11 October 2009Comments are off for this post.

Nepal Part 3 – The Adventure Begins

You know how in movies and television shows roosters crow just as the sun is beginning to rise? That's bullshit. Roosters crow all night, and then continue after the sun has risen. They're the most obnoxious animals that I can think of, besides our cat, and everyone in Kathmandu seems to have one (a rooster, not a cat, Nepalis pretty much hate cats).

Normally 4:30 is closer to the time I go to bed than get up, but with shifting our clocks almost exactly twelve hours, our early bed time the night before, and the crowing, waking at 4:30 wasn't a problem. We got dressed, grabbed our bags and dragged them out to the taxis that were taking us to the bus station. Between the six of us and our bags, it was quite a feat packing everything in, but with a little experimentation we made it work. The taxi I rode in had incense burning in the air vent, and Nepali music playing on the radio, both of which served as a welcome distraction as we sped through the early morning streets of Kathmandu.

A funny thing happened at the bus station. Like just about every other place where there are buses, there are people walking around selling things - food, drinks, trinkets, the stuff nobody really needs, and in this case, watches. I was already wearing a watch, but they tried to sell me one anyway. As I was saying no I took a quick glance at the watches. Something caught my eye, so I looked again, and saw that they were trying to sell me a counterfeit copy of the watch that I was wearing. It's nothing special, just a Seiko diver that I use as an every day beater, I was surprised that anyone would even bother to make a fake version. But I digress.

The bus system in Nepal works a little bit different than in the United States. Buses aren't owned or run by the government. If someone wants to be a bus driver they buy a bus and start picking people up. I suppose there are certain advantages to this, but it also means that the buses can be pretty inconsistent. Actually, I should say that the buses are very consistent - consistently bad, and poorly maintained. The drivers are what's really inconsistent. Some are great - they drive at a reasonable rate, are sober, and aren't overly aggressive. Others aren't so much - they speed, they're drunk, they pass aggressively and race each other for fares at the risk of wrecking the bus and everyone inside it. Fun.

Our first driver turned out to be a pretty good one. Without the driver to worry about, we were left to the helper's questionable taste in music and movies, and hoping the drivers around us were sober - for the six hours it took us to travel one hundred miles. Before you start thinking that's a pretty outrageous amount of time to spend going one hundred miles, I should mention that another group we ran into later took over twelve hours to travel the same route * - we were doing pretty well. Aside from the awful movie that was restarted after every food and bathroom break and played at full volume.

Our first bus ride ended in Besisahar which is the traditional start of the trek. In order to avoid walking on roads and to save some time we decided to have lunch and then take a jeep up to the end of the road. The jeep was more like another bus than a jeep, and it was packed about as tight as can be. To avoid spending forty-five minutes with a bunch of hot sweaty people I rode on top with the luggage and a few of the younger Nepali guys. It was like a roller coaster, with everyone throwing their hands in the air and yelling every time we started down a steep section, crossed a stream, or passed a girl. Then I discovered that two of the three bolts intended to attach the ladder I was riding to the bus were missing, and remembered that this was more of a third world death trap of a roller coaster.

At the time, the road ended about two hours of walking away from Nadi Bazaar, though with continued construction the distance is likely less now. The distance worked out to be just about perfect because just as we arrived in Nadi Bazaar, the sporadic drizzle we'd been walking in turned into a full out downpour. After that we were left with what would become the nightly ritual of drinking tea, purifying water, eating dinner, and collapsing into bed sometime around eight.

*something about the bus getting a flat tire and the spare tire being flat and flagging down another bus which also had a flat spare tire and then driving on a flat tire to find a shop to fix it. Twice.

[svgallery name="Nepal2"]

22 June 2009Comments are off for this post.

Nepal Part 2 – Hacking Kathmandu

Catching cabs at the airport in Kathmandu is an interesting experience. Catch a cab from just about anywhere in the city and you can get to the airport for around 200 Rupes. Get out of that cab and into another one and they want to charge you 500 Rupes to go back. It's an interesting sort of negotiation where if the driver doesn't agree with your price they'll just drive off while you're in mid-sentence. It's pretty damn amusing, actually. So long as you're not in a hurry.

We managed to find a cab, and survived the ride to Franz and Melissa's house. James had a phone call about the same time we were arriving, and hadn't been able to to out to the airport. So the thee siblings, Dara, Melissa and James were all together for the first time in eight months. It was a brief but happy reunion from which we headed down to Thamel - the tourist district - to get some lunch, pick up the trekking permits and do a little shopping.

After lunch, Melissa, Dara and James did a little shopping in Thamel while Franz and I went out to see some of the city. Expecting a short trip without much to see, I had left my camera at home that morning, so sadly there are no photos. We spent a couple hours walking around and saw Thamel, Durbar Square, Kumari Ghar, the Pigeon Temple, Freak Street - not actually that interesting, and Indra Chowk - the main market street. Great stuff and worth a visit if you're in town.

Everything went well with the trekking permits, bus tickets and provisions purchasing.  Then just about the time we finished we learned that the prime minister had stepped down over a conflict about the head of the army. I don't know nearly enough about Nepali politics to begin to describe that, but Franz and Melissa's upstairs neighbors suggested that we stay in Kathmandu, stock up on food and supplies and lock ourselves in the house. It should be noted that these neighbors are easily frightened, and offer the same advice just about any time there's any sort of political unrest. This prompted a few hours of frantic information gathering as we had expected to leave Kathmandu around 4:30 the next morning and didn't have a lot of time to decide whether it was better to stay in Kathmandu where it would be easier to evacuate, should the need arise, or be up in the mountains where we would be less likely to be affected by unrest in the city.

After some debate we decided to go for it and head out for the trek in the morning. The rest of the evening was spent packing bags and having dinner before an early bed time. After all of the taveling and activity, falling asleep early for our 4:30 wake time wasn't a problem for Dara or I.

Gallery - A few shots from in and around Franz and Melissa's place in Kathmandu.

[svgallery name="Nepal1"]