Eight years since my last visit, Nepal and — surprise; there is no petrol in the entire country. No petrol at all, courtesy of India, corruption and petty politics. And I’m told that people in the capital city form lines stretching for several districts waiting overnight to get rations of gas at prices reaching US$10/litre.
And everyone’s guarding the little gas they have like gold. All around, gas stations are shuttered, trucks left to sit idle in the middle of highways. A mere few regional buses which still run charge an average monthly wage-worth for a short ride, and it’s a general nationwide domino effect one could imagine when essential resources run out.
With what remains in my tank, I push on to Bardia National Park. Met two guys along the way. Friendly young locals offering to host me for a night… or are they? Can’t put my finger on it but with each minute their demeanour turns more erratic, more violent, and something’s very off about them.
And I don’t know why, against myself, I agree to follow them to their place. Pitch black darkness, no point of reference, was supposed to be a 10-minute ride and now I’ve been behind them on the road for an hour, pretty sure we’re headed in the wrong direction. Every alarm and a thousand little voices are all screaming in my head as they make suspicious attempts to avoid army checkpoints. Nope, that’s enough.
I lag behind and discreetly turn off into the forest. Quietly set up my tent in the dark. Pretty sure they’ll turn around and look for me. I feel bad. But did I just barely avoid a dangerous ordeal?
Beautiful jungle at dawn. Streaks of sun fall through the trees diffused by morning fog. Three-metre-tall grasses. And leeches everywhere.
I keep falling behind, part intentionally, wanting to take it in without the American couple in army gear snapping pictures around me. No animals today. Too hot. The Americans are not happy but my mind is thrilled and elsewhere entirely, mentally writing a story about a world where nature’s taken over once mankind has depleted its resources and nearly driven itself to extinction.
No flat tyre for 20,000+ km. Now I get to Nepal and I catch five flats within one week. I’m 10km from Lumbini, the historic birthplace of the Buddha when I fly off the road desperately trying to avoid running into a pack of black cows, completely invisible in the darkness.
Cows everywhere. There’s a cow in my guesthouse. Inside. Garlands, flowers, dyes all around it. Surely it took a shit in the walkway. And they’re all praying to it, blessing their children with it. “Cow signifies wealth! It gives us milk, cheese, curd,” I’m told. But there are seven other cows sniffing through garbage and blocking traffic right outside, right now and no one seems to pray to those.
20 litres of petrol smuggled from India. I can keep moving.
Deepavali, the Nepali version of Diwali! Small town of Tansen. Coloured powders around. Kids walking the alleys with cardboard altars, much like western carollers, only moving on once paid off.
Suburbs of Kathmandu
After 286 epic days, I’ve almost connected Hanoi to Kathmandu on the map. Wild.
No celebrations yet though, not until I reach Kathmandu’s Durbar Square. And it’ll be 10 more days before I do, as I join a silent meditation course first. It’s meant to clear my mind, I guess, yet instead feels like a very boring, hard-core religious cult version of the Big Brother reality show, and I mostly spend my next 10 days plotting an escape plan and wondering how I got myself into this in the first place.
For more on Matt’s films and travels, check out the Etherium Sky Production Blog at EtheriumSky.com/ProdBlog