Roadside tragedy, maoists and mountains
Trip Start Oct 01, 2005
17Trip End Mar 27, 2007
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The road is packed with people milling about. Many are eating at wooden shacks turned food-stalls. After a huge meal of rice, dahl, curried potatoes, pickled vegetables and papadam, all washed down with sweet chai, I return to the bus to find it nearly vacant. Almost everyone has started walking. In typical Nepali fashion, nobody seems to be agitated, nor even complaining. Everyone (except for a stressed group of very out of place tourists with their Samsonite suitcases, attempting to hire porters) accepts the predicament and moves on. The only information I have regarding the transformation of this stretch of road into a massive parking lot is that there has been "an accident."
Joining the last two Nepalis on our bus, we begin our walk, passing a wide assortment of vehicles - old Tata trucks covered in gangrenous rust, carrying livestock, fruits and vegetables, bamboo poles, passengers, bicycles or all of the above; new, shiny SUVs with wealthy Nepalis and tourists; small minivans missing metal panels; many motorcycles; a water tanker truck or gasoline truck; and a large collection of buses void of their passengers. Ahead, a noticeably large and stationary group of people has formed in the middle of the road. Obviously the site of the accident, yet I do not see the pile-up of vehicles I was expecting. In the midst of the crowd lies a body. It's covered with a dark cloth, several sticks of burning incense close by. A small pool of dried blood remains visible on the pavement. Having no need nor desire to loiter, we quickly move beyond the horrible sight. On the side of the road an emotionally charged group of people is in the midst of a heated confrontation with police and army personnel. After many not-so-informative discussions I piece together the circumstances surrounding the corpse on the road
We arrive at Annapurna Base Camp - a small gathering of spartan, stone guest houses (and a volleyball court) surrounded on three sides by the massive 25,000 foot peaks of the Annapurna range and Machhapuchhre. The top of Annapurna South - the only visible peak - appears to rest on a thick blanket of clouds that are slowly being forced up the canyon. Not having an escape route they end their journey at the base of the steep, impregnable walls of ice, snow and rock. I connect with a few hilarious Spanish guys -hardcore mountain men from the Pyrenees, sporting an abundance of hair in the form of natty beards and natty dreads, temporarily subsisting solely on ramen noodles and chai. We head to the makeshift volleyball court to join the porters and guides for a game of free for all, keep no score, anyone who feels like it can serve as many times as they choose, no out of bounds but watch out for the rocks, high altitude volleyball
The next morning I wake to 6 inches of fresh Himalaya pow-pow...where are the fat boards when you really need them! A few of us braving the cold and dark leave the comfort of our warm sleeping bags to see the sunrise. I trudge up a narrow ridge in the shadow of Annapurna South, working my way towards the string of Tibetan prayer flags - the point where hiking becomes mountaineering. Beyond lies glaciers filled with menacing crevasses. Also visible are the small clouds of snow dust above the slide-paths of the frequent avalanches. With the sun inching its way up, the mountains take on varying hues of red, pink and purple. Below, the clouds moving in have already enveloped the guest houses in a blanket of white, having in a most stingy manner allowed for a very short period of perfect visibility. I head down the ridge joining Chirring and a few others for breakfast before our rapid descent.
The downward journey takes us through a box like canyon of vertical granite slabs, followed by a dark and moss-covered pine and rhododendron forest, mixed in with occasional clumps of bamboo, ferns and ganja
In hindsight, my behavior was slightly absurd but to quote someone (I have no idea who...maybe it's not even a quote) - "look for the ridiculous in everything and you will find it". Suffice it to say that at the time I could not control my temper. I was mired and sliding deeper into the messy and murky zone of "BUT IT'S THE PRINCIPLE..." Of course, by no means do I regret vociferously protesting the actions of Maoists forcing donations. (Personally, my second.) But entering into an increasingly heated argument while seated across a desk from a dogmatic, robotron, petty bureaucrat armed with basic yet annoyingly powerful hardware - pen, ink pad, rubber stamp, notebook, lock box and receipt book - is a waste of time and energy. Perhaps I should not have compared the Maoists to a well organized group of unethical and petty thieves using children to fight their battles, while disguising their violent and oppressive actions behind the facade of a provenly failed and wholly brutal political theory. (To their credit, they have been integral in ending the tirade of monarchy rule.) After my outburst, highly amusing interpretations of the "Marc vs. Maoists" scene surface as told that evening by several local onlookers. One version had me throwing off my pack and preparing to enter into physical battle with the Maoist officer (fat chance...), the other, had me on the verge of receiving a bamboo caning. The second was probably closer to the truth.