about how people froze to death on Everest, died climbing up Annapurna massif or any other climbing calamity. Take your pick.

I chose more neutrally. Going with two pretty straightforward travelogues, another that had a poetic/spiritual dimension.

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Rose and I both met the author before travelling, but didn’t get our act together to buy his book from an accredited bookseller that, presumably, would pass him royalties from the sale. Instead we bought it in Kathmandu, where 80% of the books are photocopied reprints, meaning the money stays in the booksellers’ pocket. Not the author’s. Sorry, Andrew. In any case, it’s a good book, following the Circuit around, plus a sly, under-cover-of-darkness, trot into Upper Mustang – where, had he been caught, he’d risk a heavy fine at best. I read it as we walked on the Circuit and found it a really good primer on where we were next headed on the route. Definitely worth it if you’re trekking the Circuit.

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This follows the author on his trek through parts of the Annapurna Circuit, but primarily through Nepal on his way into Tibet, following his friend who is tracking snow leopards for research. He’d never done a trek of this magnitude, which I found immediately easy to relate to, as we were in the same boat on the Annapurna Circuit. I found his writing on how the trek unfolded, and the difficulties they faced in snow really interesting – especially his ranges into discussions on Buddhism. Another good one that offers some philosophical questions as you walk.

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Out of the Flying Circus into one for the BBC filming a series on the Himalayas. This is the companion book to the series that follows him through Nepal, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Bhutan tracking the mountains all along the way. I thought it was an easygoing read with plenty of time to empathize with his foibles along the way.

Hot water: Annapurna Day 16

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I watched this happen with the same anxiety that I imagine a nervous parent might watch his child bike for the first time.
My primary thought with gritted teeth was:
“Argghhhh”
plus a little:
“Easy buddy.” and when the jeep lurched towards the edge: “EASY BUDDY! (as if saying it louder in my mind would help them)

We were an hour into our hike from Ghasa and had stumbled upon a spectacle. People on foot had formed a crowd watching what would become of the next jeep to cross the waterfall. Even passengers waiting their turn to get wet in their car got out to see how people were doing up ahead, which admittedly may have been less about entertainment, and more assessing techniques to improve their odds at success.

Of the vehicles crossing, amazingly this jeep above was on the small side. We saw a bus go across with a full load of passengers, and watched it bounce from side-to-side across the rocks while uncoincidentally, at the same moment, my testicles bounced: but straight upwards, at the thought of being one of its passengers.
I’d had enough of Nepal buses, and the idea of getting on one now masquerading as an amphibious all-terrain vehicle was nauseating. Had I been on one, I think my only hope would have been to get knocked unconscious from all the side to side rocking, and far from being upsetting, blacking out would have been just right for the situation.
Regardless of my gloomy thoughts, the jeep and its brave passengers in this story, thankfully moved on to a happy ending:
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After sticking around to watch other drivers dip their front tires delicately into the water, then bump up and down across the water, hoping for the best, I’d occasionally spy someone in the back seat of one of the jeeps with eyes wide staring down at the edge on their left – or completely covering their eyes to pretend it wasn’t there.

In other words, I was looking for myself. And after playing out enough vivid scenarios where each car pitched over the edge, I really didn’t like what I saw.

It was time to move on. While not quite as death defying as the jeeps we watched, our bridge had its own perils thanks to uneven blocks of wood that bowed as we put our weight on them – making it feel more like a trampoline than gangway:

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We bounced across without a problem, and kept our sights on our next stop Tatopani – which in Nepalese means “Hot water” so named for its hot springs. Its billed as the spa portion of the trek where hikers can loll about in a natural hot tub and rest up for a couple of days before the last push to the finish.

Last night after falling into Ghasa completely wiped out from an extra 2hours walking: I’d have paid twice the going rate to soak in a hot tub, which I’m sure, based on how exhausted I felt, would have also meant falling asleep in it.

Today, however, the sun was out and hot:

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While I was happy at the thought of sitting and relaxing for a time: hot water wasn’t necessarily in mind.

Ironically, everyone’s temperature would rise long before water had anything to do with it. First, an explanation.

Thakur, as our guide/porter, also brokered deals with the guesthouses where we stayed. This meant ensuring we had a good room, seconds and thirds of dhal bhat, access to hot water showers (when they existed), and generally doing everything in his power to cover all our needs.

I thought he was amazing. He was constantly on top of everything even suggesting food to eat: “Momos aren’t enough. Eat Dal Bhat too: you’ll need the power today”. Plus when you reached hour 5 of an 8 hour day and wanted to sit down for the rest, he’d be encouraging with a positive outlook, making it much easier to keep moving.

The first thing we saw of Tatopani was a guesthouse that marked the beginning of town. As Thakur wandered in to speak with the owner, Rose and I were both unsure, thinking we’d rather find a spot farther into town. Tal, who was also still with us, felt the same.

We saw the rooms, and they were nice: but the place felt isolated from the rest of the town and there didn’t appear to be any fellow trekkers there. Considering the deal with guesthouses was that you had to eat dinner and breakfast at them, it meant we’d have to stay here, and forego the chance, in our minds, of running into more trekkers.

There were times when guesthouses were filled with trekkers and it was too much, while other times it was much less packed, and sometimes hardly anyone. I think all of us felt we wouldn’t have minded some company.

As we explained this to Thakur, he got upset. Not because we wanted to look at a different guesthouse so much – but that he felt Tal was the mastermind behind it who was undermining our connection with him:

“Fine. You do whatever he says. You go where you want.”

Of course, Rose and I were now equally upset that we’d given Thakur the impression that he was redundant, and had been ousted in importance – which was obviously not the case.

Only now, with some distance, can I see it more as a telenovella. But at the time, I was really upset by it: and Rose too – eventually we sorted things out, after a long chat with Thakur – and smoothed things over.

After all the upset, we decided to clear the air and explore Tatopani a bit, just Thakur, Rose and I. And the main show in town, of course was its namesake: the hot springs.

And it was there, after a nice relaxing soak that followed a big blow up and a long conversation ironing out misunderstandings and hurt feelings that Thakur, unexpectedly put his arm around me and I unwittingly brought the day full circle, reacting as calmly as if I were watching a busload of passengers cross a waterfall:

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Nothing says friendship like anxiety. Clearly my nerves were still on edge.

Next stop 26hours of straight rain in a tiny village, which was a snowstorm at the highest part of the Circuit – Thorung La pass – where we came from five days earlier, and would later become Nepal’s biggest trekking tragedy to date.