Thursday March 12th – Monday March 16th.

Time seemed to pass quickly in Hong Kong. We usually slept in, which helped the days to pass, and spent the evenings drinking and eating in expensive bars and cheap restaurants.

We spent a day in the Mong Kok district and I bought a new Walkman a Philips with Dolby and AM FM radio for 1,003 Hong Kong dollars (New Zealand $230) and we both bought new watches. I got a cash advance of US$150 and gave it to Linda as she doesn’t have a Visa Card to buy things with. She bought some new clothes and her watch with the money.

On Sunday we joined the throngs of Chinese over on Hong Kong Island to buy a pair of jeans each and then we caught a bus up to the top of Victoria Peak: shrouded in mist but a cool change from the muggy atmosphere down in the city. 

We walked back down along the Old Peak Road through the thick wet forest enveloped in the mist, and emerged amongst the towers of the city. At the foot of the hill, we discovered, quite by accident, the zoo and botanical gardens. We went in and spent an hour or so in there in the compact and immaculately kept gardens. The Aviary had some beautiful examples of rare birds including a large number of brightly-plumed flamingos and exquisitely coloured birds of the Chinese Forest. 

The zoo’s two main exhibits were a pair of jaguars – sleek and healthy and alert – and a group of Bornean orangutans. The group contained several females and babies, and two males. One of the males was asleep up in the top of the large cage but the other one was sitting at the front of the cage peering out into the open with a doleful expression as if he was pondering what he do if he could just get out. 

One of his huge hands clung to the mesh of the cage and his small intelligent eyes were framed by a huge face surrounded by orange-brown hair. The few Chinese passersby growled and screeched at him trying to elicit a response, but he just kept looking out past them at some point in the middle distance and completely ignored them.

There were several groups of other primates in the neighbouring cages: lemurs, macaques, and other small primates, and some black long-armed gibbons swinging about in their cages or staring wistfully out at the outside world. 

We found a good place to eat in Chungking Mansions and every evening we will go there to fill up with rice pork and vegetables. We also discovered a cheap way to get our thrills: riding up and down the outside elevators on some of the hotels in Kowloon.

Our last day in Hong Kong was spent mooching around amongst the buildings and prowling around in the Ocean Centre shopping mall.

Hong Kong Harbour as seen from the Star Ferry.

Wednesday March 11th – Dragon Air to Hong Kong.

We paid 40 rupees extra to stay in our room until 3 p.m. on the day that we left Kathmandu, then spent a couple of hours hanging out in a cafe watching tourists of all shapes and sizes walkabout on the streets. At 5:30 p.m. we collected our packs and negotiated a fare with a taxi driver for the 20-minute ride out to the airport. We had a 90-minute wait in the uncomfortable and facility-less main concourse, then proceeded through immigration and customs to the departure lounge where we spent our final Nepali rupees on Cokes and it and a pastry each.

We boarded the aircraft at 9:30PM. It was a Boeing 737, nearly new and took off exactly on schedule at 9:40. Snacks were served on the one-hour hop to Dhaka in Bangladesh, where the aircraft was refuelled from barrels sitting on the tarmac and pumped straight into the wing tanks in the pouring rain. We then flew on, heading east towards dawns which filled the Sky with molten colour as we approached Hong Kong at 6:30 a.m. local time.

As we came out of the cloud base, the amazing spectacle of the city unfolded beneath us. The rows of skyscrapers, backed by steep, rugged hills and with the opaque blue of the sea resplendence site and it seemed the aircraft would land atop the buildings, for the airport is surrounded by tiers of apartment blocks and office buildings.

Formalities were quite rapid and we were on the airport bus heading into the city of Kowloon half an hour after we landed.

It took us a while to find a cheap place to stay in the labyrinth of Chungking Mansions¹ but eventually, we settled for a HK$45 dorm bed each: bloody expensive at 5 quid apiece but apparently the cheapest around.

After showers, we set off to try and track down my cousin Mark Wynne, who lived in Hong Kong and worked as an export consultant for the New Zealand Dairy Board. We went first to the Hong Kong Tourist Office where they gave us the address of the New Zealand Tourist Office. The Star Ferry took us across the congested, polluted Hong Kong Harbour to Hong Kong Island where a jumble of high rise buildings competed for the meagre area of flat land between the water and the steep hills behind. We checked out the post restaurant at the at the GPO and there were two letters for me and two for Linda then we went to the 18th floor of the Jardine building opposite the New Zealand tourist office. They gave us the address of the New Zealand dairy board back over in Kowloon and we sat in the lounge reading our mail and old copies of The Listener magazine.

Back on Kowloon, I rang Mark’s office to find out that he was in fact away travelling in China on business so that was the end of that story.

We spent an hour or so wandering around in the gigantic ocean centre shopping mall I’ll bring it shops full of electronics clothes toys and all manner of consumer goods. Back in Kowloon we rest at the hospital for a while it went out for a beer in a pub called The White Hart fake English decor expensive beer and to McDonald’s for a meal that served confirm our opinion of the food from the golden arches – overpriced shit.

