Mountain Mania

Behold, a digest from a coupla months in Nepal (which went by way too fast). As always, hyperlinks are to the corresponding timeline post, where even more pics can be found. Also as always, all of the full-res photos can be learnt at my Flickr page, just here.


October 3:

Made thee traditional barefoot walk from the airport to Thamel, checked in to my number-two favourite hostel in the universe, scored some fruit, and am ready to Be.

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I think I allowed Cairo to supplant this place in my imagination, so was a bit surprised at how much returning to Kathmandu feels like returning home. It’s been through a lot of fucking hard times since my last visit; but the 90-minute schlep was enough to reassure me that its flame has yet to be doused. And walking briefly around Thamel brought many memories flooding back in…

God, Nepal is magic. Viva!


October 6:

Gorgeous people; gorgeous weather; gorgeous Tomatoes: Yes, it’s untoppable Nepal. Come bringing your dimpled asses to join the fun, dearest people of thee Internet! Name me one fucking reason why you shouldn’t?

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October 6:

My (semi-official) brother and sister: We got, we got, we gots thee motherfuckin’ German/Estonian/American trekking squad up in here. You can burn all our mail and disconnect our phones. Quote of the day, courtesy Mr. Lauri Ilves (pictured, left): “This is already my favourite country.”

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As for me, personally: I got, I got, I gots one wish, and one wish only. To wit, on that lonesome Saturday (I always seem to kick the bucket on a Saturday; no idea why) when it comes time for me to exit-stage-left this earthly existence, much obliged if you could bury my dimpled ass in Nepal…and shame be upon me for having forgotten just how much I missed being here.


October 8:

The proprietor here at thee Super Rainbow View tells me that he and his twelve-year-old son can teach me to speak perfect Nepali in one month’s time — free of charge, no less. I’ll be damned if I’m not seriously considering taking him up on thee offer.

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Meanwhile, no rainbows to-day, as it’s been unseasonably cloudy since mid-morning. Lauri wanted to push on to Tal, but encountered heavy rains past Chamche, so has turned back and rejoined us. Delia is dealing with a head cold, and I’m missing hiking in my Vibram KSOs (long story); but here we all are, and none of us can quite believe how blessed we are feeling to be in this place.

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October 9:

Woke up at midnight with a very scratchy/sore throat, a slight fever, and a — shall we say — overly active bowel mechanism. A rough night it was; and though I felt a bit better by sunrise, I’ve been in this very same situation here two times before — both times I set out trekking, and both times ended up regretting it. So, instead, I’ma plunk my dimpled ass down in front of thee waterfall for a day of rest, and hopefully be back on the trail again tomorrow.

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I’m provisionally marking my difficulties at such low elevation down to the very hot conditions during the first two days’ trekking. Also, I think I’m missing fresh fruit even more than I usually do here. Delia was struggling with the heat, too, as were many other trekkers; but I’ve never really had a problem before now hiking under the hot baking sun (whenever properly hatted-up, of course). Huhn, I guess I didn’t die before I got old, more’s the pity.

It’s frustrating when your body doesn’t perform the way you want it to; but, here, under the shadow of the Himalaya, I’d be a damned fool dunce of an imbecile to meet any setbacks with other than equanimity. I’ll make easy stages, and come what may. I can guarantee you this: There’s no place else I’d rather be.

That said, I’m going to miss my companions a lot. Lauri, in particular…it’s almost scary to me how much I enjoy his company. He’s a man possessed, though — wants to hike eleven hours a day, while I prefer to knock off around Noon, explore the village, and relax. I think Delia is going to end up falling in with three very nice German girls who stayed here last night, and will surely have a grand time with them. I enjoy hiking alone, too, so, it’ll all be good.

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Delia said she saw a King Cobra, by the way, on the trail leading here to the Super Rainbow. A Nepali gentleman confirmed that, yes, it is possible to see them all the way up to 2,600 metres. I was hiking about five or ten minutes behind her, but didn’t get to see it….


October 10:

Well, I had planned to make a very slow pace around the track (every moment spent here is a treasure untold), but not this slow. The fever had worsened by last night, so I didn’t eat anything. Felt pretty good this morning, but after forty hours’ fasting, didn’t think it’d be a great idea to get the trek back on. So, slapped on my daypack (I knew there was a reason I brung that thing), and went for a wander around and about — including down to river’s edge right across from the waterfall. Man a-fucking-live! If I could get some goddam fruit up here, I swear to you I would never leave.

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Incidentally, I was more than a bit miffed when LUNA Sandals increased the sole-thickness of their Venado from 7mm to 9mm. That thickness is a real bummer in town, but I have to say that it’s just perfect for rocky terrain. I don’t feel One With Thee Trail in them the way I do in KSOs, but, a major advantage is being able to tromp right through the innumerable runoff streams passing over the road/trail here without worry (Five Fingers smell like re-heated Iguana shit when they get wet and then dry while still on your feet). I did reel in a few Leech bites to-day, but, no biggie…

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October 14:

Bury…my…dimpled ass…in…Nepal.

They say music is the universal language; but I think it may be the Himalaya. Have taken a little side-trip partway up the Manaslu trek. You’re allowed to climb up to the first two villages — Tilche and Gowa — only; and must leave your permit with the ACAP office in Dharepani, lest you present with any bright ideas of trekking further on. I don’t quite understand the policy, to be honest, as it seems to me that if anybody were to show up at a Manaslu checkpoint with an Annapurna permit, their dimpled asses could just be sent marching back the same way they had come.

