All Aboard the Tourist Bus! -- NepalAuthor: Ryan C
Date of Trip: March 2006
"What to do? Should we go? Is it safe? Are we fools for even thinking of going?"
Lori and I had been planning our trip to Nepal for close to a year and following the latest news online via the local Nepalese newspapers for the last four months. Things had definitely heated up in the last month with a Maoist blockade of the major cities and a general unrest of all political parties. The "People" wanted the King's Monarchy to end and Parliament and Democracy restored! The situation had definitely escalated and come to a head. It was March 26th, 2006 in Hong Kong and the decision was made to go. As Americans, we must guard against a warped perception of safety. All over America people freak out about being killed by terrorists, contracting SARS or West Nile Virus, only to be run over by a Mom speeding in a gas guzzling, oversized SUV on her way to buy Supersized Happy Meals at McDonald's.
Everything went smoothly as the flesh of a ripe Thai mango during our 15 day trek through the Langtang region until it was time to get back to Kathmandu.
We had heard bits of news about a nationwide strike starting during the last days of our Trek. A strike and constant protests that would end up lasting over 20 days. A movement where many would be killed and thousands injured by the unnecessary brutal force of government troops. A movement which ultimately forced the King to restore Parliament and Democratic systems.
A true story of Power to the People!
Upon arriving at Melamchi Bazaar, the auto accessible town which marked the end of our trek, we were greeted by burning tires and emotional demonstrators chanting anti-king slogans. The busses, our ride to Kathmandu were all parked with the drivers adhering to the strike. It was Day five of the strike with no end in sight. Our guide informed us that it would take two days to walk to Kathmandu by road or one day if we took a "short cut." The next day I read a headline in a Nepalese Newspaper that said something like, "Ancestral Trails Used Once Again." During dinner a rumor began to circulate that a "truck" would come by around 5 A.M. and whoever fit could have a ride to Kathmandu for 1000 Rupees, about $15. Only tourists were allowed to move around the country during curfew hours.
Even though there was no immediate danger and the demonstrators were smiling at us, the mango smoothness had abruptly rotted away. Melachi Bazaar was by far the dirtiest and freakiest place we stayed. I locked the door with propped walking sticks, set the timer on Lori's watch, pulled her under my arm and slept like a renegade with the posse on his trail. Footsteps, extra hard breeze, breeze stopping, lights flickering, rain starting, rain stopping, crickets starting or stopping, you name it I was up and ready to turn on the Warrior and loose the Bruce (Lee).
No truck at 5. No truck at 5:15. A few of the savvy guides walked off at 5:20 to sort things out. I paced around practicing my chicken dialect with the local roosters. Right about the time I was being told to "Frkkkggggggggg Offffffffff!!" one of the guides comes running back and motions to all his Israeli clients that they needed help. Help meaning pushing whatever truck lay out of view up on the hill. I had already put in my head that the "Truck" was a tiny pickup and we'd be walking in dusty heat to catch our plane so when I crested the hill and saw a big farm truck that we'd surely all fit in I was elated. Now we just had to pop the clutch, throw a sign on it signaling we were tourists, and keep it on the road for the three hour trip!
I'll let the pictures do the talking for the three hour ride back to Kathmandu, a high ranking travel classic for sure. Things have settled down but the situation is still sensitive. The tourism industry is like 10 percent of what it used to be so they need willing travelers. It was amazing how many tourists were still there during Day five and Day six of the strike. Don't know when we'll be back but goose bumps have been emerging all through writing of this piece. Sure, there are Cokes in even the highest villages, carried on the backs of dark, wrinkled faced men and women but the terrain is a natural defense against Globalization. A sense of Spiritual happiness was exuded by the land and people of Nepal that we will hold onto for the rest of our lives.
Our guide, Narayan was arranged through Binod Mahat at www.hikenpal.com
Some Photos to Tell Our Story:
Tourist Bus If the clutch won't pop going forward then push it backwards! Notice Lori's head poking over the top.
Should we go? Town with curfew. Burning tires and demonstrators on the horizon with troops marching to go break it up. Was a bit concerned at this point as even the local truck driver wasn't sure if he should proceed.
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