“So, I boarded the bus, sat close to the window next to an old man holding a chicken. When my esteemed window didn’t offer much but dirt and slab of concrete, I observed the chaos inside the old bus. All kindness and humanity emanating from a crowded, rickety ride.”JIL DIAMANTE
Dhampus, Gandaki Pradesh | Nepal
A little shy of seven in the morning, I went down for breakfast in the hotel’s lobby. The place was listed as a hotel but didn’t register as one. It had the warmth of a homestay and a laidback semblance of a hostel.
Not that I care enough. I usually withdraw to my own thoughts and keep quiet in the morning.
As I sat there, waiting for my food, I fumbled with my phone. Went on a Safari tab spree and checked out directions bound to Dhampus. Because spontaneity, love.
By the time my coffee arrived, I got a good grasp of which bus to take, what street to cool down, think things through (kiss inevitable fucks along the way), and my place to stay. But I also find it amusing to talk things over with locals and get their fact(oid)s too. I think it makes my adventure more pragmatic and immersive rather than simply relying on privileged blogs.
I can’t be that fancy.
So, I went to the hotel’s concierge. His face lit up as I walked towards his cluttered desk. Huh, a man too dedicated to his hospitality job. As we went over my rough itinerary, I purposedly mixed things up to weed out inconsistencies and to solidify my original plan. Also, contingencies.
The guy went out of his way and pinned the locations directly on my phone, helped me pronounced the street names properly, and gave fair advice to avoid getting ripped off. I thanked him profusely.
So, I boarded the bus, sat close to the window next to an old man holding a chicken. We smiled at each other but kept quiet the whole trip. When my esteemed window didn’t offer much but dirt and slab of concrete, I observed the chaos inside the old bus. Mothers tending to their children, fathers with their yawning and persevering look towards yet another day to provide for their families, students grasping their books for dear life (and future), and kids being kids. Doe-eyed and annoying. All kindness and humanity emanating from a crowded, rickety ride.
All kindness and humanity emanating from a crowded, rickety ride.
Before Mt. Pinatubo, this was the bumpiest ride I’ve experienced. With constant stops to pick up passengers along the road. Looking down from the window was not for the faint-hearted either. There were no solid barriers. And plummeting to death from a hundred or probably a thousand feet was imminent.
I was happy but at the same time scared. I had no specific idea where I was. Everything was in Hindi, dusty and humid. But alas! The driver and conductor told me in unison, “Kande!”.
So, I got off the bus dazed and hesitant. Where do I go from here?
I asked a few locals around for the start of the trail. Typical Nepali, they helped me out in their best way possible. With extra candy and a hearty compliment to wish me luck. The trail is established but there was a time when there were two paths and both looked positive so I chose to go right. A local saw me and shouted, “Australian Base Camp, left!”.
My cockiness hit a reality fist bump and my weak sense of direction started to creep in and plant seeds of doubt and countless what-if scenarios in my head.
Beyond that, everything was quite easy to figure out. However, hiking alone, paranoia struck me with every snap of twigs or rustling of leaves. I took a lot of breaks, rested my back among man-made stepping stones. And got up and hiked again with the slightest hint of an unfamiliar sound. My speed was highly dependent on my fear and vivid imagination.
Exhausted and sweating bullets, I reached the base camp, shortly before three in the afternoon. I celebrated with the hailed Tuborg beer with a slight misfortune of it being warm as the inside of my jacket.
I sat in an unmarked patch of land close to a lodge full of tourists. And stayed there for an hour, just relishing the moment. Eyeing my camping spot from a pleasing vantage point. It was my birthday.
My only wish then was to see the Himalayas. Check. To catch a glimpse of the pure and treacherous Annapurna. Check.
And call it a day.
But that was far from the truth.
What followed was the longest night of my life …