I’m back! Laptop is fixed. Found good wi-fi in Jakarta, Indonesia. The blog rolls on!
Day 78 – Location: Kathmandu, Nepal
I left the hotel at 6:30am, wandering through the already busy streets and found a taxi to Machhapuchre bus stand on the outskirts of town, where I met Sophie and Jhabraj. The bus stand was the usual chaotic mix of buses, shouting conductors and roadside sellers combined with clouds of dust. Jhabraj warned us to watch our bags as bag theft is a problem here. One time he had even warned a woman and then shortly afterwards had asked her where her bag was – she had been chatting to a friend and it had literally been stolen from in front of her feet because she was so engrossed in conversation (women!). Bags safe, we boarded a mini bus and started on the 4 hour journey north to Kalikastan. It was full and as usual me and Sophie were the only tourists. The road was narrow and bumpy and we were squashed in the back row with our outlandish westerner legs. We climbed steadily up, not seeing far over the smog of Kathmandu until the next valley when we broke through the smog layer – and the air finally became clear. You could see the pollution haze hovering above Kathmandu. My first thought was “I’ve been breathing that for weeks now”, my second thought was a more excited “when I blow my nose, maybe black goo won’t come out any more!”.
We had great views from the road which meandered along the side of forested hills. From here we could see a great valley with three clumps of snow- capped Himalayas towering over it all, we could see for probably hundreds of miles from here. Terrace farming was dotted around the landscape. We descended the valley hugging the hillside for the next hour, passing through a village where they were drying a load of vegetables, and climbed the other side of the valley. We went through a number of police checkpoints which Jhabraj explained are for them to check the drivers’ licenses. It’s to cut down on the many accidents that happen on this road, as often the bus conductors take over the driving – they have less experience and their mistakes have caused crashes. We zig-zagged around hairpins cimbing up and up, eventually reaching Kalikastan, a small town, around midday. Some other tourists were here setting off on treks in the Langtang area. From here we could see tree-topped ridgelines in all directions but the town obscured the view into the valleys around us.
We had a quick cup of masala tea whilst the locals ogled us, and then set off with our bags on the short walk to Jhabraj’s village – Karmidanda. We walked along a dirt road and then down a footpath through a pine forest scattered with big flat rocks. It was very alpine. In breaks in the trees was an impressive view far into the valley below; with countryside and terrace farming eventually reaching a turqoise river snaking into the distance. On the other side of the valley were massive cliffs and a green ridgeline, little villages were visible clinging onto the steep hillside. After twenty minutes we emerged from the forest into terraced farmland and a scattering of houses on the hillside, and soon reached Jhabrajs house.
Jabrjaj’s wife, Januka, and his 15 year old son, Awijit, greeted us. Januka, a warm and cheerful woman in her late 30s speaks a few words of English and Awijit, a lanky lad with his father’s looks, is quite fluent. Januka’s 80 year old mother (they call her “Ama” which means mother) also lives here but she doesn’t speak any English. She looked remarkably good for her age, draped in a tradional shawl and was very active, collecting and carrying big bundles of grass for the animals every day.
The Neupani family house was a traditional style country house, made of stone with wooden beams. It was painted white on the top half, brown on the bottom, and the doors and shutters were wooden and basic. A small, orangey brown dirt yard in front of the house was lined with a low wall and beyond this were trees and terraced fields, looking down onto more houses below, and a view across to the other side of the mighty valley through the trees. A simple kitchen contained an open fireplace, gas stove and cabinets. A small outhouse contained the toilet and the main water supply on its roof – a water tank with hoses leading outside and to the outhouse. This tank is refilled three times a day from the mains. Wooden stairs from the yard led to the covered balcony of the first floor of the house, which had more rooms. The floors in the house had mats but no carpets, but the family had electricity, a TV, and even a computer which could get internet via a dial-up connection. Attached to the house was an open-fronted animal shelter in which two female oxen, an ox calf and a female goat were tied. As Jhabraj called the oxen “cows”, I’ll do the same. Below the shelter was a small patch of land where they grew vegetables.
