Day 54: Bollywood And A Bottle

July 8th, 2001

Day 54. I am now ready to leave India, I’m bored of temples, bored of arguing with rickshaw drivers, bored of turning my head away from people begging.  I did a final bit of sightseeing but my heart wasn’t really in it.  The Indian Memorial, Government Buildings and Prime Minister’s Residence would not look out of place in the UK.

Raj Path, New Delhi.

As it’s my last night in India not spent travelling on an arse aching bus I thought I’d experience the pleasure of going to see a Bollywood film, so after much pushing at the box office queue I bought a ticket to see Gadar: Ek Prem Katha, or in English, Mutiny: A Love Story.  The film itself was quite good and although the English subtitles which were promised never materialised, the plot was easy enough to follow which was helped by the reaction of the audience.  This clearly told me whether what was happening was good or bad.  The story was a love story across religion set at the time of partition in 1947 and seemed to be quite accurate in terms of how the partition came about.  But as all Bollywood movies should have, it had a lot of moments to be patriotic about so everyone could cheer and throw things.  I did learn very quickly that if I ever go to see another Bollywood film in India I will sit in the circle and not the stalls.

Every time there was a bad character on the screen, all sorts of food would be thrown at the screen from above me.  Sadly it would never quite make it and would just hit me.  I was covered in rice and nuts with a liberal sprinkling of India’s favourite soft drink, Thumbs Up!  An unusual name for a drink especially as this is the method of cleaning your arse in this part of the world.  In fact I’ve also figured why I haven’t seen a KFC over here, ‘finger licking good’ would not be a great caption for India.

After getting an ear bashing from the horrible high pitched way the Indian women sing I headed back to the hotel to give the Vicks ago.  As there’s no boiling water in the room I asked the guy on reception for some so I could inhale the vapours.  A little later a guy knocked on the door and handed me a bottle.  Fu**ing Ouch!  The bugger had put boiling water in a plastic bottle and handed it to me.  It had completely melted the bottle and even if I could have held it I couldn’t get the top off anyway.  What was the point of that!  Not the brightest person, so I went to bed Vicksless!

Day 53: Innocence Taken, Vulnerable Die

July 7th, 2001

Day 53. When I woke up to my amazement people visiting the patient across from me were still there and in the same position they were last night.  They couldn’t have been staring at me all night, surely!  I thought I’d be polite and wished them a good morning at which point they just stood up and all left!  Bizarre, had they been waiting all night for me to say something so they could find out what nationality I am?  Either way, I paid for my treatment and bed rest which came to a very reasonable 1300 rupees, about £20, and headed off.  On leaving I soon found it was, as I should have predicted, another bleedin’ hot and humid sunny day.  I headed back to my hotel on a Rickshaw driven by a mad Sikh guy, I reckon someone should seriously consider Rickshaw Formula One, I’d watch it!  Trouble is, India would always win as they will overtake anything even if something’s coming at them head-on.  Then again maybe not, every hundred yards they would stop and try to get a passenger!

On the TV the news reported that overnight more than thirty two policemen had been killed in Nepal plus two bombs had exploded in Kathmandu which is great news as I should be there in about four days!  I think I’ll have to stop listening to the news as it makes things sound quite scary.  If I can’t hear anything bad then it can’t be happening, a bit like pulling the bed clothes over your head when you’re scared of the dark!

I took it easy for the rest of today since as predicted I’m having a bad reaction to the large amount of drugs I have to take.  So I bought a few newspapers to read which had the same old news, ‘Pakistan/India peace summit causes trouble in Kashmir’, ‘North Eastern Territories want independence’, ‘corruption in government in the south of country’.  Then I noticed two bizarre words which to me sound like nothing more than a playful game but were common throughout all of the papers.

Article on Eve-Teasing.

