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Reaching For The Sky - Part IX

2016 10 03

So we asked a friend who live in a village close to Kathmandu if we could come for a visit, as we have to do some more intensive hill training. He said he could do better than that. We could visit one of his friends in her village in some more challenging terrain. So we decided that we’d travel there, do some hikes, and then walk back to the first bloke’s village, do some more training, then return to the city by bus.

All very neatly sorted, wouldn’t you think? You’re welcome to read my previous explanation on the intricacies and quirks of public transport in Nepal before you continue reading this entry in my fitness journal.

First, we packed one of the blue backpacks, then we set off by foot to the local bus park. The first bus was almost ready to leave. The road to Chapagaon has been a challenge since we arrived here a few months ago, and today it seemed that the already narrow road was being blocked by traffic, which meant that at one stage we would travel a few meters at a time before being forced to wait a few minutes before we could edge forward again. Fortunately we arrived in Chapagaon in time for the second bus.

This bus was still being fixed in a backyard just off the main road. Someone was tinkering at something in the cavity left by the missing right rear wheel, with a circle of spectators inspecting the apparent repairs. They told us to wait in the main road. The bus would be ready to leave soon. We found a roadside tea house where we had some fizzy drinks, sweet jeri and barfi and waited for the bus. Sure enough, after a short time the bus appeared and we found ourselves in what we thought would be some good seats: back row, middle seats. Buses to rural parts of Nepal carry more than passengers, however, and soon we had to squeeze our feet in all directions to allow for the jump boy to start loading big bags of rice, flour, sugar and other miscellaneous food items into the aisle. The whole aisle was filled to the base of the seats with these bags, which translated into us not having space to put our feet, except right on the bags in front of us. Now, everyone knows that you need to balance your body during a rough journey by anchoring your feet on the ground beneath you. So we realised that we’d be in for some extra jostling during this journey.

The second bus ride began after what felt like hours and hours and hours of waiting, but at last we were off. The climb into the green hills was beautiful. In many places the trees enfold the road in a luscious tunnel of different hues and textures. Ferns spill abundantly from the rock walls, and when the forest recedes, the Himalayas greets you from a distance. All this succeeds in distracting you for a while, but once you enter the valley on the other side of the hill, the tunnels disappear and the road become increasingly more precarious. Add to this slippery mud roads due to constant rain, and the picture becomes more clear.

We’d left home at around 11:30 am and arrived in Sankhu – a mere twenty-odd kilometers away – sometime after dark. What a day!

After a good night’s rest, a solid breakfast and some time spent with our new friends, we were met by a young lady who were to be our guide to another nearby village. The plan was that we would walk there, spend the night, and return to our friends the next day by bike, stay with them for another night and train in the hills around their home before returning to Kathmandu. Oh, how plans can change in the blink of an eye . . .

The first indication that we were saying goodbye to our carefully laid plans were the word “Shortcut!” from the lips of our new friend. We’ve been introduced to shortcuts on previous visits to Nepal, but only in upward journeys. And not in rainy season. The surface of the shortcut was basically damp clay as a result of daily rain showers during the past 5 months. It was also covered in moss in many places, and quite steep downhill, so it was no surprise that there was soon the sound of someone slipping, sliding and thumping down on her backside in the middle of the track. A few minutes later, That-Man had the same fate befall him. To make a long story short, a toboggan would have been a much more effective means of transport for two heavy, unfit, inexperienced South Africans down this shortcut at this time of year. i racked up 4 tumbles and That-Man 2 of his own, and then the inevitable happened: a fall of epic proportions. My leg was bent at an impossible angle below my body and the ankle decided to call it a day. It had had enough of all the fun and games and was ready to rest. Fortunately, nothing was broken, although the sprain was something i had never experienced before (never having been interested in sports to the point of having been injured in this way.) Now all that remained was to get down the hill, along a patch of gravel road, over a bridge, a stream, along another patch of gravel road and up another hill to our friend’s house. Not by my own strength did i reach that haven in the end, and was i glad to rest my feet!

Soon we had to take off our shoes, which is left outside the house when you enter (as in many Asian cultures). At first the ankle didn’t look that bad, but of course it soon puffed like a fluffy soufflé in a hot oven. Sadly, it didn’t recede as fast as a soufflé when it meets some cold air.

That-Man rose to the occasion in his usual manner: in an attempt to cheer me, he made bad jokes about amputations and what-not and had me pose the foot with the beautiful view in the background for a photo to be shared as soon as possible with every single person in true That-Man style.

So what next? i couldn’t walk back the next day, or train the day after that. Our friends called our friends in the first village, and soon they phoned with an offer to fetch us the next day on their motorbikes. They would be there around lunch time. Lunch came and went. So did much of the afternoon. Just before the sun sank behind the hills, we received a call to meet them at the first bridge. We got everything together and crept slowly and carefully down the hill towards our rendezvous. i got onto the back of one motorcycle and That-Man on the back of the other, and our friends started the journey we all expected would be long and challenging. We hadn’t gone far when some water on the track and mud beneath the surface challenged the driver and our vehicle started to tilt left. My friend simply put down his left foot to stabilise himself and the bike, but as my left ankle couldn’t handle the impact, i couldn’t prevent myself from plonking into the soft grass by the roadside. Just a slow, dead “plonk” without any further injury was a blessing. The rest of the journey was uneventful, however we realised after a while that our travel companions were not behind us anymore, so the driver deposited me at our friends’ house nearby and went to fetch the rest of the travelling party. By now it was dark and we were still not at the village we were aiming for. A recent landslide had rendered part of the road to that village dangerous for motorcycles, and we’d have to walk that stretch of the road in the dark, so our companions decided it best that we stayed where we were and that they would return to their homes. We would catch the bus to Kathmandu the next morning. Although we would disappointingly not be able to visit our friends in the last village, we thought it best to get back and rest the ankle as soon as possible.

So we waited for the bus at the roadside the next morning. A sound night's sleep lay behind us and we were ready for the trip back home. The bus arrived soon, but as we boarded, we realized that it was filled beyond capacity and we would have to stand most of the way. Our friend frantically explained to the jump boy that my ankle was injured, which caused a gentleman to offer me his seat. Although the seat was not my size (as few seats in Nepal are), i squeezed into it with a thankful heart. My precarious comfort was shattered soon, however, when the jump boy decided that someone else needed the seat more than me, which left me clinging to the overhead railing with all my might, being jostled around as passengers got on and off the bus. That-Man intermittently yelled from the back of the aisle (where he was striking a new friendship with a fellow passenger, as usual) to hear whether i was still the owner of two feet, to which he most often received what i hoped looked like an encouraging confirmation of a smile (as i'm still not much of a yeller on full buses.) Just about 5 minutes before we entered Chapagaon a space became available to sit, and it was just in time. Standing on one leg in a full bus over terrain that would be reserved for 4x4 vehicles in South Africa had left its mark on my energy reserves. We were the first people on the bus to Lagankhel, and got some seats in front with extra leg room. By the time we arrived at the bus park in Kathmandu, our 5 minute walk home was about as much as i could muster. Since then the ankle has been nursed on extra pillows, wrapped tightly with a bandage and even massaged with mustard oil. That-Man has been running up and down the stairs and everywhere else to do the things i cannot. And when he's not home, my dear friends at the guest house feed me well (which would be exactly what my mother wants to hear.)

With around three weeks left before our planned hike through the Annapurna Circuit, i must admit to being a little anxious about my prospects of joining the group, but as i cannot improve the situation by worrying, the best i can do is rest and pray that the ankle heals in time.

Until we embark on our great adventure, then: Hast la vista!

Other articles in this series include:

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