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But, anyhow, I’m already straying off-topic. Which is that I have not the faculties to grok thee things I have seen up here, and certainly not the words to describe them. Except to say that in whichever direction one were to point one’s eyes — forward, backward, upward, downward, leftward, rightward, sidelong, diagonal, you-fucking-name-it — is to be presented with a visual fantasia far beyond the realms of any mortal’s imagination. Must be seen to be believed. Which gets me to the message I’m hoping to impart with this current circular. Viz., sell all your possessions if you must (anyway, they’re going to be worthless fairly soon as we proceed apace into the abyss of ecological and civilisational collapse) and come check this shit out. It’s real.

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I suspect, as it happens, that all my puttering around in these early stages of the trek is going seriously to jeopardise my chances of making it up to Thorung La — my digestive tract is a ticking fucking timebomb, and it’s only going to be able to tolerate so many days of cooked food (I’ve learnt here the hard way) before it decides to up and asplode. But if I were to explain you how freaking ecstatically happy I am right now, you’d shoot my dimpled ass dead on thee spot — and probably not even leave a goddam marker. Goals are aight; but diversions, they might be even better.

This place…this is the most hallowed ground there is. They’ve got these goddam jet-black cows up here? So fucking beautiful!

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Back in Dharepani now, my permit safe in hand. After having written the above two nights ago, I yesterday morning decided I needed another day up there where no cars (nor jeeps, nor motorcycles) go. Had to switch lodges however, as the mattresses at the first one were like the proverbial granite slab. Nice folk running the joint, but, dang.

Spent the day checking out the area (gogggggg), and as I was the only guest at the new lodge — even though it be high season, I saw very few trekkers up there — the family bade me eat dinner with them in the kitchen, on some rugs layed around the wood-fired cooking stove. And, oh my god, if I loved Nepali people before, I now think they are nothing less than heaven-sent. So nice, and friendly, and fun, and mirthful they are. They even had me helping out making Momos at one point.

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It was the proprietess — her husband, a teacher, is on school holiday during festival season, and is currently in Chame — her sister, her twelve-year-old daughter and her ten-year-old niece. The two cousins are of quite different personalities — one rambunctious and zany, the other thoughtful and kind — but both speak more less perfect English. The two sisters’ English is also pretty good, though nothing like the kids’. The kids intuited my yearning to learn it, and said they’d teach me how to speak Nepali for 3,000 Rupees per month.

After dinner, they invited me to go with them to pick up their grandfather, who was arriving on foot from Bagarchap in expectation of the forthcoming festival. I figured they were just being hospitable and all, but after the rendezvous with the grandfather, it came out that the particular stretch of trail upon which we had trod is reputed to be haunted by a ghost whom pulls off and then eats any kid’s leg who is not accompanied by an adult. If I hadn’t agreed to come with them, they said, they’d have let their grandfather make the final twenty minutes or so of his journey all by his lonesome.

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The latter doesn’t look a day over forty, by the way, and is blessed with an astounding/beautiful shock of jet-black hair (jet-black is all the rage these days, I guess…). He was to-day slated to slaughter a sheep in preparation for the festival; lucky me, I got out of Dodge before the appointed hour. But I promised the fabulous hosts that I’d one day return — a promise I mean to keep.

Okey, I’ll make an attempt at uploading some photos (slow-to-nil Internet from here on in, I’m guessing). But if you think they are any good, think again: These pictures are SHIT — dogshit, at that — compared with what I have seen with my really eyes. Come check for yourselves, and tell me I’m wrong…


October 17:

[No rainbows were harmed in the making of this weblog.]

That may not be a yellowbrick road, but Nepal is undoubtedly a land as fantastical as Oz — or probably much more so.

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One reason for my lollygagging thus far, and for my feeling somewhat apprehensive about trekking on past Dharepani, is that it’s at this point that the gorge widens into a valley; and where the Circuit’s eponymous Annapurna peaks (7,500m-plus, or need not apply) begin to take over from the river, and the cliffs, and the rice paddies, and the waterfalls, and the lush vegetation as thee primary engine of visual fascination. And it’s been cloudy every afternoon, along with many of the mornings, and rainy in the evenings as often as not — most unusual atmospheric comportment for this time of year (and most confounding for those wishing to gog at the peaks for days on end)!

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Back in Chamche, an Australian lady had told us that inclement weather was forecast for a whole another week. And (would you know it) — to-day marking exactly one week since her message — I woke my dimpled ass up this morning, looked at thee sky, and noticed only the clearest of blues. I was this goddam close to hoisting a pint for the Nepali weatherpeeps (as well as, natch, Australian ladies everywhere), when, along about 1:00 in thee PM, the clouds and mist began to rolling in again. Fuck!

[My favourite waterfall of the trek, between Donaqyu and Timang. Froze my dimpled patootie off capturing this footage — I never claimed to be any Jan Grobli?ski behind thee lens, but, don’t ever let it be said that I’ve not suffered for my art, ain’t it?]

Well, I suppose I can live with afternoon cloudiness — adds some regular ethereality to the proceedings, and all — so long as the mornings remain clear.

