BootsnAll Travel Network

Winding Down Nepal

I spent the morning after returning from the embassy finishing the rafting post and then napping and watching TV. I was exhausted. The all night bus adventure, early departure and long bus ride to Kathmandu, and then early morning Indian embassy romp left me without much motivation to do anything.

The next morning I woke up feeling much better. I decided to do some sightseeing and shopping. I bought a shirt from one of the many “Nepali/Indian” clothing shops around Thamel. The funny thing is I have never seen a Nepali wear anything thats looks remotely like what these stores sell. The only people sporting these clothing are westerners trying to look “native” I guess. To me they often end up way overdoing and looking quite silly. Despite knowing this, I did find a shirt that I liked. It is cotton, long sleeved, and has no coloration added “meaning it’s the color of the natural fiber”. It’s also somewhat thin. This will be good for going to India where it is still quite hot in some areas and rife with mosquitos. Shopping finished, I decided to head out to Pashupatinath. This is the main Hindu sight in Kathmandu. The walk took me about forty minutes from Thamel. Along the way, I passed the humongous royal palace complex and made my way through some non touristy areas of Kathmandu. My map was not very good, so I had to constantly stop and ask for directions. Finally, I arrived and the first thing I noticed was the amount of smoke in the air. Many open air cremations are done here. I walked to the main temple and saw that I would have to pay 250 rupees to get in because I was a foreigner. Nepal, India, and unofficially China use dual pricing systems charging foreigners 10-50 times more than locals, or members of some select countries. I knew this going here, but it is still aggravating. Some may argue that this is alright as these sights are their cultural heritage. I would counter that the US and most western countries don’t charge people from Asian countries more to see our sights. Income levels should have nothing to do with it. But I digress. I declined to pay the 250 rupees due to my aggravation at the pricing and the fact that the most interesting places were off limits to non Hindus. Instead, I wandered down to the river and came face to face with at least two cremations in progress. The bodies are burned on funeral pyres made of wood next to the river. The bodies are placed inside the structure so that only the lower legs and feet of the bodies could be seen. The ashes from the pyres fell into the river. Right downsteam from the burning bodies, people were washing in the river as the ashes floated by. I didn’t stay very long as the area was full of greiving families and smoke. I did notice an open gate by the river that appeared to lead into the main temple. Going through this gate, no one appeared to care if I paid or not. I didn’t stay in the area long as most of the area again was off limits to non Hindus. I did see a very large golden statue of some sort of animal (maybe Nandi the large bull) in one of the temples. I crossed a bridge that led to the temple complex on the other side of the river. This side was full of small chapels (I guess you could call them chapels) ranging from ancient to more modern build. Many of the chapels appeared to have, what I believe, were statues of Shiva Lingas (phallus) in them.

Momentary Digression Again:
Shiva is one of the three deities which make up the trinity of Brahman- the unchanging lifeforce of the Universe. There is Brahma the creator, Vishnu the maintainer, and Shiva the Universe Destroyer. Besides the Destroyer, he has other manifestations such as the Lord of the Dance and Pashupati-Lord of Animals. You can see where the temple gets it’s name. In some forms of Hinduism, Shiva is the main Brahman manifestation that is worshiped. Now back to me.

Before we left for the cultural lesson, I was looking at the small chapels. Much to my surprise and delight, the area was full of monkeys. Many of the monkeys were still small infants hanging on to their mothers. I got as close as I figured I could without getting my face scratched off, or poo thrown at me to take pictures. The babies were particularly difficult and kept hiding behind their mothers. There was one particularly large fight between several of the monkeys.

While I was looking at the monkeys and the chapels, I met a Canadian couple who were walking around with a Nepali friend of theirs. After speaking to them, I learned they were headed to Boudhanath. Boudhanath is one of the world’s largest stupas. No one is exactly certain when and why it was built. As I planned to go there as well and had no idea how to get there thanks to my useless map, I accompanied them. The walk there took us out of the main city of Kathmandu and through the suburbs set in rice fields. On arrival at the stupa, I once again was confronted with a sign wanting me to pay my foreigner fee. As it was only 100 rupees this time, I paid (only to find out later that I went through the only pay gate) and went in. The area like Pashupatinath and every other religious site, including the Vatican, I have visited was surrounded by stores selling religious artifacts. Here they were selling incense, beads, prayer wheels, and Buddhist prayer books as opposed to nun habits (for those mornings when you wake up and are just in the mood to dress like a nun), rosaries, bibles, and priest vestements at the Vatican. The immense white stupa was directly in the middle. There were pilgrims circumabulating around the base. I walked around for a while looking in various shops and Buddhist temples that lined the sight. I then took a taxi back to Thamel as I had no idea where Thamel was.

