20,000 leagues under the sky, 2004- travel blog

It's a big day today, the Kingdom of Nepal that I entered a couple of weeks ago is no more or may be no more. No-one is quite sure what has happened but today is supposed to be the day that the King steps down (definitely pushed) and the country declares itself a Republic. It could be an interesting time or it could be the start of mayhem, personaly I predict the latter and will look into the best ways out of the country tomorrow but I've had an exciting enough day as it is already today.

I woke up with my alarm at a genuine 5:30 but didn't get out of bed until 6:00 when the bus came into town in a blaze of horns. I had to queue for the toilet and didn't bother with breakfast, I just paid up and left, hoping to get my bag in the hold of the bus rather than the less secure roof. When I got to it at twenty to the bus was deserted so I just hung around by the hold door. Eventually, but before the scheduled departure time of 7am, an English guy came out of the hotel opposite and asked if I was waiting for the bus because apparently it wasn't going until tomorrow. He and a German couple were trying to find a jeep to make the return trip to the capital. I went off to the place I'd bought the ticket to confirm that the bus wasn't going and to get my money back then joined them outside their hotel. The Germans who were actually French, had a flight from Kathmandu to Paris the next day so had to get back, the English guy, Alex, like me having finished the trek just wanted to get back to Kathmandu for some minor luxuries and good food. The French girl, I never did find out their names or if I did I've forgotten them, was on and off the phone to their trekking agent in KTM but didn't seem to be getting anywhere with them. There were various theories why the bus wasn't running, from the fuel crisis to their being either a bundh (strike) or national day of celebration for the country turning into a republic. There were two jeeps parked outside the hotel, both something to do with NGOs, the rumour was that there were spare places in one of those, then it was said that there were only 3 places which meant that the Frogs and Alex would be getting a lift back and I would be spending another day in Syubru Besi. An American couple turned up having heard that there was a jeep going but when they found out that there was only 3 spaces they said that they were suffering from bad end of trek hangovers and went back to bed. I did think about walking back up to the Lakes or hiking down to the next major town of Dunche but decided top hang around to see what transpired with the jeep, things can change in seconds out here.

Eventually an older American came out of the hotel with his cup of tea, he said that it was his jeep but I'm still not sure if it was his jeep or whether he was the one who had hired it. He later said was the head of Mountain Aid but I'm still trying to work out if he was someone that I should have recognised or not, their website isn't working. He wasn't quite sure how many people they already had and how many places there were and suggested waiting to see. Whatever happened it was going to cost about Rs2000 per person. When they started loading up I was going to hang back to see what happened but Alex encouraged to get my bag loaded and the American agrees so up it went, once the luggage was tarpaulined and tied down it was going to be a pain for them to off load me. The four Europeans agreed to pile into the back bench seats and once everyone was in I thought it could have fitted at least two more, Guineans would have had another half dozen in there before they started filling the roof up, I certainly think the two Americans could have possibly made a case if they'd stayed around.

Well, I've certainly had less comfortable trip and I've certainly had more comfortable trips but this one sat down at the lower end of the scale. Once again being on a terrible road at the back of a vehicle I got the full compliment of throwings around and bouncing into roof and doors. Perverse as it may seem I think that putting another couple of people on the back seats would have wedged everyone in tight and prevented some of the bouncing around. It wasn't too bad to start with, we had some sort of leg space system going and even got a few early warnings from the front seat of impending extra bumpiness. For the improbable third day in a row the sky was crystal clear, possibly the clearest day of all and looking back up the valleys the views of all the major peaks was unhindered. It couldn't have been much more than an hour until we reached Dunche and stopped for a pee and a tea which was fortunate as I realised the second that we left Syabru that I should have gone. Leaving Dunche we passed back out of the park where our Passes were cancelled, Alex had left his in his pack on the roof and to save the hastle of getting it down just mulled about until they thought we were all done, no one noticed.

Unfortunately at Dunche we got more information or more rumours depending on your point of view about the strike/holiday/fuel crisis. One of the Nepali guys in the middle row of seats who may or may not have been a guide was either told that he couldn't go through or that all government offices were closing for three days and as he may or may not have worked in one he decided to stay. Are you still following me? Maybe now you can see how getting facts and reliable information at any given time in Nepal can be a thankless task. The king probably thinks he's still a king. The reason that this was unfortunate was that when he decided that he would stay there and walk back to Syabru Besi it left a spare seat in the front of the jeep. After trying to be gentlemen and offering the seat to the German looking French girl and her refusal Alex moved to the front. Then for whatever reason, I'm not even going to guess, the Napali changed his mind and decided to continue but had now lost his place and had to come into the back. As he'd been close to fully off-loaded he now had his pack with him and placed it ontop of my feet and in the legroom. He was a nice enough guy and kept trying to keep his bag out of the way but it just wasn't working and I spent the couple of hours to Trisuli with numb toes.

As we approached Trisuli I was watching out for the bus which had crashed on the day I drove up, I thought we'd passed it or it had been recovered then a motorbike overtook us, we braked sharply and stopped and everyone from the front jumped out. The bus was still on it's side in the paddy field but closer to the edge, it had hauling cables attached to big spikes on the far side of the road and the motorbike had 'tripped' over one of these cables. I didn't see anyone still working on the bus's recovery but when the others got back in the jeep they had the news that no-one had been killed in the crash.

At Trisuli we stopped for lunch, cold dal bhat but only a few hours from non-dal bhat meals in Kathmandu. Just before Trisuli the road had morphed from jeep track to tarmac, still a mountain road with numerous twists, turns and terrifying drop offs but at least it was now less bumpy. The Nepali in the back asked Alex for change and he was about to give him some money when he realised that he meant to change positions in the jeep, he claimed he would be sick on the road now that it was faster if he couldn't see out the front. I was more than happy to see him and his pack return to the middle passenger seat for the rest of the trip. All I can remember of the final few hours back to central Kathmandu was that it always seemed to be nearly there but not quite until eventually we crawled through the city snarl ups and finally ended up at the same bus stop where I'd caught the bus out a few days ago. I was thinking of walking back but Alex arranged a taxi for the French who needed to go to Boudha Stupa on the edge of town and for a few rupies more got him to drop us in Thamel on the way.

Back in Thamel all services appeared to be functioning normally, when I asked at my hotel they weren't aware of any strikes, holidays or the likes, I gues sthe Nepal ministery of misinformation had been working overtime in the Langtang region, the only out of the ordinary thing I saw was extra security on the roads leading to the palace area which includes Thamel. The vote to officially remove the monarchy and declare a republic was delayed until late that night but eventually passed.

I met up with Alex for a beer that evening and he showed me some of his photographs, he is a photographer with a years contract working in Nepal. Often when people tell me they are photographers I take it with a pinch of salt as there are many wannabe photographers travelling around the world but I was truely impressed with his photostreams, if you want to see some genuinely good pictures of this area check out his site at www.alextreadway.co.uk

It was interesting being in Nepal for the few days around the declaration of the Republic but I have to say that it sounded far more interesting on the BBC World News. Generally there was an air of happiness among the people and I can always say that I was there but I saw neither out and out partying nor violent protests a the internet wa portraying. I read that there was a riot outside the main palace gates (their own Bastille Day?) but that is only 2 roads across from my hotel and I saw and heard nothing.

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