Archive for the ‘Nepal’ Category

36 Hours in Kathmandu

The journey back from the Last Resort was interesting. At points I thought that we were going to have to get out and walk, but the bus clambered over landslide after landslide, until eventually the driver noticed a problem with the rear wheels when we stopped at a roadside cafe halfway through the journey. I honestly didn’t notice and I was sat over the rear axle, but that might have something to do with the general state of the bus.

So we then transferred onto another bus for the remainder of the journey, and by this point it was dark and we were so high up the mountain that we were driving through thick cloudy fog which was so bad that you couldn’t see more than a metre or so in front of the windscreen. I’m assuming that the driver knew the road quite well as we didn’t plunge off the windy mountain road to our death, but there were some close calls with pedestrians, motorbikes, cars with faulty headlights.

We got back to Kathmandu and I remembered I didn’t have a hotel booked (well I did, but there was no way I was paying $30 a night again) so I asked one of the girls on the bus if she knew of anywhere cheap and cheerful. She showed me the way to where she was staying, a hotel on the outskirts of Thamel (the main touristy district of KTM) and they had a room available for less than £10 for 2 nights so I took it. It’s not great, I’ll admit, but it has a bed and a bathroom with a working shower so I will not complain.

I’ve just checked in online for my flight home, meaning that in 36 hours I’ll be leaving this stunning country, so I expect it’ll be yet another emotional journey. Especially if someone nicks my window seat again.

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WHEEEEEEEE!!!

So the massage was possibly the most awkward hour of my life. I rediscovered old bruises and made some new ones too at the hands of a 60 year old Tibetan lady whilst listening to pan pipes and wailing monks. It was ok when I lay on my front because I could grimace all I liked and she couldn’t see, but when in rolled over I didn’t know what to do, especially when the music took a turn for the worse I ended up giggling like an idiot. Also, where the hell do you look? Something in me says that you shouldn’t make eye contact with the masseuse but equally, what else do you do? I opted to count the spiders on the ceiling instead. It was such a Mark Corrigan moment, my inner monologue was going nuts.

After the awkward massage I headed over for lunch, and got chatting to Giles and a guy called Ed who was from NYC and had cycled through Tibet, taking in Everest Base Camp along the way. They both had some pretty interesting stories to tell so we hung out for about 6 hours chatting about everything from trekking to 911 conspiracy theories. The kids Giles was “supervising” were quite funny to observe; highly privileged as they are all kids of high fliers living in Singapore for the massive companies there, and really quite naive too, which is to be expected. So we basically didn’t move after lunch, and then it was dinner time so we chatted for a few more hours until about 10.30 when I really needed to get some sleep.

The tent was not bad, the bed was pretty hard, but at least it wasn’t too hot. I had a couple of unpleasant arachnid encounters but I was too tired to battle for long so I gave up and went to sleep after chasing them outside. Then in the morning I got up and went over for breakfast, where one of the crew convinced me to do the canyon swing instead of the bungee and I’m so glad I took his advice.

The bungee is cool and everything but you can bungee jump anywhere, they even have cranes at carnivals, whereas the canyon swing is rarer and you actually get to see the gorge as you hurtle through it. Also, you get nearly twice as much freefall which makes it totally worth it. I was petrified up on the bridge, watching everyone else go first, and convinced myself I wouldn’t be able to do it, but when the time came I told myself that if the rich kids could do it, so could I. The hardest part was taking those couple of steps towards the edge- the rope is pulling you forwards and the guy behind you is holding the harness so you’re safe but it’s still terrifying! After a bit of hesitation, I shuffled forwards and looked down, thought “holy fuck” about 100 times and then involuntarily stepped forwards.

The feeling was indescribable. You fly 100m through the air, towards the raging river below, until you reach the end of the rope, flailing wildly the entire time. Then you swing sideways for 240m at about 150kmph until you run out of momentum, and then you have to grab the rope to pull yourself to the ladder at the riverbank. This part and the walk back up the gorge was probably the hardest part of the whole experience because my knees were still shaking and the adrenaline was coursing through my veins, and I just wished I had my camera to take pictures of the view. It was a long walk back, and I stopped at every waterfall to cool myself down and take in the scenery.