We hung out in the yard for a while. Januka brought us plates of fresh curd (from their cows of course) with dry beaten rice. With added sugar it was a tasty combination, a bit like cereal. A five-year old boy from a nearby house called Jeneet was hanging around. Sophie had told me about him (she has lived in the village for a few weeks now), and said he is quite a character. Today he was wearing a smart suit (already quite dirty) and looked deadly serious and angry, glaring at us. But, occasionally, someone would say or do something that would make him break into a big smile. His facial expressions were hilarious!
The Neupanis also had two goat kids, belonging to the momma goat in the animal shed. They were only three weeks old and were free to “roam” – but by this I mean sprinting around, jumping onto and off anything they could, and even doing acrobatic spins when they were in midair! The boy goat was always chasing his sister and trying to hump her, which seemed to annoy her. She understandably kept trying to get away from him but he never gave up. Only three weeks old and already incestuous sex is on his mind! They were brilliant fun to watch and constantly made us laugh, running all over the place, knocking over things, falling over and generally causing havok!
Jhabraj took me on a walk through part of the village. Most of the houses were similar to his. We passed locals, said hello, and Jhabraj would chat to his neighbours. We walked past a small rice mill – (they had a posh colourful modern-style Nepali house because they were wealthy) and a few houses surrounded by thin terraced fields, then a little carpenters who were buzzing away, to a spot where we met a dirt road under a big bamboo tree. From here we could see up and down the big valley, a snowy peak and ridge at the top, and steep angular hills descending to the winding river far below. The hills were completely covered in terrace farming on ridiclously steep inclines. Some went right to the cliff edge. A man passed us carrying two big tree trunks on his back, going to the carpenters. They looked really heavy!
We walked back down to a house where there a group was hanging out in the yard. One lady was lying down, covered by a blanket and her leg was in plaster. A few days ago she’d been hit on the head by a tree being felled, she’d been badly concussed and broken her leg. She’d had to be taken by ambulance to Kathmandu where they treated her. They’d let her out but she still had pain along one side of her body. Some adults were peeling a big pile of garlic cloves. Jhabraj chatted to them and we were offered a cup of rakshi, Nepali homebrew millet whiskey. It wasn’t bad and we stayed for another cup. I could only smile and nod as Jhabraj explained who I was, not many of the villagers speak much English.
On the way back to the house we ran into an old man stooped over with a cane, who spoke concernedly to my host. Jhabraj explained this was the father of the man who’d carried the logs earlier. He was pleading with Jhabraj to have words with his son (who must be over 40), because he has no other family – his son is his sole supporter. Last night and all of today he hadn’t eaten anything, normally his son prepares food for him but he’d been off drinking and only made food for himself! Jhabraj told me the son is a bit of an alcoholic and they’ve had the same problem with this guy before. Jhabraj is a volunteer social worker for the community and is very well respected in the village – if there’s a problem people always come to him for advice or ask him to mediate for disputes. People even come from other villages because of his reputation for solving people problems. Jhabraj said he’d get together with some other village members and decide what to do about the son neglecting his father. All is not rosy in this peaceful village after all!
We chilled out in the yard for the rest of the afternoon. Sophie took a shower whilst it was still warm. They don’t have a proper shower so it’s a case of standing under a hose spouting out cold water. The sun is hot up here every day so it’s good to wash whilst it’s light, the water warms up slightly in the tank, and you get a chance to warm up outside afterwards. As the sun started going down I went for a walk with my camera to the viewpoint we’d been to earlier. I then realized I’d brought my tripod but not the attachment for the camera to fix to it. Oops. So some handheld sunset shots would have to do. Every evening there is a great sunset here – everything is bathed in orange light and the hills are silhouetted on the other side of the valley, individual trees outlines can be seen lined along the ridge-tops.
Back at the house we sat and ate dahl bhat followed by a cup of hot milk. Me and Jhabraj had cups of rakshi. He doesn’t make it himself but he takes millet from his fields to his neighbours’ house who have the necessary equipment to create it. It’s made by boiling the crop, leaving it to ferment, and then boiling it again. The evaporation is caught by a covering and then it drips down into a bowl to give the finished product. The strength varies depending on how watered down it is, Jhabraj’s batch was medium strength and quite tasty.
