Asia | Nepal | Kathmandu Valley | Kathmandu – Recovery
Cathedral-like spires rise up from the edge of a town, and immense snow covered mountains reveal themselves on the horizon while the jeep races up the road and bounces over a ridge. The sun beats warmly through the southern window, dust swirling in icy cold winds outside of our Land Cruiser travelling through the Himalayan Mountain Range on the way to Nepal.
“Yoo Teho” from Korea sits quietly in the front seat, occasionally being pestered by the jeep driver. Torsten, Pia, and I in the back carry on making conversation about so many things traveling, customs, our plans, our lives, our dreams Somewhere along the road to Old Tingri, I decided that I really had enough of cycling and asked Torsten, Pia, and You if I could stay with them to Katmandu. They were welcome to the idea, and I paid the jeep driver some extra Yuan for his trouble. The plan was to stay in Old Tingri, but the accommodation we found wasnt that great, so we decided to carry on to Nyalam. Nyalam on the surface looks like a nice seaside or mountain town, with its tall buildings perched along a cliff by a deep gorge. The accommodation wasnt that great in Nyalam either, and the temperature outside was also quite cold, but it was just a little too far to carry on to the next village, so I spent one more night huddled under several blankets watching my breath in the candlelight.
The next morning, we’re up at eight Beijing time (5:45 a.m. Nepal time), and on the road by 9:30. Magically descending from the barren Tibetan Plateau, first some scrub vegetation appears on the hills, followed by pine trees, and soon we are surrounded by lush palms, banana trees, bamboo, and tropical flowers including Poinsettias and Bougainvillea. We reach the Chinese border at around noon Beijing time, and after changing some money and arranging a jeep to take us the remaining distance to Katmandu for around 40 Euros, we complete the exit procedure, transfer everything to the new jeep and begin the journey through no mans land to the Nepali border. We personally cleared immigration and received our visas at around 11:30 a.m. Nepali time, but by 1:30 p.m., we were still waiting for our jeep to get across the Friendship Bridge and through the gate. I went and talked to the border guards, who were mostly busy beating back women and children trying to get past from one side to another, that is when they werent busy beating back porters laden down with huge baskets full of goods, or giant bundles of blankets for export. That seemed to be rather useless, so I went and talked to the immigration authorities and said that our jeep had been stuck for over two hours could something please be done to get our jeep through. You see nothing was moving. Trucks were parked on one side of the road, and that left mostly just enough room for one lane of traffic through the town. In addition, the customs yard was full, but trucks couldnt get out because of abandoned vehicles in the middle of the road, and other vehicles couldnt clear the bridge, because the Chinese inspectors were also taking their time to clear trucks lined up in that direction and also blocking the road. Throw in a few more abandoned vehicles, and a few more vehicles that would fill any space that opened in any direction, and you can get some sense of the chaotic gridlock. Eventually, after about another 45 minutes, our jeep finally got through and we began our journey through over a dozen checkpoints to the capital city of Nepal Katmandu.
Our driver told us that he was a Tibetan refugee, registered with the United Nations. Apparently, he was born in Nepal to a Nepalese Tibetan mother and Indian father, but he identifies as Tibetan and is married to a Nepali woman. We were traveling with his uncle, who had lived in Switzerland for over 25 years. We dont think he was really an uncle probably just a friend of the family. He also told us that he hates the Chinese because they are so short tempered, and that he thinks the Nepalese police are dogs when he wasnt ingratiating himself to them, and telling us that this one or that one was his friend. We were stopped at over a dozen checkpoints in the 125 km drive to the city of Katmandu. Most of them would wave us on, once they realized we were tourists, with only a few asking to see our passports. We were to learn quite a lot on our little drive. We were to learn that all of the people from the Congo in Africa, were also quite short tempered in his opinion. At least thats what he told us in between those moments, when he was rolling his window down and yelling at other drivers in the rush hour traffic surrounding Katmandu. Our driver was also kind enough to point out what he said was blood on the road from clashes between Nepalese Maoists and the army, slowing down and pointing to the pavement. Depending on how you look at, unfortunately, nobody in our jeep actually saw any blood on the road. At another location, high on a ridge, just outside Katmandu where there was a magnificent view of the sun setting on the Himalayan mountains, he refused to stop for a photo, because the Maoists might come out of the jungle, but there was a spot, just one kilometer down the road where he had a friend that ran a tea house, where we could stop. And we did stop there, and had some tea the best tea in all of Nepal apparently. Eventually, after asking directions from dozens of rickshaw driver and shopkeepers in Thamel, he managed to find his way to Paknajol area and drop us off just a short walk from our intended guesthouse.
