I began and finished my Himalayan trek in the lakeside town of Pokhara, a popular spot for many of the adventure activities and one of the main starting points for many of the treks in Nepal. It is a lovely location, wrapped around one of the largest lakes in the country, and although a relatively small lake, it was beautiful and calm, and hills and mountains nested around the bank with forests of trees and fields of dirt and flowers and manicured gardens of lakeside restaurants. I woke in the mornings to walk around the lake in dawn as the sun slowly sifted up through early morning fog in orange and grey. Paths were slightly damp and the air was delicate with the faint vapor of mud and twigs. The morning air was wonderfully calm in the quiet city, tourists all asleep and locals out carrying small baskets of freshly baked croissants and rolls that wafted through the streets, and for about a quarter each I feasted on warm chocolate croissants and cinnamon rolls that evaporated warmly, jerking tongue and taste buds to an abrupt and eager salute. Lunches and dinners I ate Dhal Bhatt, the typical and standard Nepali dish of rice and curries and vegetables all mushed together with your hands in a sloppy delight and eaten with hands caked and covered in warm liquid and steaming rice, and I found an old lady making fresh chapatti, pleasant reminders of former vacations and the chapatti gently crumbled in my mouth. Yum, it was good.
I walked around at nights looking through shops and exploring the streets and watching the tourist out in search of beer and pizza, as I cheaply ate from small street stalls. It is a lovely city surrounded by hills that lie in shadows of the Himalayan Mountains that lay siege to the city, guarding over the sacred temples and waterfalls and the serene lake nestled quietly in the city’s borders.I left Pokhara early one morning and took a bus out toward Chitiwan. After a few hours sitting slanted and sideways with my knees smashed against the hard plastic back of the seat in front of me, I hopped off the bus, hours before its destination and began a river rafting journey through of the Himalayan rivers of Nepal.
There were six of us on the raft and we rafted down a large canyon with green water and white rocks, boulders and slabs of stone. All around were tall lumps of mountains thick in trees and richly green. Down the river locals bathed and swam and did laundry in the river with small villages or shanty shacks near the river. The water mixed from smooth to rough and green to white, jostling up and down over rocky rapids that splashed and dashed and dropped. We had time to swim in the calms stretches of the river with the sun peeking out for the first time since I’d arrived. This was like a large Ogden Canyon, one of the canyons near my childhood home in Utah. The rivers cut through the canyon with mighty mountains at both sides, but the river and canyon were long and wide and a size to make Ogden Canyon seem a trickle. I had not been rafting since I first returned from Arizona and went with my dad and brother Dallin up over Lunch Counter in Wyoming on the Snake River. What a trip that was! What a trip this was! We stopped for lunch half-way down and ate on the banks of a river where the water pulled off in to calm lulls on the side. A few local kids dressed in rags and filthy, but adorable sat around us perched on rocks and playing games, seemingly waiting to see if we left any food behind, but they never begged, never approached us. After lunch we continued down, hitting the best of the rapids on the second leg, the white swooshing water that crashed in sadistic blows against the rocks and rolled and bumped through the river as the raft teetered and tottered and swayed, rose and fell and spun through splashing and passionate rapids and rock soaking us in the cool waters of a furious river.
We finished the rafting journey and changed in to dry clothes and waited for a bus to Chitiwan, but a bus never came, so I squeezed in to the crowded cab of an old oil truck. My legs were sideways and bent back with my feet behind my knees and no room to move a foot, a knee, a leg, an arm, or even breathe too deeply. I sat in the cab of that truck for four hours driving through canyons that turned and twisted and bumped across dips and rocks. It began to rain with a fierce wind and there were no windows to stop the slanting rain and fierce wind from pushing and stinging across my face and arms. It was not a comfortable ride, but I have been on many bus journeys before. This was, however, my first time sardined in to an oil truck, so despite the lack of room, it was a better journey than another bus ride.
The outside of the truck was painted bright with colorful Hindu gods and lines of poems and pieces of American flags and what looked like the third eye of Shiva. The inside was even more colorful, with frilly curtains and colored beads and stickers of cars and Disney princesses and sexy women and muscular men and gods and goddesses and lace and yarn. On the dashboard was a long patch of wheat grass with a gnome like a god standing in the middle holding his long sword like penis, and half the lawn had been clipped and eaten. It was a decorative and colorful bus indeed.
We arrived in Chitiwan, down out of the canyon and into a long flat valley. We passed through forests of skinny trees and though nearly all the trees were filled with green, the ground was covered in brown fallen leaves. It was like going through the trees in the mountains back home come Autumn, though Nepal lacked the color, and yet so much seemed the same to me, a carpet of dry leaves and that smell of them, of dry and crackled leaves, crisp and thin and mixed with the odor of dampened dirt held in constant dew from the covering leaves. Even now just writing this I can hear the crunching sound of walking paths of fallen leaves or the rustling of raking piles and the itch and scratch of dried leaves broken to small pieces and shoved against my skin after diving and burying myself in the large piles. Everything I see is so different, and yet it all seems so familiar. Do we constantly seek out way to remind ourselves of home? Of course, I have had many homes by now, though one place lies above the others, and perhaps I’ll only ever have one place that feels like home, that I consider home, maybe two, and perhaps a part of others.
In Chitiwan I hitched a ride to a guest house and was greeted warmly in the dark room with warm tea and a warmer smile and then I settled in to my room. When I first walked in and sat down it was one of those moments where I smiled and said a thank you. I do have moments of living a charmed and lucky life. It is when I travel. The power was only on for a few hours around dinner time, and at night I let down the mosquito net and wrote in my journal by candle light till the last drips of wax trickled down the candlestick in small dribbles of pallid wax with flickering shadows in the soft amber light wavering with the flutters of the small candle flame. It was sublimely pastoral.
“Hitting the Rapids.”
…We await the rumble of rapids before heading
for a few watershed buttes just beyond the next
bend where the faster whitewater is running.
As the afternoon sun starts its descent, we move
gently toward a narrow sluice, shoot through
a sudden drop, then surge over those bedrock holes
and rolling wave trains swollen with the seasonal
release flushed from an upriver dam. By sunset,
we have slipped past the last falls of the gorge:
all that's left is one short stretch of mild ripples
and a small section of beach for landing. Tonight,
we will lie beside this constant sweep of current
that continues as persistently into the future as life
itself, and fall asleep beneath a flood of darkness
marred merely by sparks embarking from some
faraway stars scattered like moments of memories
we'd hoped to hold on to, those shattered fragments
solely able to offer light from times already passed.