We are all back in Shanghai now and my first two working days are behind me already. I also worked today to get through as many emails as possible, if you are waiting for an answer to a mail: I try to finish the urgent ones by Sunday night. At the same time I am thinking about all our experiences over the past weeks. It was really amazing what we have seen and done, and the more I think about it the more happy I feel about the whole trip. It is maybe not life-changing (but then again, who knows?), but at least it gives me a different perspective on life. It’s good to go back to nature sometimes, back to the very basics, in order to more appreciate the luxuries you get used to in daily life. The last days in Kathmandu were already very luxurious, but being home again is still different, and I am glad to be back in Shanghai now.
Kathmandu was a nice end of the trip. The 2 days before that from the border to the capital city were quite impressive, Nepal is a beautiful country. Nature is stunning, and actually much more beautiful than Tibet. It is much greener and much more developed. But on the other hand also much more undeveloped: in Tibet things seem to work, in Nepal that is not the case. In Tibet at least I was able to make a call when I had a connection, in Nepal that’s not the case. In Tibet buses tend to ride on time, in Nepal we met a backpacker who waited for a scheduled bus for 8 hours and then decided to walk. In Tibet if there was electricity it was working most of the time, in Nepal (even in Kathmandu) electricity cuts were the norm. Nepal still has a long way to go if it wants to become a tourist destination.
Like most people, I knew that the Maoists had joined the Nepal government last year, and I (naively?) assumed that things would be quite stable in Nepal by now. But that turned out to be wrong. Shortly after passing the border the checkpoints started already, and they were quite different from the ones we encountered in Tibet. The Nepali ones has soldiers with automatic weapons hidden behind sandbags and surrounded by barbed wire, not a young smiling police man enjoying the sunshine on a chair next to the road like in Tibet. When reading the Himalaya Times (an English language newspaper in Kathmandu) it became clear that although the Maoists are part of the establishment now, they cannot even control their own people. Kidnappings by the Maoists were very normal in the countryside, and they also did not seem to mind to kill the occasional government official. It seems the prime minister has no power at all anymore, or just tries to hold on to the little power that he still has. When we were there the national oil supply ran out, and there were long lines at gas stations (even before they opened cars already lined up). The king, who used to have absolute power, will be gone soon as well. The PM announced during the few days that we were in Kathmandu that it was 80% sure that the monarchy would be over (one of the things the Maoist want). The PM should in my humble opinion try to find a middle way between the monarchy and the Maoists, but he seems to be afraid of the rebel communists, and is giving in to all their demands. Maybe I just have a partial view because of the short time we were there?
Kathmandu itself is a nice city for a day or two, but not much more. It’s quite noisy and polluted, and although it has a lot of temples, stupas and monasteries, I was not too impressd. I actually liked Lhasa a lot better. The backpacker area Thamel is similar to backpacker areas all over Asia. Cheap beer and pizza’s like everywhere, but the only thing missing were the tourists. It seems they are all gone (I assume they were here a few years ago when things were more stable politically?), and being the only guest in a restaurant at lunch time gives me a creepy feeling. As a result everybody tries to earn an extra penny, and the touts on the street are hard to shake off. Kathmandu is the only city I know of where it is better to negotiate a fare with the taxi driver than to rely on their meters. The meters have all been tampered with we found out after having to pay way too much twice in a row. I don’t mind paying a bit more (it’s dirt cheap anyway), but I don’t like the feeling that everybody is trying to rip you off.
The experience at the airport was another example. People literally pull the luggage out of your car before you can even get out. If porters do that I refuse to use them, I was glad I did not lose any luggage. In the departure hall there were lots of signs from airlines that used to fly to Nepal but have since disappeared. The day we left was the last day that Austrian Airlines flew to Kathmandu, and with that the last airline flying directly to Europe was gone. It’s a pity, but this country is going down the drain. Service at the airport was quite bad (it reminded me of Jakarta’s airport more than 10 years ago), with queues everywhere. We probably had some overweight, but a small bribe by my dad helped to smoothen that out easily (that won’t work in Europe). The hand luggage check was the worst experience. Everyone has to open his/her luggage and the security goes through everything. A Chinese tourist in front of me bought a small football for his kids, and one of the guards wanted to have it. He did not want to give it to him, and really started nagging him. The tourist got quite upset about it, at which point I walked away. This is not the kind of thing you like to see at the end of a holiday, and this kind of experiences make me reluctant to come back quickly. A pity, because the country is beautiful and has a lot of potential.