Our visit to Khamding

I left you a few days ago with the hope that a vehicle with at least six seat belts would be hired for our long drive to Khamding. I’m sure no one will be surprised to hear that at 5:45 a.m. our vehicle arrived with seat belts for driver and front seat passenger only. The math is fairly simple. We were five seatbelts short. Why this was presented as an option, after we each paid and additional US$35.00 for a vehicle with seatbelts for six passengers is beyond me.

Thus it is here.

Despite the extra payment and despite Binod spending over an hour on the phone the previous evening, a vehicle unsuited to holding a driver plus seven passengers – the six of us and Tendi – had appeared. The expectation was that we’d quietly climb in. Even without seatbelts, there was only adequate room for four passengers.

Where is the logic?

Four hours later we left in a vehicle somewhat better suited to the journey. There were seatbelts for four passengers. The back seat was seatbeltless and cramped without adequate head or leg room. We embarked on a twelve hour journey over rough, narrow, winding roads with Tendi, Brenda and I crammed into the back seat. Jim took the front seat and with that responsibility of co-driver. He helped our wonderful driver spot trucks and busses roaring around blind corners on our side of the road, encouraged a slightly more sedate speed and upon our return helped navigate through dense fog. Thank you Jim!

The trip from Kathmandu to Khamding is not for the faint of heart. We bounced along roads with broken edges that twisted above precipitous drops. The road is generally wide enough for one and a half vehicles. Passing oncoming traffic requires considerable skill from the drivers and elicits a degree of nervousness from the passengers.

Due to our late start we could not make the trip in one day. We stopped just before night fall in Okhaldhunga. This is an unattractive truck stop ramble-sham place with no redeeming qualities other than the kind and gentle hotel owner who welcomed us to his humble establishment with slippers and a roll of toilet paper for each of our three rooms.

The next morning before our departure, the owner wanted group photos and draped khatas around all our necks. Very lovely gesture.

We duly arrived in Khamding after enduring the final few kms along a wildly bumpy dirt track. We stopped on the way for some magnificent views of Mount Everest.

After the required cup of tea at Tendi’s brother’s place, we trooped down to Tendi and Lhamu’s farm. On the way I met Nawa, my porter from my first trek in Nepal a few years ago. He’s recently returned from working for three years in Malaysia in a kitchen. He now has a house, farm land and three cows and is very happy to be home with his wife and son.

Soon two tents were set up on Tendi and Lhamu’s front terrace for Doug and Joanne and Jim and Claire. Brenda and I are sharing the family’s accommodation in the dining room.

I popped down to the next farm house to visit with Tendi’s mum and dad. The others joined us and we sat in the sun of their courtyard while mama made us hard boiled eggs. Papa gave us each a blessing then we returned back up to Tendi and Lhamu’s for lunch.

Being served food and drink is an integral part of a visit to a Sherpa village.

After lunch we head up to the school for a ceremony. We have contributed the funds to purchase 85 back packs for the school children. Tendi has had them made and emblazoned with “Sponsored by Canadian Friends” by an organization supporting children with disabilities. We’ve also bought enough exercise books and pens for each child to receive three of each. Comox Avenue Dental Clinic has donated 250 toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste so we will be handing those out as well. Friends of Jim’s and my friend Marianne have also made financial donations.

We arrive through a red and white arch and as we walk in we are showered with marigold petals. We take our seats. We have chairs. The dignitaries have chairs. The children and several parents sit in a large circle on benches.The speeches begin. They go on and on. We are all draped with khatas and marigold garlands until mounds of them are piled around our necks and heads. Then more speeches. And more speeches. And longer speeches. Between the speeches children sing and dance. Thankfully the sun shines warmly and it’s not windy so we sit comfortably and patiently wait for the speakers to run out of things to say. What they are on about is a mystery as we understand only a very few words. Every once in a while we here “Canada” and Tendi’s name is mentioned several times.

Finally it is time to give out the gifts.

We line up and hand out the gifts to every child in the village. Even the toddlers are getting backpacks. This is not quite as expected, but what is in Nepal?

We have enough toothbrushes and toothpaste to give to many parents as well. Dental hygiene here is generally really poor so this is a good thing! Jim and I make the financial donations at the end.

We remove our heavy loads of garlands and climb up to Uncle Lakpa’s smoke filled house for tea. Lakpa was our assistant guide on the trek. Various of our porters were also in attendance at the ceremony. Kumar’s Dad is the school principal. My guide, Puri, from previous treks came down and is now stoking the fire for boiling water.

We sit in the smoky room and drink tea until our eyes smart and we’re coughing, then head back to Lhamu and Tendi’s place.

Soon Pasang – Brenda’s porter – is cooking us dinner with Nima’s assistance. Nima is Tendi’s youngest son and was my porter.

