Man, the April 25, 2015 earthquake that struck the Lamjung District of Nepal must have been absolutely terrifying. Nine months after the shaking subsided, I showed up in the country expecting life to be back to normal and was completely shocked at the sustained devastation.
Full disclaimer, in general my experience with people is that they freak-the-shit out about things they know nothing about, then it’s all perpetuated by the media resulting in a giant froth of worry, fear and half-truths turning into a bullshit cloud the size of St. Helen’s eruption.
So, I shrugged off all of the people talking about about how crushed Nepal was nearly a year later, and booked my flight.
It turns out sometimes I’m wrong, and this happens to be one of those times.
Over 9,000 people lost their lives during the earthquake, and another 23,000 were seriously injured. Many streets were still littered with loose bricks and buildings propped up with makeshift poles.
As an aside, if you didn’t know about the whole earthquake situation I imagine visiting Kathmandu these days would be quite trippy. Everything is crooked, leaning one way or another.
Tight on funds? Consider saving yourself the flight to Nepal and simply take some drugs, add beer goggles, go for a neighborhood stroll and ask your neighbors which way to Everest. Basically a quick and dirty Nepal 101. You’re welcome.
Getting up in some UNESCO grillz
Kathmandu is littered with Buddhist stupas and Hindu temples, many of which boast UNESCO World Heritage Site designations. Without exception every monument, building and structure is now scarred from the horrific quake, but they remain eerily stoic surrounded by rubble.
Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple)
Kathmandu Durbar Square
A Guide to Guiding your Guide
I wish I was one of those people who could spend days on end in museums, skulking around old buildings, immersed in history and always thirsting for more. But, that’s not me. I have a limited attention span for cultural and historical tourism. While I’m exploring castles, museums or temples my mind often wanders beyond the grounds to what’s outside. I love the trees and the hills and the critters. They call to me.
For that reason, I was secretly relieved to have a Kathmandu Valley mountaineering adventure planned at the end of the Tour de Temples and Stupas.
Nepal was experiencing a severe fuel crisis for a number of months before I arrived (because nothing like kicking a country when they are down – thanks India and China, assholes). In turn, I negotiated a reasonable rate to hire a car and driver for my excursions as public transportation and taxis were either unpredictable or exceptionally expensive. My driver introduced himself as a ‘guide’ (how handy – two birds!) and off we went.
He turned out to be a sweet guy, young and goofy. Bucko stood tall and rolly-polly with a boisterous laugh and a round dumpling belly that perfectly complimented his plump cheeks. We got on well, but I struggled to understand his lightening fast Engrish and was looking forward to some quiet solace in the forest.
As it turned out, he was looking forward to the opposite.
We pulled up to the Nagarjun Forest Reserve and I asked to be pointed in the right direction to start my forest jaunt. Bucko declared IN THE NAME OF SAFETY that I must be accompanied and I, channeling my very best inner Canadian, graciously declined.
Things escalated quickly.
Me: How kind that you want to guide me, but I would hate for you to go through the trouble.
Guide: I insist.
Me: Oh, but I am really just fine on my own and won’t take terribly long.
Guide: You’re not allowed to hike alone.
Me: I didn’t happen to see any signage indicating no solo hikers?
Guide: No women alone is the rule.
Me: Well, I’m comfortable asking forgiveness if I am caught alone.
Guide: The last time a woman hiked here alone she was eaten by a Leopard! French woman. Never found.
Guide: Oh yes.
Guide: And my job as a driver is to make sure you are safe.
Me: I didn’t pay the extra guide fee, only for a driver, so I understand the risk and am prepared to take it.
Guide: I want to guide you for free.
Me: Of course you do, creep.
And off we went.
It turns out Bucko was a professional porter/guide/sherpa for a number of years supporting expeditions in the Himalayas. It also turns out that after experiencing altitude sickness and transitioning to a driving job he has given up walking all together.
Within minutes of beginning the hike, I could no longer hear the sound of nature over Bucko’s labored breathing. He went from perky to death’s door faster than you can say ‘leopard’! He was not too tired, however, to get close enough to snap pictures of my butt with his cellphone before lagging behind again. That silly pervert couldn’t hear the ‘click’ of the camera over his own breathing.
Every five minutes I would stop and let him catch up, but after the first mile it was evident that only one of us was physically capable of summiting. Bucko asked me to carry his gear and cookies, which I did (although objectively speaking cookies were probably what got him into this situation in the first place) and we trudged onward. Five more minutes down the trail and the inevitable conversation took place.
Me: Yo, you don’t sound very good.
Guide: Huff huff huff. I’m. Huff. Fine. Huff.
Me: I’m a bit worried that we aren’t going to make it.
Guide: I’m sorry. Huff. I haven’t hiked for a while. Huff.
Me: I’m still comfortable going up on my own.
Guide: That’s a good idea.
Me: What about safety?
Guide: You will be fine.
Me: What about the leopards?
Guide: There aren’t any leopards.
Me: What about the French woman?
Guide: No big deal.
Me: And women not being allowed to hike alone?
Guide: Where did you hear that?
Me: I’ll see you on the way down.
And just like that Bucko plunked to a seat on the ground, and I finally got some peace and quiet as I trekked my way through the gorgeous Kathmandu hills.
As an aside, I was curious about the French leopard fable and looked into it online. Much to my surprise it turns out two European women who disappeared in 2005 a month apart from each other while hiking solo in the area were MURDERED! I’m re-warming to Bucko’s safety precautions all of a sudden, even if there were no leopards involved. Spooky stuff.
That’s all from Nepal for now, folks. A pit stop in central China and Tibet await!
BRB just doing stuff for a bit, k?