Existential Panic World Tour Part 4: How Jon Got His Groove Back or the Himalaya Shuffle

Three Nepali who asked for me to take their pictures.

You will all be happy to know that my intestinal tract no longer reacts like a spooked animal to food, though I must say I’m become much more paranoid about what I put in my mouth now.

Anyway, I’ve just returned from a short hike around the Kathmandu valley with the ever-perky “Mr. Nepal.” We left the smoggy haze of Kathmandu for Bhaktapur (where “The Little Buddha” was filmed) and began our hike for Nagakot which reputedly affords a spectacular view of the Himalayas, including Everest. Now, since I arrived in Nepal I had yet to see real dipped in the wool mountain. It being the tail end of the monsoon season, the Kathmandu valley was blanketed with a thick layer of clouds every day. I was beginning to think that the Himalayas were, in fact, an elaborate ruse devised by the tourist board.

Outside of Bhaktapur, Udhap (aka Mr. Nepal) asked a goat herder which was the best path to Nagakot since his favorite trail had been washed out from monsoonal rains. He lead us to one trail which probably was the fast route, because it went straight up the mountain. Panting and sweaty, we eventually stumbled onto the one and only paved road to Nagakot. We stopped by a food cart selling Fanta and coconut meat and checked our shoes and socks for leeches.

Like finding a wedding ring in your Ballpark frank, discovering a leech dangling from one of your appendages is one of life’s less pleasant experiences. Leeches are common in Nepal and India during the Monsoon and immediately after. They frequently hide in tall grass or they drop from trees. The earlobe, I heard is a favorite sucking ground. I always imagined leeches as looking like vampire slugs but, in fact,
having the privilege of looking at one up close as it worked its way up my shoe, they are actually quite small to begin with. Only until after they get a belly full of blood do they swell to slug sizes. I flicked a handful off my shoes, thinking that I had successfully thwarted the leech onslaught. It wasn’t until I reached the hotel and discovered that my sock was drenched in blood that I realized different.

Nagakot was a small village but it is slowly evolving into a tourist resort. A number of five star hotels have been built there, though during the off-season (e.g. during the monsoons) the place is empty. We stayed at a decidedly half star location called the Himalaya Resort. The room was carpeted in astro turf which didn’t hide the odd dead bug lying on the floor. The “resort” was perched right on a ridge that would have had a fantastic view. The clouds had rolled in though leaving the entire panorama white. Slowly though, as Udhap and the hotel’s owner beat each other in chess, the clouds parted revealing much of the valley below, yet they refused to show the Himalayas. “Don’t worry,” he said. “At dawn all will be clear.” That night, me being the only guest in the hotel, drank Nepali Rice spirits (think of sake and kerosene mixed) and looked at the valley in the moonlight. There was only a few light to be seen. I also learned that night that “Colorado” means “black penis” in Nepali.

When I groggily awoke, I discovered that it was of course that it was pissing down a cold hard rain. Hiking under such circumstances is risky at best, but since I left my fleece in Kathmandu, it was out of the question. So we caught a bus. It was pretty much what I imagined it would be like: toothless women with a pound of gold hanging from their noses clutching chickens to their laps; old men spitting out of the window; people hanging off the bus from the doors and roof. It was crowded, hot, and sweaty. As the bus snaked down the mountain road I oscillated from fits of terror to mere numbed detachment. The average Nepali road is as wide as an American driveway and full of every imaginable variety of vehicle, from rickshaw, to elaborately decorated truck, to scooters, to the odd Mercedes. The road is further clogged with pedestrians, cows, goats and anything else you can think of.

Back at Bhaktapur we changed buses for one bound for Dhulikhek on the highway to Tibet, which afford another alleged view of the Himalayas. We stayed at the Royal Inn Hotel which was booked full with a Nepali film crew who was shooting a movie there. That night Udhap and I played more chess with the director who was very, very drunk. Udhap and the other non-film stars had a very casual reaction to said stars. For example, Udhap once said referring to an youngish man sitting in the next table, “XXX is a good actor, but he hasn’t risen much in the business.” Then the man nods and says, “Yes, I haven’t risen much in the business.”

Before that though, I looked on the hotel’s roof deck to try to see the Himalayas. The rain had stopped but the clouds were still played peek-a-boo with the mountains.

I decided to walk about the village of Dhukilek. It was a charming place and aside from the odd Coca Cola advertisement probably looked much as it did three hundred years ago. No shops hawking email access or ten year olds hawking hash like in Kathmandu. I walked blithefully along, snapping pictures until I realized that my camera case had fallen off my camera. Backtracking I came upon a trio of women sitting on a towel in front of the local temple. She handed me my case, which apparently had dropped off right in front of them, but she also wanted me to take their pictures. She tried to communicate something else to me too but I couldn’t make out what it was. Soon a crowd developed around me and soon some guy who looked a lot like Bob Denver of Gillian’s Island fame translated in a circuitous manner. The women wanted me to send them the pictures. Ok, sure. Then they lead me to the local Hindu temple and asked, almost demanded, that I shoot them in front of a statue of Krishna. Soon my roll was spent and they eagerly wanted to know when they would get the photos. They gave me a remarkably vague address (behind the 3rd temple or something like that) and I beat a hasty retreat to the hotel.

At 5:30am the next day, today, Udhap beat on my door and said, “Hey Mountains!” Later that day, we climbed Dhulikhek “hill” which did give a jaw-dropping stunning, amazing view. At last.

Well, for the next three days I will be at Chitwan national park going on a safari. There I’ll see rhinos, barking deer (yes, that’s right, barking deer) and tigers in the wild. Then I’ll be gazing at Himalayas, and battling leeches on the Annapurna trail near Pokhara for a week.

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