In the afternoon we all converged at lunch to watch our videos, which I couldn’t not buy. All in all, the whole 2 days including food, drink, transport, video, jump etc etc has cost less than £100 which I think is actually a pretty good deal. A few years ago at a festival in Germany they were charging €120 to jump off a crane, so I reckon I got a bargain. I just hope the road is clear for the drive back to Kathmandu!

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The Last Resort

I’m writing this part while sat in the bar/restaurant area at the Last Resort, a hotel built around a rather unique selling point, which is that it is only accessible by a bridge, 160m above the Bhote Kosi river. Getting here was an adventure in itself: I left the hotel at 5.30am to meet the bus which was to take us the 100km to the resort. However it stopped about 4km short due to a landslide (just as I was starting to enjoy being in the comfiest vehicle since the flight here 3 weeks ago) so we had to walk the rest of the way. This wasn’t really a problem for the other guys on the bus as they only had day bags, but I had my rucksack with everything in it, and for someone as weak and unfit as I am, carrying 20kg over rubble, river and road is not a walk in the park.

The first treacherous climb was over a 6ft high pile of rubble which had descended from the mountain. Climbing up was ok but I was pretty convinced I was going to fall as the rocks gave way beneath my feet on the way down, but somehow I survived. Until the next bit, where I went to overtake someone who was walking slowly and ended up sinking up to my knees in gravel and quicksand. Giles, one of the guys who was walking with us grabbed my camera out of my hand and a local Nepali guy took my rucksack so I could wriggle free, which was a massive help as I was still sinking rapidly, but I lost my shoes, which was annoying. Luckily I have another pair, but I kinda need to hold on to these ones. Giles also kindly took a photo of me looking bedraggled and muddy, which was nice.

He’s an English ex-pat maths teacher who is accompanying 4 students (also ex-pats) from a school in Singapore, but up until 10 years ago he lived in Southampton. I figured they’d be rich brats as on the bus one of them was talking about how daddy owns an island in Indonesia…

After an hour and ten minutes of walking we arrived at the spectacular bridge which leads to the resort, but which also doubles as the bungee platform, which I am apparently jumping off of tomorrow. We’ll see how that goes, but for now I’ve booked myself a massage as my back is killing me. At least if the road isn’t cleared by tomorrow it’s a downhill walk.

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Leaving Pokhara

Today I packed up my stuff (abandoning a pair of shoes and a towel) and checked out of the hotel. I went to the airport via the WtW house as I owed Anna some money from last night, and I was hoping to bump into Sunil or Aneeta to thank them for their help throughout my stay. They were both there, and so was Padme the housekeeper so it was really lovely to say goodbye to the three of them. I then got back in the taxi and went to the airport. I got there quite early so one of the guard-type people ran out on to the runway to see if the earlier flight had left yet. Can you imagine that at Gatwick? The flight had gone so he kindly carried my bag upstairs to the restaurant (the stairs were missing, it was just a load of concrete rubble to clamber over and he fell over twice which I felt awful about) where I waited for a couple of hours.

I eventually went through “security” where a female officer glanced inside my bag and made a poor attempt at patting me down, and then got on my flight. It was really cloudy and I couldn’t see the mountains, but there was more of that pesky dust getting in my eyes again so I wouldn’t have been able to see them anyway. The guy in the seat across from me looked a bit freaked out at the crazy Western lady crying on the plane, so I attempted to compose myself.

Arriving at KTM was interesting, they just dump your bag on a platform which anyone can access, and a couple of people tried to take my bag, probably to try to get me to pay them to carry it so I just grabbed it back and marched away from the airport. I got in a cab and let myself get ripped off because I had no idea how much it should have cost. Apparently NR300 is the going rate but I paid NR500, oh well. I chatted with the driver all the way and he was nice enough so sod it.

The Kathmandu Guest House is very nice, but so expensive ($30 for a night) so I won’t be staying there on Weds/Thurs when I get back. I can survive without he palatial views for two nights. So I’m currently sat in a bar over the road called Tom and Jerry’s and they’re playing everything from Rainbow to Prodigy which is good enough for me, although I could have done without the Macarena.

5am start tomorrow; meeting at the Last Resort office at 5.45 for the bus to the Tibetan border. I am shitting a brick about jumping off that bridge.

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Birthdays and Last Days

Saturday was an odd day, but I won’t go into any detail here. Things occurred which I have yet to deal with both emotionally and logistically, and I know this sounds really cryptic, but once I’ve wrapped my brain around it, I’ll probably have enough word count to fill a book.