¹Chungking Mansions was, and still is, a towering rabbit warren of cheap hotels, Pakistani restaurants, sweatshops, doss houses and opium dens. The stairwells were spattered with the red of betel nut and from every corner issued the steam and smalls of all Asia.

Chungking Mansions, Kowloon. (Photo: Google Streetview)

Thursday 5th March – Monday 9th March

Phewa Lake, Pokhara.

So…we relaxed in Pokhara for five days, occupying our time doing pretty much nothing. After months on the road in Africa, Pakistan and India, we figured that it was time for a holiday. There wasn’t much to do anyway, apart from trekking, which we were too lazy to do, so we spent a lot of time sitting in café gardens sipping cold drinks, reading, and writing letters.

On Friday morning we walked from our hotel towards town looking for a good place to eat breakfast and bumped into Sindee and Sarah, along with an Aussie guy called Mark, who were sitting in an open-air restaurant. That evening, we bought 10 grammes of hash off the restaurant owner and had a gram each in a hash lassi. Fuck me!! The effect was far from enjoyable. To begin with, it was fun – everything was hilarious and our attempts to draw a possum¹ sent us into paroxysms of laughter – but soon the effects of the hash began to get too strong for Linda, Sarah and me to handle.

Linda and Sarah went back to the house that Sindee, Mark and were renting, and I followed them about 10 minutes later, gripped by an uncontrollable paranoia that I’d be robbed as I walked down the dark alley to the house. I found Linda and Sarah in a similar state and the 3 of us sat there, completely out of it, fighting off the demons that were being conjured by our traumatised brains.

When Sindee and Mark came back, our paranoia was lessened but by now we were all contending with nausea and the knowledge that the effects of the hash would last for hours. I went outside and willed myself to throw up, thus diminishing the longer effects of the hash. Eventually, we all fell into a fitful sleep.

In the morning, Linda and I walked back to the hotel, which was a good move as the fresh air helped to clear the remaining drug-fug of the previous night. At the hotel, we had an exhausted hour of sleep – neither restful nor enjoyable – then packed up, checked out, and found a taxi to take us over to the Lonely Guesthouse, where the others were staying and we had all spent 12 hours in a drug-induced state of paranoia.

Although we smoked hash again in the days that followed, we were very wary of it and I think overall it was a good lesson for us about just what can happen when you meddle with drugs, even relatively harmless ones like hashish, without really knowing what to expect.

On Sunday morning Linda, Sindee and I hired a small boat and rowed out onto the glassy lake to enjoy the cool morning air and to watch the massive bulk of Annapurna in the pristine peak of Machhapuchhare slowly disappear in the heat haze of early morning. It was so peaceful out there on the mirrored water of the lake, and the demons of two nights previously were forgotten amongst the smells and sounds of the mountains.

The next day, Monday, Linda and I hired bikes for the day and explored the extremities of the lakeside part of Pokhara. Out around the lake on the western side of town, the houses quickly gave way to rugged hills reaching down to terraced and intensively-farmed lakeside flats, with the ranges rolling away into the blue, hazy distance: a series of ridges and peaks slowly disappearing into linear perspective.

The eastern end of the lake was less interesting but during the monsoon, the narrow sculpted gorge would be a spectacular sight. As it was, the water was nearly at zero level, and a group of monks were washing their maroon robes in pools below a dam and then spreading them out to dry on the rocks.

Washday at Pokhara.

Our evenings were filled with happy hour beers at the Laxman Restaurant, followed by a meal at one or another of the local restaurants then some quiet puffs on a hash pipe back at the Lonely Guest House. 

It was a relaxing and companionable time…

On Monday we took a bus back to Kathmandu. It was another long, dusty trip but it passed, quickly helped in part by the technically absorbing Tom Clancy novel The Sum of all Fears that I was reading. We stayed once again at Ned Kelly’s Rest House in Kathmandu, where Linda came down with a dose of what we figured to be amoebic dysentery, so I started her on a course of Flagyl (an anti-parasitic drug) to stop it.

We stayed in the hotel for most of the remaining time that we were in Kathmandu. 

¹ We still talk about that night. For some reason, we were trying to explain what a possum looked like to own of the other tourists in the restaurant. We decided to draw a picture of a possum with each of us drawing a section. I drew the body, someone drew the tail, someone else drew the head and someone else added ears. But when Linda drew a grinning face onto it, we completely lost the plot. We began laughing hysterically…then uncontrollably. The owner asked us to leave because we were making so much noise and he didn’t want the police to come. But we were paralysed with laughter. It still makes me laugh now, thirty years later, to think of that grinning possum face Linda drew that night.

Wednesday, 4th March – K’MANDU – POKHARA

K’MANDU-POKHARA At 7:30 AM we caught one of the “tourist buses” [these so-called luxury buses were, in fact, the same rattletrap jalopies that the locals travelled on!] bound for Pokhara, a 10-hour journey away. A veritable convoy of buses made the journey which was through a pretty landscape of steep hills, river gorges and pastoral valleys.

We reached Pokhara at 4:30 and were whisked off to a hotel by an energetic tout who offered to pay our taxi fare of RS30 if we stayed at his hotel, which turned out to be quite nice.

