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We moved downstream on the swelling Hood current just at daylight, our dugouts sliding along under the cliffs, riding the sucking chocolate-colored river. The Rajis paddled silently and raised their ragged sails as the sun touched the high shoulder of the gorge and triggered the chattering of a thousand monkeys and birds. The colonel passed me boiled eggs, orange juice and canned caviar for breakfast.
"We always go first class," he smiled.
We reached Chisapani that afternoon. The boatmen lashed their dugouts together into rafts and ferried the jeeps across. The river was rising quickly as we got the last vehicle over and we made our final camp in the trees below the gorge. There was a farewell supper of cold peacock, chital and wild boar, with each cook in his pride competing to prepare his tribal dishes for us, and it was dark when we finally slept. It was still dark when the colonel moved among the tents next morning, waking the porters and drivers. "There's another storm coming," he said. "It will break in about an hour and it could make the trails impassable."
"Could we get out then?" I asked.
"Downriver with the Raji boatmen into India," he said, "but that way could take weeks."
The storm gathered over the foothills, blackening the sky while we loaded the jeeps and started into the jungle. Wind and rain broke across Chisapani, dropping trees and erasing the foothills behind us. We ran ahead of the storm, fording the shallow streams with protesting engines and spinning wheels. Our jeeps made it past the steep banks of the half-dry Gogra before the rains filled its channels, and we finally stopped in the marketplace at Minapur while the storm passed behind, its ink-colored clouds churning over the jungle.
"We just missed a boat trip to India." I said.
We stopped for lunch under a mango two miles below the Nepalganj airstrip. The colonel drove ahead to check the plane from Katmandu.
That night we walked the empty streets of Katmandu, talking about the jungle storms. We crossed the darkened squares and passed among the ancient pagodas, where a band of street musicians was leaving a wedding party. We stopped and watched them pass through the domed stupas and terraced shrines and courtyards of silent granite bells. The high ching-ching of their cymbals rose above the shrill counterpoint of their flutes, and when they were gone, their music lingered hauntingly. The temple dogs put their heads back down and dozed, and it seemed that we had only imagined the musicians, and their music, and the mahseer.