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The land of nonrandom meetings or Ringed by Annapurna

  • Submitted by: Vitaliy Shuptar, Kazakhstan
  • Submission Date: 24th Nov 2005


‘When Zarathustra was thirty
he left his motherland and native lake,
and moved off to the mountains.’
Friedrich Nietzsche

The land of nonrandom meetings
or
Ringed by Annapurna

(October –November 2004)

Karaganda – Almaty – Delhi – Gorakhpur – Sunauli – Bhairawa – Kathmandu – Besi Sahar – the valley of the river Marsyandgi – Manang – the Thorung La pass - the valley of the river Kali Gandaki – Beni – Pokhara – Kathmandu –Bhairawa – Sunauli – Gorakhpur – Delhi - Almaty - Karaganda

In contrast to Zarathustra I was under thirty when I felt the burning desire to move
off to the mountains. In fact it existed in me and just was waiting for a proper chance to be realized. At first there was the Carpathians, Alps, Tien Shan but nothing could be compared with the Himalayas, ‘the roof of the world’.

‘And why is Nepal so attractive?’ Actually, overwhelming majority of my acquaintances couldn’t realize the reason of such a long trip. A common person knows a few things about Nepal and the Himalayas, usually his knowledge ends with an immortal phrase of Nikolay Fomenko about a person who can be considered to be a citizen of Nepal, with a song ‘Let me go to the Himalayas’ and some people know that there should be Everest and Chomolungma (for the sake of the truth I should say that some people even knew that these are the names of the same mountain). But I was longing to leave for Nepal. And in a short time, I found a fellow traveler, a man who was interested in my plans of exploring. He was my class-mate, Dima.

The idea to go to Nepal and see the highest mountains in the world struck me two years ago. And only in October 2004 our dream came true, having forced its way through misunderstanding and prejudice. And Nepal has become a country where the two of us want to return in, to come back forever.


CHAPTER 1. LONG WAY TO KATHMANDU

Well, a team consisting of two persons and representing Karaganda historico-geographical society ‘Avalon’ started on the journey to the wild (as many people think) places. At the beginning of the journey there was, as it should be, a train to Almaty, purchase of food and equipment, and then a plane of ‘Turkmen airlines’ took us to Ashgabad. During the flight we could easily observe geography of Middle Asia. Everything was clearly visible: Tien Shan, Fergana, Pamirs and Kara Kum. We had a short stop in Ashgabad and then a plain to Delhi, where we arrived at about 2 a.m.

Having arrived in Delhi we started our sleepless journey along India. We had no desire to be thieved at the beginning of our travelling and that’s why we had to fall asleep taking turns. Especially, after that when being in the airport krishnaist Andrey from Belorussia explained to us Indian people’s understanding of stealing: it’s consider if you are not keeping an eye on your things it means you don’t need them.

After suffering and spending the night in the airport we took a cab and went to the city. I had to buy a thing for my friend in Kathmandu. That is why we stuck in South Extension District for some time. There was the shop I needed. I was looking at the dirty and polluted streets and cherishing hopes for the centre. I just tried to reassure myself that it was only suburb not the centre. I was mistaken …

Having fulfilled the honourable order we went to the station. We planned to leave our things in a cloakroom and go for a walk to see the city (an evening train ticket till Gorakhpur we providently had bought in the airport book-office). However, at the railway station we were disappointed: the price for leaving our things in the cloakroom was beyond the bounds of our resources. I should say that the railway station was not the thing to be delighted with (although it is the main station of the country), neither was the surrounding district. I have certainly heard that India is a dirty country … But the railway station in New Delhi exceeded all my expectations. Frankly speaking we were not eager to see the sights of the city any more. The air was saturated with dirt. That is why we decided to make ourselves comfortable (if it could be possible) and wait for the evening; we lay on our backpacks on the platform, eating taken from Kazakhstan dates and drinking some bought mineral water. I don’t know why, but for disinfection we just wanted to drink medical alcohol, to tell the truth we wanted and did it, occasionally. So, the day was declining to its end.

In Indian trains there are no glass-panes. There are only bars. If you feel cold (I can say the nights are not so warm there) you may close the windows up with the help of some flitch plates. The half of passengers had fastened their things to the berths with steel chains. The second class of Indian trains has some resemblances with our carriages with numbered reserved seats, but in the worse interpretation. And soon the carriage was just a dormitory car, where people sleep even on the floor. There were three narrow berths on each side of a roomette, and you could hardly lie on them not to mention the problem of sitting on them.

So, we had to sleep by turns again. We did not get pleasure from being watched by natives. We just automatically ask ourselves a question ‘Can they have never seen white people?’ Though, they could have never seen white people travelling by the second class.

In the morning all Hindus started to brush their teeth. It’s a rather interesting procedure. They buy some wood sticks, which are sold buy barrow-boys, and start strenuously ‘brushing’ their teeth. In some minutes the stick looks like a whisk. I’m not sure if it’s a sufficient method of brushing but India does not seem a country to have a clear idea of the notion ‘neatness’.

In Gorakhpur we made acquaintance with Adam and Georgia, we had noticed them in our carriage. After spending the night at ‘state of siege’, I think, they wanted to join hands with any whites to fight tooth and nail against importunate natives. Well, the enlarged group moved to the bus station and got on a bus to Sunauli.

Adam and Georgia were from Canada. But they lived in Korea and worked as volunteers teaching English to Korean children, indeed. Adam had crossed the whole China from Urumchi till Hong Kong, and Georgia had come flying to Delhi at once. In Delhi they met each other and moved to Nepal. They planned to see Kathmandu and perhaps to visit one of the treks. Thus, our plans concerning Nepal did not coincide, but nevertheless it did not prevent us from spending good time together till the very trek.

