One notices the gridlocked traffic on the way out from Tribhuvan Airport in Kathmandu. Our taxi makes it's way slowly, crawling through the 6pm end-of-day traffic. I am struck by the thick knot of vehicles of every kind and description that surround us, especially the ubiquitous motorcycles that fill every available inch of space on the roadway between trucks and cars and pedestrians seeking to cling to a safe edge to the road. It always amazes me that there are extremely few accidents given that all are passing within centimeters of each other in an imperfectly orchestrated dance of chaotic movement. I thank god I am not behind the wheel having to negotiate this craziness. Somehow we make the journey safely to the home of the brother of my wife in a neighborhood called Battisputali, which means "32 Butterflies". I have yet to decipher the meaning of the name for this middle-class area which is part of Metropolitan Kathmandu, the 32 butterflies have long since fled. 100 years ago it must have been a very beautiful place.
I have helped my wife's brother complete their home and as it is now almost finished we are given a very gracious and warm welcome. My brother-in-law has three kids and cares for both his very elderly parents in what used to be a very small 4 room house. Now it has three floors and he has moved his own bed to the top floor bedroom for us to use during our visit. I am very moved at this spirit of hospitality and wonder if I would have done the same had the roles been reversed. I would like to think so...
Nepal is a country of 32 million people, yet it seems like everybody knows everybody else. It is common for strangers on the street to address each other as dai (brother) if a man and didi (elder sister) if a woman older than oneself and bohini (younger sister) if a woman younger than oneself. The common courtesy and respect shown to each other in this, the 13th poorest country in the world, is truly moving. I will never forget the time I dropped a one rupee note in a 10 person capacity common taxi (known as a "tuk-tuk") and a young man ran after me to return it. I looked at him and asked why he had bothered for such a small amount? He looked to me with innocent eyes and said "It doesn't matter the amount, it belongs to you!
The Kathmandu Valley has been designate by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site because of the many examples of ancient architecture and art scattered throughout the valley. Millions upon millions of dollars have been poured in to the country through government and NGO and UN grants. Unfortunately, Nepal is also one of the most corrupt countries in the world and perhaps 90% of the money has been raked off by government officials on the the take. As a result there has been little done to preserve the common heritage of Nepal's incredible artisans, not to mention building an infrastructure that would ease the burden of the ever-increasing population and showcase these treasures. The UN has now classified Kathmandu as the prime example of what not to do in a 25 year plan for sustainable development.
The valley itself is quite small and studies have shown that the maximum sustainable amount of motorized vehicles is 25,000. At last count there was more than 60,000 plying the pitched and potholed roads throughout the valley. As a result of petrol shortages, greedy gasoline dealers have mixed kerosene with the petrol to stretch it for more profit. Unfortunately this has the effect of creating a deadly pollution in the atmosphere and fouling the catalytic converters of cars. Now, one in three denizens of the valley has a respiratory disease and this percentage can only increase. One would be foolish is they didn't wear some kind of mask having to daily breathe in the polluted air. It is unfortunate that only about 1 in 10 choose to don some kind of protection. My own wife's scarred (from tuberculosis) lungs would already have given out had I not moved her from her native land.
I am now in the process of checking many different tour operators for getting the best price on a trip to Tibet. Anybody trying to plan such a trip would be well advised to buy their ticket to Kathmandu and then shop around for the best price. Buying a trip from a travel agent in the states or Europe is hideously expensive. It is no problem to spend 10-15k for a group tour of three weeks to Tibet (inclusive of airfare from the West). Right now I am pricing out a trip of 6 nights somewhere in the range of $1500. This will include the airfare from Kathmandu to Lhasa, airport transfer, the tour guide, 3 star hotel, breakfasts, entrance fees, admissions, and transport to several outlying areas by car. It can be difficult to know who to trust but if you do your homework and check references independently you can save a significant sum.
Next time I will describe some of the main attractions to see in the Kathmandu Valley as my trip to Tibet will not start till March 2nd.
I can't wait to read more too! I hope you brought your camera with you.
By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity -- another man's I mean.
What a treat,thank you Lamagonzo.When you wrote of an upcoming travelogue I was thinking virtual,a literary slideshow of past experiences if you will....Now I find that you are there, on the road to Tibet....Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and oservations along the way.
Om Namaha Shivaya
P.S. I have to tell you my seat got a little tense when I read the account of the approach into the valley,wheeee!
can't wait to hear more! Safe travels to you guys.
