. I’m not sure if I love it either but I think there is an infatuation about the place that could make me return at some point. There is no way at this point I could a succinctly sum up my infatuation of India but I’ve come across a quote from the book "The City of Joy" that real resonates to me.
“India! A subcontinent with exceptional potential wealth – yet where areas and social groups of overwhelming poverty survive. A land of intense spirituality and of savage racial, political, and religious conflicts. A land of saints like Gandhi, Aurobindo, Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, and of political leaders who were sometimes odiously corrupt. A land that manufactured rockets and satellites but where eight out of ten of its inhabitants had never travelled faster than their oxen pulling their carts. A land of incomparable beauty and variety, and of hideous prospects like the slums of Bombay or Calcutta. A land where the sublime often side by side with the very worst this world can offer, but where both elements were always more vibrant, more human, and ultimately more attracting than anywhere else.”
Once we cleared Nepalese immigration it was a race against daylight on the Mahendra Hwy (the main India-Kathmandu route) to get as far into Nepal as possible for a chance at getting a better wild-camping spot. Within a couple of hours the sun was setting and we were in the general area of the forest for us to find a decent spot to stop. We were relying on the GPS on Amanda’s phone and didn’t realize there was a delay and turned off the highway to soon. We realized this after driving about a kilometre through some forest and ending up at a four corner stop with some houses and a store
. Ben hopped out to get some directions, explained what we were looking for and gathered that we had to continued up the road a bit more. Upon turning Josh around though the locals stopped and offered us the spot the rest of us had been eyeing from the truck. It was a flat open space with some bushes for bush toileting and seemed as good as anything else we camped at. It turns out it is a public space used for parties and festivals and the bonus was there actually was some squat toilets and water we could use. Trust me that is a bonus in this situation. You can only imagine the audience that gathered around as we hauled the tents off the top of the truck, set them up as well as our kitchen and started cooking. I was nominated to be in charge of cooking based on past experience and with the floodlights over our cooking area and the locals watching, I felt like I was in a cooking show. We were making pasta and sauce and had everything ready to go only to realize we had a problem with the gas stove; the line wasn’t connecting correctly to the tank. After much fiddling around and help from the locals we got it semi –working and managed to get dinner done and on the table. Gradually I guess the novelty of us wore off or maybe it just got dark but the locals left us for the night. But not to worry we know they will be back in the morning at first light. As we were sitting around the campfire after dinner, we noticed a pick-up truck with the silent siren on coming down the road towards us
. Sure enough they pulled right up to the truck and no less than 10 policemen hopped out. Clearly word had spread that we were here. It was no problem that we were camping, they just wanted our truck registration details and then went away. They drove by again a few hours later, I think out of curiosity, to see that we were alright and it gave them something to do. For lack of nothing better to do I head to bed for not the best nights sleep wild camping in India but not the worst either. Sure enough as I got out of my tent the next morning the villagers had returned with their young children who had missed it the night before. While having breakfast and breaking down camp I talked with some of the kids who were very sweet and they would translate what I was saying for the older folks there. Saying goodbye and huge thank you we took off facing another very long drive day with the reward of finding another place to wild bush camp. Driving in Nepal is a hundred times better than driving in India so we made good time and arrived in the area where Amanda and Ben thought we could find a place to camp. After finding a few places that were not going to cut it, they presented us with the option of pushing on another 2.5-3 hours and make it to Chitewan National Park to stay at Rhino Lodge where we spent the very first night of this trip. We could camp or for 10 dollars upgrade to a room. Obviously there were no complaints from the back of the truck and that’s what we did. Talk about the feeling of “coming home”
. That’s exactly what it felt like to me when we arrived which I find a bit funny because I remember the first night there being a little intimated and uncomfortable abut walking around on the road and talking with locals etc. Those who upgraded (you bet I did) started with dinner prep while others were putting up their tents. The lodge was so nice in allowing us to use their kitchen facilities, which was a blessing as we didn’t have to set ours up, but a curse because we saw the typical kitchen of probably every establishment we have eaten at in the last 3 months. Not necessarily clean, not necessarily filthy, just enough to make you go “hmmm”. And there is no such thing as soap, least not here. A quick rinse and voila it’s clean. At first the lodge kitchen staff were just watching us and providing us with utensils, bowls etc when asked. But before we knew it half of them were joining us and essentially cooked our dinner once the prep was done. It was a fun, unique experience that’s for sure. After dinner, a few of us rushed next door to the bar just in time to catch it before closing. This is the same place we had gone before and had such a good time we wanted to return to the scene of the crime. It was not as fun the second time around but still had a good time talking and reliving memories from the trip. For breakfast the next morning since we also had our breakfast supplies for camping, we made a deal with the staff that we would give them our supplies to cook breakfast for us (easier for them then us all piling in the kitchen) and we would buy tea, coffee and juice
. Maybe they were being nice or something was lost in translation but tea, coffee and juice was on the house.
