Internationally speaking, Nepal is right on my doorstep. That I’ve only managed to get there for very brief dayjobbery in 2010 is a bit ridiculously given that, in the same period, I’ve managed to ‘drag’* myself to Thailand three times, which is a good deal further away.
It’s particularly silly because, as it turns out, I bloody love Nepal. It’s a tiny country, but there’s so much to explore.We started our trip with a few days in Kathmandu, staying in the tourist-orientated Thamel district. Dozens of top notch bars and restaurants, shopping in crowded streets, insane bustle and business – despite being crowded beyond belief, it’s a friendly, lively vibe. A brilliant place to relax. Speaking to other visitors, we found some were a bit disturbed by the traffic, which rushes at you in tiny alleys quite a lot, but India seems to have inured us to this a bit. Even our daughter didn’t take long to shrug it off.
I’m not normally a people watcher, but you can’t help it in Thamel. Most of the fun is had in watching the tourists. The range of them is vast. While there are plenty of the doped out hippies and backpacking students that you’d expect, Thamel draws all sorts from all over, from octogenarian couples to young families. It’s a heady mix, and a busy one. One gent in particular drew my eye – a dirt-encrusted white guy with a tangled beard, who wandered around the shops and restaurants in ragged sandals and grimy jeans with a huge basket on his back collecting rubbish. Whoever he is, he’s been there for a long time. I’d love to know his story.
Outside of Thamel… well, you’d have to be insane to describe Kathmandu as anything other than a filthy mess of a city. While wandering around looking for a monkey temple, we were forced to cross a river that probably infected us with several exciting new diseases the moment we glanced at it.
The smell was… well… unique. Human sewage and death (you probably can’t see in the photo, but there’s the rotting carcass of a whole cow under the distant bridge) make for a foetid brew. it encapsulates the worst sides of the city rather nicely, and you can’t have one without the other. For Kirsty and I… well, we’ll be going back. Something about Kathmandu really works for us.
Then on Kirsty’s birthday we took a small plane up a big hill. Several of them, actually.
That’s Mount Everest in the background. The Himalayas are exactly as epic and breathtaking as you would expect, and there’s not much more I can add to what’s already in your head.
We spent the second part of our break roughing it around Chitwan national park. This is our idea of roughing it.
Sapana Lodge was as idyllic as it looks, and perfectly located for exploring into the jungle. Our first venture was on the back of an elephant, and was easily the best way to get into the forest – on tiny trails a jeep wouldn’t countenance. The other grand thing about riding an elephant (apart from, you know, just the fact that you’re riding an elephant) is that just about everything you want to see knows and trusts what it is. If you want to get up close to the wildlife, an elephant is a perfect way to do it.
Crocodiles featured heavily, along with some deer and monkeys, but our best find was stumbling across a one horned rhino. Beautiful animal, which my ladywife described as ‘not as big as expected’. I suspect this has to do with being on the back of an elephant. From the back of an elephant, almost nothing is as big as expected.
Later on we tried a jeep safari too, but though it travelled further the wildlife seem wise to the ways of the road. They have a whole forest to play in after all, so a jeep safari on dirt roads really is hit and miss. Our vehicle also managed to be the most uncomfortable device ever designed by man. For some reason, the seats were at the outer edge, facing inwards. Unless we wanted to spend four hours examining fellow passengers in detail, we had to contort continually to be facing outwards. Very sore indeed. However, we did spend a while stalking a sloth bear along the road, which was very cool. No photos of that beast, though Kirsty has probably done better with her fancy camera and lens. Here’s a small photo of a sunset to make up for the lack of a bear.
While I don’t like to pick favourites – the other Asian countries might get upset – it’s a close run thing as to whether I prefer Thailand or Nepal to visit. I’m still a bit embarrassed that it’s taken so very long to take a proper look at our neighbour, but we’re already planning a return trip. We’re lucky that we’re so close – an hour on a plane, and there we are.
One reason I need to go back is for research. While I was there I finally figured out how to use the various experiences I’ve accumulated since moving to this part of the world in my writing. Places have been popping up more and more in stories here and there, but until now nothing too major. What popped into my head in Nepal (while on the back of an elephant, brushing branches from my face) is… well… epic. Huge. A big intimidating. It uses… well… everything.
And that’s all I’m going to say about that for a while.
And now I’m back, and plunging straight into short story and novel edits to send to people over the next day or two. After that, on with the revised masterplan for how I’m spending the next eighteen months. The next six, before I switch to writing full time for a while, are particularly crowded – there’s so much I want to have under my belt before the end of September that…
Actually, why am I even telling you this? Telling you this means I’m not getting on with it.
Oh. I see.
Currently reading (novel): Red Dog, Louis de Bernieres
Currently reading (anthology): The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stores, edited by Anne and Jeff Vandermeer
*yes. Those are air quotes. Live with it.