Stand-up comics Greg Davies and Rhod Gilbert, who’ve known each other for ten years, put their friendship to the test last night in a terrifying journey across Nepal.
Dressed, as Greg put it, like a “budget Swat team”, the pair embarked on a rickety drive from the Indian border to the frontier with China at the height of monsoon season.
It seemed odd that the trip began with a local man solemnly blessing their four-wheel drive. But pretty soon, you realised why. Five minutes in, Rhod was yelling a warning to Greg at the wheel: “There’s a goat, a cow – and a massive truck coming towards you!” It was like a bizarre game of space invaders, as designed by a country bumpkin.
So, their week started badly and it didn’t get any better. “Carelessness is very common here in Nepal,” said one helpful native, adding to my suspicions that, if you asked a Nepalese what the Highway Code was, they’d answer that it’s probably a lesser-known book by Dan Brown. This is, after all, a country where people think nothing of setting out a picnic…on a blind bend.
But joking aside, roads in this country are dangerous places: people are killed on them every day, whether by traffic or the landslides precipitated by the monsoon rains. There were times when Greg and Rhod were in real danger.
It was interesting, though, to witness exactly what fazed the two of them. Rhod was scared by human nature (ie their fellow road users’ mad overtaking manoeuvres), Greg by the power of nature: the look of terror on his face when they risked crossing an ongoing landslide was clearly genuine.
Meanwhile, in the comfort of my living room, it was enthralling – though at times nauseating – to watch the guys as they bounced along the badly surfaced (or entirely unsurfaced) highways. I hope the BBC had some cash spare for osteopath fees when they got home. Some of the footage came from a cameraphone held outside the car window, which brought home just how bone-jarring the journey really was.
But this wasn’t just a chance to laugh at two funny Brits abroad. There was also a fascinating insight into the wildly differing priorities of the Nepalese and the tourists who visit their beautiful country.
A road currently being extended through the Annapurna conservation area has proved controversial – to foreign trekkers, who think it ruins the region’s natural beauty. The people who live there, however, are all for it – it’s now so much easier for them to ferry the sick to hospital and to sell their produce to a wider market. Roads, they recognise, are essential for Nepal’s development.
In another segment, the comics were left visibly shocked and overwhelmed as they chanced upon an open-air cremation, acknowledging that the physical details of death are (no pun intended) rather shrouded in British culture.
Greg shared his regrets about not having travelled enough, instead spending too much time “worrying about things you don’t need to worry about”. Rhod likened the adrenalin rush of their white-knuckle drive to the high of stand-up comedy and acknowledged: “You think you’ve seen it all and then you see something that totally blows your mind. And I think that’s a real highlight, just seeing those little moments.”
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