Every day there’s a bunch of chores to care for the animals. Jabrjaj’s mother brought two backloads of grass and leaves for their evening meal, and they get the same in the morning. During the day they get water mixed with salt and flour. Jhabraj milks the cows in the morning and evening, and I watched him at work. First he cleaned the udders with water and then used two hands, each milking a teat. Me and Sophie both had a try. It was easy for the first squirt but then there’s a tricky knack to teasing the milk out. Jhabraj was quite rough with it but we saw that was nothing compared to the calfs butting when she was released to get her mum’s milk! Jhabraj was like a machine with his milking. He said that each cow gives between 4-8 litres a day, and his family uses the milk for themselves. The goats eventually be used for meat or sold.
Once it got dark, Jhabraj put the goat kids and the calf into a room in the house, and shut the mother goat in a shed – to protect them from the wild leopards that roam the area. Believe it or not that’s why there’s no dogs in this village, Jhabraj says the leopards kill them! He told me about one time he and Januka were sitting at home, heard a commotion in the shelter, and ran to find a leopard fleeing – in just a few seconds it had torn the throat out of one of their goats! Now they play it safe at night when the predators are active.
As it got dark we stacked on our clothing layers, it gets really cold very quickly. I was glad of my new goosedown jacket! After dinner we sat chatting, and I decided to try some cannibas (or ganja as they call it). The previous tenant had smoked it all the time and had left a chillum (a small pipe) for smoking it. He’d also left some dried marujana plants upstairs. One of Jhabraj’s friends was over and he stripped the seeds off the stem – which pop if you leave them in the mix. I filled the chillum and smoked away. I’ve smoked joints with leaves in the past and from them, been quite stoned. I wasn’t getting any effect from this (normally it takes effect fairly quickly), so over twenty minutes I smoked the whole pipe. This turned out to be a big mistake!
We had an unexpected visitor. One of Jhabrajs’ colleagues from school (Jhabraj is an English teacher) arrived and immediately we could tell he was completely wasted. He could hardly walk but was very merry and quite twitchy. We all couldn’t stop laughing at him as he tried to converse with us animatedly – he kept apologizing and laughing about his drunken state. Jhabraj told us he sometimes gets like this as he has troubles at home, fortunately he’s a very happy drunk though. It was even more funny because Jhabraj said that in school he is a very serious man who normally doesn’t speak to anyone!
Whilst we were being chatted to by this guy (it wasn’t a conversation!) the ganja started to kick in, mildly at first and then really strong. Everything started spinning! I had space cakes (hash cakes) once in Amsterdam and recognized the signs. I was feeling really stoned and after politely humouring the drunk guy eventually I couldn’t take the sensory input any more and was feeling sick, so I excused myself and went to lie down hoping it would pass after an hour or two, I felt awful. Sophie said later she knew I was really stoned because I was acting so seriously towards the completely absurd drunk guy – in contrast everyone else couldn’t stop laughing at him!
I managed to get into bed and lay there as the world spun around me and my thoughts went all over the place. I’d had way too much and started to get the classic symptoms of a bad trip – paranoia, the shakes, visions and thoughts which start off fine, but somehow always twist into something nasty, and an overwhelming nausea which I was fighting hard to control and not think about (not easy when you’re tripping!). I managed to get up and ask Jhabraj for a bucket in case I was sick. Time slowed to a standstill and I just wanted it to stop or get to the “good” part. When I’d had space cakes the first few hours had been awful, and after that it mellowed out and it was good for a bit. Unfortunately that only happened for a few brief periods this time around, the rest was pretty nasty. I put my iPod on in the hopes that the music would sooth me a bit. It helped a little but only the calmer songs. The nausea started to fade though, and eventually I fell asleep. I’d been tripping for about 4 hours! Next time I’ll have to treat raw ganja with the respect it deserves and know my limits!