When we say “Jeep” in the developing world, to be clear, we mean ”Jeep-like vehicle.” This can vary from high-end luxury passenger Jeep, to stripped-down ex-military vehicle, to active-duty military vehicle, to what was probably once a consumer vehicle, modified beyond all recognition until it looks like something from “Mad Max.”
The ‘Jeep’ we rode back to Pokhara in most clearly resembled the last type in that list. Every bit of paneling had been torn out, and benches had been installed in the trunk area. This converted a five-person vehicle to a ten-person vehicle. Which was good, because we were ten. No one, from the Nepali to the foreigners, was trying to pay for two Jeeps. Even split ten ways, this was a luxury.
But, sometimes, after a long struggle, you need a luxury.
The next morning I woke with a sense of sadness.
Today would see us out of the mountains, and back to Pokhara. Our time in this wilderness sanctuary was over. This idea was reinforced by our guides, who told us we could catch a jeep home after only a few hours walk. It felt weird to hear the words “jeep,” and consider riding in a car, when for the past ten days, we’d been on nothing but foot paths. I had kind of forgotten cars existed, up there in the steep mountains.
But modernity was beckoning.
“Wait until Jihnudana,” Ankit, the young porter, had told me again and again. “There, we dance.”
I had never thought that after nine days on the trail, walking miles and miles every day with a heavy load on my back, that I’d feel like dancing at the end of the day. But, come Jihnudanda, there I was, along with all my new friends: late night in the mountains, dancing and laughing until the neighbors told us to shut off the music.
By the time we reached Jihnudanda, Linjon and I had been trying to get drunk for four or five days. I’m not really sure why the idea had taken hold with us, but alcohol had been a huge topic of conversation between us on the trail.
Every time we brought it up, our guides said two things: “wait until Jihnu,” and “We will drink raksi!”
Raksi is a local Nepali liquor, fermented from god knows what, bottled in whatever is handy, and sure to give you a nasty headache if you overdo it.
They have a liquor like this almost everywhere in the world, it turns out. Palinka in Hungary, Rakija in Serbia, Arak in Bali, Aguadiente in Colombia… the list goes on. Most of them are better than raksi.
But after a week of hearing about the stuff, laughing and joking with our guides — our friends — of course we were gonna try it.
We retraced our route down the Annapurna Valley without much incident. We stopped at Chhommrong for lunch, where I bartered with a Tibetan woman for some souvenirs. She sold me two yak-bone bracelets. One, containing the “om-mani-padme-hum” mantra, I would give to Holly, the last time I would ever see her. The other, depicting the eight auspicious Buddhist symbols, I would wear on my wrist every day for nine months, a reminder to live an ethical life, before losing it while on a 24-hour, blacked out bender in Las Vegas.
But I didn’t know that, then.