A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India:
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 636 km
Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat – 34 km
The story so far:
On his search, Mr Felix has recently ridden through Hell, died (momentarily) in the bathroom, been brought back to life by the Ghosts of Lovers Past and has just fallen down a mineshaft. It’s been a busy couple of days.
Part 10: The Cave!
I am in a boat, on a pond, in a cave at the centre of the earth. I have just fallen down a mineshaft, and have arrived at the bottom.
I am calm, the pond is calm, and the little wooden boat is drifting over the black water through the silence towards an opening in the cave wall up ahead.
The boat slides through the opening into a bigger cave and a bigger pond, and drifts further out towards the centre.
I am sitting on the wooden cross-seat of the boat, towards the back, looking around at my new surroundings – there is a strange half-light in the cave, coming from where I don’t know, but everything is crisp and clear, and I’m content.
Just then I hear a splash and suddenly I feel something grab my right ankle. I look down and there’s a long arm extending out of the water and into the boat and a large hand has forcefully clasped on to my leg.
I just have time to realise that it’s a hairy arm, before there’s an even bigger splash and up out of the water rises a… well, what is it? It takes a moment for me to realise it’s a large hairy gibbon, the size of a man, and most startling of all, it’s bright green!
It all happens so quickly I don’t have time to be afraid, and then the gibbon, who’s standing waste deep in the water beside the boat and staring intently at me, announces in a deep voice: “You’re mine!”
For some strange reason this strong male voice, these words and the sure grip of the hand on my ankle calms me, and I relax back onto the cross-seat of the boat and take a look.
“Well, my, my, my!” I say to myself. “A bright green gibbon!”
I love gibbons. They are, without a doubt, my favourite animals on this good earth, and they’re the only animals I actually pine for.
I also love dogs, but who doesn’t? I enjoy romping with them, miss them when they’re not around and having a dog as a friend is something very special indeed.
But dogs are easy to love, and by saying that I take nothing away from them.
Kids and dogs, way to go, and dogs fit in. They are social, understand hierarchies (read: They know who’s boss!) and their capacity for forgiveness is almost christlike.
They’re a gift, and thank God for hairy, happy gifts that go ‘bow-wow-wow!’
But there are other animals in the pack that take a little more work to embrace, especially considering our penchant for torturing them.
I once saw a large, male, black panther in the Colombo Zoo and sat and watched it for an hour.
It was heart breaking to see this magnificent beast, with paws the size of rocks and leg muscles forged at the Krupp factory, locked into a small cage.
It paced relentlessly, hopelessly, back and forth without break, and without surrender. That thing was going to walk and walk, until it’s pilot-light simply extinguished, and then it was going to drop dead, and there was nothing I could do.
It felt bad (that’s an understatement!), I felt bad, so the only thing I could think of was to just sit there, beside the cage (safely on the outside, of course) and acknowledge the damn thing, as was.
And you know, interesting things happen when thoughts slow down.
I sat there for the first thirty minutes brushing away kids with ice-creams who came too close and stood on my feet and ignoring young men, with laughing girls on their arms, who threw peanuts into the cage.
The clock ticked on, and then, for a moment, when there was nobody else around, the great beast stopped its relentless pacing and looked at me.
I guess it was thinking no more than ‘who’s this turkey and if I could get out of this cage I’d rip his bloody head off’, but it was enough. I’d been noticed and for a second we looked each other in the eye.
Perhaps it’s just my mind in low gear, or maybe I’ve watched too much David Attenborough, but on some visceral level I felt something dark and immensely strong suddenly and unexpectedly punch into me, and it knocked the wind out of my chest.
I felt a short, sharp pang of intense fear - I was a mouse, frozen like sorbet. But I'm more than a mouse, I’m also a man with a heart and I said, unbidden (albeit in a small voice): “It’s ok to eat me!”
It was the least I could do.
And the great beast just turned away, without a flicker, and went on pacing. And what else would you expect from a king under the circumstances? Nothing! He’s a king.
But it changed me.
I felt a flood of grief go out of me like a wave. Whatever had been locked up, whatever guilt and shame I’d felt over what we’d done to this peerless brute force of nature, just left me.
Where it went, I have no idea, but I imagined it sliding outwards in all directions, entering forests and mountain retreats all over Asia where great beasts live, breathe and die.
I then got up and left.
An hour later I opened the door to my guesthouse room and it was like walking into a cave, and I looked around, puzzled, trying to work out what had changed.
Eventually I stood in front of the mirror and looked at my face, and I simply couldn't place it - it wasn't the same old gung-ho face I'd left with this morning.
It was pale and grave, and there was a clear, dark light in the eyes I'd never seen before, and it was coming from where? I kept getting the words in my head: "This light is coming from beyond the grave!" and it made no sense. What the hell does that mean? Where's 'from beyond the grave'?
And I remembered the black panther, and I thought: "What's a panther?" It was scary.
But I knew this: whatever the hell this dark light was and wherever it came from, it was the most majestic, albeit frightening, thing I'd ever seen in my whole life and it spelled freedom.
And it was shaking my foundations.