Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Bus to Pokhara

April 25
The bus to Pokhara took ten hours. It was a pleasant enough minibus with 32 seats and about 50 people sitting. Christian said someone had a hen with them but I never saw or heard the bird. Some old women were sitting on the floor which made me feel bad but I’m sure they didn’t pay 290 rupees for the trip like we did so I didn’t feel too bad.

The blaring Nepalese music blowing through the speaker above my head was not Christian or my favorite part of the trip. There were probably about 15 or 20 government checkpoints spread across the 150 miles. The guards wear blue fatigues and carry carbines. When we reached the outskirts of Pokhara all the men of fighting age had to get off the bus and walk across a checkpoint on foot for 100 yards. Christian and I were able to stay on the bus. In contrast to India where white skin just makes you a tout target, being a foreigner in Nepal seems like it has a lot of perks. There’s an 11pm curfew in Pokhara but last night our waiter at the Maya Café told us “It’s only for us, for the Nepalese. You can stay out as late as you like, enjoy yourself.”

Krishna, the 25 year old bookstore owner I spoke with today said, “Life is like chocolate box,” when I told him I was traveling for a year. He hadn’t heard of the movie the reference was from but he took the meaning well. “It’s like chocolates for you,” he said. “For us it’s like we live in a cage.” I asked, leadingly, what the difference was between America and Nepal. “It the difference between the sky and the earth,” he said.

Nepal is in the midst of two years of significant civil strife as Maoist forces are held in check by an increasingly restrictive monarchy. A couple months ago the King fired a bunch of democratically elected officials. Krishna didn’t like that at all but said he thought most of the democratic politicians were crooks anyway. He didn’t fully blame (or credit) the King for the action either, saying he thought someone else was using “a remote control” to influence Nepal. He thought India was most likely to blame but the U.S. and England “are too curious about Nepal too.”

Krishna works in Pokhara where the tourists are. His family is still back in the countryside and he visits them every three or four months. It’s just too expensive to life in Pokhara, he told me. I’m typing this in a guesthouse with big windows, a good bed, and a private bathroom. They brought me a desk to work on and outside my room is a sunny porch. With little negotiation I got the room for $2.15 a night. But Krishna can’t afford to bring his family to live here and that sure makes you feel like you have a lot of chocolate smeared all over your face.


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