It was a bit muddy on the trail to-day (see picture, enclosed). I was hiking with some Russian folk for a while, and at one point, one of them — “Alexei”, by name — rather brazenly declared my footwear “not suitable for jogging.” As I was trying to formulate a properly sarcastic response, he with the help of one of his mates amended his brazen words to “…not suitable for trekking.” After our passage through the Mud Zone, he came to me with hat in hand, and offered that he now knew why I had chosen to hike in sandals. (Though, factually, barefoot is even better through muddy terrain — but I was too lazy to remove the shoes…)

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Signed,
Yer (Unofficial) Nepal Tourism Board Special Correspondent

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Woke up this morning (the 16th, I believe) to the sound of steady rain making pitter-patter on the roof here in Timang. God damn fricking doublefuck! The rain had stopped by about 9:00 in the AM, and the other guests were ready to hit the trail: A German gent, sixty-ish, making his ninth visit to Nepal (!); an Indian lad, quite a friendly sort until he smoked a big reefer before dinner and was unable to communicate thereafter; and a pair of mid-twenties Californians who’ve been hiking together for a few days now.

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I was tempted to join the latter, as it sounds like they’re proceeding at about my pace, and I rather enjoyed talking with them about music and whatnot; but, finally, I’m a slave to thee view, and as there was nary a break in the overcast elected instead to take my dimpled ass down into the Magic Faerie Forest (as I’ve always called the stretch of trail between Donaqyu and Timang — walking through feels like being in a Tim Burton movie) for the day.

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I’d seen a trail near the bridge that seemed like it might be fun, and followed it up and up and up and up and up. Every time I thought I was near the top, it turned out I had in fact not been. Eventually I managed to figure out (slow learner here) that what looked like daylight breaking over the ridgetop was merely an illusion of the mist. So I at last turned back without meeting trail’s end.

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A most pleasantly peaceful day it was, though: The only sounds to be heard were the ever-present Cicadas, the tumblecrash of a distant waterfall, and the occasional birdchirp.

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Now in Chame, in one of my fave lodges on the Circuit; hard by thee River Marsyangdi. Am connected, but only just barely. We’ll see whether it’s possible to upload a few pics…


October 18:

God dammit, so tempted to spend another day here in Chame. But I can’t spend the whole rest of my life up here (I don’t think). So, a-trekking we will go…

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October 20:

Oct. thee 19th: Sheesh, what a differnce a day can make. Yesterday was warm and sunny and beautiful, with stunning views three-hundred-sixty degrees of the circle; and friendly fellow-trekkers all over the lot (as previously noted, the trail has been eerily quiet this year; but there were oodles of trekkers heading out of Chame — apparently they’re all now getting motorised transport up to that point, and beginning their trek from there).

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Annapurna trekkers are just the best — I think we’re all so beside ourselves to be here that none of us can help but to be bubbling over with friendly vibes. Including, one Kiwi expat now residing in Australia, noticing my footwear, just about bowled me over with her kindness when she pulled me aside to make sure that I was doing okay. I bought these brand-new-on-the-market very durable shoe-socks — “Skinners”, by name — just before coming here, and have been alternating days with those and the Lunas. Yesterday, hiking in amongst so many people, they attracted a lot of attention, for both better and worse. Anyway, the Kiwi expat turned out to be a most agreeable sort; she’s hoping to bring her eight- and five-year-old kids here next year to hike the Poon Hill trek — how fucking cool is that?

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I needs must bid a tearful adieu, however, to two of the homies from back Timang (my, but that lodge attracts some inneresting folk…): A pair of Kuala Lumpurian accountants, Chinese by descent, with whom I’d been hiking on and off since then, and whom are the sweetest/cutest/friendliest pair of Kuala Lumpurian accountants one would ever want to meet. (I daren’t tell them my true feelings of their home town, ha ha.) They’re planning to make faster progress than I want to from here, so I bade them merry happy trekkings, goosed their dimpled asses for good luck (okay, not really — I should have done, though), and sent them on their way. I believe there’s still one person from the two nights in Timang currently behind me — viz., the sixty-ish German fellow (“Hans”, by name) I mentioned before. I passed him two days ago scoping out the river with (what looked like) children’s field glasses, and haven’t seen him since — perhaps I shall yet re-make his acquaintance.

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But to get back to thee narrative, yesterday was the first day that I really had my mojo working on the climbs. Ascending steep hills is practically my favourite thing on god’s green pebble to do — not only whilst hiking, but, full fuckin’ stop. For reasons I have not yet ascertained, however, this year here it’s felt more like a drudgery than it has a joyment. But, yesterday I was so in sync with the trail that I went to bed thinking that I might to-day blow right through Upper Pisang and traipse it all the way up to Ghyaru — that’s a 700m elevation gain, pace the recommended daily allowance of 300-500 once over 3,000 metres — but it seemed like it might be okay to try, considering I’d spent five nights at 2,400, and was about to spend one at 3,000.

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Hit the trail this morning after a good night’s sleep, though, to find that I had no energy whatever; it was thee mightiest of struggles just to make it here to Upper Pisang and put down stakes for the night. And this is where it always happens to me, no matter how quickly or how slowly I come to arrive at this elevation — Upper Pisang or Ghyaru always lay me low. The not-unfamiliar symptoms — extreme lethargy, fever, slight headache, diarrhoea — are now all in tow.

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Well, stuck inside of Pisang with the Ghyaru blues again is far from the worst way to be. Don’t ever think that I’m sitting here crying, “Woe is me, why can I not be presented at the conclusion of each day’s trekking with a nice, big eighteen-pound Watermelon and a couple-few ex.-large Avocados?” Nah, sanguininity is my word of the day (is that a word?): Gunnah accept each obstacle as it comes, see if I can’t learn something from it, and proceed on down the trail (an appropriately Buddhistic attitude for the locale, I guess).

