Thursday, April 8, 2010

kathmandu? how about kathmandon't
or nepal: no thanks!

i have never wanted out of a country more than i have wanted out of nepal. actually, i have never wanted out of a country at all until i met nepal.

why? oh, where to begin... ok how about here:

the powderkeg-ready-to-explode thing
if you make the mistake of visiting the cities there - particularly kathmandu - the tension and feeling of about-to-explode violence is always in the air.

nepal's communist party who call themselves maoists (but who are really more like peru's shining path in terms of their objectives and use of violence and child subscription into their armies to name a few things...) destroyed the country's ability to progress, or even educate their young,  for over 10 years - and now that they are part of the government as a result of a peace treaty, they continue to do damage there.

students are applying for foreign universities in droves trying to avoid the schools in nepal which now just push the maoist agenda.

while we were there, maoist youth thugs attacked and seriously injured the leaders of the youth opposition party. the next day, a maoist youth was killed in retaliation in the midst of durbar square, one of kathmandu's premiere tourist attractions.

nepal is now in the midst of trying to rewrite the country's constitution now that the maoists have a place within the government, and the maoists don't want just a place within the government, they want the whole thing.  good luck.

as we were finally, thankfully, boarding a plane to get the heck out of there, we met two women who decided to visit nepal for 1 week as a vacation in the midst of the peace dialog between india and pakistan that they had been participating in. they too were rejoicing to escape nepal. they too thought the place was a powderkeg ready to blow.  they too did not feel safe on the streets.  one of them had visited nepal 3 times in the past. she said it never felt the way it feels now.

the i-can't-get-anywhere thing
in the short time we were there, the maoists called bandhs (strikes) that paralyze transportation systems all over nepal - something they've been fond of doing for years - at least a couple of times.  i hear the bandhs are much more frequent in kathmandu. taxi and bus drivers who dare to drive on those days are attacked.

see the previous post.

the culture of extortion and thievery
trying to rip off tourists is the norm in laos, cambodia, vietnam and india.  you know, short changing, overcharging for goods, and overcharging for taxi's and tuk-tuks and rickshaws.  but it somehow feels different - and more malevolent - here. 

i have never felt so ripped-off in all of my travels. i do not believe that i met a single person there who did not try to steal from me - or their fellow countrymen - in one way or another.

and the thieves are so inartful.

and yeah, i get that this is a really poor country and that we are rich and can afford to kick a little cash their way. in my head, it still doesn't make thievery right.  i'd rather give to (and often do give to) people in the street, because they are more honest.  they aren't pretending to offer me anything in exchange.  i'm poor, you have more than me, why don't you just give me some.  ok.  that's pretty straightforward.  i can respect that.

like the taxi driver who made a big show of counting my change not once but twice, trying to david copperfield me by counting the last 100 rupees twice each time.  clumsy.  lame.

or the guesthouse lady at ganesh himal guesthouse (yeah, they're a cut above but they are destroying the place next door with their extortion so i'm calling a bandh on their a**! don't go there! get ready for a bit of a rant...) who, when we were checking out, politely asked where we were going next like she was making small talk, and who then when when we told her called the guesthouse we had reservations at for the next couple of nights (we were stuck in kathmandu because of the whole transportation thing and ganesh himal was full.) and demanded a commission for referring us there although she hadn't.

the whole "commission" thing for referring someone to another guesthouse is just formalized extortion and is all over nepal. the deal is, though, that popular guesthouses never have to pay commissions for referrals because they get their customers directly from people who find them on the internet or in travel guidebooks. it's only the less well-known guesthouses that don't have an internet or travel guidebook presence that end up paying "commissions". 

people often book the well-known guesthouses for the first night or two, then once they arrive in the city and find just as good but less expensive guesthouses, move to these guesthouses for the remainder of their stay. so the the scam is that the popular guesthouse people will find out from you where you're going next, phone ahead to claim they referred you there, and then demand a commission from these places.

they are stealing money from you, the guesthouse and/or both because 1) you won't be able to negotiate a discount on the room since they now have to pay an extortion fee to the "referring" guesthouse, and 2) the less well-known guesthouse just can't get ahead to become real competition to the popular guesthouses because a portion of their proceeds is always flying out the window.

anyway, after we told the almost-as-good but less expensive (by the equivalent of $8 american dollars) guesthouse that the criminal lady at ganesh himal did not refer us, they called the criminal lady and she proceeded to try and tell them that we were lying about having reservations and that she did indeed refer us.  huh?  she's trying to tell the guys at my new guesthouse, with whom i made reservations with in person 2 days earlier, that we're lying about having had reservations?  what? 

and oh how i could go on about the boldface lies the ganesh himal criminal lady told me to try and extort more money from me while we were staying there, but it's time to let it go.

the sacred and the profane
visiting swayambhunath, according to the lonely planet nepal travel guide, is supposed to be the defining moment of your visit to kathmandu. and it was in a way, but not in the way they described. this supposedly sacred site was so crammed full of sh*t vendors that i'm unclear what's sacred about it. yeah, nepal, i realize you're poor and need to make money, but is destroying the tourist draws in your cities really the way to do it?

and they are declaring 2011 nepal tourism year. riiiight...

anyhooo...  bye, bye nepal.

Buffalo Springfield For What It's Worth