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Taro's Travels

And the Meek shall inherit Room 101

INDIA | Saturday, 20 January 2007 | Views [1647]

It was the nearest hotel to Pokhara's Camping Chowk and the price was too low, but I took the room anyway. If I was to return to Kathmandu the next day, having just returned from trekking, it seemed silly to lug luggage all the way to Lakeside North, only to have to lug it all the way back at sparrowfart the following morning to Central Lakeside, where the taxis loiter. So I ambled along the underpass between shops to the courtyard around which the hotel was built.

The courtyard was rather pleasant, with lots of midday sunshine, balustraded walkways running round the perimeters of upper floors, and masses of potplants filled with flowers and greenery. The room, with bathroom attached, was 150 Rupees. 150? I know that the hotel was marginally north of Camping Chowk, but you pay that much for a night in a room without a bathroom at the top of Lakeside North. So I did a cursory spot check of the essentials: pillow ok; mattress not fantastic. Perhaps low season had struck while I was out of town? Whatever the reason, walking any more seemed an unnecessary luxury, and even though the price of the room was too low it seemed to meet the standards of acceptable squalour to which I had become accustomed. I took it.

I'd had a glance at the bathroom which contained the essentials (toilet, shower, sink, mirror, walls, floor, roof, etc.) but not a particularly long glance. Having accepted the room, I'd time to make a slightly more considered appraisal: the toilet didn't flush, but that wasn't particularly a problem since there was a bucket... three small daddy long legs had webbed a small patch above the door... and there appeared to be quite a few mosquitoes that had alighted on surfaces. I asked if there were another room; there wasn't. Given that the alternative was to pick up and move (and you know how loathe I am to do that) there was little choice but to spend a little time eradicating mosquitoes. The spiders I left untouched; punishing them for their abject failure as effective insect trappers seemed a little vaderesque, if eugenically sound.

There are about three and a half thousand species of mosquito, 150 or more of them in Nepal. My bathroom appeared to have two types. Which of Nepal's 150+ species these were is beyond the limits of year 10 biology and couldn't-care-less-ness. I hoped that neither were disease-bearing.

After twenty minutes or so of slapping and clapping, the bathroom appeared to be mosquito-free, and I inspected the bedroom. Mosquitoes clung to walls, roof, and curtains, and so another period of slapping and clapping ensued. Yes, it would have been simpler and perhaps more sensible to walk, but at that point I'd invested a lot of time in making the room mosquito free - ah, the perils of being somewhat obsessive. Two hours later, I looked up at the last two mosquitoes and left them for later. As you would know, if a job isn't worth doing, it really isn't worth doing properly, and I was bored with such mindless exercise violence. So I went out and did such necessary things such as eat, buy a ticket to Kathmandu, and deal with a week's backlog of email.

I returned that night. Outside my door I paused to look at those potplants on the balustraded walkway. Each had a driptray full of water; well, that explained the mosquitoes. Inside my door, it seemed that the pair I'd left had been busy breeding, which was a bit of a worry as I didn't realise that two mosquito species so obviously different could interbreed... and so quickly.

It was a long night - there's always those last few mosquitoes that only whine when the light goes off - and eventually I'd smeared most of them over hands and walls. At least, though, the room appeared to be hermetically sealed once the bathroom door was bolted, and I left the room to its insect inhabitants at sparrowfart the next morning. In the shoeboxy "Bachelor Mansions" I stayed at in Chennai, killing the swarming itinerant mosquitos was a fool's errand. The louvred windows were unsealable and had no screens, so the room would only stay clear for minutes before reinforcements arrived. Instead I huddled uncomfortably within my mosquito net.

A mosquito net is a useful bit of kit but it has a few downsides: despite being porous, it's degrees warmer under one than not; you need to hang it from something, and that's not always possible (at least without damaging walls); you need to use your bags and other belongings to create structures to raise sections of it off your skin (just hanging it leaves the net still in contact with limbs); and it appears to spontaneously grow mosquito-sized holes.

A Mosquito net isn't the only tool in the fight against sleep-disturbing mosquitoes. A fan helps if it's powerful enough, since mosquitoes are attracted by carbon dioxide, and a fan diffuses exhalations. The white noise that fans generate also help avoid the need for earplugs. Di-ethyl something something something, the insect repellent better known as DEET since noone can remember its proper name, is somewhat effective but stops working after only a few hours. I caught a 9 hour non-airconditioned bus from Chennai to Bangalore and got eaten alive by mosquitoes that appeared to be under the misapprehension that the DEET I basted myself with was some kind of appetising sauce.

I've only been bitten a few times by bedbugs, and seen them fewer, but I'm not sure if I like them any more than mosquitoes. On a balanced consideration, they're much nicer parasites: they are silent, they are rare, you can enjoy the outdoors without being harassed by them, and most importantly they are disease free. Mosquitoes kill millions with their malaria, dengue, and other diseases (many of them incurable); bedbugs are just uncomfortable. Yet, there's something extremely unpleasant about the thought of them crawling over one's sleeping form in search of a vein, and their bites remain itchier longer than those of mosquitoes.

Then there are the cockroaches and the rats, that pair supposedly poised to take over the world when the nuclear conflagration occurs. Compared with mosquitoes they appear relatively infrequently. I've actually seen relatively few cockroaches overseas: a few in rooms, a few scuttling out of drains, a few elsewhere. There may well be eateries all over that (never having completed their HACCP plan) are crawling with them, yet I've probably seen more in a comparable period in Sydney. There are rats in darkened streets, scurrying from niche to crack - the ability of a 4 cm high rat to run through a 2 cm gap is rather impressive - but not a majorly visible quantity either.

I suppose that the swarms of roaming dogs that fill so many city streets may keep the rat population suppressed; warm rat would provide a welcome respite from their usual meal of cold garbage. I don't know what's keeping the cockroaches in check; perhaps it's the surviving rats. There are predators that should be keeping mosquito numbers low, but they appear to be slacking (spiders, I'm looking at you).

Which is why, if I'm one of the lucky survivors of the nuclear conflagration, I, for one, am prepared to offer up my veins up to our new Mosquito Overlords.

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