Wisconsin disappeared on a bus…..15 drunk Czech’s and a Waterfall later…

 

Wisconsin disappeared on a bus

 

Bus ride to Tatopani

I met Anya for the first time while passing she and her French friend, Javier, taking a rest by a large rock enor ute to Tatopani from Jomsom.  I spoke a few words to them in passing regarding my trek and didn’t stop at that time to make much conversation.  She laughs now about the next hour or so of the walk as they were behind me in the distance watching my decision to hop on a bus.  The journal entry she showed me from that day was something like, ‘Wisconsin disappeared on the bus’.

I had lost the 3 Nepali guys earlier in the day in a little village that I think I decided to walk through rather than around so they were not with me at the time and I had waited sometime for them to walk up at one point so I didn’t know if they were in front or behind me anymore.  So I came to a large bend in the road where the riverbed seemed to widen and instead of taking the road around the entire edge of the river that we were following I opted to traverse the riverbed across and avoid some unnecessary road.  It worked as I had watched, while I stopped to squat and pee before crossing, some local farmers with their water buffalos snake their way across the rocky open span of land.  So I managed to hop, skip and jump over the water, using a little homemade log bridge at one point, and then I heard the sound of a vehicle and looked back to see a bus rounding the bend.  It was the only bus seen yet in the day coming my direction so I gauged my pace and quickened up my steps to make it to the other side of the riverbed and onto the road just in time.  I raised a trekking pole and the bus came to stop in front of me and one of the 3 Nepali guys I was walking with stuck his head out and without a word I jumped on and was whisked away.

The bus stopped for everyone to unload and have some tea, bathroom breaks and the guys got some sort of curry in a little dishes that I gladly took.  Then back on the bus I was squeezed next to a drunk man in his 30’s or 40’s maybe, he kept elbowing me, smiling big and dancing with his arms to the Nepali folk music playing loudly in the background.  One more stop for the 2 or 3 tourists including me to check in at a TIMS check point (Trekking Information Management System). Everyone has permits when trekking in various regions and these are checkpoints for you to have your permit stamped and then your next intended destination documented in a ledger in case of any emergency so that you can be back-tracked so to speak.  Last stop for that bus was short of Tatopani – due to the petro shortage the buses don’t just keep going because they literally don’t have enough fuel and we needed to hope for another bus with fuel and enough passengers to go the last stretch.  I immediately noticed a large group of foreigners seemingly having a great time standing and sitting around a table in the open dusty ground of this ‘bus stop’ where there are a few little shops that serve food and beer.  The group was 15 Czech’s and their 8 guides and porters waiting for their privately hired bus to arrive and proceeding to get drunk on Kukri rum and Tuborg beer.  I asked about their plans and they indicated they had ordered a bus and laughed about it maybe showing up…so they were just whooping it up, chasing ducks and I was happy to be welcomed immediately to the group by being offered a coke bottle with straight rum in it to have a toast.

I told my Nepali mates they needed to talk to the guide(s) because we could get on the bus with them and just needed to know how much they would want to charge us to tag along.  In the end the bus arrived and we all piled on  – packs on top and booze inside for an adventurous ride.  The bus had colorful yarn macrame hanging down all around the front of it.  I found it to be full of dust as it rained down on my head every time we swayed and bounced which is every 3 seconds!!  The singing started immediately from the Czech’s and continued endlessly back and forth in a battle between the Czech’s and then the Nepali’s each singing their own traditional songs, anthems and cheers.  I sat as the single American foreigner humming, laughing, gasping every so often at the crazy driving on the edge of the mountain and appreciating my company of a bus full of cheer the whole 4 hour ride.

We stopped to ‘pile’ out of the bus at one point and see a waterfall on the side of the road and I went out with the Nepali guys to get some pictures.  I handed my phone to Hari, one of the 3 I was traveling with, to take a picture of mhe.  I njstepped down on the rocks to get closer to the spraying water and that’s when my 1st of 9 lives in Nepal was used up.  Suddenly my foot slipped and I careened head first into a deep crevice of rocks that was being beaten by the forceful water falling from above.  I hit my head so hard, that was the first thing that smacked against the rocks, and immediately was aware of this loud and chaotic force pinning me upside down.  I just remember thinking long enough about being upside down and not having the ability to right myself and no concept of where my arms or even the rest of my body really was – I was simply conscious of my head being where it was and I think my only option was to move my head in a way that I could find air amidst the heavy weight of water in my face.

