844 days, 20,256 hours, 1,215,360 minutes, or 72,921,600 seconds. That is the approximate duration of my world tour. I never wanted it to end and now, in a manner of speaking, I suppose it never has to. If you wish to go by country do so by clicking on one above. They are numbered in the order I visited them, more or less. If you enjoy reading about it even a tenth as much as I enjoyed living it then you will not have wasted your time. Grab a refreshing beverage, settle in a comfortable chair, and make a journey across the world, experiencing it as I did. Then get off your ass and check it out for yourself. You're not getting any younger.

Sundarijal-Chisopani-Nagarkot-Dhulikel (Cannabis Trail, Nepal)

Oct 16th, 2009 - My warm up trek is complete. Now it is a two day hiatus in Kathmandu and then off on a 9 day, 270km (168 mile) river rafting bonanza on the Sun Kosi. I am hoping the folks on this adventure are both amicable and jovial or this is going to be a long trip. Cross your fingers.

So I met my guide Gopal for this recent hike on the morning of the 13th and we headed out of Kathmandu by car. On the first day we started in Sundarijal and made our way to Chisopani. Gopal is an interesting fellow. About ten minutes into the trek I find out that he has a Spanish girlfriend. Nothing shocking there, until you consider that he also has a wife and a child. It gets better.

He met his senorita while she and her husband were in Nepal on vacation.  And by 'vacation' I mean honeymoon. Gopal was their guide and apparently he went above and beyond the call of duty. I guess you could say he is a ‘full service’ guide. I did not inquire into the particulars but he did make it clear that their nascent relationship was most challenging to maintain and required more than one surreptitious rendezvous. I believe it was the bathroom area that served as a convenient meeting place. 

Gopal’s wife has no clue nor does the husband of his little muchacha. Neither plans on a divorce but this does not deter their hearts (The heart wants what the heart wants). She is coming to visit in April w/o the hubby. Sparks will fly and the earth will move, at least according to the thrice daily e-mails Gopal receives from his guapa. Who needs “The Bold and the Beautiful”? I have Nepal.

It did not take me long to discover that my fearless guide has a third love, known affectionately as Mary Jane. This is not so surprising as the stuff grows wild all over the place. In fact, you can find it growing between houses, next to the trails, and just about everywhere in between. Although drugs in general, and marijuana in particular, are illegal there does not seem to be a whole lot of emphasis on enforcement. As I walk the busy streets of Thamel (a district in Kathmandu) I am offered illicit substances at regular intervals (perhaps I have the look of an addict). Ganja, hash, cocaine, and even heroin are all part of the pharmaceutical cornucopia. Heroin? Seriously? That one took me by surprise.

Every time an offer is made I have to giggle. It usually starts with an offer for a rickshaw ride, tiger balm, or some other type of street fare but soon devolves to a more scandalous nature and is always accompanied with a marked drop in decibel level. “Excuse me. Rickshaw? Monkey Temple? Massage? Girl? White woman? Hash? Marijuana? Cocaine?” Although the thought of shooting heroin and fornicating with a Nepalese hooker while avoiding prison is most attractive I somehow manage to decline every time. Nepal did abolish the death penalty so I am not sure what my problem is.

But I digress. Back to Gopal. He too seemed intent on getting me to frolic with Puff the Magic Dragon and appeared disappointed when I thwarted his advances. It was then that I learned that marijuana is actually legal for one day of the year in Nepal. On Shiva’s birthday (Hindu's supreme deity) I guess whole families hit the bong. And if what I have read is correct Shiva himself is also fond of the magic bud. Kind of makes you wonder why it is not legal the rest of the year, although I suspect it is on a de facto basis.



The trek was not so arduous although I will admit that my legs did not appreciate three days of climbing after an extended hiatus from such activity. We spent the first night in a hill town of Chisopani. As the Lonely Planet puts it the town is like “a grubby little truck stop without the trucks.” However, the mountain views are nothing to shake a stick at.

The town is not so memorable but my encounter with a Nepalese army major was. He introduced himself and upon learning that I was American informed me that he had been to Orlando, Florida. Interestingly, he did two six month stints as part of a United Nations peacekeeping force in Hati of all places. Where did he go on vacation? Disney World, Universal Studios, and the Kennedy Space Center. Where else?

The morning after my arrival in Chisopani he was kind enough to show me the small cheese making operation in town. Locals sell milk from buffaloes and yaks from which cheese is made. He then invited me to his small military outpost on a nearby hill for a cup of coffee. How could I refuse? So there I was sitting at a small army outpost on a hill taking in a view of the Himalayas while a major in the Nepalese army showed me his brochures from Universal Studios and the Kennedy Space Center. That, my friends, is why I travel.









