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 ridden through Hell, died in the bathroom, been visited by the Ghosts of Lovers Past, fallen down a mineshaft and most surprising of all, found The Green Gibbon. It’s been an exciting trip.
Part 11: Under the Milky Way!
I open one eye and look at the clock. It’s 10 past 4 and wouldn’t you know - why do these things always happen around 4 am?
My bed is soaked. The sheet I’m wrapped in is sopping wet, and as I roll on my back the dampness in the mattress hits me like a wet towel. Yeech!
Raja, the houseboy, is going to be mightily impressed with this. “Mr Feeliks, pleeese!” he’ll say. “When you are taking a shower, please do it in the bathroom like the other guests!”
Ten minutes later I’m down in the kitchen making myself a cup of tea.
I’d sprung out of bed and into the shower like a man possessed. I don’t think I’ve ever risen so quickly in all my life. Besides the discomfort of sodden sheets, I had an overwhelming urge to get outside into the night sky and fresh air.
I needed space, but first a cup of tea.
In the shower I’d looked at myself. I’d sweated so much during the night I was white and wrinkly and I must have lost ten pounds. I was positively skinny.
My flu was gone and I felt clear and taught, and what? Capable! I was going to live! But as I looked at my body I realised I needed muscle tone and red blood cells and I made a note a note to eat plenty of red meat. “Goat should do it!” I figured.
While I was making the tea downstairs in the kitchen I looked across at Raja and the other houseboy. They were dead asleep on the charpoys in the corner, and even though I was making the odd clatter and the gas burner was going ‘whoosh!’ they weren’t moving.
And what was I doing in here anyway? I don’t normally walk into hotel kitchens and help myself to tea. But I was dehydrated from the night’s activities and falling down mineshafts isn’t an easy business, no matter what anybody says.
And what the hey! If Raja woke up I’d give him a big smile and ask him if he wanted a tea. “One sugar or two, Raja?” (Being Nepali he’d probably take four.) But no, he was off somewhere dancing with Krishna and the gopis, and good luck to him.
I sat on the roof of the hotel and sipped my tea and looked out into the night sky. It was clear and vast and ablaze with stars. There was a half moon pocking it’s head over the mountains to the east and the Milky Way was vaulting upwards from one horizon to the next, a great heavenly arch of diamonds and pearls, keeping it all up, holding the roof in place.
Yeah, God knew what he was doing when He built that one, but it’s amazing he got it through the bureaucracy.
“Hey, guys, I’ve got this great idea!” He says. “I’m gonna build a Great Circular Arch in the sky made of stars and galaxies and it’s gonna shimmer and shine and underneath it the earth is gonna move so it looks like the Great Arch is moving…”
“It’ll never work!” say the doubters.
I guess it helps being the boss.
The Green Gibbon. The bright Green Gibbon! What the hell had I just run into?
When I was at university many years ago I’d taken a trip to Kathmandu. I’d been at the books for four long mind-numbing years and I needed a break.
I had one year to go to finish this engineering degree I was chipping away at (like a man with a chisel on a concrete block) and I was 21, miserable and didn’t have a clue.
Well, maybe half of one.
Christ! All my life I’d wanted to be an ‘artist’, and here I was studying freaking engineering, and I hated it.
I’d wanted to be an artist ever since I was 8 years old, and although I admit there was a certain romantic element in the idea, it was what I loved, and as far as I was concerned, that was it.
Roll on Rembrandt! Roll on Andy Warhol! Roll on Mr Felix!
But dad was having none of that.
When you’re born into the aftermath of the Great Depression, watched a world war rip the planet apart in your formative years, and just when you thought things were on the upswing, along come the Beatles singing ‘All you need is Love!’ and to top it all off, there’s a bunch of pansies dressed in flowers tripping the light fantastic and telling everybody to head to California where everything’s free and we’re all going to Heaven and bypassing Hell.
And they’re taking over the world!
Well, Charlie Manson woke us up out of that dream, but I couldn’t see it. But dad woke me up.
“The word is ‘no’, Felix!” he said, when I laid my carefully sculptured plans of a shining and brilliant art career before him on the kitchen table.
“But, dad!” I wanted to say, “This is how I’m gonna climb up on that big White Horse I saw in my dream. It’s the only way I think I can make it!”
But dad didn’t put much stock in dreams; not the kind you have in the middle of the night, anyway, and certainly not the kind that lead grown men to dance around in bear suits and burn down the learned institutions that had taken Western civilisation thousands of years to put together.
I’d never told him about the Great White Horse dream, and when my father said ‘no’, the word was ‘no’.
In my cosmos at the time, dad and God were interchangeable personages, and God's Will be done on earth, as it is heaven, or you’d get hit with a lightening bolt.
I took it real bad.
‘Sullen’ is a state of mind that many teenagers experience, but I do feel I moved this long and august tradition forward a quantum leap.
What Rembrandt did for portraiture and Andy Warhol did for Brillo Boxes, I did for ‘sullen’. It became my new art form.
And so, as these things go, some years later I ended up at university, studying engineering and failure was not an option. General Irwin Rommel, I have read, was a great motivator, as is fear.
Hell, you can even learn to smile, almost, if you work at it, even though you don’t want to, as you can learn to half believe what you’re doing is the right thing, even though you know it isn’t, if you’re confused enough, if you can follow that.
But underneath it all, under a sea of alcohol and a neatly crafted devil-may-care attitude, I was miserable, and the only thing more alarming than my misery was the fact that nobody seemed to notice.
Not my friends, not my girlfriends, not even my mum. I used to wonder whether they were all blind, but I hid it too well, and learned not to talk.
“Yeah, that Felix, he’s kicking goals! That boy’s a winner!” The world loves a winner all right.
I’d go to parties and in the middle of the testosterone and estrogen fuelled late teenager and early twenty-something frenzy, I’d simply not be there. It was weird.
The music would be thumping, the boys would be knocking back beer and weed and the girls would be shaking it out for the quick and the lucky, and the floor would drop away on me. I’d suddenly be stone cold sober and standing in a room full of grotesque phantoms.
In the middle of the night I’d lie on my bed and think about this strange phenomenon, and always, always, up would come the memory of the Great White Horse and the mineshaft.
It was scary.
Looking back now, it was amazing I held it together, but underneath it all I knew something, instinctively. My dad was the most merciless, hard-headed bastard on the planet, but I knew he loved me and I knew he would never intentionally damage me, and it made all the difference.
There had to be a way out of this mess. I needed an exit strategy and one that would hopefully not bring the Wrath of Khan down on my head.
Damage or no damage, dad could be formidable when he wasn’t happy about something, and we were talking big biccies here – my future, and his investment in it.
But which door? What door? Was there a door?
These things I pondered, along with how many pairs of socks to take as I packed my rucksack and prepared for my first big OS trip.
A few days after they let us out of the university, I was on the aeroplane bound for mysterious, exotic Kathmandu.