Thank God within only seconds Hari had thrown my phone and jumped down to grab me by my arm and leg and pulled me up onto the rocky ledge I started on.  I didn’t have time to even think about how I was going to get out on my own before I felt his hands dragging me out.  I immediately came to feeling like I needed to regain control of the situation and saw my purple jacket down in the rocks which I was able to stoop over and get myself, thankfully I had my go pro on my wrist (the selfie stick) because it came back up with me.  The first thing Hari said to me while looking me over head to toe and staring into my eyes was something like ‘and this is why I am never leaving your side’.  I felt protected at that moment and I understood the feeling of having someone next to you in a moment of crisis when you aren’t able to get out of something by yourself and you have no control.  I went back to the bus where the Nepali guys had all heard quickly what happened among themselves and were all worried and making sure I was ok. I felt stupid at that moment just feeling the need to stay in control and find my pack on the top of the bus, none of them were happy when I jumped on the ladder myself and climbed up before they could stop me, so that I could get my dry clothes out and change.  I walked down a little path so I could get out of sight to change and it felt like I had 10 Nepali watchdogs that wanted to stay next to me the whole time.

I was lucky I came out of it all with a big goose egg on my head and only bruised legs and arms, that night after we got into Tatopani the guys made it a point to check on me in the evening as I could have a minor concussion and didn’t want to be left alone to sleep all day the next day or anything.  They were so good about everything and Hari especially really has continued to check on me as I haven’t returned to Kathmandu yet and I owe him a nice meal at least after saving me from dying in a waterfall in the Himalayas.

Bus Ride on a Cliff side

 

Pre-waterfalling….

 

Numbing peppers, cephalapods and new friends on the Annapurna Circuit

So after coming over Thurong La Pass you come into Muktinath.  It was nice to be in the area with someone who is used to giving history and information rather than going it alone and missing out of so much culture.  The guide I met in Thorung Phedi, Ram Rai, and his son and client from Japan were new walking partners for a bit. Muktinath is a very sacred place for both the Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist cultures and a great example of how two religions can share the same holy place.  Muktinath’s local name is ‘Chumig Gyatsa’ which translates to ‘hundred waters’.  The central shrine of Sri Muktinath (Muktikshetra) is considered one of the eight most sacred shrines for Hindu Vaishnavas and means ‘place of salvation’.  The outer courtyard has 108 bull faces through which ice cold ‘sacred’ water pours and devotees of the religion can at times be seen being bathed by the ice cold waters. I am saddened I didn’t get my own pictures when trekking near the temple; however it was immediately after coming off the pass and all of my batteries were dead on phone and GoPro:( Thank you to Ram who took pictures for me which I hope to get shortly!

We stayed in Muktinath that evening where a late afternoon walk  brought me to see all the local woman weaving scarves on their looms, selling the same jewelry and trinkets at each homefront table. The bright yarn is a beautiful reminder of this quiet little village that I will have forever since I had to buy one or two as a souvenir!  This region is in the lower part of the Mustang district of Nepal, which up until 1992 was restricted so needless to say the landscape and culture are quite preserved.  Mustang was formerly the Kingdom of Lo and was only recently overthrown in 2008, so it will not be long before continued culture influence from China and the outside world will show in the people and look of this region.  A trekking permit to go into Upper Mustang is $500, not a trek for this trip, but the majority of the population in the district is in the Southern half where I was lucky to explore.  Old caves can be seen dug into the sides of the sandy river banks from the first settlers of the region and remnants of old foundations are strewn about which you can see from high above the river.  

Kagbeni was the next town we walked to and it is the gateway into Upper Mustang so rich with age and history.  The old village is made up of mud houses along the banks of the Kali Ghandaki River.  We put our packs at a hotel that Ram had frequented with clients in the past and took a nice walk around Kagbeni.  We were able to enter the Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling Monastery, home also to a currently operating Monastic school.  This monastery was founded and built in 1429 and the building is absolutely beautifully painted inside with large paintings of the wheel of life and old wood plank floors.  It’s 3 stories tall with a roof top looking over the village which I wasn’t able to see but standing in the monastery with my shoes off listening to the young student give history of the culture was a true treat.  I was allowed to take pictures and only wished we could have stayed to be witness to some of their daily prayer and meditation times.  A monastic boarding school was established in 2009, which provides an opportunity for the young monks to stay in their home village of Kagbeni and surrounding communities to study under a traditional Tibetan monastic discipline. Their ages ranged from 3 years up to teens and many could be seen playing in the courtyard when I was there.  They had a large wooden paddle and small rubber bouncy ball they were hitting so you could hear the laughs and shouts while looking out over the colorful buildings that made up the student housing against the backdrop of the mountains in the distance.  A beautiful sight to take in!

