Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Kathmandu after the 2015 Earthquake

Kathmandu. A lot of the historical sites in Kathmandu now lay in ruins. I spend most of my days in Kathmandu just walking around the huge and congested city of Kathmandu. Pollution was unavoidable in the city and walking no more than 10 minutes and one will be covered in dust and ashes.

Most of the tourist never leave the heart of Thamel where one could find restaurants, tour agency, laundry, Hotels,
Thamel - Kathmandu
guesthouse and unlimited arts and craft for souvenir hunters to take home. I almost got suckered in to it as well and in a way I did not manage to make it past the second zone of Kathmandu which was walking distance in any direction within 2 hours.

If it were not for the search for the post office for my hunt of stamps collection I would have never seen some of the historical sites as well. They say you will see ruins now only. In a way it is true for I saw some historical sites that was in-
Intricate wooden structures all over Kathmandu- Nepal
complete, or in utter ruins and others was unsafe to enter but was being propped up and supported by poles till the money and time required to restore it to its former glory could kick in.

It will take years for the UNESCO heritage site to be rebuilt especially with the strictness of the UNESCO rules but for all other parts of Kathmandu they are recovering as fast as they can from the disaster.

It was not surprising that the Heritage places suffered the most damage. They were after all one of the oldest in town. Buildings are built top heavy here in Kathmandu like a reverse pyramid. This makes it more prone to collapse and damage during a big shake. Dunbar City was one of those sites that although cracked and tilted still holds a charm. Its one of those place that even if you don’t know about it, wondering into the ancient city will make one eyes and mind blown away even in a semi ruin state.
Dunbar City - Kathmandu Nepal

Ruin Tower of Dharahara
One plus side of visiting Nepal now I guess is that I walked in most of the historical site for free. Signboard stating 100 Rp for locals and 800 Rp for other country visitors are not enforce now and one could just stroll in and watch the ruins. I went to only three sites … the ruin tower Dharahara, Dunbar Square and monkey temple.
Dunbar Square I have already gave a glimpse of the beauty of ruin buildings being propped up despite its falling nature and Dharahara was a wrech. The totem pole tower is completely and utterly missing. Best to just demolish the rest to the ground or just leave it as it is.

Monkey temple was a long walk out of town. Nearly an hour since I got lost a bit. Kathmandu was a place you will get lost if you do not have a working GPS. Map won’t really cut it

since there are barely any street signs and even if there is it would be in Napalese language. Streets are conjoined by hidden passageway or passageway through someone’s house that forms a pedestrian street that motorbikes uses as well.

Monkey Temple - Kathmandu
There are no rules in Kathmandu as far as I can tell. Power, telecom, lights, roads, sewage, drainage, water, food … everything is a mash of chaos intricately bound together and harmonized.
View of Kathmandu From Monkey Temple

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Bus From Kathmandu to Pokhara - Nepal

The bus ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara was a choice between two evil. I had a choice between the local bus or the tourist bus. How I detest myself for choosing the tourist bus for I felt a true traveller must do it the local way.
Tourist Bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara
The price different was not much really between 400 Rp and 600 Rp. Being lazy and of course having Asanam as a companion made me took the tourist bus option of 600 Rp. Tourist bus was just a name and the bus was just slightly more better than the local one.
The major difference was that this bus did not stop every stretch of the way picking up people along the route, however it did try to pick up as much as possible before leaving Kathmandu. Once outside Kathmandu the bus only stopped for toilet breaks and food breaks.

I was sleep deprived. I had maybe half an hour of sleep that night before the bus ride and luckily enough we were position towards the rear end of the bus. I sat at the middle seat of the last row hoping the bus will not be full and when we finally hit the road the thankfully the last row was not occupied. I could now use it like a bed and tried to sleep the journey away.

