Welcome to Nepal!
September 13, 2009 – 262 – Kathmandu, Nepal
Not a great start to an already, universally bad kind of day: border crossing day. Our guide overslept by half an hour and our driver had hired a local taxi driver to take us down to the border because he didn’t want to. In the questionable taxi down the mountain that suffered from horn abuse, goat collision, and overheating brakes that were, thoughtfully no doubt, cooled by pouring rainwater collected from the road directly onto the brake pads.
Our taxi driver was already in a foul mood since our guide made us all late and then because something else was forgotten and had to be found. By the time we actually began our journey to the border, the little angry man seemed close to having a nervous breakdown and/or running the taxi right over the edge of the cliff thanks to bad tires and steaming, warped brakes. Because of the late start, we had to contend with irritating amounts of traffic and other roadblocks that included Indian lorry trucks with loud musical horns, 7 large herds of goats (a total of approximately 1,000-1,200 goats), a dynamite explosion, and our near-failing overheating brakes.
Inevitably, at least 30 different goats crashed themselves into the back of our taxi, presumably in efforts to avoid crossing the border—no one likes border crossings, even freakishly horned goats. When this would happen, our taxi driver would (again) slam on the brakes and park the car while he got out to survey the damage (again). After what can only be assumed to be Tibetan curses, he would get back in and smash down the gas pedal to try and get back ahead in the semblance of a line, which would cause us to skid dangerously close to the edge of the road, threatening to send us careening over and into a crumpled, rocky, watery death below. At one point, so annoyingly close to the immigration offices, we were stopped momentarily for a dynamite charge set just a bit up the road (construction maybe? Or maybe just a detrimentally infuriated taxi driver? We never found out). During this time, our driver used the opportunity to cool off the brakes. He took an old jug from the back of the car and filled it with the runoff rainwater that covered parts of the road. Then, using obvious skill and general know-how, he knelt beside each front tire and poured the water right onto the brakes pads. Ahh, the smell of sizzling, steamy brakes; a comforting thought when they are the only (already feeble) thing keeping you from skidding off a mountain cliff.
Finally, after our taxi driver was nearing full on heart attack mode, we reached the bottom and joined a line of foreigners waiting to get the hell out of China. We were glad to be leaving but the sight of every person literally running out of the Nepali side made us wonder if we really wanted to go to Nepal.
Through customs and immigration we passed relatively unscathed. Our bags were all searched to make sure we were not carrying anything about Tibet that the Chinese government didn’t want anyone else to know about. Some people were even lucky enough to have EVERY SINGLE PHOTO on their camera checked. Luckily we noticed the one guard doing this and jumped in another line. We got stamped out and deposited unceremoniously and the other side of the Chinese border, officially in Nepal but not really. It took a short walk and a few guesses to figure out where the Nepali border office was located and soon after we got our very expensive visas and whew, we had done it. Now all that remained was getting from this no man’s land to Kathmandu. But first, lunch! We were starving from not getting to eat any breakfast and luckily found a little restaurant with no lights and several beautiful Nepali girls who served us our first delightfully cheap and entirely delicious taste of dal baht. It cost about US$1 for a huge plate of lentils and rice and chapati (flatbread) and in case that first enormous plate wasn’t enough to fill your stomach, you could get free refills until you exploded. The girls at the restaurant had a hey day giggling at the guys, who didn’t complain, and made sure they were well fed. Lin was just happy to be eating a good meal, something that doesn’t really exist in China.
Feeling full and lighthearted, we began our irritating search for a jeep to take us the remaining 4 hours to Kathmandu for a reasonable price. We went through 4 jeeps who would agree to a price and, once we were loaded in, would cram some random Nepali person up front and then demand more money. At this point, we would pile out and grab our bags with mounting frustration and find another driver, who did the same thing. Finally, we got one (who tried the same trick) and after a serious verbal row, Saben made him understand that he would not cram any more people in and we were paying the original price and that was that. So we set off on a road that would show us more of Nepal’s ways that we would realize until we had completed our two weeks here. On the way, we passed people shitting by the edge of the road into drainage ditches, buses piled high with people on top and overflowing out the door, the most obnoxious horns in the universe, the worst drivers in the universe, unnecessarily high rates of speed around blind, gravel strewn mountain curves wide enough for a car and a half, and inevitable hitchhiking that results in more people in/on one vehicle than could previously be imagined. And let’s not forget the actual road itself: unpaved, wet, and bumpy (understatement), riddled with lumps and craters and overflowing puddles of water from the perpetually wet mountain above. But that’s still not counting those lorries that park in the road by a large stream for a good washing (sometimes truck and driver), the other jeeps parked for a piss stop, random goats, children, people who walk in the road and do not respond in the least to the dozens of blaring horns at their backs, and finally the rushing river flowing far below the road but seems to have magnetic powers that pull buses, goats, trucks, and cars over the edge for a, shall we say, “better look.” Yes, this is Nepal. In your face, ears, and definitely invading your personal space. But fortunately the people do not stare as much as in China and the food is simple but good. No chicken feet or black eggs in sight here!
Five hours later we arrived in Kathmandu greeted by harsh plumes of dust that nearly suffocated Saben, whose seat was the truck bed. Traffic was more ridiculous than anyplace we have seen, definitely more so than Egypt or China. Heavy trucks, tiny cars, bicycles, motorbikes, pedestrians, goats, water buffalo, rickshaws and maybe spaceships too—it was hard to tell through the impenetrable force of traffic and thick dust. We were dropped in the huge and completely unnavigable district of Thamel where the four of us were separated in the chaos and ran to find a place to hide, er, sleep. It was a harsh introduction to Nepal, with that same traffic whizzing past within a breath of our arms and touts running and shouting at us. All we could do was turn off our senses and just walk, walk until we found a cheap hotel with not too many bugs. We still had not had a shower for nearly 3 days (EBC, the pay showers in the Chinese border town, and now today) and were happy to pay an outrageous $4 each for a room at the Tibet Guest House on a quiet side street with a clean room and English TV. Sinking into the bed and trying to get a full grasp on what we had just seen, we found our brains completely overloaded and at least a bit freaked out. This was a whole new land and can not even remotely be compared to anyplace else we have been to so far. This is probably good preparation for India. We will see how things go. But at last, the always dreaded border crossing day is at a close.