Up and out of bed - scrambled egg on top of a toasted croissant that I bought from the German bakery in the village. Bizarrely, there is one. Shova is still in a strop and I can hear sobbing coming from her room. I wear ear plugs when I sleep and wonder whether this has been an all nighter. Dal appears and tells me he thinks it's her "time of the month" and that he can't handle all this emotion. I assure him that he is a perfectly normal father in that case and promise him that she'll calm down soon enough. Besides, it's unnaturally cold and foggy this morning and I doubt any of us are in the best of moods.
After 4 cups of sweet black tea (I'm addicted now), I get ready for the day. We are heading to the Elephant Breeding Centre this afternoon but this morning I am going to have a wander in the village and do some souvenier shopping. I have tried to keep away from the shops as much as possible because otherwise I would have been home by now, broke but surrounded by beautiful trinkets.
As I'm leaving the guesthouse, I see the family gathered outside the main gate. Dal is reading a sheet of paper and Sunita is giving a young boy (about 11 years old) some money. Dal looks sad as he studies the paper so I walk over to the group and ask if everything is okay. I learn that the young boy has been born without a tongue (at which point he opens his mouth to show me and I try my hardest not to look horrified) and his younger brother is blind. Their father died last year, and then their mother committed suicide soon after. The mute brother walks miles and miles per day, visiting as many villages as possible, begging. With my heart strings well and truly pulled, I take out 100 rupees from my purse and hand it over to him. He produces a separate piece of paper and Dal says that I need to write my first name and the amount of my 'donation'. Not sure what the point is but I of course oblige. Our group gives the boy about 300 Rupees in total and after a small bow, he slowly wanders off down the path. Poor thing.
Feeling a bit flatter than a few minutes earlier, I set off towards the village. I'm not in the mood for shopping yet so I head to the internet cafe instead. Just as I am logging in, my mom phones me. She is panicing about the bandah and wants to know if I've heard anything else. I assure her that Dal won't put me in any danger and that I'm positive he knows what he's talking about when he says it shouldn't concern me. She asks me if Dal is the same man that drove me into the middle of a forest fire. Errrm yeah.
I try to soothe my mom with assurances that I will not put myself in any danger and I will keep in touch in the days leading up to my travel with any further news. Content with that, she heads back to bed and I update my Blog.
Blog complete, I venture out to browse the tempting shops. They are all fairly similar (even in price) so it's fun to try and find something vaguely unique. There are the usual wooden Om signs, hoards of elephants and rhinos in all sizes (I could do some serious damage here with credit!), bracelets and necklaces made up of gorgeous polished stones and metals, incense burners, a variety of posed Buddahs. I could buy one or two of everything I see but luckily have a very small luggage allowance and an even smaller budget. I manage to find something pretty unique for each of my loved ones and am about to head back home for lunch when I spot an art gallery across the road. I decide to have a little look, knowing full well that I won't be able to buy anything. The man behind the counter tells me that he is the artist and what I am looking at is traditional Thanka art. I can't begin to do justice to what I am seeing through words as they seem like living, breathing beings. The paintings are done on fabric and depict scenes in and around temples, surrounded by mini Buddahs and animals and villagers. Some characters are so small that you barely notice them and some are large enough to study the individual facial features. The scenes are so detailed that you almost have to press your nose against them to appreciate each delicate flick of the brush. There are tiny gold strokes all over the scene which the artist tells me is 'real gold'. I am quite mesmorized and, in a small voice, ask the price. Just over 4,000 Rupees (under 40 quid). I umm and aahh and do some quick maths in my head. I could just about afford one - that is if I don't spend a single penny for the rest of my stay. Defeated, I thank the artist but explain that - as much as I would love to - I can't afford to buy any of them. "Good price, good price" he urges. I shrug my shoulders, feeling embarassed. He rummages under the counter and brings out a large display book. He flicks between the pages and starts to lay out on the counter some other works of his. They are not Thanka art but they are just as lovely. On a large skeleton leaf, he has painted a detailed and colourful local mountain scene. They're lovely and, better yet, well within my budget! I snap up the ones that I consider 'the best', hand over my cash and skip down the street with my 'original artworks' tucked safely under my arm. Small success.