Are you getting the sense that this is a village affair?

We’re all in bed pretty early and once they’ve got us Canadians safely out of the way, the family cooks their own dinner and gathers in the kitchen.

The next day we walk up to visit the village’s new Gompa. A Gompa is a monastery. It has a meeting room downstairs and the prayer room above. It was funded and built by the villagers. There is still some more interior painting to be done and the building is clearly a work of community cooperation and pride.

Our next stop is to see the new hospital which is being built on the other side of town. We were fascinated to see the cinder building bricks being made from scratch two at a time. Labour intensive. The hospital seems like it will be quite large once it’s complete but there are currently only cinder brick walls with door and window frames. Everyone seems to think it will be complete within a three months. I can’t see that happening.

We stop in at Lakpa for tea which becomes lunch – this time we’re sent upstairs in a smoke free room. Lakpa, Pasang, Nima, Tendi and Puri are all involved in the cooking and serving. As usual once we are dealt with, they look after their own needs.

This is always disconcerting. As guests, we are served first and separately. Nothing we can do can change this custom.

Our next stop is to the Medical clinic where I deliver a donation made by Marianne. This is gratefully received but with no ceremony as a woman awaits treatment for her crushed fingers.

On our way back to Tendi and Lhamu’s we make an impromptu stop at the school visiting a couple of class rooms and disrupting a class six English lesson. There are six of us and seven students.

Back at Tendi’s we take on the task of cutting fire wood for Lhamu. She has just received a smokeless stove. This is part of an initiative to decrease smoke in villages and homes. The idea is brilliant but the design not so. The stove is smaller than her old clay oven. She doesn’t have the familiar cooking surfaces to prepare food,she has less space and the wood needs to be half the already cut length.

It is labour intensive to gather enough wood for a cold winter. Now cutting all the wood for these new stoves will take twice as long as the pieces need to be shorter. Who figured that efficiency out? As I say – brilliant idea, lousy execution.

We have a fun wood sawing party and soon a new wood stack of shorter wood rises. This gift of doing something feels exactly right. We don’t get it all cut because Lhamu asks us to stop after a few hours but we’ve certainly saved her a lot of work.

We gather in the kitchen, drink tea and kibitz while Pasang, Nima, Lakpa and Tendi make us momos for dinner. This is labour intensive and takes considerable time. Tendi had asked us earlier if we wanted chicken and as some of us are vegetarian, we’ve said no to the chicken. He’s relayed this message to the potential provider of the bird.

We enjoy the best momos of the trip then the campers retire to their tents while Brenda and I play cards with Nima in the dining room.

Mysterious happenings take place outside. Suddenly Tendi opens his side door and retrieves a chicken carcass and enormous curved knife.

I’m so shocked I scream at the alarming sight of blood and bits dripping from the bird.

Tendi rushes it into the kitchen and there it is soon being chopped to bits by Lakpa and Pasang. We can hear the thumping as they do the butchering.

Tendi is not too happy. He keeps telling us he’s sorry for this terrible thing. Lhamu doesn’t eat meat, neither does Nima. Tendi doesn’t eat it on day of slaughter. Lakpa and Pasang seem to not want to eat it either, yet they spend some time cooking the thing in Lhamu’s pressure cooker. Later, Brenda and I are presented with bowls of chicken soup. She doesn’t eat meat, and is totally horrified as she looks into the bowl and sees the bony chunks of chicken floating around. I’m full from dinner and am still disturbed by the bloody and sudden arrival. We decline.

The chicken remains in the pressure cooker for the rest of the night and is still there when we leave the village at two p.m. the following day.

It seems a teacher wanted us to have a chicken and didn’t take our “no thanks” seriously. Now poor Lhamu is left with having to get rid of the mess and restore her dear rice cooker to its former greaseless state.

On our last day we go for a walk up to Pasang’s house – it takes about an hour to get there.

We enjoy a delicious lunch of dhal bhat – again in isolation from the family. It really is a different way of being entertained.

After walking back it’s time to leave. Soon we are up at the vehicle, more khatas are being draped around our necks and then we head back towards Kathmandu.

We stop in Okhaldhunga for the night and are in Kathmandu by 3:30 the next day. (Yesterday)

We celebrate our safe return with beers and french fries before going out for dinner.

Today Brenda, Doug and Joanne and I did some last bits of shopping then spent the afternoon relaxing in the serene Garden of Dreams. While there, I wrote this.

I’ve not proof read. It’s time to shower and pack last things before heading for dinner then to the airport for our journey home.

Apologies for the many typos – the iPad isn’t the easiest thing to write on!

I expect this will be the last missive from this trip.

