Cable Car and Culture

Got up at eight o’clock this morning so we could be packed, breakfasted and ready to leave at 9.00am.  Realised it was 1st July – were we into the second half of 2018 already?! It was raining once again, so we donned our cagoules and made a dash for the restaurant along the paths fringed with dripping greenery.

Once again, we enjoyed cereal and freshly-baked pastries, washed down with fruit juice and strong, hot coffee.  Half-way through, Vee joined us and we passed the time making conversation about the places we’d been and the things we’d seen.

We then trundled our cases over to the reception area, handed in our key and paid our bar bill.  We hoped the rain would clear up because we were going to go on the Manakamana cable car and we didn’t want the view to be impeded by low clouds.

We all piled into the mini-bus and set off once again into the chaotic streets of Nepal, en route to Chitwan.  Anal said it would take about four hours to get there, as our driver Madern would be taking care on the winding and potholed roads.  Anal had already called the ‘traffic and travel’ hot line to check that there were no issues with the route to Chitwan; often the heavy monsoon rains can cause landslides and rockfalls, and the roads are blocked while these are cleared.  So far, so good though.

We had a couple of comfort stops on the way to visit the loos and enjoy a cup of coffee, then we arrived at Manakamana just before 12.30pm.  Our guide explained that the cable car closed for an hour for lunch, so it was a good idea for us to have our lunch too, while we waited.

By now it had stopped raining and the sun was attempting to come out, so we went into a nearby restaurant and decided to enjoy some beer and something light to eat.  Trevor and I just opted for a sandwich; but when it came there were four slices of bread, so potentially a substantial meal again, if you ate all of it.  We each ate three of our sandwiches, and washed them down with a can of Arna beer each.  We then wandered along and had a look at the inevitable handicraft and souvenir stalls on the way to the queue for the cable car, which was back in operation again.

We didn’t have to wait too long; each gondola carries six passengers so we were all able to get in; Anal told us he’d meet us at the top.  Apparently the cable car system was imported from Austria, and it opened on 24 November 1998.  The line runs for 9095 feet and has two stations; one in Cheres, Chitwan (where we boarded) which has an altitude of 846 feet, and one at Manakamana, Ghorka at an altitude of 4272 feet.

We set off and soared into the air, crossing the muddy Trishuli river below as we viewed the lush green hillsides and the mountain tops.  Here and there we spotted little remote dwellings and goats grazing on the hills, and every now and again passed another gondola on its way down.

It was a great ride and probably the longest cable-car journey I’ve been on, lasting just under 10 minutes.  As we got near the top, the view was impeded by the low cloud, but at least it hadn’t started raining again.  We met up with Anal, and he explained that he was taking us to the Manakamana Temple, which was a 17th century shrine to the goddess Bhagwati, who is said to grant wishes to those who are willing to make a suitable sacrifice.

As we walked into a large square, carefully trying to avoid the puddles and the muddy ground, we were drawn to the sound of lively music, accompanied by the persistent rhythm of drums.  We came across a group of musicians, in a red uniform complete with peaked caps, cummerbunds and matching spats, enthusiastically playing a catchy tune. Lots of the locals were dancing frenetically, really kicking up their bare feet on the wet ground, but we were fascinated by one lady in particular, who had long, black hair and was wearing an orange sari.  She was dancing, writhing, jerking and tossing her hair around as if trying to rid herself of inner demons.  She would have actually fallen over into the mud if someone hadn’t had hold of her arm to steady her.  Anal explained that it was believed that the harder you danced, the more you pleased the gods, hence this lady’s wild gyrations.

We stood and watched the band and the dancers for a while; in fact we just watched the local daily life passing by in its unusual and colourful ways.  We then continued on our way, through the stall-lined streets and along to the temple, immersing ourselves in the atmosphere and enjoying how it was such a contrast with our own lives back in Blighty.  🙂

Afterwards we made our way back to the queue for the cable car for the journey back down again, but the queue was quite long so, rather than wait for a gondola that would hold all six of us, we sort of pushed into the queue and three of us shared a gondola with three local ladies, while the other three went in a different gondola.  We wondered what they thought about us jumping the queue, but apparently the locals tend to treat visitors a little bit more special, as they are so pleased we’d come to visit their country.

Once we were all back down again, it was time to board the minibus to continue our journey to Chitwan National Park, in the sub-tropical lowlands.

We arrived at the Hotel Parkside just before 4.00pm, Madern driving through the gates and depositing us at the foot of some steps that led up to the open-sided hotel restaurant.  A cool glass of refreshing lassi awaited us as we took a seat and gazed around with interest at our rustic surroundings.

