Rowshan, Tamia and Shisher, our guide
The minibus to Sundariyal left before it was full which surprised me, but I figured it would pick up people on the way... which it did. The conductor, a boy of about 12, stood at the entrance puffing a cigarette waiting for people to board. He shouted out the names of the towns the bus went through and, as the bus was soon full with people hanging out from the door, was soon crawling all over the outside-- banging on the sides, popping his head through the back window to make people move back, or directing people to sit in an empty seat. At one point a jolly looking man boarded the bus. He had a large paunch and wore red satin robes, and interesting wood shoes-- just the sole and a big wooden piece that went between the large and 2nd toe with a huge knob to hold it. He had big curly hair and when he spoke to the conductor he wagged his head making his curls bounce and reminding me of a comic character in a Bollywood film. Rowshan asked him if he could take a photo but he responded “God bless. God bless. No photo.”
Eventually we reached the countryside. The buildings that lined the street gave way to views of fields and hills. We got off at the last stop and started walking up a small path, mostly made of stone steps. We rose through the village past small shops and some food places. Goats and their kids wandered across the paths bleating and chickens clucked and scratched. People climbed the steps carrying heavy loads in baskets.
Gardens of Sundariyal
Woman and goats climbing stairs
Higher up the houses were a little more spaced out but still appeared in village clusters. The walls were painted bright colors-- light blue, peach, and green. Over many of the doorways were dried marigold garlands. Others had ears of corn drying in the eves. Often from the trail we had views of the hills with terraced fields stretching below and disappearing into the smog in the valley below.
For lunch we stopped at a little restaurant with a view down into the valley. Rowshan and our guide, Shisher, had Nepalese soup and I had greasy chowmein. Below the house we'd passed 2 little girls playing and bathing in a little pool. Another girl peered over the wall at them and at us as we passed.
Little girl watching other girls playing
We seemed to perpetually be going upward-- often on stairs. At one point we got our first glimpse during the trek of one of the mountains, Dorje Lakpa. We finally got above the villages and climbed through forested hills.
Dorje Lakpa shining in the distance
Our stop for the night was the village of Chisopani, which, though it consists mostly of hotels, still maintains a village feeling with roosters crowing and fields full of crops. While we were having tea in the hotel restaurant, we overheard a backpacker talking to the owner. “If that group is staying here, I'm not!” we heard him say. We didn't hear the owner's response but it must have confirmed that the “group” was indeed staying in the hotel. We wondered if he was talking about the small group of trekkers, the only group we'd seen. They didn't seem particularly obnoxious-- they were just talking and drinking tea. “Perhaps they stayed somewhere together and got in some kind of fight,” I suggested.
View of a hotel in Chisopanie
The puzzle was solved when about 30 boisterous 7th graders poured through the entrance and clunked up the stairs. Rowshan had been in our room and reported trying to come back downstairs but having to wait for about 15 girls to push through the hall to a couple rooms on our floor. Later they all trooped down into the restaurant and filled 2 tables sitting at least 2 to a chair.
We asked Shishar how to say “Shut Up” in Nepali. Chiplagnos means “Be quiet”, Chiplag! means “Shut Up!”. A little later we heard the hotel owner utilizing our newly learned words. He translated that he told them at 9PM they had to be quiet.
At the moment, however, they were anything but quiet. The other backpackers were at a table between the boys and girls' table. I heard one say, “I think this is a good time to order something hard.” A bottle of whiskey soon appeared on their table as well as a couple bottles of beer. Rowshan ordered a beer to share with Shisher. A second one soon followed. The kids finished their tea and the boys raced outside while the girls raced upstairs. Soon we heard the sounds of singing and dancing. We ate dinner and remained in the restaurant since we were at the table with a heater underneath. The kids came back. Some of the girls had been peeking back at us. I smiled and waved and they quickly turned, giggling. Shisher asked them why they didn't dance downstairs so we could see. One girl replied, “We were dancing upstairs, why didn't you come up and see?”
Rowshan went upstairs for a minute. A couple girls turned again and I smiled and asked if they spoke English. “A little,” they answered. Then one asked if they could talk to me. I gestured for them to take a seat at our table. Soon 3 were next to me all speaking at the same time. They actually spoke quite a bit of English complete with California teenager, “likes” interspersed. One girl spoke English particularly well and since she was the one who had jumped fastest to sit next to me, I found myself talking to her more, especially when they started cranking music and all the other girls jumped up to dance. My new friend's name was Prinsa and she was astonished to find we had a bit in common... she wanted to be a fashion designer, I was a graphic designer but at one point studied fashion design, our favorite colors were both blue and our birthdays were both in July.
Tamia and her new friends
At one point she let on that the girls had been planning on playing a trick on the boys at night. It was kind of a complex plan and probably even under ideal circumstances wouldn't have worked. However, they'd been foiled by being put in rooms upstairs while the boys were staying downstairs.
Meanwhile, Rowshan had met another Rowshan so they became friends. Rowshan chatted with some other kids as well. The guys were especially into dancing. One even tried some break dance moves. So, Rowshan had them all hold hands and did a wave. While the guys were busy dancing, a meeting for the girls was called and they all disappeared upstairs. I speculated they were trying to formulate a new plan. Then Prinsa returned and we talked some more until the girls were told they had to go to bed. Eventually they all went to bed. Rowshan and I followed their example and went to bed as well since we wanted to wake up early to see the sunrise and the smoking and drinking table was making the room quite smoky.
Rowshan and Rowshan
We were a bit amazed that they managed to cram 15 13-year-old girls into 2 rooms each containing 2 single beds. Shisher said they'd put the 2 beds together and squeeze them in horizontally-- it still seemed rather crowded and I don't know how they could sleep. The answer is they didn't. Late at night there was the sound of footsteps and voices which didn't even try to whisper. Naturally their chaperones (who were in the room next to theirs) woke up. We heard them say, “Chiplag!” and send the girls scurrying back to their rooms-- apparently foiling whatever plan B was.