I ended up staying my first night (November 4th) in Katmandu at the Tibet Peace Guesthouse, where they promised me a hot shower was available 24 hours a day, but when I went to have a shower, and let the water run for over five minutes, it didnt get much better than barely lukewarm. Having not had a shower for over a week, I toughed out the temperature and… (… here follows much whining about the Swiss-French manager who was an ass…) “cutting to the chase”: My decision was to find a new guesthouse the next morning.
I checked out and moved to the Katmandu Peace Guesthouse just down the lane. The service there has been excellent, and after a few days, I moved to a very large suite room with a bathtub and settled in for some serious recovery. Theyve given me a weekly rate of $70 US, so for Nepal, thats a little on the mid-range side, but quite acceptable considering the current strength of the Canadian dollar vs. the USD (finally!!!)
My jeep companions, Torsten and Pia, made some arrangements with Sebastian (the German cyclist), Yoo Teho(from Korea), Frederick, and Nora to meet for dinner on a nightly basis at 8:00 p.m., so we spent a few evenings sampling some of the Thamel district restaurants. One night, it was Blackened New Orleans style chicken accompanied by a live Jazz Trio. Another night, it was Fresh Spinach Ravioli with garden salad, and barbequed meatballs, and on another evening, barbequed chicken with Caesar salad. Sebastian amused me to no end with his stories of using his (ahem) letter from the (ahem) German-Chinese Friendship association to much advantage as he was traveling. (I think hes back in Germany at the moment shagging the president of the (ahem) association.) I had previously met Frederick and Nora at Rongbuk Monastery. Frederick was in Tibet as a rep from Amnesty International gathering information on current (and any possible new routes) for Tibetans escaping from the Chinese Tibetan Autonomous Region. Nora speaks excellent German, so she was assisting him as an interpreter. My personal opinion is that there is certainly not ever going to be a Free Tibet (and independence has been renounced even by the Dalai Lama), but hopefully with international pressure, the Chinese government will take steps to improve the lot of the Tibetan people, and help them to preserve their culture. Currently, they are continuing to build new prisons on their borders to detain potential refugees.
Anyway – after the limited choices in Tibet, it was nice to go to the bakery and pick up spinach quiche, lemon cheesecake, apple fritters, fresh croissants, or chocolate anything. Anything imported was available in Kathmandu, from Guava juices to Laughing Cow cheese, fresh fruits, dairy products, international newspapers, magazines, books in every language, and in my hotel, 14 English language stations on the TV. I could order room service from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., or once I was off my medication, stop by the grocery store on my way home, pick up some Wyndham Estate Shiraz, Rosemary and Juniper aromatherapy bubble bath, a couple of candles, some snacks, and have a cozy night in.
Speaking of medications – after about a week, I still wasnt feeling 100%, so I went to the Nepal International Clinic to get tested for parasites or poisons. They diagnosed viral Amoebic Dysentery and put me on a course of Entamizole Forte, which contains a combination of 500mg of Diloxanide Furoate and 400 mg of Metronidazole. However, after a couple of days on this medicine, I had a rather bad accident probably not due to the medicine, just general weakness. After using the Internet at the Buddha Restaurant in Thamel, I got up to pay and go to the washroom, but feeling a bit dizzy, had to sit back down again right away. Feeling better a minute later, I paid my bill and went to the toilet upstairs. I just barely made it inside the door and hung up my bag when I lost consciousness. When I woke up on the wet and rather gross bathroom floor, my glasses were knocked off, and I was still feeling a bit dizzy. I opened the door and a woman passing by helped me locate my glasses. (there’s more, but some things you don’t need to know). A series of people banged on the door demanding to get in. I yelled that there was another toilet they could use, but they either couldnt hear or didnt understand. I managed to get it together, and arriving back at my hotel, I realized that I had developed quite a bump on the back of my head, so I asked the hotel staff to make sure I was awake in the morning, in case I was suffering from a concussion. I was still a little dizzy with some blurriness on my left side. As with most falls, its not right away that you feel all of the pain, but a few hours later that things become clearer. I had the big bump on the back of my head where it meets the neck, a bruise developing around my right eye, but the most painful area was the area around my lower left ribs. There was a swelling, and it was increasingly painful to move, sit, stand, or lie down. After a couple of days, I decided to go to another international clinic that specialized in falls as well as travel illnesses. One of the good things about Katmandu, its large diplomatic and NGO community, and its long history of tourists visiting to trek the Himalayas, is that a good community of foreign doctors practice here. The CIWEC clinic did another test, found a different kind of Amoeba present (bacterial), and put me on a course of Cipro antibiotics. They also suspected that my ribs were dislocated and order some x-rays. Reviewing the x-rays, they believe that the ribs were temporarily dislocated, but possibly reset themselves, while leaving the cartilage out of place, which was causing the different appearance from the left side of my ribcage to the right side. All they could suggest was some Ibuprofen or painkillers to ease the discomfort until things hopefully sorted themselves out in the next 6 8 weeks. The eventually attributed the collapse to dehydration after some blood tests for anemia. Total bill – approx. $350 USD plus extended hotel stay and meals.
