Navigating Pokhara as a Cripple

Ah Nepal! High Mountain ranges snow, trekking… What a dream right? Well Nepal had a whole different set of plans for me!

Annapurna mountain above Begnas Tal
The beautiful Annapurna mountain range that we enjoyed waking up to at vipassana, but that I could not trek. View from the vipassana centre.

I arrived into Nepal to realise, once I had crossed the border, that I had forgotten my ukulele on the bus in India. Shit. Detachment, one of the lessons taught by the Buddha, which almost sounded like an ironic reminder a couple of days before starting my vipassana meditation retreat.

My other gift from India was an upset stomach, I didn’t feel like eating too much food and felt like sleeping a lot, so that’s exactly what I did.

Vipassana

The path to the vipassana centre was beautiful. The path taught there was beautiful too.
The path to the vipassana centre was beautiful. The path taught there was beautiful too.

I successfully completed my 10 days of silent mediation retreat, sitting 10 hours a day in meditation, with no hot water to take a shower. What a challenge! As if it wasn’t already hard enough, I got hit hard on day 5 by diarrhea and a very upset stomach that felt like witchcraft was going on in there.

But I made it! Without even trying to escape!

Happy Holi!

Chloe at Holi
The festival of colours, Holi, is a day where people throw coloured powders on eachother.

As a reintroduction to the “real world”, the day we got out of meditation was Holi, the Hindu festival of colours! Of course we wanted to celebrate, and with my new vipassana friends we set out armed with bright colours powders and started painting each other’s faces. We took special care of my friend’s and my own blond hair that were perfect canvases for mixing colours.

The streets were loud and crowded, and it gave me a buzz to have so much contact with people after 10 days with none!

When I first entered a dancing crowd, I felt people moving around respecting other people’s body spaces as much as possible. But later on in the streets, I got a few butt and boob brushes that I couldn’t identify, and even a few butt grabs that were seriously unpleasant and disrespectful, and if I couldn’t identify a potential harasser I would hit him back. Damn.

I did try to wear a mask to protect a bit of my lungs but it got coloured from the inside as well!
I did try to wear a mask to protect a bit of my lungs but it got coloured from the inside as well!

Shit happens

But the real shit happened when a young man walking towards with his friends me grabbed my breast. Totally. In shock and angry, I turned around to stop him, but he pushed me violently to the ground and ran away. I felt sharp pain in my knee, and noticed that a concrete block had drawn a deep cut on my knee. I sat down for a few minutes, trying to figure out what had just happened, when I noticed a girl walking up to us nursing her breasts. “Did you also get that boob grab?” I ask her, and she nods. Yes. That man had ran off just to keep on attacking other women.
Suddenly I didn’t feel angry any more. I felt pity for that miserable person who didn’t know any better than grabbing women’s breasts on the streets, and I felt deep sadness for the girl who looked so hurt. Wherever she is I hope she is okay right now.

This is when I realised how powerful Vipassana had been. When, a few months ago, in India, someone had poked my butt in a crowd, I got so angry that I spend days and even weeks raging over the event. I felt desperate, angry, disrespected, hurt, and couldn’t get over the fact that this society often didn’t consider women as equal and I had been a victim.
But not this time. The attack had been far worse. Not a poke, a stranger had been holding my breast fully in his hand, on the street, without any invitation to do so. And then he pushed me to the ground and by the depth of the cut I knew it was badly damaged. But I didn’t feel angry. He can keep his own misery for himself, he will not make me miserable. I did feel sorrow for the other girl. And also for that poor guy. So miserable.

The women around helped me clean my wound, then my friend piggybacked me up the hill so I could reach our hotel. First mission: take a shower, second mission: clean and attend to the cut. Without putting holi colours in it if possible.

Experiencing the hospital in Pokhara

Chloe's knee x-ray from hospital in Pokhara
Not your typical travel pics… but no broken bones!

The following morning, when I tried to extract myself out of bed to go to the bathroom, I knew the situation was bad. I couldn’t bend my knee and could barely carry any weight on it. I decided to go to the hospital which was quite an interesting experience!

The landlady from our hotel insisted she come with me to the hospital: “If you go, you understand nothing. Difficult. If I come, easy.” Deal. So we take a taxi to reach Metro City hospital, where they unload me in a wheelchair. At that point, my knee was extremely painful, swollen, and I could barely bend it.

First thing I notice once in the wheelchair, is that the hospital is barely adapted to this form of transportation. There are doorways, small steps, steep inclines, which make the ride difficult and painful.
Once in a room, a women comes to me and introduces herself as doctor. She is not wearing a medical blouse nor a name tag. She says that if the pain is unbearable I can pay for emergency. When I ask her to explain what that means she says the doctor is not here, he will be available this afternoon and will have to see the wound and x-ray. But she can do a dressing and give me painkillers. I decide that I do not need this kind of service, so I am wheeled out of the room and my host goes to buy a “ticket” to see the doctor this afternoon. Then we buy some crutches. At least now I can walk around!

One of my favourtie things was when my friend was tired of my slow pace and would pick me up for a ride on his motorbike!
One of my favourtie things was when my friend was tired of my slow pace and would pick me up for a ride on his motorbike!

When we go back in the afternoon, I hobble to the doctors office. It is both a waiting room and office as the doctor sees the patient in front of everyone. If privacy is required, there is a bed hidden behind a curtain. My knee consultation is thus public. I am directed to the x-ray, then back to the doctor’s office.