What I will talk about though is Olesia’s pre-birthday birthday dinner on Saturday night. We went to a restaurant in Lakeside called “Once Upon a Time” (quite a few places here have really inventive names; the language school which Prem, our Nepali teacher, runs is an easy winner with “Cosmic Brontosaurus”). We had dinner, and I got to catch up with George and Daniela who had both spent the previous week in Nalma treating patients in the remote village. Then after dinner Olesia went to the toilet, and Claire and George ran over once she got inside and essentially locked her inside by holding the handle shut, whilst her surprise birthday cake was adorned with candles. Not many people get held hostage on their pretend birthday in Nepal, I’m sure, but now I know of at least one person who has. Unfortunately when she was released from the loo, the fan did a great job of blowing all the candles out so a quick reset was required, but I think this all just added to the charm of the evening. Afterwards we went to the downstairs area of the restaurant where they have a TV and semi-decent DVD collection, but due to Nepal’s licensing laws, we were kicked out of the bar just as Ocean and his 11 were about to break into the casino’s vault. It was nice only having a 5 minute walk back to the hotel rather than having to argue with taxi drivers over the fare back to Srijana Chowk (where the house is) and it was even nicer to have my second hot shower of the day.

I slept really well as not only was the bed quite comfy but the fan kept the room at a perfect temperature, and even without a mosquito net (there was nowhere to hang it from) I only got bitten a couple of times, and with the state of my legs at the moment it’s not like you’d notice. They’re still recovering from that night up on the roof watching the eclipse when I forgot to apply any DEET.

On Sunday I washed my underwear in the sink with a bar of soap (omg glamour) and took the rest of my clothes to a “laundry service” nearby. I’ve not had my laundry done by someone else in many many years, and I kind of have a hang-up about it from using the launderette when I first moved to Portsmouth. Some of my underwear went missing, I acquired some that wasn’t mine, and on a couple of occasions pubic hair belonging to a redhead was discovered on my bra, and while I doubt that’ll happen out here, it’s not fair to expect someone else to scrub my pants.
But enough about that. I spent my last full day in Pokhara down by the lake; I was going to rent a canoe and head over to the peace pagoda but it was swarming with tourists and I really didn’t fancy it. I’m sure it’s beautiful and I know I’ve missed out, but this is not my only trip to Nepal, I will be back; if only to implement a draconian infection control regimen in the hospitals here, because this place is heading face first into an anti-biotics crisis without one.

I also visited the Destitute Children’s Home to drop off the donations I’d brought from home. There was nothing fancy, just some ASDA toothbrushes, toothpaste, colouring pencils and exercise books, but those kids made such an impression on me that instead of giving a handful of stuff to a few different places I decided to give it all to them. I think I should also write a letter to Dipti and Hazi encouraging them to continue with their aspirations of teaching and engineering as I was so pleased to hear of their ambitions.

Speaking of donations, in the first week at the hospital I signed up to donate blood (I’m O negative which can be given to anyone in an emergency) as I won’t be able to donate for 6 months after returning home. They don’t have any storage facilities though so they took my phone number and address and told me they’d get in touch as soon as they needed me. We were also joking in the house that in the event of any of them requiring a transfusion, I’d be cannulated in seconds, although after all the mossie bites I got in Chitwan it’s a good job that I never got the call. What are the symptoms of malaria again?

In the evening a few of us met up to trawl the shops where I bought some paintings and some tea- don’t expect much in the way of gifts when I get back, I had to sacrifice a pair of shoes and a towel in order to make room for the stuff. Then Anna and I went to the Olive Cafe for dinner, which was wonderful; I had a delicious carbonara and they even cooked Anna a breakfast omelette. It was my first meal there and it’s just typical that I found a really good restaurant on my last night in town (now I’ve got Ben Folds Five in my head…). Afterwards a load of us met up at the infamous Busy Bee bar, where I got to meet the two new guys in the house who were really nice so I’m sure they’ll fit in perfectly. I also met a guy called Tom who just happened to be passing through, and told me that he was starting a Radiography degree this September.

At Portsmouth.

WTF.