Im now finished the medicines, except for the Ibuprofen. My sisters and brother have called me to make sure Im doing okay. I am thanks for your calls. I havent done a lot of sightseeing, mostly just hanging out at the hotel, doing some shipping, some Christmas shopping, cleaning my camping gear for its return to Canada, and I sold the Chengdu purchased bike to a local cycling enthusiast. I could have shipped it back to Canada, but I probably would have to deal with duties and taxes, as Im sure that Canada Customs wouldnt give me credit for the bicycle that I inadvertently exported to Beijing. I also could have sold the bike for a bit more money to a shop, but the local guy that I sold it to was a cycling enthusiast, held a position with a UK based NGO that assisted street children, and did some personal fundraising for that organization as well, so I felt it was a better deal.
Ive also secured my visa for India, and that only took about nine and a half hours plus travel time during three days over the course of a week. All Indian embassies seem to be a preview of India, but the one in Nepal is among the most ridiculous in the world. It opens at 9:30 in the morning to an extensive queue of applicants ready to sign in and go through the metal detector and bag search. Then theres a line-up to submit a Telex form that is supposedly sent to your home countrys Indian Embassy. Of course, theres nobody to hand out the forms. The process for procuring one is to bud into the front of the line at the service window, and someone get the clerk to give you one. Then you can fill it out in black ink and capital letters while you stand in the line-up. The line-up progresses at a snails pace so slow, that if you arrive at the embassy any later than 9:45 a.m., you wont be seen that day. They officially close at noon, but keep the window open until 12:30. The first day, I arrived at 10 a.m. and had the window shut eight people in front of me. The second day, I arrived at 9 a.m. and had the window shut two people behind me. You pay your 300 rps Telex fee, and then can come back a week later to apply for your visa.
Of course, when you come back in a week, you have to line up at the telex counter again to receive confirmation of your clearance. Then you can apply for your visa and pay the 3050 rps fee. After that, its quite simple. Come back again between 4:30 and 5:15, clear security and pick up your passport complete with visa hopefully the one you applied for. The visa period starts from the date of issue.
The newspapers here are full of reports about clashes between the Maoists and the military. In the government biased publications, there are reports of forced recruitment by the Maoists, gang rapes of teenage girls by the security forces, general strikes called by the rebels, travel disruptions, seizures of ammunitions, casualty and body counts from the beginning of the war, and reports of local protests against Maoist intimidation. If you didnt read the paper, you would hardly know that anything was happening in Katmandu other than armed police and soldiers on the streets. Even during the recent Tihar festival (similar to Diwalli in India), everything seemed to be more or less normal, including the use of banned fireworks. People have asked me if i’m afraid of the Maoists, and “No. I’m more afraid of the current King who killed his brother and the entire family so he could become King, before kicking out the elected government and tripling the size of the military”.
Today, November 23rd, 2004, Im feeling much better. I plan to go back to the clinic to make sure Im clear of any bugs, and then start making some plans to do more traveling both inside Nepal and on my way home. But while it thunders and rains outside, I think Ill run the bath now, and open that bottle of Shiraz.
a few days later
After finally getting all my Christmas shopping and posting done, Im not sure Im totally better, but feel well enough to do some sightseeing, so I took the afternoon today and went to wander around the mostly traffic-free World heritage town of Bhaktapur. Bhaktapur has its share of tourist shops, but behind the main squares, life goes on much as it always has. Passing by doorways where sewing machines whir, carvers chip away at wood, women wring and rinse clothing in basins on the street, I can stop (more or less) in peace for a cup of tea near the side of a temple pool. In front of me, died wool dries in the sun, dogs sort out their hierarchy, goats wander amongst the chicken and ducks, and children swing and play hopscotch on the street. Its a refreshing break from the horn honking madness of Kathmandu.
Bhaktapur itself,was established in the 12th century, but it wasn’t until the 15th and 18th centuries that it gained its status as the capital of the Greater Malla Kingdom, and later in that period that the temples were built, justifying its position as a world heritage site.
The next day, I ventured down to Patan, just 8 kms from the center of Kathmandu. It’s even better preserved than Bhaktapur, and well worth visiting. Next, I leave for Pokhara and then it’s off to Mumbai.