I will try to send some pictures from Hong Kong if the internet is good enough.

By the way – I received an email this morning telling me that my book – Pomegranates at 4800 Metres is published and will be shipped for arrival on 23 November.

Yet an other adventure is about to begin! The owner of my favourite bookstore in Kathmandu told me today they will carry the books.

Good night from Kathmandu. Thank you for reading and for your comments. Apologies for not responding to them all. Poor internet has made it difficult to do so.

Return to Kathmandu

Those of you who have travelled to Nepal will know that things seldom happen here as arranged.

Our upscale – meaning with good tires, suspension, seatbelts, operational doors, air conditioning etc – was to pick us up at 9 a.m. from Sapana Village. After our seven hour delay leaving Pokhara, I checked this twice with two different people and was confident we’d not be disappointed.

Oh silly me!

A van appeared at just before 9:30. It was obviously not ours as it was clearly not a tourist vehicle. It was small and dilapidated.

Wrong.

It was our van. Jim and I walked around it. It did have four tires and a spare on the roof. It had so many dints, it had a huge crack in the front window, it had no seatbelts, a broken – missing – door handle for the only passenger door. It was filthy. The air conditioning did not work. We climbed in.

The driver was not a tourist driver either. We all arrived in Kathmandu safely and quite a bit quicker than expected. The drivers here are skilled at passing on blind corners and squeezing in between trucks when the oncoming traffic is bigger. They manage to not run over goats and children scampering along the road. Tourist drivers tend to keep the more risky manoeuvres to a minimum. This guy was intent on delivering his cargo of six tourists and their stuff as quickly as possible safely be damned.

He took a short cut around busy traffic on the outskirts of Kathmandu that was similar to an exciting roller coaster ride. We did see a nice bit of Kathmandu’s suburban sprawl.

About 300 metres short of our hotel a police woman pulled him over and took his drivers licence. As far as we can tell this was because he had an illegal cargo of tourists which neither he nor his van were licensed to carry. He was allowed to continue to the hotel so we don’t know the outcome as she retained his drivers license.

Like the fellow who drove us to Lumbini and on the Chitwan, this guy refused to listen to Jim showing him how to get to the hotel. Instead he made numerous phone calls while driving. Finally Binod showed up on his motorcycle and led him the last couple hundred metres. Unnecessary but at least Binod was able to see for himself how badly he and we had been ripped off. Binod had of course paid for the tourist van to pick us up. Someone nicely pocketed the likely considerable difference in price.

Thus it can be here.

We had a late lunch in our Florid Hotel garden restaurant then set off to do a bit of shopping. Claire and Jim were still shopping when the rest of us sat down for dinner sometime after six!

They had not returned by the time the rest of us went to bed! Jim has taken to the art of haggling! OMG can he get a good deal!

Today is a chill day in Kathmandu. Well as chill as it can be in this chaotic city. Shopping and relaxing tops the agenda.

Tomorrow we head off for four days in Tendi’s home village Khamding. There will be no internet there so this is likely the last missive from me until our return.

Tendi has been given instructions to hire a Jeep with seatbelts and tires with treads. We’ll see how that goes!

Elephant or Jeep Safari or Just Stay in the Comfort of the Lodge?

The day before yesterday we enjoyed riding elephants into the jungle. We saw a couple of rhinos, some spotted deer and several birds.

There were also the disturbing sights of elephants loaded down with four tourists per basket. Some of these people were quite loud but thankfully we were able to stay away from them except when gathered around to see the rhinos.

The ethics of the ride remain controversial. At the moment, this is the only way the owners can afford the expense of keeping their elephants. These are domestic animals so unless a sanctuary is created for them, there aren’t a lot of options. One can but hope that one day there will be the will and funds for these animals to retire to an open living natural environment.

The elephants that live here at Sapana Village seem well treated and have ample free time.

We’ve spent the better part of today watching the young bull, in particular, knock down small trees and generally be a rambunctious child. He’ll push a tree over. Straddle it. Walk along it then let it snap back up once he’s clear. This seems to amuse him as he does the same or similar manoeuvre over and over.

Yesterday we ate an early breakfast and left here in a Jeep at 7 am. We waited at a river crossing for an hour while our guide got tickets to enter the national park. We waited again at the river for a dug out canoe to ferry us across the crocodile infested river. There was only one croc in evidence.

Once on the other side we finally climbed onto the back of a pickup truck outfitted with three sets of tiered seats. Thus began a long day of bumpy driving along narrow roads through Chitwan National Park. We drove about 35 kms into the park and were finally rewarded with a black rhino sighting. It was a large beast placidly standing shoulder deep in a pond. Other than that we saw a large snake skin – snake thankfully not in evidence as we were told it was the skin of a king cobra. Made us all look around very carefully when we had our comfort stops!

