Saturday, 3 November 2012

There and back again - Part 6

Last day in Pokhara 
After spending some truly enriching days at the beautiful Ganden Yiga Chozen Centre, our last day finally arrived. Time to pack our bags and begin to contemplate the long journey home.

Before I tell you about our last full day in Pokhara, I wanted to tell you how amazed I was by the tenacity and single-mindedness to overcome all obstacles of some species: You've already heard how 2 leeches in Chitwan persevered to climb up my trousers and my vest top and to find a spot where my jacket left an opening to my skin under each arm; and the other leech who spent time and energy burrowing through my heavy-duty, natural-fibre woollen socks so that it could enjoy a feast of my blood. Well, in Pokhara they have these incredible ants. They're not big, just tiny little ants, but my goodness do they ever have tenacity to achieve what they're after!

Mountain Man and I had taken some packs of dried fruit and some nuts on our travels. I have a tendency to get hungry between meals and so always like to have something handy to snack on. When we arrived in Pokhara we still had a pack of half-eaten almonds, a pack of half-eaten dried blueberries, a pack of half-eaten dried cherries and a pack which contained about 8 pieces of uncrystallised ginger left. On our first night we had a small snackette before brushing our teeth and going to bed and we put these packs into a plastic bag, folded it several times and then locked it in the bottom of my suitcase and went to bed.

During the next day I felt hungry and went to find the stash. I unlocked my suitcase to find every available inch completely covered with ants! The food, still wrapped in the plastic bag, was so thick with the blighters the term 'movable feast' is the only description I feel is completely apt! I dealt with this by throwing the food in the bin (I hate to waste, but there are just some times when it's absolutely necessary) and then shaking out all my clothes, but rapidly realised trying to get rid of a horde of ants by trying to shake them out was not going to work. So I left my suitcase open and given that there was no food for them to enjoy, they all marched safely out. Some went away up the walls and off to pastures new, while others remained with us in our chalet room, I can only presume to wait and see if we were stupid enough to bring any more food back in for their delight.

I can't say I was totally thrilled by this episode, nor by the odd ant I found wandering about along my pillow on several occasions, but it did occur to me that if only I had half their tenacity I might have completed a whole lot more in my life.

Okay, back to our last day.

Gerald, the new German project co-ordinator (who retired a few years back and now uses his expertise to help with the various projects at the Centre, and who MM and I met for the first time this year), invited us to join him, The Venerable Yeshe (the teacher at the Centre) and Sonam, the Centre's Director to lunch at the delightfully named Pokhara Beach Club.

On a beautiful, hot, sunny, blue-skied day, we set off to walk the 10 minutes or so to the restaurant, with Yeshe under his brolly to keep the sun off and MM, Gerald and I savouring the heat as only us Northern Europeans like to do, while Sonam, sensible Tibetan that he is, was just taking it as part and parcel of living in Pokhara. We had a delicious lunch with a starter of hummus and beetroot hummus, which was fab, followed by local fish with salad and potatoes. Pudding followed, which I politely declined - puds are really not my thing, but given the mmm's and ahhh's that came from the others I knew the end of the meal had been as good as the beginning.

Lunch was a very jolly affair and I found it fascinating to listen to the stories of how the 3 of them had each arrived at the Centre, while MM and I, on the insistence of Gerald, related the story of how we met all those years ago (21 to be precise), courtesy of The Inverness Courier. Gerald then insisted on a photo call (though I noticed he resolutely and firmly wouldn't let anyone take one of him), which lead to much hilarity from us all. Then it was back to the Centre to spend the final hours of our last day in deep discussion and contemplation before the evening meal.

We had Yeshe's permission to spread the rest of Nell's ashes we had with us under The Mother Bush, and so in the quiet of our last Pokhara night, we emptied our plastic container around the coffee bush's base. The stark white of the remains of Nell against the darkness of the Pokhara soil was startling. In fact, so startling that it looked like the soil around the Mother Bush had some dreaded disease! A few minutes later and it started to rain. Then it poured and remained doing so for most of the night. MM and I were hopeful our Nell would be soaked up by the rain storm and her remains wouldn't be there for everyone to see.

The next morning, before breakfast and heading off to get our bus to Kathmandu, we went to have a look and see what had happened to Nell's ashes. There they were, white as white and as bright and perky as Nell had been in her life. It still looked like the soil had a problem. We decided the best thing was to fess up to Sonam and tell him what we'd done. We didn't want anyone thinking the Mother Bush was about to get caught by a fungus. Sonam just smiled generously and nodded his head. We were very relieved.

I thought I'd finish this bit about our time in Pokhara with two photos. The first one captures the jollity of that lunch (there were others taken that show us all well posed and with our 'photo faces' on, but I just love the pic of Yeshe trying his best to hide under a fern); and the second is one I took of the empty gompa room on the last day, which, for me, captures the feel of the centre.

Mountain Man, Ven Yeshe, me and Sonam after lunch at The Pokhara Beach Club

The gompa room at the Centre
I was sad to have to say goodbye, but at the same time I know I shall be sustained by the very happy memories I have of a wonderful time with such lovely and inspiring people. And of course I'm hoping it's not too long before I can get back there.