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And in whichsoever direction that trail should wind — up over Thorung La or not — be assured that I am going to be drinking in the impossibly marvellous views, and basking in the glowing warmth of the unmatched Nepalese hospitality, more appreciatively than possibly any wayward sumbitch of a trekker has ever done before. I am in love with this country like none other.

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p.s. My verdict on the Skinners: I wish the sole were just a tiny, little bit thicker for hiking over very rocky terrain; and there is a bit of a break-in needed. But, otherwise, yes, they’re quite lovely. I still rate the KSO as the ultimate hiking shoe; but if they were to roll out a slightly-thicker-soled model, I think I’d put the Skinner at No. 2. Neither is appropriate for wintry conditions, of course…

p.p.s. Check out the placement of the drapes here in my room — set back from the window as they are, it rather makes the extra-wide windowsill look like it should be used as a proscenium. Tell you what, if I find myself unable to drag my dimpled ass up to Ghyaru, I might just have to come back down here, carve up some puppets, open wide thee windows, and put on a goddam show, ain’t it??

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p.p.p.s. Oof, now the lodge owner is all discombobulated because I don’t want to order any food. I tried proselytising the old/good aphorism — Starve a fever, or you will Feed a cold — but he would not be mollified. Can’t really blame him, in point of fact: Meals are where they really make their cashmoney, after all. Still, a little consideration for thee infirm wouldn’t be completely out of line, would it? Anyway, I’ll do right by them when it comes time to pay the bill.

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Oct. thee 20th: Have descended back down to Lower Pisang following a restless night in the Upper. Will hopefully put it back on the trail toward Manang tomorrow…


October 21:

Heading out of Pisang, I spun every single prayer wheel at the local Mani Wall. Never the less, my innards (not to mention many of my goddam outtards as well) are in open, contemptuous revolt at my having yet again brought them up to this rarefied elevation. But my eyes…mine eyes will forever cherish these days!

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D’you wanna know what else? Two new Buddhists were made to-day; and here’s how the fuck it went down…

German Trekker: What’s this supposed to be?
Nepali Guide: It’s a stupa.
German Trekker: “Astupa”?
Nepali Guide: Yeah.
Me [Making a clockwise circling motion]: You’re supposed to walk around it.
Nepali Guide: Yeah; clockwise.
German Trekker: “Walk around”??
Me: Yeah…”circumambulate”.
German Trekker [Beginning to circumambulate counter-clockwise]: Okey…
Me: No, you’re going the wrong direction?
German Trekker: “Wrong direction”?
Me: You need to go clockwise.
Nepali Guide: Yeah.
German Trekker: [Beginning to circumambulate clockwise.] German Trekker’s Friend: I’ll join you.

…And so it came to pass. At the stupa you can slough off your pack and climb up a nearby hill to get a commanding view of the valley below. Dunno why nobody else joined me in going up there — I’m the one feeling shite, after all. About that commanding view of the valley (I think I’ve told this before), it’s believed that the massive rockface hanging over Dikhur Pokhari like Damocles’ sword — “Heaven’s Door”, by name — must be clumb by the souls of the faithful departed all the way to the top before they’ll be permitted to sup of that great Daal Bhat in thee sky. Well, I dunno, maybe even the unfaithful departed can get them a little somethin’-somethin’, too, provided they’re able to manage the feat…

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(And in re “shite”, by taking a page out of my bro’ Lauri’s book, I’ve to-day learnt how to feel not nearly as shite-y after all. His trick is to take the climbs only at a pace whereon no heavy breathing would be induced. Me, I love racing up the hills at top speed, huffing and puffing myself real good one all thee while — makes me feel like a goddam human again, or some shit. But for god’s own reasons, I find myself unable to do so this year — at least not without feeling like a freaking deadman. So I took the ascents at the recommended pace — seriously, I was eating the snails’ dust — and also rested wherever I spied porters resting; and…I felt pretty semi-okay. Also felt like a fucking two-year-old baby unable to clean its own ass up, having to go so slow — but I guess it beats feeling like a freaking deadman and all…)

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Along the path to-day was a old man selling homemade amulets and Yak antlers and whatnot. Though I didn’t see any on display, I on a lark asked if he had any Syaau for sale (that’s the Nepali word for Apple — though I’ll be god damned if I can get anybody to understand what I’m on about when I try and order some from them). He bade me follow him through yon gate and into his little compound, promising, “Many-many.” He weren’t lying, neither; not only were there many-many, but they were priced to move as well, at only one hundred rupees the kilo.

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Better still, just a few paces away from, he’d erected the beautiful dung-topped shrine pictured here. He told me it was dedicated to the Three Babas. A baba is, I believe, a kind of like, venerated old man. I don’t know to which three babas he was referring — but I’m pretty sure I could not possibly have cared less.

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As I was taking his leave, he asked if I were travelling on to Manang. “Ah, probably Braka,” I responded, “Maybe even Humde.”

He made a sort of approving gesture with his hand and intoned, “Slooow; slooow.”

“YES!” I screamed aloud — this Yak-horn-sellin’ son of a bitch gets it! He really, really gets it. (I think he does a pretty good business there, too, as he had no trouble whatever in changing out my thousand-rupee note for the hundred rupees’ worth of Apples.)

I thought I’d maybe stop somewheres along to gog thee scenery and chow them down; but as I was entering Humde, a gentleman carrying on his back the firewood he’d been out harvesting all the day long caught up to me and started giving me any and all manner of shit over my choice of footwear. Even after I showed to him the sole, and so patiently explained that they’re not socks, but rather shoe-socks, he still disapproved.

