Thursday, 12 July 2007

Snapshots of travel day

It's 5.30pm and we are at last averaging more than 5km/h as we climb out of the kathmandu valley. We set off an hour ago. In my mouth is a hard cube of churpi. Smoked Yak cheese with the texture of plastic. I've been told it will melt. It is disintegrating very slowly. It doesn't taste of much except the slight smokiness... it's not especially cheesy. The road is a long slow snake of traffic winding upwards, the pollution and dust is terrible but the heat means having the windows open.

With us is Kamela, a girl with an amazing singing voice who lost both arms and a leg when she flew a kite into a powerline. She has been fitted with prosthetic arms and a leg. Her sister Sangeeta is with us too. They are really excited to be travelling, as neither has been out of Kathmandu before.

We're going along a bit faster now, about 20km/h overtaking highly decorated loorries on hairpin bends. My bum is numb, it's getting dark and I have a cube of churpi in each cheek. Sangeeta bought it in the market and thinks it's funny that I appear to like it, so she keeps offering it to me.

We stop at a roadside shack. Kamela and her sister stay in the van despite my trying to tempt them out. Asoka doesn't seem bothered.

"Do you like fish?" says Asoka.

We sit down and to my great relief he orders three bottles of beer. Carlsberg, brewed in Kathmandu. A plate of fried fish arrives, heads, bones and all, like whitebait but kind of goldfish sized.

"How do you eat these?" I said stupidly.

"I'll teach you..."

Asoka very slowly picked up a fish between his fingers and very deliberately put the head in his mouth, bit it off and chewed it. Then he started laughing.

It was silly question.

The fish were nice enough but even Asoka and Praladh left the one with the really big eyes staring up at us. Prawns were good, eaten in the same style, all shell and head.

I think Kamela is embarrassed to come out, she looks normal because of the prosthetics but of course she can't use the rubbery fingers to eat. I wish there is something I could do.

Six and a half hours after leaving KTM... Another roadside shack.

"We no time for dinner at hotel when we get to Butwal," says Asoka.

We sit down again: me Praladh, Asoka and Sangeeta... again Kamela stays in the van. She hasn't taken a piss since 4pm either, I can see it must be awkward.

We sit down to eat and plates of food arrive: dhal, rice, vegetable curry, green vegetable, and a dish of lumps of something meaty.

I'm offered a spoon but try eating like everyone else, with my hand. My technique causes much laughter. I tend to tilt my head back and drop the food in, eating like a baby bird, they say.

I try a lump of meat. it's liver. It's full of gristle too. I pick another bit attached to bone... instantly the texture feels wrong, rubbery, spongy, like lung or something. I discreetly spit it out.

12.00am we speed past Lumbini, birthplace of Gautama Buddha. asok and the driver are sneezing and coughing up lumps of something they spit out the window.

Streets are quiet.

Arrive at the kandala Hotel, Butwal. On the floor of the lobby a man is sleeping next to some burning incense. It's basic. At first it looks like I will be sharing with Asok as there are not enough rooms... luckily he goes off to find another hotel. I like him and everything but I really need my own time here. I open the door to the bathroom and get hit with the stench of sewage. I have a cold shower, roll up a little one and go to sleep.

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