Monday, 29 November 2010

So you can smoke a spliff at the Nepalese immigration office - who knew?

Namaste from Nepal.

Before going into how excited I am about my trek starting tomorrow I will bring you up to speed from the last few days.
In my last post I said I was off to watch the cremations at the burning ghats in Varanasi, and that is just what I did and saw far more than I wanted to.
I took the short walk to the cremation sight and sat at a respectable distance with a few other tourists watching the proceedings. My main focus was on the pyre closest to me which was about 15 metres away and I told myself I would watch the enitre thing from start to finish. After about 15 mins the other tourists moved on so it was just me sitting on some steps. As with all of India, a white person is a target for a conversation, so I got talking to a local about this and that but still watching what was going on when one of the cremation workers walked up to the pyre I was watching with a big stick.
The next thing I see is him put the stick into the pyre underneath the body (which was now bare as the wrappings had burned away) and sit it up!
So there I am chatting to a local about nonsense and in front of me a burning body is sat up like it is alive. It was well crispy by this stage but all of the hair was still there and it still looked far too human. When I thought that this was freaky enough he walks around the other side and clouts the body with the stick snapping it in half, on top of itself! Basically, this done to keep the fire in a central location and burning, but it was a bit full on and then watching a loose arm flailing around at the side was, how can I say, interesting.
All this and the family of the deceased are watching as well. Actually, only the men are allowed to attend because women are weak and will cry (Indian view not mine) and there is a belief that tears will steal the soul and stop its ascent to heaven.

So that was my first morning in Varanasi, after my early morning boat ride described in my last post.

Didn't do much else that day except have some lunch and spent 2 hours or so chatting to an Austrian artist over the dinner table.
The evening was spent having a little wonder around, watching the nightly pooja (priests and prayers etc to the Ganges and the gods) and then hanging out at my hotel in the rooftop restaurant just chatting to various travellers.

Next day was quite relaxed too. A friend I met in Darjeeling came over and we just spent the day chatting on the rooftop like 2 old women (she was a women so it was fine for her).
In the evening I went on a night-time boat trip which added a new dimension to all of the proceedings going on on the ghats. Both the pooja and the burning ghat was very eerie in the darkness, but the highlight for me was being allowed to row the boat. Not many people can say they have rowed a boat down the river Ganges past burning bodies!
Then just back to the hotel and dinner with various other travellers.
Varanasi is a full on place and like no other I have been to in my life, but I liked it and it was probably a fitting place to end the Indian adventure.

Next day I left for Nepal and a mammoth journey - still it turned out to be very funny, having met more strange people, which I just seem to do.

Jouney times to Pokhara in Nepal were as follows:
Train from Varanasi to Gorakhpur - 6hrs
Local bus from Gorakhpur to the Indian border - 3 hrs
Local bus from the Nepalese border to Pokhara - 10 hrs

My plan was to get to Gorakhpur and then get some kip before continuing, but that didn't quite happen and I did the whole thing in one go.

All pretty uneventful until I got to the border at 1am.
So at 1am I had to wake up Indian immigration, as you can expect they were not happy. As I then approach the border to pass there is a group of 3 guys arguing with a taxi driver. Over the next few hours I discover that 1 of them loves an argument, and yes he was English, yes he was an old toff from the old school, and yes I did think he was a complete dick! (His name was Richard, so quite fitting really)
Anyway, we all cross the border and then have to wake up Nepalese immigration! I made sure I was first as being a very organised person I already got my visa sorted in the UK before I left. The other 3 (Dicky dickhead), Ludwig (26 from Germany) and Subos (who I kept calling Subo because I couldn't get it out of my head) a Nepalese national, hadn't sorted their visas. Well Subo obviously didn't need one.

Anyway, I ended up having to wait with them whilst the visas were processed but it was worth it because Dicky was such a complete div.
Firstly, Ludwig didn't know that he needed a passport photo to apply for a visa so there a big discussion about this.
Dicky of course stepped in.
1) he commented on how annoying the bureaucracy was to me (I didn't comment as I thought he was being stupid for saying it - of course you need a photo for your visa!)
2) he then offered up one of his own photos for Ludwig - which I couldn't believe was actually accepted
3) he then moans at the 100 rupee fee for accepting this - 100 Nepalese rupees is about 90p!!!
Agggghh - what a dick
Then to my utter disbelief, whilst the visa is being processed, Subo and Dicky spark up a spliff! I asked what the score was and Subo said it was all good.

So we eventually get over the border at about 2:30am and go to the local buses next to the border gate. The first bus was set to depart at 4am, so I found myself sitting next to the border crossing at 3am on a little bench in front of a table with a gas stove eating egg noodles and drinking coffee made by a little Nepalese woman.

Obviously I had to talk to the 3 Amigo's and it turns out Subo was Dicky's nephew through adoption, and Ludwig (I found out later on the bus journey) was Dicky's rent boy - I kid you not!
Dicky owns an 8 bedroom gaff in Berlin and has founded a 'group'. Ludwig was invited to join this group (cult) and is now Dicky's partner - but there is no commitment he assured me.
Dicky McDickhead also told me about his property portfolio worth a few million whilst smoking a spliff and how I should do such and such a trek because he has been to Nepal many times. Such a nob.

So the bus to Pokhara takes 10hrs, shared with many many locals ie. so closesly packed that one woman had to support herself sitting opposite me with her hands on my thighs - a very nice way to wake up I can tell you.
Still, the scenery was fantastic.

Eventually we get to Pokhara and Mr 'I have a cock on my head' is very angry indeed. He grabbed the driver by the scruff of the neck and threatened him because he didn't like how he spoke to him and he had lied to him about the route he took. Apparently there was another route that would take 3 hours less but I guess all of the locals who rely on the bus to get to little villages in the middle of nowhere on the route don't count for much!
Finally we get a taxi to Lakeside in Pokhara and I say my goodbyes. I could've checked out their hotel, but I think you can tell that I am maybe not too keen on Dicky, so I found my own place.

I spent the afternoon looking around, getting some trekking info and then went to meet another lad I met in Darjeeling who was leaving for he trek today. We got some dinner and then both being Spurs fans we watched a deserved victory against Liverpool.

Today was a trek prepare day. Got my permits sorted and bought some trekking gear from a cool old woman. After I had finished my purchasing we had a cup of tea together and she told me all about Pokhara and the costs of rents for shops etc - bloody expensive.
Oh, the permit office was a few km's away, so I hired a mountain bike for the journey. Was excellent riding alongside the lake with a view of forests and mountains.
I like Pokhara - it reminds me a lot of Airlie Beach in Oz. It is a party town, with lots of live music where people are either waiting to go trekking or have just come back, as opposed to the destination being the cruises to Whitsunday Islands in Airlie Beach. (somewhere I am going to work for a while) 

So that brings you up to speed. Tomorrow I venture out into the wilderness (well not quite but close enough) on a 20-25 day trek. I am doing to Annapurna circuit and then going straight into the Annapurna base camp trek. I am planning to do it in 20 days as need to get to Kathmandu for Xmas.
I am really excited. I have wanted to do this sort of thing all of my life, so I will struggle to sleep tonight like it's Xmas eve or something.

Right, that's it, I am off for some dinner. The place next door has live music on and the bloke is murdering every single song - now that is entertainment so I am going there.

Bye for now and hopefully I will have lots to tell you about in 3 wks or so, and will also be a little lighter and more toned!

And on that note I have one more thing to say - Let's 'ave it!!!

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