It's 2:30pm and the weather is beautiful now. Perfect for our afternoon at the breeding centre. I sit outside the guesthouse chatting with Dal and some other family members who have arrived for lunch. Sameer and Sundur Kali wander past and, spotting me, Sameer points in the direction of the stables and lets me know that Saki is home. Hoorah! No time to go and see him now sadly as we're heading off soon.
At 3:00pm, we all pile into the jeep, nibbling our freshly roasted maize, and bump along the road to see the baby heffalumps. We have to cross the bamboo bridge again as the canoe is out of action but I am relieved to see that some improvements have been made since my last visit and sacks of cement have now been put down. We practically run across the bridge, laughing in the face of danger.
As soon as we reach the breeding centre, we see two little babies helping themselves to some cooked rice from a large pot. They are so cute and I watch them for ages as they struggle to roll the rice into the ends of their weak trunks and then find their mouths. It is a hit and miss affair, much like when human babies are learning to feed themselves. But, dare I say it, cuter! I am so spellbound by these sweeties that I don't even notice when Sunita starts tapping me on the shoulder. The taps get harder and I spin round - instead of seeing Sunita, I see a baby heffalump looking at me expectantly. Sunita grins and says "He's been standing here for about a minute and you didn't even know!". Now that he has my attention, he starts to seek out the cookies I am holding, forcing his trunk into my curled fingers. Unfortunately he has a cold and my hand now looks like something out of Ghostbusters. He has the cookies though and is happy. I am less happy as I have left my hand sanitizer at the guesthouse.
We spend ages with this little guy - giving him a few cookies each and laughing as he goes to each of us in turn looking for more, with absolutely no loyalty to any of us. He is a perfectly formed mini-heffalump but his wrinkles are less defined and his hair is still fine (and ginger!) and has not yet turned into bristles. He is just like any other toddler and, unlike his lumbering mother, he is giddy and staggers and breaks into little runs as he weaves in and out of our crowd. A very young boy is in the stable area making koochie for the elephant family and he begins to give the baby some very small, very green koochie. It's too cute - like dollshouse food.
With the elephants all back in their stables and the sun setting, we head back to the bamboo bridge. I manage to grab a couple of shots of the sunset but, frustratingly, my photos don't capture the true beauty of the glowing red orb behind the trees against a moody pink and orange sky. Must read my camera book again!
Back at the guesthouse, we all gather around the barbeque and feast on roasted maize, curried chicken, Nepali potato salad and buffalo strips until well into the night. We laugh and drink beer and swap tales. For dessert, we enjoy apple pie and glow-in-the-dark custard (seriously - I have no idea what was in it). At about 10:00pm, Saki's head appears over the wall - "Neffy! Namaste!" - he comes into the garden and shares a cup of Nepali tea with us. He explains through Dal that he has heard about what happened with Rupa and Sujan but he still wants me to come and help out and spend time with Sundur Kali - whenever I like. What a perfectly wonderful day.
I head off to bed at about 11:00pm with a new book - Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri and read by candlelight. Bliss.
I treat myself to a full breakfast today. Not good for my disappearing waistline, and not good for the budget. Bah. I sit with Dal and Isha in the garden by the still smouldering barbeque. It's not even 10:00am but the sun is already shining. Dal says it's going to be a good day. Saki appears and says that at 10:30am, he will be taking Sundur Kali to the river and that he wants me to come and help. Apparently Sameer hasn't been taking her regularly this past week and she is in desperate need of a really good massage. I rush back to my room, shower and put on my 'elephant bath' clothes before heading over to the stables to say good morning to my beautiful girl. I feel that every time I see her, our bond gets stronger. And I really don't care how corny that sounds! I always go right up to the front of her and throw my arms around her trunk and just rest my head and stroke her plump, velvety cheeks. She pushes softly against me and closes her eyes. When I release my hold and wander to the side of her, she turns her head as if to say "Hey! I was enjoying that!". I am a sucker for this and I trot back to dutifully resume my position.
