The Le Meridian and Gokarna Forest is technically in Kathmandu but more like in a suburb on the outskirts of town. It was about an hour’s drive but that was mostly because of traffic. David got us there directly in spite of the lack of signage at critical forks in the road.

We arrived for tea and later discovered that lunch was served outside. We chose a nice table in the shade, ordered some fresh lime soda and availed ourselves of the salad. When we got up to see what was next we discovered that the monkeys had decided to share our lunch. The waiter ran over with a slingshot and chased the culprit away with only a spilled drink to show for his (or her) effort. Later a monkey popped out of the bushes only about 3-4 feet away. They may look cute but monkeys can be vicious and will bite and scratch deeply.

After lunch we decided to hire a guide (without whom we would never even have found the trail and for sure never found our way back) and take the 1.5 hour nature “walk” through Gokarna forest. He stopped at the kitchen and picked up a handful of salt.

Seems a major attraction is the Le Meridien golf course cut out of the jungle. We walked the 70+ steps down the hill to the first tee where a troop of 30+ monkeys was occupying the practice green and keeping the golfers at bay. We skirted around them and headed down the first fairway (which seemed narrow to me). The fairway sloped down at a 45 degree angle then up again before the green. Now I am not a golfer but that does seem a bit extreme. In addition to a caddy the golfers have a ball boy who dives into the forest and finds your sliced or hooked shot.

At a bend in the narrow fairway we followed our guide as he dove into the undergrowth and started climbing almost straight up the side of a hill. It is the Monsoon season and it rains every day on and off all day so it was rather muddy and slick. After a healthy climb the ground leveled off and we found ourselves under a canopy of trees with very little undergrowth.

Soon we discovered why our guide had salt. Our “walk in the woods” was not just in rainy season it was also the leach season. There were (literally) thousands of those little critters. Once my eyes focused I could see them about an inch tall kind of standing on their tails on leaves wiggling into position to launch themselves at us. We had to stop often and scrape them off our shoes and socks. Jacqui seemed to get the worst of them at first but we all collected our share. Then it started to rain. The tall leafy canopy keeps out the sun but not the rain. In seemed strangely incongruous to me to be walking through a forest with a multicolored umbrella over my head. But… whatever works. The umbrella was later folded and used to beat back those pesky leaches.

Then we noticed the soldiers with rifles giving us the once over. Later to find out that the Crown Prince was playing golf today and this was part of his protection detail.

Eventually we reemerged onto the golf course and after letting a twosome play through climbed back up a 45 degree hill and then up the 70+ steps to the hotel proper. David and Jacqui went off to their room with plans for us all to meet up at the swimming pool shortly.

Once back my room I peeled off my muddy shoes in the bathroom. The bloodstains on my left sock told me all was not well. I climbed into the shower and pulled off the socks. Sure enough five of those little buggers had gotten into my shoe and through my sock and were happily munching away at my left ankle. I removed each of them in turn but the floor continued to turn red. Seems that to make a leach more effective nature has equipped them to secrete an anticoagulant that keeps the blood flowing freely. The flow kept up for a couple of hours even after soaking my feet in the Jacuzzi.

This is one of those trips where nothing comes easy, even a simple “walk in the woods”.

The time away was a welcome sanity break after a high stress week and before an even more stressful one ahead.

PS: Miracles do happen; The Nepal Stock Exchange began live electronic trading on August 17, 2007.