Archive for the ‘nepal’ Category

you can’t fight the revolution on an empty stomach

January 15, 2010

Our post-hike days in Kathmandu were pretty pedestrian. One drifted into another, following a familiar routine: breakfast; internet; shower; lunch; constitutional stroll; snooze; pester Ryan & Jo into coming for a drink with us; dinner – although the Indian embassy made sure we didn’t get too comfortable by requiring that we pay them a visit every few days.

Our daily shuffle was interrupted one Sunday when we rose to find the streets eerily devoid of touts and taxis and the doors shuttered on every establishment in town. Confused tourists littered the streets, desperately seeking somewhere that would serve them up a stack of banana pancakes. Something was up.

As we wandered back to our room, contemplating that the only stash of food we had was half a stick of Toblerone – not at all a bad breakfast, as it turns out – a crowd of men came striding down the street, shouting and waving red flags: Maoists. We met them just as they found a shop that was tentatively attempting to open – an unwise decision, as we witnessed. Maoists in Nepal have never targeted tourists and while they remained mercifully uninterested in us, they did give us a fright as they banged relentlessly on the shop door, yelling and threatening the shopkeeper with sticks and fists. Suffice to say the shutter came down quickly. It was all too reminiscent of a run-in with football hooligans rather than high-minded freedom fighters.

No thanks to the guys at our hotel, from whom it would have been nice to receive some warning, we found out later that the Maoists had called a general strike of the variety that locals call “stop the wheels”: in addition to closing all business, no traffic is allowed on the streets. Exceptions are made for pharmacies and ambulances and a lone tourist bus that shuttles people to and from the airport. The cause was the eviction of alleged squatters from land in the west of Nepal, which ended in violence and several deaths – although with the deadlock between the government and the Maoists showing no signs of resolution, it seems that any excuse for a strike will do.

Driven by growling stomachs, we ventured out again in the early afternoon. Our intended short stroll turned into an extended wander as we enjoyed promenading right down the middle of the usually anarchic streets. The empty stretches of asphalt weren’t wasted, as half of Kathmandu seemed to be out doing the same and impromptu cricket games sprung up every few hundred metres. It was really very pleasant, if a little “28 Days Later“. Back in Thamel, the city’s main tourist area, we allowed ourselves to be guided though the back door of a local restaurant, speakeasy-style, for a late lunch. We’re not ones to cross picket lines but crumbs, we were famished. How the mighty have fallen.

It was hard not to be somewhat impressed with the authority of the Communists in a country where the rule of law barely exists and the government is largely impotent – they can’t even effectively pedestrianise Thamel – although one wonders whether the Maoists’ ability to call and enforce such a massive strike is as much about them showing their opponents just how powerful they really are. And it’s hard to be impressed with a crowd who still bizarrely venerate Stalin and Mao. Nepal has some interesting days ahead.

After two weeks of waiting and the consumption of a king’s ransom worth of cinnamon rolls in the meantime, the righteous prevailed and we got our Indian visas – even managed to bargain the guy up to multiple entries by appealing to his inherent fanaticism, saying we might pop over to Dhaka to watch the Indian team smash Bangladesh in the cricket. Not.

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muesli bars? ✓ socks? ✓ ibuprofen? ✓

December 2, 2009

Day 1 – Kathmandu – Bhulbule
All day on the bus. No suspension, so despite sitting on butts all day, actually feel like we’ve been hiking.

Day 2 – Bhulbule – Syange
First day of walking. Embarrassed that we have to ask for directions within about a minute of leaving the guest house. Dodge donkey trains and their dung for most of the morning. Inadvertently manage to pause in the village latrine for morning tea stop. Remember why I love hiking: excuse to consume endless chocolate and carbs with impunity.

Day 3 – Syange – Tal
Road construction a real blight on the landscape. Rubble raining down from above and dust inhalation has probably decreased life expectancy by several years. Not going to begrudge them building a road, but hope the benefit outweighs the costs. Note to self: don’t overeat at lunch. You’ll want to puke as you gutbust it up an endless hillside behind annoyingly jovial Dutch group.

Day 4 – Tal – Temang
Hiking really gives you the time and space to consider life’s big issues: one muesli bar or two? Is 10:15am too early for lunch? Whatever happened to Tony Danza? More clambering over landslides caused by dodgy road construction but pretty forest section towards the end of the day.

Day 5 – Temang – Bhratang
Outrun the road construction and condition of trail improves markedly. Lazy lunch in the sun by the river in Chame but getting a lot colder. Sore knee forces us to call it quits in Bhratang. Only available accommodation resembles a medieval prison cell but at 100 Rs (AU$1.50), I think we have a winner for cheapest digs of the trip. Spend evening harrassing young boy to put more wood in the fire.

Day 6 – Bhratang – Ghyaru
Miscommunication at breakfast results in only one bowl of porridge to share between us. Keen to escape the medieval prison, so let it slide. Will regret this decision later. Famous last words: “we haven’t had too many steep ascents today.” Nearly expire trudging up endless switchbacks while choking on dust of ridiculously fit French couple, although manage to forget knackeredness when taking in the awesome views of the whole Annapurna range. Splash out on “deluxe” room (200 Rs) and fall asleep in the shadows of Annapurna II & IV.

Day 7 – Ghyaru – Braga
Big climb yesterday makes for an easy walk today. Makeshift butchery in the yard at lunch stop reminds us why we’re eating vego on this trip. Deluxe digs – ensuite squat toilet!

Day 8 – Rest day Braga
Was it those mushrooms in my omelette or is that snow falling on my freshly washed undies? Several inches fall throughout the day. Highly unseasonal and weather report suggests it might continue for 2-3 days. Forced to stay indoors by the fire all day and eat. What a shame.

