Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Nepal, and back at home in Pokhara

Indian Air

So two and a half hours before my flight, I’m finally allowed to check in. I’m the first one, and they know I’ve been here all morning waiting, so they give me a good window exit row seat. I’d probably prefer the front row given the dash I’ve got to get round to the domestic terminal, assuming the flight isn’t delayed. Once checked in, one would assume you could go through immigration at one’s leisure? Nope. You have to wait till you’re given the go-ahead for that.

Nice discriminatory emigration rules specially for women under 30

Immigration looks at my passport, and confirms with me that this is a double entry visa. Yes, I reply, as it says on the visa. Double entry. After much more pondering and frowning at stamps, he comes to the conclusion that I arrived on 7th September. Nope, that was my leaving date for the first entry. Hmmm, more frowning. To save some time I point out the 21st Sept entry stamp in front of him. Ah. So, if you want to come back, you will need another visa. Yes, I realise that. Stamped and I can go.

Upstairs, where there nothing! We’re not allowed to go through the security checks yet, it’s too early. So waiting in an empty area for another twenty minutes or so. Through security, without problems, although I notice the muppets haven’t stamped the tag on my backpack, so I go back. They look confused, but eventually scan it again and stamp the tag without ado. I may have explained this before, but the Indian model for checking you are not a terrorist is to use those little paper name tags with a bit of elastic that the airlines usually give you for free as you check in. When you’re checked, they stamp the tag with a usually-illegible ink stamp, and then when you go to board, they check these again, and usually decide to have a root through your bag again, just for good measure.

Meanwhile the body check is the usual walk-through scanner, though they are always turned up to maximum sensitivity so I set it off with my miniscule belt buckle, which doesn’t set scanners off anywhere else in the world. Again, I think they just want the chance to see what’s in your pockets. Women go through a separate lane with screens. Goodness knows what happens in there. Once through, I walk to the window and look out at the moody atmospheric scene. It’s mid-day but like dusk, with heavy rainclouds rolling over every few minutes.

I wonder what’s happened to Thuzar. I take a photo of a passenger plane far out on the runway in the rain, then an army muppet comes running over yelling hey, hey what are you doing? I’m sorry, what is the problem? Are you taking photos or videos, he asks me, as I stand in front of him with my camera. Oh, I’m sorry, I reply, I didn’t realise that we weren’t allowed to take photos, given that there are no signs saying as much, and this is a large window in a passenger terminal waiting area. He snorts and walks away.

The Indian Army don’t want you seeing this either, the muppets

The plane is of course late, ostensibly because of the bad weather, though who knows really. Thuzar’s Indian Airways plane that she decided not to take was two hours late, and that was before the rains started. I fork out for a 20r cup of sweet tea, damn pricy but there’s nothing else here and I’m hungry. I reckon I could have got in lunch at Fire and Ice if there are any more delays, and that thought does not make me happy! As we’ve been delayed, my chances of getting a flight to Pokhara today are slipping away. Oh well, that may not necessarily be a bad thing, I need the sleep (heh heh!).

Off the plane quick but queues at passport control are small.I know the drill now, fill out the form, go pay the cash (30USD), take that receipt to Visa on arrival lane with form, arrival card and photo. Sticker is placed unnecessarily right in the middle of page. We're through. Outside you get India-style hassle, but they are no match for me. Annoyingly the only ATM is out of order. All the taxi touts are taking advantage of this, offering to drive you to an ATM for a small dollar fee. One suspects they've put the thing out themselves.

I walk round to the domestic terminal. I suspect that I've missed the last flight because of Air India running so late, and my suspicions are correct. I walk down out of the airport to find a cab. I hate the airport cabs. And even the fixed price taxi booth is a con here, clearly something set up by the drivers' union to screw tourists rather than a government-regulated thing to help.

So down at the gate, a police chap tells me the name of the bus station I want for the overnight buses, and explains to the taxi driver that I need to go via an ATM. I worry that he'll take me to a Nepali bank that won't work with international cards, which he probably was going to do, but thank goodness I spotted a Standard Chartered on the way. We pass the red-brick British Embassy, and soon arrive at Balaju bus station, the long-distance one north of Thamel.

You can tell you aren't in India by the almost total lack of hassle. I'm soon kitted out with a ticket for 260r, on a bus leaving at 7:15pm. I buy some local nibbles and get on board and wait.

Yet Another Overnight Bus

Interesting decoration

We leave a little late, and head into mad traffic that you can't believe exists in a small capital like Kathmandu. I snooze on and off, but I have a chap next to me who is very interested to chat with me using his 10 words of English, my seat is cramped and worse, seems to lean slightly to the left, one of those small things that over several hours is going to be awful.

We drive on and after a short dinner stop, everyone starts to doze off despite the loud Nepali dohori music. Including the guy next to me who despite having the aisle seat keeps twisting his legs into my space and dunking his head on my shoulder. It turns into a war. One of his key weapons is flatulence. I also note we appear to be on the slowest bus on the road, bloomin everyone is overtaking us, including, i note, some luxury buses. Then again, given my experiences with those...

