Monday, September 17, 2007

Thailand, Nepal, India

Thailand, Nepal, India. In 1985 I was shown to go to the Himalayas. One of the Tibetan dieties had come to me while I was working as a fire lookout in California. Since this job was only a 6 month seasonal job I had only to find someone to run my business for the time I and my family would be gone. So when the 5 of us took off from San Francisco International Airport for Narito, Japan on the first leg of our amazing journey we knew we had up to 6 months to explore near the flight destinations would visit. We had 6 month open ended discount tickets. I don't know whether this type of ticket exists still. But if it does one would find it at places like and the like. I found my tickets on a fluke while walking down Haight Street in San Francisco, California, USA. A friend of mine was accompanying us on a nostalgic tour down memory lane of the late 1960's and early 70's. My mother was with us and saw an advertisement in a window. It said "one week in hawaii including airfare 250 dollars." since this definitely sounded too good to be true I accompanied my mother in to "protect" her from possibly unscrupulous vendors. The Company's name was Global Travel II. I soon realized they were a perfectly legitimate outfit and asked if they sold discount open ended tickets to Asia. The man said "yes". I then asked, "How much would it be for 5 - 6 month open ended tickets to Kathmandu, Nepal. The man worked on his computer a moment and then said, " about 6 thousand dollars.You will have to leave by December 11 th because of the Asian holidays and you will have to fly as far as Bangkok to avoid the holiday travelers." I said, "Can we get 6 month open ended tickets?" He said, "Yes. And I'll throw in Hong Kong if you want to visit there once either going or coming back."

I looked at my wife in amazement and she nodded. The five of us would fly out within one week. We hoped it was enough time to train her sister to run our business while we were gone. In the end the trip was quite reasonable in 1985. 6 thousand for 6 months airfare (or however short we wanted to be there) and 4 thousand for land costs and four thousand to keep our house, car and business intact.

Actually, at that time the biggest expense for us was the airline tickets. Once there we ate like kings and queens for a few dollars a day. (Provided we were in someplace like Tokyo, Bangkok, Kathmandu or some place like New Delhi). Otherwise we ate whatever was available that would make not us as westerners sick. That was usually Dahl Bhat, Rice, Curried potatoes or tibetan momos(meat or potato dumplings).I also got pretty attached to Chai tea and Mango Lassi's(a mango flavored yogurt type of drink. (Though I was a complete lacto ovo vegetarian from birth until age 32 by 33 when I started studying with Tibetan Lamas they insisted I eat some meat. This is because if one lives above 8000 feet in elevation or above in altitude without modern indoor heating that one has in western countries one likely will die if only vegetarian at above 8000 feet if one stays and lives full time there. So after 1983 I was about 95% vegetarian and still am about that ratio to this day. Also, at the time I was experimenting with being a survivalist(burying food in 50 gallon drums and worrying about economic collapse). The savings and loan collapse made everyone pretty worried then just like the sub-prime meltdown is causing the world to worry now.

I should also mention that we wanted to stay longer in Japan and see at least Tokyo but when I found it would cost 300 dollars just to get my family to Tokyo from the Narito Airport on the Bullet train I gave up the idea and we just boarded the next plane to Bangkok, Thailand. So it was an 11 hour flight from San Francisco to Narito Airport in Japan and then it was, I believe another 7 hours flight to Bangkok, Thailand. So about 21 hours after we left San Francisco we arrived in Bangkok at about 1 am in the morning. We then rented two taxis in order to fit the five of us and all our stuff in and we went to Sweety's Guest house. They drove us at about 90 miles an hour which was kind of scary for us, especially after being rushed by so many taxi drivers at the airport. We had a whole lot to learn. The biggest thing we had to learn was that almost no one spoke English there outside of 5 star hotels or places within an airport. This became an even bigger problem when we realized that Thai script is illegible to English or European speakers and readers. This meant we couldn't read street signs or business signs unless they had English in the because they catered to Westerners.

Even though it was now about the middle of December it was unbearably humid and hot for us from California. After two days of watching ceiling fans spin with only sheets on our beds(too hot for any more) we decided to go to Koi Samed Island(not Phuket). PHuket had a very bad reputation then and we didn't want to expose our children to things like prostitution and white slavery and the like so we chose Koe Samed Island which was a popular place for snorklers and youngish Europeans especially Germans. For 1.5 dollars a day one could rent a grass hut on the beach for 2. We opted for a 10 foot by 10 foot raised wooden hut so we wouldn't have to deal with sand fleas and other critters at night. By then we had hired a translator, Nairoosee, from Malaysia to bargain and translate for us. He was very valuable and paid for himself many times over in his service to us. We wanted to see him again when we returned from Nepal and India. However, by then 4 of the 5 of us got Ghiarddhia (Protazoa) from the dust at that time in Kathmandu. Every western person we met during those years got this in Kathmandu if they were there more than 2 weeks. It is probably different now. However, the best cooked western food then was in kathmandu, Nepal. It was wonderful. The family could stuff themselves on the best pasta, or lasangna, or chicken or whatever cooked to American or European pallates tastes and then eat the most decadent Chocolate cake or other deserts for 5 people and never pay more than 10 dollars plus tip. That was wonderful!

Before I left I got a call from Switzerland from my longtime friend, Anton. He said, " Fred, you SOB! You're going to get to Nepal before me." I said, "Why don't you get a discount fare from from Zurich or Geneva and fly direct and visit us here when we return from India. We'll probably be back in about 2 months." He said, "Okay. I'll see what I can do." He and I had begun our friendship in 1969 climbing mountains together. On one of our first climbs I almost hadn't survived it because of winter weather. On another one we almost froze to death when we had had to dig a snow cave in a blizzard white out. So we had almost died several times already climbing various peaks in the U.S. Anton and I also had done rock climbing in places like Yosemite and Taquitz rock in Idylwild near Palm Springs. So two months later we met up semi unexpectedly in Kathmandu. He had been there a week or so already and kept checking in every day or so to see if we had returned from India to pick up our extra luggage at a hotel storage locker.

