Sunday 24th November 1968
By the time we had completed all the formalities it was almost 9 am. There were a lot of trucks at the border and they were all headed to Kathmandu. We managed to get a ride on one of them for 10 rupees each. I had to walk back to the border to change some money and was able to change the Indian rupees for Nepalese. By the time I got back to the truck it was being loaded and we both thought it would soon be ready to go. It was nearly two hours before everything was on board but now the driver started to argue with the person who's owned the load. I don't know exactly what the problem was, whether they couldn't agree a price or if the load was too light or too heavy, but after about 10 minutes of arguing they unloaded it all again and the driver went off to find another customer.
All the other trucks had already gone off to Kathmandu and so we were stuck there waiting for somebody to bring a load through the border that needed driving to Kathmandu. It was mid afternoon before we finally set out with the lorry loaded with vegetables. Before we had gone very far we had to stop and wait. A broken down truck blocked the road and it was another half an hour before it was shifted and we could continue on our way.
The journey from the border to Kathmandu normally takes about 12 hours. It is uphill all the way and the road winds along as it climbs into the foothills of the Himmalayas and the views are stunning. When it got dark we both huddled down in the back of the truck to keep out of the freezing cold slipstream. We even unpacked our sleeping bags and wrapped ourselves in them, but it wasn't enough to warm us up. The cold was not the only thing on our minds. The truck only had one working headlamp and that wobbled around as we went over the many potholes. There road was unlit, it was narrow, there were lots of hairpin bends and from what we had seen before it got dark, there was usually a sheer drop on one side of the road. I don't know how the driver was able to see where he was going and it was a great relief when he stopped for the night at 10 pm in a small place called Daman.
Daman was just a roadhouse and there didn't seem to be any other buildings around. We ordered something to eat. I had a chicken curry because that is all there was. When it came it tasted awful and I sent it back. It wasn't chicken and it didn't taste anything like curry. They brought me another one, but it tasted the same. I didn't know what the flavour was at the time, but I have since found out that it was cardomanWhoever cooked that curry seems to like cardoman and had put loads of it in the food. When it came to paying the bill I found that they had charged for the two meals - including the one I sent back. I was feeling so tired by then that I decided to argue about it in the morning. They gave me a blanket and we all settled down to sleep on the floor. I just couldn't get warm at all that night and didn't manage to get any sleep at all.
At 5 am, everybody got up and had some tea and chapati for breakfast. We settled the bill and they let me off with paying for the meal that I sent back. I was feeling like death warmed up and in fact not so much of the warmed up - I was freezing cold. We set out at 6 o'clock and the view was even better than the day before. Daman's one and only claim to fame is its view of Mount Everest and today was a perfect day for that view.
The truck chugged on up the hills and around the bends. We had been watching the road markers going down as the miles (or should I say kilometers) passed. When we had done nearly 20 km since leaving Daman we rounded a corner and there was Daman just across the valley just one or two kilometers away. The road had meandered around and around for all this way to cover such a short distance.
The rest of the journey to Kathmandu was just as cold and the road just as full of bends as the rest had been. After about half a dozen more tea stops the truck finally arrived in Kathmandu, where it dropped us off outside the Post Office just before 10 am and we walked the last half mile to Durbar Square which is in the centre of Kathmandu.
To one side of the square is the Royal Bank of Nepal and on the opposite side is the Government tourist office. By this time I was feeling really ill, so Louis left me sitting in the tourist office while he went off in search of a hotel. I spent the time reading the local English language newspaper called "The Rising Nepal". One wall of the office is a list of all the attempts that have been made to climb Mount Everest with the names and nationalities of all the climbers and it made fascinating reading.
Louis eventually came back for me. He had found us a hotel called the G.C. Lodge, which wasn't very far away, and at 10 rupees per night for the room was a bargain. He had left his luggage in the room and had returned to collect me and carry my luggage to the hotel for me. I went to bed straight away and slept for the rest of the day. I probably had a dose of flu and didn't even wake up when Louis brought me some food for lunch.
That evening I felt a bit better and we decided to go out to eat. Louis has spent the day finding out where everything was and had found that the "in" place for backpackers to eat was the Camp Hotel. The place was heaving; I hadn't met so many backpackers in one place before, including Judy, Suzanne and Stephen who had broken away from the Sundowners tour. The food was great too. It was the first time I had managed to have steak and chips since we left England. One of the main features of the Camp Hotel was the chillum (a funnel shaped pipe filled with hashish) that was passed around compliments of the management. Although Louis and I passed the chillum on when it came to us we overlooked the fact that the fumes were in the air and within a short time I was stoned. It all helped me to feel a lot better and to forget the flu that I was now starting to shake off. Considering how ill I felt that morning, the day ended very well. I was still feeling ill but the effects of the evening made me feel a lot better.
The next morning I managed to get up bright and early. I felt as though the flu had gone but I still didn't feel 100 percent. The infection had now moved down onto my chest and I had started to cough badly. We both went to the Camp Hotel for breakfast where we met most of the same crowd that had been there the night before. The ones that had been in Kathmandu for a few days were able to tell us the best things to see and how to get around. We were advised to hire bikes at a cost of 2 rupees each for the day. The place that hired the bikes was quite close to the hotel but we had to leave our passports as security before heading off to Patan which is only a few miles away. The bikes were quite old and didn't have any gears. I reckoned that the waste paper value of the passports was worth more than the bike.
