Duff information can be a real pain in this line of work, but it’s hard to know who you can trust. Yesterday’s taxi driver was right about getting to the borders of Bangladesh and Bhutan, so when he told me that buses left from the Nepalese border for Kathmandu in the morning and would arrive in the evening, I saw no reason to doubt it.
I wasn’t too happy with having to drag my arse out of bed at 6am, but, well – if I meant I could get to Kathmandu before midnight, I was game. I grabbed by backpack out of the NJP station cloakroom and jumped onto the first shared taxi jeep to the border. We got there so quickly it didn’t even occur to me that I might have to go back a kilometre to get my passport stamped out of India.
My last little piece of Indian bureaucracy, and what a way to sum it all up. I’m already out of India (the jeep didn’t stop!), but for the sake of godknowswhat I head back to the Indian immigration post. I was the ONLY person there. It still took an HOUR to get the stamp out. Not only did the stamp nazi go through every word of my (two) exit forms – he went through every letter.
Oh, bugger! You caught me! I was illegally sneaking out of India using a fake British Passport and a fake Indian Visa in order to go to Nepal and sell all of India’s nuclear secrets to the highest bidder. AND I WOULD HAVE GOT AWAY WITH IT TOO if it wasn’t for you pesky kids – LUCKY you spotted the spelling mistake on the part of the form in which you enquired about my maternal grandfather’s middle name WHICH GAVE THE GAME AWAY.
You wily little f——.
So (marvellously enough) they stamped me out after making me wait for an hour and I headed back to the Nepalese side of the border.
India, my friend, I’m sure you’ll always draw me back, there is something magical about you that none of the blaring car horns, vociferous rickshaw wallahs, malodorous drains or screeching Hindi musak can drown out. For a country whose fortunes were built on the West’s insatiable appetite for condiments and tea, I guess it makes sense that you should take India with a pinch of – let’s say – spice; and once you learn to laugh at the unfathomableness of it all, it could be your new best mate too. Goodbye, I’ll see you soon.
And so to Nepal…
I’ve always had a soft spot for Nepal. It’s hard to put my finger on what it is about the place I like so much, but I’m sure it will come to me very soon. My prejudices that I would continue to like Nepal were very much confirmed when, having cheerfully PURCHASED MY VISA ON THE BORDER (FANCY THAT – the ONLY country between North Iraq and South Korea where that is possible) I was recognised off the telly by a chap called Dawshan.
“National Geographic Adventure!” he shouted, before welcoming me to his country with a hearty handshake and the offer of a cup of tea. Don’t mind if I do old chap. I jumped on the back of Dawshan’s motorbike and we headed off to his family’s hotel.
I soon found out that my taxi driver was making stuff up about a bus leaving every hour of the morning for Kathmandu…. They don’t leave until the afternoon, and they are all overnighters – something I wanted to avoid, especially given the difficult conditions presented by the monsoon rains. Never mind, it gave me the opportunity to hang out with Dawshan for the day.
“This is so weird… I had a vision that I’d meet you” he told me over breakfast, “I knew you would be going to every country and if you were going to Bangladesh and Bhutan you’d be coming into Nepal this way.” I explained to Dawshan that I’d be trying to get to China via Tibet from Kathmandu – I figured it would take a fortnight to get the Chinese visa, Tibet pass and train ticket. In fact, a tour company in Tibet had quoted me a whopping $2,500 just to get from the Chinese border to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.
“That can’t be right” said Dawshan and while I had a go at riding his mate’s brand new Royal Enfield motorbike (I haven’t ridden a bike since I was a wee nipper, with Dawshan’s mate on the back and the streets all but flooded, it was wonderfully terrifying) Dawshan got on the phone and organised my trip all the way from Kathmandu to Beijing LEAVING NEXT TUESDAY.
I couldn’t believe my luck.
Thank you Dawshan, you excellent excellent chap you!
Dawshan also organised my bus ticket to Kathmandu, my Nepalese SIM card and the tastiest samosas I have ever (and possibly will ever) eat.
It was at this point that I remembered why I like Nepal so much – it’s like India, but ten times easier.
At five o’clock I was on the bus and hurtling towards the capital at a great rate of knots. That was until we came to a bridge that looked like it was about to fall through as a result of last night’s floods. You would think that the notion of a bridge collapsing would ward everyone off the bridge, but conversely it attracted rubberneckers and slack-jawed lollygaggers from all over the place to congregate on the very bridge. We would have to take a detour that would add an hour onto the journey time.
Well, we would have if our driver wasn’t a gung-ho maniac and COLLAPSING BRIDGE BE DAMNED he looked like he was going to go for it. Myself and my fellow passengers had about thirty seconds to exit the bus before he floored it and shot across the bridge – the one with the cracks and the big hole in the middle. Thankfully, the bridge stayed up. We all had to run to get back on the bus, this driver had ants in his pants – we all boarded it (yes and that includes the old ladies) while it was moving – once we were all on board (perhaps) we thundered off into the night.
I found out the next day that later on the bridge did indeed collapse.
