Misadventure is the Greatest Adventure
The Mighty Tamur, Quarter-star Yak Hotel, and Leeches: You Just Can’t Get That At Home
Readjusting my earplugs as taxis and motorbikes of all descriptions caterwauled and veered and belched towards the Thamel district of Katmandhu in Nepal, I contemplated what our bulge-eyed, jet-lagged clients might be thinking about their chosen “vacation.” Turns out that despite, maybe even because of, the quarter-star Yak Hotel and such, every exhausted soul would end up feeling that this was one heck of an adventure.
In the wake of one of those classic third-worldly bus rides that shake the contents from your skull it came to us that maybe trip leader “Moosh” wasn’t kidding when, in a moment of candor, he actually dropped the rating from the original half-star. Later, gazing for the first time at a rather remarkable river put-in four days of hiking from the nearest (dirt) road, with the blinding white summits of the highest peaks on earth peeking over the ridge-tops and nothing but whitewater as far as the trembling eye could see, one couldn’t help but appreciate this wondrous and fleeting life.
It takes effort to enjoy this. Anybody can “see” stuff from the comfort of their air-conditioned car. A cruise requires not much more than the time, some savings and a readiness to indulge oneself. But here we’re talking total immersion, being utterly consumed. Literally, in some cases (leeches, remember?). It’s a commitment to an asylum of another sort. You gotta want it.
We camped amongst yak dung, steaming coffee mugs cradled by mittened hands at ten and a half thousand feet whilst gaping at Kanchenjunga and Manaslu (third and eighth highest mountains on Earth). Silence reigned as the pink alpenglow readied our souls for another five hours of rocky track.
A combination of tractors, donkeys, and sinewy porters in flip-flops lugged plastic barrels, prodigious coolers, and metal tables up nearly a vertical mile, then down again, whilst the intrepid strolled along with day packs amongst goats and chickens. The local advice was to stay to the inside of the trail as the yaks passed, as the precipice at your back could be all too seductive to an ornery beast. Second thoughts about porters lugging our gear evaporated after they explained with twinkles in their eyes that they were darn glad to have a few months of well-paid work for the winter’s cooking gas, saddle repairs, and food.
We ate the ubiquitous dal bhat (rice and lentils and whatever else was on hand that we didn’t want to know about). We did not drink the bitter but bracing instant coffee, thanks to Moosh. At each camp he awoke in the dark every morning, and soon blearily presented three battered French-presses lined up next to the powdered milk and lumpy sugar, greeting each supplicant with a toothy smile.
Oh yeah, and the river—the mighty Tamur. When Moosh told me pre-trip that, “She’ll be right, princess, it’s only Class IV,” (translation: you’re so screwed) I puckered. Typically Aussies, Kiwis and Russians (all pretty crazy) underrate rapids by at least a grade. Thankfully it ended up being only a half-grade. The Tamur was a couple of Class IV+ rapids, and cavalcades of grade threes and fours in one of those fluid dances that last all day long and leave you giggling, and crawling exhausted into your bag after a handful of Ibuprofen.
All of this just goes to show: expect the unexpected when doing an expedition in a far-flung place. Ten minutes more turns out to be a couple hours. Beat-up, overloaded, horn-blaring missiles are what they call a bus. Scorpion bites and the “Kathmandu Krud” (a cold of epic proportions), wild rainstorms, a night’s exhausted sleep on wooden pallets spooning with your fellows who are equally ecstatic to be under any leaky roof at all—that is what it’s all about.
Sharing these things brings the friendship and camaraderie that makes life so rich, makes the heart sing. My wife likes to remind me of these joys as she knees me in the side in our tiny tent, pee bottle at the ready.
Photos: Doug Knuth