The ride to Patan was mostly downhill and we got there quite quickly. Most of the pictures in the brochures were of the temples in Patan and are shown as brightly coloured beautiful buildings. The reality was quite different with the paint peeling or just simply faded. It was quite disappointing to see them in this state, but the buildings were nonetheless interesting. On the way back we stopped at the post office to buy some stamps. It was at this point that my bike seized up completely. The only way I could get it to move was to lift the back wheel up and half carry it. I told Louis to go off on his own while I walked back to the hotel to return the bike. They didn't have another bike to give me so I got half of my money back.
Although I hadn't given Kathmandu as a mailing address I still went to the American Express office just in case. The office was set inside a local travel agent aptly called Yeti Travels, which was a good half-mile from the hotel. The morning's exercise coupled with the walk to and from the Amex office seemed to have taken its toll. By now I was feeling exhausted and decided to go back to the hotel for a lie down. When Louis came back at 7.30 he woke me up. He had said that he was going to be back by 6 o'clock but as usual he was late.
That evening we again returned to the Camp Hotel for the evening meal and as usual we met a lot of fellow travellers. A guy called Fred offered to help us to find a cheap ride back to the border. He was going the day after tomorrow which was just fine for us and so we agreed to meet him at out hotel before going off to find the ride. We then spent the rest of the evening chatting to various people before heading back to the hotel for an early night.
The next day I decided to spend in bed and try to shake off this flu bug. By now it had turned into a nasty cough and Louis managed to find a pharmacy where he bought me some cough mixture. At least we think it was cough mixture because the label was all printed in Hindi and was unreadable to us, though it did relieve the cough a little bit. There was an epidemic of hepatitis going around Kathmandu at that time and I was beginning to think that maybe I was suffering from a little more than flu and by now Louis was also starting to feel a bit groggy too. Fortunately these fears proved to be unfounded.
While he was out, Louis managed to find a bakery that made fruit pies and for lunch he bought an apple pie and also an apricot pie. The pies were really delicious and were probably big enough to have each fed a family, though the pastry was a bit of a funny colour mainly due to the local flour not being the pure white that we are used to in England. We ordered some tea to be brought to the room and made pigs of ourselves.
That evening we went out to eat once again at the Camp hotel where we met Paul from Tehran. He was also suffering from a touch of flu. As we were going back to India the next day we decided to sell off our excess Nepalese rupees, though I was worried that we had sold off too many we were assured that the truck drivers would take Indian money if we didn't have enough Nepalese to pay with. Fred arranged to come to our hotel room at 6 am the next morning and wake us up. We needed the early start so as to get to the border early enough to catch the train to Patna. Louis was by now starting to feel even groggier and so he headed back to the hotel early. I followed on soon after and we were both asleep by 9 o'clock.
Thursday, 28th November 1968.
We both managed to wake up at 6 the next morning, even though there was no sign of Fred. By the time we had finished packing he had arrived. We paid our bill and left the hotel at about 7 and walked down to the Post Office, which was opposite where the trucks for the border went from. Fred tried to find us a truck but Louis, ever on the lookout for a bargain managed to find one that would take all three of us for just 10 rupees. The ride back to India is much cheaper because it is all downhill and the lorries cruise with their engines off for most of the way. I don't think they have air brakes otherwise they wouldn't have been able to use them. (maybe they didn't)
There was a board nailed to the front of the truck which was obviously the passenger seating. We managed to get seated on it just in time before a hoard of Nepalese got on board and occupied every other space in the back that wasn't already filled with sacks or boxes. We soon realised that sitting on the seats was a mistake as the lorry moved off down the "Raj Path" and started going around the bends as the road twisted and turned. Before long we were all feeling a bit travel sick and decided that the floor was a better place. When we vacated our seats there was a rush to take them over. We managed to find enough space on the floor to lie down out of the cold slipstream. An engine head started to slide across the floor and bumped into me but we managed to move it out of the way again and anchor it down to something else. The other Nepalese in the truck all squatted down and reminded me of monkeys by the way that they sat. We had a few delays while some landslides were cleared off the road and on one occasion we took a very precarious diversion around one very large rock thatjust couldn't be shifted by the manpower that was available. I doubt that they had the machinery to come and shift it. They probably would get to work with chisels and break it up until it was small enough to move.
We eventually arrived at the border town of Birgunj at 4.30 in the afternoon.
The lorry driver dropped us off about a mile from the border and we had to get
a pony and trap to take us to the Indian side in Raxaul. The driver charged
us 3 Indian rupees for the ride, though he did take us through both sets of
passport control and customs, which in total took more than 2 hours. Just as
we had finished with all the formalities we saw the truck we had come from Kathmandu
in come through the border. The pony driver took us to the station where we
paid him what he had asked. He tried to ask us for more but we told him what
he could do with his pony.