We left the bustling, chaotic streets of Thamel in Kathmandu and boarded an early 'tourist bus' headed for Pokhara, Nepal's second largest city. Let's be clear, the only thing 'tourist' about the bus were the words painted on the front window. The tiny, filthy, dilapidated 'tourist' bus was by far the worst bus we'd taken on our travels; it seemed even the standard local buses were in a better state! Let's just say that land transportation is not one of Nepal's strengths.
We were accompanied by our trekking guide Shanta (otherwise known as "Santa") who was there to ensure that everything went smoothly from the time we left our hotel in Kathmandu to the time we boarded our bus to the Royal Chitwan National Park in seven days. We got off the bus about half way to Pokhara in order to tackle the powerful rapids of the Trisuli River. Nicole had never been river rafting before so we were determined to get a rafting experience at some point along the trip. We were disappointed that we couldn't go rafting in New Zealand because its waters were too frigid, so we committed to the waters of Nepal.
We geared up, received our limited briefing and rescue procedures, boarded the eight man raft and headed down the Trisuli River to tackle the class 3-4 rapids. Nepal is well known for its fantastic white water and river rafting but many of the stronger rivers were closed to tourism because the typical class 4-5 rapids were far too fierce and dangerous during the monsoon season. The mountain runoffs from the rains made the river swell and look like chocolate milk; not the most attractive but the river was extremely high and super fast, perfect for river rafting! The trip passed through incredible green mountain landscapes and lasted about two hours with us hitting at least a dozen stretches of solid rapids, although neither of us were tossed from the boat (we're still unsure whether that was a good thing or not?).
After lunch we had to flag down a local bus to take us from the rafting finishing point to Pokhara, a seemingly simple task when you know what you're doing. We were glad that Shanta was with us to sort out the details. The local bus was somewhat nicer than the tourist bus, but don't get the wrong impression, neither bus would ever be allowed on a Canadian road.
The drive to Pokhara was interesting. The road is lined with small towns, makeshift houses and ramshackle retail businesses all selling the same standard convenience items. The locals hang out along the roadside drinking tea, socializing and herding their roaming cattle. Although the families seem genuinely happy, you can't help but see the poverty and filth that they must live with. The rural communities are so poor and in desperate need of improvements.
It doesn't help that nobody seems to care about the environment. There is garbage everywhere. And what isn't scattered along the roads and in front of houses and business is burned. Small children pull down their pants only inches from the road and take a number two right on top of plastic water bottles and cardboard boxes. It's quite disgusting. I may be stereotyping or wrongly criticizing but it seems like nobody is thinking about the long term? The country is in danger of an environmental collapse but short-term gain is still king. I guess that's the paradox and challenge of a third world nation.
The irony is that Nepal is one of the most beautiful countries we've ever visited… at least the further we got away from the inhabitants.