Traveling internationally ain’t easy. It forces you to juggle a number of variables related to itineraries, transportation, visas, important communications, relationships, etc. Recently, I’ve felt like a bit of a circus act.
My initial travel to Nepal and trek into the Himalayas could not have gone smoother. I stepped off the plane on April 20th. Getting a visa on arrival and a trekking permit was painless, and by the next morning we were off in a taxi to Jiri and hiking by the afternoon. There were no hiccups in the trek, everyone performed well, no one succumbed to altitude, and we stayed completely on schedule. However, I knew that upon return to Kathmandu, I’d have to spend some time dealing with logistics.
First, I needed to complete some paperwork for future summer employment (which I will reveal to you later). That has proven to be more difficult than anticipated. But we’ll table that for the moment.
Second, with a desire to travel to Darjeeling, India to meet up with a friend, I knew I’d have to secure an Indian visa. There is an electronic visa available that is easy to apply for online and is relatively inexpensive, but it requires a traveler to enter the country through an airport. Unfortunately, flying from Kathmandu to Siliguri (close to Darjeeling) requires a 20 hour layover in the Kolkata airport, which is less than desirable. Regardless, I wanted to travel by land, and so an electronic visa was not an option for me. So I headed to the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu on May 12. I was hoping I could apply for my normal visa, then leave Kathmandu for another short stint into the mountains, returning to pick up my visa on the 21st or 22nd to begin my travels to Darjeeling on the 23rd of May. Dealing with Indian bureaucracy isn’t that easy. After applying for my visa and paying a fee, I was required to return to the embassy on the 18th to return a form, and then I should receive my visa within another 2 days, so around the 20th of May. Not to mention, between the second and third visit to the embassy, they keep your passport. This could be problematic depending what one wanted to during their time in visa limbo. This process is unfortunate because it essentially tied me down to Kathmandu so that I could be available in person to the Indian Embassy. I only learned this information while going through the process and was not told beforehand. So, rather than a potential 10 days away from Kathmandu between the 13th and 22nd, I was limited to only 5. This frustrated me endlessly, and if I had known how annoying it is to get a regular Indian Visa in person, I would have opted for the electronic visa and a 20 hour layover in Kolkata in favor of having 10 days to use as I please. Given how long it takes to travel around in Nepal, 5 days wasn’t a very big window for me to get into the mountains.
Nevertheless, I decided to head to Pokhara, Nepal’s second largest city. It sits at the shores of Phewa Lake and just south of the Annapurna Conservation Area. With only 5 days available, and 2 already reserved for travel, my hope was to spend at least one night, maybe two, in the Annapurnas.
Throughout all this legwork, however, I was dealing with a strong cough and a sore throat. Like many Himalayan expeditions past, my jaunt into the mountains was stopped dead in its tracks due to illness. I tried to chalk up my cough to the heavy amounts of pollution and dry air in Kathmandu, but even the cleaner, more humid air of Pokhara did not do the trick. I tried self medicating from things that were available at the pharmacy, but after days of use, there was little improvement. It was time to go to the doctor.
While I feared bronchitis or pneumonia, I thought it unlikely. Even if it was, I thought a doctor visit would consist of a simple chest exam and an antibiotic prescription and I’d be on my merry way. All of a sudden, I was giving blood samples and taking chest x-rays. To the doctor, the verdict was clear: I had pneumonia, and my right lower and middle lung was infected pretty bad. Feeling as if typical oral antibiotics wouldn’t do the trick, I was required to stay in the hospital to take medications through an IV and have regular nebulizer treatments. This would take 3 days and 2 nights, and hopefully I’d be healthy enough to get back to Kathmandu on time to deal with my Indian visa (while continuing oral antibiotics for five days following my discharge from the hospital).
I have had pneumonia before, but this was definitely the most extreme treatment I had ever received. Who was I to argue, though? I sure as hell don’t know how to read an x-ray, I was in a foreign country with unfamiliar pathogens and possibly different medications and procedures. I just wanted to get healthy ASAP so I could get back to doing what I do best: dope shit. So I messaged the friend I was with in Pokhara, told him the situation, and settled into three days at the hospital.
In an attempt to return to Kathmandu on time, the doctor wanted me to take a 30 minute flight rather than a 7 hour bus ride. I booked a flight for the day before I was scheduled to appear at the embassy. To add a cherry on top of my woes, insult to my injury, my flight out of Pokhara to Kathmandu was cancelled.
Ultimately, everything turned out fine. I caught a flight early the next morning and was able to deal with my Indian visa on time. I slowly but surely recovered. But the sickness rendered my frustrations about losing free time due to the Indian visa process irrelevant because I couldn’t do anything physically anway. I was sorely disappointed that I was unable to see the Annapurna Massif with my own two eyes, but there was only one thing I could do about it: nothing. When traveling, I guess you just have to roll with the punches. I hate wasting time on logistics or sickness, but when traveling for an extended period of time, I guess you have to spend some days inside, laying groundwork, correcting problems, getting healthy if necessary, or simply getting rest. It’s hard for me to do, but travel can’t always be “go-go-go.” You have to try to make the best of the downtime. Me, I indulged in one of finest pieces of literature of mountain triumph from the same mountains that stand just behind my hospital bed: Annapurna by Maurice Herzog. Armchair exploration and exercising the brain are good too.
Most importantly though, I want to thank the doctors, nurses, and staff at CIWEC Clinic Travel Medical Center in Pokhara, Nepal for their prompt and accurate diagnosis and action. Their care was friendly, comforting, and all around excellent. I knew I was in good hands. They helped turn a sick unhappy hospital camper back into a healthy and happy globe trekker. I cannot thank them enough, because it could have been much worse.
I also want to thank my mom, who had to spend countless hours on the phone dealing with insurance issues.
The woes of traveling are many, but somehow I know it’ll all be worth it. Or at least I keep telling myself that.