We eventually set off at 11:00am. Outside the guesthouse, Dal offers to take some photos for me. I climb up Sundur Kali's trunk and then deliberately drop my "don't do that stick". I command Sundur Kali to pick it up for me and hand it over. She does it perfectly and I'm chuffed to bits. Saki says that since I'm already up there, I may as well drive her to the river while he walks. All through the village, tourists stop and stare and - yes - I can't help but feel quite superior, hehehe. We are first at the river so we claim the shallow area of water which has already been warmed by the morning sun. I hop down and let Saki take Sundur Kali into the river as I want to set up my camera for Ali to use. Sundur Kali - quite excited at the prospect of a massage - starts to collapse onto her side into the water before Saki has given the command and is ready. As a result, he loses his footing and nearly plunges head first in the muddy water. Quietly pleased that I opted to let Saki take her in, I giggle and take photos of his mishap instead. I then hand my camera to Ali, grab a large stone and head into the water myself. Saki concentrates on Sundur Kali's neck while I start working my way down her back and bottom. The mud and dust gets into all her wrinkles so you have to scrub quite hard, throwing water over her to wash it away - along with dead skin, yuk - at regular intervals. But she loves it. Sometimes she helps you and sprays herself with water as she lies, with her head half submerged, in the water. Her breathing is relaxed and once we finish one side, we instruct her to switch over. Then we start all over again. My arms ache and unfortunately Sundur Kali has decided to release her bowels so I'm now dodging floating poop the size of dinner plates - but I'm happy. Very very happy. Saki starts on her ears which Sundur Kali doesn't really like very much. She keeps trying to stand up so I head round to the front and sit in the water at eye level with her, smoothing her and talking to her softly. This settles her instantly and Saki continues his ear cleaning without the risk of getting crushed.
Bath time over, Sundur Kali is sparkling and perfectly relaxed. Saki and I hop up onto her back and are about to drive her out of the river when she decides that she's not actually quite finished yet and would like a quick shower. Saki, being far more in tune with Sundur Kali's movements, jumps up and out of the way just as she raises her trunk and sprays us with muddy, sandy (& poopy!) water. He tries to get her to stop but she is having too much fun and sprays us about 4 times before deciding that she's quite clean now and is content to head home. Cheeky girl!
Saki jumps down and I drive her back through the village, completely soaked but deliriously happy. Locals call out "Good mahout!" as we go past and I smile from ear to ear. I am getting very good at making Sundur Kali cross the road ("chai ha chai") and can make her "talk" - i.e. trumpet - as we pass tourists ("bohl bohl bohl") which gives them a good show. I am in my element. Having not actually been to Uni yet for one reason or another, I wonder what qualifications I need to start a zoo keeper degree - specialising in heffalumps of course. I dream all the way back to the guesthouse where I climb down from Sundur Kali and promise her I will be over tonight to say goodnight.
I quickly change into dry clothes, grab my English books and head over to the Women's Centre. We go round the circle saying "Good Afternoon, how are you?" etc and then settle into our lesson. Most of the women have shops which either they work in themselves or which are run by family members but their English is so poor that many tourists just give up trying to buy from them and head into the main village instead. Therefore, I have decided to teach them a few basics such as "Do you have any tomatoes/bananas/shampoo?" and then "No, I'm sorry ..." or "Yes, they cost ...". Our lesson lasts an hour and a half and when I leave, I can hear them all wandering up the path behind me, repeating the lesson over and over. I am smiling.
