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|Written by Emily Goodacre|
|Friday, 26 February 2010 00:00|
Tourism is Nepal's biggest industry. Thousands of people from all over the world descend on the Himalayan country each year. There are different types of tourists you can see when you peek around Thamel, Kathmandu's tourist area: volunteers who speak their broken Nepali to waiters with confidence, neo-hippies who insist on wearing harem pants and bandanas everywhere, and culture-seekers who rush from temple to temple with their fanny packs. The biggest group, however, are adventure travellers: fit, tanned young people who come mainly to trek mountain ranges and take part in other physically demanding activities. Folks, I was not one of these tourists.
As a generally un-coordinated, un-fit and un-athletic person, trekking to, say, Mount Everest Basecamp (a 14-18 day uphill hike) did not appeal to me in the slightest. But I did want to get the most out of my time in this beautiful country, so these are the tales of my clumsy attempts at finding my inner adventurer.
Let's start with the basics: while a multi-day hike was not part of the plan, an excursion of a few hours seemed very doable. A friend and I decided to do the route from Nagarkot to Bhaktapur, a town not far from Kathmandu. One hour uphill to a gorgeous lookout, and two more hours downhill: not too shabby. I must confess at this point that I am known for my clumsiness, and I have tripped and fallen while walking through the well-paved streets of Ottawa on several occasions. The wooded path was quite treacherous at some points, but I managed to stay upright. Then I wiped out walking across a perfectly flat field, just as we were passing a local farming family. They had no shame in laughing loudly at the murkha bideshi (silly foreigner).
Nepal has readily available and beautiful cliff faces for rock climbing. I decided to try a man-made wall. Baby steps, people. We got into the harnesses, which are not exactly flattering: they essentially frame your crotch. I then made a valiant attempt at the wall. Fell off one foot off the ground. Gave it another go. Fell off nine inches off the ground. So I was all set to give up, but a more athletic friend talked me into trying again. Evidently the worst thing you can do while rock climbing is stick your butt out, which I think I was doing, but with a team behind me yelling "love the wall! Love iitttttt!" I actually made it up pretty high, 50 feet or so! Progress!
At Chitwan, a national park, my travelling companions and I went on a mini-safari on elephant back (all the better to catch a glimpse of wildlife). This was incredibly fun until our elephants started throwing a tantrum! I'm not sure why, but both the elephants in our group suddenly started trumpeting, growling (I swear, elephants growl), pushing trees over, and running. If you've never been on a running elephant, let me tell you: it's both painful and scary. Eventually they calmed down and then we got to go down to the river to participate in elephant baths! This is seriously one of the most fun things I have ever done in my life! The elephant lifts you up with her trunk and you must scramble over her head, trying not to put a foot in her eye and set off another tantrum. Once you're on her back she sprays you with water from her trunk. Then she shakes you off. Then you climb back up. Repeat 5 or 6 times. Unfortunately, a friend was sick all night afterward because it's hard not to swallow some river water when you're being hurled from an elephant's back.
Paragliding is available in Pokhara, a lakeside city a few hours from Kathmandu. In my excitement I forgot to take Gravol beforehand. Big mistake. So we drove up a huge hill, hiked to a cliff drop-off, and I was strapped to my Macedonian guide and a parachute. The instructions consisted of, "OK, when I say run, run." I asked, ". . . Off the cliff?" I cannot even express to you how high this cliff was. But I was surrounded by super buff hardcore German paragliders, and my desire to not look stupid outweighed my desire to, y'know, live. Luckily the parachute started lifting us before my feet reached the edge of the cliff. It was amazing and not unlike being a bird. I could see the whole valley and lake, and it was incredibly pretty. To stay aloft, however, we had to circle over a thermal air pocket. And after half an hour of thermal circling, I was really regretting not taking that Gravol. I asked if we could go straight for awhile, and the short answer was no. He asked me if I wanted to land, and I answered, "Yes, please!" as I tried mightily not to vomit over innocent rice farmers' fields from hundreds of feet in the air.
One weekend some of us headed up near the Tibet border to this adventure resort called (cleverly) Last Resort. Getting there was a particular adventure. The roads, as always, were very twisty, and a Nepali guy on the bus got sick more times than I would have thought the human body was capable of. There's not always room to pull the bus over, so at one point he leaned right over my friend to puke out the window. Once we did get there, some friends braved the highest bungee jump in Asia over the Bhote Kosi river gorge. Despite my growth, I'm still not that adventurous. I did, however, go canyoning down a series of waterfalls, totalling 210 vertical metres. The longest abseil was 45 metres! My two companions, being rock climbers, took to it immediately. I, however, slipped and slid and banged my way down all the falls, at one point falling completely upside down, but was always caught by my belayors. I resorted to repeating the instructions to myself as a mantra: "lean back, legs straight, push off, ease grip" over and over. Halfway down one waterfall I heard my friend call up to me: "Em? Uh . . . we can hear you," he snickered. So much for my cool new adventurer persona.
Hiking Mt. Krn: How a Maritimer became a mountain climber.
Tags: adventure, canyoning, culture, elephants, foundation, hiking, nepal, paragliding, rock climbing, safari, travel