I hope I didn’t scare him too much with talk of Year 2 hell, but at least he’s got a while before he has to endure it, and if I survived anyone can. It was weird talking about home stuff while in a Nepalese bar, but even weirder when I got chatting to Stephanie, a chemistry teacher from the states who, after seeing my tattoo, told me about her friend who has mathematical integers tattooed on both his arms, because I’m almost certain that there’s someone fitting that description who’s also in Carl Zimmer’s Science Ink book coming out this year.

For those who are unaware, last year I was on my way out of the houses of parliament after the Libel Lobby when a guy commented on my tattoo and asked if it was on the Science Tattoo Emporium website, it wasn’t, but I sent a photo in shortly after and now there’s a book coming out in Autumn which I’ll be in along with hundreds of other inked geeks.

So there were two weird coincidences in one evening which was more than enough for me so a few of us went to play pool for a bit. I should add here that I am terrible at pool. In fact, anything requiring a degree of hand-eye coordination tends to be out of my skill set, but we played three’s up and the other two on my team managed to kick arse and we emerged victorious, which was a perfect end to my last night in Pokhara. Although as my friends started leaving that annoying dust must have been in the air again because my eyes got all leaky, so I may have given them all the impression that I’m a human being capable of emotions rather than an unfeeling robot. I’ll see about changing that impression when we meet up for a reunion in Manchester.

I genuinely hadn’t expected to make such good friends during my time here- I knew I was going to be sharing amazing experiences with people as we’d be in the same house and hospital, but I feel like there was more to it than that and I hope we can stay in contact as I know that they’re going to have really interesting lives and careers ahead of them.

I walked back in the rainy darkness skilfully avoiding cow shit and puddles with my newly acquired night vision (IT WASN’T LUCK) and thinking about what is yet to come. I had been hoping to avoid Kathmandu as much as possible, but it would be shame to miss it, and at least this way I don’t have to endure it again when I return. Also this way there is a much more reduced risk of missing my flight home as I’ll have 36 hours between returning from the Last Resort and the plane taking off.

Shit. My time really is running out here.

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Namaste Manipal, Namaste

Thursday night’s send-off for Debraj was really nice, we went to Club Amsterdam for a bit, and watched the most enthusiastic tambourine player that I’ve ever seen, before heading over to Busy Bees to finish the night. A different band was playing, but the setlist was the same, it’s like an alternative cabaret and I like it. We hit the shisha and practiced blowing smoke rings until hypoxia set in, and then we ordered some pizza. It was a lovely evening, but for once I wasn’t the last one in the door because the sleep deprivation is starting to have an effect and it isn’t much fun.

Then Friday arrived, and it was emotional. Everyone was so kind; Dr Asis De (the student coordinator) gave me an evaluation report, certificate, and two pin badges to remember by time here. He also talked to Anna and I for a good two hours about how we should visit Calcutta (his home) and how it’s the most beautiful place on earth, by which time we were starving so as soon as he finished we sprinted to the canteen. I ordered veggie samosas which are massive and delicious, and today’s were no different except for the deep fried beetle I found in between the pastry layers! First insect in the food since I got here and I’m glad it was my last meal in the canteen or I’d be frantically checking for more every day.

After lunch I went back to Radiology and tried my hand at reporting some lumbar spine MRI cases which was interesting! Luckily they were fairly common straightening/disc bulge cases, but I still find MRI really challenging because there’s so much information to process.

Then as the afternoon went on I decided it was time to take some photos to remember the place by. I had such a brilliant 3 weeks and everyone was so nice and accommodating, it was really sad when 4.30 rolled by and it was time to go. My Clark’s handbook was passed round the department and some really lovely messages have been written in the back, so I’ll always have something to remember my elective by in years to come when I’m on call, looking up skull views at 3am.

I managed to maintain my composure on the bus ride home, but when I got in the door there must have been some dust or something in the air because my eyes started leaking, which was inconvenient. No one saw so I think I’ve managed to keep my reputation of being an unfeeling, cold bitch. Hopefully.

After dinner we went out to Busy Bees and all I’m going to say about that is that it was carnage, and once the photos have been vetted by those in them, a pictorial account will probably be adequate. I won’t embarrass anyone by going into detail, but all I will say is that a whole load of Nepalese people now know a fun way to share shisha around.

We got in at about 2ish, exhausted and monsooned upon, but having generally enjoyed ourselves (some more than others!).

