A bone-shaking bus ride takes us from Chitwan, north to the Gorkha Hill Resort, then a swift afternoon thunderstorm clears the air.
We are greeted the following morning by beautiful mountain views (too far away for my modest camera). We go to Gorkha village and walk 300 steps up to a Hindu temple on the skyline, stopping many times to record and wonder at the majestic snowy apparitions rising from the downy white clouds around us.
A brief wander round an unfinished palace, red brick decorated with intricately carved doors and windows, now destined to be a museum; then an amble down the narrow, littered main street before lunch.
Afternoon, and once again we trudge out, this time to a couple of rural villages. Three women work at grinding and winnowing rice, another splits lentils on a fine grinding stone. We examine tumeric roots and dried radish strips; and we stoop low into a smoky room where, coughing harshly, a young woman heats water and prepares the evening meal. Chickens, dogs, goats, buffalo, boars and pigs and cows all crowd in stalls next to the houses, while chicks peck under our feet. We encounter a pheasant in a cage, shy girls, bold boys and an old man enjoying a long straw pipe.
Here it is too dry to grow rice. Tiny maize sprouts emerge from the brown earth. Terraces are not as well maintained as in the lower valley; there are more signs of erosion of the red soil, just like Africa. Nevertheless, they make pretty patterns along the hillsides. We pass one or two coffee trees, and a lime tree gives off a delicious aroma when we crush the leaves.
Suddenly the wind whips down the hill in a great rush of straining trees. We hurry back up the path to the hotel. Supper is delicious sweet and sour pork in a buffet of intriguing salads. The food in this place is great; I wish we could stay longer.
The following day we travel back towards Kathmandu and four of us catch the Manakamana cable car to the Temple. Nearly 3 kms of cable rise 1034 metres across the valley. The ride is spectacular; no photograph does it justice. We disembark and trudge up more steps through a crowded street lined with trinket stalls, chickens, goats and chattering people.
The temple is a hive of activity with an oil fire at the front and a line of elders squatting to one side receiving gifts from the stream of pilgrims. Temple bells clank, people move piously from point to point, daubing themselves with die, disappearing behind the temple with chickens and reappearing with the bodies minus heads (which are sacrificed to the temple).
The mountains are a pure backdrop to this melee, and doves flutter and coo, messing all over the place. Women clad in every shade of red and blue apportion flowers, dye and grain among themselves.
We stroll down the street, where goat carcases are cut up and chicken innards strewn around, while two boys practise cricket in the midst of it all. The stench does not allow us to stay long, and we return to the cable car to wait for the others who have gone white-water rafting. They appear at 4 o’clock, battered, a bit bruised, but exhilarated.
The long journey back to Kathmandu takes more time than necessary because of a huge tail-back from a minor accident. The driving here is an astonishing mixture of hit and miss – mostly miss. Vehicles pass on bends, while oncoming traffic pulls up patiently; there is an intricate system of horn-honking and light-winking; inches seperate vehicles; pedestrians are everywhere, lorries sit stationery on the roads, sometimes flashing hazard lights, sometimes not.
One of us starts vomiting and we have a couple of hasty loo-stops for those with tender tummies. Everyone rejoices when we finally reach the Hotel Malla, and the healthy among us enjoy a Chinese meal before bed.