Sure enough, I spent last night paying dearly for brushing my teeth with dirty water. My toilet is now my best friend, although I hope I embrace my real best friends with more love than I am showing this temporary one.
At 7:30am, aware I should get something back inside me, I head gingerly over to the veranda and order a black sweet tea. I do feel somewhat better in the fresh morning air and the black tea kick starts my mushy brain. Dal and I agreed earlier in the week that I would help him design a brochure for the guesthouse as he only has a flyer at present. Seeing as I'm blatantly going to be spending a lot more time here today than anywhere else, I offer to get started. He brings me various brochures of other hotels in the surrounding area but I suggest, with a wink, that he let me run a bit wild with it first. He surprisingly agrees! Dal, in return, goes over to explain to Saki that I'm sick and won't be able to work today. Saki tells him that Sundur Kali is also sick so it really isn't a problem. Did she brush her teeth too??
So - after a much needed shower - I spend a casual day putting together the brochure (after updating Dal's neglected laptop with necessary updates), working out what photographs need to be taken and, obviously, running to the loo. I should mention at this point that I still have a fever and chills so I am wearing (shock horror) socks and sandals. But hey, no one's looking right?
At lunchtime, Ram brings me a gorgeous mushroom soup (I have to get the recipe!) and some fresh oranges. Nepalese oranges are out of this world and I help myself to four :-) I finish the brochure at 3:00pm just as Dal pulls up on his motorbike. I run him through my ideas and the rough draft I have created and he is very pleased. Yay! We email my draft to his wife back in England and leave it with her for approval.
The local tribe here is Tharu and Dal's weekly laundry lady is from this tribe. He stops her as she walks past having finished her shift and speaks to her about her tattoos. She has 'socks' and 'wristbands' - all black markings - and Dal tells me that if she had not had these done, she would have been cast out of her tribe. I still don't quite get the whole 'meaning' of them but at least now I can spot a local Tharu in the village and know what the tattoos kind of symbolise.
At about 4:00pm I feel brave enough to venture into the town for a 'walk'. I've been sleeping or sitting (on the toilet or otherwise) for far too long now and I need to use my legs. I wrap up nice and warm and set off. I only venture as far as our local neighbourhood and I head up some covered stairs to a rooftop restaurant. The man offers me Nepali tea and popcorn. Bizarre, but I say yes please. The popcorn is exactly as I expected and I have a couple of handfuls. The Nepali tea however is just gorgeous! It has cinnamon and clover mixed into it and the taste is mmmmmmmm. Again, I really need this recipe! All I can think of as I sip this sweet hot liquid is how much my mom would give to be sitting here right now. All around me - at roof level - I can see so much life going on. There is a white fluffy dog sleeping on the roof opposite me, children riding bicycles below us, elephants lumbering past, women in beautiful saris and traditional Nepalese dress wandering from shop to shop .... the colours are incredible. With my trustee camera in hand, I snap away and try to capture what I am seeing but it is so fast and beautiful that it is just impossible. I urge you all to come and see it for yourself instead. Seriously. You will not regret it for a second.
The striking streetlife below makes me feel much better. Until of course I feel a sudden and sweat inducing cramp and have to dramatically gesture to the non-English speaking waiter (the only one in view) that I neeeeeed the toilet ... NOW. He gets my drift and even escorts me there. I only hope he is not waiting outside while I 'do the necessary' as he is very young and may have his views of women permanently scarred.
I head back home shortly after this, fearful of any further episodes. It's almost dinner time anyway and I arrive to find Dal sitting on the veranda working on his laptop. We chat through dinner and up until bedroom (which is a respectable 8:30pm for me).
Dal tells me quite a horrifying story of a mahout who used to work with an elephant in the stable next to Sundur Kali. Both elephant and mahout are now gone - for different reasons. Turns out, the mahout used to beat his elephant almost senseless, causing big gashes in her skin and serious infections. The elephant was obviously being tortured and everyone knew about it. The other mahouts tried to intervene but ... you don't get between a man and his elephant. Anyway, one day the mahout was called away to his family and didn't return for some months. During this time, a replacement mahout was found who treated the elephant with the respect it deserved and showered it with kindness. The wounds healed and everyone relaxed. The new mahout even started leaving the front leg chains off the elephant because she had become quite docile and relaxed around him. Soon enough however, the original mahout returned and there was a few days spent doing a 'handover'. Story goes that the new mahout was off collecting some hay and the original mahout got up to his old tricks, beating his elephant. Only, he hadn't noticed the front leg chains were off and in a flash, the elephant had picked him up by the legs in her curled trunk and stomped his head right into the dirt. End of mahout.