After arriving in Sunauli we quickly found the immigration office, drew up our exit registration and having made a few steps forward found ourselves under an archway. The arch bore an inscription Welcome to Nepal. It was another part of the city named Belahiya. It is the territory of Nepal. The distance between India and Nepal is 20 meters, but the difference is enormous! Everything is clean. People look more cultured, they wear jeans not worn-out rags. It doesn’t stink so pungent. In short, you can feel the breath of civilization.

Thirty minutes, two filled in forms, thirty dollars and we got Nepalese visas. In Lonely Planet I’ve read that in Belahiya the hotels are more expensive and worse and there is no good buspark. It’s a very wise book (we have named it The Bible) and it advised us to go further to the city Bhairawa, which is situated four kilometers from the frontier.

While reaching the city we were attacked by the representatives of local tourist business, and they were too intrude suggesting to spend the night, have dinner, give a lift etc. But we persisted in our going. I was driven by the natural bitchiness that made me screw those who wished to swindle out of all our money. This way we passed ‘four hot and miserable’ (according to Lonely Planet) kilometers till Bhairawa. There we bought the tickets to Kathmandu, settled in a hotel ‘Ashoka’, paid ridiculous sum of money (especially for Canadians) – $1 per person. Later we knew that this sum was usual price for Nepalese hotels.

In the evening there was an international binge, during it a lot of beer was drunk, we condemned the residuary alcohol and also a bottle of cognac taken from our reserve. That’s why in the morning we were not afraid of brushing our teeth using running water, which isn’t considered useful for your health.

In Bhairawa it was the first time we had ever tasted ‘momo’. This is the dish of Tibet cuisine, it has some resemblances with our pelmeni or manty. In our case ‘momo’ was cooked from the meat of buffalo, though it should be made from chicken or even vegetables. By the way ‘momo’ was the main food during our trip.

The way to Kathmandu was long enough because of various block posts and checkpoints, which are situated in the distance of every 20 kilometers. I should say Nepal is at permanent war for many years. Though to the credit of the two belligerents (communist - Maoists and adherents of the king) it should be said that they don’t touch tourists, vice versa they are pampering them, because tourism is the main source for increasing the exchequer. Revolutionary Maoists fully appreciate the fact that without tourism the country will die and no matter what kind of regime it will have. Although from time to time there some excesses are observed.

Arriving to Kathmandu we were taken aback. Because of the traffic checking there was a long a few-kilometer queue of buses and cars. And as the forecast for starting the traffic was not comforting (people were talking that it would last for 5-6 hours) we had to do something.

Waiting was out of the question. It was about 5 o’clock and at 6 it is already quite dark in Nepal. So, having stood in a queue, we would get to the capital at midnight. It is really difficult to find a place to stop for night at this time in Kathmandu, almost impossible as the town’s life stops after 10 pm. They say, the ball comes to the player. And in this particular case we were the ball. An inhabitant weighed the pros and the cons of our trouble and made us a business offer. We would go on foot with him across the hill to the check point and from there he would find a taxi and take us to the best hotel in Kathmandu. And if we didn’t like the hotel, Lord forbid, we could feel free to leave it. Having nothing to choose, we agreed.

It turned out that the trekking we expected to have near Annapurna started on the way to Kathmandu. We had climbed over 300 metres for 30-40 minutes, carrying all bags in complete dark, moving along a path in chain made of hundreds people.

Having climbed up to the check point with great difficulty we used a bus and then a taxi to get to hotel ‘Tokyo’. As most of cheap hotels of the city, it is situated in its tourist center – Tamel.

Apparently, there is no need to say that the next morning the promised price doubled and the man who brought us there was not in the hotel at that time (perhaps, he headed to wangle new clients). We scolded ourselves for our credulity and moved in the room that was two times cheaper. As for our ‘friend’, we tried to vanish at seeing him not to be screwed again. We quickly realized that in Tamel each individual is a tourist agency which can offer you every possible thing in Nepal.


CHAPTER 2. KATHMANDU AND ITS PEOPLE

By all means, Kathmandu implies great culture and history, Buddhist and Hindu temples, variety of palaces and squares. But I love this city for its people. And when I say about its people I mean not only its inhabitants but all newcomers as well. Kathmandu is impossible to imagine without these fortune hunters from all over the world.

There was a Dutchman in our hotel who could be considered a typical European coming to Kathmandu not for a trivial two-weeks’ holiday. When we asked how long he was going to stay there, he replied, ‘Well, my visa is available during 6 months. Sure, I will miss my family on Christmas, but I will stay here. And my visa can be prolonged after all’. Many Europeans act in this way: they rent out their flat somewhere in Paris or Amsterdam and live comfortably on this money in Kathmandu. Besides, the local price level lets them stay away from work.

Hotel ‘Tokyo’ was a typical seedy hangout in Tamel. A group of black men having fraternized with the staff was sitting in the hall all the time. They smoked a lot, and obviously it was not tobacco (it is one more typical feature of a Kathmandu visitor). One more point of interest in that hotel was a nervous lady who played ‘concerts’ every night. Once her lover’s patience was exhausted and we all could hear the sounds of something flying and falling down. As the yells repeated the next night, we concluded that they avoided a lethal outcome.

A special topic is Russian Kathmandu, Russian speaking, to be more exact. People who come from the former USSR make the major friendly part of foreigners here. We noticed it at once observing our Canadians. They hadn’t made friends with anyone, though there were lots of Canadians.

The first Russian face in Kathmandu for us was Masha, a charming daughter of the Russian ambassador. I met her on the Internet some years ago. She introduced us to Kathmandu dwellers and learned the town together with us. She admitted that for 3 days with us she had learned more than for 3 years she had lived there. She made an appointment with us in café ‘Java’. It is a favourite place of local gilded youth. I don’t know why Kathmandu’s young people prefer tea and coffee to beer. That is why I made a conclusion that this café was not on my taste. Besides that, the prices there reminded me that I did not belong to the gilded youth.

