Travelling is not all rainbows and unicorns

The past few days have been spent participating in a local festival, buying lots of stuff and travelling to the start of the Annapurna Circuit. A few tales!

Holi Festival

Holi Festival is a Hindu/Indian festival that celebrates the start of spring – the visible way to mark the festival is by throwing colourful paint and water over everyone. We were told by our guesthouse owner to wear something we didn’t mind ruining, and to put all electronics inside watertight bags. We thought we had been well prepared by buying white Holi t-shirts, but actually this had the adverse affect of making us open targets.

The main demographic of people who participated in the paint throwing and soaking festivities appeared to be young boys, groups of teenagers of both genders, and young men. The three groups had three distinct methods.

The young boys waited in the networks of alleyways and when you were trapped, you would face a barrage of water bombs with the aim and velocity that would shame a professional cricket team.

Out in the streets, you would be enveloped by gangs of smiling assassin teenagers all keen to smear paint on both your cheeks, hair, and if they were feeling suitably cheeky, your body. Being someone who has issues with personal space, having a constant stream of Nepali teenagers rubbing their hands all over me left me wrestling with horror.

Worst of all, was the young men, who would sit high in the buildings and then throw vats of water on your head from height.

In theory, and if you were of a certain temperament, I suspect it could be quite exciting and fun to be covered in paint and water. My reality- was that it turned Kathmandu into a real live Call of Duty game. The most fun target for all was the tourists. Especially those wearing white Holi t-shirts.

Liam and I initially embraced it, although afterwards agreed neither of us particularly enjoyed it. After a while, it was tiring. We turned blind corners in alleyways with anticipation of being pelted, or chased by small boys. We avoided shoals of teenagers, and stepped round water tipping zones by avoiding wet patches on the floor.

I know I sound like a grumpy old woman, but I suspect no one likes to feel like a helpless foreign target. The Nepali newspapers seemed to concord with my feeling of trepidation as the local news articles on Holi included a warning that it counted as assault to touch someone without their permission. Police were driving around, making sure that only those who wanted to be were soaked or painted…. the tourists who didn’t wear Holi t-shirts were mostly unscathed… so we were probably a bit stupid!

Also in the article, there was a comment about how the festival article had lost its religious meaning. Instead, it had become only about throwing paint on each other, and engaging in raucous street festivities. The quiet family times have been replaced by partying. Liam and I got into judgey tourist mode and questioned to what extent this was being influenced by tourism. Many of the tourist areas were capitisiling on the festival by having boozy parties. Backpackers were walking around with beers in their hands- no locals were. Yet.

All that being said- I am glad I took part. There was a lot of positivity and smiles and I felt that the paint and water attacks were well intentioned. Me not enjoying it probably says more about me and my personal space issues than the festival!

Buses and bartering

The day after we took two buses to get from Kathmandu to Besisahar, the start of the Annapurna Circuit walk. We learnt that the bus drivers like to put tourists and questionable locals on the back seats, because they are worst being the hottest and bounciest. Liam and I shared the back row with three very drunk Nepalese men, who spent the time waiting for the bus to start arguing with other bus passengers, arguing with each other and trying to communicate with us by slurring Nepalese (god knows what) at us. Other bus passengers found this very amusing. When the bus started, they fell asleep, one with his head on Liam’s shoulder, generously sharing his sweat and dribble.

I was envious of their tactics of a drunken coma though because the buses were so bouncy on the pot holed dirt roads, that I was regularly thrown clear from the seat. Our fit-bits went into melt down- thinking we had done 40,000 steps when really we did nothing other than providing pillows and entertainment for the locals. We couldn’t even play our plague game as the bus bounced so much we couldn’t focus on the screen.

On the bus, we learnt more of the Nepali driving custom, including the special advanced bus skills of overtaking other buses going seemingly the same speed, on blind corners, with huge sheer cliff drops on one side. The trick here seems to be just to beep your horn a lot as you do so, with an advanced dose of the previously mentioned skill of assuming that you will never crash.

We also learnt that a bus is never full. There is always room even if you sit on someone else’s knee. Kind of like UK trains in rush hour. Oh, and tourists are charged four times the amount for the same seat. Which, other than also being given the worst seats, we really don’t mind. And that’s a problem generally… Liam and I both lack the assertiveness for the Nepali custom of haggling. As well as being targets for Holi Festival, we are primed for being charged way more than we should be, and often politely thank people who have just mildly exploited us. Despite repeatedly making earnest pacts after these occasions to try and haggle, we have epically failed and now admit surrender. It’s so cheap anyway, we have decided that £1 here or there is a small price to pay compared to the personal costs of challenging our combined (high) social anxiety.

Himalayan Breaking Bad

Seven hours of bone rattling bus experience later, we arrived at a town which is the start of the Annapurna Circuit, and attempted to pack our bags for the trek in our hotel room. Of course, we realised that we have way too much stuff, we don’t need it all and we can’t carry it. Most people hire porters to carry their bags round the trail, but we love being independent. The locals think this strange and we were called “typical English” to not accept help- I have no idea what this means – and it made me feel like I voted Brexit.

Fortunately, we asked the help of the Air B&B owner who we stayed with in Kathmandu, and have arranged a driver to take our surplus 8kg bag to the end of the trail, leaving us with a meagre 25kg between us to carry the 130 miles.

The B&B owner looks very much like and has all the calm, helpful, all powerful mannerisms as Gus from Breaking Bad. His efficient use of local networks to help us has heightened my suspicions. Happily for us, the mere use of his name seemed to immediately resolve our luggage crisis, with a hotel owner in a town 60km away being happy to receive and look after our random bag until an unspecified date in April (no fear of terrorism here). Fingers crossed we get it back, will be an interesting feeling handing it to a random driver tomorrow!

So, that’s us for now! Its been an exhausting couple of days filled with cultural experiences and challenges… but we are happy and full of Nepali Beer, and grateful to Himalayan Gus, and all of the Nepali people today who helped us get here, fed us, drove us, housed us, and despite our fears at times, didn’t try to attacks us or rip us off more than we deserved! Liam has had to add a new column on our budget spreadsheet called ‘stupidity’ and we have accepted a 10% surcharge on our trip for lack of bartering skills!

Tomorrow- we begin the trail!

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