LIFE IS CHEAP

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - Escape -

Kathmandu is ab­so­lutely one of the most filthy, chaotic, pol­luted, and dis­or­gan­ised cities I have ever been to – I liked it. It might have no traf­fic or street lights and looks like it’s just been hit by a bomb­ing raid, but it has an en­ergy to it. Of course, the real rea­son for this trip was to re­con­nect with na­ture. And as we set­tled into the busi­ness of that, it be­came ap­par­ent how chal­leng­ing it would be. In Kathmandu walk­ing down the street means dodg­ing mo­tor­bikes, bi­cy­cles, cows, dogs, cars, a man car­ry­ing a seven-me­tre lad­der, rick­shaws, push bikes, tuk tuks … did I men­tion cows?

The neigh­bour­hood we were in was Thamel, and through all the chaos there were mo­ments of seren­ity when you step off the main thor­ough­fare and into a small al­ley way only two me­tres wide. There, away from the blar­ing horns and mo­tor­bikes and cars and cows, sits an old woman in tra­di­tional cloth­ing. Tucked within her small shop she looks as old as the 200-year-old build­ing she’s in, sell­ing an­tiques.

Then you move to the next shop and a man is sell­ing tea and ev­ery­thing is peace­ful, calm and quiet. The al­ley ways are so nar­row that they pre­vent all the smells and chaos from the world out­side com­ing in. But you can’t stay in the al­ley ways for­ever so it’s back to the chaos to see the beau­ti­ful Bud­dhist chaityas (shrines) that are scat­tered through­out the city. Dur­bar Square is a must-see in Kathmandu, sur­rounded by 300-year-old build­ings and Freak Street, which is a street that was taken over by the hip­pies in the 1960s dur­ing their mag­i­cal mys­tery tour through South Asia.

Hi­malayan So­cial Jour­neys kit­ted us with Michael Helf­man breathes in the mo­ment a guide and two Sher­pas (porters) for our trek through the An­na­purna re­gion, but first we had to get there. We thought by tak­ing a bus we would be able to see the coun­try­side. So we got on a lo­cal bus to Pokhara, which is the gate­way to the An­na­purna re­gion, with our guide Vishnu, two porters, and the three Amer­i­can tourists. The roads were ex­tremely wind­ing, nar­row, and were cut into the side of the moun­tain so one side was a sheer cliff over­hang with no guard rail. Along the way we saw sev­eral trucks that had plunged to the bot­tom of the cliff to our right side. Not to men­tion peo­ple would just pass the bus on blind cor­ners with not a care in the world. All of a sud­den the bus pulled over to the side of the road where sev­eral other buses had stopped. We got out think­ing it was for lunch, but Vishnu our guide ex­plained the real rea­son we stopped was be­cause a truck had trag­i­cally hit and killed a five-year-old boy. A mob had formed and closed off the road stop­ping all traf­fic un­til the rel­a­tives of the boy had come down from the moun­tain to be com­pen­sated for the life of the boy. We asked if this was stan­dard prac­tice. Ap­par­ently it was, and the go­ing rate for hit­ting and killing some­one with your car or truck was USD5,000, but since this was a boy it would be more. We would have to wait and see, and that’s ex­actly what we did. Four hours later we were told it was okay to go back on the bus to pro­ceed to Pokhara. It turns out the driver’s insurance com­pany had to pay USD8,000 for the life of the fiveyear-old boy.

Pokhara turned out to be a small city built around a moun­tain lake nes­tled in the val­ley of the gi­ant Hi­malayas. You can see the peaks of eight 20,000-foot moun­tains sur­round­ing the city, and as we pulled up the peaks crept out for just a few min­utes from be­hind the cur­tain of clouds. We in­dulged in mo­mos, which are the Nepalese ver­sion of dumplings stuffed with buf­falo meat. In Pokhara, and Kathmandu for that mat­ter, you can bla­tantly pur­chase per­fect repli­cas of all moun­tain gear from name brands such as The North Face at a frac­tion of the price with very sim­i­lar qual­ity. The black mar­ket reaches even into na­ture, it seems.

OFF THE GRID

The next day we were off to Naya­pul, which is one hour from Pokhara and the start­ing point of our 51km trek through the An­na­purna cir­cuit. From this point on we were off the grid and com­puter tech­nol­ogy was non-ex­is­tent. At first we trekked through a few small towns and even on a road for the first few kilo­me­tres. It was a relief to fi­nally hit the ac­tual trail-head where the road ends

Bovines rule, okay?

Na­ture in full tech­ni­colour

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