Save Asa the Leopard Cub

Asa means ‘Hope’ in Nepali, although there doesn’t seem to be much hope for her at the moment.

She’s injured, although the circumstances remain unclear as to when and how. It was possible poaching, possibly a conflict incident somewhere in unpoliced Nepal, and there are no facilities in Pokhara where she can be properly cared for.

Jack, the wildlife conservationist and all round animal super hero that I talked about in a previous post (Faces not Places: The Peace Eye-ers) rushed to help Asa when he heard she has been brought to Pokhara, but without a medical centre or staff he’s almost powerless to  do anything to help her apart from patch her up and hope she survives.

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He released this update on WildTiger Conservation and Research website, wildtiger.org, this morning:

Jack Kinross here for WildTiger Conservation Research and Development.

This is an interim WildTiger Journal.  Less than two hours ago as I 
write this I was rushed to this little leopard cub in Pokhara.  My friend Himalayan Times journalist Krishna Baral was alerted to this leopard’s plight and I climbed aboard the back of Krishna’s motorbike not knowing what to expect.

So this is Asa.  The name means “Hope” and this is a situation where I 
have hope.  There is also another even smaller leopard cub there and 
I am realistic about its chances of survival, to be honest, not great.  I’ll 
be back in the morning to apply antiseptic to a flesh wound on the little one.

We don’t know the full story.  All we know is that we have two tiny 
leopard cubs on our hands.  Whether it was a conflict situation or a 
poaching incident, we can’t think about that right now, we just have to do the best possible,

There are no facilities here in Pokhara, Nepal, for these situations.  
Krishna and I are hell bent on changing that.  We initially need funds 
for treatment for the cubs and then hopefully a transfer to Kathmandu zoo.  The cubs are in a little shed at one of the Forest Service locations and it is far from ideal.

This situation occurs too often.  We need a facility here in Pokhara.  If 
you can help please do.  Even $1 is better than nothing.

I’ll update this page tomorrow… 

Thanks,

Jack.”

I know it’s incredibly cheeky to ask people to donate their hard-earned and fiercely-protected cash, but, if you have a spare couple of quid or could forgo your morning coffee and donate to help Jack and all the incredible work he does preserving Nepal’s wildlife, I know he would be hugely grateful.

If you’d like to donate, or just follow Asa’s progress, scroll to the bottom of Jack’s webpage, here.

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5/2/14 Update links at bottom of page
to help save Asa, a symbol of the future…
5/2/14 Update links as the battle to save Asa continues
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Faces not Places: The Peace Eye-ers

When travelling I’ve always found that the places where I meet interesting, inspirational or just downright insane people are the places that stick the most in my mind. It’s often their faces I remember, those wine-soaked nights out or the spontaneous deviations from travel plans that come from starting a conversation on a cross-border bus, being invited into a local’s home or bonding with a Brit over missing decent (and decently-priced) cheese in Asia (or America or Africa or Australia, actually).

They are often people that you’d never naturally meet at home, like finding an unexpected friend during a moment of hell during an activity that makes you realise you’ve bitten off far more than your muscles can actually chew or just before you jump out of a plane and it suddenly occurs to you that this was perhaps not your brightest idea.

From the 17-year-old backpacker’s high on Khao San Road’s cheap clothes and beer to the travelling forty-somethings, revelling in a mutual lust for food, travel and foreign culture or re-inventing themselves and their professions abroad or the pensioner on their last hurrah, blowing the kid’s inheritance on one last, intoxicating swoop around the globe. From the Nepalese chef and the Amsterdam-dwelling nomadic writer to the Norwegian dog mushers and Chinese potato sellers, pocket-sized Philadelphia line dancers and the Japanese business man who thew in the corporate towel and intended to spend his foreseeable future island hopping.

Faces not Places is my attempt to record and remember these people that put certain destinations on the map for me.

Peace Eye, Pokhara, Nepal

I’ve already mentioned The Peace Eye Guest House in a rose-tinted Review Postcard, but it’s worth repeating that for me, and for my then boyfriend, despite memories of Pokhara being made up of cloud-clogged skies, boat graveyards and seemingly endless rain, it was also where we meant some incredible travellers who brought colour to the grey scape.

boat grave

Billy
Billy never offered a surname and we never asked for one. He is and always will be, simply Billy, like Madonna, or Jesus. When we met him he claimed that my boyfriend and I were surrounded by an aura of love and he must be born in December (he is) and I must be born in the Spring (I’m not). He looked puzzled and shrugged, claiming that I must be from the southern hemisphere then because I definitely looked like Spring. Apparently Billy was a seriously big deal on the 90’s DJ scene and if his hollow, spaced-out eyes and jittery gestures were anything to go by then it’s clear that the decade wasn’t kind to him.