At the x-ray, I feel really unsafe when the operator loosely covers my body with some protective wear, doubling it over my genitals and asking me to hold it close. I’m having my dose of radiation for a while I guess!

Good news: no broken bones! I get a new dressing, worse that what I would have done myself, then I get a knee brace. Now it is less painful to walk!

What to do with a wrecked leg in a tourist place

Phewa Lake in Pokhara
A beautiful lake and quite a nice place to be forced to stay… Still, after 10 days of roaming the same street I did get quite tired of it!

Everyday I looked with envy towards the sky, where multitudes of paragliders were hanging out enjoying the view on the Annapurna mountain range.
I spend hours at cafes and restaurants with my friends, enjoying a conversation with a cup of coffee and some warm sun.
Once my vipassana friends had gone, I didn’t have time to feel lonely: some magic appeared in the form of a small American dirt biker and her black Swedish friend.

“Hello Stranger! “

Sitting in a restaurant, waiting for my lunch, I observed a cool looking guy relaxing on the couch with his computer. Minutes later, with a cry of excitement, a girl runs in tapping her feet like and excited Japanese schoolgirl I am front of anything too Kawai.
I made up a scenario in my head where the girl had just rented her hiking equipment and was excited to join her friend for a hike. Not exactly right but it was a fun guess!

Rocking the pink hair, souvenirs from Holi!
Rocking the pink hair, souvenirs from Holi!

Before I even had my meal, the girl walked up to me: “Hey stranger! Would you like to join us?”. And suddenly I was part of the gang.

The two had big biking dreams, and planned to rent dirt bikes to ride up the mountains. During one week I had all the discussions of them making numerous plans, and eventually they did set off with an extended team on my last day in Pokhara!

The girl moved into my room, so the rent was really cheap. Three times cheaper than a bed in the dorm of most hostels! Plus we had our own private bathroom and space to make a mess, which is what I totally did.

During the week, various travellers momentarily joined us for a meal or more with the “Hello Stranger” technique. Pokhara was a friendly place and even striking up a conversation with a stranger on the street could lead you to hanging out together for the day!

Tibetan singing bowls sound bath at Nirvana

I went almost every day to Nirvana's free sound bath sessions, and also had a private!
I went almost every day to Nirvana’s free sound bath sessions, and also had a private!

A vipassana friend had told us about some free sound bath sessions at a hidden rooftop place called Nirvana. Luckily, we ran into it while we were roaming the streets and we joined one of the “chakra healing” sessions.

After vipassana and my new-found skills to scan the sensations over my whole body, it was an overwhelming sensation to be immersed in the vibrations of the singing bowls. I could feel the vibration concentrating on the right side of my body, one the same spots where I would feel the pain during the meditation sessions.

I joined nearly every day and was welcomed as family, and could feel my body releasing in different ways during every session. Aju, one of the practitioners, paid extra attention to my knee and even did some hot water therapy. I think it did help!

Sick of it!

“What a good time she spent!” you must be thinking. Truth is, I got sick again. Or maybe the bugs never went away. Most of the days I spent in Pokhara, I still had that bad diarrhea, and even worse, I had no appetite at all.
I had been dreaming of veggie burgers, of nachos, of fruits during vipassana, but I could barely eat more than one meal a day at that time. As a consequence I was extremely weak and had to spend a lot of time sleeping or resting my body.

I found a lovely French/Nepali restaurant which had MY FAVOURITE FEMINIST MAGAZINE and these adorable babies stole my crutches. That day I ate 2/3rds of a crepe and fell asleep for the day.
I found a lovely French/Nepali restaurant which had MY FAVOURITE FEMINIST MAGAZINE and these adorable babies stole my crutches. That day I ate 2/3rds of a crepe then fell asleep for the day.

My knee was still hurting a lot and with basically one main street that I had walked very slowly dozens of times, Pokhara had kind of lost its charm to me.

In the depths if my despair, I had my father and pharmacist back home helping me out with the medical issues, and I got my greatest friends on a Skype call where we barely managed to see each other but I was super happy to hear them all excited on their skiing weekend, and it gave me the motivation to book my plane back home in June!

The challenges of staying in a place that does not have the word “accessibility” on their menu.

How to attract even more touts as by being a white blonde traveller with blue eyes? Have crutches!
How to attract even more touts as by being a white blonde traveller with blue eyes? Have crutches!

It could have been worse, but Pokhara is definitely not a place I would call “accessible”. There are sidewalks (unlike most of India) but they are often broken and blocked by roadworks or motorbikes.
There is steps to access almost every shop and restaurant, and even my bathroom had a high step to enter!

In these moments, you learn to be grateful for small things. For one, I was blessing the inventor of western toilets. Seriously, how do you do when you can’t bend your leg?!

By the end of the week I spent there, the cut was closing nicely and I could walk slowly without crutches and was also able to fold my knee a bit. Slowly getting better!

Navigating Pokhara Lakeside's narrow paths is easier said than done with crutches!
Navigating Pokhara Lakeside’s narrow paths is easier said than done with crutches!
These toilets at OR2K look fantastic but the cowboy doors were VERY difficult to deal with for me!
These toilets at OR2K look fantastic but the cowboy doors were VERY difficult to deal with for me!
Assistive technologies for the disadvantaged. I hold eternal gratitude to the people who invented a contraption to allow females to pee while standing. It saved my life a few times as I couldn't bend my knees to use squat toilets.
Assistive technologies for the disadvantaged. I hold eternal gratitude to the people who invented a contraption to allow females to pee while standing. It saved my life a few times as I couldn’t bend my knees to use squat toilets.