Day 3 and 4: nagarkot, sankhu and a guiding experience

We woke up around 530 easily, our inner clocks still all screwed up and set to wake us early and put us to bed early. 

We bundled up and headed out to the rooftop to watch the sunrise over the Himalayas. As I said in the last post we learned that over the last two weeks, it had been impossible to see the mountains at all. But that morning, even though they weren’t super clear, you could watch as the east faces of the mountains lit up, and all I could think about what that there were people up there, on those mountains, possibly summiting and watching the same sunrise as Amy and I. 

That day we also wanted to do a hike to a look out, where a lot of people generally go to watch the sunrise (when their hotel doesn’t have a fancy rooftop). After asking at the front desk of the hotel for information about that hike, a guy ran after us to see if we wanted a guide. We told this man, whose name was deepak, that we planned to walk up the road to the lookout, which was the main way to get there. No,no, he said, there is a better way to get there through the woods, there’s a trail. Is the trail easy to find, we asked. Oh no, very difficult to find. We weighed it over and asked the cost which he said was 2000 rupees (about $20). This was a LOT of money and we asked how long the hike was. He told us 4-5 hours. Eventually we agreed — we didn’t know the area and if it was that far and hard to follow the trail a guide would be great. And in a place hard hit by the earthquake, it felt reasonable to pay a little more, to help in a small way. 

Deepak led us to the start of the trail, which was basically the most obvious entrance to a trail ever. So, that was his first lie, which he exacerbated by turning to is after two minutes of walking on a well worn path and saying, “see isn’t this hard to follow?” We were like…uhhhhhhhhhhhh, sigh. 

Eventually we were happy to have him with us, as we got to certain points where we were either walking right through people’s yards (which would have been super awkward without him) or having to pick whether to follow one trail or another. 

We happened to go by deepak’s house along the way, where we met one of his daughters and his youngest son, and his wife, who invited us to lunch. We were so pleased and agreed immediately. Deepak’s family also had a TON of goats, including some baby ones that were to die for. I wanted to pet it so bad but it wasn’t having any of that. 

After about 45 min to an hour (so that’s lie #2) we made it to the viewpoint and it did not disappoint. From the hotel we saw the mountains from a vantage point where there was a hill in front of the Himalayas, making them impressive but hiding their massiveness a bit. From this other viewpoint, the mountains rose from a valley floor and from there, they looked, as they are, epically huge. They were in the sky so high that I almost mistook their peaks — which were really the only part you could see — for clouds. We got a mini glimpse of Everest from this viewpoint too, which was, deepak said, about 100 miles away (but with his track record, who knows — I haven’t confirmed with a map). 

After this we headed back down for lunch and were treated to dal bhat, which was the same meal we’d made for ourselves at the cooking class. It was at this point where things got kind of awkward. Amy and I had talked and decided we’d add a little extra to the amount we’d agreed to pay since they’d so kindly offered us lunch — we would give an additional 100 rupees or so, which was on par with what we’d paid in restaurants and took into account the fact he’d way overcharged is for the day. We planned when we paid him back at the hotel we’d give him the extra as a thank you for being such a kind guide. However, at the end of dinner (which was fine but didn’t really include vegetables (which it usually does) or lentils (which it usually does)) when we stood to go, deepak asked us, “so can you do something for her?” and then they both stared at us. We told him yeah, we actually had planned to give him extra at the end, but he told us that now was better. So we asked how much, and he said whatever you think. So I took out 100 rupees and handed it to his wife and she made this smile laugh noise and Amy and I weren’t sure what it meant. Happiness? Scoffing? We asked what it meant, if it was enough and he said, probably 100 more. So we gave it to her. And it wasn’t that it was so much money or that we were unhappy with the meal or ungrateful, but the way in which we were asked and the fact that it hadn’t been clear before he asked that the offer of lunch was a transaction and not just a kindness — it was strange and a bummer and really gave us a bummed feeling. 

We’d already agreed that he would guide us to sankhu he next day for the same price as our 2hour hike. Even though lonely planet said the hike was 2.5 to 4 hours, he said it was 5-6, the path was hard to follow, and that we would need a guide. He agreed to take us to sankhu and further, to the oldest temple in Nepal, another 1.5 hours walk from sankhu. We said in exchange we’d buy him a bus ticket back to nagarkot. 

Now, we felt unhappy or at least wary of this arrangement. during the day’s hike, he’d shown us receipts from his daughters school -and while it was interesting (and expensive), it was no accident he had them with him. It felt a little play acted, obvious, and awkward. 

Amy and I struggled that night to put words to the discomfort we felt. It made sense to us that we should pay a fair wage, and perhaps more, to anyone here in Nepal. Their need was greater. We had more. Especially after the earthquake, things needed to be rebuilt and we wanted our presence here as tourists to be a help to progress, not a hindrance. We didn’t mind paying extra, sometimes, viewing it as more like a donation of a sort to a country and a people that were kind enough to welcome us to their country and who were working to rebuild. 

However, we minded the lying or obviously planned omissions. We minded being played. We minded being made to feel awkward and cheap. 

At the same time, in a place like Nepal, where we are so privileged in comparison, is there any other way to feel? It’s fair that they view tourists as money bags — we are. It’s fair they want more. Who doesn’t? But it still didn’t sit right. We discussed cancelling his guiding the next day but ultimately decided to keep our side of the deal — he’d be our guide, but any funny business with money and we’d hold firm on our price and our deal, which we felt was fair. 

It turned out we were right to be wary. While we were happy for having a guide at certain points, it definitely wasn’t necessary. We stayed along the road for most of the hike and at one point I asked “is the road over there?” and he said no, even though ten minutes later we crossed the road. It was 2.5 hours to get to sankhu (not the 5-6 he’d insisted on) and he tried to charge us extra to go to the temple. When we got to sankhu he also tried to tell us that there wasn’t a bus to nagarkot, and that he had to take three buses back home, which would cost three times as much. At that point, his word was pretty much worth nothing and we were tired of the lies and the evasion. I also remembered reading about a bus to nagarkot from sankhu. So we told him wed pay the cost of the bus that we’d paid yesterday from a town further away – 40 rupees. we paid him and walked off, pretty unhappy with him in the end. We confirmed with a local there was definitely a bus to nagarkot, and that it was 30 rupees, so we felt good about sticking to our guns. 

It felt like such a demoralizing experience, really turbofan us off to the idea of having a guide in the future if it was going to be like this experience. 

The whole thing  Ibrought up a lot of questions for us about what was ethical or moral in these situations, whether deepak’s actions and words were fair or not, whether *our* actions were fair or not. I don’t think we ended up with any conclusions, just the feeling of disappointment that the interaction with him went as it did. 

Now, we’re back in Kathmandu, having left the luxury of our hotel and the many baby goats we saw along the walk to sankhu behind (pics on Facebook and to be added later here). 

Tonight, we’re staying at a new hostel with a great vibe and doing a vinyasa yoga class and tomorrow, we head to pokhara for several days via tourist bus — aka, we’ll have a seat for the 8-10 hour trip, which starts bright at early, at 7 a.m.  

Til next time!

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