5.22.2017

Nepal: A Trekking To Hakula, Solukhumbu 6: to Kathmandu driving at night on (no)roads

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It's a sunny morning
The sun shines when I wake up, and the view is clear toward the mountains, glaring for the recent snow. After breakfast we get a formal farwel with more scarves and more flower garlands. 
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The Women Unity
More pictures are taken and when we leave it's about 10 am. It's definitely hot and I'd like to take off all those stuff around my neck, but Lalit says we have to keep it as long as we are in the village. So, stoically, I carry on while villagers come out their homes to say good-bye or just rise their heads from the field to look at us curiously. The path is almost flat here or slightly downhill, in the shadow of Rhododendrons and oaks. The scarves find their place in the backpack, while we hang the garlands on a tree, according to the Kiranti worship of Nature.
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Farwell
The way down is always easier, isn't it? but those guys are walking in trainers and flip-flops! I feel vaguely ridicolous in my mountain boots. "Ok, you can!" I say incredulous pointing to Niraj's slippers. "Ah yes" Lalit says "Nepali people can all. I remember the time when there was nothing: no shoes, no clothes, no school books, and we used to go bare feet on those paths." We can already see the Dudh Khosi, the bridge, the shepherds' hut. "Hurry up, I call the jeep". 
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My garlands
It's midday when we get on board. A hot, dusty, risky travel is about to start. "We don't sleep in Salleri. We go directly to Kathmandu". But I don't know what that means and even if I have an idea of the distance and of the (no)roads conditions, I can't understand what we are going to face. At the moment I just want to pee, but somebody is taking a long shower in the loo... "We wait. When we start we don't stop for three, four hours." 
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On the roads
We start. I sit in front with the first driver, Lalit, Niraj, his friend and the second driver sit behind. Our backpacks are in the big boot with some packages... and some cheap travelers. They don't go to Kathmandu, just take a lift to another village or home. We are full loaded now, still we stop to take in an old woman and her grandson, both carrying heavy bags. Even more squeezed, siting one on the lap of the other, incredibly some room has been made for the old woman, while the kid has found a place on the roof. In my privileged front seat I feel unconfortable.
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...when we meet others
The (no)road is so bad that I need to firmly hang to the grip to avoid hitting my head agaist the ceiling. It's a no-stop bumping. We never go faster than 40 km/h, often way slower, so slow that the many people walking on foot and carrying huge loads look at least as fast.
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Lower terracing
The (no)road is narrow and when we meet another vehicle we have to drive on the edge of rocky precipitous cliffs. Often the engine stops when the (no)road gets steep and the driver must be fast to pull the brake. Then he turns the engine on, lets the brake and goes full gas, while rocks are projected everywhere from under the slipping wheels. Am I the only one holding my breath? Are they really used? do you GET used to this? Niraj frankly doesn't look well: he has put a cotton mask over his nose to avoid breathing the dust and stares ahead with empty eyes. The rest, sqeezed and clumped, seems fine.
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This is a bar
A few times we stop to eat by guesthouses and small restaurants: noodles soup, momo, more soup... I eat nothing: I'm not hungry and in such a drive I prefer to stay light, so I just nibble a energy-bar or pick some dried fruits. In Salleri we drop everybody, Niraj and his friend included. We clean our backpack from the dust and put them with us inside the jeep. Lalit has barely slept last night so now he's very tired. I sit behind with him, he stretches his legs on my knees, put his head on the backpack and immediately falls asleep. From here the road is better, even paved! 
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Men at work
I keep taking pictures as far as I can, then my camera's battery dies and the day light starts fading. Lalit sleeps and he's lovely to see. I think he isn't very confortable because he can't stretch his legs completely, but he's so in debt of sleep that he would sleep anywhere! The road is good, we are flying at 60 km/h, even faster. The air is fresh and finally we can open the window because there is no dust. 
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2015 earthquake destroyed many houses
Unfortunately it lasts few: the road is often interrupted due to works or slides and we are forced to take unpaved deviations. 8 hours driving already. How many kms have we covered? hard to say. Google maps says it's 267 kms from Salleri to Kathmandu 'by the fastest way'. But we have dinner in Katari, so we take a different road, and Google maps gives 398 kms by this one... I suspect they are more.
Image may contain: outdoorIn Katari the drivers suggest we are better to sleep. We are eating dal bhat in a crowded restaurant, siting outside in the heat. No tourists here, just locals. It's New Years Eve in Nepal and we are on the road... I don't want to sleep here. "How far is Kathmandu?", "About four hours. We arrive at midnight". I stupidly stamp my feet: "Let's go to Kathmandu! I want to go to Kathmandu!" ...and we go to Kathmandu, directly, in the dark of (no) roads without lighting nor signals, often interrupted and almost always unpaved. 
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This is our jeep
I'm thrilled at first, then I realise we are mad. These roads are dangerous even in the day light, Nepali media report every day of people killed in jeeps' crashes... Ok, let's stay positive as Lalit would say. The drivers are good and they look in control. They got an extra pay for the night drive so their morale is high: "Kathmandu! Kathandu!" is our motto already. Loud music on, we fly at night...
Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor and natureA brusque hard braking. We stop. There is a soldier in the middle of the road and a metal barrier. He comes close and look inside the car pointing a torch. "Where do you come from?" he asks. "Solukhumbu", "We can't pass. This road is forbiden after 8 pm". WHAT?! The drivers get off and walk with the soldier, they stop, they talk. After a long time, maybe one hour, Lalit yawns and stretches his arms: "I'll talk with him" he says. I'm left alone, wondering whether we'll get to Kathmandu or we'll sleep here inside the car... "I told him: We must pass because my client has got her flight back to Italy tomorrow morning very early. We must get to Kathmandu tonight." ...and in the end we are allowed to pass.
Relieved and galvanised by the unespected victory, we speed up on the perfectly paved road. "Kathmandu! Kathmandu!" And for a while it works. 
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Nele
Then suddenly a brusque hard braking again. Lalit wakes up and looks around with sleepy eyes. The road, perfectly paved, is cut in the middle and half of it has collapsed! The drivers get off, quietly walk on the residual half, seem to ponder over the opportunity to drive on it, come back, lean on the guardrail and light a cigarette. In the deep dark night, somewhere in Nepal. Not a word. They get in and drive back... and I see a worker sleeping under a parked bulldozer. Ok. No panic. We take a dity road and after a while we even meet another car. Weird to say, this (no)road leads to the main road to Kathmandu. 
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Lalit is trying t
Image may contain: sky, mountain, house, outdoor and natureWe arrive at 3 am. There is no traffic on the ring road and Kapan looks a different place with all the shops shut down and no stands in the empty streets. The jeep stops and we get off. A thousand dogs start barking! We pay, we take our backpacks and we stagger home...

.......................TO BE CONTINUED.................

See also Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.Image may contain: tree, sky, outdoor and natureImage may contain: outdoor and natureImage may contain: sky, outdoor and natureImage may contain: sky, tree, cloud, outdoor and nature

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