Then about 6 hours later I woke up, had breakfast, packed my stuff and headed for the hotel in Lakeside where I’ll be staying til the end of the week. Speaking of which it turns out my reading comprehension is in need of improvement, as I thought I flew back to LHR on Saturday morning, but it’s actually Friday, which means I need to go and beg the agent I booked my PKR-KTM flight with to change it to a day earlier.
Grrr.

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The Summer of ’68

The title is a hilarious reference to the current Nepali year (2068) and the fact that the radiologists spent most of the morning playing Bryan Adams songs on YouTube. My head hurts.

So it was a very chilled out day, music playing (even if it is shit), everyone smiling, I even got on with some CT scans in the afternoon which was cool. Apparently tomorrow is going to be a massive party, it’s my last day at Manipal and also the head of department is going to be away for 3 weeks so everyone’s celebrating!

It was Debraj’s last day today so everyone in the house is coming out tonight to see him off, could be a messy one! At least it won’t matter too much tomorrow if I go in after 3 hours sleep.

So in preparation I’m going to leave this smelly internet cafe and have a nap before dinner and dancing.

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And so the week improves…

So the week didn’t kick off to a great start- Monday was depressing, so in the evening I decided to go meet up with some people at the Jazz bar to cheer myself up. It worked, which was good.

Things were much better on Tuesday, saw some interesting cases in CT and generally had a cool time although in the afternoon my retinas were assaulted with some dancing by Shashi and Subash- on separate occasions I might add, just to add to the torture. It was a good laugh though, even if it was a bit close for comfort!

In the evening some of us went to Busy Bees (it’s a bar in Lakeside with a covers band playing 4 nights a week) where we met up with some familiar and some new faces, including the most repulsive bloke I think I’ve ever met, and anyone who knows me will be surprised to discover he was also an Aussie, but even that wasn’t enough of a redeeming feature to make up for his crassness. Anna, Jay and I were talking about the emotional aspects of relationships etc (all very soppy I know) but this arsehole kept bringing up all the girls he’s shagged since getting to Asia “I had a Ukrainian girl last week, and then a threesome this week…” as if it was even remotely impressive. He continued with his hugely unwelcome chauvinism for a while, even though we were openly taking the piss out of him, and then suddenly declared himself a feminist! What a tit.

Anyway, we still had a great night, listening to the band play a selection of nostalgic hits from artists like Radiohead, Sublime and even Mr Big, and it was topped off by a free ride home through the monsoon in Nim’s Jeep, which was very kind of him.

Wednesday was another really nice day, in the morning I went to a cafe nearby for tea with Shashi (the rad tech), Subash (the radiology resident) and Pramod (the medical physicist). It was quite funny how they kept snapping from English to Nepali and back again whenever they wanted me to join in or understand. I used to feel a bit excluded when everyone around me was speaking Nepali, but I don’t anymore- I’m in their country and they’ve been incredibly hospitable as it is, so everything’s cool. There was also a birthday in the department so someone brought some homemade cake in which was delicious- it’s unbelievable how much weight I’ve put on since being here, this is a developing country ffs.

The CT nurse, Laxmi, brought her 7 year old son in for the morning who had far too much energy so I taught him a few games and tricks with the intention of tiring him out, but it just exhausted me instead. He was disappointed with the poor selection of games on my iPhone, but really loved the photos of the Southsea dinosaur.

The hospital closed in the afternoon as it was Census day, and apparently 100 years since the first ever population count, so there was a national holiday. At 1pm a few of us got the bus back, but at the point where it sits in the market at Mahendrapul for a few minutes Anna and I decided to hop out and walk back. It was nice to wander through the streets but as usual we were stared at by some of the locals.

Then in the evening I had my last Nepali lesson with Prem, who had brought his 4 year old daughter along as the schools were closed, and she kept nodding off in the corner of the room which was quite cute. The kids in this country are nowhere near as annoying or obnoxious as the ones back home. Even the really precocious ones who speak perfect English and are well educated are still very modest and polite.

After the lesson it was BBQ time, the last one for me, and the weather was overcast and mild which was really rather pleasant. I don’t think I obtained any new mosquito bites either which is a turn up for the books.

Then this morning I got to work early (that’s happened a lot this week) and within a couple of hours of being here not only was there the usual delicious cup of tea, but also some kind of spring roll was handed out to everyone. I have no idea what was in it but I’ve become rather fearless since being here so I munched away, although the giggles from the nurses were a tad unnerving. Ah well.

