Ever had a snake flung at your head? No? Me neither. Well, that was until I strolled into Landruk, a tiny village which sits high on a ridge on one of the many hillsides in the Himalaya region of Nepal. We were a day and a half into a three day trek and as we entered the village a large crowd had gathered. I wondered if it was to welcome the approaching foreign visitors (us!) but seeing as Nepal is a tourist hotbed I soon realised this wasn’t the case. There was some nervous shuffling and a couple of shrieks from the crowd. As we approached it became clear that a snake was the centre of the locals’ attention and not a small snake at that. I was intrigued so joined the crowd but not wanting to impose I held a position just to the left of them. A couple of village elders who’d most probably seen and dealt with dozens of the timid serpents many times previously were walking through the village at the time. They stopped. One went over to the grass bank the snake’s head was emerging from. I was fascinated to see how a man of his life experience would deal with this. Surely a life in the mountains of the Himalayas would’ve taught him a whole host of intricate methods in removing a snake from the vicinity of a village whilst causing as little stress to the reptile as possible? Well, clearly not! He poked the snake causing obvious panic from everyone present and not least from the snake, which incidentally slithered from the bank onto the open path. There was a moment of contemplation from one and all and a couple of further, milder cries of dismay from the smaller children in the group. The man then positioned his stick next to the snake and for one moment I feared he’d give the poor thing a quick whack and that would be it. Instead he placed the stick just underneath the creature and quick as a flash, without a word or sound of warning, a lightning quick flick of his arm sent the snake hurtling through the air and crucially, it seemed, straight towards me! In truth I had little time to react so by the time I’d made a token ducking motion the snake had flown around fifty metres off the side of the hill towards the undergrowth below. The crowd had scattered frantically and all I could do was laugh and admire the man for his flicking accuracy. It was one of those moments though that in hindsight you realise just how close you’d come to having a snake wrapped around your neck!
Now, in other news of near death experiences on the hills of the Himalayas, on the same day I was almost trampled by a cow, bull or possibly a yak! It was the afternoon on day two of the trek and we were in the middle of a horribly gruelling 600 metre ascent which was essentially three hours of vertical trekking. The views were stunning of course but I discovered that Nepal is absolutely not for the mentally fragile, weak-willed, absent-minded or those with a nervous disposition! Anyway, whilst taking a rest on a bend in the stone steps which were guiding us up the mountain, there came a sound, a kind of galloping sound and it seemed to be getting closer. At first it sounded like a person but as it became more audible it was clear this was bigger than a human. I didn’t have a lot of time to compose myself as before I knew it a huge beast came bounding around the corner with a crazed look in its eyes and an uncoordinated mess of legs and hooves flailing all over the place! As you can imagine, a situation of this nature would cause much concern on any flat terrain but when you’re exhausted and perched precariously on a ridge on the side of a 1000 metre peak, it takes on an entirely new dimension! I’d been wearing a khaki bandana for much of the trek due to the heat and the fact I’ve seen Fogle sporting one before, but also because it made me feel more rugged, more intrepid and more Rambo-esque if you will! Fortunately the absence of a mirror hadn’t shattered my own internal image of myself just yet but when staring into the eyes of this four-legged juggernaut I soon realised that a cheap khaki bandana wasn’t going to save me. I made a mildly high-pitched shriek and dived for cover before watching the animal continue around the bend, followed soon after by his helpless master who watched in horror as the creature proceeded to trample a large vegetable patch and make its way resolutely downhill. I was starting to wonder if I was cut out for life in the Himalayas…bandana or no bandana.
Here’s another question for you. Has there ever been an occasion when you’ve been compelled to rub tobacco all over your shoes and socks? No? Again, me neither. Well, that was until I ordered a cup of tea at a small wooden house on day one of the trek. It was late afternoon and we’d caught our first glimpse of the Annapurna mountain range and were naturally feeling quite smug. That was until the mountains decided to remind us of just who runs the show up there and unleashed an almighty downpour. We found shelter at this hut and were offered an affectionate welcome by the proprietors, a friendly Nepalese couple who got the fire burning and the tea brewing. A group of Nepalese girls had also stopped and all of a sudden there came a burst of high-pitched shrieks (this became a common theme of the trip it would seem). We couldn’t really fathom why there was so much panic emanating from the group but were soon informed by our tea hosts that it was because of another mountain creature, one much smaller than the others we’d encounter, but of no less stature or influence. Leeches, yes, leeches had attached themselves to the girls’ feet and had done what leeches do. I remember thinking at the time I’m glad that’s not me as it looked both painful and less than appealing (understatement….it looked disgusting). Anyway we sat back down and sipped on the milky, hot tea. Our hosts however were quick to suggest we inspect our lower legs and feet, just to make sure we hadn’t succumbed to the blood suckers ourselves. I thought this was impossible as I had thick trousers on and walking trainers but just to reassure them I had a quick look. Sure enough, I was quite rightly wrong in my naive assumptions and the people who had spent their lives on this hillside were absolutely correct. As I removed my shoes I could instantly see about four or five leeches embedded in my socks and a couple more lining the edge of my shoes! Fortunately none had actually made it through so my flesh was intact but others weren’t so lucky. We jumped and hopped around this poor couple’s hut for a good five minutes trying to remove the pesky and surprisingly tough little worms and although we laughed I think each of us were using laughter to mask the genuine horror and dismay at the ghastly situation! Anyway, once we’d calmed down our tea providers told us the best way to deter the blood suckers is to cover the area of attack with tobacco and water. So for the next ten minutes we sat and we rubbed tobacco all over our shoes and socks. It seemed ridiculous but when you’re in the Himalayas you accept these kinds of scenarios as both necessary and imperative and as such, perfectly justifiable. We paid for our tea and newly acquired tobacco and bid farewell to the warm couple who had welcomed us into their humble abode. We’d arrived looking like drowned rats, behaved like hysterical banshees as we frantically flicked leeches across the room and left soon after looking like characters from Mary Poppins with a dirty black goo covering our footwear. Yet we left both warm and refreshed by the tea and even more significantly by the hospitality of the friendly couple on the hill.
Fortunately aside from these animal-related mishaps Nepal was a veritable wonderland of stunning views, friendly people and a level of peace and serenity that’s arguably impossible to find in many other places across the world. I’ll talk more about this next time but for now I’ll leave you with this photo of me, my useless bandana and our friendly leech deterring, tea making, mountain dweller friends.