between the Nakvak and the Korok: an expedition to the Torngat mountains. Hiking through the Valley of the cirques, climbing Mont d'Iberville, fishing in the Nakvak Valley, Canada, Torngat Mountains, northern Québec, trek, Nakvak, Korok, icefield, caribou trail, summit, travelogue, trip, travel, hike


Temple, Kathmandu


Monday, November 24

Nepal is a Hindu country, the only officially Hindu country I think. And it took some getting used to that Sunday was just another business day. The kids went to school Sunday, and in fact 5 and a half days per week. They got Saturday off, and banks and some government offices were closed on Saturday. But Krishna thought of our weekends as holidays. Maybe we should, too.

I would be curious to read Andy's journal of the trip. He had bought the little writing pad on the trek and started his journal. I asked him what he was writing that first night on the trail, and he said, "SHIT! That was the flight from Pokhara to Jomosom. SHIT! That was the bridge. SHIT! That was the cliff with a sheer 1000 meter drop where my Dad asked me to stand and pose for a photo…"

Our last night in Pokhara was a Tuesday night, 25 November. There was some serious packing to prepare that night for completion the following morning. I packed my big pack and managed to get it into the duffel bag with fabrics packed around it. But there was no room left over. But if I had been smart, I would have bought tons of fabrics and other things and filled the duffel with those. For some reason, I never buy as much as I should, meaning should from the point of view of being home.

We had some breakfast early and Krishna showed up with his two older sons and Prem. They brought bouquets of flowers that they had picked for us, and one of them carried some of that red powder that they use for bindis and such. For good luck, they said, he dipped a finger in it and put marks on our foreheads, cheeks, and chins. I gave the kids some Tic Tacs that I had. Photos were taken, and we said farewell to the boys. They were in school uniforms, and Prem took them to school while Krishna rode with us to the airport in the taxi he had arranged.

Due to Maoist-related security, Krishna was not allowed into the airport because he had no ticket. So we said farewell to him at the gate. It was amazing how close I felt to him after less than two weeks of knowing him. It flashed through my mind that if they failed to keep she shop open, Krishna would be just another guy on the street trying to hustle up guide jobs. He deserved better.

It was another two engine propeller plane, with one row of passengers on each side of the aisle. Only a half-hour flight, but Andy was glad when it touched down in Khathmandu. That would be the last small plane flight of the journey. We got a taxi to Hotel Garuda. We went over to the outdoor restaurant across the street and had a light lunch. Andy would head for the internet café, I knew. Other than on the trek or when eating, he spent much of his time on line. I am not sure whether it was a way of escaping from the journey, from Nepal and from Rob and from me, but I do remember how stressful my first journeys were. Sometimes you really need a vacation from your vacation. Or maybe he was just bored. Or maybe he had a lot of people to keep in touch with. From what he said, there was no current love interest.

We would be heading back to the airport early the next morning to depart for London. So I had the afternoon to finish my shopping. I talked to a very nice Nepali woman at the Hotel Desk about where I might locate a yak bell. And where the Nepalis do their shopping in Kathmandu. Based on her directions, I headed out of the tourist section.

It was a fascinating afternoon, certainly the best I had in Kathmandu. Somehow I felt like I was less of a stranger. I was much more confident of my ability to find my way around. And the streets just seemed friendlier and more familiar, even though they were still crowded and there were taxis and tuktuks (3 wheel motorbike taxis) beeping and weaving through the pedestrians and the air was so dirty that a lot of people wore surgical masks. But it didn't make me feel claustrophobic or rushed. As I left the tourist section (Thamel) following a street named Asan, I left behind the shops with fake name brand trekking gear (lots of North Face and Gore Tex, the same stuff Krishna's shop sold) and expensive souvenir shops and tourist restaurants and pashmina shops. The street grew even narrower and in some blocks there was rubble instead of pavement. The streets were crowded with Nepalis of all descriptions shopping or socializing or transporting things or going from place to place. People watching was never better. And still nobody was talking on a cell phone.

I found the same situation that I had noticed in Mindapul. There would be a street where almost every shop sold children's clothing, and they all seemed to have the same things hanging outside. And in another block they were mostly hardware shops displaying almost identical items. There was one group of spice shops and I went from one to another to see what they had. They all sold pretty much exactly the same things and I couldn't haggle any of them down, so I bought Susan a sampler of 24 different spices, paying more than I wanted to.

I made my way to a part of the city where wealthy Nepalis shop. There was a big street of electronic and camera stores. Further on there were a lot of jewelry stores. There was a mall of sorts with many upscale shops. Nearby, I came to a street where about every second shop was a very upscale saree (or sari) shop. These were impressive, with shelves lining the walls up to the ceilings, stuffed with bolts of luxuriant fabrics. Very fancy, ornate, sheer, colorful, fabrics, every color you might ever consider for a saree, every texture, with patterns woven in and some with gold patterns over those. The shopkeeper sat cross legged on a cushion (mattress) on a platform, and wealthy Hindu women with their friends and daughters sat on stools in front of them. And between them were strewn bolts of the fabulous fabrics partly unrolled, closely examined, discussed and haggled over. I wanted to plunge in and try to buy some fabric for Susan, but I was too tired to compete for attention and try negotiating a price. So I just walked from one to the next, looking in, soaking up the richness of the scene in each shop.

