The India and Nepal Diaries Part 10
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.
Today we were to head up to Baglungpani (a village 1000 meters or so up into the hills) to visit the a state school there who’s head teacher, Bil, was a friend we had been told to make contact with when arranging our trip to Nepal.
We got up early and packed a single day bag as we only wanted to spend a night or two up there and had been told that there was accommodation. We ate our usual dal bhat breakfast and set off with 4 boiled eggs and some salt in store for lunch. Apparently, these were quite a standard thing in Nepal to have while walking. Protein and salt. One of the Janitors guided us to the base of the track that disappeared up into the mountains surrounding Besisahar. Then we set some music on Leon’s phone and plodded on up in the heat of the rising sun.
Three and a half hours later, after following a track up an almost vertical rockface, we arrived, popping out over the brow of a rise onto a football pitch with a village spreading out behind. There was no one in sight. We had been given particular instructions to find a family run café who were looking after the keys to our accommodation while Bil was apparently out.
Our arranged place of habitation turned out to be a neat little house with two bedrooms and an indoor and outdoor social space. It unfortunately had no shower, which we had been hoping for after the walk, but there was instead a large collection of books and games for us to immerse ourselves in. The beds had mattress covers but no sheets. This was a problem for us as we had not brought any sleeping bags. The whole building had a slightly aged, irregularly used feel about it, but at the same time seemed very homely and welcoming to be in. It was named ‘Rutter House’ after a British woman, Elizabeth Rutter, who had sponsored the building and supported the school. Any volunteers the school had were hosted here.
Wondering around the town we discovered there really wasn’t very much and barely anyone around. There were lots of Buddhist flags, and a very tranquil view. It felt like a place one might go on a writers retreat.
Bil arrived and invited us out for a traditional dal bhad supper in the family run café. He was a lovely, soft-spoken man and we spent the evening drinking raksi wine, talking about the school and politics over a fantastic meal. Apparently, he was not happy with the government either. Politically there still seemed to be a lot of problems. Nepal had been in civil war between 1996 and 2006 and Bil told us about how he had become the head teacher partly because no one else would take the role. They were scared. Head teachers had been killed by opposing fractions of the war because of their influential power over the education of peoples’ children.
After a long while we said good night and retired to our rooms. I studied the interesting range of books, choosing a few to read in bed.
I’ve taken to carrying a pair of socks with me most places I go just so I can keep my feet warm at night. I find if my feet are warm then usually so is the rest of my body. Unfortunately, as we were coming up the hill one of my socks must have fallen out of our bag and so I had had only one warm foot all night.
I got up about 6 am having repeatedly woken up cold most of the night, my shorts and shirt not being enough to keep off the chill. At some point I had wrapped a spare pair of pants round my other foot and pulled the bed sheet off round me to try and retain some more warmth, but it hadn’t helped much.
The morning was beautiful and clear. I sat outside for about 10 minutes before Leon emerged looking a similar state to how I felt. Apparently, his bed had partially collapsed in the night and he had ended up sleeping in some strange curved position like a bruised banana. We both felt utterly energy less and realised that we obviously hadn’t recovered from all our walking the week before.
We went for breakfast (again at this little family restaurant – it seemed to be the only place doing food) – Tibetan bread, japatis and honey. So good was it that we tried for seconds, but had to settle for japatis and omelette instead. Of course this was lovely as well.
Bil had invited us to look around his school the night before. From what we had heard, Nepalese schools and were split into state and private schools. The state schools generally teach in Nepali and are free but have a set syllabus and holidays. The private schools offer boarding accommodation though of course are not free. They also generally teach in English and are allowed to choose their own syllabus. Even though state schools were technically on holiday at the moment, Bil was still running early morning classes for those who wanted them.
We walked in on the end of an English lesson and were invited to come and observe at the back of the class. On the wall was a list of irregular verbs in their different tenses and forms, the arrangement of which I realised I had never really understood. On the board they were learning about two-part positive propositions, ‘If you would like tea, I will get some for you’ and how to form them. Then how to adapt them with ‘I shall’, ‘I would’ etc.
For me as first language speaker of English who has never really studied its structure, only learnt it through practice, this was really interesting. Not for the first time, I understood just how difficult a new language is to understand, let alone learn. Particularly all the subtleties of tenses with each one having a slightly different meaning.
Bil showed us around the school buildings and we spent a while in the library looking through their collection of slightly aged books. Each building had a placard on it with a different sponsor: a German couple, a school in France, a couple from Holland, a rotary club in Cornwall UK. One room had a banner showing photos of the school since its opening. The evolution of the site could be clearly seen from a few huts to the currently square of 7 or 8 buildings.
We took photos, signed visitors’ books and said thanks to Bil for his kindness and hospitality, then with that decided to depart back down the mountain. The weather forcast had been for rain and low cloud but the current blue sky looked like it would hold and neither of us could face another sleepless night.
We descended easily and quickly, arriving back in Besisahar just in time to get some lunch. School was not on, we had been told, because of a Hindu festival and so we went for samosas and curry in a little sit-down restaurant. Through some order misunderstanding we were given two sickly sweet pasty things each. We had only wanted one to try. They probably should have been quite nice, but we were hot, dehydrated simply not in a sugar mood so to us they were barely edible. Plus they had ants stuck to them.
At this point I started feeling a bit odd and we went back to our room to catch up on some sleep. However, come the time of dal bhat that evening I was still not right. My body was freezing and yet my temperature was up. My joints were aching and I felt flat. I went back to bed without eating and proceeded to be horrendously ill that night.
I will not go into detail here. All I will say is that squat loos are not designed to be used by both ends of one’s body at the same time. They are however probably slightly more suited to this use than western loos, though that night I would have given a lot for a seat to have been able to sit on.
It was a Saturday, no one was in school and it was raining, which was good because I was in no fit state to do anything other than lie down. Having been up once every hour for most of the night, I had finally managed to get a decent amount of sleep in the early hours of the morning. Although I still just wanted sleep… which worked out to be great, because my body seemed to want me to do that as well.
The day pretty much consisted of me dosing while Leon sat and read and occasionally went out to buy things like coke and toilet role (or more accurately small packets of pocket tissues which were the only thing available). Both our medical bag and our diarrhoea kit were now quite thin on the ground.
In the afternoon I started to feel noticeably better and we sat up and played cards, me on occasion stopping to try the odd bit of food. I was measuring my improvement in biscuits and lemongrass tea. The lovely school cook (for staff and boarding students) had been providing us with a tray every couple of hours. Every time one arrived I was able to consume a few more biscuits and a few more sips of tea than the previous times.
At about 2.30 Uddhab, the Head Master of the Earthly Paradise, came by and invited us over to his house for tea that evening. He told us he had just returned from visiting his mother’s brother in a custom of the festival the day before.
I decided it was about time I got up and stopped mooching around, so put some clothes on and went to get some fresh air.
An hour later we were sat with Uddhab, his wife, to daughters, mother and father. We spent a good proportion of the evening there just chatting. The custom of inviting people over for tea is fantastic. Everyone was being so kind.
I was still no feeling ready for dal bhat that night and ate little then headed for bed. Tomorrow was going to be a big day. We were planning to head for Kathmandu.
Please click to see The India and Nepal Diaries Part 11