Cheese factory








I bid my new friend a fond farewell (we exchanged e-mails) and set out for the town of Nagarkot. We did a little more lolly-gagging than I would prefer but I suppose it was ok to take it slowly for the first trek. Part of the hold-up was due in no small part to long lunch breaks. Cooking time is very slow at some of these hillside restaurants. A small but significant factor was the rise and fall of the motivation level of Gopal. As you might guess it bore a direct relationship to the level of THC in his blood. At his height he was barking, mooing, baaing, and clucking at the appropriate animal as we walked past for poops and giggles. Entertaining but also a smidge vexing when I was in haul-ass mode. What can you do? He is a pleasant fellow so I have little reason to complain.

In Nagarkot I slept at the Hotel Viewpoint which, as you might expect, had an excellent vista of a portion of the Himalayan range. One of the most enchanting features of the mountains, especially when viewed from a distance, is that the snow capped peaks appear to materialize out of a blackish-gray void directly beneath them. Ethereal, magical, and majestic.

At dusk the peaks bear a subtle shade of pink and at dawn are illuminated by a rising sun. I’ve discovered that capturing the reality of their grandeur on film is not so easy a task. The distance, the light, and the mist conspire against amateurs such as me from duplicating the essence of the scene. I imagine that the quality will improve with subsequent treks deeper into the Himalayan heartland.





I cannot resist mentioning the group of Chinese tourists that found it impossible to simply take in the scene without engaging in incessant chatter about who knows what. I believe a slap fest was in order but who the hell am I? Really?All I wanted was a few moments of relative quiet while I basked in the quasi-spirtual nature of the scene. Selfish me.

Have I mentioned the Maoists? Starting in 1996 a communist insurgency arose seeking to further the plight of the disenfranchised. To make a long story short they persisted and eventually became a legitimate part of the government. Their leader even served as prime minister for a spell. Their propaganda can still be found painted on the walls in towns and villages. From a tourist standpoint the Maoists never posed much of a direct threat (more of a wrong place, wrong time potential scenario).

Although encountering the rebels on the trail would result in the solicitation of a small ‘donation’ normally a receipt was given so folks could pass unimpeded the next time around. For the most part tourists enjoyed this and viewed the receipt as a one-of-a-kind souvenir. Gopal had an interesting experience some years ago. While guiding a trek with an American bloke he walked right into a firefight between the Maoists and the Nepalese Army. They pressed on through a small gorge (with packs overhead for optimal protection) and made their way to a small village school were they hunkered down with the teachers and children. After the Maoists skidaddled (theirs was a guerrilla hit and run operation) the army surrounded the town and began questioning the villagers. Gopal told me had his client not confirmed that he was in fact the guide it would have been good night Irene for him. Nothing like a nice relaxing trek through Nepal.



The final day of my trek was probably the least enjoyable. Although the morning found us meandering down through hillside villages the better part of the day was spent walking along the road through a number of not so attractive towns and exposing ourselves to the relentless cacophony that is third world traffic. Everybody honks. Nobody listens. I love it.



WTF?


Adventure + Pinic = Awesome


By the end of this day I thought my legs might revolt. Walking on pavement for three hours or so will wreak havoc with your lower extremities. We were going to catch a local bus to our hotel in Dhulikel but Gopal thought the hotel was much closer than it was. It was his first time to this particular hotel and he did not realize that it was 4 km outside of town.

The Dhulikel Mountain Resort was rather hospitable and the view from my window was not unlike the one I had from the top of the hotel in Nagarkot, which is to say beautiful. The drawback to staying in such a place (up market) is the distinct lack of peers. The crowd on this night was a mostly a group of mature German tourists. Not exactly the ‘swing naked from the chandeliers’ crowd.

Before dinner the guests were treated to a sequence of traditional Nepalese dances. Normally, I shun such things as more often than not they are nothing more than cheesy tourist poop. This actually turned out to be quite entertaining and although it was performed by young amateurs many of the dances are in fact authentic.

One of the most interesting was the dramatization of a medicine man/witch doctor. In some of the more remote areas advanced medical care is non-existent so folks have to rely on traditional methods, which includes the chanting, singing, drumming, and incantations of a medicine man. Although it was performed with a healthy injection of levity in reality these ceremonies can be life and death. Gopal informed me that his father is himself one of these traditional healers.




We were also presented with a couple of comically dubious performances. I shall not forget the Yak & Yeti dance. Imagine two individuals, one donning a yak costume, the other showcasing a yeti disguise engaged in some sort of musical/theatrical interaction. The yeti entered the scene mounted atop the rambunctious yak. He dismounted and the bizarre ritual began. At more than one point during this unique exchange it appeared that Mr. Yeti was attempting to dry hump Mr. Yak. Probably not the effect they were going for but that is what it looked like. I may be mistaken but I think the Yeti was break-dancing at one point. Never seen a yeti break dance? Clearly you have not lived.




The next morning I was treated to some more stunning scenery painted in the colors of a rising sun. I find it hard to believe I could tire of such a sight. The trip concluded with a hot, noisy, nauseating and adrenaline-laced car ride back to Kathmandu. I stared straight ahead from my station in the back seat to avoid vomiting but had to channel subtle pangs of terror as a result of the traffic snafu.





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