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He also (being a goddam lodgesmith, and all) disapproved of my stated intention to, for thee midday meal, find myself dining upon the recently procured Apples — although he was keen to know from whence they’d been purchased, and for how much. I followed him up the path to his joint — “Maya Lodge”, by name — where he invited me in for tea. Which, I didn’t care for any god damned tea; but I did end up taking a room here. Fucking beautiful, it is.

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So fucking beautiful, indeed, was this day’s walk, that I’m almost embarrassed to share any pictures from it; that’s how stinkin’ inferior are they to thee real/live deal — believe me. Meantime, if somebody knows of another place to get delicious, cheap, local, organic Apples before paying his or her respects at a dung-topped shrine to the three babas whilst surrounded on all sides by thee grandeur untold, then, do gimme a holler — I would surely like to visit. Until then, you’ll find my dimpled ass seated right here in Nepal, just where it ever belongs.

p.s. I gave an Apple to this one mantra-chantin’ motherfucker down the hall from me, and he seemed pretty chuffed about it.

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October 22:

I’ve spent so much time wandering around up here I feel like a fuckin’ one-man diaspora. It’s all right: Found someone to change some greenbacks for me, so it may now be possible to make this place my new homeland. Could you blame my dimpled ass if I were to?


October 23:

There’re so many day-hiking opportunities out of Manang, one could go hog wild for a good week-and-half and still not exhaust them all. What’s more, when arriving thee dimpled ass back to the village, can be found Apples, Tomatoes, and Cucumbers of surprisingly delicious vintage. (Though in point of fact I to-day packed Apples with to enjoy from the top.)

Hiked up above 4,000 metres (only with the daypack, of course) and felt pretty semi-okay up there. So, perhaps they’ll acclimatise my dimpled ass yet (inshallah).


October 28:

It’s snowing in Manang right now, and the Hebrews at my lodge are losing their shit. (I’ve told before that this trek attracts very many Israelis — they all use porters, even though only in their twenties, and party theur dimpled asses off all the way around. Last night there was a huge group here; they self-catered their vittles to ensure kosherarity, then lit some candles and sang a whole bunch of songs which sounded all right.)

While we’ve been Internetless for several days’ time here (owing to a “blockage” somewhere down the mountain), I’ve been day-hiking/acclimatising my dimpled ass almost unto oblivion. Here’s a diary of two days on the Ice Lake trail…

Oct. thee 24th: A day-trip up to Ice Lake — at 4,600m, apparently the highest in the world — turned into a day-trip to Ice Lake Restaurant (roughly two-thirds of the way to the lake) as I got a bit of a late start, and underestimated how much time the climb would take.

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Still, at about 4,200m, that’s certainly the highest elevation to which I’ve ever instructed my dimpled ass to climb (no, I don’t think that time I rented a motor-car and drove up to the top of Mauna Kea counts); and I felt…pretty semi-okay. It was a grueling hike, to be sure, but as for the payoff: Too rewarding to be described.

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Took a longer-but-easier route back down — via Muggje rather than Braka — as the latter trail was rather steep/slick in places (ascending such terrain, I feel agile as a goddam Mountain Goat; but going back down…more like a frickin’ Dugong). The walk through the valley back to Manang during the afternoon glow, and in amongst a herd of feeding Yak, was pretty magical in its own right.

Colour my dimpled ass: Happier’n a pig in shit. Will attempt to make the full hike all the way up to the lake in a day or so; and want to get in a few other ones as well before, hopefully, setting thee sights upon Thorung La.

p.s. I’ve been devouring obscene quantities of Tomatoes, in case you’re scoring at home. But, day-hiking and devouring Tomatoes: That’s (to quote Kriss Kross) what I was born to do…

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Oct. thee 27th: Got up early, scurried down to the Ice Lake trailhead at Braka, and instructed my dimpled ass to march itself all the way up this time. Unlike the other day, the trail was pretty busy to-day — great for camaraderie and all, but also served as an abject lesson in my current ability to hike at altitude. I’m used to more less never being passed whilst ascending; but on this day I was a decidedly second-division climber.

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Based upon to-day’s findings, I rate my chances of getting up and over Thorung-La at somewhat south of 50%. But I did, at least, do pretty semi-okay in the 4,600m altitude. Had some slight headache symptoms, but nothing major. Perhaps all these nights spent here in Manang are finally beginning to pay off.

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As for thee scenics, the lake was nice enough, though as nothing compared with the surroundings. The latter, I’d wager, were objectively speaking the most insane sight I’d ever have seen — made better, unlike my previous foray to these parts, by an absence of clouds covering the peaks (some did begin forming after noon, but — bless their hearts — came in behind the mountains). Emotionally, my heart still thumps harder for the reveal at Papu Chong, however (about which, more later).

A long day; but a most excellent one!

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November 3:

Oct. thee 25th: Another day-hike to-day. Also, another late start, on account of it was all socked-in cloudy ’til mid-morning. This one — “Papu Chong”, by name — promised a closeup view of the glacier, as well as good acclimatisation and so forth.

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I wasn’t even sure if I was on the right trail at all, as it’s not marked, and as I never saw another soul all the whole time — save for, near the bottom, about a dozen ladies, spaced five minutes apart or so, and each carrying back into the village a way-overfull bushel-basket packed with straw.

