After a very cold night in Upper Melamchi, we made an early start. There was snow on the trail, but we arrived at the Riverside Resort Guest House in the river gorge in less than three hours. There are rocks all around the area, which have religious significance to the Buddhists, and relate, mostly, to Guru Rinpoche. Unfortunately, many of the people who know the cultural history of this valley and its migrations have died or moved away. This is too bad, since it was an oral tradition and very little has been written down for posterity.
We walked from the plateau just below the forest edge down this steep mountain slope to the bottom where the Melamchi River flows…
One of the huge rocks and a stupa in front of the guest house.
After lunch Ram started washing his hair and most of his body in the frigid stream running nearby. I could not believe it! The water must have been freezing, but that didn’t deter him or Saila from an extensive grooming process. I preferred to be warm and dirty. Sobeit.
The afternoon was spent hiking to another Guru Rinpoche Cave–a husky trek into the woods through an overgrown path.
Here is a close-up of the impression made by the Rinpoche’s hat.
After our hike, we enjoyed a fabulous meal cooked by the son of the owner (not too spicy this time). Sitting in the large kitchen, where several village men had gathered to drink homemade millet wine, we reveled in the warmth of the large wood-fed stove and enjoyed taking part in the joviality. Just before bedtime the hostess appeared with a small hand mirror and gave it to me. I had pointed to my hair, earlier, and she got the message. It’s hard for a Westerner to realize that such things as mirrors are not considered a necessary part of a guest room.
We stood on a knoll near the big rock and watched the stars. The sky was aglow, never more beautiful. It seemed as if every tiny pinprick of light was a part of a massive milky Way. Maybe it was. The picture was indelible.
Early the next morning, as we were finishing breakfast on the patio, the two adorable boys we had met two days before coming back from school returned to say goodbye, and brought with them two more children. We are, indeed, a curiosity! They were all spiffed up in their school uniforms and the boys had their hair slicked down. I noticed how they glanced periodically up the hill as if waiting for someone. And they were. We discovered that an older sister was supposed to accompany them across the river and up the hill to school. After waiting awhile, they took off across the bridge, undeterred by their heavy backpacks and metal lunch containers (probably for warm food like dal), and waving at us as they went. You should have seen that bridge! It had missing planks and large holes in it. It was all I could do to get across it. And there they were, fairly dancing their way along.
Would you want your child to tackle that bridge? Yikes!
We followed the children and, shortly thereafter, caught up with them. What fun we all had walking to school together.
Cary going up the Primrose Path with the children.
The older sister finally arrived and spoke with us for some time. She clearly enjoyed practicing her English. As she left us, she stood at the gate of the school, turned around and said, “I am so happy today!” That smile will remain in my heart forever. A happy little girl, full of life….
The scenery as we walked along the hillside above the river and down the valley was varied–from a backyard paper-making enterprise to a fish hatchery to farmers and their wives building additions onto their houses or plowing the fields. Everybody was working very hard. We even visited a Buddhist nunnery and a famous cave of the Tibetan yogi Milarepa, arriving just minutes before a high lama and his huge contingent. The trail was initially very rocky and challenging until we made our way down closer toward the river, after which we had a relaxing walk to Thimbu, the small village where we had expected to stay overnight. But that wasn’t to be. No room at the inn. So we continued on, not know how long we would have to walk in the approaching dusk. Just down the river at another hamlet we found excellent accommodations on the roof of the River Side Guest House. Hallelujah!
Here is a slideshow capturing some of these scenes.
Our last night at the River Side was hilarious. We were ushered into a fancy dining room as is traditional for foreign customers. Looking around at the empty room, Cary said, “Take us to where the action is!” whereupon a nonplussed owner led us to the bustling and ample kitchen that also served as a general store, with its gaggle of men, some playing stringed instruments. The cutting and chopping and cooking took our breath away and pleased our palates. What fun!
Something I noticed that had been bothering me over the years was a cultural phenomenon I had seen elsewhere in Nepal, but had never heard overtly expressed. There is a hierarchy of service that is very evident. The guests are served first, the visitors from town second, the staff (guides and porters) third, and the owners and cooks last. And the joyousness and hospitality never stop. You ask if they make nettle soup, and they make it for you on the spot. You can order all manner of vegetable dishes and watch them be prepared with alacrity and skill.
We had an especially good time talking with the hostess about her passion for educating the girls in the community. She was proud of the fact that her father, a school teacher, had insisted that all the girls in his family be educated, despite local tradition. We also discussed the courageous Nobel prize winner, Malali, who has inspired women worldwide. She spoke to us about the little boy who helps around the house…an orphan she and her husband have taken in and are raising as their son. Meeting hard-working people like this, who have a vision for their people and want to share ideas, is what makes travel such an inspiration.
Not only did we host an enormous spider in our room that night, but we were awakened by a mild earthquake at 11 pm. We heard the news of it the next day in Kathmandu. Heaven help us if that third floor had catapulted into the river. Everyone knew that a major earthquake was predicted, so it caused a great deal of worry and concern. And then, we all know what happened last Apil.
We took a leisurely walk to lower Melamchi where we enjoyed a good meal in the bustling bazaar. I got a kick out of a group of women who were bathing a baby, pouring pitchers of water over him and scrubbing him to within an inch of his life. He seemed to be oblivious and took the whole process in stride.
Our car arrived shortly after noon and we started on another bumpy ride over rutted roads, this time taking the high route and enjoying five hours of mountain scenery. Here are some final shots as we wound our way home and greeted our old haunts, Kathmandu and Boudhanath.
Cary and I are off to India and Nepal on November 18. We’re filled with excitement and trepidation, but eager, as always, to return to Asia. Stay tuned….