Day 50 – Pokhara Region, Nepal.
Today I had a nice surprise, a visit to a local Nepali house to see the tradional lifestyle. My choice of a quiet place paid off and I slept for about ten hours, playing catchup after the terrible sleeps I’d had on the trek. Whilst I was having breakfast Shiba arrived on a motorbike. The previous day he’d invited me to visit his house. This morning he was in town anyway so dropped by to see if I wanted to join him. As my Swiss friends were off to the Pagoda today, which I’d already seen, I had no plan and so hopped on Shibas motorbike (which he borrows from a friend), and set off through Pokhara. We stopped for him to pay his electric bill, the reason for his visit, and then went out of Pokhara on the usual beeping, swerving experience of motorbiking in Nepal.
At the next town, maybe an hour away, we stopped a few times for Shiba to shop, whilst I wandered around. At one stop I found a football match with lots of spectators. One side was all black men so maybe another country’s team was visiting. Shiba tied some chicken wire to the back of the bike, for his neighbor. At another stop I was waiting in a bus shelter and a friendly old man chatted to me in simple English. When he found out I was British he started listing footballer names. I said I lived in Manchester and had seen Man United play which made him incredibly happy. I got the impression maybe he thought I played for the team or knew them personally!
We headed out of town into the countryside, passing lots of people in their best clothes heading to a nearby temple, as part of the Daisain festival celebrations. The women wore bright green or red saris sparkling with gold and silver. The road got rougher as we wound through flat rice fields and past the temple which had a big marquee outside with singing blasting from the loudspeakers. Sometimes kids would wave as we went past, we were definitely off the tourist circuit here.
The road went up along the valley side and we were constantly dodging potholes, buses and Nepali tractors. We descended into the next valley which was covered in rice fields. We had a near miss as Shiba turned down onto a dirt track and nearly smacked us against a wall. He clearly doesn’t ride the bike too often! This track wound through the rice fields and was very rocky and hard going as the bike passenger. On one section I had to get off as the bike wasn’t powerful enough to get up the slope, and when I got back on afterwards it toppled, nearly squashing us. We passed locals carrying grass and sickles, and Shiba greeted them. Soon we reached a collection of houses near the road and we stopped. I gratefully got off, my legs were killing me after being in a straddle position for two hours.
Shiba led me down to his house which was a basic affair similar to the ones we’d seen in the mountains, with a dusty porch, an outside water tap and a buffalo in an attached shed, whose eyes opened in alarm when she saw me.
Shiba’s two sons, 6 and 12 years old, plus another 6 year old friend greeted me, followed by Shiba’s wife.
His house was surrounded by rice fields and looked out to the valley with a nice view. After some hot buffalo milk from his buffalo, Shiba’s neighbor arrived who was a local IT teacher and spoke English. After chatting with him, Shiba and his wife went to work on their couple of rice fields, collecting the rice to dry.
I offered to help but Shiba was having none of it and tasked his 12 year old son to give me a tour of the area. His son spoke very good English for his age, and led me through the rice fields to the river in the valleys middle, telling me about the local people and his life. He was at private school, paid for by his father, and liked maths and science. He climbed a guava tree and picked us some juicy but bitter fruits to eat.
The rice paddies in the field weren’t ready for harvest yet and their muddy soil had little puddles. The fields were alive with grasshoppers everywhere. We found a little fish in one, who wouldn’t be around for long as they were drying up. At the river was a small white stork.
In a field nearby, we passed a local man who was threshing rice, who greeted us. We watched as he battered big clumps of it on the ground, dislodging the rice from the stems.
Up by the road we a family working together, who said hello. One guy carrying a massive load spoke English and let me take his photo.
Shiba’s son led me up the hill behind their house where we had nice views of the surrounding valley. We munched on a packet of instant noodles which he ate like crisps. Surprisingly as they were flavoured they weren’t too bad!
Up by a house in the woods a man called out to us and came jogging along the path. He wanted to invite me to have tea at his house, and he spoke English too. We went up to his house and chatted a bit, he lived there with his wife and son and although he was quite rich and owned two other houses elsewhere, he preferred this one as the air was clean outside of the city.
He offered that I could stay the night if I liked, and that he’d had an American stay last year. I got a call from Shiba saying that lunch was waiting for us so I had to apologise to the man and make a move, after taking some photos of him and his family.
Back at Shibas we had some noodles and biscuits. Shibas sons messed around and I joined them to watch some TV in Shibas bedroom. Then I showed them some photos on the computer which they loved. The camera was also fascinating to them.I spent a while transferring photos from the trekking to Shibas memory card so he could have them, as the kids played around me and messed around with my Kindle Touch which they loved.
By this point Shiba and his wife had made a good stack of rice to dry and he put a flower on top as a blessing. After a few days of drying, they’d get it taken to the local mill for shelling, and then it could be sold. He told me that rice is quite expensive to produce and hard work, without a great deal of profit.
Me and Shiba’s son chatted and he mucked out the buffalo, which wasn’t scared of me any more now she was used to me. She was a very friendly buffalo and the kids could hug her and run and hide behind her with no problems. We ate yet another meal, homemade roti (circular flat breads) with honey. This was prepared in a simple kitchen.
Upstairs was a nice loft full of drying corns. All water, drinking and otherwise, came from the outside tap, which Shiba pays a set price for water. The water is boiled for drinking. With my sunglasses on I joked I was a policeman. Shiba brought out a passport soon afterwards and said I could have it and maybe I could get him into the UK. I wasn’t sure if he was serious or not but tried to explain I wasn’t in any position to help him. I wondered if the hospitality was so I could help get Shiba into the UK, as it’s very hard for Nepali to get in. Even if this was the case they were still a very nice family and I wouldn’t have begrudged them for it.
The sun was getting low and I had to get back. The motorbike ride in the dim light was pretty hairy. The bike stalled quite a few times leaving us wondering if we’d have to walk. Then we got stuck behind a bus trailing so much dust we could hardly see. Then it started raining and the roads became slippy, made worse by the darkness making it very hard to see potholes and speed bumps. As we entered Pokhara the traffic became very busy and we had some near misses with traffic, especially at a chaotic roundabout which was a free for all. There weren’t street lights in many parts of town and people would just walk out into the road in front of you. Some other vehicles had no lights and would suddenly appear out of nowhere. We got to my hotel in one piece and I gave Shiba a donation for petrol and to buy his kids some treats. I thanked him for giving me a nice insight into the lives of the locals.
Later I met Anja and the guys for dinner. They’d had a nice day up at the Peace Pagoda and then at the Tibetan refugee camp I’d visited before, although Nick had a Tibetan friend so they’d been able to meet the locals there. We returned to their hotel to drink and play dice.