We were in a pleasant room with a beamed, thatched roof, held up with stout wooden pillars.  The tables and chairs were very heavy and appeared to be hand-made from solid wood.  Each table was covered in a cheerful red table-cloth, and colourful paper light-shades encased low-wattage bulbs.  We could smell the rain and leaf-mould and damp soil in the sultry, sub-tropical climate.  It certainly was a basic, no frills place, but that was what gave it its immense character and charm.  It reminded me a little of our stay in a wooden hut in the Amazon rainforest in February 2011.

Once we’d finished our drinks, we were handed our room keys and taken a short distance along some leafy paths to a separate building.  Trevor and I were allocated room 602 on the second floor.  Inside, our room was large and airy, with a window at the back overlooking flooded paddy fields, and a window at the front overlooking the small walkway to the rooms, which in turn looked onto the gardens, full of frondy trees and lush green lawns and other plants, and a small shaded area containing some tables and chairs.

There were two single beds separated by a large bedside table; each bed had its own reading light and mosquito net for extra protection against the little blighters.  There was also a ceiling fan in addition to, or instead of, A/C and the windows had a mesh screen over them as well.

The bathroom was a reasonable size and contained a WC, sink with mirror and vanity light, and bath-tub with a shower over it.  We were sure we’d enjoy a great stay here.

As we were resting on our beds, Trevor spotted something running up the wall; a closer look revealed it to be a Malaysian House Gecko, commonly known as a chit-chat in imitation of the distinctive sound that they make.  These little geckos are only about 8cm long, and are very prevalent all over tropical Asia.  It really brought back memories for me from my time living in Singapore between 1968-70; these little chit-chats would be all over our house, on the walls and ceiling, and you’d often hear the “chack-chack-chack-chack” call (quite a loud noise from such a little creature).  We liked having them in our room because they would eat any insects that ventured near, so we figured they’d help keep the flies and mozzies at bay.  🙂

Dinner tonight was at 7.00pm, because afterwards we were due to visit a traditional Tharu cultural show at a nearby small theatre that seated 300.  I had a cool shower and washed my hair before scraping it back into a small ponytail; I didn’t bother blow-drying and styling it with the hot-brush the way I usually do, because I didn’t want it to make me all hot and sweaty again.  I put on a red cotton cheesecloth sleeveless dress, and some silver sandals and I was ready.

In the dimly-lit restaurant, we enjoyed the sounds of the jungle through the open sides of the room, and we spotted (and heard!) lots of chit-chats, particularly on and inside the paper light-shades as they placed themselves strategically to catch any flies or moths attracted by the lights.  We enjoyed some traditional meat, chicken and vegetable dishes which seemed to be accompanied by an awful lot of carbohydrates; rice and pasta and potatoes.  Trevor and I enjoyed the usual cold thirst-quenching beer, and once everyone was fed and watered it was time to board the mini-bus to make it to the theatre in time for the cultural show.

The Tharu people are an ethnic group indigenous to the southern foothills of the Himalayas; most of the Tharu people live in the Nepal Terai. They are recognized as an official nationality by the Government of Nepal.

The Tharu people themselves say that they are a people of the forest. In Chitwan, they have lived in the forests for hundreds of years practicing a short fallow shifting cultivation. They plant rice, mustard, corn and lentils, but also collect forest products such as wild fruits, vegetables, medicinal plants and materials to build their houses; hunt deer, rabbit and wild boar, and go fishing in the rivers and oxbow lakes.

We were here to see them in their traditional costumes performing some tribal dances for us.  We filed into the small theatre (which was similar to a village hall) and took our seats.  It was difficult to understand the lady who was introducing each dance, as her accent was so heavy, but we enjoyed each of the dances with the men and woman, in their colourful costumes, doing the “stick” dance (a bit like the one that our Morris dancers do) and the “fire” dance.  One dancer came on dressed as a giant peacock and elicited a large cheer from the audience when he fanned out his spectacular tail!

The show lasted about 45 minutes and ended with some of the dancers coming into the audience and inviting people up on stage to join in some of the dancing; inevitably I got picked and, encouraged by the others in our group, went up to join the dancers on stage.  All the participants just did their own thing; it was all about getting down with the rhythm and strutting your stuff.  I was dancing quite energetically but it was probably a bit too soon after our dinner, because I ended up with a painful stitch in my right side.  Nonetheless, it was all good fun.

We arrived back at the Hotel Parkside around 9.30pm and, while the others bid us goodnight and returned to their rooms, Trevor and I went into the bar to see if we could get a nightcap.  There wasn’t a lot to choose from; some beer, bottles of wine (which you couldn’t order by the glass), some Bacardi and some Nepalese whisky.  Trevor chose a Gurkha beer and I chose a double Bacardi and cola and, because we were the only ones in the bar, we decided to take them back to our room instead.

Once we’d finished our drinks, and Trevor had caught up with the day’s football results, it was time to go to sleep.  We therefore let down and opened up our mosquito nets and spread them over the bed, carefully tucking them in under the mattress before settling down beneath them for the night.  We looked forward to seeing what tomorrow would bring.

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