The official name of the ‘game’ is ‘eve-teasing’ and the rules are quite sickening but this is how then ‘game’ is played according to the Indian Times.  First, a man wanders around the streets looking for a vulnerable young girl.  Then the man kidnaps and rapes the girl.  Next the man is caught by the police who then go to the family of the child to have a ‘discussion’.  The police then ‘advise’ the family that if charges of rape are issued against the man then the fact that the girl has been ‘officially’ raped will be on her record.  They then add that if this was to happen then it would mean that there was every likelihood she would never marry as she would not be a virgin.  So the police offer the lesser charge of ‘eve-teasing’ which means nothing more than a man has “whistled at a young woman” or something equally vague, not even touched her!  The girl’s father has to agree otherwise he will never be rid of his daughter so he has to accept this for “his daughter’s sake” as it said in one article.  Finally, the rapist gets off on this lesser charge with nothing more than a small fine, not labelled a rapist and is allowed to go away and rape even more young girls.  Not a great game and only one sick man can win.  Sadly the papers seem to be complicit in reporting the police side of the story.

Reading on there’s another game which only men appear to win, however the name of this game is pretty much self explanatory, it’s simply called ‘wife burning’.  In newspapers the very minor headline is usually given as ‘kitchen fire’ and nearly always contains the sentence “she was burnt when kerosene was spilled in the kitchen where she was cooking.”  The reason for the actual deliberate act of burning her is somewhat more sinister.  Her simple failing was that she did not satisfy her husband or more likely her in-laws, by not being the wife that they had envisaged.  This may be due to the way she behaves but more than likely it will be because she did not ‘produce’ a boy.  So to get rid of her they kill her making it look like an accident even though most people know what is really happening.  In fact the National Crime Records Bureau of India puts a figure on this murder at around seven to eight thousand women a year.  Divorce doesn’t seem to be an option as it may taint the husbands past and future.  Reading other papers it seems it doesn’t have to be a kitchen fire, anywhere in the house is just as good for women to commit ‘suicide’ by setting fire to themselves!

An Indian Kitchen Fire.An Indian ‘suicide’.

After an enlightening look into Indian society I set off to the post office to get a parcel sent home as it’s my mum’s birthday soon.  After walking all of the way to the post office I got told that I would have to put whatever I wanted to send into a box, then have it wrapped in white linen, stitched closed and red wax used to seal the edges.  Wow, I asked where I could get this done and I was told to go to a tailors!  I didn’t know whether the guy was taking the piss or not so I went back to the main bazaar looking for a tailor’s shop.  While looking a random guy came up to me and asked me if I was French but before I could answer he walked off laughing!  Perplexed I found a tailor’s shop near the hotel but only saw the shop filled with clothes, not a parcel in sight.  I walked up to the man who was dozing, suspended on the bare rope net base of a wooden bed in the corner and asked whether he did parcels.  To my amazement he said yes, took the package from me and said that he would wrap the package and take it to the post office.  Cool, I just hope it gets back home, it all seems quite strange but I have to remember that here everything is normal, the UK is weird!

Days 55 to 56: Next Stop Nepal…….Or Maybe The Next One …..Or The Next….

July 9th, 2001

Day 55. I’d arranged to meet at the travel agents at 12:30pm but just to make sure I arrived at 12:15pm.  When I got there the first thing the guy said to me was, “why are you late?”  I thought that he was joking so I just said that I was early but then he just walked off.  He came back seemingly annoyed and repeated himself so I told him that he had arranged my pickup at 12:30 and then showed him my ticket.  Then instead of apologising for writing the wrong time he just said, “Well you should have checked!”  Obviously my fault then!  But this was just the start of the farce.  I had been told that the bus was coming to pick me up, but no, I had to pay for a taxi to go to another travel agent.  Eventually arriving at this ‘travel agent’ I was led up eight flights of stairs which the boy who was showing me the way shot up leaving me behind sweating with my luggage.  The ‘tourist office’ resembled a bar after a particularly bad fight, they tried to offer me a seat but they were unable to find one not broken.  Then just as I had become settled wondering where I was and what the hell was going on we were off again, back down the eight flights to find a cycle rickshaw driver, who I had to pay for again, to take me to where the bus was setting off from.  I don’t understand why the first guy couldn’t take me straight there in the taxi especially as the poor old cyclist was peddling like mad with 80kg me, 25kg of luggage and an annoying little kid!