As I walked along the street, I encountered in a doorway a very cute young woman who spoke excellent English. She had a stack of cotton printed fabrics there on the sidewalk. A guy was there helping her, not speaking. She had a couple of the fabrics hanging up and I thought they were interesting, unlike anything I had seen in Nepal. They were the right size and dimensions for tablecloths or bedspreads. I talked to her for a little while. She said that she had taught herself English, which I was not sure I believed. She said that the fabrics were from Nepal. I guess it was true, because the nation of origin of the other fabrics I had bought were clearly labeled, but there were no labels on these. There were two out of her entire stack that I really liked. One had a navy blue background with burgundy elephants and border. The other was a very complex and multi colored design. She asked a high price, and I offered her a fraction of it. She tried the standard line of how my offer was less than her cost so it was impossible, and what fine fabrics these were and how much work was involved. But she couldn't help smiling as she said it. We both laughed about it and soon agreed to a price that was more than I would have paid if I had been rested and ready to bargain.

I left her smiling and went off looking for yak bells. She had said there were some on Freak Street, and she told me how to bargain for them by saying I would pay the Nepali price, not the tourist price. I did find some there but they weren't what I wanted. They didn't sound right.

I wandered the streets, buying some incense here and a bakery roll there. I passed some naked female mannequins on the street that looked completely out of place. The sun was getting low in the west. So I headed back. Near, or possibly at the shop that the woman at Garuda Hotel had told me about, I found a little yak bell with a marvelous sound. It wasn't the right size (too small, but I could live with that, considering my packing situation). But the sound was so reminiscent of the sounds on the trek. It really wasn't the one I wanted for Rob and Kay because it was so small, so I resolved to keep it for myself. So I walked along the streets ringing it, which warned people of my approach. Every tourist should carry one, I decided.

I needed to buy some pashminas for Susan and for Christmas presents. It was something I was dreading because I knew some intense haggling would be needed. And I had no energy for that. I passed a shop that had no customers and the shopkeeper was standing outside. He said we have pashminas at, and he quoted a very low price like $15. I went into the shop and told him I only wanted to see the very highest quality he had. He brought one from the shelves, which were filled with every quality and color imaginable. It felt wonderful, soft and smooth. How many do you want to buy, he asked. Five I said. He quoted me a very high price. I prepared to leave. He said make me an offer then, any offer. I knew the price I was prepared to pay, and I told him, this is my offer, take it or leave it. He tried for a while to get me off that price, coming down from his asking price a dollar at a time. But I wouldn't budge. Finally he got down to $1 each above my offer, and we had a deal. I had fun choosing 5 colors, looking through all of the finest pashminas that he had. What a relief to have them!

Then it was back to the café across from Hotel Garuda, ringing my bell as I walked. It was getting dark. I stopped into the Thangka school between the café and the internet café. It was a place where students learned the art of painting Thangkas, which are elaborate, detailed paintings on silk of Buddhist stories told in symbolic scenes. Rob and I had visited some of the Thangka shops in Pokhara, and Rob was very taken with a huge Thangka, which he thought would be perfect for the new house in Scotland. There was a lot of Buddhist connection there, and not just because he and Kay had some appreciation of it. But the prices of the big ones were understandably astronomical and he hadn't wanted to spend thousands of dollars at this point in their lives.

Thangkas come in some standard formats, portraying particular stories and characters. There are many layers of painting, and the basic layers are applied by apprentices. The finishing work is very detailed and that is one way to tell a good one. Look carefully at the details. I talked to the man in the school as a student sat on the floor nearby, working on a Thangka. Do you sell them, I asked. Yes, he said, and we discussed sizes and prices. We negotiated a price for a particular size and style, and he gave me the entire small stack of the ones he had available. So I looked through every one of them with great care. One had such clear and bright colors and good detail work that it stood out from the rest, and it seemed to call out to me that it was meant for our friends Mark, the religion scholar, and his amazing wife Angel. And there was one other that stood out. It was the same theme and similar colors to the one Rob had liked in Pokhara, a miniature version of that one. I selected that one, too, to give them as a wedding and house warming gift. Not that it was a substitute for the big one, but I knew they would like it even if it didn't belong on their new walls.

That was it for me. I really should have bought more things to bring back, but I didn't have it in me. And everything I had bought was something I really liked. Back at the hotel I gave the woman at the desk the last of my English tea as a thank you for her help. That night we went to a tourist restaurant for vegetarian pizza, which was pretty good. But next to us were some Americans about my age and younger singing along with the too loud music, Eagles tunes. Andy drank his beer and contemplated strangling them. It was hard to carry on a conversation, but we did anyway. It had been a fabulous adventure so far, and on so many levels, we all agreed. Back in my room at the hotel, I prepared my pack for leaving Nepal the following day.

The next day

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