The road to Pokhara.

Tuesday, March 3rd

Tuesday, 3 March We were all up at 6AM and watch the sunrise on the still hazy but more visible peaks of “The Far Pavillions.” We worked out from the sketchy details in the Lonely Planet Nepal Guide which of the peaks was Everest and even though the view was hazy and distorted it was satisfying to sit looking at such a range of ice giants. 

The Himalayas at Dawn. (Everest is the peak on the left.

We caught the 9:30 AM local bus back down to Barkatpur, sitting up on the roof all the way for a better view. Back in K’mandu we retired to our hotel and did nothing.

Monday, March 2nd – NARGAKOT.

After a leisurely breakfast at one of Thamel’s many restaurants, we packed up a few things for an overnight trip up to Nagarkot and left the hotel. We kept our room but Sindee and Sarah checked out of theirs and left all of their gear in our room.

We walked over to Ratna Park where most of the local buses leave Kathmandu from and by a process of trial and error we found out which one was going to Baraktapur and climbed aboard. It was a 20-minute drive to Baraktapur Station on the outer edge of Kathmandu and after getting off at bus we waited for 30 minutes for the bus up to Nagarkot to arrive. 

The wiseass young man collecting the fares said it was 50 rupees to Nagarkot but when we got to the top of the road, after driving up through picturesque farmland, we gave him 25 rupees each and walked away. He obviously knew that he had tried to rip us off and that the fare was indeed 25 rupees because he just shrugged his shoulders and let us go.

We stayed the night at a hotel called Niva Home: all four of us in one room for 25 rupees each. The view of the Himalayas, which is normally have been magnificent, was marred by the haze brought by a week of strong warm winds, so we contented ourselves with getting totally ripped on hash: smoking it with Sindee’s pipe and spotting it on the blade of a knife heated by the flame of a candle. 

After a meal down in the restaurant, we discovered that we’d padlocked our keys and the room so I spent 20 minutes balanced out on the ledge outside the window, 10 metres above the ground, trying to prise the window open without success. We ended up breaking the padlock with a hammer.

NARGAKOT.

THURSDAY 27 – SUNDAY, MARCH 1st.

We hung out in Kathmandu like hippies, lazy and indolent, doing not much more than swapping our expensive hotel in Freak Street for a cheaper joint over in the suburb of Thamel where there is more going on and a good selection of bars and restaurants.

There wasn’t much to do so we spent our days relaxing at the hotel and the evenings out eating and drinking. We had a big night out with a couple of guys – one a kiwi, one a Scouser [Liverpudlian] – on the beer, which is very strong and had us well pissed in a short time.

BOUDHA STUPA, KATHMANDU.

Linda and I booked a flight to Hong Kong with Dragonair for the 11th of March which cost us US$320 dollars each. On Sunday the 1st, the four of us spent a few hours over at Patan Square, where we visited a few temples, including one with a whole lot of extremely explicit erotic carvings decorating it’s exterior walls.

BACKPACKER LIFE, KATHMANDU. L-R: Sarah, unknown American guy, Ferg, unknown Swedish guy, Sindee.

Wednesday, 26th February – KATHMANDU.

The bus trip from Sonali to Kathmandu was long and uncomfortable, but took us through some spectacular country, with steep rugged hills cut by swift, clear rivers. The 8-hour trip turned into 10 or 11 hours, and in the end we left the bus stopped at a road block on the outskirts of the city and walked up to a hotel on Freak Street where we spent the night.

Tuesday, 25th February – Out of India

We caught a local bus from Varanasi to Sonali on the Nepal-India border. The trip was long and dusty but we alleviated the strain by smoking a couple of hooters of hash along the way. As we approach the border we had to bully Sindee into throwing the remaining lump of hash out the window because we did not want to risk crossing the border carrying drugs. She was distraught at the idea of having to get rid of a block of hash that would have cost several hundred dollars back in New Zealand!

The border was a piece of piss and we stayed the night at a hotel right next to the border post where we drank tasty beer and ate tasty food.

Back in our room later on, Linda and I discovered a massive stash of Indian currency that we had forgotten about and so we were able to trade this on the black market for a pile of Nepali cash.

Monday, February 24th.

We were out on the river again at dawn. In the eerie, ethereal light of early morning, the fires of death seemed even more unreal than the previous evening. Someone threw a charred arm bone into the water right beside us as we cruised past on the small wooden rowboat that we had hired to take us on our dawn journey along the river Ganges. 

Later that day, Sindee and I went to the government bhang shop where a seven-year old boy sold as two hash cookies and 2 tola (grams) of grass, whispering to us in conspiratorially tones that it was “good stuff.” We sat up on the roof of Shanti Lodge and smoked a joint of it but it was pretty rough. A French guy, who appeared to be permanently stoned, gave us a lump of hash for free so we smoked a hooter of that and it was much better.

Later on, Sindee and I wandered, stoned, down to the ghats to watch, as Sindee put it, “the barbecue.” It freaked us out so much that we didn’t linger for a long.