Billy was hired by a club in Nepal to do their new year’s eve gig – techno, trance and dance have taken a firm, throttling grip on the Nepalese music scene … that and Beiber anyway. Billy never left Nepal and can be found either philosophising in Peace Eye, stoically playing chess in a herbal haze outside the distinctly lascivious Bar Santana, or physically coercing customers into buying his beer.

Tim
pictur159Tim is a sardonic American writer whose speech has a touch of the Bill Murray drawl. He grew up in Indiana in the conservative American Mid-West and, against his mother’s wishes (she still refuses to read his books in protest), he quit his job as a teacher and left with his wife to cycle around the world. He has been travelling for nine years and claims he can’t go back for another four, until his mortgage on his house is paid off back in America. So he drifts from place to place writing travel journals and self publishing them. You can read about his exploits at downtheroad.org

He was full of happy little tales like the time his wife went into an ashram in the foothills of India and never came back out. The last time I saw him they were in the middle of an acrimonious divorce. He offered me nuggets of wisdom gleaned from his years of travelling such as: ‘You’ve got to always look for the Adam’s apple man’ and ‘Every Euro girl needs a crazy American Uncle. It’s just the law.’

Jack
Jack is a Kiwi conservationist who seems to have lived in every continent on the planet and still maintains an insatiable wanderlust and genuine passion for exploration. He seemed to be El Capitan of Peace Eye, the ‘Red’ of Shawshank – all requests or queries went through him, he’s a man who knows people and who can get things. He shepherded and welcomed new comers, drawing them into his close-knit, random collection of friends. He works with wild tigers.org helping to protect and cultivate habitats and national parks and to stop illegal trading and poaching of wild animals in northern Nepal and across South East Asia. He is like the BFG, 6’5 and can be frequently found hunched at his ‘desk’ in the Peace Eye coffee lounge, huge hands tapping away at his tiny netbook, planning his next escape back into his natural habitat.
Jack

Cecile
Jack’s ‘Petit Croissant.’ The delightfully French Cecile was Parisian, without the pretence or the intimidating polish. She was reluctant to talk about her work and was pleasingly mysterious in her conversation. All I knew was she didn’t have to go back to work for another year and was about to visit her pregnant sister in Spain. Cecile gave up TV eight years ago and read voraciously instead. You’d often find her curled up with a book near the fire in Peace Eye, or softly talking with Jack in the corner, sharing plates of cheese and bottles of Chilean wine, smoke from her imported cigarettes curling around them as she giggled to punctuate each carefully phrased sentence: Je ne sais quoi doled out in snatches.

Paul
Paul looked like the outdoors. His skin was burned nut-brown from endless exposure to the elements. He was built like the knotted trees of Pokhara and smelt of sickeningly good health (he is a tea-total, vegetarian, non-smoker whose only vice is coffee). He comes from Hackney and trains TV camera crews and presenters to climb mountains and prepare for wildlife and adventure documentaries. Essentially he is personal trainer of the extreme sports variety and is, naturally, astonishingly fit. He casually mentioned that he had been to base camp – this is supposed to take 14-16 days – three times in two weeks. It only took him four days each time. Paul was an interesting bag of secrets who disappeared one morning without a warning or goodbye.

There were others who drifted in and out: Simon the middle-aged Palestinian who came to Pokhara to learn to para glide and who had just been reunited with his adopted son who grew up in Amsterdam. Katrine, the Danish student studying for her masters in molecular biology who came to climb mountains and Shieran, the then-owner of Peace Eye who yearned to play the guitar. He had a brilliant back catalogue of old rock, jazz and blues including Nora Jones, Eva Cassidy, Django Reinheart, Bob Dylan and Johnny  Cash and spent all day baking bread and brownies.

cinnamon roll

Peace Eye became our rose-tinted bubble, vaguely anaesthetised and tinged with gold. The prospect of leaving it and venturing out into the big, scary expanse of greater Pokhara seemed a terrifying prospect. I felt like the Lady of Shallot there, looking out of the windows, observing and documenting the passing world beyond the wooden frames without ever touching it, never leaving for fear of dying on the outside.

Peace Eye

We would venture out in groups to have lunch and read by the open fires in the restaurants along the river front: Mexican food in Maya against a moody soundtrack thrumming with bass and trumpets like a Frank Miller movie, fiery cocktails with names like ‘Monk’s Ruin’ and Mango Madness’ that burnt away brain cells in Love Kush, drinking beer and listening to abysmal Nepalese cover bands butchering Queen and Nirvana songs while drunk Russians formed mosh pits at Busy Bees.