Making are way back up the mountainous road we travelled on day one of this trip, eighty-one days ago we stopped about 3hrs shy of Kathmandu to spend the afternoon and night at Royal Beach Camp (www.royalbeachnepal.com
) which is right on the Trishuli river. On our first day of our journey three months ago we stopped here for a toilet and tea break and when we were told we would be returning here and camping overnight I was very doubtful as there didn’t look to be much but a bar. But upon arrival it looked like a completely different place. The tents were up, new bamboo huts had been built, there was a pool that I hadn’t seen before and the bar was opened and stock. It was like our own little Shangri-La. Everyone scrambled to get the best hut or tent (of which I got my own as Zoe decided to upgrade to a hut) and then we sat down to a very delicious lunch and a briefing about what our afternoon could entail. We had a choice of rafting, kayaking or canyoning or a combination of two. Most of us decided to go for the rafting and a couple went for the kayaking with the remainder of the group too happy with their surroundings and not wanting to move. After getting our suits on we went down to the river to get geared up with jackets as the water was a bit chilly, helmets, and life jackets and had a 20 min safety demo given by Ram the owner and his rafting guides
. Then it was time to hop in the raft, practice what was preached and off we went. It is low season here so the water wasn’t that high and definitely not as thrilling as rafting the Zambezi, but we still had some Class 4 rapids and it was a really enjoyable way to spend the afternoon cruising down the river. There was plenty of opportunity get tossed out of the boat of which I was pushed out twice. We covered about nine rapids in total and a distance of maybe 20kms. Reaching the end we hopped into a flatbed pick-up truck for the half hour drive back up to camp which was another thrill ride we didn’t expect. The benches in the truck were not secured to anything and with the twist roads and narrowly escaping a few Lorries and buses passing the other way we had to hang on for dear life. Back at camp we celebrated the day with a beer and were treated to some delicious mushroom soup as a pre-dinner snack. Dinner soon followed which was equally delicious as lunch and the rest of the evening was spent hanging around the bar. Ram the owner was very much the host, hanging out with us and making sure we had a good time. He was very interesting to talk to and hear his story and his vision for the camp and community. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say he was very easy on the eyes! I could have easily stayed a few more days to take in some kayaking and perhaps test my fear of heights with canyoning. nMy hats off to Ram and his team as not only take us rafting but also cooked and served us all of our meals
. They worked really hard and did a fantastic job. Despite the late night (at least for me), it was still an early morning start for us to try and reach Kathmandu for mid-morning so that some sight-seeing could be done before people started heading home or of too other places.
After getting settled at the Hotel Tibet I attempted to grab some lunch before our tour in the afternoon. I say attempt because we had less than an hour and went for soup which I thought would be quick but everyone got their burgers and sandwiches while I was still waiting for my soup. Clearly I was forgotten and I ended up having to cancel the order as we were leaving. It’s too bad because just as I cancelled I saw my soup arrived and it looked damn good. Oh well I definitely won’t starve with how well I’ve been eating on this trip. There is always another meal just around the corner. Our tour in the afternoon consisted of visiting two of the major temples in Kathmandu. First was the Monkey temple, which is the oldest temple and stupa in Nepal. It is situated high on a hill where we drove most of the way up and then had to climb about 50 steps to get to the top. Aside from the golden stupa, monastery and shrines, the place offers some amazing views of Kathmandu and the mountains beyond. And of course you can’t forget the monkeys running around the place getting into all sorts of mischief
. Next we drove across town to the great stupa of Boudhanath, the largest stupa in the world and one of the most important places of pilgrimage for a Buddhist. We arrived just in time for afternoon/evening prayers and were able to see people waking clockwise around the stupa making offerings, saying prayers and spinning the prayer wheels. Around the stupa is the village of Tamang which since the arrival of Tibetan refugees in the 1960’s has become the centre of monasteries, craftsmanship and businesses. There were also quite a few tourist shops and cafes which made it feel a bit like a tourist trap and I think took something away from the significance of this stupa.