Wednesday was again a slow day. My main activity for the day was to try to see if I could get my UV water treatment lamp fixed. It had broke on the Annapurna Circuit and I have been using iodine since. This gets expensive after a while. I went to the website for the lamp manufacturer and found a dealer here in Thamel. They were located in about the most out of the way place in Thamel possible and were quite a chore to find. I had to keep sticking my head in trekking stores and seeing if anyone had ever heard of them. Unfortunately they were brand new to this product and did not yet have the capability to fix it. For the moment I am stuck with iodine.

Thursday was again embassy day. I woke up at 4:30 again and walked to the embassy. Despite getting to the guard shack by 5:00 am, when I got my coke bottle cap with my number on it, I found I was number 20. I walked back to my hotel. After napping and taking a cold shower (the hotel apparently has a solar shower, so no hot water in the mornings) that involved me gasping and running in and out of the shower spray as needed. I returned to the embassy by 9:15 am. As before, the number just got you into the front gate. Once in we had to walk through a metal detector that beeped incessantly as everyone walked through. The guards politely asked people if they had knives. If they said no, they were told to go on without a search. Then we all had to line up again in front of the single window. While waiting in line, a fight almost broke out between some Dutch and Spanish people. The problem is the same window is used for both transit and tourist visas. In order to get a transit visa form, people had to come up to the window and show a plane ticket leaving India. Once they got the form they would then have to get back in the long line while they fill out the form. This meant a double wait for them, so I could understand and didn’t mind if they came to the window to quickly get the form. The Dutch were not so understanding. This whole problem would be solved if the stupid forms were made available outside the window. The method of exit proof required to get the form makes no sense. They could just fill out the form and then show the required proof. The forms are useless by themselves. I guess the embassy is scared someone will steall all the forms????? I finally made it to the window, dropped off my form, and was made to pay more than the Indian embassy website said I should for the visa. I was instructed to return at 4:30 pm to get the visa.

After leaving the embassy, I met up with Steve in Thamel. Steve is the Australian that I walked the Annapurna Circuit with. He is studying in Nepal. I had emailed him and we had agreed to meet up. As I needed to buy a bus ticket to Janakpur, we decided to go to the main bus station. On arrival at the bus station, which was set in a large field, we asked several people for tickets. Everyone told me that only night buses are available. There is an indefinite banda going on blocking all daytime traffic in East Nepal. Steve warned me and other Nepalis that night buses can be dangerous due to robberies, especially now that the Terai region is virtually lawless. I have also been stuck in a banda and seen all the drunk unruly people wandering around. I decided not to risk it. I decided to do more research on how to get to India. We returned to the Indian Embassy. There Steve and I parted and I got back in line (no numbers this time). While I was waiting, a very large male monkey came regally strolling down the street and headed straight for the embassy gates. He was promptly let in while we were still waiting in line. Sort of a reminder of our place I suppose. While waiting in line I visited with, by now, all the familiar people in the line (50 billion trips to the same place will breed familiarity). At 4:30 we were let in and went through the screeching metal detector that everyone ignored. We then all stood before the now hated single window. At 5:15 someone finally decided to show up to open the window. They were there before then as we could see them peaking at us for the last 45 minutes from behind the window shade. Incredibly, a new process was sprung on us. Instead of progressing to the window in an orderly line, the official decided to hand out visas randomly by calling people’s names from the window. As he wasn’t very loud, this resulted in everyone having to squish around the window. The crowd had to repeat what he said so that eveyone could hear. This resulted in loud shouts and badly butchered names. I got my visa and left the mayhem behind.

That night in my hotel, I researched the best way to get to India. I decided to cross at Sunali. The only problem is that now I will have to give up going to Darjeeling (my last Himilayan fling) as it will be to far west and inconvenient to get to. I will now go straight to Varanasi. I researched transportation options to Sunali. The most expensive bus was $15 and the cheapest $6. The $6 bus was a local bus. I don’t really fancy taking a local bus for this long of a trip as I have a hard time fitting in the tiny seats. I found a midrange option for $10.50 and decided to go this way.

This morning I booked the $10 bus through my hotel (Classic Downtown Hotel) for tomorrow. The only problem is I am still not sure where to catch it. The hotel owner said he would come with me in the morning in the taxi. I am not holding my breath, but we will see. It will be an adventure. I then dropped off some laundry. I am now just hanging around until I meet up with Steve at 2:30. I am supposed to go with him to visit his university. It should be interesting.


1. For those of you who know him, it appears “Gashwin (screen name)” (a friend from South Carolina) will be in India while I am there. I plan to make a side trip to Baroda to visit him.

