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Himalaya Trek 2012 – KTM to Munsiyari

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the local story – what happened

The trip from Kathmandu (Nepal) to Munsiyari (Uttarakhand, India) was nothing special in itself, except that it meant almost 3 days of bus travel and that I was able to witness two for me extraordinary events, short episodes that I think are worth to be told as a short interim report.

In Nepalganj, the last place before the Indian border, you have to leave the bus, walk or ride a bicycle rickshaw for about 5 km to the border crossing and then take care that you enter the country properly, because the border officials and customs officers do not care who comes or goes. Between India and Nepal there is de facto open border traffic, i.e. the population of both countries can travel from one country to the other without valid documents. But if you as a real foreigner (like me) do not follow the formalities, i.e. you take care of it yourself and ask for all necessary stamps on the visa, you will get serious problems at the latest at the first control in the country.

The no man’s land is densely populated with small farmers and craftsmen in their houses and huts, interrupted by small, dry forest islands. On my search for the Indian Immigration Office, a relatively large crowd of people had gathered around one of these forest islands, standing in a semicircle of about 50m diameter around it, staring excitedly from the road into the forest and having heated discussions. When I asked what was going on there, I only got two scraps of words: Snake, Cobra. These catchwords were enough to immediately attract 100% of my attention. The rickshaw was immediately parked at the side of the road with its driver and marched off towards the forest with the camera in hand.

Already from far away you could see two cobras tightly embraced and dancing wildly at the edge of the forest. Of course I wanted to get as close as possible to them, on the way there was a 20m wide strip through bushes and undergrowth that demanded full concentration. On the one hand I didn’t want to miss anything of the spectacle of the two lovebirds, but on the other hand it was also clear: where there are two, there can be three. Maybe there was an outbooted opponent or reptilian voyeur who watched the two conspecifics during their act and I didn’t necessarily want to step on his tail out of excitement or carelessness. After the people there did not think of coming closer for fear of these animals I could get relatively unhindered to a good position except for a safety distance of 2 ½ to 3 meters to the two animals. This special nature experience took maybe 5 minutes before the snakes moved back into the forest. Unfortunately I cannot say whether they were successful in their work.

Here you can download a short Video 

From Haldwani, one of the larger cities in the foothills of the Himalayas to the destination Munsiyari it was a 15 hour drive by bus. This meant 15 hours of uninterrupted up and down through serpentines in a hopelessly crowded bus, with all the consequences that entailed. With enough assertiveness and a little bit of luck I had once again managed to get one of the few seats with enough legroom, namely in the first row directly behind the driver.

But 15h serpentines usually mean that after about 30 minutes the first people – mainly women and children – start to vomit and this continues until the end of the bus ride. But a little nausea is no reason to stop the bus, so everyone is free to puke out of the window during the ride. Since this in itself sensible body function can only be controlled to a limited extent, this often happens to the chagrin of other road users such as pedestrians, motorcyclists or cars. Unfortunately, my vocabulary is not sufficient to describe the olfactory sensations. No car paint can withstand the strongly corrosive stomach acid in the long run, and the side walls of the buses look accordingly filthy. With an empty stomach it is hard to vomit, so we stop at a restaurant at regular intervals, so that we always have enough ammunition for the next 2 – 3 hours.

About 1 ½ hours before Munsiyari there was another stop – but this time at a Hindi temple. Everybody went out into the temple to ring at least one of the many bells that bring luck and blessings – so I went back. In the middle of the complex there was a small hut where a Sadhu – one of these holy men with his Rasta curls was sitting. The bus driver was single-mindedly heading for this hut and after some negotiations, supported by a few banknotes, he had obviously obtained divine assistance in the form of a good load of cannabis. The two of them had enjoyed smoking a clay pipe there, as if it was the most natural thing in the world for bus drivers on duty. The other passengers watched, some even smoked with them – I was also offered it, by the way. Uttrakhand seems to be permissive about the consumption of hashish anyway, because in the short time I was here I was offered to smoke 4 or 5 times – once even by an I.T.B.P. officer on duty.

After I had already had the feeling that the handlebars interpreted the interplay of road, traffic, speed and rules particularly freely even before the consciousness-expanding measure was taken, from this point on, all the other senses besides my nose were also sensitized to the highest degree. There was no difference in the way he drove, maybe he had smiled a bit more, but nothing more.

Well arrived in Munsiyari, the necessary permits were obtained and we went up to the Milam Glacier and the Nanda Devi Base Camp, the highest mountain in India with over 7.800m.

Until next time
-Henry

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