Quite a surreal day today. I am writing this from a Nepali bedroom plastered with Bollywood stars. I feel a little bad as Penny and I have displaced the households daughter and deaf sister from their cozy little room.
We arrived here well after dark after quite a journey. We woke early in Ilam only to find that there was a "strk" and all public transport was shut down for the day. I'm ok with legitimate industrial action, but this seems more about which criminal gang will control the roads in this part of Nepal, and take the biggest cut of various smuggling enterprises. Since the Maoists developed the strategy many Nepali groups use strikes to further there own interests.
We eventually found a driver willing to test the strike and headed out of Ilam with "tourist" number plates whipped up at the local computer shop. It was all good until the misty hilltop shanghai of Dewrali where we were stopped by a reasonably friendly crowd of men who nevertheless took our drivers keys. The ring leader was a drunk little fat guy in a stripy shirt, who paraded around all delighted like, a fun day out. Our driver and skinny guy his helper very carefully and diplomatically tried to get the keys back while we waited,trying to follow what was going on and watching the young men of the village gamble around a carom board where they play a game sort of like alleys but with flat disks that they slide across a floured wooden surface.
When stripy shirt and skinny guy drove off with the keys we decided to start walking. We had already heard the Nepali 2011 year of the tourist slogan, "Guest is God" changed slightly to "Guest is King" and weren't keen to hang around until they got drunker.
Wandering along we passed skinny guy heading back up the road with the key after about twenty minutes. We then passed through another illfavoured shanghai called something like "rakzi" which is the local moonshine. Soon after we were picked up by the van squeeling to a halt.
We thought this was the end of our troubles, and it certainly was until Phidim, 30km of fast tarseal through tortuous hills that would have taken an eternity to walk. However, when we reached Phidim we discovered the strike applied here to. Dammit. And we still didn't know how long the strike would last. The local jeep extortionists were asking more than 2 plane flights into where we were going so we ate then began walking again.
This was Pennys introduction to the scale of the Nepali landscape. Down down down to a tributary of the Tamur river then up, up, up towards the town of Gorpata. We tramped largely on local track, but was it hot and humid! Various locals walked with us for pieces, on the way home from school or work. And we walked well into dark trying to find a guesthouse until we stumbled across this hospitable house. The young man who has spent many years in Qatar lives here with his wife, children, sister and mother. They serve us dahl baht, which we eat with our right hands. They stare like we are aliens zapped into their living room. Nepalis are experts at eating with their hands, my rice seems to slip through my fingers. A great day which could have been a disaster.
Happy postscript: we have made it to Taplejung! From the friendly house we combed through rice paddies for 15 minutes to the road and 30 seconds later there was a jeep that has brought us through the vast foothills to this large bazaar town. The road was much improved from its reputation, just odd sections of mud. The landscape continues to amaze with the morning mist hanging in the valleys making the green ridges look like something from Avatar. After brunch we head off into the mist heading quickly beyond the reach of jeeps, then perhaps even beyond the reach of internet.
Take care out there.