2. I have had a wonderful time in Nepal. The country is still very unsettled as ever despite the peace agreement. Most of the trouble has just moved from the mountains (Maoist). To the Terai (plains region of Nepal) where the Dalits (Untouchables) are fighting for representation. Hence my last minute change of plans. Nepal is quite easy to travel around, but one should be prepared with extra money in case they have to pay some group off. The majority of the Nepali people are just as sick of the situation. It has been going on for so long that many have given up hope that it will ever improve. Tourists not coming to the country only make the situation worse. Tourism supports a large number of people in the area. Trips to Nepal can be done safely as long as one takes common sense precautions (again my last minute change of plans)

3. Indian Embassy: I believe this was a good introduction to India. Everything that needed to get done was done, but in a very inefficient fashion. The embassy staff were polite though and very observant to the needs of anyone elderly or anyone who had trouble standing in line. They have a bewildering sense of what rules to enforce though. On my first day at the embassy, I went to the pay window with my form. The guy gave it back to me saying I needed to sign it. My pen decided to break at this point. I then had a conversation that went something like this.

Me: My pen broke may I borrow one?
Official: No not possible
Me: You have a pen right there by your computer
Official: No not possible
Me: Look there is a pen right there
Official: No not possible

Sighing I managed to borrow a pen from someone else in line. At the visa window, the guy had no problem loaning me his pen. After signing the form with the borrowed pen, I went to pay the 300 rupee deposit and realized that I only had 500 rupee notes. There was a large sign above the pen Nazi that said exact change only. I once again steeled myself for the ecounter. Then proceeded to have this conversation

Me: I don’t have change. I only have a 500 note
Pen Nazi: No problem Here is your change. Have a nice day.

Bewildered I left the embassy with a slight headache.

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5 Responses to “Winding Down Nepal”

  1. Joe Coury Says:

    Now THAT’S funny!

  2. Posted from United States United States
  3. Gashwin Says:

    LOL. Welcome to India! These things actually make a lot of sense if one views them from a completely different perspective. One is expecting things to “work” from the perspective of efficiency and customer service and fairness. From that point of view this is just bizarre at best. But, if the purpose is to demonstrate one’s own (i.e. the officials’) sense of power, entitlement, and intimidation over the hoi polloi — i.e. of establishing status in a hierarchy of pecking orders — well, all this makes perfect sense, if you think about it. India is a land obsessed with power, wealth, and status, as you’ll clearly see. And as a firang (foreigner) you’ll have a certain amount of status in the pecking order already, so be happy 🙂

    I loved your description in your email of “India as Nepal on steroids”

    Take a deep breath and plunge on!

  4. Posted from United States United States
  5. Tony Garren Says:

    Digressing to your last entry where toilet paper caused you some trouble, I had a thought that maybe baby wipes would be a better solution, surely they are easier to come by and carry, and no need to worry about keeping them dry. just a thought. plus you would have a real clean butt! Stay safe!

  6. Posted from United States United States
  7. admin Says:

    Babywipes can also be hard to come by. I usually do have those around as well. They come in handy for those all day sweaty bus trips which tend to leave one with a slighty not fresh feeling.

  8. Posted from India India
  9. Preeti Says:

    LOL that was an intro to India. But hopefully you’ll be better treated in your travels despite being a gora (white boy) simply because you’re male. At the airport in Bombay I stood patiently in front of 4 idle and mustacchioed airport security personnel that just stared at me and told me to wait for the other person (who hadn’t yet arrived) to help me.

    Two random notes of interest:
    1) some Hindus believe that centering the heat of cremation toward the corpse’s skull releases the soul.
    2) Shiva is something of a god of opposites. On the one hand (the Great Ascetic guise) he covers himself in ashes from cremation grounds, sits in the Himalayan mountains and meditates all the time, and on the other he’s almost Bacchic in his excesses. One story goes that his male parts were cut off (hence the worship of the linga) and replaced with those of a goat. There seems to be a lot of animal body part replacement in Hindu mythology, as you’ll note that Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, is Shiva’s son, although I learned the story that he’s really Parvati’s son. (Parvati is Shiva’s consort.) Also, the tradition of sati (widow-burning) comes from Shiva and his (previous, possibly-reincarnated-as-Parvati) consort, Shakti, who burned herself alive over the insult to her husband when her father wouldn’t invite Shiva to some sort of gathering (reminds me of the golden apple “to the fairest” from the Iliad) because Shiva was considered impure or contaminated for being covered in ash from the cremation grounds. Casted Hindus do not handle dead bodies or tan leather, leaving those tasks for Untouchables.

    To any other Hindus reading and taking offense to my take on the mythology, yes, I might be wrong. These are just some of the versions I’ve heard.

  10. Posted from United States United States

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