|Nepal slaps you in the face three stooges style. Then, just as you recover it does it again with a nuk, nuk, nuk, nuk.
Leaving Kathmandu the pace of life slows dramatically. People play cards, ping pong and a game that resembles marbles by the side of the road. Women go about washing clothes, harvesting rice and caring for the animals by the road also. The buildings that once dominated the view thin and are replaced by fields of rice in every available area. With a population of & million in the Kathmandu Valley alone its surprising. The chimneys of small brickworks dot the valley floor and motorcycles, rick shaws and taxis mark way for brightly decorated trucks, strange looking tractor/trailer combinations and tourist busses. I am the only westener on my bus and none of the locals will sit next to me. then just I sniff my pits and check my underpants a nice local bloke sits next to me and says, "Where are you from?". I reply "Australia". He then says to me, "You like cricket?". I think to my self, uh oh here it comes. He then follows with, "Ricky Ponting, very great player". And there you have it! "Whats so wrong with that?" I hear you ask, well, nothing it is after all a statement of fact. He is right Ricky Ponting is a "very great cricket player", but its about the hundredth time someone has said that to me in 3 days. As soon as the touts find out you from Oz its the first thing they say to try to draw you into a conversation. Turns out this guy wasn't a tout at all he just genuinely liked cricket.
For the next 6 hours the bus rumbled down the highway, that clings ever so tightly to the valley wall. The milky waters of the river below surging and bubbling on their way to the distant Indian Ocean, willing and able to swallow any tourist bus the strays off it thin ribbon of valley wall. We stop twice on the journey, once for a toilet stop where there are no toilets and once for lunch. I buy about 15 of these tiny bananas, 8-10 cm in length and the width of a normal banana. The lot only cost me 50 rupees(AU$.75), a bargain considering they where delicious.
Finally the landscape changes quite suddenly from immense green monsters reaching almost vertically, maybe as much a 3 or 400 metres to the sky from the river below, to an open expanse of jungle with only a few undulations. The river widens and calms. Te is the region known as the Terai.
Upon arrival at the Jungle Safari Lodge I meet Arjun, another of Ricky Ponting's admirers. He is the manager and wastes no time in whisking my bags off to my room, seating me in the dinning room and feeding my a veggie burger and chips. As I devour all in front of me washed down with an Everest Lager, Arjun tells me of his attempts to emigrate to Australia and the three years he spent in the Saudi oil fields, enduring treatment normally associated with slaves.
That afternoon we tour the village of Sahaura and learn about how the native Tharu people live and their apparent resistance to malaria. We see the elephant sables, a Rhino taking a cooling dip in the river and a sunset over the Chitawan National Park. In the evening we take in a program of traditional Tharu dance. Way too touristy for my liking.
As the sun rises on my second day on the Terai the serenity is shattered where a nearby elephant gives it all hes got. It kind of sets the tone for the day ahead. I am joined for breakfast by Walter, from the Netherlands. He and his wife, Erica, are on a belated honeymoon. Although this morning Erica is unwell, it appears to be the kind of illness that lasts around 9 months and only ends when a growth that resembles a human is removed. I am told the reprocutions can last for 18-25 years. Walter and I being the troopers that we are soldier on. Elephant back safari first up. We see a Rhino and its calf, truly exciting for us, terrifying for the rhinos as they are surrounded on all sides by about 23 elephants so that the tourists they carry can get a photo of them. We also see spotted deer, sambar deer and evidence of a tiger. It was a great morning is just a shame it came at the expense of such magnificent creatures.
In the afternoon Walter and I take a canoe ride down the Rapti River, seeing a "salty snout"croc as our guide calls it, followed by a walk through the jungle. Our guide gives us the lowdown on what to do should we encounter an animal unhappy with our presence or just looking for an easy meal. Turns out all we see are some birds of he non man eating variety and rhino and tiger, with cub, tracks.
A visit to the Elephant Breeding Centre finishes off the day. Is more like a concentration camp though. Its here that their spirits are broken and they are trained to carry tourists around. Its a bitter sweet experience. The elephants don't look happy but with out them tourists would not flock to the area, thus depriving already poor people of another source of income.
After our day of playing George of the jungle is time for a beer. Walter and I find much to talk about A mutual love for beer, anything with wings or wheels and top gear keeps the conversation rolling. After a nap I join Walter and Erica for dinner. They concrete a place in my heart by asking if want to play Uno. Silly question!
But alas our time on the Terai is short, my new friends board their air conditioned van for Pokhara. I too am going to Pokhara but in a Tata bus that looks like it belongs on the scrapheap. I fold myself into the 25 seater with no less than 38 occupants for seven and a half hours of hell on earth. A massive traffic jam where we only moved 2km in 2 hours a highlight of the journey.
Every cloud has a silver lining and mine came when we neared Pokhara when what appeared to be a cloud bank parted, revealing the Annapurna Himalaya Range in all her snow capped glory. Her presence so overwhelming it nearly brought me to tears.
Like I said, "Just as you recover Nepal slaps you again".
Nuk, Nuk, Nuk, Nuk.