A Rocky Day
One day, on my way from Kathmandu to Pokhara (both in Nepal), I found myself facing a massive rock that was quite insistently sitting in the middle of the road leaving no other way than to turn around or climb over it.
The question was: Did this really have to happen now?
I had made the decision to leave Kathmandu a day earlier hoping to find some much sought after solitude in peaceful Pokhara. Now, the rock would have still been there the day after, but I could have avoided it altogether simply by choosing to fly over it, like a friend of mine did the next day. But then I would have missed out on an invaluable life lesson.
The day started early, with the bus (a proper big bus, in rugged 1970s style) leaving Kathmandu at 7am while the City was still pleasantly quiet. The journey was said to take 7 hours and in all honesty, I was quite looking forward to a sightseeing tour without the dangers of being attacked by leeches, as opposed to last weekend’s trek…
Three hours later and we had already ground to a halt. When it emerged that there had been a landslide, the only option seemed to be to wait until it was cleared so we could carry on.
And we sat there for the next four hours until some brave and clearly restless backpackers decided to leave the bus and trek along the long line of busses and cars in an attempt to get by the landslide on foot. They seemed to know what they were doing so I decided to walk with them, on the promise that the bus driver would either pick us up on the way should the convoy of vehicles get moving again or that we could use the bus coming from Pokhara in case it would have to turn around. To me that sound sensible, so off I trodded in a loosely formed group of strangers.
One and a half hours later we realised the extend of the whole holdup: the main rock measured about 5 square metres and had formed a proper road block together with other bigger and smaller rocks from the slope that it had slid down to the river that was busily rushing past. Fantastic, did I thought, as I watched locals and tourists scramble over the massive pile of scree. The others didn’t seem too fond of the idea to copy the climbing either. It had started raining a little while ago and every now and again there was an outcry when more mud and stones made their way down onto the road.
Four options: 1. Chicken out and go back to Kathmandu. 2. Climb over the stones. 3. Go past the stones below along the river bed. 4. Climb up the slope and pass the block overhead.
While I made a bit of a dance turning back and forth while thinking what to do, and hoping no stones would drop on my head, the most experienced of our makeshift group, a Canadian, said it would be best to go down to the river bed and walk past, despite the risk that the whole mass could easily slide down and either bury him or push him into the river and bury him then. Having talked to him a little bit during our trek, a small but significant voice had said that I should follow him regardless of what he did. So one decision at least had been made: follow the Canadian. If he goes to the other side of the rock, so will I. If he turns around and heads back, so will I.
Just did I not agree with going down to the riverbed, nor did I see a way up the slope. It was too steep and muddy. So off I went as I watched the red rain coat of the Canadian disappear, adrenalin pumping through my body, and set my first foot onto the massive pile of stones. It was tough. I had a heavy backpack on my back and a smaller rucksack on the front and I worried that the sheer weight of me would make the stones move, carrying me straight into the river where I would drown not just under stones but under my heavy bags. But hey, there were locals and police and army at hand who smiling and cheering just got on with it, lending you a helping hand, pushing and pulling you up on the next stone and supporting me when I descended down on the other side.
“First time in Nepal?” a local asked cheerfully. “Yes”, I said, gazing up as he offered me his hand. “Have a great time”, he said and jumped down the rock he had just heaved me up on.
I was exuberantly happy to be back on the road and caught only a small glance at the stone pile from the other side before I was ushered along by police indicating more debris rolling down the hill. The three Polish guys, one of them a girl, from our makeshift group made it over just after me and we began looking for the promised bus that would hopefully take us to Pokhara.
By this time I was absolutely soaked and full of mud since I literally went up that rock on hands and knees. After about 20 or 30 minutes along yet another line of buses and cars we decided to settle for the next best mini bus that shouted Pokhara at us and we settled inside, tired and exhausted.
When the drivers had decided that the mini bus was well and truly filled to its fullest extend, and to Nepali standards it really was, we finally got going. It was already beginning to get dark, so I didn’t see much else from the rest of the journey. There were no street lights, just darkness, interrupted only by the occasional beeping oncoming or dangerously overtaking car or mini bus. I survived the day on three muesli bars, nuts a banana and 1 litre of water. 12 hours without a loo!
At ten o’clock we arrived in the dark Pokhara lit only by taxis that were clearly awaiting us. They descended upon us like vultures saying yes to anything you said just so you would pick them over the others. I was too tired to fight and just gave in to the first. It turned out that he didn’t know where my pre-booked guesthouse was, and that it had indeed just been a “yes” regardless. He was, however, rather courteous, addressing me with the traditional “sister” (didi being Nepali for elder sister) and calling the guesthouse when he thought we arrived, after a few rounds around a dark block and narrow side roads, just to make sure I wouldn’t go into the wrong house and get into trouble.
And when I finally lay down that evening it dawned on me, that none of my family or friends even knew where I was and what an adventure I have had. And a sudden realisation set in that I might as well be buried underneath a landslide face down in the river or be kidnapped by a crazy taxi driver and still nobody would know.
It took me back six years to my trip to New Zealand, where I also would just rent a car and leave for the weekend not knowing where I would go myself. Back then already, my host family would say how brave I was. But to me it wasn’t braveness. I was just excited to discover a part of the world that was new to me, ignorant to the unbeknown dangers that were lurking behind every turn. But if I had let myself held prison by my, or other’s, fears then I would never have discover the beauty and surprises which also lay behind each turn I passed.
And not to forget all the strangers that I have met over the past 12 hours alone, who were helping as they went along, without any reward (apart from the fact that neither the mini bus driver nor the taxi driver were able to give change, meaning that they got more than they had initially asked for).
So, lying on that bed somewhere in Nepal, I suddenly felt completely at ease. I even enjoyed the fact that nobody knew where I was. There was just me, on my own little adventure, having conquered my destiny, and feeling absolutely fine about it. I sighed, smiled and fell into a deep, deep sleep.
Ignorance is bliss after all 😉