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Thursday, 16 June 2011

What not to do in a Thunderstorm

I wouldn’t exactly call myself clumsy and I would like to think I’ve got pretty good judgment when it comes to unknown territory, but during a six month backpacking trip with my partner Tim, I began wondering if I’d been cursed with some kind of  ‘travel blunder’ syndrome.

We were about a third of the way through the trip and I’d already endured my fair share of humiliation. In fact, at this point I had already fallen off the back of a moped due to the weight of my own rucksack, driven a moped straight into the side of a parked truck, fallen down a set of stairs in a bar, in my bikini, and forgotten to lock a door in a hole-in-the-ground style toilet. I’m not sure who was more humiliated this time mind you.

Of course I knew that going to a new country for the first time would no doubt result in a few choice moments of hilarity, what with the language barrier and the difference in customs. I just didn't realise that 99 times out of 100 these moments of hilarity would be at my own expense.

One particularly humiliating incident involved a thunderstorm and a rowboat…

We arrived in Pokhara, Nepal after a gruelling and somewhat terrifying twenty plus hour journey. This had involved a three-hour wait at Varanasi train station where we were very nearly trampled to death by an irritated cow, an overnight train where it is impossible to sleep due to the tea sellers insistent cry of “Chai, chai, garam chai” coming down the aisles every 30 minutes and a three-hour taxi ride to the India/Nepal border in which the driver insisted on playing very loud Indian pop music for the entire journey. It was a relief to finally be bundled onto a rickshaw, which then deposited us at immigration. Immigration turned out to be two men sitting in a shed by the side of a road.

After crossing the border I relaxed a little. We’d arranged for a car to take us all the way to Pokhara and after enjoying a cold coke for breakfast, something that was becoming more and more frequent, our driver called to say he’d arrived.

A few pleasantries later and we were on our way to Pokhara. I fished out a jumper from my rucksack, positioned it in a good spot behind my head and looked forward to a few blissful hours of sleep.

Two minutes later I awoke to a jolt and a bump. The road surface was unfinished and we were snaking around mountains on which one side was a perilous looking drop. For five hours this continued. It’s not particularly easy to sleep when you’re being thrown from side to side in the back of a car, especially when at every turn deafening beeps sounded as the driver coming around the other side of the mountain warned us with their horn. Both vehicles then have to do the obligatory 'who goes first' dance to get past each other. It was definitely preferable to be on the inside next to mountain than to be on the outside next to the edge. After we’d passed our third crash of the day, I decided sleep would have to wait.



After almost being driven to our deaths for the last five hours, our arrival into Pokhara was particularly pleasing. We’d made it alive.

We were taken to our hotel and after tipping our driver and exchanging a few “Namaste’s” we dragged our packs up to our room, only to find the cockroaches had made it first. Tim then went back down for the bug spray.

We planned to enjoy a day or two of blissful rest and relaxation before going on a three-day rafting trip down the Kali Gandaki River, something that Tim assured me was going to be a great way to meet a few people. At this point I’d completely forgotten about the rafting trip and after having my first shower in 48 hours fell promptly asleep.

Fewa Lake2We woke to blue sky and bright sunshine. From our window you could see Phewa Lake perfectly reflecting the snowy peaks of the Hamalaya and street, lined with cafes and shops selling fleeces, trekking shoes and prayer flags. Nepal’s second largest city is simply fascinating. Tourists, trekkers, Buddhists and adrenaline junkies make up the bustling city. It is the end point for the famous Annapurna Circuit trek and the starting point for the trek to the Annapurna Sanctuary. On a clear day you can even glimpse the fishtail peak of Mt Machhapuchhare.

“You fancy getting a rowboat?” I asked Tim over a breakfast of iced tea and French toast. 

“Sure” he nodded, “Looks like it’s going to be a clear day, we can do a bit of swimming”.

So we agreed and headed off in search of a boat seller.

I spotted what looked like a nice grassy bank, also judging by the sign, the boats there were cheaper than the others, sold. “You want boat?” a small maroon looking figure approached us. Underneath the maroon, a middle-aged woman’s face appeared “Namaste” we both chirped, “yes please, one boat please”.

She led us barefoot over some pointy and sharp looking rocks, (we were both in practical if not slightly ill fitting velcro sandals purchased especially for the occasion) She then gave us an oar each, told us to get in and effortlessly pushed us off the bank and into the lake. I made a mental note to get some proper muscles when I got home.

Now, you’ll have to understand that the lake didn’t look so big from where we were and the other side didn’t look that far away. But that may have been due to my shortsightedness and unwillingness to purchase prescription sunglasses.



Tim had to do most of the rowing to get us to the other side of the bank. By the time we reached the middle of the lake my arms simply refused to cooperate further. I reminded myself about those muscles.

A good half hour and a few heated discussions later we had made it to the other side of the lake. “Do you think it’s clean enough to swim in?” I asked as I noticed Tim already jumping in. I guess it was.

Fewa Lake5After a few blissful hours of splashing around, reading, taking photos and making a few notes for the travel journal we decided it was time to head back, drop the boat off and go for a cold beer. Boating was thirsty work.



Almost immediately after setting off it began to rain. Somehow we had failed to notice that the sky was looking a little bleak in the distance – by bleak I mean black and by black I mean there was no doubt going to be a massive thunderstorm any minute.







Fewa Lake6

We exchanged glances and Tim did a sort of sideways nod towards the bank we’d just left where there was one single tree with a few sparse branches. “You want to shelter for a bit?"

I figured we were already wet from the lake and we might as well keep going. The sooner we got back the sooner we could enjoy that cold beer.