Finally there was the bus, a typical Indian fare, reclining seats which only recline when the bus accelerates, loose windows which rattle unbearably when driving on the bumpy roads as do the metal floor and ceiling, it is maddening.  Air-conditioning is provided by the broken and missing windows.  I could tell this was VIP class as soon as I got on!  Then again VIP class just seems to mean that there will be no people hanging off the sides and no stops at every little village along the way.

The journey is already starting to develop into the usual painfully long journey and as usual I’m beginning to get a little annoyed as I’m the only westerner on the bus so find myself having to smile at people who are staring at me, although I really want to slap them!  It’s funny to see people getting on the bus though, they walk on normally and then suddenly turn and notice me, their eyes totally transfixed on me while they find their seats with their hands.  Unfortunately due to all of the medication I’m taking I’m starting to feel really travel sick which has probably been made worse with all of the rushing about I had to do to get the bus.  Luckily the ‘magic’ feel better pills seem to be doing the trick.  Only thirty six hours to go!

Day 56. I had very little sleep last night.  It was hot, uncomfortable, noisy and the roads were extremely bumpy.  Eventually we arrived at the border town of Sunauli where I got off the bus and went to the Indian border control which was nothing more than a table almost in the middle of the dusty road.  Sat behind it was one rather plump border guard with three other people each with a different stamp!  Sadly the border guard had a little problem with the place I’d entered India.  My passport was stamped Bombay by the border guard at the airport in Bombay, however the guy here said it was wrong.  I said that I had spelt it right on the exit card and pointed to where I’d written Mumbai and added that it wasn’t my fault the stamp wasn’t right.  He went on to say that I spelt it wrong and that it was now spelt M-U-N-B-A-Y.  He went on to cross out my correct spelling of Mumbai and asked me to write it his way, at this point he nodded to his mates who were laughing at the hassle he was giving me!  It seems a sad reflection on the workings of India, it’s trying so hard to quickly change the names of cities so it can forget its past that it hasn’t even told its officials what the future is yet!  I was glad to get away from this pompous border guard who was basically showing off in front of all of his mates by bossing a westerner about, pathetic really.  After an hour I grabbed my bag off the Indian bus and walked over the border to get another bus on the Nepalese side happy in the knowledge that I was leaving a country with over one billion people and just one toilet, which no one actually uses…………

Nepal: Assassin In The Mountain Kingdom

July 10th, 2001

Say Nepal and people think of the Himalayas and Everest.  Ever since the borders of Nepal opened in 1951 people have flocked to see this, the world’s only Hindu kingdom, for trekking and the glory of Everest.  However, not a lot of people know that Nepal contains the mystical birthplace of Buddha.  Born around the 6th century BC he was a prince from one of the small kingdoms which has now been absorbed by Nepal.  The prince, who was called Gautama Buddha Siddharta Gautama, renounced royalty to lead an austere life and became known as the ‘Buddha’.

Much later in 1768 after decades of rivalry between the medieval kingdoms the modern state of Nepal was created.  A little later in 1814 rivalry between Nepal and the British East India Company over the annexation of minor states bordering Nepal eventually led to the Anglo-Nepalese War.  In 1815 the British defeated the Nepalese and a treaty was signed, but sadly the Durbar of Kathmandu refused to ratify this which led to a further battle.  By this time the British recognised the skill and loyalty of Gorkha (region of Nepal) defectors and created the first British Gurkha regiment.  The British quickly started to threaten the capital Kathmandu which eventually forced Nepal to sign the treaty.  The Treaty of Sugauli was signed in 1816, ceding one third of the country to Britain but by doing this it meant that Nepal was allowed to keep its sovereignty.  Later in 1865 in thanks for Nepal aiding in the Indian mutiny some of the land was given back.

Sadly since that time Nepal has suffered a lot of instability with the monarchy at loggerheads with the government.  Since 1996 the Nepalese have been at civil war with the Maoists rebels, a war started by the Maoist Communist Party of Nepal which aims to create the ‘People’s Republic of Nepal.’  I have to admit, this will be the first ever country I’ve been to which is in the middle of a civil war and one where the royal family has just been assassinated!  I do have a certain amount of apprehension due to the events of the 1st June 2001 and although after talking to the British Embassy it’s clear the troubles have removed any chance of trekking, I can’t really miss out on seeing Kathmandu at the very least.  Is it going be a mistake………?

