Wild Life amidst the Wildlife

This newsletter was originally sent on Tuesday, 10 April 2007.

Mary Jane and I returned to KTM from Lumbini as the group went on to Chitwan National Park and Game Reserve to spend a few days in the wild with Som, our director. So, I can only comment that they all seemed to have had a great time riding elephants and chasing down rhinos, jungle walks, canoe rides, birdwatching, folk dancing and visiting the crocodile breeding facility. Peggy got a super-cute close up shot of a baby rhino that she is very proud of. The crocs are the endangered, needle-nosed, fish-eating garwhails found only here, and the breeding facility was a torturous 2-hour lumpity-bump ride which turned into a fiasco to see a small pen of them surrounded by nets. Even Som, the native informant, can be taken in by ‘deceptive advertising’ that greets the tourists.

Moreover, it was apparent that our group was tiring. One person had a sore throat that was unrelenting and wearing her down, and two others had cases of diarrhea return when their antibiotic had not been re-supplied for a day. Even MJ and I had acquired a case of ‘yeast’ (Candidiasis, ‘diaper rash’) on our arms and torso from sleeping and sweating together. Once the infirmed were treated, and rest restored, recovery was at hand in Bhaktapur, a traditional city-state of the Kingdom of Kworpa. The city has a lovely Durbar and several squares and boasts the tallest pagoda in Nepal. Squares, streets and buildings are all of red brick and the throngs were out shouting, chanting and singing as their two chariots (God and Goddess) were being wheeled around the city. These chariots which host the god or goddess are huge heavy wagons pulled around by large ropes and long lines of people trying to tug the chariots around. Watching from a roof top café, Peggy was horrified to see that one of the chariots surrounded by people on all sides seemingly broke loose and started rolling down the steep hill. People are sometimes run over, but not this time. Look up the word Juggernaut, from Jaganatha, which is the name of the God and Festival in India where devotees would actually throw themselves under the huge wheels of the chariots demonstrating their devotion at the cost of their life. What we could see later on closer inspection that there are deep gutters into which the wheels fit and actually guide the chariot around to its next destination. So, the trick was NOT to be in the ruts when the chariot came rolling by!

Two days later found us at scenic lakeside Pokhara, a little city nestled in a valley 2500 ft above sea level, between the 10,000 ft. foothills of the central zone and the 20,000 ft. peaks of the Himalayas to the north. Pokhara is a trekking mecca as it is at the trailhead of a two-week trek around the Annapurna Mountains. It also is home to a terrific museum gifted by the Royal family and dedicated to the indigenous mountain peoples, the climbers and expeditions that grace Nepal. The lake is actually a reservoir created by damming up the river that runs through. Other natural wonders include Devi’s falls, which is the site where the Seti river plunges underground, coursing through subterranean limestone channels for several thousand meters to join Lake Fewa underwater. Those who have slipped and fallen in have never resurfaced, including a woman named Devi.

We stayed at Mike’s Lake Fewa Resort and had three Nepali-style cabins right on the Lake. Next to the resort is a boat-rental facility. Mike Frame is the owner of the resort and originally hails from Minnesota. He is an ex-Peace Corps Volunteer and later PCV staff person of the 60’s and 70’s who fell in love with Nepal and stayed on and on and on. Now in his 60’s he owns a wonderful restaurant in Katmandu (where we enjoyed a breakfast on Day 2) and this lovely lakeside resort some 150 miles to the west. He serves a western organic menu with vegetables grown in a lot next to the restaurant. He has also authored a cookbook which several of us bought and had Mike autograph.

Enough with the pre-arranged tour group was in open revolt when Som, our director and guide, wanted to push on with a rigorous schedule of ‘let’s do this and let’s see that.’ But each had their own ideas of what they wanted to do, and Pokhara was just the place to let them run wild: shopping, catching up with emailing, peaceful reading, getting a massage, day-hikes, biking, paddling on the lake, getting a glimpse of the Himalayas at sunrise from a hilltop, etc. David and Marty knocked our socks off when they told us they planned to take an ultra-light (motorized hang-glider) up above the lake. And so, the group broke up into singles, couples and triples and set out on their activities
including the ultralight!

The first to return was a contingent from a hike up to the top of the opposite shore to see the Peace Stupa. And wouldn’t you know they returned with yet another encounter with the parasitic world. Marty’s ankle had a ‘slight bite’ that kept oozing blood despite a bandaid it could only be a leech! Marty was in disbelief—she hadn’t seen or felt anything, nor did they wade through any streams. But in Nepal the leeches are cleverer than that. they climb trees and drop down from the branches at the slightest vibration of an approaching victim. No kidding! Ain’t nature amazing! What really frosted Marty was that the leech got away with some of her rare Type A-negative blood. Reassuring Marty that leeches don’t harbor any exotic diseases, the puncture was resealed to eventually clot. The next day it still oozed a little. Hirudin secreted by the leech is one of nature’s most powerful anticoagulants and is being researched medically as a possible blood thinner. So, watch for it: God’s gift to leeches may soon be God’s gift to man as well, along with aspirin that was originally God’s gift to the willow tree. Ain’t nature amazing!

A Paddle to Fishtail Lodge.
Our group did come together to have a paddleboat trip to the King’s Resort Fishtail Lodge and enjoy lunch the next afternoon. Fishtail Lodge is a four and a half star hotel right on the Lake across from the King’s Summer Palace; the restaurant looks right out onto the lake, and one can paddle over, beach and climb out for a wonderful meal, view and ambience. The paddle boats, kayaks, row boats and sailboats are all that are permitted on this Lake, unless you are King. The King has his own motorboat and can even waterski behind it, but Lake Fewa also harbors a government aquaculture project raising various varieties of carp, and many people fish here with poles and nets. So, practically speaking one motorboat is one too many for its limited size. I am waiting to see if the new government will take that privilege away from him, too.

We were in two boats: five of us were in a covered catamaran paddleboat, and Som and Carla were in a two-seater. These were handcrafted aluminum boats that looked like they’d been through the last World War, but they floated. After a wonderful feast of Tibetan dumplings (momos), Chicken Tandoori, Nan, Soup, Fruit Plate, white and dark chocolate mousse and chocolate tortes, we strolled out to get a look around the hotel and gardens before starting back for Mike’s Resort. With no wind to fight, pedal- paddling was a good way to move around the lake while working off the lunch. However, Boat #2 with Carla and Som was late in setting out and in returning.

As the weather was perfect, no one gave them a second thought. they were just out enjoying themselves. Towards evening, however, the dark clouds began to move in and the heavens opened up. Thunder and lightning was everywhere, and it was pouring down buckets. Mary Jane and I were out shopping for a flashlight and an umbrella when all this broke loose, and had assumed that Som and Carla had returned by now. As soon as we returned, we found that they were still missing. Because there was adequate warning of the encroaching storm, we felt that they must be safe, and it wasn’t long before Som phoned me and reported that they had to beach and were being sheltered by a German expatriate in a lovely home on the Lake. An hour later they staggered in, safe and sound except for Carla who looked down to see that she too had fallen prey to a leech on her foot. Dislodging it, we watched it’s attempt to inch away. I will spare you of how the leech met its demise. It wasn’t pretty. The next morning the boat was towed back. its paddlewheel still ensnared in a fishing net. No wonder they were late getting back!