The next 3 days Masha accompanied us. Kathmandu will stay in our minds as a very interesting place mainly because of her.

We were strolling along Kathmandu’s streets. The walk on the King’s Square was the most remarkable as we were drinking cold beer while walking. Masha was happy – ‘It is just as all the Russians – walking with beer’. On the whole, the Durbar (King’s) Square – is the place where many Hindu temples and palaces are located. A special note is sadhu. These are vagrant beggars with make up. In my opinion, they are not so poor as they demand rather good money for taking photos with them. We didn’t like this attraction and left all their offers to take photos without any reaction. Forgive us Vishnu and Shiva.

Next to the Square there is Kumari temple. It is a local living goddess. Kumari is chosen from the girls of a special caste – jewellers. This girl will be a goddess till the first big blood loss. There is an interesting legend saying about one of the possible ways of Kumari tradition appearance. According to this legend, one of the kings was a pedophile and he liked a little girl. As a result of his pressing ‘addresses’ the girl died. And then the king introduced the practice of the little girl’s revival by proclaiming her a living goddess.

The next day we went to Bodhnath – the biggest Buddhist stupa in Nepal and one of the biggest in the world. The area joining Bodhnath is the place of living of Tibet refugees. Besides, there are a lot of Buddhist monasteries.

We’d spent plenty of time on shopping. Masha, for instance, had to try on lots of saris which Dima wanted to buy as a present for his sister. We’d spent much time choosing the equipment which we couldn’t buy in Kazakhstan. The first impression was admiration at impossible low prices for perfect goods. The second impression (after the equipment’s usage in the mountains) – the prices are corresponding to the quality. There are great many local falsifications. The most wide spread forgery brand is The North Face.

In the evening before going to the mountains we went to ‘Les Yeux’ to smoke hookah. Even I, a non-smoker, liked it, tobacco with cappuccino flavour and warm atmosphere of the restaurant… It was so nice, that there appeared a series of photos ‘How wonderful Tamel’s night street through smoked with hookah eyes’.

One more type of Nepal’s visitors is presented with the people coming there for the search of wisdom and it doesn’t matter how it is expressed. We met such a person in the supermarket. His name is Sergey. Having spent some time in Osho’s ashram, he was going to make a tour round Annapurna. In the end of our journey we met an odd couple from Moscow who got settled in Nepal. They publish Osho’s literature in Russian. Most of the time they live in the ashram near Kathmandu and periodically visit Moscow.

There was one more type of Kathmandu’s visitors, and it was the most numerous. You could meet there people hooked on extreme.

For example, Roma from St.Petersburgh had not been at home during 6 years. During his absence his flat was taken from him. But I think Roma does not care. He had crossed the whole East on his bike. Some time ago he got into an accident and hurt his leg. He had taken several courses of antibiotics, all in vain, and now there was a threat of amputation. And instead of hurrying to the hospital Roma made plans of going to Tibet to some lake that he could not visit last time. And I think he’ll get there as he has nothing to lose.

Roma’s fellow traveller is Englishman John with a sun burnt nose and crazy eyes due to constant hashish consumption. He crossed the whole East, too, and the evidence to it is that he used to have a wife in Mongolia.

The Nepalis themselves are not able to keep such a playful way of life. We met one of them thanks to Masha. Kiran, besides being the chief cameraman and deputy director in Nepal television, was a talented photographer. One could watch his huge photos of Nepal in all its variety for hours. Also he showed us a collection of cameras, beginning with the rare ones which belonged to his father and grandfather. They were court photographers so was Kiran.

In New Road area there is a nice place where Masha brought us. It is ‘Chharpro’ café, where you can taste newari cuisine (newars is the local people in Kathmandu valley). But the salt of this place for Russians is not only in the cuisine but in the fact that one can hear there DDT or Grebenshchikov’s songs. The owner’s brother had studied several years in St.Petersburgh and fell in love with Russian rock music.

On the whole, I didn’t have any difficulties in the way of music. Apparently, the western influence has mixed with Nepalese traditions so much, that I had not heard in the streets anything but good rock and pleasant Nepalese music. But you can’t say it about the buses where they play something like Indian songs.

As for me, I don’t like to bargain. But in Nepal this action is so deeply connected with adrenaline and passion that even hazard people can’t imagine it. The main thing is to speak decidedly that it is your last price and if the seller does not like it, it is not your problem. And then one should go with an indifferent air. But don’t go away, just walk around the block. Some time later the seller will come up again and the bargain will be continued. My own record in bargain made 40 minutes and it made the price more than 5 times lower.

As for the people we met in Kathmandu, there were the Russians from Latvia, Pasha and Yulia who made our journey more amazing. Sunburnt and weather-beaten faces of our new friends spoke for themselves. It was clear that we met natural travellers. We agreed to go together round Annapurna at once.

We could listen to them for hours. The stories about their joined or separate journeys agitated imagination and made us understand that we were more like just health-resort visitors in comparison with them. They had travelled in Europe and Asia, Caucasians mountains and Sayan, on foot and by bikes, by an inflatable boat to Athlantic…They got to Kathmandu after they had crossed Mongolia, China (its Tibet part) by bikes and were about getting to India. It took them 3 months to travel in vast deserts and mountains and as their visas’d expired, their vessels were taken away and they had to become pedestrians again.

By this ‘lucky’ accident we met in an Kathmandu Internet café. Though with all those great concentration of interesting people that made a special aura of magnetic journeys, the meeting with this couple could not be accidental. There are some places in the world where all fortune hunters must meet.