By 11am we had arrived in Kathmandu. The bus ride had tested my X-Men power to the extreme (that power with which I can sleep anyplace, anywhere, anytime) but I had still managed a decent amount of shut-eye and was raring to go. Dawshan had arranged for me to be picked up by the hotel I was staying with – by the brother of the owner, no less. But on arrival at the Khangsar Guest House, I met up with the owner himself, Raj. But, alas, he had bad news – because my bus was late getting in, he doubted if I could get the Chinese visa I needed quick enough to get on the tour for Tuesday.
But Raj wasn’t giving up hope just yet. After a few phone calls, he asked for my passport and said he’d see what he can do. It was going to be expensive, but in a country where money trumps bureaucracy, anything is possible. Raj and I chatted about my travels and what I had learnt on the road and he treated me to lunch. By early afternoon the signs were good – Raj gave me a 80% probability that I’d be leaving for Tibet on Tuesday (the next tour wouldn’t be for a week).
My only worry was the fact that I have a Chinese visa in my other passport (I need to leave and re-enter the country for Mongolia and Korea), which is currently winging its way to Shanghai, and that a bit of cross-checking could result in a headache.
I headed out to reacquaint myself with Kathmandu, returning at 6pm to meet with Raj and the Danish ladies to watch some Salsa dancing (Yup! Got a problem with that?!) at Raj’s new restaurant-bar called the Tantra. As in Sting having sex. Actually best not think about that, especially if you’ve just eaten. I had a cracking meal and afterwards headed out to see my old haunt, The Tom and Jerry pub, to see if my signature was still on the wall from 2002.
Sadly, the place had been painted over since then. The owner, Tom (funnily enough) told me that it had to be done – it was all getting too much – but they did keep the signed T-shirts that expedition-types like myself had put up on the wall. As thousands of people have climbed Everest, but so far NOBODY has visited every country in the world without flying, I felt my expedition deserved a place on the wall – so if you’re ever in Tom and Jerry’s in Kathmandu, look out for this historical relic:
Met some people, drank a little too much Everest beer, ended up going to Platinum, but to be honest I remember very little. I blame the altitude. Don’t look at me like that! This time last week I was in Kerala by the sea!
The next day I had some errands to run. First up – see if I could fix Javier, my damn camcorder – the screen of which hasn’t been working probably since I attempted to sail around the world with Fajer on the fourth of July. Kamal, the nice guy in the camera shop on JP School Road said he could fix it for fifty quid, which is what I’d pay in the UK for someone to look at it, so I said yes. This was turning into an expensive weekend. I also looked for somewhere that could fix Sony Jim, my laptop YES I SPEND A LOT OF TIME ON MY OWN SO I ANTHROPOMORPHISE MY THINGS STOP PULLING THAT FACE but it looked like I’d be better off getting it sorted in Beijing.
I then met Cirrus, the most awesome tailor in the whole of Nepal, who agreed to fix my shoulder bag, make me a new slip for my laptop, embroider The Odyssey logo onto a polo shirt (something I should have done ages ago) and supply me with badges of the flags of pretty much every country in the world (I wrote the list out from memory). Those badges that they didn’t have they would make for me. Hell yeah!
Another night in Tom and Jerry’s, but one that was spent pretty much all on the phone to my mum in a vain attempt to get a video file I needed emailed over to me. You know people bitch about the way that Ewan MacGregor and Charlie Boarman have this huge logistical team helping them out, but I can’t help but envy them. Later I returned to Platinum only for the place to be raided by the fun police about five minutes later. I have no intention of spending another minute in a foreign police station I DON’T CARE IF IT MAKES GOOD TELEVISION so I made like a tree and got out of there.
The riot van waiting outside informed me that I had made a good choice.
On Monday, it was all about getting my camera back (Fixed! Woo!) and taking it on a walking tour of Kathmandu. It’s really quite amazing the way that statues carved over a millennia ago, which in any other country would be in a museum, are to be found on the streets of Nepal being used as a child’s plaything or as something to tie the washing line to – but it makes the whole place a living museum – and one that has many Easter Eggs to find!
One thing that’s been a bit -urk- during my stay here has been the fact that the bin men are on strike. The rubbish is piling up on the streets in a way that not even India would stomach (well, maybe it would, who knows) and the stench is quite unbearable. But that’s just one black mark against an otherwise perfect scoresheet for old Nepal. I like this place, I really like it a lot.
That night I headed over to Cirrus’s tailor shop (it’s just to the right of the stairs leading to Tom and Jerry’s, by the way) and picked up my personalised polo shirt, laptop slip and badges, badges, badges (haven’t decided what I’m going to do with them all yet!). One thing I had to get done was to transfer all my camcorder tapes to my hard-drives before I attempted to enter Tibet – I have a feeling that the Chinese authorities are not going to be too pleased to see them. Unfortunately, my battery charger had blown (my fault – didn’t switch it back to 240v after using it on 110v setting on the train) and I didn’t have the battery life to do it. I would be taking one hell of a risk trying to get these tapes into Tibet – they could easily be confiscated – and if the Chinese decide I look like a journalist, they can always turn me back at the border. But by now it was too late – I was leaving for Tibet at 6am.