We stop at midnight for dinner. My first dal bhat!

It's good, but more than enough, so I refuse all the free refills (except for chilli sauce of course). After twenty minutes we're off again. 100 yards up the road where we park up sit for three feckin hours. Of course, if someone had told me it was going to be three, I could have got off, stretched my legs, but no. I sit on the bus like a muppet thinking 'we'll surely go any second now'? Three hours. If they don't all do this I shall be very unhappy. I wouldn't mind if there were some kind of reason. It's probably just the way it is.

Out, and a bit of hassle. Light rain. Find bus going to Lakeside. Get off too early, before Damside. Walk wrong direction. Eventually work it out. Half an hour.

The Palace!

Thirty seconds up here

Raju comes out to greet me, followed by his wife Sushmita and daughter Riya. It’s great to be back for the third time here, it’s like home now. Pokhara Palace Hotel is a great place!

Raju and Riya

I promptly request what I’m in need of.. a Raju Special Breakfast, which turns out to be cooked by Sushmita! Raju’s apparently taught her well, or so he says!

Riya has grown up a bit, and now talks incessantly in Nepali. Apparently she’s doing very well in school, and loves showing her new-found intellect by counting to 100 and spelling out lots of words in English.

A monkey..


Pokhara Palace Hotel is a newish guesthouse, though now it’s been here long enough for Raju to have covered the place with flowers and plants, it’s beautiful.

The front of Pokhara Palace hotel

From the roof if the weather is good you can see Fishtail (Machhapuchhare) and some of the Annapurna range. The rooms are always spotlessly clean and thanks to some new hotels being built on both sides, it’s now not so noisy early in the morning thanks to various farm animals!

Up to my penthouse suite

I shower, hot from the solar panels on the roof, and have a short snooze. I find that I can just about pick up a very weak but open wifi signal from my room! Then Suresh Nepali turns up! Suresh was one of my two guides for both my previous visits here. His hair has gone long, just like his father’s.

Dinner is at home with Raju, then I get to try out Nepal Ice beer, the new lager which has come out of nowhere and now seems to be the beer of choice. I don’t detect an amazing amount of flavour, but it does the trick. I still think I prefer Everest Beer.

Raju, Suresh and I head out to look for Ram, who now works at Monal Hotel. He’s not there, so we go to Busy Bee Cafe anyway! This is the place of choice late in the evening, with a large outdoor seating area, food, and plenty of booze. They have live music most evenings, but this is not always a good thing!

Busy Bee


The boys!

ACAP Office
Next day Raju, Suresh and I get together a trekking plan over breakfast (enjoyed at a leisurely 1pm or so!). In the time I have available, the Jomsom trek is ideal. We can fly up and walk back down. I’ll get up to Kagbeni, which is the last town before the mystical “Last Kingdom” of Lo Mustang. To do any trekking in the area, you need a permit, so Raju runs me down to the office on his motorbike.

The bike

The office

Inside you fill out a form, hand over *two* photos, and the 2,000r fee. Minutes later, I have the permit, with my photo on it. I remember the first time we went to Annapurna, Adrian and I had our photos mixed up on the permits. Didn’t seem to matter much. Especially as the Maoists controlled the whole region at that time.

Devi Falls
Next he runs me along to the Devi Falls, which we missed last time. They’re a small but impressive falls, with the water plunging down underground and emerging a few kilometres later.

Back to the Palace, and Ram kaji turns up. Ram was our other guide for our previous treks.

Right, intermission with blog now.. I’m off for 6 days or so to Jomsom. More when I’m back. By the way, am contemplating dropping Tibet from my itinerary given timing. There’s a flight from Kathmandu to Shanghai. I’ll work it out when I get back to Kathmandu.

Here’s the draft plan for Jomsom Trek:

1. 28th Bus from Pokhara to Beni. Hike to Tatopani
2. 29th Trek Tatopani to Lete or Kalopani
3. 30th Lete to Kagbeni
4. 1st Kagbeni to Muktinah and Jarkhot to Kagbeni
5. 2nd Kagbeni to Jomsom
6. Fly to Pokhara. If the flight is cancelled, trek out to Beni.


Anonymous said...

well no pics are allowed on any airport and as this one is close to the border the army is a little more careful. There is extra security because of terrorist attacks. If u clicked a pic in the US they would have arrested u if u were of muslim heritage. I read it in one blog where he clicked a pic in houstan airport of the a plane and he saw two men with guns pointing towards and keeping a distance and instructing him to drop everythng he had and put his hands behind his back. So u shld feel lucky to be a white and travelling in India or ne where especially the US. The under 30 rule for women is because of muslim law and that should be respected by all nations. U cannot critisize Indian officials for it.

Sam Crawley said...

1. Pictures are allowed in most airports

2. This airport (Calcutta) is nowhere near any borders

3. No strange stories without links to support please

4. Under 30 rule is nothing to do with "Muslim law", and has no reason to be respected by any nations, and so, yes, I criticise Indian officials for that.