That’s how fast time flies. Here’s me again, I am back in Kathmandu, my second home by now, in the ROKPA guesthouse, and enjoy the sofa, the comfort, the internet (there wasn’t that much of it in Junbesi, also a reason my longer silence), the warmth (there also wasn’t that much of it, most days I practically lived in my down jacket), a little bit of wine (the first one for weeks), and doing pretty much nothing (great). I’ll be here for a month, to plan my next journey, and to perhaps do a bit of volunteer work (if I can get off my sofa, that is).
I had planned to fly to Indonesia mid-June, to look for a volunteer position at a school there. But they are having school vacation until mid-July, therefore I need to find somewhere else until then. My first choice was China, but the visa requirements are so onerous if one can’t apply for it in one’s home country that I can’t be bothered. My second choice would have been Bangkok, but the bullets are flying low there right now. So I looked at a map, and my finger first landed on Taiwan and then on the Philippines – it will likely be one or the other or both or perhaps somewhere else; we’ll see.
My life in Junbesi was quite easy – school Sundays through Fridays (see Part 2) – English lessons in the morning, for grades 8, 9 and 10, Excel and Powerpoint lessons for the teachers in the afternoon, including converting all manually kept records onto Excel. There wasn’t much internet (but at least sometimes), electricity there wasn’t much either (often not even enough to fire the bulb in my room at night), and as it was really cold and I can’t even drink one little beer that high up without feeling severely hungover the next morning, life was healthy with early nights and quite a lot of sleep, sometimes interrupted by impressive thunderstorms and nuns (see below).
The trekking season in Nepal is ending, but there were still a few trekkers coming through, enough to provide interest conversations and hopefully contacts in the future. My guesthouse – the Ang Domi Lodge – was comfortable, and boasted the absolute luxury of a gas fired hot shower – nearly unique in this area, enough to cause happiness. Sir Edmund Hillary – first on Mount Everest – who amongst other things had founded the school in Junbesi staid there quite often.
The guest houses have wooden interiors – thin partitions through which one can hear pretty much every word and noise from the rooms next, above and under one’s own. For a while, ca. 10 nuns were living in my lodge, participating in a reading of ancient scrolls found in the local monastery. You would think that peace had moved in with the nuns, but no – from 5 am in the morning, the giggling, sniggering, chatting and telephoning woke everybody up – no sign of meditative silence.
Junbesi is in the middle of the Buddhist center in Hindu Nepal, and is also called “Sherpa-Village”. Forgive my ignorance, but I’d always thought that Sherpa meant “porter” or “guide” in Nepali. But it’s a family name, and a clan, although the name has now become synonymous for all tour guides and porters. The Sherpas came from Tibet a few hundred years ago, and they brought their language, religion and customs. They are the elite of the mountains – it is speculated that their bodies are genetically adjusted to the altitude. 16 of them died when the avalanche came down at Mount Everest in April, upon which all expeditions were cancelled; currently, it is unclear what will happen next. Through their connection to mountain tourism, they are significantly more wealthy than the average in very poor Nepal, and it shows in Junbesi and surroundings – the village is very pretty, situated in a valley, surrounded by mountains (little ones of only 4-5000 meters), with a number of lodges, little trekking shops, and a small health clinic (for more serious injuries or illnesses, patients are flown out to hospitals in Kathmandu; I nearly flew out with one, to assist a Spanish girl who’d fallen ill and didn’t want to be in a Kathmandu hospital on her own, but missed my flight by about 10 minutes). I found the people in the area much more closed off initially than what I was used to in other countries or also Kathmandu, but they opened up after a while, I guess they had to get used to a stranger, and people there are also very shy.
So, same that I managed to end up in the Buddhist enclave in Kathmandu, I also managed to find the Buddhist center in the Himalayas, and enjoyed a number of celebrations and ceremonies in Junbesi. And I once was present at a noon prayer in the largest and most beautiful monastery of the area, Thupten Chöling (ca. 1.5 hours from Junbesi), and thought it was remarkable how a silent lunch was incorporated into the prayers. They gave me a plate, a spoon and a bowl, and I got my lunch too.
Generally, they celebrate a lot there (and eat a lot, mostly Dal Bhat, by now also my favorite dish); here a short video, taking from the lunch queue at Junbesi monastery, to give a bit of impression of the people in the area:
After the drama of my travel to Junbesi I’d become more savvy and begged everybody who couldn’t escape to book me a place on the jeep for my journey back – which then so happened. First leg from Junbesi to Phaplu, overnight stay there, and second leg a 16 hour drive to Kathmandu.
The jeep experience, 1st leg: Unfortunately, there was a thunderstorm with heavy rain fall the night before my departure, and the “road” was a mud track with deep ruts, water filled holes, fast flowing streams and slippery rocks. That would have been bad enough, but at an altitude of 2700 meters with hundreds of steep meters down next to one, it became sort of a thrill ride… the jeep swerved and lurched along, but only just. As the Buddhists say – if it’s to be, it’s to be – you become resigned to fate after a while.
The jeep experience, second leg: You can squeeze a lot of people into one small jeep. And the further we came down, the hotter and dustier it got, and after a while, you are glued to the people next to you, no escape possible. Add to that the glaring Indian pop music, the constant bumping over rocks and through holes (real road there was for perhaps 2 hours, the rest is still being built), and the length of the drive – I can’t remember ever having been car sick, but this time it nearly happened. In the middle of the journey, there is a river without a bridge (is being built or repaired or demolished). So everybody and everything is being unloaded from the jeep, one walks for a while and over a long swinging bridge, waits for a jeep to arrive from Kathmandu, then everybody and everything is being loaded again and on it goes – takes about 2 hours and is very hot and boring. Thankfully there were porters for the luggage – and I was full of admiration for mine, who carried my and the luggage of another passenger, about 45-50 kilos, all held by a strip around the forehead – I’d like to have those neck muscles (but without the related effort, of course).
Even though it was a long exhausting day – anything is better than to hike up again to the pass of my first journey, therefore I am not complaining, but should I ever travel in Nepal again, then I’d prefer a helicopter or plane.
How big my dislike of hiking really is became clear to me when I fell off a slope in Junbesi: My first thought was that I’d broken my leg; my second: “Thank God, now I can take the rescue helicopter back to Kathmandu!”. With my third thought, even I noticed that this was a wee bit drastic. I had only sprained my leg, for which I was very grateful with my fourth thought.
The real Himalaya range I only saw on my way back – I did give in and hiked up for 2 hours to get a good view of the range, but it was cloudy that day, and a friendly man showed me what I couldn’t see (to the left is Mount Everest):
In the next few days, I’ll post Part 2 – volunteering at the school – now I’ll go back to my sofa to enjoy doing nothing :).