Moral of the story: It's true what they say ... Elephants never forget.
I had a totally undisturbed sleep last night - bliss. I wake with a slightly delicate stomach but nothing like the previous two days. I have my breakfast and then do my laundry on my veranda African style with a bar of laundry soap I had brought a couple of days earlier. Off to work at 10:00am. Ali and I make lots of koochie and Ali tells me that Saki has now gone back to India to see his wife and kids for a week. The bigger brother is here looking after Ali and Sundur Kali. They are on their morning duties. We sit, making koochie, and await their return. Ali has been eyeing up my camera for days so I give him careful instructions, put it around his neck, and let him have a play. He takes about 30 photos of the floor and the hay before he gets the hang of it and gets quite a good shot of his young neighbour and a local woman. A tiny little Nepalese girl (about three years old) comes wandering over to see what the interest it (Ali shrieks and squeals every time he takes a photo) and I quickly grab my camera back so I can snap her. She is cautious at first but when I offer to show her the picture on the screen, she "gets it" and suddenly she's a high fashion model - posing and giggling and sticking her finger in her mouth. Photo shoot over with, she reverts back to being three years old and we tie hay around a chair instead.
At 11:30am, Sundur Kali and Saki's big brother (Samir) come back from duty. I help to unstrap the box seat and introduce myself. He grunts and says "Koochie?". I nod and point to the now groaning pile. Ali and I have really outdone ourselves this morning actually. He lazily commands Sundur Kali back to her stable but she doesn't move much so I yell "Agat!!" (come) at her and she moves in my direction. Quietly chuffed, I repeat the command until she is in position and then yell "Pichuut pichuut!!" (back, back) so that I can reach her back leg to put the chain on. Samir is showing a total lack of interest in my control over Sundur Kali and just ignores me. Ali on the other hand is grinning like a Cheshire cat (as am I, hehe). She slowly and noisly crunches her koochie, purring all the while.
Elephants love water. And I love elephants. So all my life, my ultimate dream has been to bath an elephant. Samir - communicating through Ali - tells me that Saki had left instructions for me to take Sundur Kali to the river today. YES !!!!!!!!!! Finally the day has come! I am soooo excited. I race back back to the guesthouse to change into a t-shirt and when I come back out of my room, Sundur Kali and Samir are waiting outside my gate for me. We both instruct Sundur Kali to kneel down (sum-buy) and I climb up onto her shoulders with my 'don't do that' stick while Samir walks at our side.
Well, the next 10-15 minutes are just amazing. I am commanding an elephant, through the streets of a village, and she is responding to me. If she goes too far right, I kick with my right foot and say "chai-ha-chai" and she moves to the left - and vice versa. If there is a camel coming up ahead (elephants are terrified of camels) I command her to stop (dhaat - said in a very low, steady voice) and ask her to turn away from the camel so she can't see it. I have a pet heffalump ... and I really loves her. "Mommy, can I keep her pleeeeease??"
We arrive at the river and - with me still up top - Sundur Kali heads into the water (leaving me just enough time to throw my camera down to Samir and hope to God he catches it) and she sinks down and submerges herself. She soon pops back up on her feet though - she only wanted a dip for now. I hear Samir at the water edge yelling a command that is vaguely familiar from the ones that Saki has taught me. Ah yes, he is telling her to 'spray water' at me. I get ready for a soaking and sure enough it comes. And - although the sun is finally shining today - it's cold! In any other place or time I would be p*ssed (excuse my French) but this is Sundur Kali and this is what I have been waiting for my whole life so I let her carry on and laugh with joy everytime she gets me. After she's had her fun, Samir and I instruct her to lie down (the river is quite shallow where we are) and we both get a large rock from the river bed and start to scrub and massage her. She is really enjoying being pampered and at one point I wonder if she has actually fallen asleep! I am in absolute heaven and wonder if there is any money in this mahout lark because I think I've just found my dream job ;-p
All too soon it's over and Samir teaches me how to get up onto Sundur Kali by standing in front of her, holding her ears and putting my foot on her trunk. She takes her cue and raises her trunk up in the air, lifting all my weight (which is probably about 20lbs more than usual after Africa, Christmas and now a week of curry) and plopping me on her head. I am laughing uncontrollably. Oh man! This is the drug you need to bottle!!!