Well, we packed up and headed for the airport to start our Himalayan holiday last Sunday. We decided to do one last day in the lap of luxury at the Harborside Hyatt at Logan Airport in Boston so we wouldn't have to get up at midnight to make a 9am flight. Sitting in the hotel restaurant watching the Boston skyline fading in to the night sky, my wife and I held hands and thought about the less than easy travails in the third-world countries that were to come.
We made the flight and noticed that American Airlines had really slipped a couple of notches in their service. The air hostesses aren't as young and pretty as they used to be and they are quite a bit more surly these days, to the point of being almost insulting. This probably has something to do with the fact that their pay has been cut to about $8.50 an hour. Every other international carrier in the world still served free alcoholic drinks on their flight except American. $6 bucks for beer and $7 for spirits. Time to start filling up those three ounce clear plastic containers!
Transiting Heathrow was less than thrill. It was hard to find any white anglos working at the airport but delightful to engage the different nationalities doing every conceivable kind of menial chore. If only I could be that happy driving a bus or pushing a broom or cleaning a bathroom!
From London it was on to sunny Bahrain. This was a new destination for me. I have to admit that the Arabian peninsula has never been on my list of places to visit. An American naval fleet is stationed in Manama, Bahrain. It is a major base of naval operations for projecting power throughout the Middle East. In the seat next to me was a 30-something old white guy perusing jihadi literature. By the way he was lapping it up it seemed clear where he was heading on to the Arabian peninsula. Then again, he may have been part of naval intelligence boning up on the enemy psyche. The few western people in the airport exchanged furtive, conspiratorial glances at each other during our 3.5 hour layover. We retreated to the over air-conditioned nicety of the airport luxury restaurant where we washed up in the immaculate restrooms (as opposed to the slip'n'slide, toilet-paper-less ones in the main waiting hall) and generally tried to recover after two six hour flights.
Bahrain is a major transit point for the Nepali diaspora (our final destination was Kathmandu) who have been forced to look outside their poor, undeveloped country for work to support their families. From Doha and Dubai and Riyadh and Jiddha as well as Abu Dhabi and many other petro-dollar rich countries they flock to be the nannies and maids and gardeners and laborers for countries where the locals do no work and survive on a $50,000 a year dole. As Bahrain's national carrier is the only one in the Middle East to service Kathmandu, they all funnel through here for the final flight home. The happy chatter on the plane, complete with picture taking, is testament to their exuberance at finally returning home to their friends and families after periods of 2-5 years of being away. All of this is of course fueled by unlimited amounts of whiskey and beer but with unwavering camraderie,
Our 22 hour ordeal finally ended yesterday at 6pm after our flight slowly glided into the Kathmandu valley passing majestic snow peaks jutting above puffy white clouds. The lower lying hills that ring the valley and have caught many a pilot by their last surprise before crashing also passed less than 100 feet below us and finally we glided gently down to the lushly verdant green fields that mark the agriculture of Nepal. We'd finally made it, only to notice that as the last streaks of sun faded there was little light to be seen in the great city of 2.5 million people. Power load-shedding had blacked out the great city except for those lucky few with solar or generators.
The crush began immediately upon leaving the airport. Many skinny brown arms and hands held out with their palms outstretched, begging my wife (who is Nepali) for a handout, explaining briefly how desperately hungry they were. An unsurprising welcome home for my wife,
Next: making preparations for Tibet.
Ah yes,the roof of the world.Would that be the Himalayan mountains Lamagonzo?I am looking forward to the trip....
Them old US Blues makin' you lose your cool?
Travelogue to the roof of the world starts here Feb. 15th. Not that anybody would be interested but it's time to mellow out and appreciate that not everybody on this planet buys into our reality. (Unless their idyllic island nation is going under the waves).
Time to leave the acerbic observations behind, lay it way back and observe the locals. The ones who aren't too busy trying to be like us...
I See Unicorns - Morning dew (dedicated to Jerry Garcia) progressive chill-out
Hope you like it. thank you for listening.
not even that...just a masquerade of clothes and very cool looking personas that have naught
to do with the real thing
but that's not the reason to come to asia right lest its goa, asia is the roots, we are just playing in its leaves....blow blow away...but it's great looking down from space.
... Ken & Barbies while on tour in the day. Ya' know -- slumming it with the Grate unwashed?