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Reaching For The Sky - Part VI

2016 09 13

. . . so hiking is what we did. The first morning, i strapped on my brand new backpack, much to That-Man’s consternation. “Why?” “Because i need to train with it, of course.” He formed one of those typical pressed-lip-raised-eyebrow grimaces and followed me outside. We had by now been able to find our way around the neighbourhood, and especially our way to the places we’ve visited in the past, so we steered our feet towards the familiar. The early morning traffic was a breeze, and most of our way was downhill, until of course we turned around and i commenced my huffing-and-puffing-and-feeling-sorry-for-myselfing. The amount of traffic had increased by now, and was adding a cacophony to the exercise that felt quite unnecessary.

Now, walking in Kathmandu is in many ways the total opposite of walking in Kimberley. Firstly there’s the terrain. Kimberley is almost as flat as a pancake, which is an accusation no-one could bring against Kathmandu. Although there are many level places in the capital of Nepal, there are also a fair number of ascents and descents of varying degrees, and as we intend on hiking in the Himalayas, we thought it might just be to our benefit if we headed for those diagonal spots.

Vehicles pose different challenges in Kathmandu than in Kimberley. Back home we’d be relatively safe if we wore bright clothes and stuck to the right side of the road, facing oncoming traffic. Vehicles there stop at stop signs and traffic lights (although we’re still educating drivers on stopping at zebra crossings.) Hooters are supposed to be used only to prevent an imminent accident, but is actually used to communicate a driver’s frustration with what- or whomever on the road.

Here, although many vehicles often drive on the left side of the road, they’re found almost as frequently everywhere else. Pedestrians crossing can’t afford to only look one way before crossing. Sticking to the right side of the road doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be facing oncoming traffic. Hooters are more essential than brakes or lights, as it is used to indicate where you are and that you’re planning on overtaking the vehicle ahead of you. But the most significant difference between traffic in these two places is this: In Kathmandu everything moves much slower. Even though three vehicles will squeeze past each other as well as some pedestrians in a one-lane road, it happens slow enough so as to actually make it all possible. This releases a ton of anxiety from the pedestrian’s mind, and frees you to move about fast-ish, provided you are willing to zigzag and keep your eyes open.

Having completed the first walk, we decided to start out earlier the next morning and extend our route. The day after that we walked until we reached the Bagmati River, and the next day we ventured into Kathmandu’s centre across the river. Even though we’d extended our distance and time each day, we were earnestly looking for more challenging hills. We were convinced such hills could be found. At this point our friend Bikram stepped in and told That-Man all about Bhaisepati, a neighbourhood just across the Ring Road from our guesthouse in Kusunti. He promised That-Man there would be enough hills and steps to satisfy his hunger for gravity-intensified training sessions, and the next morning we took the road left instead of right.

By this time, That-Man had embraced the backpack as part of our training equipment, and we set off to the hills and steps that would sculpt our legs into mountain-shredders. You know where this leading, right? It’s leading to my inevitable realization that it’s going to be lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ong time before my legs shred any mountain. Never mind the legs; my lungs and my heart need even more time than my legs to make the proper adjustments. It’s an exceptionally liberating realisation to come to – and humbling in the extreme – that you’re just some girl with an ordinary body who’s planning to go to one of the most extraordinary places on earth with a dream of reaching the altitude of 5,416 meters and living to tell the story about it all. It’s always good to be humbled. It’s one of the most precious things in life to realise that even though you’re one-of-a-kind, you’re still only one in a trillion.

Before philosophy overruns the story, let’s return to Bhaisepati. The route we took the first day only included one steep descent to the Nakkhu River, and an endless, torturous upward climb to the entrance of a residential neighbourhood in Bhaisepati. Once there, we mostly walked around level ground. We returned. Now the endless upward road had turned into a steady descent, followed by the river crossing and then a shorter though steep enough climb to the Ring Road.