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In Need of Therapy

Today I spent the whole day in the basement, in the radiotherapy department. This was especially interesting as I’ve never even been to RT in the UK before, but it turned out to be an unsettling experience for me.

To explain a bit about radiotherapy for those who are unaware (but also bearing in mind my knowledge is very limited) there are a handful of ways which a tumour can be treated: surgery (chop it out), chemotherapy (poison the thing) or radiotherapy (nuke the crap out of it). Nuking the crap out of it involves firing sub atomic particles at really ridiculous speeds into the centre of the evil lump. The problem with this is that there is usually some fairly necessary stuff in the way and we don’t particularly want to damage that if at all possible, so lots of planning goes in to setting up a way of attacking the bugger from a few different angles, thereby minimising damage to surrounding tissues.

So, the thing wot nukes it is called a Linear Accelerator (or LinAc if you’re a cool kid like me) and it saves lives. Google it for pictures/video, it’s the ultimate gadget as not only is it super awesome looking but it does really neat stuff like, for example, saving lives. But that’s not all, it has a really useful cousin called a Simulator which pretends to be a LinAc but instead allows you to take x-rays and plan how you’re going to go about making that tumour your bitch, kinda like a war room.

So anyway, you plan your war and then you go ahead and fight it with the best weapon you can find, and I was really impressed to see that Manipal hospital has both the weapon and the war room, as it’s a hugely expensive bit of kit and requires some decent infrastructure to install it. The first issue I found with it was it’s location though; it’s in the basement, which is normal, but it’s right next to the mortuary which in my opinion is hugely inappropriate, and must be upsetting for patients, even if they don’t show it.

Another issue, which I’ve already encountered in the diagnostic department is the lack of confidentiality and if I’m honest I kind of hoped it would be different in radiotherapy, but I have no idea why I thought that. Outside the LinAc room is a row of chairs opposite the control room where the patients sit and wait their turn for treatment. The rad tech sits in the control room and calls the patient to go to the LinAc before the previous patient is even off the table, something which I had a big problem dealing with. There was a breast cancer patient who had had a complete left mastectomy lying on the table with her chest exposed while the next patient, also suffering from breast cancer but who had not had surgery, got changed into a gown 4 feet away. I know that the people here are much much hardier than us Brits, but there is no way they are unaffected by these experiences.

I also saw a 7 year old boy with a brain tumour come in for what was I think his 6th radiotherapy session; he came in to the room, clambered onto the table and positioned himself prone with his head on the awkward restraint, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Very difficult to watch.

I also watched a planning session in the simulator next door as an 82 year old woman suffering from dementia as well as a very large bladder tumour was wheeled in for catheterisation and a contrast study. She was very confused and upset but mostly cooperative as the intern got on with the procedure, but her eyes were wide and her muttering increased in pitch with the pain. I totally appreciate that you can’t explain the procedure to some dementia patients as they won’t always understand and it may scare them even more, but her daughter had no idea what was happening either as she stood in the corner of the room watching the doctors get to work.

But while it was very distressing to watch, the overall experience was actually very high quality and quite efficient. The patient was brought in for planning following diagnosis the previous day, and had treatment immediately afterwards. The medical physicist and oncologist drew up a comprehensive plan of action taking in to account the patient’s age and current health, ensuring that she only endured what was absolutely necessary for her condition to improve, rather than faffing about with procedures which may lead to increased suffering and discomfort in the long run.

As I said earlier I have yet to see how radiotherapy is performed in the UK so this is a very uninformed account, but it will be very interesting to make comparisons when I have all the information I need.

Reading this post back, I hope I haven’t offended anyone with the flippant language earlier on, but I’m trying hard to maintain a positive attitude, and after the day I had, it’s really quite difficult.

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Welcome to the Jungle

On Friday at 7am we got the bus to Chitwan National Park for a weekend of safariing. The bus ride was over 5 hours and not the most comfortable I’ve ever experienced but it was worth it to get to our destination. All 11 of us were collected from the bus stop in a normal sized jeep, which we just about managed to squeeze ourselves and our baggage into for the journey to the hotel.

The hotel consisted of small lodge rooms and was very jungley which was awesome. As soon as we checked in and had lunch we went for our first walk through the jungle to the government run elephant stables nearby. The military use elephants for patrolling the national park in order to prevent and exterminate poachers. I was reliably informed that they rarely bother trying to arrest poachers, they prefer to use more permanent measures, which I completely agree with.