CHAPTER 3. JOURNEY FROM SUMMER TO WINTER

Mountains always surprised me that during some days there one could get to the ice zone from tropics and observe summer turning into autumn at first and then into winter. The area of Annapurna is the most remarkable in it. Besi Sahar is situated in subtropical zone, Thorung La pass is the kingdom of snow already. This was the main reason I’d chosen this route for the trekking. After we had got permits, each for 2000 rupees ($30) in ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Project organization) office, we bought tickets to Besi Sahar.

On arrival at Besi Sahar at about 2 pm we, unlike most of the tourists, decided to start for the trek at once and not to stay there for night. We spent night on the bank of the river Marsyandgi nearby a small Hindu temple.

In Bahundanda village we learnt how to make an order in local restaurants. As it is much more difficult to understand spoken English than the written language it goes like this: they bring you the menu, a notebook and a pencil. You decide yourself what dishes and in what amount you want. Be aware that you have to write them in the same way as they are written on the menu (there are plenty of grammar and spelling mistakes; we had counted 6 variants of writing the word ‘omelette’). Then you count yourself how much you have to pay, they even can give you a calculator.

As for the restaurant business there we can say that any dilapidated hut, even just a metal stall has a proud name of a restaurant. Though, the writing of this word is varied too (like in the case with omelette).

Still in Bahundanda the restaurant keeper said something about Yulia’s bravery after she had noticed her backpack. It turned out that people in Nepal go to the mountains with a porter or a guide. That is why so many people admired us, Yulia in particular, who had a huge backpack, too. But sometimes the porters can make a disservice as it had happened to the Canadians we met on the way.

Not far from Syange village we found a good place for a tent under the bridge over the river. The point was that near it there was a requiring payment camping ($1 for a tent), and we managed to put the tent for free. I have to mention that we never paid for the tent and I think that it is smut to take money for it. Soon a woman came up to us and asked if they could put their tent near ours. Of course we said that everyone could do there what they wanted as it was free ground.

So we put up our tents together. But her husband was not lucky in it and there occurred some fights between them. When it was getting dark a kind of local beggar, it could have been a herder, came up to their tent and addressing to the porters started claiming something. Soon we heard our neighbor talking to that man in a loud voice. We got interested and went out to check what the reason was. From their conversation we learned that this ground was prepared for mules’ pasture. And on this account the herder actively, I would rather say aggressively demanded their putting up in the requiring payment camping. Apparently, it belonged to him.

All this time the husband of that woman kept silent sitting at the tent. Seeing despair the woman was in we decided to take part in that conflict. Telling it shortly using all dirty words we knew we explained the herder that we all had paid for the permits and could do there what we wanted unless otherwise. Whether he did us any harm we promised to make problems for him after our getting to the nearest ACAP office. At last, thanks to Heaven, he realized there was nobody to throw him any cash. He went away to his mules bursting loudly. So, if the Canadians hadn’t had the porters, the locals wouldn’t have come up to them as they did not know English.

After the herder’s leaving the concert began. Now our Canadians were sorting out their relationship, discussing the husband’s behavior during that conflict. Then he tried to light the primus stove, slowly and with difficulties. This couple didn’t let us sleep. They had been fighting till late night. Apparently, the reason of their conflict was not only in the tent putting up and lighting the primus stove…

On the way from Syange a huge dog was seeing us off. It was waving with its tail very friendly. Dogs in Nepal are a special topic. They are like in constant nonstop nirvana, slow, lazy, without any aggression and curiosity to the passers by.

We were spending evenings playing cards. When we got bored with the cards, Dima and Pasha tried to play backgammon, but it was boring too. That is why we used to drink tea with some alcohol and chat. Yulia and Pasha had fresh impressions on Mongolia and China. One could understand from their talks that the Mongolians were the best and the Chinese were the worst. To tell the truth, I had my own plans for Mongolia, and their talks made me longing for it.

My favorite drink in those hot days was cool lemon, water with juice of a lime. It is awfully tasty, especially after a day’s walk with a heavy backpack. Somewhere in Tien-Shan I would drink cool water from the springs all the way, but here I was afraid to do it. Life in the mountains is very active here and consequently the water is not very clean.

On the bank of Marsyandgi, not far from village Tal we celebrated Celtic New Year, Samhain. Due to Americans, it is known now as Hallowe'en. On account of this holiday we cooked tasty supper: boiled potatoes with canned meat, mayonnaise, summer sausage and some cognac. So we celebrated it properly. But it was difficult to peel the potatoes, as it was just the size of a walnut.

Next day we passed the subtropical zone and got into the zone of the temperate climate. There was a real autumn, a bit chilly, with yellow leaves and frozen earth. Now it was much easier to walk and breathe.

It was a splendid opportunity to try the green fodder and take up to picking up as our ancestors did. Only the apples we picked up were not wild, but from the country. But this fact didn’t make them taste worse. On the contrary, there is something from childhood in picking up the apples. You have to get through the fence, still ripe apples and run away with these treasures unnoticed.

And the apples were perfect, I must say. Their splendid taste and juicy consistence made them more like a drink than food. The locals make wine on these apples, and it is nothing but not very strong home-brew.

Approaching Pisang we met a group of Israeli guys one of which could speak Russian. Judging by his pronunciation we could say that he was out of practice and didn’t communicate in Russian much. And we were right. It appeared that Nathan’s parents moved to Israel when he was a little boy. Having served in the army, he set off on a half-year journey. He said such trips after the army are widespread in Israel. That’s a good tradition to be envious of. Besides, after the army activities all these crossings and passes were for them as easy as a pie. By the way, the Jews were the only people on the trek, to say nothing of us, who did it without porters and guides.

It should be said that they turned out to be quite friendly. The group we met at the pass (about 12 people) was forming chaotically from singles and couples. We repeatedly met all this company at the descent as well as in Pokhara.