The next day we set off again, and the next day once more. Our route changed here and there, and eventually it settled on this: At City Tandoori we turn right and follow the street until a road turns left at the Kusunti Youth Club. In the mornings there are always badminton games underway. This road leads us to a narrow ledge, which connects to another road, which connects to the Ekantakuna Road, which leads us to the Ring Road. Then we just stick to the road until we reach the river, cross the bridge and straight through Nakkhu until we reach the first of three hills: two short hills on either side of a long hill. Contrary to our usual practice, That-Man will then walk in front until we enter Bhaisepati. The sight of him steadily and purposefully putting his one foot in front of the other somehow keeps me going as well.

On mornings we walk this route, two Western bodies may be seen being pulled up these three hills by two enormous blue backpacks. Sometimes i ask myself what the locals ask themselves about these two strange figures, but these hills are no place for them to stop and chat to us. Whatever curiosity they might have, is simply impossible to be answered, as the laws of physics could not possibly allow for human speech at such an angle. Okay, that’s merely my understanding of the laws of physics, but it truly seems impossible to use your mouth for anything else except breathing while ascending this trying trilogy. It took me about three weeks before i was first able to overtake someone on these inclines: an ancient man with a walking stick. Nevertheless, it encouraged me, as he had probably been overtaking me every morning for weeks. Even though it was miniscule, it was a victory for me nevertheless.

At the top of the hill you enter through a gate into a residential neighbourhood, and this is where we found what we’d been looking for: THE HILL.

When you reach Bhaisepati, the second street on your right takes you straight past THE HILL. You arrive at the top of the hill, which doesn’t seem to be all that much to talk about, and seems very short as well. Surely this couldn’t be the place they were talking about. And everyone on the hill were looking quite relaxed as they walked, jogged and ran up and down. So we started down. Only a few steps into this part of the route you realise that it’s steeper than you’d thought. It’s only two-and-a-half rice paddies down before the road levels out, so we turned around for the climb. The turning point is at a house proudly displaying its name on the gate: “White House” it reads. It is a house and it is white, and so we found an ordinary “White House” in a very unlikely place.

Yes, i know, i'm getting off track. Have you ever thought that the memory of the next part of the story might be something that i'm not all that eager to share with you? It goes something like this: twenty steps, [pant] three steps [pant], one step [pant], one step [pant], one step [pant] [pant], one step [pant] [pant], one [pant] step [pant], one [pant] step [pant] [pant], one [pant] [pant] step [pant] [pant], one [pant] [pant] step [pant] [pant] [pant], etc . . .

It all culminates in me gasping for air at the top of the hill like i haven't gasped since i attempted to swim the length of a swimming pool underwater when i was still a teenager. Actually, it’s more [pant] [pant] [pant] [cough] [pant] and a breathless plea for water from That-Man, who seems gripped between unbelief at my lack of aerobic fitness and the firm foreknowledge that i would be donating my lungs along the way. That’s exactly what happened those first few days, you know. There are places along that hill where i would take a lung from my rib cage and lay it down next to the road. After a few paces, i'd take the other one and lay it down, and just before we reached the top of the hill, i'd think to myself: “What the heck! Just get rid of the ticker as well.” And there i'd deposit my heart. On our way back, i'd mentally pick each one of these up again, install it in its proper place, and gather strength for the next session.

It took me a week to get into a more steady rhythm for the climbs, which meant i could keep my organs to myself, and even talk a bit! An old folk song (As jy moeg raak vir die lewe in die stad) provided the exact rhythm to keep my momentum going and prevent me from spontaneously bursting into flames. After our first day - when we climbed the hill 3 times - we increased the amount week by week until we reached 10 repetitions, as well as 5 sets of the nearby steps. Although our legs still got tired of all the climbing and descending, it seemed as if my heart and lungs had settled. When we’ve walked through the city these past few weeks, my body felt stronger, my balance was better and I was able to walk for longer periods of time.

We were ready for the next phase in our training plan, and next week we’ll share that with you. The name of the next phase is “Nagarkot.”

Other articles in this series include:

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