Our last two weeks have flown by, and I am writing this in the air on flight number one to Oman. The next blog entry shall tell tales of our time in Pokhara, a yoga retreat, and then, similar to my fate in Portugal last year – the Great Malaise- I got ill for the last 5 days of our trip!
Back in Civilisation- Pokhara.
After the Annapurna Circuit we spent two nights in Pokhara, a large city located on a picturesque lake with a beautiful bustling and colourful tourist area. Pokhara, busier with tourists than Kathmandu, is the hub for most of the trekking industry and the majority of people stay here before and after their treks. It therefore has lots of amenities to please the tourists, and is awash with hostels, swanky (by Nepal standards) hotels and spa resorts. There are loads of eateries and coffee shops, some restaurants even do pretty spot on Western food and there is a KFC and a Baskin and Robbins! There are also quite a few bars. In this Westernised bubble, many tourists don’t bother to respect the local Nepali cultural customs of modest clothes, and lots of bum cheeks are falling out of short shorts, or biceps peeping out of vests.
After 40 days of the same menus (fried bread, fried rice, fried potato or fried omelette, with fried cabbage, fried onion or fried carrot), we got stuck in immediately to eating different food! Well, not immediately. As usual in Nepal, nothing quite goes to plan. The hotel we had booked had been overbooked… so we had to be moved to a different hotel… as usual in Nepal, no apology is really made for these mishaps, the proprietor just smiles your questioning face into oblivion with his magical spell of “no problem!”. It was a problem, as the hotel we were moved to was not as good as the one we booked, but we still had to pay the price of the original hotel…. ah well. We were so tired, it mattered little. On the plus, we were reunited with our bag (yay!) and spoiled ourselves by wearing some different clothes! Also, we were moved to the hotel we had actually booked the following day, and got to enjoy the luxury! The manager had at least given us the best room to compensate for the night before, and we had a beautiful balcony and amazing views.
We passed two happy days in Pokhara, drinking wine and cocktails, and browsing the many shops selling souvenirs and clothes, and replaced some of our tatty clothes. We also bought some clothes for yoga, as we had decided to go to a retreat for a week!
On the third day we moved to Begnas Tal Yoga retreat, and I took with me about 40 mosquito bites on my feet, acquired from the carefree cocktail devouring session wearing flip flops by the lake. Thank god I didn’t have to wear my walking boots again, as I am slightly allergic and the bites were hot, red, itchy and angry, and kept me unwanted company, right up until we left Begnas!
Begnas Yoga Retreat
We arrived in Begnas after a 25 minute taxi journey from Pokhara, and were greeted by a glorious lake and jungle. Begnas is a very small town, also very popular with tourists but far less developed than Pokhara. It is rural and peaceful, well… peace from traffic. On our first night I had one of the worst nights sleep I’ve had in Nepal due to a very very loud bird, whose song will forever be burned into my mind. The bird was defending its nest in a tree outside our window for the whole week we were there, by singing the same alarming song on repeat with no gaps. It was particularly loud at night, and we were glad we had ear plugs! The song always begins innocently enough, but quickly builds, increasing in volume, pitch and frequency until it sounds like a high pitched squealing menace. I honestly think the bird could be used as an instrument of torture. Everyone at the retreat joked about the bird, as we all suffered it’s pitched perils. We even prayed to it to try and ask it to move trees! Our prayers were mostly unanswered.
The retreat schedule was roughly 6.30 walking meditation, 7.00 Nasal Irrigation (!) 7.30-9.00 Yoga, 9.30 Breakfast, 11.00 Treatment, 13.00 Lunch, 15.00 Yoga Theory, 17.00 Yoga, 19.30 Dinner and 21.00 Mantra and bed. Liam and I avoided the Mantra session and opted for bed and a western media meditation such as going on our phones!
The Nasal Irrigation requires some further explanation… apparently this is commonplace in Nepal… I remain unconvinced.
First, you pour about a decent sized mug full of warm salt water through one nostril, then the other. You tilt your head so the water pours out your other nostril… or if you have a blocked nose, your mouth. Then, you use a variety of techniques to evacuate the contents of your nose, blowing snot and water noisily all over the flowers and hillsides. So much snot comes out that it’s unbelievable that you could have so much. On my first day, water kept pouring from my nose for a good hour or so afterwards! Newcomers feel embarrassed by evacuating the contents of their nose in public… but quickly this process is normalised and you begin to become excited by the contents of your nose, and share tips for removing it, admiring each other’s snot loads. Yep.
The technique is said to clear your nose.. but my nose is never blocked anyway. I embraced it whilst I was there, but secretly mourned my delicate nose mucus which I’m sure does an excellent job and I suspect that my body harbours it for a reason. I also pushed to the back of my mind thoughts of the transmission of hepatitis, as we all merrily shared nasal baths together.
