- a bit of a let down!
06.02.2009 26 °C
After the hecticness of India, we were really looking forward to the relative calm of Nepal, and having many Nepalese in our home town of Aldershot, eager to experience Nepalese culture first hand.
I'll write about all the good stuff we saw and did in a minute, but first I'll get the not quite so good stuff over with, as it really impacted on our view of Nepal...
In many of the Countries that we've been to, people like to add a bit of what we call tourist tax to things. Sometmes we haggle the price, sometimes we accept that we're paying more - it's part of travelling. The difference with Nepal is that Everyone is after those extra rupees of tourist tax, from getting on a bus to buying a bottle of water. For example, we went to the market to buy some oranges and watched all the locals paying 30 rupees. Having ascertained the price we went to do the same, but no, for us the same oranges cost 40 rupees. We offered 30, and he refused to sell them to us.
Bus journeys. We would get on and be quoted 3 times the price, why? we'd ask, because that's the tourist price was always the answer. These were government buses, with set fares. The fares are set by how much it costs to drive from a to b. Therefore if we're asked to pay 3 times, where does the extra money go? Into the pocket of the bus conductor? If I am to just give my money to people, I prefer to choose who, when and for what reason.
As well as this being immensely frustrating for it's unfairness, it also seemed to dominate the Nepali view of travellers and most of our interactions were financially based, we felt viewed as walking wallets much of the time. We found it very hard to get past this and just chat to people and find out more about the Nepali way of life or for Neplai's to show interest in us and where we're from. If it's not the Neplai way, people seem to show very little interest (maybe we bored people with telling them how we have many Nepalese people in Aldershot and yes, the restaurant really did used to be called Johnny Gurkhas!).
Because of the tourist tax, at times, some things proved more expensive than back home. It was hard to stick to our budget and so along with the frustrations, we spent less time in Nepal than we would have done otherwise.
Ok, rant over. Although I don't think either of us are in a rush to return, we did have a good time in Nepal.
We had a family reunion in the most unlikely of places as my cousin, Rachel, is volunteering in a village for 6 months, living in a room above a cow shed and eating the same meal 3 times a day - dahl baht, a lentil stew/soup. Luckily her village had guesthouses and we didn't have to bunk in with the cow. It was really good to meet up and we all treated ourselves to wine and not dahl baht for tea!
We went to a national park, Chitwan, where we bathed an elephant. The elephant walks into the water with you on it's back and spends some time splashing you and throwing you off - the mahoot insisted I got onto the elephants head and jump off - not sure many people can say they've jumped off an elephants head! The best part for us though, was after all the 'performance' of this, the elephant gets to lie down in the water and you scrub her with stones to clean her - she seemed to really enjoy this part and even helped us by stretching out her legs. In fact, she relaxed so much that she generated a jacuzzi for us from her backside!
The same day we also went to see where they breed all the elephants for the touist safaris and those who work in the jungle. We arrived as many were returning from their days work in the jungle carrying huge logs and their calves trotting along behind. As they are bred to have a lot of human contact, the calves wander round and come right up to you to check you out with their trunk. I was messing around with one, pulling it's trunk when it decided to take the game to the next level and started pushing me. Even though it was just a baby, you know who's boss when an elephant ramms into you - needless to say, I lost this game of wrestling, but it was fantasic that the elephant decided I may make a worthy opponent!
Continuing with the elephant theme, the following day we went on a elephant safari into the jungle. We saw some rhino, along with the 20 other elephants with tourists on. It was probably one of the least satisfying jungle expeditions we've done, as at the end of it we really didn't feel that we'd earned the right to see rhino so close up. There were people shouting and singing, and the group behind us were eating a picnic oin the back of the elephants and tossing their rubish into the jungle. We'd much rather have to work harder to see wildlife in a more natural and respectful setting. The most upsetting part, was the clouts on the head the mahoot kept giving the elephant. While I understand that you can hit an elephant quite hard with a wooden stick before it will feel it, some of the mahoots were using metal spikes and aiming for sore, broken flesh on the tops of the ears. If that's how you have to train an elephant, then I don't think I'll be riding another one - the price for the elephant was too high!
We couldn't come to Nepal without seeing the himalayas and so travelled to a town where we climbed up a big hill for good views. We climbed a mountain in Malaysia and so decided to give Everest a miss.
As in most of asia, the buses are rammed as full as they can be, and then a few extra people are squeezed in. The buses then hurtle along narrow mountain roads, overtaking at what seems like the most dangerous possible moment. Nepal introduced a new challenge to bus travel... the locals throwing up. It happened on every journey, bar one, that we took. The call comes from those around the sicky passenger of 'plastic' and the conductor guys reach into their plentiful supply of plastic bags. Sometimes this reaches the passenger in time, but we did see a small child absorb the brunt of his mother stomach and I had to sit for 3 hours with a river of sickunder my seat where the woman had given up trying to aim out of the window and chosen the floor instead!
So now, we're back in the crazyness of India. We crossed the border back into India with a couple from Camberly, who now live round the corner from my folks - small world! We're currenctly in Jaisalmer, a desert town on the Pakistan border, where tomorrow a desert festival starts. Dan's preparing himself for the Mr Desert competition, and I may take on the locals in foreigners versus Indians tug o war (ladies)!