We left Nepal yesterday afternoon on an 18-hour overnight bus to the Nepal/India border. Let’s just say the trek was cool, but we were both ready to leave.
The bus ride from Kathmandu was awful as expected in that it was really uncomfortable (as Matt put it, “like sitting on a board”) and bumpy. Our bus had two drivers, and two assistants who, like on many of the other bus rides we’ve take, spent a fair amount of time hanging out the door and pointing at people while shouting the destination of the bus just in case anyone standing on the road wants to get on. The assistants are also the ones who collect money/tickets, get luggage off the roof, etc. The good part was that the people on board were very nice, one of the bus guys (a tall skinny goofy Nepali wearing a beanie with a yarn ball on top adding to his already towering height) saw me stretching my legs out in the aisle and decided I would probably like my seat reclined, so (probably to the chagrin of the guy behind me) I had my seat back for most of the ride. By 5am however, as they were blaring annoying Nepali music from a speaker just next to Matt and I, I gave up on sleeping and tried a few times (unsuccessfully) to raise my seat again. Instead of a lever there is a little knob under the seat that you twist and the seat gradually raise or reclines. I couldn’t quite figure out how to do it, but after my third time trying the guy sitting across the aisle from me must have noticed and asked if I wanted help. He summoned another one of the bus assistants and with the help of the guy behind me, they put my seat up. There were also some friendly teens in the very front of the bus who let us know what was going on a couple of times when everyone was talking all crazy in Nepali. So even though trying to sleep on a bumpy bus with essentially a board for a seat cushion all while listening to ear piercing nepali and Indian music most of the night (try to imagine the bus equivalent of the crazy boat rice in willy wonka), and despite the board falling on my head from the shelf above my seat…it was a successful and good bus ride in that the Nepalis on the bus were nice and helpful, and we safely made it to India.
While there is a decent selection of foreign foods here and there (Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, etc.) neither of us felt Nepali food was that great. Dal baat is what most Nepalis eat for lunch and dinner, which generally consists of rice, dal, vegetable curry, pickled radish, and spinach. It’s good for refueling after a long day of trekking, but we found it hard to eat everyday (much less twice a day as most Nepalis do), so we didn’t. Sure, we were able to try some new dishes like yak steak, apple momos, dried buff meat, and Tibetan bread, most of which we liked, but overall remarkableness of the food was lacking in Nepal.
We met some good Nepalis: guides along the trek, friendly villagers greeting us with “Namaste,” and a kind silversmith who happily sold us a couple of rings (I’d been wearing a glass band for the last few months and it was time to upgrade). Unfortunately, because we are tourists and therefore have lots of money we want to just throw around… many of our initial interactions with Nepalis were unpleasant. It started with the first hotel we stayed at. (Hotel Sakura in Pokhara. Do NOT stay there.) The owner seemed friendly enough at first, telling us how he was born in India but grew up in Japan, and how he met his wife when he was traveling in Nepal. How sweet. Things started getting weird when we decided not to go with him for a trekking guide after he tried to sell the service to us using scare tactics about how we couldn’t trust the other agencies. He confronted me saying that we didn’t trust him. I tried to explain freedom of choice and choosing an agency we thought was competent (obviously not him) and that we didn’t not trust him…not yet. Ironically his accusations about how we felt about him came true when we found out later from another person in town that the hotel owner learned his Japanese at a language school, and was born and raised just outside of Pokhara. It was really upsetting to have been lied to about something completely pointless and it made me wonder what more important thing he would have lied about had we gone with him for other services besides just a hotel room. Shady hotel guy was just the beginning of our bad interactions. They continued with a unscrupulous trekking agency, a guide who lied to us in hopes of getting us to spend more money (who knows what the trek would have been like if we hadn’t switched agencies!), a shop owner outside of Ghorepani trying to see just how much money he could get out of me for a candy bar rather than quoting a fair price in the first place, the greedy lady trying to sell me oranges for 100rs a kilo (it should be 20 or 30rs), and of course being charged a foreigner price for everything from food to entrance fees—even for places that for a Nepali is just a public area. To end this section on a good point though, we really loved our guides and were very thankful to spend the 18 days of our trek with them. Technically only Udaya was our guide, but Binod helped out as well. Between the two of them we gleaned cultural information, learned about farming (I know what millet looks like now!), describing the next day’s section of the trail, had assistance crossing shaky bridges, and a look-out for falling rocks (much appreciated). On top of all that, we had fun hanging out, conquering the trail, and laughing together at the guys’ new favorite pastime—impersonating other trekkers. The other fun thing about the people was meeting other foreigners along the trek. Because you go along the trail with the same general group of people for most of the trek, you start to recognize them and have conversations along the way. I never really thought I’d meet people from so many different places while trekking (Ireland, New Zealand, Holland, Belgium, Germany, France, Switzerland, Canada…even a couple from San Francisco!). To sum it up, the people we met in Nepal were memorable.
Hopefully you can tell from our trekking posts that we found the mountains and landscape amazingly impressive. That’s why we came to Nepal. We didn’t really come for the sites, but once we got to Katmandu we decided to check some out anyways which left us pretty disappointed. One example is Swayambhnath temple, also known as the Monkey Temple. After paying the entry fee (free for Nepalis of course) we hoped to enjoy the old architecture and view from the temple and dozens of surrounding stupas. As we climbed the last of the stairs and the top of the hill came into view, we were disgustedly disappointed to find that a religious site with so much potential beauty was marred with dozens of souvenir stands selling the same junk and music you can find anywhere else in town. Why did they have to set up shop in the temple area? Oh yeh, that’s right: temple attracts tourists, tourist= ATM. Hopefully you are beginning to understand our frustrations with Nepal. Its not that we hoped to get through this country without spending too much money, we knew it would cost something, but it’s the general way we can feel we are being treated differently than in the other countries we’ve visited. A way of being treated that makes us think Nepalis are greedy, even though I know they aren’t all that way. It’s just unfortunate that many of the people we interacted with were.