Since this was our final night of the tour and there were a few birthday’s over the next few days to celebrate we all went for dinner at a fairly touristy place called, K-too. The attraction of this place was definitely the steak options on the menu. I couldn’t resist the steak with real blue cheese which also came highly recommended by Amanda. I’ve had better steak in my time but it was pretty good for being in Nepal. For desert, two large chocolate cakes were brought out and with a very poor rendition of “Happy Birthday” those with birthdays blew out the candles. Not wanting the night to end so young, a few us wandered over to a bar called Tom and Jerry’s for a drink
. This place happens to be a Dragoman hangout and the owner insisted on taking our picture to hang on the wall below the Dragoman sign. Of course we obliged.
Another early morning wake up (hopefully my last for a while) to hop in a van to the airport to catch a flight to see the Himalaya mountain range including Mt. Everest up close. We arrived at the domestic terminal, given boarding passes with assigned seat numbers that said from Kathmandu to Mtn, escorted through security and told to wait for our flight to be called. About a half an hour later we were escorted onto buses and taken out to the tarmac to the plane. It was your typical turbo prop plane with 20 seats where everyone gets a window seat. Upon entry of the plane I quickly realized the seat assignments meant nothing and had no choice but to sit in the last seat of the back of the plane. After a request from the flight attendant to put on our seatbelts and a short welcome from the pilot we were on our way and took off for our 45 min flight. I was seated on the right side of the plane so didn’t get the view of the Himalaya’s until we reached the end near Mt. Everest and turned around to fly back. But being the last seat was an advantage because one by one we were allowed to go into the cockpit to see the views from there and by the time it was my turn we were the closest to Mt. Everest we could get before turning around
. The view was breathtaking and eerie to see how primitive, cold and unforgiving the mountains where. It really gave me a whole other appreciation for those that do the trek and make it to Mt. Everest bas camp. Returning to Kathmandu watching the Himalaya’s go by felt a bit surreal to me; I never thought I would have the experience to see them so up close. Just before landing we all received certificates of the flight we took; a gimmicky but nice touch. After landing it was back to the hotel to enjoy a delicious buffet breakfast and to start saying my goodbyes to people as I was again leaving shortly to go back to the airport to start my journey to Sri Lanka. For those I had met just two weeks ago the goodbyes were easy but for those that I’d shared most of my time in India and Nepal it was a bit tougher. We had been through so many experiences together and spent so much time together we were truly like family. I know I will see some of the again and so that helped to say goodbye and thankfully I was sharing a taxi with Mahul which helped to keep my mind off leaving my dear friends as I did indeed have a lump in my throat.
But as always it’s on to new adventures which started as soon as I entered the international terminal to check in for my flight. I was flying Jet Airways and their computer system had crashed and so they were checking everyone in manually. I have to say I was impressed at how organized they were and they actually had a fairly decent process in place, though I did have serious doubts if I would see my bag anytime soon. Next it was immigration where my passport was officially stamped with my departure date from Nepal and then the wait begins to board the plane for the short 2.5hr flight to Mumbai where I have an 8 hr layover and then another short 3hr flight to Colombo. A new chapter begins.
After checking out of Sikkim at the border, we travelled another 2.5hrs in jeeps to get back to the town of Siliguri where we had left the our truck. As we made our way closer and closer to Josh, the India I've come to know started slowly re-appearing and I was struck by how almost normal it all seemed. Close to three months ago I’d have been taken aback by everything I was seeing. I guess I’ve acclimatized to Indian street life. Once Josh was re-packed with our bags we headed off for a quick stop at KFC at the nearby shopping mall food court. We thought we were heading off for three nights of wild camping so think of it as pre-comfort food. About an hour after lunch we arrived at the border of India and Nepal (Ranganj/Kakarbhitta). It was time to officially say goodbye to India and hello again to Nepal. It all felt a bit strange to me as I never thought I’d see this moment but then it snuck up on me so quickly. We’ve had many conversations about India and our time here and I have come to the conclusion that I definitely don’t hate India