"Schlaraffenland", the German Arcadia.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sucking Gas in the Himalaya

Not a day went by in Kathmandu where we weren't asked about trekking. Where have you been trekking? Where are you going to go trekking? Why haven't you already been trekking? Why aren't you going trekking? And so on. Lorraine and I would mumble something about the effect of camping for a month in Pakistan and India. We would use the word "dysentery" a lot, as well as its more colourful synonyms. People would change the subject.

But after a couple of weeks of wandering around the Kathmandu Valley, Lorraine sketching temples and me eating chocolate, we began to feel restless. We began to feel the need to at least see Mount Everest. With that in mind we negotiated with a tax driver to drive us (see, still no trekking!) west of Kathmandu and out of the valley to the old hill station of Nagarkot. Nagarkot was famous for it's sweeping views of the entire eastern Himalaya, including Everest.

The word "taxi" probably brings the wrong image to mind. What we had was a small rusted out sedan of indeterminable make and model driven by a very smiley and enthusiastic young Nepali. Springs protruded from the seats and none of the gauges appeared to be functional. You get the picture. Up and out of the valley we chugged, around hairpin switchbacks, dodging livestock and even more decrepit vehicles, until very suddenly the taxi chugged no more. The engine just stopped. Fortunately this happened on a rare flattish bit of road. The driver looked perplexed, but flashed us a big smile and reached  down to rattle the gas pedal.
Nothing happened.
He then got out, popped the hood and rummaged for a while before proclaiming, "No problem! Just the fuel pump! It is broken!!".
No problem?
Hmm. This expression is so commonly heard throughout the region even in the most absurdly problematic situations that I'm sure a few planes have gone down with the pilot's last words being a cheery, "No problem!". We were skeptical.

Our driver then got a rubber hose and a jerry can from the trunk. This was accompanied by another happy, "No problem!!".  He proceeded to siphon gasoline from the tank to the jerry can. The full jerry can was placed on the passenger seat. He then threaded the rubber hose from the jerry can through a gap in the dashboard to the engine. He zipped around to the front of the car again and got another siphon going, presumably to the carburetor.
"Ok, you see? No problem!!"
No, we didn't see. None of what we had just seen had done anything to allay our skepticism. We began to contemplate the long uphill hike to Nagarkot. But then, to our astonishment, the engine coughed to life and the chugging began again. Before too long we were in Nagarkot.

The next morning in the freezing pre-dawn we got up and walked to a ridge where we could see the sun rise over the Himlayas, lighting one peak at a time until Mount Everest could be made out, its peak glowing with the new day.

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