Time slipped then stuck there in a vacuum of blank space but that hollow feeling that comes with wasted time was strangely absent. I was content to sit, to talk and to rest as the days faded and until the light retreated and the lanterns appeared. It was fabulous inertia, drug-like and soporific.

Of course all good things come to an end and mine ended one night with the return of a familiar bite of melancholy and itchy feet. There was a cyclical pattern to being with these people of WANT NEED HAVE WANT. I wanted to travel, so I did, but it wasn’t enough. There was always this debilitating sense of inadequacy, of insatiable and infuriating restlessness. I wanted to go and save tigers in Badia like Jack. I wanted to climb mountains in Patagonia like Paul. I wanted to live in Paris like Cecile and immerse myself in my own idea of being French; of drinking pernod and café au lait and swearing in thick, lyrical français. I WANT I WANT I WANT.

These people seemed aeons older than me. They were essentially roamers but they had jobs, reasons and responsibilities for being in Nepal and in Pokhara, and I envied them that – that complete assurance in their own purpose. As Jack whispered to Cecile as he hugged her goodbye at the bus station: ‘We both knew it had to end, this was part of the plan.’ But I’ll always have Peace Eye and all those who stayed with me.
Lake View

Peace Eye Guest House, Pokhara, Nepal

Peace Eye Lounge
We arrived in Pokhara during a thunderstorm, were dropped on a tarmac-covered bus station and ushered into one of the waiting taxis, through the urban sprawl and onto the lake front of Pokhara proper. We put our faith in the Lonely Planet and headed for their pick of the guesthouses: Peace Eye.It became a magical place for us, a home away from home for wanderers, a refuge for nomads and the travelling Diaspora. The rooms were cute, the location was fine, but it was made exceptional by the hospitality. We spent our days sitting in Peace Eye eating plates of home-cooked potato and cheese flat bread, steamed dumplings in soy bean soup and mugs of creamy hot chocolate that never seemed to make it onto our room bill.

Peace Eye was our rose-tinted bubble in the rains. I felt like the Lady of Shallot, observing the passing world beyond the wooden-framed windows.

I can’t promise that if you ever find yourself in down town Pokhara on a rainy morning that you’ll have the reception we did, but I emphatically urge everyone to visit, just for a day, to sit on the low-slung cushioned chairs by the brick kiln fire and try some freshly baked walnut bread and masala chai.

Image: Peace Eye

Chitwan National Park, Nepal

Chitwan Canopy

In Chitwan, Nepal you can organize up to week-long treks into the National Park to try and spot rhinos, tigers and the ever-elusive leopard. I joined a three-day trek from the Gaida Lodge and came across something unexpected deep in the forest.

As the first rays lit the forest floor, the morning mist evaporating. In the half-light the forest was a tangible sensation, an embalmed space where you could taste the damp richness of the soil and touch the heady moisture in the air. Shards of white light slipped and spilt through the canopy, falling in soft ribbons to the murky floor. All you could see was green and all you could smell was that fresh, sharp, living scent. Our guide Vishnu started to run and the forest erupted into a deafening cry, whooping and screaming as we crashed through the undergrowth until we came out on a path and straight into the eye-line of a giant one horned rhino.

It was one of those breathless moments of utter silence and immobility as we all stood, frozen while it dropped its head and grunted. It made a few short runs at us before deciding we weren’t worth the bother and instead letting us creep beside it while it fed on the surrounding foliage.

 

Kathmandu, Nepal

Room with a view
When you find out you’ve been allocated a window seat on a flight it always comes with a side order of smug satisfaction. You become baron of the window blind and lord of light with the power to block everyone else’s view if you fancy a sleep mid-flight. You might be first in line to be blinded by the eyeball-searingly unshielded sun as you swoop to land but you also have the chance to catch glimpses of views like this.

This was the view from my window as we climbed over the Mahabharat mountain range on route to Kathmandu from Delhi. As we scythed through the clouds, vast gulfs of rock, yawning valleys and indigo-stained peaks rose against the distant, milky blob of Mount Everest.

Then it all went a bit Garden State as the plane began a series of pant-wetting, buttock-clenching dips as went went through a patch of ‘thin air’ and my neighbour switched his mobile volume on full and thudded out a tangle of sitars, wailing and Bhangra beats. But who wouldn’t go through a bit of vomit-inducing turbulence to experience a view like this?