covering ground


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a little while ago i made the drastic but not that drastic decision to re-connect with Nicolas in Nepal on or before May 14th.  with the monsoon biting at our heels, this would be our last chance to do some trekking.  still in Mumbai on the 11th and over 1200 miles away i had quite a bit of ground to cover.  so being the travel masochist that i am i decided to take non-stop buses and trains until i reached Kathmandu.  here is a play-by-play of my journey:

P1020962shortly after midnight on the morning of May 11th i boarded a 31 hour train from Mumbai to Varanasi.   i took sleeper class because that was all that was available at short notice.  i got a top bunk where i spent most of my time sleeping.  there wasn’t room to do much else.  all the rest of available space was taken up by piles of people.  it was a giant Indian cuddle puddle that collectively swayed along with the movements of the train.  it took carefully planned ninja maneuvers to get to the lavatory and back.  the ride spanned 2 nights and a day.

i arrived in Varanasi early on the morning of the 12th.  i had a few hours to kill before my next train so i took a tuktuk into the city and had breakfast with two very nice French girls i met.  i caught only a glimpse of the beautiful narrow streets but it was enough to know that i had unfinished business there.  then i made my way back to the station to catch an 8 hour train to Gorakhpur – the closest you can get to Nepal by train.  as the train pulled up to the platform hoards of people crowded the sleeper car doors.  i assume most of them didn’t even have tickets.  i had an open ticket which meant that my chances of getting an unclaimed bed was just as good as there’s.  determined to spend the next 8 hours of my life in minimal comfort i cradled Escapo with my left arm and used my right arm to wedge my way into the crowd.  it was a tight and fast moving pit of madness.  their little Indian bodies managed to squeeze through the door 3 or 4 at a time.  when i could finally grab hold of bare metal it took all my strength to pull myself onto the car and through the doorway, then i used the same method to move through the corridor until i found the first empty bed.  i could see the painful looks on the faces of those that got pinned up against the sides as i forced my way past them.  i just looked them straight in the eye as if saying “don’t take this personally but i’m going to crush you now”.

i had to spend the night in Gorakhpur.  this is one of the most unfortunate, unfriendly and unaccommodating places i’ve ever been.

the next morning i caught an extremely packed 3 hour bus to the India/Nepal border town of Sunauli.  i could feel the hot breath of a crying baby goat in bag on my leg the entire way.  somehow it became my responsibility to hold the bag upright and make sure it didn’t get stepped on.  it baffles me how many people live in this country.  even out here in the periphery we pass giant nameless towns packed full of people all doing God knows what.

P1020964once i reached Sunauli i walked the remaining kilometer to the border and across it into Nepal.  i walked right past both Indian and Nepalese guards and thought it strange that not a single one stopped me or asked me for my passport.  then i backtracked and attempted to actually go through immigration the correct way which was not straight forward but simple enough.  100 US dollars afforded me a Visa good for 3 months.  by 11:30AM Nepal time (15 minutes ahead of India time) on May 13th i was in Nepal and free to roam.

i enjoyed a celebratory beer and chatted up some local border folk then hopped right back on a 9 hour bus to Kathmandu.  this was by far the most painful leg of the journey but it was also the most beautiful.  several hours into Nepal the landscape changes dramatically.  flat farm lands turn into tall mountains with lush green valleys and rivers.

i arrived in Kathmandu at my final destination at around 10pm.  the whole process took 70 hours, 51 of which were spent in transit.  the total transit cost for this 3-day journey came to $18.65.

i finally met up with Nicolas and new friend Katya on the rooftop of “The happily ever after” Hostel where we spent the next few days coming to grips with the fact that we were about to embark on a multi-week trek on the Annapurna Circuit.  none of us had done anything quite this intense before and we had lots of preparations to make.  luckily Kathmandu made the process very easy for us.  the area where we are staying in the Tamil District is loaded with shops selling quality trekking gear for dirt cheap.  i managed to procure a nice pair of boots, 3 pairs of socks, thermal underwear, pants, 2 shirts, a fleece, hat and gloves all for around $80.

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we spent a couple of days hiking around the Kathmandu Valley to break in our boots and take in some of the scenery that Nepal is so well known for.  we stayed the night in Nagarkot – a small mountain village that overlooks a vast landscape of rolling hills and terraced farms.  we visited the ancient city of Bhaktapur – the former capital of Nepal.  the architecture here is unlike anything i’ve ever seen.  old cozy brick buildings are stacked along like dominoes with intricately carved wooden windows and doors.  there are courtyards with temples, wells and ponds.  many places we went we saw alters with sacrificial goats in various stages of active dismemberment.

P1030119Kathmandu is a beautiful city with it’s own unique charm.  in the Tamil District, the crowded streets wind around and fork like veins throughout the city.  i couldn’t help but feel like a confused blood cell as i wandered about acquiring more provisions for the long journey ahead.  one night we had the misfortune of witnessing a fire breakout across the street from the restaurant we were dining at.  shortly after we paid the bill i noticed of bunch of commotion on the street.  when i went to check it out i could see billows of smoke rising from the rooftops above.  people were on the roof yelling to the people below.  people were running into the building attempting to salvage whatever they could.  others were fleeing from it.  after a while a huge explosion occurred causing a stampede in the street.

after spending only a few days here i decided that Nepal is near the top of my list of countries i’ve visited.  the views are stunning, the people are fair and welcoming, the towns and villages bare unique character.  it’s nothing short of a masterpiece.

tomorrow we leave for Annapurna.  i may be off the grid for almost a month.

  1. #1 by michele on May 21, 2013 - 10:52 am

    R ~ I am loving your travels, writing and music!!! Thank you for sharing your experiences! It’s amazing to ‘see’ parts of the world through your eyes; it’s also reminding me that I’m long overdue for an adventure myself – but first I’m off to the neck of the woods where you’re from – I’m going to Salt Lake City for my daughter’s graduation, she just completed her Master’s Degree in International Community Development! Take care my friend and I look forward to your next story!

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