Day 9 – Rest day II Braga
Snow stops but melting turns the trail into a mudslide, so decide to stop another day. Go for an “acclimatisation” stroll to Manang, a dizzying 20m higher in altitude. Eat chocolate cake and bleat at passing goats. Ruin Ryan & Jo’s day by looking out the window just in time to see them ambling in to town. Quite certain Ryan curses when he sees us waving from the balcony.

Day 10 – Braga – Yak Kharka
Weather looking ugly in the morning but holds up. Air definitely thinner. Short day to allow for acclimatisation. Whole dining rooms gasps when filthy urchin sticks grubby hand in the sugar bowl we’ve all partaken of. Kept awake at night by yak honking outside the window and psychosomatic tummy rumbles.

Day 11 – Yak Kharka – Thorung Phedi
Another short day. First encounter with ice on the trail – yikes. Trekkers freaking each other out about altitude sickness like those annoying people who stand outside the exam room asking everyone else if they happened to study section 99XA of the Hairdressers Registration Act. Water in the toilet flush bucket is actually frozen in large chunks. Dude who works in the restaurant happens to play a mean slide guitar – who knew?!

Day 12 – Thorung Phedi – Thorung La Pass (5416m) – Muktinath
PASS DAY. Amongst the last to leave at 6:30am. Forget all about the altitude and concentrate on not freezing to death. Large chunks of ice floating in drink bottle. Icy wind whipping snow in our faces; no greater love hath wife than wiping husband’s boogers with her glove. Lose the trail and wading through knee-deep snow. Reach the pass at 10:45am – feeling very, very far from Swanbourne Beach. Too cold to stick around longer than it takes to scoff a KitKat. Endless descent – steep, narrow and covered in ice and loose gravel. Both stack it several times. Consider that this is probably the stupidest thing we have ever done. Quote of the day (from Israeli dude): “Where is the f%*$ing Muktinath?” Arrive in the f%*$ing Muktinath around 4:30pm. Knees very, very angry.

Day 13 – Muktinath – Kagbeni
Another long, steep descent. Knee throbbing. Spend the afternoon rubbing each other’s aching limbs. Catie somewhat alarmed at the increasingly reptilian appearance of her skin.

Day 14 – Rest day Kagbeni
Dodd experiencing gastrointestinal “issues”, which we blast with a Ralphie-sized dose of antibiotics. Highlight of the day is chasing freshly-washed underpants as they are blown through a cabbage patch. Forced to endure 20-minute lecture from humourless Swiss girl about the differences, or lack thereof, between apple pie and apple crumble.

Day 15 – Kagbeni – Marpha
Dodd guts on the mend. Trudge through rocky valley to Jomsom. Afternoon headwind so strong that we remain almost stationary. Quote of the day: “I’m a cacophony of stink.”

Day 16 – Marpha – Kalopani
Spirits bolstered by apple pie and Johnny Cash at morning tea. Knee still sore, so resolve to make tomorrow last day of hiking. Knee has other ideas and gives up ghost around lunchtime. Fear for life while hobbling over rotten suspension bridge, only to see brand new bridge 20m downstream. Enjoy a celebratory cup of tea while admiring views of Dhaulagiri and consider that despite imminent knee explosion, life ain’t so bad after all.

Day 17 – Kalopani – Pokhara
Flag down bus to Ghasa. Consider that Spanish girl, previously classified as “crazy, but harmless” is genuinely certifiable as she giggles and shrieks her way through death-defying journey. Arrive Ghasa. Purchase onward tickets to Beni. Resist attempts of dodgy bus dudes to squash 14 passengers into Jeep. Suggest to crazy Spanish girl that shouting at dodgy bus dudes isn’t helping things, to which she shouts “DON’T TELL ME TO STOP SHOUTING! I’M NOT SHOUTING!” Remove bags from Jeep and insist we’ll wait for a later bus. Wait for four hours. Eventually herded onto death-trap bus. Consider at several points that we will plummet over cliffside to our deaths. Arrive Beni in the dark. Hear shouts of man touting a bus to Pokhara. Look at each other and acknowledge that we had better just get this journey over with. Arrive Pokhara 10pm. Survive taxi driver’s best attempts to kill us in several head-on collisions. Collapse into hotel. Quote of the day: “Couldn’t we just have gone to Tahiti?”

tropical beer notes #23

December 2, 2009

Everest Premium Lager Nepal   5.2%

In news that will surprise no one, the Indian embassy is currently making a hash of our visa applications.  After spending lots of time hanging around the embassy, I now feel qualified to offer this advice to other travellers: you can’t do a visa run into Nepal or any other neighbouring countries. You’ll be told by the helpful staff: “No back-to-back visas! Go back to your country!” Yeah, thanks.

We applied a week ago but there has been some problem with the “telex” not coming back from the Indian embassy in Canberra. The wife and I want a six-month multiple entry visa, so that we’ve got the option of popping over to Sri Lanka or Bangladesh. The dude offered us a three-month single entry visa but test matches, yoga retreats, Bollywood melodramas and Goan beaches are all time-intensive pursuits. So another “telex” to Canberra and on Monday, we’ll go back to see if anyone bothered to check it. All this does inspire a monumental thirst…

Which leads us to Everest. First brewed in 2003 to mark the 50th anniversary of the conquest of Everest, it’s the most popular and best beer in Nepal. Few beers have ever tasted as good as the one pictured, which was my first drink after nearly three weeks of hard slog on the Annapurna Circuit.  Pours a nice head with sweet malts dominating. After the pissweak beers of China, the 5% is very noticeable and gives a welcome structure.

Just did a websearch and no Indian brewers make an Indian Pale Ale – damn!