Back at the guesthouse, I add photos of our trip to the Breeding Centre and Sundur Kali's massage to Facebook. Due to various interruptions in the net connection, it takes a little longer than anticipated and I realise with some frustration that I could have actually written my Blog in Word while I was waiting for the uploads. Grrrr. Once I'm finished, I head over to the stables and give Sundur Kali a few goodnight kisses while she lazily munches on her koochie. Saki says that he is very happy I am here and that Sundur Kali is very happy too - he hopes I will come again with my son one day and meet Sundur Kali's baby.
Back home again, Dal has a visitor, Som. He is a childhood friend who has been travelling the world documenting birdlife and writing books. We sit up chatting and drinking rum, discussing a variety of interesting topics: Gurkhas (Nepal used to have 24 kings - the king of the Gurkha region declared war and then Nepal became one. Because the Gurkhas were such good fighters, the rest of the world decided they wanted them fighting for their side, and so the Gurkha regiment was born); going to the movie theatre when they were kids (it was an hour walk and they sat on the floor with their legs touching the screen in the 'cheap seats' - they had bad necks for days afterwards); the loss of family members (Dal's brother died at 9 years old and is buried by the river); the cotton tree down the road (it has watched over them all their lives and knows all their secrets - when they were kids, it witnessed Dal saving Som's life when he was drowning); Michael Palin (Som was on the same plane as him when they reached Everest during Michael's "Himalayas" trip); past lives and planets (Dal tells us his grandmother believed your spirit goes to another planet when you die - and this continues forever. Your spirit never ends); Buddah's birthplace (not India as widely believed, absolutely 100% born in Nepal - although I'm aware that I might hear this argument in reverse if I happened to be in India lol).
I go to bed with my mind spinning and I dream about cotton trees and planets.
I can't resist opting for the full brekkie again - potatoes with honey has become a 'must have' to get me going in the mornings. No wonder my jeans are getting tight.
After my shower, I emerge from my room quite shocked to see the sun shining so brightly. It is not even 10:30am yet - this weather two days in a row has been unheard of so far during my trip. I roll up my jeans and whistle all the way to the gate where I bump into Dal. In a radical "the-sun-is-shining-so-let's-do-something-crazy" moment, I announce that today is the day I am getting my tattoo. Dal, happy to humour my weather induced madness, decides to accompany me. Before I can change my mind, we are bumping along the dirt road and less than a minute later, we arrive at the small, uninviting tattoo parlour. The young man behind the counter doesn't speak a word of English so I let Dal explain what I would like. We manage to convey to the man that I want the wording written very thin, and not thick like the ones he is trying to persuade me to have. He tries to charge 2,000 (about 20 quid) so I put my purse away and say I will get it done in England instead. Suddenly, the price drops to 800 rupees. Much better. He says to come back at 2:30pm when he has had a chance to draw my design. Happy with that, Dal and I head off. We pass the art gallery and I beg Dal to stop as I want to look at the Thanka painting again. He follows me in and, seeing me engrossed, asks what I love so much about it. I stutter over my words - I end up just smiling and saying "I don't know, it just says something to me". I go on gazing and Dal chats to the artist. When I am satisfied, we head back to the guesthouse, taking a route along the river. Dal suddenly pipes up and says "Listen, you want that painting and it seems a shame that you are so close to having it but can't afford it. I got the artist to agree on 3,000 rupees and if you really want it, buy it. You can pay me for the accommodation and food when we all get back to the UK". I'm gobsmacked. Does this man's generosity know no bounds?? I thank him over and over and say I will definitely think about it but would feel bad to be in debt to him with no immediate way of paying him back. He assures me that it's no big deal to him ("after all" he says, "it's only 4 quid a night"). I really appreciate his gesture but I just can’t agree to buying the painting. Maybe when I come back again.
