UK to Nepal: Travels With Our Sherpa - Part 9
by Cindy Thompson
Warm Coke And Weevils
The Indian/Nepali border town of Sonali was rather confusing, with the customs check point secluded and nestling in between two sari shops. We drove straight past it, only to find ourselves hotly pursued by a worried customs official shouting at us to ‘Stop!’ as we drove down the high street. The man behind the customs desk started flicking through our now rather full and busy looking passports. He was amazed at the number of stamps we had collected and asked what we did for a living to be able to afford all this traveling. Not wanting to go into our private finances, Alan replied. ‘Nothing!’ The customs man looked shocked.
‘Nothing?’ He quizzed. With passports and vehicle carnet stamped, we left the customs.
The Nepali side was easy and was completed without any hitches. Just across the Nepali border we had completed 12,464 miles, through 13 countries, in 7 months, had 5 broken springs, replaced 1 fan belt, had 5 punctures, 3 oil changes and used 519 gallons of diesel.
Nepal like India was a stunningly beautiful country. It was an endless spectacle of undulating hills, covered with a carpet of terraced, cultivated plateaus. Roads clung precariously to the valley walls at the bottom of which flowed fast milky green rivers. Small villages were scattered along the roads, many of which seemed to be barely clinging onto life. The occupants looked ragged and poor and their wooden houses looked old and tired. Some families made a living by offering refreshments to travellers.
Our Sherpa was ‘home’ and was pulling up the foothills of the Himalayas in style. We thought back to the person who told us the week before we left England that our Sherpa wouldn’t even make it to Dover! We believe that we are the only people to have taken a Sherpa van to Nepal.
Just a few miles outside Kathmandu, we spotted the new Dalima Resort, and as it was getting dark we decided to camp in the car park for the night. This was the easiest way to travel, to find a restaurant for dinner, then ask permission to park up for the night. We were never refused. The place was empty except for a security guard, who kept saluting our every move, and the manager who welcomed us to eat in his brand new restaurant.
It was an impressive sight, built on a 4-tiered garden terrace, with small cottage accommodation on the uppermost terrace. The chicken curry and rice tasted good, but Alan’s Coka Cola was warm! He called the manager and asked for it to be changed for a cold one. The manager apologized, saying that he couldn’t give him a cold one as the fridges didn’t have electricity during the day, only at night. We thought no more of his explaination and having eaten our fill, retired to our Sherpa for the night.
The following morning we were both very unwell, with stomach cramps, diarrhoea and feeling nauseous, but we pushed on the few miles to Kathmandu. By the time we made it to Kathmandu, we were in such a state with our illness that we didn’t even have the energy to haggle with the first hotel manager we met. He charged us an extortionate NRs 300 per night. Just to park in the car park! For that we couldn’t even use the toilet when we needed. We had caught a bad bought of Guardia, from the incorrectly kept food at the Dalima resort. Having bought a course of Flagyl at the local chemist, we were soon on the mend. This was the only illness we experienced during our 12 month drive.
Walking through Kathmandu can only be likened to walking back in time. ancient rustic timber framed buildings overhung, crowded dusty narrow streets, lined with hawkers of all descriptions. The hawkers not only catered for the tourists, but for the locals. Foods, handmade pots, crafted shoes, Yak’s wool jumpers, and a whole range of hippie attire. As we walked through the very dry dusty streets, getting increasingly sore throats, a middle aged Nepali man tapped us on the shoulders.
‘Hash. You wanna buy hash?’ He quizzed in a rather strange way. Of course his hash was a cheaper price and a far superior grade than all his counterparts on the streets. …we carried on walking. With renewed appetites the best meal we had in Kathmandu was a huge buffalo steak at the Everest Steak House. Highly recommended.
Having recovered from our illness and feeling fighting fit, we went back to the hotel to try and argue the price of the car park down. The hotel manager was having none of it, but somebody from the Swiss Medical Centre just across the street overheard us and invited us to stay free of charge in their car park. This we did for a week while we explored Kathmandu. We wanted to take our Sherpa into Durbar Square for a photo shoot, but this was not possible. So we drove to the nearby Buraktapur, which also had a Durbur Square, but with fewer tourists, and we were allowed right into the middle of the Square for a photo shoot. Incredibly, some English tourists walked right past our UK registered Sherpa without noticing! Then an American came up to us and looked at our list of countries painted on the side of our Sherpa and said,
‘Gee, how’d ya git through Eye ran?’ (Iran)
A drive into the foot hills to see the Himalayan mountain range was a must, so drove North from Buraktapur to the Tibetan/Chinese border and the “Friendship Bridge.” The Himalayas were truly stunning, but we couldn’t decide which peak was Everest. Each peak was snow capped, crisp and clear, standing proud and poking into the heavens above. It was one of those tranquil awesome sights that you just had to sit and soak up in silence.
At the Tibetan/Chinese border we were allowed to travel no further. It was a reported US$175 per day for a vehicle pass and a Chinese chaperone. We weren’t even allowed to walk onto the “Friendship Bridge” which didn’t seem very friendly to me! We had to be content with a night spent at the Tibetan/Chinese border. The following morning we stopped at another impressive looking restaurant. I played safe and ordered porridge. I’m rather fussy about my porridge. I like it thick with creamy hot milk poured over the top. When it arrived, it looked perfect. But having eaten a few mouthfuls, I thought it had an unusually crunchy texture. On closer inspection, to my horror I discovered weevils wriggling in my porridge and swimming in my creamy buffalo milk! I sent it back, asking the chef to do it again. He did just that, but with fewer weevils! I haven’t eaten porridge since.
On our way out of Nepal, we stopped over in Royal Chitwan National Park. The Tiger Tops resort wanted to charge us US$50 per night to park up in their grounds, but Ganesh, who had just opened the “Tiny Shop” invited us to stay on his property. Ganesh was just starting a backpackers stop over, with meals and guides into the park. He had a row of small rooms to cater for the budget travelers like us. Ganesh charged only a fraction of the price of Tiger Tops and only Rs75 per meal cooked by his wife, compared to the Rs300 at Tiger Tops. We were squeezed into his garden, where we stayed for 4 days. Ganesh was born in the park and knew all the animals and places to see them. He was very knowledgeable. It was a quiet time for the park and we had Ganesh’s undivided attention. He took us for walks in the park, where we saw Hog Deer, Golden Pheasants, Paradise Fly Catchers, Rhino, Vultures, Mongoose, and we even identified footprints at a watering hole of Tiger, Rhino, Civet Cat, monkey, and Sloth Bear. Ganesh took us on an elephant ride where we saw Rhino and almost saw a tiger. The elephant ride was rather uncomfortable as we had to sit astride the 3 tonne male tusker, but it was an excellent way to see the animals as they didn’t seem to see us as people, only the elephant. The elephant of course posed no threat to any of the animals and we were amazed at just how sure footed and steady it was, climbing up and down steep banks and across some deep rivers. Another day we were taken on a canoe ride and spotted 3 Caracol on the riverbank. Alan kept wobbling the canoe, which was rather worrying. It was a fantastic few days. We were so impressed with Ganesh, that when we came to pay, we doubled the bill. A first for us, but we felt it was worth every penny.