Temperate climate caused us some inconvenience. It was becoming more and more unpleasant to spend nights in the tent. Cold and frozen we would hardly wake up in the morning. At night the temperature was below freezing and in the mornings the tent was all frosted over. Our sleeping bags designed according to the label and shop assistants’ assurance for minus 10 degrees centigrade could not even save us from zero temperature. We decided to sleep with our clothes on. All the same it was bitterly cold.

At that time we began to make a fire despite all prohibitions. Honestly speaking, I just can’t picture mountaineering tour without a fire because it embodies not only warmth but also comfort and some kind of ritual. I believe fire makes all the travelers feel comfortable and secure. And when some crackly wood burns and turns into a warm and blazing fire, the stones and logs you sit on are becoming softer and softer and you are tempted to stretch out on them. Usually when people experience these moments they are either looking for a cigarette or flask. It depends on their predilections. Then they are staring at the fire adding wood as if not wishing to part with comfort of a warm room.

Such our evenings were near Thanchok and Pisang settlements. Then we were heading for a more arid region. Some miles away from Pisang the vegetation in the river valley was rather poor. We were descending to the valley leading to Manang. It was easy to walk and besides the landscape was almost flat. And on the left one could watch a fascinating picture – an enormous mountainous theatre between Annapurna 3 and 4.

Incessantly arguing over with Yulia which civilization contributed more to the world – Western or Eastern, we approached Manang. Not approached but entered it through the gates. Apparently, we were so involved in a lengthy dispute that we hadn’t noticed the city.

In Manang we were going to stay at a hotel (here at the mountains they are usually named ‘lodges’) and spend there a day or so to acclimatize. Though, Pasha and Yulia announced in unison that it was impossible to acclimatize per two days. All in all it was good to stay and have a rest. Besides, everybody wanted to wash.

We put at a hotel we spotted first – ‘Yeti’. As we didn’t manage to wash straight away, we were said hot water had already stopped running (we came at 3 p.m.) we made our way to explore the city. The western part of the city is the most interesting because there inhabitants live. You can see there narrow streets, low entrances leading into enclosed courts, prolonged and high stairs… In the eastern part there is a great number of curiosity shops and hotels. The city is so dependent upon tourism. When we found out the prices for Internet and telephone calls we were killed on the spot. One minute call with Kazakhstan cost $13, an hour in Internet $20.We discovered a couple of places where one could eat at a moderate price (for local mountainous standards). Though, we did not notice any foreigners in these places. Though it was delicious, particularly good were momo with chopped buffalo meat (not minced meat as in other cafes).

Passing by another restaurant I noticed a note with films titles (‘The Lord of the Ring’ among them) and realized I had stumbled on the local cinema. Having appointed the time with the owner for 7 o’clock in the evening and discussed prices and repertoire, we darted to the hotel for beer and whiskey to make our leisure unforgettable. The cinema was situated in a small restaurant cellar, the seats and floor were covered with yak skin and the whole building was heated by a furnace where wood was crackling agreeably. After watching ‘The Lord of the Rings -2’ Manang became more mysterious and fairytale.

The programme planned for next day included walks around Manang’s outskirts. We were going to reach Gangapurna glacier, but walking in this direction we soon realized it was a bit impossible. The glacier is really far away and we had only five hours or so to go there and back. We climb up the mountain, took pictures of Manang and the valley from the top. Then we split into groups and walked separately: Pasha with Yulia went on roaming around and I with Dima descended and returned to Manang.

Dima was in low spirits from the very morning when he knew that something had broken down and we had not got a chance for hot water supply. As for me, I was still very impressed by yesterday’s movie and local landscape. That’s why my eyes were in quest for something magical worth capturing on film. The towers built of stone, rocky ledges, waving flags and all this beauty is in the background of unbelievably blue sky that borders with the surrounding clay-colour area. And mountains here and there… Snow-white tops, glaciers… Well, it’s the plain truth a person sees what he wants to see. But there should be the appropriate conditions. And Manang has everything to make you believe as if you were in a fairy-tale.

It is not worthwhile to buy something in Manang. The city has been dependent on trade from the ancient times. That is why the inhabitants are born dealers who can sell you any cheap junk for an enormous sum of money. And as many others I relented and bought there a Tibetan sacrificial knife for 1000 rupee. It was a real bargain! I did not see such knifes anywhere.

This rule does not apply to yak woolen sweaters which you can buy only in Manang. According to Kathmandu inhabitants the goods sold in the capital are not made of yak wool.

Doing the shopping, we met two girls from Odessa who were heading to another direction. The evening we spent together in a local café.

The rule ‘no dinner – no blanket’ (the conditions could varied: no water, no electricity etc) is common in these places. The owners are longing to make more money on feeding tourists but not on dwelling which is terribly cheap. But we were not satisfied with this condition as it was much more convenient and cheap to cook. And it caused some friction between us and the administrator of ‘Yeti’. Sometimes you feel you have a lack of words, especially when you want to swear in a foreign language. But I guess repetitive use of ‘fuck’ and ‘fucking’ in all possible contexts at the top of my voice finally convinced our administrator that we were not going to pay for the abnormal conditions (we had not enjoyed the promised hot water).

It was the first time we spent night not in the tent but room. The hotel living conditions proved to be awful. We saw no difference between a hotel suit and tent. Perhaps, the wind is not so blustery. That is why later we put up at a hotel only twice – once before the pass (it was freezing cold) and another time in Marpha (we needed some washing).

The road leading from Manang to the pass is quite desolate and heather-covered. At first we stepped on a flat region graveled with enormous stones. They reminded me the cemetery of Edoras from ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Dima suggested a more prosaic explanation of these stones and their employment saying that in such kind of area where you can hardly find a tree people also need to get rid of solid and liquid waste from their bodies. And why not use the stones? I don’t know why but I like my theory better.