I head to my English lesson at 12:30pm and today we discuss families and daily routines. I learn that one girl, Anita, gets up at 4:00am to study and prepare her lessons - she teaches Nepali at a local college - and then comes here for her lessons at midday. She spends her afternoons cutting grass to earn extra money, then prepares food for her family of 9. She finally gets to bed after cleaning the house and the cow's stables at about 11:00pm. She's 20 years old. I think back to my life at 20. Quite a difference. A 10 year old girl has brought her mother today for her first lesson. The girl is at boarding school in Kathmandu and wants her mother to learn English so that she can have a better life. The mom doesn't even know how to say "hello" so I think I will have to sit with her separately next time and go through some basics. The rest of the class throw themselves into conversations with each other, practising listing the members of their family in English, turning to me occasionally for assurance that they are getting it right.
We finish up at 2:00pm and I head back to the tattoo parlour. I enter the shop but no one is there. I sit and wait, sipping from my water bottle. It's hot and I'm dizzy from the walk - really don't want to faint mid-tattoo. How embarassing. I wait and wait. No one comes. It's a strange thing here in Nepal but everyone is so trusting. Shops are left unattended for hours. Dal leaves his laptop and motorcycle helmet outside on a table at night, with no apparent concern about theft. Bizarre. Finally, just before 3:30pm the tattoo artist arrives. I have no idea where he's been and he can't explain to me because of the language barrier. He gestures to me to take a seat in front of him. He puts a balm on my arm and is just about to start when the electricity goes out. There is nothing for it but to sit and wait. He fetches some tea for us from a cafe next door and we sit in uncomfortable silence for about 20 minutes. I look around the walls at all the wonderful designs. There are Om signs of all different styles, various depictions of Ganesh and lots of Buddahs sitting on lotus flowers. I impulsively decide that I want to incorporate a lotus into my tattoo and draw a rough sketch. The tattooist draws a much better version and we eventually agree to put it at the centre of my wrist after the words "Sundur Kali". Perfect. With the power restored, he starts. Ouch ouch ouch. Quite sore getting a tattoo on your wrist. And it's worse in complete silence. It's comforting when you can chat through the pain of a tattoo as it takes your mind off it. Now however, I just listen to the dentist drill-like buzz of the needle and concentrate on my breathing. 15 minutes later, he's finished. I take one look and practically dance around the room - I love it! It's exactly what I wanted and I am thrilled that I now have my beautiful elephant's name permanently a part of me. I could kiss the guy but I know that would not go down at all well in this culture. I pay up my 800 rupees and skip up the road. On route, I see Saki and Sundur Kali ahead of me so I quicken my pace and call out to them. Saki stops and commands Sundur Kali to sit down. I catch up with them and show off my new tattoo. Saki gasps and says "Oh - is very good!". I then show Sundur Kali and Saki commands her to "talk" - he says that she said 'thank you'. Tee hee. Saki lets me drive her back to the stables and my spirit is lifted even higher.
The evening at the guesthouse is spent enjoying fish curry and watching music videos on You Tube. Shova finds a Hindu dance video featuring Kylie Minogue which is quite surreal ("Chiggy Wiggy" - look it up!). We then have to listen to various Michael Jackson tunes at Kumar's request before I get a chance to play one and opt for Counting Crows. Much to my relief, everyone loves it and starts tapping their feet. They ask me to choose another one so I find Matchbox 20. Again, it goes down really well with the family and they even try to join in on the chorus. Unfortunately, my popularity wanes when I decide to play John Denver's "Country Roads" but it is soon restored when I play Miley Cyrus for Shova. Phew. After a while, it is just Dal and I left and we log on to Radio One's website and listen to Greg James. He is playing Foo Fighters much to my delight and Dal and I end up discussing music festivals. Dal tours them all summer, selling traditional Nepalese trinkets out of his caravan. We listen to the radio and chat until about 10:00pm when the temperature drops to an uncomfortable level and I retire to bed with my book. After I turn the last page, I reflect on the last couple of days - they've been so wonderful and I have been so lucky to have more time with Sundur Kali. Good times! I can't believe I am now counting down to leaving her and heading back to Plymouth where elephants don't walk the streets. Bad times *sniff*
Note: Get well soon Mommy, love you xxx