The last of these gave me the third degree real good one — wanting to know (in words to the effect) what was my business on the trail, and why I was hiking without friends, and so on and so on. Ominously, she kept repeating over and over that to continue further on up the trail promised certain danger. But I could never get her to out with the nature of the dangerous tidings: Banditos? Abominabable Snowmen? Sudden shifts in the weather? Tricky footing conditions sending dimpled asses pell-mell over thee cliff? Or what? So, I continued on, somewhat more warily than before.

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The trail was quite steep-up, but very well kept, and visibly leading up to the top. So I figured that even if it were the wrong trail, I’d still see something up there. Unlike the Ice Lake trail, though, when the view was growing gradually and gradually the more spectacular, to-day was no view at all (save for some interestingly misshapen trees and their floor-dropped piney cones). Finally, up near the tip-top, I saw some stalactite things, and mused, “Well, if nothing else, I can get a picture of this.”

Five minutes later, summitting the ridgetop and seeing the tableau laid out before me, my knees began to buckle, my heart began to race, and my eyes popped out my head. Nothing could possibly have prepared me for what was waiting at the top of that climb. After to-day, Thorung La is now even more an afterthought for me. I’ll still give it thee college try and all; but I believe I have now fulfilled whatever purpose my life possibly could ever have had. I could die tomorrow and go to heaven — die tomorrow and go to hell. Stuff my dimpled ass into a cannon and shoot it at the sun, if you like — I’m good with it.

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Seeing and feeling these enormous and humbling sights day after day after day has been the thrill of a lifetime. But to-day was the most thrilling of all — nothing could ever make me forget the emotional charge of being in such close proximity to these mountain peaks. As I was walking out to the point of nearest nearness, I felt in a way as though I were re-enacting the climactic scene from Close Encounters. I didn’t get escorted into thee mothership — but I’m nonetheless a changed human bean.

Huhn, maybe that’s the danger that lady was warning me about — perhaps I’ll never be able to live in the world again, having seen these sights. Maybe the Himalaya have so warped my being, I’ll now just end up like an Acid Casualty, or a slack-jawed yokel, when attempting to be an upstanding, civilised, motherfucker. If so, it was worth it; it was really, really worth it. There is only Nepal. Come here and experience it while you still can.

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n.b., The pictures you see here are shit of the shittiest stripe (and I note that I failed miserably to capture the 360-degree nature of being in that area) — but, I believe that’s Annapurna III on the left, and Gangapurna on the right.

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Oct. thee 29th: Had planned to make another jaunt up to Papu Chong, but it was all frickin’ cloudy again, so I instead walked out of Manang a ways to get some acclimatisation all up in me.

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Stopped at a shoppe and ordered some Seabuckthorn juice — that’s the local Manang drink that one sees being proffered everywhere. I haven’t seen the actual berries growing anywheres, but apparently they’re quite difficult to harvest, ’cause of thee thorns. They serve it warm, which I weren’t expecting; but, all right. Then, it tastes like TANG, which I wasn’t really expecting, either; but, okey, TANG ain’t the worst thing I’ve ever tasted. However, it also threw me intestines for a bit of a loop — so, I don’t suppose I’ll be drinking that shit no more…

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The gentleman pictured here wearing the “Sexy” cap wanted a hundred Rupees for the honour of his photograph, but eventually settled for ten. I drive a hard fucking bargain, mang.

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Oct. thee 30th: Trekked to Gunsang, the next village after Manang. Took it very slowly, and felt very good. Could probably have gone on to Yak Kharka without any issues — but given my history, I’m extremely paranoid about gaining too much elevation in any one day. So instead hiked far enough up yon nearby hill to gain thee master view (that I have seen to-date, that is) of the peaks and the valley below. Ain’t complaining so far…

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Oct. thee 31st: Trick or treat! Locked myself in the goddam shitter in the middle of the night at the lodge in Ledar — and though I can laugh about it now, it was a bit of a tense situation, considering how cold it was (you’d think, at this elevation, we could get indoor toilets, but, noooooo…).

The can had a little hand-carved wooden latch to keep the door from flying open when the facilities weren’t in use; and when I stepped inside to do my business, I heard a somewhat disconcerting click from the outside. Fearing the worst, I checked the exit path, and, sure enough, the way was barred. I was wearing: Two pairs of socks, one pair of shoes, one pair of boxer briefs, and a thermal top. Pretty hypothermic.

After finishing my business, I began banging the door against the latch for a while to see if it might click back out of place; but, no dice. Kinda surprised nobody heard the racket and got up to see what was going on, in fact.

After trying for a while to stick the nail which serves as the inside latch through the crack and manipulate the wooden one out of the way, I finally gave up, put my whole weight into it, and crashed through the door just like in a goddam Hollywood picture show. You can even see — to this very day — where I broke off the offending corner of the wooden latch. Given my clothing, though, I fear I looked much more like Bob Denver than I did Sterling Hayden. Also lucky I didn’t sprain my ankle, as it’s a pretty long step down.

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November 3:

Well, they choppered my dimpled ass back to Kathmandu to-day after I fainted in the pooper (no joke) and bruised up my ribs real good one — not to mention nearly garrotting meself on I-know-not-what surface. What later followed was straight-up the worst night of my life: The pain, along with the altitude and the unbearable cold (think constant shortness of breath and frequent heart palpitations from midnight ’til dawn) allowed for not a single wink of sleep.

