Sunday, June 13, 2010

One week in Kathmandu

We had a whirlwind tour of Nepal. The night before we left Tibet, we heard that all buses in Nepal had been shut down because of a strike. Maoists from the countryside had set up checkpoints on all the roads around the country, and were beating people that refused to respect the strike. (Like, umm, bus-drivers!)

So, we weren't really sure what we'd find as we took our bus from the Tibetan border 3 hours to Kathmandu. (We found out that vehicles carrying foreign tourists were being allowed to pass.) We started hitting roadblocks about half an hour after the border. The first roadblocks were set up by the police. In fact, at about 10:30 in the morning we were told that we would not be able to continue on until 6:00 pm that night. (Apparently the angry mobs wouldn't see our white faces as easily at night, so we would be safer.) No amount of parading around with our kids convinced the policy officers that they should let us pass.

However, as the second and third tourist buses arrived, the officers saw that they would have a logistical nightmare on there hands with hundreds of bored Westerners. So, they decided to give us an "escort" past the screaming hordes of protesters. They stopped a passing sedan traveling in the opposite direction, and three police officers with bamboo sticks nervously piled in. We soon found the source of the trouble -- six young men chanting (and waving to us) on the side of the road. A mile or so later, our escort pulled over and we drove on.

As we approached Kathmandu, there were thousands of people on the streets, just walking from place to place. Soldiers in full riot gear relaxed near smiling Maoist strikers. The only cars on the streets said either "Tourists Only", "UN" or "Hospital".

In full Brooks' style, we didn't actually know where we were going to stay once we reached Nepal. There were 5 or 6 other people in the bus with us, and they were headed for the Radisson. Nothing, of course, could make us stay in such an
upscale hotel -- we like to rough it. (Nothing, -- until we discovered that the rooms included a breakfast buffet, and the hotel had an "Olive Garden".) Then, of course, we did it -- "for the kids".

The biggest effect of the strike (at least for us) was that there were no services available in the town. The only way to find restaurants that were open was word of mouth -- people would tell you which restaurants were serving, and how to get to their back doors (usually through the kitchen.) The few restaurants that remained clandestinely open had to be careful -- a couple of restaurants were destroyed by Maoists for ignoring the strike.

The next day we rushed to the Indian Embassy, applied for a tourist visa and bought our plane tickets to Delhi. This was apparently what the Maoists were waiting for, as they immediately cancelled their strike.

Things we managed to see while waiting for our visas to India


Tourist Central

Once the Maoists packed up their sticks and went home, we moved from the Radisson to the Kathmandu Guest House. KGH is backpacker heaven or hell, depending on how you see it, and -- for bonus points -- they had 4 kittens on the grounds. We also ran into Mel, Tony and Bebe -- our new friends that we had met in Tibet.

Being in the heart of grungy, exciting, chaotic Kathmandu also introduced us to our first street children. They come to the tourist areas because tourists pack lots of cash and aren't very good at saying "no". We met several Westerners that offered to take us to orphanages so that we could sponsor a child. (We later learned that -- much like in other sales-oriented businesses -- such a referral earned the Westerner 50% of the donation.) And, speaking of scams, we learned plenty of them. Suffice it to say that if someone tells you that "Concord" is the capital of New Hampshire within 12 seconds of meeting you, a request for money is coming.

My favorite was the 20 year-old who told me the capital of my state, explained that he had AIDS, but his son didn't, and then tried to pull the "milk scam" -- "I don't want money, can you just buy me some (overpriced) milk at that store over there so that I can return it and pocket the difference?")



Buddhist and Hindu Sites

  • Monkey Temple (Swayambunath): a Buddist temple on a hill above Kathmandu. The temple featured great views, and a monkey that tried to rip a necklace off Charlie's neck.
  • Durbar Square: Home to the Hippy Temple and stone carvings that make up Nepal's contribution to the Karma Sutra
  • The House of the Living Goddess (Kumari Ghar): The Kumari is a living goddess -- she is chosen when the previous Kumari reaches the ripe old age of about 13 (or when she gets her period), and must meet all sorts of divine criteria to be selected. Goddesses don't have that appealing of a life -- the Kumari is only allowed to leave her temple home a couple of times a year.
  • Pashupatina : a Hindu pilgrimage site, that includes a temple, caves for holy men, and platforms (Ghatts) to burn the bodies of deceased loved ones. This site really deserved more than the hour we had for it.
  • Sadus: Hindu holy men from Nepal and India. Very interesting to look at, painted white and yellow.

Kathmandu was a strange time in our trip, with the strike and traveling with our four kids. There's tons to see there, and someday we'd like to go back and do it justice. (And maybe visit the Lazy Gringo Mexican restaurant again.) ;-)

Genuine Holy Man -- or just a Character Actor?

Maoists in Action During the Strike

The Fam

Body Burning on a Ghat in Pashupatina

Hippies and (fake) Sadhus

Widows that live on donations at Pashupatina

Waving goodbye to Kathmandu at the (extremely security conscious) Kathmandu Airport


Mom/Cappa said...

I never cease to be amazed at your adventures. Do you ever feel afraid? I love the narrative, Christopher. You have a gift for, as always, your sense of humor. And, I assume, Wendy, that you are taking the photos. You have a great eye for posing everyone. I want copies of lots of the pictures!!!!! It looked like you kiddos were having fun with the kittens. Ours is a terror. Gene wants to change his name from Max to Terrible!!!!! It would be appropriate, but I like Max better! Love to all, Cappa

T. said...

Wow! Your life is adventurous, but it's nothing compared to the adventure of having an 8 week old baby. Here is my exciting day: baby wakes me up, feed baby, baby sleeps (oh, please please sleep for an hour), baby wakes up, cries, pees, eats, looks around and smiles (occasionally), sleeps (maybe)...I am just overwhelmed by the excitement...well you get the gist.

Ok - so your life is way more exciting and colorful - sounds like an amazing journey.

Love to you all, auntie Tamara