Days 56 to 57: Buddha And The Bullet

July 11th, 2001

Day 56 (continued). ....... Unlike the Indian border control the Nepalese one was actually in a building, so it was nice to get my passport stamped without feeling like the main attraction in a petting zoo.  However, one of my first experiences of Nepal was someone trying to take me for a ride.  After passing through a quite efficient border control and visiting the money exchange I headed for a café where I could wait until the Sunulai to Kathmandu bus came.  After an hour of waiting a young man came in and said “Who here is going to Kathmandu?”  I obviously said yes at which point he proceeded to tell me that I should pay 250 rupees for a ticket.  I was surprised as I’d paid for a through ticket from Delhi to Kathmandu and told him this.  He then told me to show him the ticket but cunningly the tickets had been taken off me and everyone else by the previous bus driver.  I was told that I would have to pay again or be left stranded!  Just as I was trying to work out if I had enough change a fellow passenger walked in and said, “Is he trying to charge you again?”  It was lucky for me that she was here as she too had been targeted by him, however unlike me she had stood up to him.  I have to admit though that this was easier for her as although she was Tibetan she could speak Nepalese.  So I stood my ground and the bus finally appeared with no more hassle.

The bus is weird, I’m surrounded by Buddhist monks in full monk-type gear who seem to be saying Namaste periodically to everyone on the bus.  I put this down to the fact that the birthplace of Buddha is only a few kilometres away but I hope there won’t be any more as they seem to be able to sit wherever they want as people will move for them, and the buggers don’t pay.  Security on this route is high, within twenty minutes of setting off we were stopped by the police and a number of people were thrown off the bus with their huge packages of sugar cane which had been balanced precariously on the roof.  We now seem to be stopping every hour or so for the police, I’m not sure if this is a new security measure caused by the recent events or not.  But out of the window the scenery is slowly changing as we head from the lowlands to the highlands of Nepal.

Day 57. After the end of the police checks we still seemed to rather irritatingly stop at least once an hour for no known reason.  Outside there was absolute darkness and peace and quiet which was only broken by the raucousness of a small town bus station, or muddy patch of earth to give it its proper description.  At one such stop I got off the bus and although it had gone midnight the town was as lively as it could possibly be.  I was starting to feel unwell again as the long bumpy, dusty and cramped journey was taking it out of me and my stomach, not to mention the battering it’s getting from the constant intake of drugs.  I found a kiosk selling chocolate and orange juice, not a great balanced diet but I felt that I needed a little sugar to keep me going.

One thing I noticed here was that the Nepalese took very little notice of me compared to the people in India.  Bizarrely the lack of attention now felt strange, almost upsetting that people hadn’t seen me, a complete reversal of feelings.  I thought, “Why aren’t they looking at me, am I not important anymore!”  At about 3am we stopped at a roadside café, or a better description would be a wooden hut with a kettle.  I was now feeling extremely unwell, I had a headache, aching limbs and had stomach pains which were unbearable, I had to sit, bent double to try and relieve the pain but even this didn’t seem to work, I just wanted to lie down.  It now felt cold for the first time in two months, maybe this cold was relative cold, but the change in ambient temperature did not help how I felt.  I just wanted to get to Kathmandu, find a hotel and collapse onto a bed.  We could not have been more than two hours way but we stayed here for nearly two hours while I progressively got worse.  This mixed with extreme tiredness made me just want to pass out with the hope that I would wake in a hotel in Kathmandu.  It started to rain, but for me this was a good thing, the warm rain on my head massaged the pain and hydrated my body.