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That said, I did feel a little guilty ordering up the ride — most people are rescued owing to life-threatening altitude sickness…or at least some broken bones. Still, I didn’t have much choice — waiting it out, my usual course of action, just wasn’t viable in those conditions. The lodge-owner (nicest guy ever, but…) wanted me to get a horse to Manang and then a jeep to Besi Sahar, which sounded like a recipe for pain untold. And hiring out a porter and walking down beside would’ve been expensive, time-consuming, and…very painful (more less any movement sets it off). So, a heli it was. The owner of the neighbouring lodge was like a kid on Christmas morning when he heard it coming; said I was about thee luckiest guy around.

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Mad heaps o’ thanks to Abdulla Muhammad and Global Rescue for the fabulous, professional, hands-on service; to the American Alpine Club for offering the service as one of its membership benefits (though, frankly, if it had been determined that my situation weren’t serious enough to merit winged extraction, I was ready to pay for it on my own dime — and for a notorious tightwad such as myself, one can imagine how dire I considered my straits to be); to Fishtail Air for the very smooth (not to say scenic!) passage; and to CIWEC Hospital for being willing to waive the consultation fee for those presenting sans insurance — hell, they even returned the ambulance fee after realising I’d arrived via Fishtail, whose service includes the ambulance. And of course, all props to my mum, Mrs. Shirley Baxter, for facilitating the arrangement Stateside when the local efforts had failed utterly.

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I dunno, perhaps I’d after a few days have begun to adapt to the conditions — I noticed the Nepalis didn’t seem to be bothered by them. But, when you’re feeling desperate, rationality kinda goes flying out the window, ain’t it? The decision to despatch the ‘copter was not mine, of course; but in hindsight, I’ve come to think that — painful though it would have been — the horse/jeep option would have been the most appropriate way to go. (I was very shocked, when we stopped to refuel at the airstrip in Humde, to see them putting something like sixty gallons of petrol up in there — that’s gotta be the most ecologically flagrant thing I’ve done in a very, very, very long time. How many trees would I need to plant in penance?)

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In my experience (I am the KING of bruised ribs) I’ll be fairly ambulatory in a week or so, and back to normal in about a month — maybe less. Until then, you can find me lying prone on the bed (very stilly sitting isn’t so bad, either), listening to many podcasts, and wincing in pain every couple of minutes. Fun times! When you think about it, though, while this injury is painful in the extreme, so long as one has not punctured a lung (the doctor said that happens in about one in a thousand cases), it’s not nearly so serious as the level of pain would suggest. Just requires lots of patience. (And, yes, very nice lady though she was, the doctor did try to push some fucking pain meds on me — orange you surprised? — on the grounds that rib injuries are “different”. But I wasn’t buying in to any of that shaky logic. It’s not that I revel in discomfort — far from it. But pain is a very important signal from the body. To mask that symptom — to sweep any symptom under the rug — is thee devil’s own way…)

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By the way, that village where I took my tumblefall, “Thorong Phedi”, by name? It’s three miles from the pass. Three stinkin’ miles. Some things, some things were never meant to be, I think… That said, the incident may have been a blessing in disguise — I can’t but assume it was altitude-related; and while I was trying to be hyper-vigilant for early warning signs of AMS (headache, dizziness, loss of appetite, extreme fatigue with minimal exertion), none of which were present to any real degree, I know I was struggling with it. Although being only a very short distance from Thorung La, there were still a full thousand metres’ worth of elevation to gain — who’s to say, had I continued on up the trail, that I mayn’t have had a even worse fate befall thee dimpled ass?

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I remember hiking for a while a few years ago with a very experienced trekker from Australia — “Rachel”, by name. She said she had once turned back only a hundred metres away from reaching the highest point in South America — and that while everyone afterward was completely incredulous, she knew that she should have turned back even much sooner. I guess what I’m trying (again) to say: I love Nepal like no other place; and feel just so incredibly, unbelievably blessed and fortunate to be able to be here…come ever what may. (And, also, whatever rat-racin’ shenanigans you’ve got going on in your home town: Give ’em up! Become a fuckin’ hobo, and hie thine dimpled ass here to Nepal — god’s own land. You shan’t regret it.)

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November 22:

Have for the past week or so been getting a fair amount of walking in — 20,000 steps daily, give or take, along the lake and in town. But to-day I decided to go all-in and march my dimpled ass up to the top of Sarangkot; the local hill noted for its outrageous mountain and lake views, as well as the place from which the paragliders take flight. You’re supposed to go up for sunrise or sunset, but I’ve done that in the past; now, I wanted to see if I could actually survive a spot of exercise. By far the most strenuous activity in three weeks’ time, and while I wouldn’t say the back felt great, neither did it feel horrible.

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It happened to be a hazy one, and the mountains were partially obscured by clouds (that’s usually more of a springtime phenomenon), but, all right, still a beautiful day for a stroll. At 2,000 feet of elevation gain, it’s actually a bit less of a climb than West Tiger 3 — though it feels like a bit more. The glory of Nepal, ain’t it?

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By the way, if any if y’all are snowbirds looking to broaden thee ol’ horizons outside of Arizona or Palm Springs, why not try overwintering here in Pokhara? The weather is more perfect than perfect: Eighty-ish during the day, fifty-ish overnight, nary a cloud up in the sky, no humidity. Rather reminds me of Seattle in the back half of August, in fact (though the days are a bit shorter). It’s got the best scenery, the best butterflies, the friendliest people, hiking opportunities to beat the band, delicious-as fruits and veggies. What more would you be needing?

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Oh, yeah: The place I’m staying now — four bucks a night for an en suite. Sure, it’s no-frills; but it’s got thee amenities you’ll never find in town (while being only about a ten-minute walk from the main road): Peace and goddam quiet, yo. Some construction noise is audible during the day, but being on a small dirt trail, motorcycles are virtually non-existent. And at night, it’s only dem crickets. Come check it the fudge out (in my opinion).

