We agreed to one last adventure before departing Asia. Our luggage stashed at our hotel in Thamel, we left Kathmandu by the back streets and alleys in a private car. Our driver, Pramesh, cut the time to escape the capitol down to ninety minutes.
At Mugling, we turned south, away from Pokhara, onto the main north-south highway of central Nepal. This “unmitigated horror” of a road pounded us into weary submission, covering us in dust and bruises as we fought ruts, potholes, and long delays to Bharatpur. After seven hours, we were deposited at our lodging in Sauraha, myself feeling rather “hangry.” We had come to ride the elephants of Chitwan.
Some random observations:
-Tihar swing, many set up for the festival of light, only to be taken down until next year.
-On the monarchy: better to have one lion than a hundred jackals.
Trishula – trident, the weapon of Shiva. The Trisuli flows from a lake where the god of death employed this weapon.
Diddi- older lady
Bhai- younger brother
Dhanyabahd – thank you
Hatti – elephant
Mausuli – gecko
– We descended the foothills of Kathmandu to the plains of the Terai.
We walked from the hotel along the main drag of Sauraha. We were reminded several times by the gentle but insistent honking of passing motorists that traffic flows in the British manner, opposite our ingrained left-hand pattern. After five or ten minutes, we reached the entrance to Chitwan National Park. Our guide led us to the pen holding a baby rhinoceros, saved from the recent monsoonal flooding. It tried to bite Tishla when she reached out to pet it. Juvenile and adult elephants browsed in the early morning clearing. A set of steps led us to our mounting point, a large female elephant and her mahout patiently awaiting our entry onto the teak howdah. Aboard, we set off into the jungle. The mahout skillfully guided us to a river, clearing mid-story vegetation with a stick and scythe; the elephant cleared a path for herself, using her trunk and massive legs.
I admit to some trepidation as she descended into the water of the Nayarani River, but the Asian elephant’s long legs kept us high and dry. The mahout steered us within five meters of an Indian rhinoceros, who bubbled the water ominously as we approached.
The sandy banks and plain were covered in tracks: tiger, snake, crocodile. We saw none of these in the wild, despite almost two hours of riding high through the jungle. As she walked, Makoli tore grasses in large swaths, snacking as she worked. We did see putali, spotted deer; MJ heard, then espied, a peacock.
The ride finished, we thanked our driver and his wonderful partner, and walked back to our hotel. The small shop across the street sold elephant dung paper, possible because of the high cellulose content of their scat. We bought some paper as gifts.
We leave Nepal this week, our emotions a mixture of sadness at leaving and joy at having experienced so much. I hope you have enoyed reading these posts. I hope to augment them with videos I shot, panoramas I captured, and sound files I recorded. Too, the story of my meditation with Guru Rinpoche is yet to be told.
Herewith follows several emails from Tishla and myself, captured to the blog. The first is Tishla’s recounting of our massive drive from Chitwan back to Kathmandu:
Drive from Chitwan
The drive from Chitwan to Kathmandu was eventful.
We had a private car (and driver) 8 am departure from hotel, except, oops! The battery was dead! Wish I’d gotten a photo of Dad and 4 tiny Nepali men pushing the car for a jumpstart. Didn’t work, but within 2 hours a battery was procured and we were off to the ATM so driver could pay the mechanic for the battery. Only, the floods had wiped out all the ATMs and they were in Kathmandu, being repaired. Fortunately, we had enough cash to pay the mechanic and the driver, Pramesh, paid us back later. The hotel owner had agreed to Pramesh’s Boss to forward the money but then said he didn’t have that much money.
It got worse from there. The main road between Nepal and India is dirt, and barely reopened since the monsoon season landslides. At noon, maybe two hours ahead of us, a bus fell off the road. At least one death and over 50 injured. The road was a solid traffic jam for over 4 hours, with ambulances desperately trying to get through. We sent our prayers to them.
Around 5, the downhill lane (and I use that word lightly, Nepalis drive in any open space on the road😲) was moving, but uphill, a big truck had broken down and traffic was blocked. Pramesh “read” the flow of traffic like the black belt he was, and he eventually calculated a problem in the down hill lane. He pulled into it and wove through oncoming traffic, past two miles of stopped vehicles going uphill and eventually got us past the disabled big rig.
Traffic was still terrible for the next two hours, (even requiring a three point turn out of the jam to reverse direction on a jammed city dirt street 1/2 the width of Courser) and an emergency stop at a gas station, but he got us home! Some half million or so people are probably still stuck out there! We got in around 8 pm and had pizza. What a great life! I’m eager to see you all!
The next snippet recounts the purchase of a certain dorje:
In Thamel, I entered a shop of dorjes to look around, one of the few shops open on Dashain. The old man unfolded himself from his chair and greeted me. There, in the front case lay a small, silver dorje-500 rupees. I bought it, and he slipped a string thru the opening, making a slip knot with his cracked, gnarled hands. Before he placed it over my head, he blessed it and blessed me. Then, he said “My name is Dorje. I blessed this and blessed you, from now on you will have great fortune.” I mumbled a ‘thank you’ and went to the door. Before I could open it, a shaman stepped into the shop wearing a high, curved hat, dressed in saffron from head to toe. He held out a glowing dish and asked for a donation. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a wad of rupees, maybe 500, and placed them inside. He blessed me with his staff, and disappeared.
The next story is from Tishla, and is about food:
The theme is vegetarian. In Nepal, the usual meal is dahl bhat: a plate of rice with side dishes that include legume soup, vegetable curry and
pickled greens. Sometimes a bowl of curd (fresh cheese) is included.
I had poured out the curry before photographing, it tasted delicious!
In Bhutan all of our meals have been buffet style, so the plating is mine; I try to take a bit of everything. The national food is ema datschi with red rice. Ema datschi is chilies cooked in milk, curd and flavoring. Hot and yummy! Cabbage is also common.
The ema datschi pictured is made from green chilis, it is in between the mo mo (vegetable dumpling) and the rice, above the cabbage.
The White and orange things are potatoes and carrots, the red is chili paste. Lentil soup. Against the white plate you can make out the pink tinge of the red rice. This was a very lavash buffet.
We got a snack of roasted corn from a street vendor
I took this street scene out the van window, it’s the closest I have to the corn seller who worked in a roadside shelter cooking over a fire.
We also snacked on sun-dried cheese
Here is her second installment on food:
So. Meat. Americans eat a lot of it. In both countries, our guides brought up the subject to establish our desires for it. In Nepal, refrigeration is inadequate to keep meat fresh but meat dishes are offered on the menus of a few tourist places. We have opted for vegetarianism during our trip.
The Hindus were celebrating Dashain and making animal sacrifices in the temple compounds. This is the only meat they typically eat. We avoided seeing any sacrifices performed but did see blood. Our guide identified an odd wall “decoration” in Bhaktapur as entrails. I suspect this intimacy with meat helps sustain the preference for vegetarian diets.
Women carrying Dashain baskets to be blessed at the temple in Pokhara
There are no slaughterhouses in Bhutan. Our guide said that they only eat meat from animals who died naturally. The kingdom is primarily Buddhist and officially discourages killing anything. Those who want meat must purchase it from India.
I don’t think Nepalis or Bhutanese eat breakfast. The choices are often named “American” “English” “Indian” “Swiss” etc. “American breakfast” is 2 or 3 pieces of toast with butter and jam, 1 egg, potatoes-often mashed, and a choice of tea or coffee. Here are a couple of buffet pictures
This baked egg, potatoes, mushrooms and toasted cheese sandwich breakfast was the restaurant’s special offering
Thanks for reading.