I 'drive' Sundur Kali back to the stables feeling as high as a kite. Unfortunately I won't see her again today as Samir tells me that Ali and I have made enough koochie already. Sundur Kali is not going into the jungle this afternoon (too hot for a pregnant lady) so she doesn't need feeding quite as much as if she were working.
Back at the guesthouse, I eat my soup whilst dripping all over the veranda. I have politely moved my chair over to the sunshine so that any puddle of river water is easily evaporated by the sun however. Dal says he is going off to the forest this afternoon to do some bird watching. I swallow the word "geek" before it reaches my lips and find myself asking to come along. So half an hour later, we are zipping through nearby villages on his motorbike on our way to the forest on the outskirts of Chitwan National Park.
And when we arrive, I'm so glad I came. The place is called 20,000 Lakes and there is a 'myth' that there was in fact once 20,000 lakes here. I can't quite see it myself but, all the same, it's a stunning, jawdropping place! In fact, it's one place that I am probably so breathless at the sight of such beauty that I even forget to take photos. I think I took a few of birds (I know!!) and crocodiles sunbathing but other than that, I was just busy absorbing it all. This is the thing about travelling to these incredible countries. It's one thing to Blog about it, and another to show everyone photographs when I get back home. But what you don't get to read or see is the hundreds of lost moments that I quickly pass on my way to somewhere. The strikingly beautiful child playing with a dead animal in the street that you dare not photograph as her parents are viewing you with a suspicious eye; the woman crying and rocking on her doorstep (how do you morally take a photo of that?); the group of elderly men - the years and haunting memories etched into their faces - playing cards at the side of the road as you whizz past on a motorbike with no time to focus your lens; that one flower that you have never seen anywhere in the world, nor in any book, that you try and try to photograph but just can't quite capture it's beauty and rather than spoil the memory, you delete the inferior photograph and carry on. I honestly wish that all of my loved ones could share these experiences with me. It is not at all an exaggaration to say that these last few months have changed my life - and changed me for life.
Dal and I ride back through a traditional Tharu village. I won't say much about this now (except that it was very humbling) as we are going to return there another day. Back at the guesthouse, I finish reading Burnt Shadows (what a book!) and turn to Dal's bookcase for another. I manage to find a book right up my street called "Wild Swans - Three Daughters of China" by Jung Chang. With Amy Tan, another Chinese lady, being one of my all time favourite authors I am quite excited by this discovery and settle down to start it right away. Soon however my peace is loudly interrupted by a coachload of Indians from Mumbai. Their coach is parked right outside and they are in the middle of unloading about 40 pots of food which are headed for our kitchen. Dal explains that they are staying the night here and using the guesthouse as a base for the night before tomorrow's festival. He speaks to one of their representatives in perfect Hindi (something he's very proud of) and then explains to me that he was asking them to be quiet this evening as they have an English guest staying here. I can't help but laugh and then assure him that I am perfectly fine with the increased volume - and actually quite welcome it. The evenings have been very quiet here in Nepal. This is relaying back to the group and it is taken as a green light to just go nuts with the chatter - everyone talking at once, a million miles an hour, getting louder and louder as each individual competes to be heard. What have I done? A younger man in the group is serving everyone drinks and is so typically Bollywood I have to stop myself from choking on my coffee as he 'saunters' past. He is wearing a "too tight t-shirt", matching jeans, a gleaming white smile, and lego hair. He shimmys when he walks as if he's about to break out into a dance routine. Love it!
As I write this, I am waiting for my dinner (it is 8:40pm and dinner is usually at 7:00pm) as the Indians still have control over our kitchen. Dal shared some roasted maize with me earlier (I've missed this since Uganda!) so I'm not famished but still .....
Spitting on the floor openly seems to be both a Nepalese and an Indian thing. Gosh, I'm surrounded by 'culture' this evening LOL
I was initially alone on the veranda whilst everyone else was inside the dining area or standing in groups in the garden. Now however, I am even finding elbow room to type difficult. I can't help but giggle and, really, I do quite like the hectic atmosphere. But saying that, I think I'll leave this Blog post as it is for now because I can feel eyes reading over my shoulder (yes, you behind me :-p) and I need to track down my food.
I'm going to the festival tomorrow afternoon, although I have no idea at present what it's about. People have come from far and wide though (obviously) so I'm looking forward to it!