Contains some strong language
The names of other people appearing in this diary have been altered
To a degree this is a story about not very much. Mainly about being young and slightly stupid in places and cultures we didn’t know or understand. Everything told here did take place and it is more or less an exact transcript of my actual diary. And so, on that note, I do not advise anyone to do anything we did. However, we learnt a lot from it and, I think, came back from our exploration as wiser people. I hope you may also.
Part 2 - The Assent
Our progress was slow. The bank rose at about 45 degrees and the soil beneath out boots would regularly slip away in great saturated layers. Climbing through the bamboo and undergrowth was not easy, but the plant matter did give us something to hold on to so we could haul ourselves up the incline. Progressively we made our way onto the ridge and leveller ground. Then as if to spite our efforts, it started raining; a torrential down poor so quintessential of the monsoon season. This was the bad weather we had been expecting and typically it had arrived now.
It was interesting, but during this whole climb out of danger I found myself reciting old children’s rhymes in my head while I mechanically put one foot in front of the other. These were generally things I had learnt while young and not thought about for years. It kept my mind occupied and I suppose, in some way, was subconsciously meant to comfort me.
As if by magic a path appeared. Right in the centre of the ridge and going up. We followed desperately wishing it not to be an animal track and sure enough, in a small cleared section, litter. A whole saintly load of human rubbish. It was a human path and all paths lead somewhere.
Water was now soaking through my thin coat, Leon without waterproof trousers was already drenched from the waist down and struggling in shear pain from his boots. Every few minutes we would have to stop so that he could have a brief moment of relief.
I offered to take his rucksack for a while. He declined and struggled on in a pained and delirious state, then suggested we stop and try and build a fire and rest. It was about 2.30 in the afternoon, but it felt like 5 with all the grey rain. I wouldn’t have it and forced us heartlessly on. But we had to go. We couldn’t stop in this downpour, we would get cold and lose whatever remaining energy we had left. In the end he had to give me his rucksack so that we could continue moving. We now plodded slowly, but consistently forth, both ignoring the pain, the rain and the fatigue. For me, reciting songs also seemed to worked as a mental blocker, allowing me to override my muscles’ screaming to stop.
Our path continued straight up the ridge centre. Then with a spike of energy Leon turned to me and said “Look it’s a hut!”. We both rushed forwards and indeed it was. A wooden, open sided hut with a tarp over the top and a fence around it. Most of it was a living space with a fire pit in the middle. The end was a feeding trough for some animal – probably water buffalo.
We ran in, pure relief flowing through us. The pleasure of being in the dry, knowing that we were safe, that we were going to be alright, was superb. The relief of taking off our shoes and socks. Our feet looked like weird white prunes, out skin swollen with water. Leon’s poor ankles had suffered leach attacks. He spent about 10 minutes just applying plasters out of our rapidly depleting medical bag.
Leaches as it happens use an anticoagulant to stop your blood from clotting while they feed. This makes sense from the leaches point of view, but it does have the unfortunate effect of leaving you with a wound that won’t stop bleeding for the next 12 hours.
Our waterproofs came off, our wet clothes as well. Thankfully our rucksack covers had done a pretty good job. At least half our stuff was still dry and we sifted through those things we could put on and laid out the rest and our damp sleeping bags to dry.
I took off by shirt to find a massive bloated leach attached to my chest, which I slid off with the blade of my penknife. The local people recommend using a little pouch of salt. Apparently, the leaches hate the stuff and you can pretty much brush them off with it. However, we didn’t have any and so a knife blade would have to suffice.
It was now about 3.30. we washed our hands in the run off from the roof, got into our sleeping bags and fell asleep.
At 8 pm I woke up to find an incredibly unnerved, rather pretty looking white bellied rat running around and over me. It would scamper up, I would shine my head torch at it and it would scamper away again. Then a minute late it would return from a different direction. In the end I gave up trying to scare it away and went back to sleep.
I woke up several more times during the night to find the rat using me as its personal playground. I’m not sure what the attraction was.
The next morning welcomed in a clear blue sky once again. We got up and wearily ate what we could stomach of our last packet of dried fruit and nut. Strangely, though neither of us had really had any food in the last 36 hours we really didn’t feel like eating and it was a struggle to force down the dry, slightly sticky fruit.
We packed our stuff and prepared to leave, putting on our boots with revulsion… And then, as if by magic we heard a call. Our funny mad little lady from the day before came round the corner like some guardian angel with her six water buffalo. She took one look at us, bedraggled and exhausted, and burst out laughing. It was contagious, all we could do was laugh with her. Above all chance in this massive space we had got lost in, we had bumped into each other twice in two days. And right now we could not have needed it more. We had no idea how to find the path we had to take down out of the mountain.
In a fairly quick exchange of sounds and gestures we told her what we had done and asked her if she had found her missing water buffalo. She said she had and in turn asked us if we had eaten. A little was our answer. We gestured about the path. She dropped her stuff and motioned for us to follow as she started off into the forest behind. We hitched up our rucksacks and obliged, relieved.
Our lady lead the way with her hands clasped behind her back. She carried nothing except a sickle handing in a wooden holder tied around her waist. On occasion she would remove it to slice through some branch or piece of shrub which might be in the way, before replacing it back smoothly into its housing. On her wrist was a small ladies’ watch and, on her feet, the wellies. Other than these, she could have appeared out of a different time. This whole experience was making me feel a little like I was in some fairy tale.
She took us along many small to non-existent paths that we would never have been able to follow or find by ourselves. Though, in all honesty, I did not really notice. It was only now that I did not have think or worry that my fatigue really caught up with me. My eyes wanted to close and I walked like some zombified drone as we went. My body was in autopilot with only the basic functions operating. My brain was in total shutdown.
