India Travel Diary 14 – From Birgunj to Kathmandu
Saturday March 16th 1991 Kashi Toppu Wildlife Sanctuary
Up at daybreak once again to watch birds, but for some reason very quiet, so after a while Jan went back to the lodge and we decided to go swimming in the Ganga Tributary with little risk of beaver fever.
The Sapta Koshi is a tributary of the Ganga. The silky cold water and silt bottom made it a fabulous experience, and as always somewhere in the bushes the curious Nepali eyes watching the naked pale skinned westies frolicking in the icy waters. We returned to the lodge to have porridge with Jan, and discussed our days activities. We lazed about and went back for another swim and managed to fill our crotches with silt, then back to rest in the noonday heat. Woke up around three thirty and decided to split for Birgunj, we packed hastily, said our goodbyes and exchanged addresses with Jan.
We crossed fields of coriander carried by the scent, the scarab beetles rolling dung were nowhere to be found. We crossed the fields by the elephant penis cutters village. We saw a group of kids, one of them a small boy of five, stood there with a large penis between his legs. Was it his or where they playing with the elephant penis, I guess we will never know but the thing hung down twelve inches and as huge as his legs.
He ran off and hid behind a tree stump. We decided to cut across a field and there in the middle was enormous vulture laid out, we stopped and decided to count coup on it and each took three large wing feathers. I noticed in the corner of my eye two men running towards us from far away, waving their hands yelling. Soon other people came out and joined in the pursuit, at this point we were already running with our feathers. We had no idea what had just happened but we didn’t want to discuss it with the villagers. As we approached the highway we could see a large Leyland lorry barreling along in the right direction, so we ran out just ahead of it and were able to flag it down. We rushed to the vehicle hoping the driver wouldn’t spot the villagers midway through the field shouting with fists in the air waving machetes and sticks. Sabu jumped in the cab with the Sari ladies and the driver and I was in the back with the worker dudes. We later found out the feathers were part of a good crops offering and also to ward off other seed eating birds. We left the feathers with a Lama in Dharamsala later in the trip.
Sabu took a picture of me, I have a very big smile on my face, saved in a nik of time. We made it to Itahari and got a overnight bus to Birgunj for our trip to Kathmandu and possibly a trek into the Himalayas and try to get closer to the Tibetan border.
Sunday march 17th 1991
Arrived at 4 am on Sunday, walking around the main square where all the buses stop, we watched boys assembling bus engines, after the parts had been cleaned in varsol or kerosene and greased up. We had chai and watched the teen mechanics at work show, they seemed to know what they were doing and I was impressed, truly impressed. We got a room at Hotel Kalas and got a few hours sleep. Later today the buses leave for Kathmandu. We went to the market to buy supplies for the trip, and we stepped out into bustling dusty Birgunj sunlight, with clouds of flies, flies on the food, flies on the beggars, flies on flies oh my, and revving buses kicking up dust and exhaust. We bargained for seat tickets B1 and B2 for the late afternoon overnight ride to Kat, no way was this clustro boy sitting at the back of a coffin bus. We went to the market to buy our provisions one of them being sanitary napkins for Sabu.
“Two things to remember girls if you’re going to leave the cities and wander the small villages stock up for your monthly mentalations. Sabu’s exact words as I contained my laughter “Holy Bleeder, do you have any tampax”. The guy started dumping ten packs of something on the counter. “Do you have tampax, you know for bleeding lady parts, you know for women they have menstruation?” “Oh, Mentalation; is it clear or cloudy?” “No! Tampax, pads man”, “Yes, most sure and certain we have tablets, I am sure it can cure it”. While we are on the subject of bodily maintenance I would suggest stocking up on toilet paper before venturing into the remote regions. Asking for toilet paper in a small village store will produce a lot of laughter from the shop keepers, and if you are lucky you might find a twenty sheet mini roll, eventually we gave up and did as the locals do and enough said, you figure that out.
Then we took it to the market, where we had a bit of a confrontation over the price of cucumbers. The cucumber showdown. We were not so far from the bus station or lodge. The market is an impromptu kind of thing, we were conserving on cash on hand, and sometimes banks aren’t on hand, so going into Kathmandu we were trying to conserve. We also had lost touch with the value of things at home versus here in rural Nepal, but we had never seen a 16 rupee per kg for cucumbers. We could understand a double rip but this was four times the usual price. Very expensive, maybe you should keep them where the sun don’t shine, so they won’t rot any faster. We tried to bargain a bit when the pan teeth pie eyed cucumber vendor shouted at us to go back to our own country. Sabu got kneed in the back, as we backed away from the assembling crowd and headed back to our hotel to eat and sleep a bit before our trip away from this dust bin town, it is really desolate in a country in John Ford western kind a way. Would make a great set for a remake of High Noon or a Fist Full of Rupees. Finally at six PM we bid farewell to Beergrunge as we so rudely renamed it.
All night dust along the road, Beene and I got cheese and bread and water bottles as we set off for Kathmandu, on ultimate crap coffin buses. If you had to get out, there’s only the front door or front windshield all the windows have bars on them to prevent advanced boarding by the travelling crowds. In actual fact I believe there is no real road to Kathmandu, it’s dust and dirt trail full of potholes and rockslides and every night from Birgunj some twenty buses leave in a chugging convoy. We had three flat tires, we finally left at eight PM thru the night, with stops of men changing tires, and banging on the axles. At dawn we stopped in the cool mountain town for chai, we stood away from the bus stand across the road looking down a long sloping abyss and a brook furiously babbling downward, best we not dwell on the precipice that could gobble up this chariot of Arjuna.
Monday March 18th 1991
Kathmandu , Nepal
At the bus station in the early morning we met Krishna who took us to the Sita Home with a room overlooking the Monkey Temple, one of thirty amazing temples. We realize that somewhere in there we had missed St Patrick’s day no real loss, catch it next year. Erin Go Bragh!
We managed to get up in the evening after sleeping off our eleven-hour bus ride. We went for a stroll around the neighborhood and were glad to see that everything we needed was available to us. For the first time since arriving in India Nepal I had meat, chicken curry with rice, silly western person you shall see what awaits you. Seeing all the temples and doing a trek are our main objectives, our room was facing Swayambhunath Monkey Temple
We bought embroidery tools and thread and headed home to personalize our clothing and sew badges.
This morning after breakfast we got bicycles which the vendors brought to the hotel, so we could get around town without relying on auto rickshaw drivers.
Our first temple of course was the Monkey Temple which was up the road from our hotel. This temple is on a hillside at the pinnacle of a thousand steps, on either side monkeys and beggars compete for attention and handouts. Along the walk are Buddha statues in various sittings, or with various mudras many of them painted deep pink orange. At the top we circumvallated the Stupa while watching some old Nepali man having a showdown with a red monkey. The monkey looked at the man’s knife, in disgust as if to say, “asshole, you would have to use a knife with me”. The man won, they will back down, but do you really want to test a sixty-pound teenage male monkey? We went to the National Museum where we did some sketching of the artifacts in the museum . Sabu did a drawing of Maya Devi and the dream of the birth of Buddha.