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November 25:

Arf! They’d been just-okay ’til now, but suddenly these Pokharan Avos have kicked themselves into overdrive. The specimen pictured here is from three years ago; and hardly a day has passed since without me regaling the fuck out of one poor sap or sapette after another with the story of the Avocado from Pokhara what was as big as my left foot and whose ripeness was so perfect I could lick it like a goddang iced cream cone.

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The one I et yesterday may just have been the best one since that earth-shattering experience — and (moreover) thee Watermelons, which I keep thinking should be about ready to go out of season, instead just keep getting better and better with each passing moment.

Yea, you heard right: It’s another day in the 100% Success Zone…

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November 26:

Last pix (at least for this year) from Pokhara-by-thee-lake. Went back up to Sarangkot and felt okey. If I had to put a number on it, I’d say the back’s about seventy percent healed; maybe seventy-five. Twisting and bending are both still out the question, but locomotion ain’t so bad now. I keep seeing bicycles with only one fuckin’ training wheel — and even the one is not engaged. Weird.

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Nepali Homeowner: Where are you going?
Me: Sarangkot.
Homeowner: It’s better to go up early in the morning; now, it will be too cloudy.
Me: Yeah, but I’m really going for the exercise.
Homeowner: Oh! Exercise! [Gesturing] Go on up. Have a good day, and have a good time.

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November 28:

The town of Gorkha — about an hour’s drive up a very steep, winding road off the highway linking Pokhara and Kathmandu — was the birthplace of the first warlord to unify all of Nepal. It was from Gorkha that he launched his campaign, but, when he conquered Kathmandu he relocated his kingdom to there, and instead of claiming its rightful status as the locus of the Nepali project, Gorkha remained a backwater. But Nepalis still recognise it as the place from whence the nation sprung, and one can still come visit the old temple, and buy some of the plastic crap being sold by the roadside vendors and all.

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The temple is okay, though it pales in comparison to to the ones in Kathmandu and Bhaktapur. But, anyhow, the setting is quite pretty — among the highlights, a sweeping view (before the mid-morning clouds arrive and occlude the fuck out of it, that is) of Mt. Manaslu, the world’s third-highest peak. The walk up from town along the stone path/stairway is pretty rigorous; as is, further along, the walk up to what I thought was going to be the O.G. Castle Keep, but turned out instead to be just some unrecognisable ruins and a goofy comms tower. Additionally, there are innumerable hills for climbing up to the top of in case you forgot what the view looked like from the next one over — one of ’em (nice touch) even has a bench swing and a couple of slides up there. You could hike your dimpled ass off from sunup to sundown every day of thee year, and still never summit them all (or so it seems like).

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The problem with all this is that the town is a royal shithole — the loudest motorcycles I’ve ever heard, these goddam tractors driving all up and down the valley, endless construction noise, bus horns blaring, dogs barking and barking all day and all night. Even from some lonely ridgetop way the Hell and gone up above the town, all the maddening goings on can still be heard clear as day — I dunno, I guess the sound travels well in the thin air, or some shit. So, it’s not nearly as serene as it looks like it ought to be.

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It’s a bit difficult, therefore, to recommend, even given the great hiking. The people here are incredibly friendly, however. And, moreover, while it’s known for the deliciosity of its Oranges (which, indeed, are quite good), it was the quality of its Cucumbers that I had a tough time coming to grips with. They’re just crazy, almost to say impossibly, delicious — and I eat a fuckload of Cucumbers, so you can trust me what I’m telling you to-day.

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November 29:

There was an accident on the highway to-day which had traffic stopped in both directions — the minivan I was in for forty-five minutes or so, and we weren’t all that close to the front of the line. My initial reaction was that I was shocked that accidents didn’t occur here more frequently, given the nature and conditions of the road, and the absolutely insane recklessness with which motorists pilot their vehicles. “Why can’t you just slow the fuck down?” I always want to ask them.

But then while we were stopped, a body was carried on a stretcher up the hill and in front of the van, which was the first inkling I had that it could be something very bad — why was the body being carried up the hill rather than down the road? Sure enough, when traffic got moving again and we reached the site of the accident, there were scores of rubberneckers standing at the side of the road and gaping down to the river — and it’s a long way down from there. Horrific. Still, I didn’t think it would have been a bus, as I’d only seen the one body being brought up.

Turns out it was a bus. And also turns out that fatal accidents involving buses here are much more common than I had realised. Which, considering the frequency with which I’ve used them on that highway, has me more than a little freaked out…


November 30:

While I certainly had never forgotten that I loved Kathmandu, I think it might be fair to say that I had forgotten how much I love this city. Pretty crazy, though, walking around seeing how much damage the temples suffered during the earthquake. The Chinese are pouring all kinds of money into returning them to World-Heritage status, but it’s like I’ve been saying: There will come a time, not too far down the road, when we’ll not be able to afford to engage in rebuilding/restoration projects, and the places waylaid by natural disaster will simply be abandoned.

Meanwhile, the broadly smiling lady here wouldn’t stop pestering my dimpled ass to get me to throw down for one of her homemade handbags. Kept showing me all the different pockets all up in them, and reminding me that, “Cissmass present — also possible,” and so on. Finally, I was able to buy her off with my offer of twenty Rupees to pose for a nice picture.

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Au Revoir, Nepal; can’t even wait to make your acquaintance again!

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