- The Top of The World...
Nov 19, 2003 09:13
friendly people, breathtaking view of the mountains, gorgeous temple
Cons: bad roads
To make the journey into Nepal easier we hired a car to take us
across the Nepal border and then on to our first stop ?the city
of Pokhara. A bus ride would involve a change of busses at the border
and at least 15 hours. We were lucky enough to cross paths with
a French couple at our hotel in Varanasi who were looking to make
the same trip, so we shared the cost and the four of us were off.
It was as if someone knew what they were doing when they placed
the border on the map. It had been a dreary, gray drive until we
were within 5km of Nepal. Suddenly, and we kid you not, the clouds
parted and the sun broke through. The grass was greener and the
streets were cleaner. The air had a crisp feel to it that we had
not experienced for several months now. With a friendly smile, the
immigration worker stamped our passport. It was good to be in Nepal.
For those of you that may not be aware, during the last seven years,
there has been a declared “people’s war?carried out
by Maoist rebels of the Communist Party of Nepal. Derived from their
stated frustrations of a corrupt government and by the failure of
democracy to deliver improvements to the people, the uprising has
turned quite nasty at times and by the end of 2002 had seen the
death of 8000 people, including many innocent civilians. To date,
they have had a policy of not targeting foreigners, but caution
is advised because you could always be at the wrong place at the
wrong time. Expectedly, and sadly, it has been the innocent people
caught in the crossfire and the tourism industry that has paid a
huge price for the instability of the current political situation.
Ceasefires have come and gone, and although the majority of the
fighting and incidents take place in the more rural areas, there
is currently fighting going on across the country. Strikes called
by the Maoists can bring highways to a standstill and make cities
appear as ghost towns. The final outcome is not certain, but it
is the hope of many that peace will very soon find its way to this
We still had 5 or 6 hours until we reached Pokhara and with the
current security situation, we had to hurry as the military highway
curfews would go into effect at 7:30 pm. At that time, unless you
had a road pass, you were not permitted to be on the roads. Most
of the highway conditions were pretty good, but one stretch led
us up along a river gorge and through a range of mountains. The
monsoons had been heavy during the past wet season and this road
had taken quite a beating. Mudslides had traveled across the road
leaving it in bad disrepair. In some areas, the bridges had washed
out. A decent two-lane road was now barely one lane in some places.
Large trucks and busses, along with the rare car, had to line up
and take turns going over the newly bulldozed sections. It was as
slow as a crawl at times, and we’d be lying if we didn’t
admit that we held our breath on a couple of occasions. At one point,
Jon looked out the window, and could see straight down to the river
below. The only other thing in view was the old sections of road
that lay in ruins across some boulders about 50 feet below. After
making our crossing, the highway improved, but it took us longer
than expected. The evening got later. 7:30 pm passed, and at one
of the final military checkpoints, our Indian driver was questioned
as to why he was still out on the roads without a road pass. By
this point, we had gotten fairly adept at using our flashlights
so that each time we reached a checkpoint we’d shine it on
our foreign faces sporting nice big smiles. The nice soldiers with
their loaded weapons in their sand bag bunkers were thankfully smiling
too, and after 10 minutes or so of discussion and radio contact
with someone down the road, they informed us that because we were
foreigners, we were permitted to continue the last 30km to Pokhara.
A warm dinner and a warm bed were both welcome sights.
We awoke the next morning, opened the curtains in our room, and
had a breathtaking view of the biggest mountains we had ever seen.
The Annapurna Range towered above the foothills. They were so magnificent
that they almost didn’t look real. Good morning Nepal. We
spend several days in Pokhara just enjoying the world around us
and being continuously amazed at just how beautiful it really was.
Eventually, we started heading east across the country and made
a couple of planned stops. The first of which was the small village
Bandipur straddles a ridge up in the hills and has a real charming
feel about it. The majority of the architecture is preserved, and
not at all being overrun with tourists, retains a feeling of real
life in rural Nepal. On our first day of visiting the village and
walking along its narrow streets and pathways, many adults and children
greeted us. We visited the local primary school and, after being
invited into the school by the headmaster, experienced the feeling
of being overrun by 300 curious and screaming children. That evening
on our way back to the guesthouse, a family even invited us to visit
and celebrate the final day of the Nepalese festival of Tihar with
them. We spent a good portion of the evening and the next morning
with their extended family and friends. It was a really great experience
and a special treat to be welcomed to take part in the event.
After a stop in Chitwan National Park where we were successful in
spotting a few wild rhinos, we headed to Kathmandu, the capital
of Nepal. A beautiful city in its own right, Kathmandu and the surrounding
area offer some gorgeous temple architecture, narrow streets with
crumbling storefronts, and the traffic and pedestrian chaos one
would expect from a capital city. Many warned us to be prepared
for the pollution, but we didn’t find it to be so bad. It
has a certain appeal for us and is certainly one of the most unique
cities that we have visited.
Overall, Nepal ranks as one of our most favorite countries on the
trip thus far. The people are friendly and we have found few places
better to just roam about and watch local people go about their
daily lives. Our only complaint is that we don’t have more
time to spend here. It will have to wait for another day as we are
now down to our last month. We’re now crossing back briefly
into the Northeastern part of India in order to visit the state
of Sikkim, the city of Darjeeling, and the city of Kolkata (Calcutta)
from which we will depart the sub-continent and return to Bangkok.
Our time on the road is getting shorter, but the adventure isn’t
over quite yet. Further reports from this side of the world will
just have to wait...
Until Next Time,
Jon and Liz