Perhaps the biggest worry we had as we planned for our World Odyssey was our health care coverage (although DH might argue that spending 24 hours a day with me was actually her biggest worry). We did test the medical facilities in a couple of countries and came away pleasantly surprised- high quality medical care in relatively modern hospitals, and at a very inexpensive prices (in Sumatra??). Better than anything we could have expected in Canada!!
And then came Pokhara!!
DH (where the D stands for Doctor) has developed an alarming tendency to self diagnose via the internet/Google, and she was now convinced that she had cracked her ribs from the coughing fits she had developed in Sri Lanka (she had also developed a number of more ominous scenarios). Given her non-existent medical degree, this required an X-ray and Google suggested that the best hospital in all of Nepal was a teaching hospital in Pokhara called Manipal. That was, of course, after the suggestion that the best medical option might be to leave the country for any other country short of those in sub-Saharan Africa (we should have listened). In line with being the 'best' hospital in Nepal, the Manipal had a generator to compensate for the electrical outages endemic to Nepal (which was probably of comfort to those patients on life support equipment), but it only powered some of the lights and important gear so all of the medical staff were dressed in less-than-sterile parkas and mittens. We had obviously arrived on a special day as there was a guy hanging from a rope in the large reception area clearing away the cob web jungle that would have made this an ideal Halloween haunted house. To keep people from lingering around reception, the doors to the washrooms were propped open and one has to assume that all of the bedpans and medical waste were being flushed here- the overpowering smell was likely responsible for all of the peeling paint within the hospital. Yikes!
We crawled through the hallway rubble to the room set aside for the doctors consultation and, almost unbelievably, things got worse. The whole concept of patient privacy was abandoned and the only thing that limited the audience for anyone being examined was the size of the room. One senior doctor and three juniors were poking, prodding, and testing patients in full view of everyone else (perhaps most alarmingly, after an animated discussion with one patient, the doctors all pulled up their masks without telling us what might have been happening) and were dealing with multiple patients at the same time. After her public examination, DH was sent for blood tests with a nurse who wouldn't wash her hands or use gloves, and then an x-ray after standing in an insecure room watching others get their x-ray. No digital images here but after gathering her test results and x-ray film we headed back to the gang in the examination room only to be given some pain pills (the mass that Doctor H had spotted on her lung x-ray- creating huge anxiety- turned out to be her heart). It was a bad day for us but another very sad indicator for the country of Nepal.
Pokhara is the second largest city of Nepal with 265,000 inhabitants and three out of the ten highest mountains in the world -Dhaulagiri, Annapurna I and Manaslu- are situated within 30 miles of the city, so the northern skyline of the city offers a very close view of the mystical Himalayas. Due to its proximity to the Annapurna mountain range, the city is also a base for trekkers undertaking the Annapurna Circuit but at the time we were there only it was deemed to be far too cold for trekking. It wasn't too cold for the Pokhara Street Festival and although it will never be mistaken for Times Square, there were 150,000 people in town to celebrate New Years Eve with us. My personal party animal insisted that we head out for a late dinner but after just about falling asleep in her mashed potatoes I dragged her back to our unheated hotel room, and she was sawing logs two hours before midnight.
Having failed the midnight challenge, DH wanted to bring the new year in with a bang so, despite swearing off all high height adventures after the Sydney Bridge Climb, she signed us up for paragliding in the Himalayas. This was another made-in-Nepal experience which is probably not a great thing when you're hanging thousands of feet above the ground relying on well maintained and inspected strings and nylon. We were due for a one hour safety review at the gliding office but traffic problems created by the festival caused them to abandon this plan. The only caution provided on our drive up the mountain was directed at me (in front of everyone else) and largely implied that because of my size I should not expect a very long ride unless they could find a really small pilot. After a short climb to the staging area,
DH was immediately strapped in and despite the obvious panic in her eyes, the only instructions she was given was to run hard to the edge of the mountain and over! Apparently she had a great ride as her pilot caught some thermals and she spiraled well above the mountain and spent some quality time with a number of eagles. Those same thermals must have disappeared when I ran over the edge as my ride was more akin to an extended death spiral with a relatively rapid descent to the lake area (as I plummeted to the ground I couldn't help but think that Carol C might be right and it's time to back off the potato chips). Despite jumping some time after DH, I was down and packed up by the time she floated to the ground (although it did take both the Russian pilot and myself to pry her hands off the chute straps).
Pokhara had many of the same problems as Kathmandu with sporadic power, limited hot water, and flaky infrastructure. The hospital visit was particularly alarming and there does seem to be a tangible anger within the population so I fear for the near term future of this very special mountain kingdom. On the other hand, even though my speed-glide through the Himalayas was a very quick WOW moment, DH had an unbelievable flight with the eagles with a magnificent Himalayan backdrop!!