The yoga was really good, and we practiced twice a day in a glorious room with 360 degree panoramic views of mountains jungle and lake. We often stopped to watch birdlife and sunsets, or views of mountains, or laugh about The Bird. The only plague was mosquitos! Oh, and the Gurus mobile phone, his 3 year old daughter, and the ladies who came to take our food orders, who often also interrupted us!
The guru at the retreat was quite the character. As with everything in Nepal, the retreat was not quite like a retreat in the UK. The guru was quite often distracted during yoga or yoga philosophy, by his daughter, or tending some business, or by wanting to tell us some tale, or speak on the phone, or manage his staff. It was a new business, and sometimes it could be slightly chaotic! Things did not really run to schedules, and you never knew what you were going to get. It really didn’t matter though, we thought it was all part of the experience. Liam and I actually quite liked the lack of structure and discipline, we were tired and happy to lay around.
Not everyone agreed though, whilst we were there, one woman left three days early, and another left on the first night, creeping away under the cover of darkness, without telling anyone! We could understand why I suppose. If you were expecting a quiet nights sleep at a retreat, then you actually got a very loud bird, and a 3 year old who screamed periodically in the night! There was also the problem of the monsoon rains which flooded all the rooms several times (we learnt to stem the tides with towels), the lack of hot water (which we didn’t mind), and one guest’s bathroom smelt very badly (ours luckily was fine!). Or maybe it could have been eating your dinner sat on the kitchen floor with the ants and gigantic spiders (again, we didn’t mind).
All that being said, we had a wonderful time. The staff were all lovely and cooked us amazing fresh food every day. Much of the food was grown in the garden or collected from local markets. We saw gangs of wild monkeys cheekily stealing the food during the day! We were treated like gods, and fed constantly!
We also had some pretty amazing treatments. I had a mud bath, which included having my boobs massaged, which was, erm, an experience. In fact, by the end of the retreat, every female member of staff had managed some close encounter with my bare boobs. And I thought Nepal was a country shy about nudity. Not when it comes to doing beauty therapies it seems! The treatments were great though, we had massages, reiki healing, a steam bath, pedicure, oil bath… and were taken out on a boat and had a lovely picnic.
After the week was up, we were given a Buddhist blessing, and I felt close to tears feeling grateful for the experience of the retreat. It wasn’t quite the retreat I expected, but I got so much more. I got to share a week with a Nepali family and some lovely staff, and live in the jungle doing yoga twice a day. We learnt so much about local culture, from arranged marriages, road financing, education, the caste system, the Nepali wars and… unfortunately I also got to learn about illness…
The Great Plague
Having managed to avoid any illness for two months, Liam and I both contracted a sickness in the last week. We were both too grateful it hadn’t happened at any point before, such as at 5000m, to be too upset. Well, emotionally upset- our tummies were very upset! Liam got ill first, and his bug lasted 24 hours. I had to go and beat him.
The day before the end of the yoga retreat, I woke up and evacuated the contents of my stomach… and did so about 60 times that day, out of both ends. It was just litres of water coming out. Of course I googled cholera and thought it sounded the same, but Liam told me I was being a bit dramatic. Which it turns out, I probably was. Probably!
The illness was with me for four days, getting slowly better. But, it caused a great deal of concern as we had a plane to catch, and I wasn’t going anywhere considering I couldn’t even make the en-suite bathroom sometimes never mind go roaming in the wilds away from a room.
Never have I been more humiliated than to poo myself whilst we had an en-suite bathroom. And not just once. Four times.
Luckily, we had travel insurance and they had a telephone GP service. I sought some advice and the GP was hopeful my symptoms suggested a virus which would clear up in time for the plane (not cholera, after all, then). And she was right. Didn’t stop me spending the last 4 days of my holiday in bed though. I moved from the bed at the yoga retreat to a very nice hotel in Pokhara, and that was all I moved.
We didn’t mind too much. We had air conditioning, room service, a very comfy bed, and a TV! Liam even got to watch the football.
The end of Nepal
So, I recovered enough and now I’m in Oman airport. Our last day was spent on a bus to Kathmandu, a bus which we paid double for to have a bus with a toilet (just in case). A bus which broke down, and then we were promptly transferred to cheap bus, with no toilet (thankfully I didn’t need it) and no refund. Futhermore, the bus dropped us off on a different part of Kathmandu, so we had to pay extra on top for a taxi. But it’s ok though, the driver said “no problem”, so there was no problem. Paying double and some more to go on a bad bus. But hey, we made it!
Next stop… driving to France in a week!