Having stopped half-way to the pass, we made up our minds to spend the night together in the tent. There were 4 people there. It was fun. There was something rattling and crackling all night long. Whether it was the wind or our tent attracted goats we don’t know, but one thing is clear it gave us enough food for talking about yeti and hair-raising tales.

By the afternoon of the following day we had reached Thorung Phedi. It is a settlement situated near Thorung La. This is a place groups wishing to reach the top of the pass usually stay at. As there was plenty of time we decided to go further to the top camp. We did it to save time on our tomorrow’s ascent and make descent easier. There at the top we found a crib we could spend the night. Not having ordered supper, we were automatically deprived of blankets and water. But we didn’t suffer much as we had sleeping bags and a supply of water with us. The latter we had got from a container in the neighbouring lodge.

Early morning of the following day looking out of our hovel’s window we could observe the frightening picture (as if we were taking part in a horror movie): crowds of well-equipped people with alpenstocks, which made a terrible noise striking the stones, were crawling up in the moonshine like zombies… Thus, it was the begging of the day for those who had stayed at night in Thorung Phedi. Well, that early departure was not logical at all. ‘I guess they mixed treckking with mountaineering’, said Yulia.

Fortunately, Pasha’s forecast for a bad weather didn’t come true and the day we reached the pass the weather was lovely. The storm wind was not beastly blowing to our faces. But even if the weather is good, it takes much time and energy to reach the pass. I should never have thought it would be so undertaking. The more worthy it was the more overwhelmed we were seeing waving colourful flags. The pass had been reached.

At 11 o’clock we were at the Thorung La pass. It was a new height record –5416 m. We unwrapped the flag of ‘Avalon’ and took some photos to prove that inhabitants of Karaganda had been there. We drank up our whiskey cheering ‘To you, to us and Thorung Pass’. Then we started descending.


CHAPTER 4. BEETWEEN TWO SUMMITS

The descent was really hard. We couldn’t help sliding down into the deepest valley of the world – the valley of the river Kali Gandaki. It is considered to be the deepest because it divides two eight-thousand summits Dhaulagiri (8167 meters) and Annapurna-1 (8091 meters). By the time I and Dima reached the pass Yulia and Pasha had already been all frozen that is why they decided not to wait for us and started descending straightaway. We arranged to meet in Muktinath.

We were dying for a drink, as luck would have it, there was no knock all our way. Cursing all Nepalese people for having heaps of shops on the ascent and total absent of them here, I even started to eat snow. But that wasn’t something I really wanted. We fell behind and couldn’t get on time to meet with Pasha and Yulia. I wanted a drop of cool beer and being always on my mind this fixed idea made me go down faster and faster. As a light comfort some images struck me. I was thinking of another descent while being in summer in the Tien Shan. And at that time I had to overpass much longer distance than now. I have done it once, I will do it one more time. And at the end of my way I will enjoy cool beer as well as I did before.

My dream came true only in Chabarbu (a small settlement you wouldn’t find on the map), 4,200 m above the sea level.

Two bottles of ‘Tuborg’ – and let’s go. The beer made itself felt at once. Tipsy and happy we were roaming along the desolate valley and singing at the top of our voices. “This is all” by DDT was the hottest hit. We had almost forgotten about Yulia and Pasha who must have been waiting for us. The scenery was fascinating and we took a lot of pictures.

When you are descending down the pass you can always see Muktinath and the valley. It seems it is a stone’s thrown away. But this was deceiving. We had to go miles till we reached our destination. Soon we spotted the forbidden county - Mustang. Of course it is not so isolated as it used to be, but you have to pay $700 to step in this country and some extra money for taking pictures to boot. Besides you are escorted by an official all your way. And all these puts a kind of exclusive on the region while visiting it.

Pasha and Yulia were waiting for us in Muktinath. We did some shopping there and then set off looking for a tent. We put up near Jharkot that looks like a cone tower, situated on a hill. While we were setting up our tent almost on the swamp, so Yulia and me got a little bit stuck in it.

Then we had been working for two days along the broad valley of Kali Gandaki. The blustery wind made our faces all dusty. There was something unreal in this scenery. People and the cattle looked like grains of sand on the foreground boundless wild nature.

When we entered Jomsom I though I was in Latin America. There were white fences with high arches, scraps of newspaper flying everywhere, quite unusual for Nepal anxious and barking dogs, a dusty plain and endless mountains. We wished it had been accompanied by a Morricone’s tune about Wild West.

One evening when the sun went down we arrived at Marpha. And at last we managed to take a wash. Everybody was on cloud nine, especially Yulia and Dima washed in hot water. The memory of those days spent in Marpha is still clear in our minds. We could see snow-white tops of Nilgiri and a Buddhist temple from our balcony. It created such an idyllic scene. At night we heard monks beating the drums and praying.

Annapurna-1 is considered the lowest one out of the fourteen eight-thousand summits. But it is very insidious and many people are putting their lives at risk when they decide to conquer its peak. We saw Annapurna, which our trek was bending around, only at the 12th day, having entered the zone of temperate climate.

I love temperate alpine climate. That is why the territory from Kalopani to Lete I liked best. However the reason it surpassed the Alps landscape was the existence of two eight-thousand mountains Annapurna-1 and Dhaulagiri. I wondered how much the houses cost in this place and even began thinking of moving to this blessed nook.

We were about to set up our tents when all of a sudden excited Dima cried out to take out our cameras. The scenery was really worth capturing. The snow-white peak of Dhaulagiri was looking at us from behind the clouds. The picture looked classical, we couldn’t stop shooting it.

On the following day the landscape started to get subtropical sketches more and more. In my imagination the region looked more like South America, Columbia for example. And as it found out it wasn’t in vain.

