Sunday, 9 May 2010

After landing in kathmandu we had one day of relative freedom before the maoists strike shut down the city. The strikes lasted the entire 6 days we were in kathmandu. Cars were not allowed in the roads, so the only running transport was buses designated to take tourists to and from the airport. The maosists just seemed to sit for large periods of the day playing cars in the empty roads, spitting and making litter. For large parts of the day, most if not all shops and restraunts were closed and were forbidden from opening - the same all over Nepal though worst in kathmandu. The only sound on the streets was the occasional steel shop shutters being opened and closed to let staff in and out. The first day went passed with relative comfort. I set up camp on the sun terrace which overlooked the main road in Thamel. I met a few other lone travllers and we ended up sitting on the terrace for large parts (11 hours) of the day till the early morning. Shops and restraunts were allowed to open between 6-8 so there were mad rushes to the shop at the end of the road that sold western snacks and alcohol. Because there were no cars on the road, many restraunts simply did not open as they had no food to serve. In trhe bazaar across the road from our hotel, we found a nice cafe above street level. All the westerners were packed in. Around 7.45 we were told we had 10 mins left so we ordered milkshakes before we left. Then w eheard bangning on the back door and a large group of maoists shouting and yelling. The waiters looked incredibley panicked and told us we had to pay the bill and leave. As we did. The streets had an uneasy feeling about them - one which i had never felt before. There were shouting and chants coming from an unknown area, and bangs and the sound of smashng glass. We ran back to our hotel where the guard unlocked the gate (all hotels had gates locked after dark during the strikes).

A girl who was staying in our hotel was last to leave the cafe we were in. She was halfway through her burger when the staff forcibly removed her from the place. The maosists apparently charged in, and started screaming flipping tables and chairs over, threatening to trash the place unless they closes asap. Things like this happened all over Thamel. The bar next to our hotel had bricks thrown at it cos it was open slightly later than 8, and a chinese restraunt we were planning on going to had all its windows knocked out before we could. For obvious reasons the maosists didnt targe hotels, though there was obvious tension between them and the hotel staff, as threats were made to them whenever they went outside.

As the days wore on and mroe and more restraunts remained closed, we began to simply accept we would probably die in the Potala hotel. Food in the hotel was running low though every now and then they managed to get a delivery. We would all sit on the sun terrace and eagerly wait fpr 6pm, when shops opened and we could safely go onto the streets to look for the few places open to eat. Every now and then the maosits gave us a little show though. For half an hour or so they rioted through the street carrying flaming torches screaming, and then the next they all had drums and were chanting. We were waiting for the unicycles and tight rope walkers but they never came. Obviously they dont know how to put on a good show. Anyhoo, we would get back to the hotel just before 8 and the same group of people would walk through the streets with whistels, which signified to the shop owners it was time to shut up shop. Within minutes the bustling, and brightly lit streets became merely ominious dark alleyways - devoid of any kind of life excpet maybe a dog and the single rickshaw driver who lived outside our hotel, and despite the fact NOTHING was opened, coninuted to insist we come down from the roof terrace and let him take us somewhere.

Our nights were spent drinking on the terrace and listening to music - it drowned out the noise of the chating and scremaming maosists.

One day we decided we werew bored of the potala hotel and decided to go to bhaktapur (or something similar to that name) where the open air cremations were happening. It was meant to be like Varanasi in India but to alesser extent. We walked through the crowds of red shirts, litter and past all the road blockades and armed polieman dressed in riot gear, and sauntered down to east kathmandu. After being told a way we could view the ceremonies without having to pay 10 quid, we ended up scaling down some rocky hills and cliffs, manouvering round barbed wire and sliding down some steep slopes, until we came to the bank of the river. The river was stagnant, blocked solid with waste and sewage yet still had people washing and drinking from it. Opposite us were 9 stone platforms with piles of wood on each. The bodies, wrapped in a coloured shroud, were 'cleaned' in the river, dried off and laid on the wood piles. The shrouds were removed so we could see the bodies, then they were covered in hay and burnt. There were 4 cremations happening when we view it, though the smell of the river covered the smell of the burning bodies. We then moved onto see the Budha stupor before making back for home.

Another night of drinking and lady gaga bought us to our final few hours in kathmandu. We left on the tourist bus and got to the airport for 11am. We were to fly kathmandu-delhi, delhi-madras, madras-kuala lumpur, then kuala lumpur- bali. Each flight had about 3 hours between, for room for delays, except the KL-bali flight that was on a different day, requring us to spend a night in KL. Good theory in practise, but what we didnt bank on was the general incompentance of jet airways. Without explanation, our flight kathmandu-delhin was cancelled. We were assured a place on a flght 3 hours later, but when we told a small nepalese airport man we had 2 other flights to catch, one of which was an international, he simply remarked 'well then your going to miss it then arent you'. After Jim (a guy from our hotel who was also off to madras) yelled a bit, emily yelled a bit, and me and alec just pushed in the crowd waving our tickets in the faces of the airport personal, we EVENTUALLY got on a 4pm plane. Of course delays meant we didnt take off till about 5 so missed our delhi-madras connection.

After making a scene to some more jet airways personel in delhi, we eventually managed to get put up in a nearby hotel. It did mean we got a free nights accomodation and free dinner and breakfast so it wasnt all bad. Our flights from delhi-madras and madras-KL were also with jet air so were easily rescheduled. At 5pm we caught or flight and landed in madras around 7. A 3 hour wait in what was basically a plane hangar, followed by a 4 hour flight, we arrived in KL local time 6am. 9 hours waiting here, and we boarded a 3pm plane to Bali. Of course EVERY plane without fail was delayed by more than an hour for reasons we were never told, but we EVENTUALLY arrived in Bali. At 9pm, outside temperataure was low 30's. 24 hour KFC'S mcdonalds, starbucks even a marks and spencer and topman. Bali is by far the most western place we have been to - thgouh still relatively cheap for food. Our hotel is next to some markets giving us the chance to buy some more relative shit i dont actually need, but will buy because of the novelty. When it gets light we will hopefully get our first glimpse of the Bali beaches. We are in Bali for 12 days, and plan to visit 3 cities - all near the coast so we can get some beach burning action in (maybe followed by a night of drinking and late night takeaway). Be jealous people. Be VERY jealous....

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