A Rapid Realisation

by Ant Stone on November 10, 2007

in Nepal

Don’t try to out run it’. The message was clear. ‘Right, forward!’. A second, equally forceful instruction, delivered with intent. ‘Can you climb a tree?’. My heart now pounded with panic at my chest, pleading me to cease this needless onslaught. ‘Forward, together!’, boomed out, like a roll of thunder roaring through my head. ‘If one comes too close, huddle together and make a lot of noise’, my pupils dilated, flooding my senses with suspense. ‘Hold on! Hold ON!‘. No sooner than I had a received my raft guides outburst, than I was hurled violently into an explosion of white water and spun, forcefully in a tremendous grasp, while I gulped mouthfuls of icy water from the underbelly of the imperious, Kali Gandaki river. ‘It ran away, we’re safe’, came the soothing voice of my safari guide a few days later. No sooner than I’d absorbed his obvious relief, than I was struck with a bolt of disappointment. There was a rhino here, whom I wanted an audience with.

I’d thankfully escaped the monotony of life in Kathmandu, and headed northwest to Nepal’s second city, Pokhara. Still bemused by my newly restored independence (Reb & Co had escaped on a trek) I was in need of a clean slate, though at first glance Pokhara’s lakeside strip of western style cafes, bookshops and tour agencies caused my spirit to sink with despair. Where, I mused, was Nepal? Within hours I had signed up to a rafting tour, as well as needing a wash I needed a cold slap in the face to bring me to my senses. Days were starting to drag, and after 4 months the variety of life I was supposed to be enjoying had started to turn into a seemingly monotonous cycle of backpacking life; bus journeys, unpacking, site-seeing, telling my story, packing and so on. Some people perceive backpacking life as easy, a breeze, a doddle. But take a moment to consider, that as a backpacker every time you add consistency to your life – be it a face, a bed or a street – your lifestyle dictates that you remove it, and start over from scratch. An endless cycle, bleaching my life and one I’m so intrigued with, I continue to explore it’s mysteries from within.

The next day I found myself armed with a paddle, tumbling helplessly around a fully laden raft while getting to know new friends, Mim, Ellen and Lucy between hard fought battles with the glorious Gandaki rapids. The river flowed beside lush, steep hillsides draped in green, stitched together by an occasional rope bridge supporting the gaze of bemused locals. As we traced an 85km route, the Gandaki absorbed power from laces of tributaries and small, silver tassels of waterfalls being drawn over the hills shimmering edges, by the river’s spirit. I’ve always loved the water, especially rivers, so this was an amazing way to see some of Nepal’s countryside – while avoiding the seemingly mandatory activity of trekking that the majority of Nepal’s foreign visitors partake in. The two evenings between rafting were spent riverside, in swiftly erected campsites. It was a change of scene that on reflection was a turning point for my washed-out demeanor.

Shortly after returning from rafting I was strolling back to my guesthouse, and picked up a tatty sheet of paper. I don’t know what made me do this, it seemed as simple as the sight of English words laid in lines of care by the hand of a considerate child. ‘My name is Sagar, I live in Thamel‘, the infamous Kathmandu district I’d escaped and a 6 hour drive from this potholed back lane of Pokhara. I continued eagerly, with growing curiosity, ‘many years ago I was in a village with my father, mother and brother. My father and mother both were drinking alcohol‘ he wrote boldly. I formed a picture of an isolated Sagar, maybe 10 years old, with eyes glazed with sadness sitting in the the corner of a room of shadows. His story continued, ‘they died because of drinking alcohol‘. I paused, somehow no longer feeling removed, I allowed myself to sit, silently, beside him. ‘One day our uncle went to the school and quarreled with the principal‘, he continued to tell the story of his uncle who had wanted him and his brother, Niroj, to work in Kathmandu City as pot washers. They’ve never been back to the village. The poignant ending read ‘I want to do work that will make all the world know about me… Nepal is an underdeveloped country. Staying in Nepal, I will never be successful in my life‘. I felt this was a chilling warning to the future of Nepal, a reminder of how the present day catastrophes will determine the level of future successes. Sagar’s favorite footballer is ‘Ronaldinho‘, his favorite animals are ‘horses and rabbits‘ and his favorite person, is someone ‘who can understand me‘. The paper appeared to have been unfolded, as I retraced the folds I considered the meaning behind my finding it. It’s shape restored; a paper airplane, splash landed and forgotten.

‘Sagar’s Story’ is now forever stored in my heart, I carry it with me as a reminder of life behind the cafes and bookshops of Nepal, and of the World. I know that I’ll find some way of putting his message, and the meaning behind my discovering it to good. I left Pokhara a few days after the rafting, turning south, for Sauraha on the edge of the Chitwan National Park. A flat area, with a sun that warms it’s residents year round as well as countless species of mammals and birds, but it was the Indian rhino that found it to the top of my hit-list. The first morning found me drifting silently downstream on the Rapti river in the belly of a hollowed out canoe toward the start of an adventurously named, ‘Jungle Trek’. I was joined by a lovely pair of Melbourne mums, Pam and Gill and a guide who slowly forewarned us of the dangers that lay ahead, in particularly of the park’s rhino and tiger (though the tigers are rare in this part of the park). Interestingly, and worryingly, the nature guides aren’t permitted to carry guns, despite the real danger of being attacked by tigers or trampled by a charging rhino. The closest we got to a rhino on the trek, was a telling rustle from the swaying sea of elephant grass. I settled, reluctantly, for a scattering of monkeys. The afternoon of that day found me crammed into a wooden cradle atop a magnificent, graceful elephant. The most amazing moment from my time in Nepal found me just metres away from a wild, grazing Indian rhino. The mahout, sensing my delight followed the rhino for fifteen exhilarating minutes, as we trampled our way through woodland to observe it’s solid gray folds move like a robotic miracle of nature, through the jungle growth. Unforgettable. As if Chitwan hadn’t offered enough, the next morning I found myself once again atop an elephant, though this time in completely different circumstance. I was riding him bareback into the Rapti river as he sprayed me with gallons of water from his trunk. For ten minutes he shook me playfully off his back, tossing me into the cool current metres below, before helpfully maneuvering his trunk to allow me to clamber up, and onto his mighty back to dry under a sky full of splendid sunshine.

With playtime over, I reluctantly returned once more to Kathmandu (to get my Indian visa). I arrived amidst Tihar (Nepali ‘Festival of Lights’, and incorporating the Indian festival, ‘Dipawali’). The most popular of Nepal’s festivals, though to my relief instead of slaying beasts like they did a few weeks previously throughout the festival of Dashain, they worship them, especially the cows as it is the animal representative of Laxmi, goddess of wealth. It’s a vibrant mixture of tika songs, candlelight, cow dung and garlands all bound together by deep rooted family values, especially the bond between a brother and his sister. It’s been a funny few weeks. One that’s hard to understand, let alone write about. Nepal is an amazing country, but coming into it off the back of three months in China, a tough country, has undoubtedly restricted my ability to become infused by it. Backpacking is sometimes a raw lesson in reality, while discovering known passions you uncover untold truths that even the harshest ‘bleaching cycle’, could never remove. While my raft guide bellows ‘forward, together!‘, I hope it’s not just a handful of sodden tourists that heed it’s message.


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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

reb November 17, 2007 at 12:56 pm

That sounds amazing……the rafting , the animals…..you’ve been a busy bumble bee! Where as i have been stinking in the same clothes for three weeks walking everyday…..have i lost my mind!?!
I like your way with words in this one, it does what i think you intended to do, make people think…..you succeeded…..
five star….xxxx

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