Everybody sells hashish here. Starting from Kathmandu we heard drug-dealers whispering ‘hacis, hacis’. By the way in the mountains hashish was quite cheap, although it is rather popular product among tourists and natives. As Pasha said six-month supply cost $20. And every native was trying to palm it off. We had to bargain there. And we got it for peanuts. For two days our tent had been smothered with sweet smell of Columbia.

In the region of Tatopani there was the threat to come across Maoists (everyone was talking about it), we were lack of meeting them. Though we had nothing to lose. Besides, I heard they don’t attack the Russians. Probably, out of solidarity.

We set up the camp not far from Beni for the last time. The rest of food was eaten, the rest of hash was smoked over. I’ll never forget the feeling of lying on the ground with my hands clasped under my head looking in the starry sky. And you find yourself lying on a huge ball one of the million ones flying across the vast universe.

Next morning we were in Beni, loaded with cracks and drinking water, and having got on a bus we left for Pokhara.


CHAPTER 5. SLEEPY PARADISE

Pokhara and its lake Phewa were always in clouds of fog. It looked like a quiet paradise, where people could have a rest after a tiresome journey in the mountains, treating their wounds. Though the silence was broken every evening because it was the very time for Tihar Fire Festival (another name of it is Dipawali). As a result of this Festival every evening the city was lit with thousands of candles. The kids were running to and fro crying, singing and asking for money. The main idea of the song was: Give 10 rupee and sleep peacefully, refuse and listen to free live concert.

Idleness sometimes is quite amusing. Especially, if you have had an active rest before. That is why 3 days spent doing nothing seemed rather a routine. Having had breakfast ‘enjoying the view of Annapurna’ (it could not be seen because of constant cloudness), we set off to wander along the city. Our main business was doing nothing but shopping and eating.

Once, however, we decided to explore another bank of the lake, where at the top of a big hill there was a Buddhist stupa World Peace Pagoda. Having refused the guide’s service, we had some troubles in finding the right way. We were making our way through bushes and hedges, shooting some various spiders and trying to take pictures of mongooses. But nevertheless, the stupa made a great impression on us. It is a quite beautiful building and its white stairs had harmony with the blue-grey cloudy sky. Usually people get there by a boat reaching the harbour, and then on foot. But we didn’t have so much money to be so bourgeois and that’s why it took us long time to get home. Yulia could have suffered a lot because she had managed to put on open-toed mules and I believe they are not so convenient for walking in the mountains for a common person from the west. It should be said that the local porters wear only these very shoes. But that is caused more by force of habit. After 40 years of wearing them, I’d probably also run up and down in these flip-flops without any difficulty.

But even in this sleepy paradise you could come across with the news of not paradisial content at all. It turns out that an explosion has recently taken place in Kathmandu. This information didn’t make me happy at all and I thought that the entrance to the capital would be even more problematic. Fortunately, my suspicions hadn’t been confirmed.

Last evening of our staying in Pokhara the owner of the hotel, which by the way happened to be very nice place named ‘Saru’, organized a fancy dinner for us. That was the last day of the Festival and obviously they had the custom to feed the guests. Well that evening we didn’t just eat much we were stuffed to satiety. Taking into consideration that before Rohit’s treating (that was the owner’s of ‘Saru’ name) we had already had dinner and also had taken some food for the evening up to the hotel, his scones, rice and beans were way too much.

Rohit believed in guru, named Sai Baba, who was very well-known person as in India as in Nepal. The picture of him with a good head of curly hair and widely opened arms can been seen everywhere – in hotels, cafes, buses and so on. They say that he is able to materialize different things. I don’t know why but he likes expensive watches most of all. They say that ashrams of Sai Baba are the most comfortable and meantime not high-priced (15 rupees a day). But unfortunately, they are situated in India, that’s why the way there is contra-indicated for me.

Rohit was meditating for a long time in his room, where he was asked from time to time from. It was kind of embarrassing to bother him with our down to earth requests, but sometimes we had to use phone or internet and that what was he in charge of. And then he came out wearing his fancy golden clothing, covered with dozens of necklaces and with a smile helped us with our absolutely unimportant business (certainly creationwide). As Rohit was telling me in the last evening of our stay, during the hours he was down to earth, he was an ordinary person who could spend ages chatting with ICQ or MSN Messenger. Moreover, the news that I was Ukrainian provoked a burst of emotions. It turned out that he for a long time had been in touch with an Ukrainian girl, who was just alike Lady Diana and that there was almost love between them. So in general, we’d become almost life-long friends. Rohit expressed his feelings by giving a permission to use the internet as much as I liked and for free. That was such a pity that tomorrow we would have to leave Pokhara.

Next day, very early in the morning (it hadn’t been 5 o‘clock yet) we left for the bus station of Pokhara. It happened that we hadn’t bought tickets the day before because of the holiday, and the only way out was to come up to the station early in the morning and to buy the tickets right before departure. That was what we did. The tickets were bought, the bus departed in time and about three o’clock we were driving up to Kathmandu.


CHAPTER 6. MOVABLE FEAST

Last days in Kathmandu were spent in searching presents for friends and relatives and also cheap food. Especially we succeeded with the second point. We had found cheaper and what was interesting tastier momo. As far as Tamel had bored us a bit already, thereafter most of our itineraries often crossed less tourist districts like Chhetrapati and Jyatha. It was quieter and simpler there, it was possible just to walk and not to straggle importunate offers. There we were looked not like at the potential clients, but just with amazement. And only these days the thought that it would be nice to go to Kathmandu and spend here a month occurred to me. This city has no superior in concentration of interesting people. I had the desire just to stay in ‘Yak’ and sitting at the restaurant on the first floor to write down all impressions from this nonstandard city and its citizens and visitors.