Eventually we set off and after a short time we entered Kathmandu where I almost immediately started to feel better, as if my body had said, nearly there, and had temporarily removed the pain so I could make one last push for the hotel.  Just as we entered the city a guy from a hotel jumped on the bus touting for business.  After a bit of bartering and the promise of a free taxi ride I jumped off the bus and into a taxi with him.  I was quite glad to get off the bus not only to relieve my physical pain but also to escape from a mad bloke who claimed to be in the ‘covert’ Tibetan Military who had been constantly taking about killing Chinese.  He wanted my address before I ‘disappeared’ at the bus station, I didn’t like the inference of the word disappeared!  So after forty two hours, my ‘thirty six hour’ bus journey was over.  To be fair it would have been thirty six hours if we hadn’t pissed about waiting at the roadside, however after such a cramped, bumpy, sick-making bus journey I was quite impressed that I had managed to keep all bodily fluids in especially considering the warning on the side of the Imodium packet!

Kathesimbhu Stupa, Kathmandu.

I woke up in the early afternoon and realised that if I stayed in bed any longer it may well cause me to suffer Jet lag on a journey which never got above 50km/h and only had a time difference between destinations of fifteen minutes.  This latter point is bizarre, to me it’s strange enough that India is 4½ hours ahead of UK time but Nepal is 4¾ hours!  I was told that this had been done to make Nepal unique from the surrounding countries so people didn’t think it was India!  Walking the streets the first thing you notice about Nepal is that it’s definitely not India, I’m surrounded by relative calm.  No one drives around constantly hooting their horns, although vans still reverse with annoying songs playing rather than a beep.  They all sound like those tacky musical Christmas cards you can buy, in fact many of the vans play, ‘jingle bells’ when reversing!  Must be horrible if you get knocked down by one knowing that the last thing you hear will be ‘Jingle Bells’.  There is also an extreme lack of litter, well relatively speaking.

I arranged a guide to show me the sights as I’ve got very little time here to see what I want to.  He taught me the very useful phrase “Malai chahina” which means “I do not need it” in Nepalese.  Amazingly, when someone tried to sell me something I used this phrase and they just apologised and walked off, I was amazed, would this have worked in India!  The centre of Kathmandu is a really beautiful place and very pleasant to walk around.  After leaving my guide behind I walked up the nine big steep steps of the Maju Deval temple as dusk started to fall.  Here a young bloke came over to talk to me about everything and nothing and what had happened a month ago in this city.  He said people here couldn’t believe that the prince killed his father, the king, and other members of his family before killing himself.  His reasoning behind this was that children have extreme respect for their fathers and so such a thought would never cross their minds.  Clearly they have not seen Jerry Springer or read up on the medieval English monarchy!  He thought it was a government conspiracy to take over absolute power and sadly the Mao rebels who’ve been on a killing spree over the past few weeks pretty much think the same.  I didn’t want to argue too much as it’s clear the country is in turmoil, there are very few tourists around and police are absolutely everywhere.  People are clearly fearful of what might happen next.  Switching on the radio I discovered why there had been so many security stops on the way into Kathmandu.  Last night forty policemen had been killed and thirty kidnapped roughly on the route I’d taken.  In my opinion it’s not that the Mao rebels had done this in response to the killing of the King as they were not keen on him, but they see this as an excuse to fight and raise public hatred of the government, a government they see as oppressing them.

Day 58: Armchair Sightseeing

July 12th, 2001

Day 58. Woke up with the joys of a new country awaiting me, wide awake and ready to go.  I ran down stairs geared up to go out and get a much needed breakfast, my first in three days, and ran towards the door.  I couldn’t find it, the door had disappeared, it had been there last night when I came in.  All there was in front of me was a great big metal shutter blocking my exit.  I turned and asked if I could go out only to be told in no uncertain terms “No you cannot.”  When I asked why, I was told that there had been a ‘general strike’ called by the Mao rebels and that those who opened shops and buildings would be ‘dealt with’.  Those lovely Mao rebels were stirring up trouble forcing law abiding citizens to go on strike.  After the murders of the past month, people here are quite scared so they wouldn’t allow me out of the hotel as they said it was “for my own safety”.  They were probably right as from the roof I could see people frantically running down the streets followed by screams and shouts with the odd person being beaten.  I’ve been told that there had been some deaths including one policeman with seventy one kidnapped.  I suppose waiting inside was a quite a good call.  Ah well, TV all day from luxury of an armchair, Friends and Frasier it seem.