Back to Kathmandu
It so happens that while we were in Pokhara it was also the Nepali festival, Dashain, the final day of which just also happened to be the day we were travelling back to Kathmandu. I've never been in the country at this festival time and the effect it has on Nepali life is truly incredible, basically because most Nepali's go back to their families and shut themselves away to eat and party as much as they can. What this means in actuality is that most shops are shut and there are hardly any cars on the road.

For us, this meant that our normal 7 hour journey was cut by over 2 hours and we arrived back to an unrecogniseable Kathmandu. Hardly a car being driven, shops shut and no working on the roads had transformed the city from a veritable dust bowl to relatively clean air! Not one bit of traffic chaos, just freeflowing roads. What a shock! We were so early that Rabi, who apparently had come to meet us from the bus, arrived well after we'd got back and were soaking up the sun by the pool. Even he was shocked, and that says something!

Our journey back might have been quick, but was it uncomfortable. We'd been put in a transit van-sized bus and MM and I were the last on, so we had the seats at the back over the back axle and spent the whole journey trying not to hit our heads on the roof as our bus negotiated the pot-holed, crazy road that is the main highway to Kathmandu. We were very pleased to reach our destination in one piece.

That evening MM took me out for a wonderful Nepali experience at Utsav. If you're ever in Kathmandu you really must treat yourself. Traditional food, listening to traditional music and watching traditional dancing. A brilliant evening.

We decided to spend our last full day in Kathmandu being fairly low-key. We went into Thamel to enjoy wandering about in the after-effects of Dashain. Not that many cars about and shops still shut. We said goodbye to friends, bought a couple of books and a few goodies to bring back as Xmas presents and then back to the hotel for a last sit by the pool. Rabi took us out for a farewell dinner at Or2K and then that was it. Back to the hotel and time to go to sleep for the 5.30 a.m. get up for the trip home.

And finally back home
Tribhuvan was negotiated for the last time this journey. The usual mix of queuing, being searched umpteen times and filling out forms. No problems with our flights either from Nepal or the connection in Delhi. Sadly during the almost 9 hour flight from Delhi I contracted a stomach bug, which meant that the last 5 hours of the flight were not the best.

We arrived back at Heathrow and MM managed to get me from Terminal 4 to Terminal 5 with the minimum of fuss and bother. Part of this was because we discovered that our bags had been forwarded to our final flight to Edinburgh and had gone off to Terminal 5 without us having to do anything. What a relief we didn't have to drag those along with us on the Heathrow Express and up and down the escalators and in and out of the lifts.

When we arrived at Terminal 5, however, my hand baggage had set alarm bells going on the conveyor belt and was detailed off for a thorough search by security. I didn't know what the problem was.

'Anything metal in here? Sharp?'asked the female security guard.

'No, I don't think so.'

'Well would you mind emptying everything so I can check.'

It then occurred to me. 'Oh, well I do have a bull-in-a-bag. That might have set things off.'

'I'm sorry, Madam. A what?'

I then emptied my bag and fished it out.

'Oh, that is seriously cute! Where did you get it? I want one!'

I didn't offer her mine, but wearily was allowed to put everything back after the mystery of the metal detecting flashes had been solved.

It was only then that we discovered our flight had been delayed for over 2 hours and our already excrutiating 22 hours of travel rapidly turned into an even more uncomfortable 24 hours. Feeling rapidly worse by the moment, we found the painfully awkward seats that British Airways so thoughtlessly provide for weary travellers and plonked ourselves down to wait what felt like an interminable time til our flight was called.

We arrived back in Edinburgh at 1.45 a.m. local time to a typical, freezing Scottish Autumn night, and with not a bus in sight. Then it was a long wait in a queue for a taxi to rock up and take us to the Edinburgh house.

On arrival MM immediately tucked me up in bed with all my clothes on and a hot water bottle to help try and warm me and I slept fitfully until morning. I felt so ill I could only just get up to to go to the loo that next day and change in to a pair of pj's and so we stayed put, MM soothing my fevered brow as I spent the whole day and night dozing on and off.

By the next day I managed to get out of bed and get some clothes on so that by midday we were on our way South and home, arriving to a cold Scottish Borders house, a mountain of mail, and 798 emails.

End of holiday. We were well and truly home.


  1. I'm having some trouble with comments on Blogger - they keep disappearing so if two turn up that's the reason.
    Anyway what I said went something along the lines of:
    Travelling wouldn't be the complete experience without bugs and tummy trouble would it? Glad you've recovered.
    It's been great to read all about your trip and share your photos. I've noticed that with the exception of the nun and your fellow travellers there is little mention of women and am intrigued. Do they tend not to be employed in the travel/tourist industry?

  2. Hi Denise... what an interesting question. The answer is that, on the whole, in Nepal there aren't all that many who're employed in the travel industry. There are some women trekking guides, but the majority are men. In Bhutan we did see one female tourist guide, but it was only one out of many, many guides (every tourist party has to have a guide by order of the Government), so they do exist. However, a lot of Bhutanese restaurants are run by women - or at least the ones we went in to seemed to have women managers.