…despite the grueling 20 hours from Delhi to Amsterdam to Seattle, sitting bolt upright while watching movies I’d never think of paying to see, in the hopes that they’d put me to sleep. Dream on, Meg, which was the only dreaming I did! I survived the interminable security checks and tortoise-like behavior of unsmiling customs and passport personnel, the incredibly awful food (Weight Watchers take note…there may be a solution you’re missing), and the even worse jetlag upon returning that I can’t seem to lick no matter how many times I travel to Asia.
I will say that Cary and I lucked out on the way over just before Thanksgiving, when an almost empty Delta flight on the Amsterdam leg allowed us each a row of seats in which to lie down. And on the way back we perfected a procedure to get priority seating and circumvent the mile-long waiting lines at the terminal. “Just use your old lady routine, Mom. Puleeze? And try to look a little frail.” It worked, but I still feel guilty. It’s Cary, however, who will suffer the demerits in the next life, for it was her idea. I’ve been told, not always subtly, that I’m verbose at times, and admonished to start at the end of the story…to keep the reader from lapsing into a coma.
I have taken this advice to heart so will treat you to the final leg of my recent trip, starting at the Shechen Guest House in Boudhanath near Kathmandu and into the glorious Yolmo/Helambu region of Nepal. This was the trip I missed last year when I injured my knee in Bhutan. Poinsettias abound at the Shechen Guest House in Boudhanath, just in time for Christmas!
Before I start I must say a word about our flight on Jet Airways from Delhi to Kathmandu. After all the terrible things I’ve said about the food on our other flights, this was a radical change. The minute the door closed several well-groomed stewards raced down the aisle waving Carlsberg beer (in India?). Then followed a full meal, good curd, and real chocolate pudding. All in the space of an hour. As we left the plane Cary said to the smiling stewards, “After watching you sprint for the last hour, I wonder if you’ve ever thought of trying out for the Olympics.”
You’d think after twenty-eight years of bumping around Nepal in buses and cars of questionable quality I’d say “Enough already,” but hope springs eternal and every year a few more roads are surfaced that were, previously, back-breakers. And every year I get older and become more adept at holding myself up off the seats just high enough that I don’t bang my head on the roof. I also was lucky to drive in a larger car that had handholds above the doors, and not a bus.
I can’t believe that after I touted the warm sunny weather in Nepal it should start to rain on the first day of our departure for the tiny village of Tarkye Gang, where we were to begin trekking. There was even fresh snow on Mustang and the surrounding mountains. But after all, you say, it IS December in Nepal…and you would be right.
Our driver from Boudha to Tarkye Gang, a matter of only 77 miles that took over five hours, was a radiantly cheerful fellow who didn’t seem to mind the road conditions. He drove a Nissan four-wheel drive, where in order to get all four wheels engaged, he had to stop the car, get out and lock the front wheels. This occurred several times when we got stuck in the mud on steep inclines. What a hassle! But nothing seemed to faze him!
He informed us that he was taking the lower road through Bhaktapur and Dhulikhel, because the roads higher up (which we took on our return trip) were too perilous in this weather. Worse than these? How is that possible?
Our first stop was for breakfast at an open-air restaurant filled with men. Everyone had long skinny loaves of bread that looked like pastry, and, as local custom would have it, they were dipping them into their tea. I asked Ram if I could have some eggs and coffee and while he was scrambling to find some, we decided to try our hand at the bread dipping…carefully. Soon we were encircled by flakes of pastry, which filled the table and spilled onto the floor. What were we doing wrong? Nobody else was making such a mess. Fortunately, birds came to our rescue and cleaned it all up. We were perched on the edge of a cliff and by the number of cartons of empty whiskey bottles piled high outside, I’d say this was a very popular hangout.
The weather worsened as we drove higher, but we could see the outline of the mountains and the neatly terraced fields through the mist.
When we took time out for lunch at Thimbu we noticed a bus struggling around the corner below us. How it had navigated over the narrow track and avoided going over the cliff amazed me. The driver had to stop in town and turn around. That’s as far as he dared go. When the locals had boarded, the bus slowly made its way back down the slippery mud and rocks that served as a road. We watched incredulously.
Pictures cannot do justice to these roads! You have to feel them, experience them. Several times I was sure we’d have to get out and push. Fortunately, the rocks helped stop the spinning wheels whenever we’d slide backward. It would be several days before any bus could pass.
This was especially poignant when we discovered that an Indian wedding was in full swing when we arrived at our proposed guesthouse in the small village of Tarkye Gang. All the guests would have to negotiate that road by foot down to Thimbu the next day. But nobody seemed to care. They were eating and drinking, toasting and dancing, and immediately invited us to share in the festivities, which continued until 3 AM. We were touched by their hospitality, but declined. The celebration would have to continue without us.
Our new guesthouse was a treasure: a large dining/kitchen area, an open stairway that led to several bedrooms, and a Western toilet (hurray!). There is no central heating in any of the places we stayed, so it was great to sit near the fire in the dining area and get out of the incessant rain.
The next morning we awoke to clear skies, but were admonished not to climb Ama Yangri, our goal for the day, because of heavy snow and ice. It is a sacred mountain and considered the female protector of this area, dedicated to contemplation and reflection. Cary had climbed it last year and wanted to share the experience with me. This was a big disappointment for both of us. The swings in the weather were such that by midday the sun was so hot that we had to climb in shirt sleeves. It took us seven hours to reach our destiny, a picturesque farming community high in the mountains.
Yet to come…photos of our climb and our day in Upper Melamchi. Stay tuned….