Day 59: An Arse Bigger Than Everest

July 13th, 2001

Day 59. It’s Friday the 13th, surely nothing else could possibly go wrong?  The strike and disturbances were now over and everything’s calm, I’d lost just one day in Kathmandu but I had a couple of days left to see as much as I could.  As I had neither time nor the health to visit the Everest base camp and even if I did the Maoist rebels had told tourists not to go anywhere near or they would ‘deal’ with them, I decided that the only way I was going to see this humongous lump of rock was to fly.  At 7am I arrived at the airport and jumped on a flight which would take me around the mountain.  The plane was small and half full of tourists stupid enough to still be in Nepal during the troubles.  We flew around and amongst the Himalayas, a beautiful sight which I wish I could have seen and experienced from the ground, the surroundings must be of monumental proportions.  However, I was left with the thought, why did Sir Edmund Hillary climb it when he could have got a tourist flight there, glass of cheap fizz included!  Maybe it left to early in the morning for him.

Although we could all see Everest from our own windows, one by one we could all go into the cockpit for a view through the clear un-tinted glass of the cockpit windows.  Eventually it was my turn to go where I hoped to get a picture not obscured by the cabin windows, however, there was a large American lady in the way.  The stewardess kept telling her that it was my turn but she wouldn’t move until her husband had taken about ten pictures of her in the cockpit with Everest behind her.  I couldn’t take a picture as her arse was extremely large and completely hid the mountain behind it.  By the time they had finished and the fat lady had squeezed her fat arse back out of the cockpit door, the plane was rolling to the left and the mountain slowly disappeared out of view.  I was so annoyed, they didn’t care about what they’d done, they were so selfish.  I was speechless and fuming.  The lady saw that I was upset but actually went on to say, “Well you can see it again, we haven’t got long left on this earth.”  Little did she know how right she was going to be!

After landing I got a taxi to the Royal Nepal Airlines office to reconfirm my flight, something I don’t normally do but I thought on this occasion I’d just check.  I couldn’t believe it, due to the trouble of the past few days and the strike, they changed the flight to a day earlier!  That’s tomorrow, and instead of one day lost in Nepal it’s now two!  I can’t really believe it, everything seems to be going wrong, surely nothing else can happen it’s been so demoralising.  Weird stuff keeps happening to me, I must have enough to write a book!

From now on I had to rush everywhere so I set off down to the Bagmati River and to the Ghats.  The Bagmati River and Ghats have the same significance as those on the River Ganges in India, however these are very much run down with hardly a soul around.  The river is significantly smaller than the Ganges and more disappointingly the hot season has turned the river into an overgrown heavily polluted trickle.  I was told by a young boy that at this time of year the best part of the Bagmati was up near Pashupatinath, but I was on my way to Patan and wouldn’t have time to visit thanks to Royal Nepal Airlines.  Walking along the holy river I was followed by three really spaced out Hindu ‘priests’ who had white and red painted faces, matted hair and orange/red robes.  Eventually they caught up with me and asked where I was from and whether I had found my inner self.  I said that a doctor in Delhi had given me tablets to kill the things in my inner self but they just looked puzzled.  They went on to say that “We are so poor and you have so much.”  I’ve become so hardened to this in the last few months in India that when I was next told “I am so hungry, I haven’t eaten for four days” I replied “Haven’t you, aw go on, force yourself!”  Looking back this was probably not the most tactful of responses.  Patan is just across the river from Kathmandu and is a really beautiful place and for me Patan Durbar Square is even more impressive than its name sake in Kathmandu, definitely a must see.  The square is full of beautifully calved wooden temples and palaces.

Back in the hotel I’ve just had my last and most depressing shock of this Friday the 13th jinx.  I’ve found that my camera has broken and most of the pictures I’ve taken rushing about Patan and Kathmandu have been lost.  I leave first thing tomorrow because of the flight change and have no chance of taking more pictures.  Damn Maoist rebels!  Damn East German cameras.

Kathmandu and Patan on one Picture!