The ‘Yak’ lodge deserves being described separately. For us it was the best variant at any rate. Firstly, I just liked the people who worked here – Tibetans. And that’s necessary to say that by the end of the trip I’ve already a bit imbued with the idea of liberation of Tibet, and I was impressed with the signs ‘Free Tibet’ and the portrait of Dalai-Lama. There was not expensive internet, international phone, restaurant with tasty Tibetan food and not high prices in addition to the huge rooms in ‘Yak’. Very often it was overcrowded at the restaurant in the evenings. We were told that in eighties that was one of the most expensive restaurants in Kathmandu.

I don’t know what caused the decrease of the prices, but definitely not the quality of the food. Local ‘thukpa’ (Tibetan meat soup) is the best I’ve eaten in Nepal. More likely that flow of the tourists out of the country caused the decrease of the prices. We often happened to hear that three or four years ago Tamel was teemed with foreigners, but now that was not the same at all. Possibly Maoists’ moving nearer to the capital also influences to the flow-out. Though for me that produces only more interesting atmosphere, kind of tensed and dangerous situation like to be at the breaking point.

Last evening in Kathmandu we spent talking with Pasha and Yulia about future projects and plans, listening to the nostalgic music Yanny and drinking whisky with very symbolic for Nepal name ‘Everest’...

I really don’t know why, but I remember Kathmandu similar to Paris. That Paris which used to bring inspiration to Hemingway. That Paris, which could be either excitedly noisy like bee hive or romantically quiet and poetic just like secluded pond. Paris which stayed Paris either it was peaceful time or during the war. I agree, that it’s very strange comparison, but precisely these feelings and associations Kathmandu arouse in me.


CHAPTER 7. ACROSS THE HALF OF THE WORLD IN SIX DAYS

To tell you the truth, right after the descent from Thorung La the whole our way was mostly taking for coming back home. But only after the farewell party with Pasha and Yulia was over and the belongings were packed in backpacks for the hundredth time, long and tiresome movement across the climatic and time zones, across countries, grounds and air, the movement that lasted not more or less but 6 days had begun.

Early in the morning on Thursday we started to walk to the station. Then was the whole day bus driving down to Bhairawa. Had spent a night on Nepal territory for the last time, again in the same hotel ‘Ashoka’, we intersected the frontier with India before lunchtime next day. And without problems we got to Gorakhpur. But in Gorakhpur after two hours’ standing in a queue to the booking-office entitled ‘for foreigners and women’ (where mostly were local men) we found out that the tickets of the second class to Delhi had been sold out. As far as all our money was not enough to buy even a half of a ticket of the first class we had the only way out – to take a bus.

Buses surely can be late everywhere – somewhere in France and in India as well. The difference is only in duration of this lateness. Though I’m not intended to consider thirty six hours instead of twenty hours as a lateness. That’s not a delay already, that’s just an insult, which nearly turned out into missing our flight. Fortunately, after spending a day and a half in the worst and overcrowded bus we got to Delhi, though it could be hardly believed in. And what was going on during these 36 hours I even didn’t want to remember. There is hardly 800 kilometers between Gorakhpur and Delhi. To drive this distance for 20 hours is already rotten act, not speaking about the time we spent driving. There was the feeling of complete powerlessness, taking into consideration that we had only 14 dollars for both of us. As a result we got to Delhi three hours earlier the registration to our flight started at the airport. But we were supposed to spend the whole day in the capital. To tell you the truth, I don’t feel pity that we didn’t have chance to see Delhi properly. I just regret the nerves we had spent while our trip to Delhi. There was no inclination to think about the situation if we would be late for the flight.

So speaking in general, I’d say so: love for India has died even before having started. And the matter is not about dirtiness (I myself is not really neat, especially while traveling). The matter is probably in religion. As I was several times told, there were two ways of comprehension of the God in Hinduism. One is climbing up – when the person tries hard, work and in this way he grasps the God, and the second one is lowering – when the person just does nothing, bagging for instance, and then probably the God will go down to him. I had an impression that the biggest part of the citizens of India had chosen the second way. On me personally, the Hindus made an impression of degenerating and dieing upon your eyes nation. The cripple, the sick there are so many of them...

I’ve heard that very few people can have India imprinted itself on their soul from the first time. But I doubt, whether it will happen with me at all. Now I’ll never believe in saying that India is a very marvelous country. I have been there, I’ve seen and smelled this all. It’s possible that there is another India, India of five stared hotels and private closed beaches, but it is already not India. We saw the country like what it really was.

At Delhi airport we didn’t manage to eat properly. At the international (!!!) airport there was only vegetarian food. And left rupees we had to spend on different junk, which wasn’t enough to feel satisfied at all. Decent food we found only in Almaty. As far as on board of the flight we were not given anything nutritious and in Ashgabad airport with the money we had we could buy only mineral water at the transit hall.

But then in Almaty at the railway station what greediness we were eating ‘belyashi’ with, the ones that didn’t contain meat almost at all, but only onion. But that onion at least smelled like meat. Well, the influence of the vegetarian diet of these several days was easily noticeable.

Then there was coming back by train Almaty – Karaganda, the conductor who couldn’t understand why we stubbornly kept refusing to take beddings, explaining that we had no money. Therefore we had a big bag full of beer. That was very difficult to explain her that we really had no money left even to pay fee in the bus. As straight away after arriving in Almaty the decision to buy something to eat and to grab beer for the rest of the left money had been made. Moreover, the beer had more than symbolical name – ‘Tien Shan’ – heavenly mountains.

During the whole our way home Dima and I were sharing impressions about the trip with each other, and of course, were making plans for future. The future which will be ever after connected with Nepal.



Nepal is the country of the highest mountains in the world. Having seen these mountains, you’ll definitely have the desire to meet them again. And if you really like snowy peaks and green valleys with all your heart you would love to come back here forever.


© Vitaliy Shuptar, 2005.

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