In hindsight, this was probably not the best decision. The weather suddenly took a turn for the worse.

About a third of the way back it became apparent that the water was getting a bit choppy and my rowing skills were clearly not up to much. Tim was trying to steer us back and I was making the boat go sideways. Basically it got to the point where the boat wasn’t going anywhere. This wouldn’t have been such a problem if it weren’t for the amount of water coming into the boat and the fact that the rain had turned into a full-on thunderstorm. We’d heard a story about golf-ball sized hailstones and passed it off as something that happens in winter…

I was starting to panic. We were stuck IN THE MIDDLE OF THE LAKE IN A THUNDERSTORM.



To make matters worse, I could see that there were no other boats on the lake at all. It seemed we were the only people stupid enough to try and row back during a storm. There was however a small crowd beginning to gather on the bank.

After a few more failed attempts at trying to get the boat going in one direction, we noticed that there was in fact another boat on the lake. This actually put my mind a little at ease. “ Look,” I said happily “it’s fine, there’s another boat trying to get back too”.

However, the other boat wasn’t trying to get back. In fact it was heading in our direction. Maybe they need help I wondered. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

As the boat got closer, which it did surprisingly quickly, I realised it was a boat full of Nepalese children. I’m not sure exactly how old they were but they looked on average about 13. In perfect English one of the kids called over, “Hey, you need help?”… My reaction of course was to say no, we'd be fine, thank you. My feelings were that if they had just rowed across the lake then so could we. But Tim knew better and had already nodded his approval and before I could thoroughly hang my head in shame, the kid was climbing into our boat. He then politely told me to move and grabbed my oar. Pretty much on his own, (although Tim will strongly disagree with this) he rowed us back to the bank where we were greeted with a round of applause and quite a bit of laughter. My face was glowing but Tim seemed to be enjoying the moment. “Tim” I whispered, “let’s go please”. I think he found the situation quite hilarious, whereas I just wanted to get as far away from the scene as fast as I possibly could.

We found the nearest bar and got two very large and very cold beers.

“That’s it”, I said, “I’m not going anywhere near another boat.”

“Err Emma…“have you really forgotten already?”

“Forgotten what”…I asked hesitantly

He looked like he was trying to think carefully about how to say something…

“We’re going white water rafting tomorrow!”

I sighed.


© Emma Dalby


Published in inept
Saturday, 26 February 2011

Hindu Bratabandha Ceremony, Nepal

A Photo Essay

1.

A boy waits for his Bratabandha to begin. Bratabandha is a complex Hindu ceremony where boys, between 8 and 12, take the first steps in learning the traditional laws, ceremonial roles and rituals of their caste. In Nepal, it is considered the beginning of manhood. Before the ceremony boys wear a traditional orange headband pierced with a porcupine spine, for protection from evil.

 

2.

The boys warm themselves in front of the fire, close by a priest prepares. The boys try to behave like young men until the urge to wrestle overwhelms them.

 

3.

This Bratabandha is being performed by 6 Brahman priests, though only 2 are technically required. Red, white, yellow patterns, Swasti, were made around the fire for protection and to mark an elaborate place setting, indicating where each god should sit as they joined the ceremony. Pujas are performed to Ganesh, and light and water.

 

4.

Female relatives watch anxiously. Even at a Bratabandha, Nepali boys are never men in the eyes of the women who raise them.

5.


Pandit Karishna Thapa checks the razor. His son’s heads will be shaved for purification by their mother’s brother.

 

6.

I really felt for the boys as they shivered in their shorts waiting for their turn under the razor. The older boys and uncles playfully teased “the wind will be so cold on your new head” or “I hope I don’t slip and cut off an ear.”

 

7.

As each of the boys finish their mothers, aunts and sisters rush forward to carefully rinse any hair from their skinny necks and warm them in their shawls.  All the hair is collected with precision to protect the boys from anyone who may wish to use it for harm. It will later be disposed of in the Baghmati River.

 

8.

These belong to the Brahmin caste so they were dressed in orange and given a deer skin bag to signify the traditional Brahmin role as priests. At the Bratabandha of boys belonging to other castes different objects are used, for example Chhettri people often carry a bow and arrow.

9.


Much of the ceremony in conducted under the cover of a shawl and is secret, between the boy and his new Guru. Pundit Karishna Thapa explained “The Guru gives his students a sacred string to wear and a mantra which they are to keep private. If the mantra is said every day, while holding the string, it will promote prosperity, well-being and protection from everyday mishaps.” The mantras are taken from the Vedas, sacred Hindu texts.

 

10.

Occasionally one of the boys comes out from under cover and is asked to add elements to the fire.

 

11.

Aunts wait patiently for their turn to give their nephews their blessing. As with most festivals in Nepal, the Bratabandha is about family coming together to recognize an important day in someone’s life.

 

12.

The ceremony comes to an end with the boys begging from their relatives for rice and receiving Tika from their aunts. This practice is to signify the traditional life of a monk and give the boys a spiritual grounding for their first life lesson.

 

(c) Amanda Shore

Published in indigenous

"Why go on a journey of 20,000 km … when 10,000 km would be enough by flying over the ocean? Why spend 12 months on the road when only 12 hours would be necessary in the air? Why so many efforts, when I could just sit and wait? Efficiency, speed, and very little effort - these are some really trendy values nowadays. By seeking and obtaining everything, immediately and easily, we lose both the taste of things and the appetite for life. In my opinion, we are missing the best of it. Cycling, on the contrary, is getting back to what traveling really means. Cycling is also about holding your own destiny with a firm grip rather than letting it wander; while you sit in the saddle, you are the only captain on board and you can choose to go wherever you want. You are free."

Published in interview

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