Friday 24th August 2007
It’s been a very busy week so get ready for lots of emails!
(This one’s an epic, so get yourselves a cup of tea now!)
After our language course finished (guess who came top of the class with 49.5 out of 50??) we left on Thursday morning (16th August) to drive up to a village in the hills called Lamataar for three days.
We stayed with lovely guy called Sulav and his family, who were really sweet and very welcoming. It was definitely what you might call rural, with proper squatter toilets and no chance of toilet paper. I had originally been worried about getting things wrong and eating with my left hand by accident, but in a country where toilet paper isn’t a possibility, and you literally eat with your hands, you learn very fast what you’re doing with each hand!
Nepalese people eat Dhaal Bhaat twice a day every day, which is a lentil soup with rice. They also mix it up a bit by having Achaar (pickle) and Tarkaari (cooked vegetables) with it, but they eat dhaal bhaat every day at about 10am and 7pm for pretty much their entire lives.
So, us westerners will have to get used to a fairly bland diet, with very little variation, although so far it’s been delicious, and I have even mastered the art of eating it with one hand (you pour the soup over the rice and then scoop it up with your fingers – messy but really tasty!).
On our first day we walked over to one side of the village, about two hours of walking through stunning hills and rice paddies. The colours here are so vibrant and clear it’s breathtaking, and the rice plants are especially beautiful with different shades of green denoting the different varieties of rice. We could look down into the Kathmandu valley, and see the whole city spread out before us. Kathmandu itself is about 1,300 metres above sea level, and the village is probably about 1,500m so we weren’t much further up, but high enough to look down on it and see that it really does lie in a basin, surrounded by hills on all sides.
We also discovered the joys of leeches, which are much smaller that the movies suggest, only about 1cm long, and have a fat end and a skinny end, they move by feeling around with their skinny end and then hunch up like a caterpillar – very alien like and eerie to watch. The biggest one we saw was around 3cm long and a bit fatter, having just sucked on someone’s foot and filled up on blood (very vampire-esque).
Luckily, I managed to avoid gettting bitten, although almost everyone else did. It doesn’t hurt or really do anything – the leech injects you with an anasthetic so you don’t feel it sucking, and a blood thinner to help them suck – so afterwards you carry on bleeding for ages – not dangerous, but can leave you with very bloody socks and a nasty looking mark (not unlike a tiny hickie!).
On our second day we walked for around three hours over to the other side of the village, stopping to look at the temples and drink tea at various little huts along the way. It rained fairly steadily on both days, so we got very wet, but it was such stunning surroundings we didn’t really mind. We even took a short cut across the rice paddies coming back, balancing our way along the little muddy lip of the submerged fields, climbing up through the terracing and trying not to slip and fall!
On our third day we were to trek up the hill behind the house, down and up the next one, to a height of 2,000m to see the view of the valley. It was supposed to be a 5-hour hike round trip, and we set off around 7am, so we’d be back in time for Dhaal Bhaat at 12.
After about 10 minutes of walking straight up a very steep hillside, we had to stop and rest! I was breathing hard and so was Eleonore, a french girl who was with us. We carried on, but had to keep stopping every 5 minutes to get our breath. We were climbing literally straight up, probably about 4m per minute, and came out onto a steep staircase cut into the mud up the side of the hill.
It was slippery going, and I was getting pissed off with myself for being so unfit, as I seemed to be breathing a lot harder than everyone else and had already dropped to the back after only 20 minutes! I was really struggling, when suddenly something really weird happened.
I went from breathing really heavily, to gasping, to wheezing, and I was taking these massive huge breaths, but my lungs were making this god-awful wheezing sound and I didn’t seem to be able to get any oxygen. Everyone rushed back down, and I sat down on the steps trying to breathe, while all around people were muttering “asthma attack” and “inhaler” and “altitude”.
I started to panic a bit, as I’m not asthmatic and have never had an attack in my life, although this did feel a lot like what I imagine them to be like. Futhermore, here I was, in a vast open space, breathing massive gulps of air, and apparently no oxygen! I knew I didn’t have an inhaler, or even a paper bag, so I closed my eyes and breathed into my hands for a bit. Eventually my breathing chilled out a bit, and although I was still gasping it wasn’t so bad.
So naturally at that point I was so shaken and frustrated that I almost burst into tears, which we all know is not at all helpful when trying to control your breathing! I had to give myself a stern talking to and jolly well stop it!
Anyway, whatever it was, it was pretty scary, and I realised that continuing on would mean very regular stops, turning a 5-hour trek into a 10-hour marathon, so I took an executive decision to turn back. We were only 20 minutes from the house, (about 80m up) so I could manage to get back down by myself. I went down very slowly and carefully while the others continued on, and Sulav had called his family to tell them I was coming back.
Once back I relaxed for a bit, got stuck into my Michael Palin diaries, (which I’m loving), and then Sulav rang again to check I had made it back safely and was so concerned I’d be bored that he asked his sisters to take me into town and try to find some clothes (I’d mentioned to him earlier that I wanted to buy some local clothes).
So off we went, and it was really fun. The buses and lorries here are all covered in decorations, tassels, fringes, posters, fake flowers etc, but the bus we got onto had grass growing on the dashboard, so I tentatively asked if it was real, which made the girls giggle the whole way there! (Apparently it was real and was planted there to make the bus smell fresh! Who knew?).
Later on the others returned, white-faced and exhausted, and informed me that it had been a truly hard slog all the way, although the staircase that defeated me was the hardest bit of the trek, and they’d all found it really hard work, which made me feel better!
That evening (yes there’s still more!!!) we were treated to a cultural dance by the local girls, who got all dressed up in their best red saris, make-up and jewellry. They performed some lovely dances for us, the younger girls (9-11) bounced around with incredible energy and vitality!
The older girls (12-14) moved more slowly, not self-conscious, but very self-aware. They were beautiful young girls, standing on the brink of womanhood, gliding through the transition with the kind of effortless grace and charm you rarely see in teenagers back home. They are already stunning, and you could see that they will become devastatingly gorgeous women. One could almost picture the village parents gathering to just such a dance, gleefully eyeing up future brides for their sons!
The next morning (Sunday 19th) we had a cooking lesson, and had a go at chopping vegetables the traditional way (some great photos to follow) and cooked Dhaal Bhaat on a little wood burning stove out in the courtyard. Then it was with great sadness that we headed back to Kathmandu. Sulav and his family had made us feel so genuinely welcome in their home that we almost didn’t want to leave, his mother having presented Eleonore and myself with bindi spots and glass bracelets as leaving gifts. The incredible scenery of the hills and greenness of the paddy fields was hard to leave, to return to the mud and dirt of Kathmandu.
However, it’s nice to be back in the hostel with proper showers and toilets again!
That’s all for now folks, I’ll type up the rest of the week’s activities later!
take care my dears
lots of love and kisses
p.s. I’ll have to put the rest of my pictures in a separate post as there are so many good ones!