After seeing a bit of jungle and some elephants we went to the visitor centre to learn about the animals who inhabit the park, including the Bengal Tiger, Mugger Crocodiles, King Cobra, and the Sloth Bear. Our guide then took us to the riverbank to watch the sunset (and a passing croc or two) which was really nice.

We had dinner and retired to our rooms after a tiring day, only for our peace to be broken by a few hours of dance music coming from the hotel next door. We were wondering how we got such a cheap deal… After the music stopped I got about 2 hours sleep before the monsoon rain reverberated off the tin roof of our lodge. So the next morning I was somewhat exhausted as we set off for our canoe trip and jungle walk.

There were 8 of us in the canoe I was in, plus the “driver” and our guide, and it was wobbly as hell. With hindsight it was utterly fantastic being so close to the water and all the wildlife, but at the time I was really rather worried we were going to capsize a fair few times. We went quite far down the river, passing some crocs and birds, the whole time I had the theme from Jurassic Park in my head, as the scenery would have been perfect with a couple of pterosaurs flying overhead.

We then disembarked for our walk through the jungle. It was still raining and we hardly saw any other people so it had an air of “proper jungle” to it even though we were probably within a few minutes walk of a shop the entire time. We saw plenty of rhesus monkeys, some Sambar deer, loads of birds, and some footprints belonging to a rhino, a sloth bear, and even a tiger, which was super awesome as apparently even a footprint is quite a rare sight.

We walked for a while, trying to track the rhino that had recently passed through leaving mud over the leaves and footprints on the ground, but to no avail, so we headed for the elephant breeding centre. This was the home of a pair of elephant twins who were born back in 2009 and are the third set to have been born there, but the only surviving pair to date. There was also a 1 month old male calf who was so cute and playful that he was getting a lot of attention from everyone. The only aspect I didn’t really like was the obvious boredom endured by the elephants; they exhibited the classic signs of depression such as head waving, rocking, and rhythmic stamping. It was tough to watch, but I appreciate that overall it’s for the good of the species that these places exist, it’s just a shame that the individual animals have to suffer.

After lunch some of us went to the river to watch the elephants being bathed. I chickened out of participating because I had managed to come away for the weekend with only one t-shirt, but it was still really nice to watch, and straight afterwards we all rode elephants through the jungle so I don’t feel like I missed out too much.

The elephant safari was slightly tough to take though, as the trainers all had metal rods to “discipline” the animals with, but I’ve learnt to keep my mouth shut when it comes to animal (inc human) welfare over here. So other than that we had a fab time, trundling through the jungle, 10 feet high, getting really close to some beautiful deer and some unpleasant bugs. No rhinos by this point though, so when we got back, our guide offered to take us for a walk to the river in the hope that we’d find one, and within 15 minutes of walking, we did! A 6 year old male rhino was standing on the riverbank opposite us, looking stunning, so we stood on some rocks and watched as he swam towards us, apparently unaware of our presence.

Happy with our heffalump ride and rhinocelot encounter we had dinner and went into the village to watch a traditional Tharu dance display. The Tharu are a “tribe” of people who have inhabited Chitwan and the Terai for ages and are known as “forest people”, and apparently have a genetic trait which makes them much less likely to get malaria than other folk, which is cool. So they did some awesome battle dances including one with a fire stick, so that was fantastic, and then at the end they invited people so get on stage, and for some reason I did. I can’t even do the bloody macarena so I dread to think how it looked to everyone in the audience, but luckily by the end of the dance the stage was crammed so I doubt I stood out too much!

We were spared the dance music on Saturday night but alas not the monsoon so the next morning I dragged myself out of bed for a bird watching walk- and I’ll freely admit I’m not massively in to bird watching, I was secretly hoping we’d stumble across another rhino, but that didn’t happen, although I did get my second leech of the weekend so it’s nice to know I’ve made some friends in the jungle.

And then it was time to sit on the bus for 5 and a half hours, which was really tough. It felt like a month, but eventually we got home where there were two new people, Rushmi and Jenny, who had arrived at the house earlier in the day. I’m not sure what kind of a greeting it is having 11 really smelly people who you’ve never met descend on the peace and quiet you’ve been enjoying, but those girls were lucky enough to experience it!

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