There were some spotted deer, some spiders, a monitor lizard, a wild elephant and a few birds. The jungle itself was interesting with varied vegetation but it was quite a lot of driving for not much excitement.

Hanging around here today was much more interesting. I’ve already sent pictures of the rascally little bull elephant. He provided hours of entertainment.

Brenda has just arrived – time for happy hour.

11 November – Remembrance Day

We wake to the warmth of a jungle morning and spend it relaxing. Brenda and I while away a couple of hours by the river watching a couple of birds. Then an elephant is brought down to bathe. A couple of young tourists help splash water on him. This elephant is five and he was born just after my dad and I were here five years ago. He’s a handsome youngster with newly sprouting sharp white tusks. He puts up with the tourists with the typical grace of a toddler who would rather be playing somewhere else. While we watch the women in the river with the elephant, we watch a bundle of intestines float past. Whether from a human or crocodile slaughtered animal we know not.

In the afternoon we go for an elephant safari. We have the three Sapana elephants and are two per elephant. Most of the other elephants are loaded down with four tourists per basket. We travel in greater comfort for several reasons. We see a couple of types of dear, peacocks, two rhinos and a croc. Our elephants rumble and tremble over the croc sighting. They are clearly concerned. They also have a rumble fest over something else in the jungle that we don’t see. Brenda and I imagine a tiger sitting on a tree branch above us but of course see no such thing.

We feed our elephants bananas upon our return and thank them for the great ride.

Upon return to our lodge we lay about sipping gin and tonics until dinner.

After dinner we honour Remembrance Day. We recite in Flanders Fields. Sing God Save the Queen and Oh Canada. Have a minute of silence and hum taps. A small tribute in a far away foreign land for brave souls who served and died in foreign lands. We remember them. We honour them. We do not forget their sacrifice.

Good night from Chitwan, Nepal.

Pokhara – Lumbini – Chitwan

Traveling during festivals in Nepal can be difficult because everyone is traveling and no one is driving! Getting a driver to take us to Lumbini is next to impossible. The plan was for us to depart Pokhara at 8 a.m. but due to festival activities and commitments we don’t get a driver until 1:30. The one we do get is a city bus driver in Pokhara. He tells Jim he stepped in at the last moment because the driver we should have had is drunk. He is an excellent driver but doesn’t know how to get to Lumbini. Thankfully Jim has Maps Me on his phone and I have Pocket Earth on my I Pad. On the way to Lumbini, the driver is very resistant to back seat navigation. When we leave Lumbini to go to Chitwan he is similarly directionally challenged but Jim sits up in the front seat and he is then willing to follow Jim’s directions.

We are now safely and happily in Chitwan, but first – about our visit in Lumbini.

It takes us seven hours to get there. Distance – approximately 300 kms. The roads here are dreadful. At one point we stop at a dubious looking place for a relief break and surprisingly the toilet is very clean. So we all have small cooked snacks at the tiny restaurant. Jim also buys everyone bags of salty junk food snacks – really yummy! We devour everything. By the time we climb back in the van it is dark. The road ahead winds up through some hills, there are no cats eyes, there are enormous potholes, the road is narrow, oncoming traffic keeps high beams on….. we finally arrive in Chitwan at 8:30 p.m.

Our Hotel Ananda Inn seems fine at first but Jim and Claire discover unchanged sheets on their bed. Gross.

In the morning we have an early breakfast and meet our Lumbini guide. Tendi gives him a briefing to not talk too much but to let us see as much as possible in the short time we now have. He does a good job. We see Buddha’s recorded place of birth then rent some electric rickshaws with drivers to whisk us to several of the national temples throughout the park. Germany has a stunning complex. Some other nations have nice temples sitting in weedy unkempt grounds. The park complex itself is quite ramble-sham. The potentially attractive canal is bordered by crumbling wide avenues. The area could be outstandingly beautiful but misses the mark due to inadequate maintenance and planning.

Our guide has a surprise. He takes us to the Canadian temple – which is lovely and sits in clean maintained grounds. Here we have tea with the head monk. He has been to Vancouver and Victoria. We have an enjoyable visit and discover Canadians are welcome to stay overnight. The complex has 18 twin bed rooms and I’m sure the sheets are washed between guests!

We return to the hotel to gather luggage from our rooms and have lunch, then climb back in our van to head to Chitwan.

We arrive before dark at about 5:30. The manager Naran is still here and remembers me from past visits. We’re given a warm welcome, our rooms are lovely and we are soon gathering for dinner and beers.

Our itinerary for the next few days is to go on a day long jungle safari, ride elephants and relax.

For now – good morning from Sapana Village Lodge in lovely steamy warm Chitwan.