On our way through the streets we stopped to see some drying herbs on a local’s doorstep and Ram said one was cumin and the other a Nepali numbing pepper.  He said I could try the pepper and just a little piece put my lips and mouth out of feeling almost immediately.  The dentist’s back home need this stuff!  It lasted for a good 15 minutes and it wasn’t hot or spicy at all, it seriously just numbed your mouth and lips.  We returned to our packs at the hotel to have a bit of lunch and arrange a jeep.  Before getting back I saw more adorable children, took more pictures and was approached by a nice couple traveling from France that had taken a bus to Kagbeni from Jomsom but there were no buses going back so they were looking for a way to get back.  I was able to get them onto the jeep back at the hotel that Ram came to sort out so we could all skip the windy river bed walk to Jomsom together.  Alice was the  French gals name and I’ve already come to meet her farther along in the journey in Pokhara for lunch.   She was not trekking but her boyfriend and cousin were for nearly a month while she rented a place in Pokhara to just relax by the lake.  It’s great traveling alone. when you are open to connecting and sharing with all sorts of new people in new places everyday.

After arriving in Jomsom from the 30 minute bouncy, dusty, hilarious jeep ride I decided to get a room at a different place than Ram and his client, wanting to have a bit of privacy and so we arranged to meet back up in the morning and walk to Marpha together.  Sitting having dinner at my guest house I found out that all the flights going in and out of Jomsom, in addition to all of the domestic flights in the country, were canceled for the next few days at least.  Thankfully I had planned to walk but for those needing to fly it would be yet another waiting game for the fuel to reach the airlines so flights w/in the country could resume.  Nothing is for sure and there are no schedules you can rely on in this country, ever!!  There were 3 Nepali guys at my hotel in their mid 20’s discussing their options to get back to Kathmandu.  After indicating I was trekking and had been for the last many days they wanted to look at the map with me and explore the route down.   I explained my plans weren’t for sure but that I was planning on at least walking the next day to Marpha and from there figuring out a ride or walk to Tatopani.

The plan evolved and in the morning and the  3 guys joined me and Ram with his client on our short walk to Marpha.   They didn’t have any trekking gear but at least decent footwear and it was only road walking so two of them carried a duffle bag (one on each handle) and the other a small backpack and made it work.  The walk along the river was nice  but windy and dusty.  Afteer looking down for almost an hour I finally was able to find a pretty large fossil of a cephalapod, which is what the locals are selling to tourists all over this area.  I managed to carry it a day or two before deciding it was too damn heavy and a picture would do just fine.  In Marpha we walked through town and the streets are lined with buildings painted white and history again surrounds you as you come around a corner underneath a building and look up there is a huge sculpted man with a huge penis jutting out of the rock painted red and he’s holding a sword in his hand.  I missed the female statue in the village which I only learned of after leaving the village but nonetheless I have some cultural research to add to that story – for now it’s just entertaining to say the least.   Ram and his client decided to stay overnight in Marpha but I was wanting to move on and the 3 guys we had walked with also wanted to keep going aand to possibly to see if a bus was going to Tatopani.  Ram assured me that he trusted the young men after talking to them along the walk to Marpha and so we exchanged information and he also had the guys information  in case we had any problems.  I felt safe again moving on into my journey saying goodbye to yet another great person God put in my path.  Ram told me to wait for 5 minutes while I thought he was checking on the bus or transportation options but then he came back with a gift of a white prayer scarf also called a ‘kati’  that he put around me as a blessing for safe travels as we parted ways.  I teared up as we hugged goodbye and had a picture taken and left knowing I could see him down the road someday but no matter what he was my Thurong La Pass blessing:)

The journey continues with crazy mountain bus rides, falling into a waterfall, recovering in a hot spring, completing the Annapurna Circuit, trekking to Machhapuchhre  (Fishtail Mountain) Basecamp and South Annapurna Basecamp and spending some great restful time in Pokhara.  I also plan to add photos when I have better connection so stay tuned.

 

Random male sculpture hidden in the maze of buildings in Kagbeni
  
Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling Monastery in Kagbeni
   
Cephalapod from the banks of the Kali Gandaki
  
A goodbye to another great trekking friend made!
   

 

Village of Marpha
   

Kagbeni to Jomsom jeep ride