The only things we did have to worry about were the leaches, of which there were hundreds. Every few minutes we would stop to flick them off us. At some point our little lady cut some strong smelling shrub for us. Apparently it was good for deterring and brushing off the little buggers. We instantly rubbed it all over our legs. It seemed to help for a while.
Along the walk she stopped several times to show us things. The first was a tree with bark missing on both sides – on closer inspection clear claw marks could be seen. Later it was a patch of flattened grass and then some more claw marks. She signalled that these things eat water buffalo. We spent minutes quizzing her trying to work out what animal could take down an animal that big. Bears seemed to be the answer. They were wild bear tracks. Recent ones. I asked if this was why she kept on calling out. She nodded.
We walked on, though now, every few minutes, consciously checking over our shoulders and looking into the undergrowth.
Finally, we came to a great rocky outcrop the other side of which we could see the path descending steeply down a ridge. This was as far as she was going to take us. In our improvised communication system she explained to us what we needed to do next – go round and down, staying left and on the ridge until we came to a cliff or drop. Then turn right and follow the path down the final stretch.
We thanked her and gave her some money for her wonderful help. She took it. It was the equivalent of just under £8 and it didn’t seem enough, but we didn’t have enough to give her more. We said out goodbyes and departed.
From the rock she watched us go.
Finally, we were walking down. Everything was easy. Time passed. It was the home stretch. Everything was fine… and then the path suddenly and completely disappeared. We found ourselves adrift in woodland. Bits of path or animal track would appear and disappear as we walked. Cloud rolled in across the mountain side. Everything was overgrown. When we weren’t in woods we were in wet grassy patches where the leaches would cling to us in their scores. Again this was turning into a nightmare.
In blinding fury we just went down; walking through everything and pushing through anything that got in our way. All the while swearing profusely. Why couldn’t it just be easy? Why couldn’t there just be a sodding path? But then according to the map, we had originally been following a major trek and that had still been non-existent a lot of the way. So no bloody surprise really!
My waterproof trousers were proving to be a godsend, not just saving me from the wetness of water, but from blood suckers as well. In an attempt to lessen the pain of walking Leon had left his boot tops loosely done up. This provided a gap and leaches were now literally beginning to fall into his boots in numbers that were impossible to pick out. He had three pairs of protective socks on. We kept going.
Everything was now too much. Our adrenaline had dropped when we were following the lady. We had thought we were done. We thought we had finished being messed over. But now we checked the GPS only to find we weren’t even half way down and we had somehow managed to come off the ridge. “What ridge?! How is that possible? We can’t even see the fucking ridge!!” I bellowed. Now, like so many times before, we had fallen foul of underestimating the distance, size and position of the mountain side. However far we went we never seemed to make any progress.
On we went, smashing our way down the mountain side, not caring about anything except getting down. We came across some water buffalo in a hut. We checked the GPS again. We didn’t appear to even be moving. We had now run out of water as well. For all the dampness, there was not a single spring or stream. Things were just getting worse.
On and on and on. More leaches, more undergrowth. Then there was an unpassable drop. This must be the drop… but which way to go? We weren’t on the ridge. Going right like the woman had said didn’t seem to make any sense. It lead back up the hill.
We turned left and to our relief a slight track emerged in front of us as we walked. Leon was now groaning. Somehow the leaches had got to his skin and he could feel them.
Then we saw it. There it was as it should be. A path descending to the right. We rushed down and down and down. It was overgrown, but never the less it was something to follow. All I could hear from Leon was the occasional moan and gasp for liquid.
Suddenly, a stream. Then, even better, we bust out from below the trees into an open, sun burnt space. There was a stone bench view point and on the other side of it, steps. Clear, well maintained steps hairpining their way down the mountain side to a track hundreds of feet below next to a raging river. The whole environment seemed to have completely changed. As we walked we now started to overheat. Everything was open and scorched dry by the sun. Our waterproofs were pointless and very soon I had to stop and take them off. Off came the soaked shoes and socks. I opened up the sides of my waterproof trousers and found a miniature colony of leaches stuck between them and my trousers. I flicked them off, watching them wiggle away from the searing heat of the sun.
I dug out my sandals from my bag and carried on down. Catching up with Leon I asked why he didn’t do the same. “Look Silas!” he groaned. “I can feel them eating me”. In his shoes was a writhing mass of little bodies. They had somehow managed to get to his skin through his three layers socks and these were now soaked in blood. As he pointed out to me, he just wouldn’t stop bleeding if he took his shoes off.
We looked at the map and “Fuck it!”. We appeared to still be half a mile at least from any bridge, let alone any labelled village. The heat was unbearable. Leon was in a terrible condition. We really needed to find a place to stay and essentially a place with a shower. I tied a shirt over my head to keep off the sun and we walked slowly, so painfully slowly, down the last of the track to the riverside.
Round a corner we turned and as if by magic we found a hotel. Not a mirage or figment of our imagination. A genuine building with ‘Blue Sky Guest House’ written on the side of it.
We must have looked a state because they simply showed us to a room and indicated their two washrooms. Leon was straight in the shower with medical kit waiting ready. I was straight in the other one and stood there for ages just letting the blissful hot water run down me.
I got back upstairs to find Leon sitting on his bed looking pale, a pool of blood at his feet and what must have been our whole medical kit wrapped around his ankles. He had lost quite a lot of blood and hadn’t eaten for the past two days. Quite unsurprisingly he was feeling faint. I bought him a coke; always one of the best ways to get energy, liquid and sugar into your system.
After hours of simply lying down (and after clearing up the blood and washing out our boots), we went downstairs and had the biggest supper ever. Then disappeared to our rooms intending never to be seen again.
Please click to see The India and Nepal Diaries Part 8
Traveling explorer and general person with a background in Geology, Creative Arts and Communication Skills.