Anton had bought himself a bicycle and had toured the city and since he is a musician met a lot of professional musicians there. Eventually, he studied Tabla (a small tuned drum like Ravi Shankar used to play a lot) with a Kathmandu Tabla master. Later, Anton toured with Manose who is one of the best Nepali wooden flute players.

He was going to climb some of the mountains there before he left. I had given up mountain climbing when I got married and started having children because I wanted them to have a father alive. Now my step kids and kids are aged 36 to 11. So now I have raised 5 kids and have two goddaughters (one of which just got married).

After Anton and me and my family all met up we wanted to go to see the Rhinos and Tigers in
Royal Chitwan National Park on the terai in Southern Nepal. So we bought bus tickets to the park borders and all piled on board the bus. On one of the stops when a man saw us coming he took a chicken and killed it while we watched before we disembarked the bus. Yum YUm! Just what we wanted to see before we had dinner. However, I learned later that since most of these places had very little or no refrigeration meat had to be slaughtered on the spot to keep it fresh. So if there was refrigeration available it would be more likely used for beverages like sod pop which we drank instead of water so we wouldn't die while traveling. We had learned the hard way not to drink bottled water after we saw people filling bottles up with a hose behind a restaurant while we were traveling. We knew that wasn't good if we wanted to live with our western intestinal tracks intact. So after that, whenever we took a bus or train we drank only soda pop unless we had boiled the water for five minutes ourselves and let it cool before putting it into a canteen for travelling.

We bought a portable kerosene cookstove in Dharmsala, India(Himchal Pradesh 6000 feet high in the Himalayas). It served two purposes. First, it cooked food and boiled water for sterilization. 2nd, it heated our hotel room in Dharmsala which wasn't heated then and sometimes got below freezing inside at that altitude at night. Daytime temperatures in January and February were 25 to 65 degrees depending on the weather and the day. However, if you have ever smelled kerosene it is pretty smelly stuff and whenever it was warm enough outside we would open the shutters or the door.

Back to Chiwan National Park. Anton and me and my family rode an oxcart with Krishna, a 19 year old kid who came out of nowhere as our guide when we got off the bus. He took us to a hotel where we got some orange pop(remember, don't drink the water unless you boil it yourself). A monkey of the about 3 foot tall variety one sees a lot in India reminding me of something like a brown and white spider monkey came up and grabbed one of our open orange soda bottles and began drinking it. I had learned from past experience that you don't want to excite one of these because there are usually more monkey relatives nearby. And if you freak one of them out they all freak out and then someone might get bitten and get a disease like rabies. So carefully, be mellow with the monkeys please! After we had our laugh and took a few pictures of the monkey drinking the soda we went to our rooms so we didn't have to deal with monkeys anymore.

So early the next day Krishna showed up to take us into the Rhino, Tiger and Python bush. My then 12 year old step daughter who is now a lawyer in Oregon started to get quite nervous about the whole thing. I must admit I had second thoughts when we crossed a river in a dugout canoe knowing there was a breed of crocodiles in it. I made the kids stay still because if this thing turned over and didn't get bitten one would certainly get sick from the brown water.

On the other side of the river a fancy 4 wheel drive vehicle met us and took us further into the bush where 30 foot trees dotted the plains. I imagined this kind of country also exists in Africa because it looked very similar to movies I've seen of the savannahs.

We started hearing load banging noises that sounded like two train boxcars banging into each other. Krishna said it was rhino mating season so when the males collided like bucks and male goats do it made this loud sound. We said, "Oh!" We didn't know it was rhino mating season and wondered whether this had been a particularly good idea to bring the kids into the middle of this. My step daughter immediately climbed a tree after krishna said that was the safest place when a rhino attacks humans as without guns we wouldn't survive and guns weren't allowed. After he told the story of how a rhino first splits a human in two groin to chest and then stamps on a person or their head until they are squashed flat and stop moving. This did it for my stepdaughter and she ran up a tree. However, she was a little overweight and I said, "Rowshan, I don't think that branch will hold your weight as she was now standing on a high branch about 30 feet above me and the branch was the size of my little finger. Sure enough, the branch broke and she fell 25 feet. Luckily, I didn't have to break my back breaking her fall in order to save her life. Her hips caught in a v branch arrangement and all I had to do was to grab her head and upper body so it didn't smash against the trunk of the tree when her body stopped suddenly from her hips getting jammed in a V shaped branches.

After that, we were pretty shook up. My wife and I left the two youngest about 15 feet up a tree for safety with Krishna. Chris, the oldest boy took off with Anton to find Rhinos and Wendy and I took off with our camera to find rhinos. Soon, the rhinos found us. We weren't really prepared for how fast they were. I threw my then wife up a tree and then thought I would be killed trying to get up another tree because I almost dislocated my shoulder doing it. Luckily, somehow I scrambled up another tree before the rhino started ramming the tree I was on with his horn. what was really crazy was that after all that my wife had the camera so I didn't even get ANY shots of rhinos at all that trip. Luckily, the tree I chose was too big for the Rhino to knock down though I did move in the tree up to 3 feet each blow the rhino gave the tree.

One thing I learned is never underestimate just how fast these things are. In nature they reminded me more of a pissed off bear than anything else. So imagine something the weight of an average american auto pissed off at you for being in its territory.

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