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Published: February 8th 2008
Sunday, January 27
Last Friday I went to apply for my Pakistani visa. For that I needed, amongst others, a letter of introduction from the Dutch Consulate. The day before I had made an appointment and promptly at 9 am I presented myself to Mrs Cuelenaere. Yes, you read correctly: not Rita Willemse or Tanja Bakker, not even simply Mrs Culenare but Cuelenaere with two extra e’s.
Sounds like a bell: Doing g g g g !! .
(For English speaking readers it won’t mean very much, but for Hollanders it will). Lovely name, and very friendly lady.
She made me read a declaration, pointing out what the dangers were when being in Pakistan. I could have mentioned the fact that the dangers of dying in a car accident or rock fall in this part of the world were much bigger than being blown up in Pakistan, but that wouldn’t have made any difference. I’m pretty sure she was aware of that herself. I would‘ve still have to sign the declaration.
Armed with my letter of introduction I took a taxi to the Pakistani consulate and two hours later the application had been accepted and, for the first time ever, an interview by the visa-officer had been conducted. The meter in the taxi had not stood still and in the end the bugger ripped me off in a way
I hadn’t experienced often either.
Last Saturday I went along with Mr Sharma, the manager of the hotel where I camp in the parking area, to his place to meet his wife and two kids. We took a taxi to a far-away part of the town where 4- and 5-story buildings are arranged in a haphazard way. Mr Sharma lives on the second floor of one of those buildings where he rents three rooms, no kitchen. I think there is a bathroom because he mentioned he showers every morning with cold water.
Each of his kids, the daughter of 12 who is handicapped and the son of 16 have their own room. He himself and his wife sleep in the room where a 2-burner stove together with some steel shelving for pots and pans serves as kitchen. The wall behind the burner bears evidence of frequent use, the walls are almost bare and the furniture is just a shade better than firewood.
When looking at the way this man lives, a man who has a regular job and a family one wonders in what situation the average man in Nepal lives. Not to mention the numerous poor people who survive on a few rupees per day.
We had lunch, rice with chicken pieces and some boiled cauliflower, sat on the roof in the sun for a while after which I decided to go back to the hotel and take a nap.
The original plan to travel a fortnight through Nepal together with Mr Sharma, the manager of Hotel Janak in Kathmandu where I found a place to camp in their parking area, fell through. Instead it was decided he would accompany me for two days, travel to Pokhara, stay there a day and get back by bus. I would then proceed alone to Butwal and from there to Mahendranagar in the far west of the country and cross the border into India.
It started on the wrong foot. After paying the assistant manager of the hotel the agreed amount for staying there, I found Mr Charma not at the spot where he was supposed to be. After a while I decided to go without him, but I found him waiting for me at a spot much further on the way.
I was glad to have him because he is a pleasant enough guy to get along with. We visited the Manakamana temple, a place of worship high on a maintain top and accessible by cable car. It proved to be a small temple in the midst of hundreds of souvenir shops. People in single file proceeded slowly to the entrance of the temple with all sorts of offerings, live chickens amongst them, which would be killed in the temple and then taken out to be cooked and eaten by the worshippers. I would call that a most economical way of give and take.
We discussed a wide variety of topics, although not religion, politics and so on, because they are complicated issues. But on mountains:
“Nice mountains” , Mr Charma would say. “Very nice”, I would agree. A little later: “Good road” and yes, I agreed: “Good road.” (We discussed the roads a number of times)
“Nice hotel” and “Nice beds” and so on, covering the weather, houses we saw, the Land Rover (“And comfortable!”) and a host of other things. When I was able to put my head on the pillow later that night, I was exhausted by all the discussions we’d had.
After arriving in Pokhara, a town where the rule of logic as far as building and living seems to be lost, we found a hotel which agreed to take 300 rupees, which included a hot shower. Instead we slept in a room filled with the fumes of recently painted outer walls with a sealant, without hot shower. The next day we moved to another hotel, after I paid 600 rupees because of tea Mr Sharma had ordered and coffee and the phone calls he made.
The second hotel, the Raraa hotel, offered a very a clean room with beautifully tiled bathroom, no hot water. But, the manager assured me, there will be hot water once we had electrical power for a while, which happens at night.
(All of Nepal is out of electrical power most of the time. Nightlife exists by the grace of generators.)
Mr Sharma would leave at seven in the morning. Before he went, I wanted to remind him of the 2000 rupees he had borrowed from me and had promised to pay back. Moreover because I had paid all the expenses, meals, hotels and telephone bills, and did not want to get this very sour taste in my mouth if it appeared he had actually taken advantage of me under the guise of friendship.
When he was waiting for the time to leave at half past six am, fully dressed, I broached the subject and got a surprise: he started crying.
Well, I thought, if he feels ashamed he must have genuine feelings of friendship for me, so I said goodbye and go well, and that was it.
After a really hot shower it was time for me to leave as well and when I paid for the room I was presented with yet another bill for the telephone calls he had made.
And now I have this sour taste in my mouth again.
He was a nice fellow, but if friends cost me as much as this one did, they are a luxury I can’t afford.
After having spent much of the afternoon of Friday February the 1st finding enough diesel fuel to get me out of Nepal, I left Pokhara on Saturday morning, 8am. In Nepal that is Sunday, evident by the washing and cleaning activity that can be observed on that day. I had 80 L altogether with a little bit in the main tank and therefore wasn’t worried about reaching Khadma at the extreme west border of Nepal where I would cross the border into India.
The total distance from Pokhara to Khadma is about 550 km.
The first day, that Saturday, I reached Butwal, after doing no more than 135 km. The road is forever twisting and winding through rough, wild mountainous country. Plenty to see and a lot of pictures to shoot.
I met Philippe and Nancy from Belgium traveling in a large camper and as yet unaware of the fuel problem in Nepal. They had been on the road for four months and had plenty of time in front of them, they said.
Then there was Guillaume, a Frenchman on his bicycle who had been traveling for three years, by himself.
It were pleasant encounters, specially because I’ve met so few overlanders or people who are willing to discuss their adventures.
I stayed in the parking area of a filling station right in the centre of this busy town, where few people were curios enough to have a closer look at the camper.
Sunday was misty and the road was through flat countryside with quite a lot agriculture. Far to the left the misty contours of mountains were visible. There were a few kilometers through a very beautiful mountainous area and then we were back in a valley where now also the mountains of India were visible in the growing sunlight.
At three o’clock I was getting tired but it was four o’clock before I found a place to stay: a roadside police station in Nepalgam where a Chinese company is contracted to build a low irrigation dam and bridge over the river. Here I stayed a day, mainly because I was told police action was underway further up the road and it would be best to wait until that was completed.
So here I am. It’s a sunny day, quite warm actually and I can’t stop thinking that the weather at this time of the year isn’t anything close to what we expected: cold, wet, even with snow. In fact it’s nicer then it often is in Johannesburg in January/February.
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