Halfway though we had a stop for toilet and for breakfast. Asanam told me that the view was beautiful but she herself could barely keep her eyes open. I was just glad I could lie down fully for I was exhausted and the bus was going though a super windy road plus I was pretty sure he was driving crazily. A few blarring horns more louder than the rest and more urgent sounding too told me we avoided collision of some sort. At one point the emergency brakes was jammed and almost everyone flew out of their seats. I was lucky enough that one right hand was always braced for it to happen.
It took us nearly 8 hours to get to Pokhara from Kathmandu although it was only a 300 km journey. Windy roads up and down the mountains pass made it a slow journey although sitting in the bus feels like the driver was speeding 80 miles an hour all the way.

Lunch Break along the way

Off the bus and the touts were waiting for us. You could see them outside the window looking in and scouring for the idiot tourist. As much as we were trying to avoid them they were judging their prey. I got off and immediately one guy approached with a comment … China ???
No ! Malaysia ….. I couldn’t help but correct him.
Immediately he switch to Malay and greeted me like a brother in the most profound malay proficiency that one would thought he was Malaysian true and true. I politely told him that we already have a reservation and have paid. He prompt me for the name of the hostel which I had prepared in advance knowing the local tout trick (he was checking if I was lying and indeed I was lying about the reservation but I did know where we were headed too). Knowing that he had no chance to sway me to another hotel he bid me farewell while me and Asanam got our luggage and prepared for a walk. ( all the above were conversed in Malay between me and the tout )
Asanam was a greeny when it comes to backpacking. Immediately she headed straight for the first taxi driver near the gate of the bus station. I lied to her …. I seem to be doing that a lot in Nepal it seams and told her it was only a short walk away. Once clear of the touts she asked me how far it was and I lied again … 400 meters I told her. 10 minutes later I told her it was just about there … another 400 meters checking my phone map. I had no idea how far it was other than it was walkable.
She needed that motivation I suspected for I had a feeling she would not have walked if she knew how far it really was … about 3km. Too late to turn back and not knowing where we were going she was force to follow me. Once we arrive it was a story we told over and over again to new and old fellow traveller that we meet in the hostel.
Kiwi Backpackers Guesthouse was the hostel we stayed in Pokhara. Not the cheapest place but the cheapest proper hostel 500Rp a dorm bed. Other Guesthouse was offering about 250 a head in their two bed room but I was not too keen. At hostels, at least one could meet other travellers and I would be relived in providing Asanam all the conversation attention.

Friday, 23 September 2016

The Mindset of Volunteering in Nepal

Firefly hostel in Kathmandu was filled with the most interesting characters around. I felt that I was the only genuine traveller among all the other do gooders. Everyone seems to be working on some sort of project or another or volunteering their time every now and then for the Nepalese cause. I felt guilty the first day, that I was there in Nepal to enjoy myself to travel and see Nepal hardship and the people who survives, the authentic Nepal since all the other wuss tourist will not come back so soon.

The second day thou I did not feel so guilty anymore.

The people was interesting in character but looking closely and listening to them talk all day about the holy aura and the spiritual release from helping all these poor Nepalese victims makes me wonder whom are they really helping. Themselves or the Nepalese victims.

Some were genuine and I respect them for it but they are a dime a dozen. The few that actually makes a different hides in the hostel where you could barely see them, waking up in the early morning to get out and make a difference while the rest boast of their good will achievement.

Into the Characters

No one could stand Leahcim. Leahcim from the USA – LA was an alcoholic that seems to be an expert in anything. He works for the NASA, NSA, CIA, a Finance expert, Engineer, Lawyer so and so. I have to say that he was a good talker. A salesman of the highest quality if only he was not trying too hard and making things up as he goes. One soon realized he was always beating around the bushes around technical things beyond the TV knowledge. I avoided speaking to him after 5 minutes.

Do you want money?

No ( My auto defence kicking in for it sounded like a start of a con artist trick )

Why don’t you want money? Give me your money then I will use it to save Nepal said Leahcim.

I pity the people who genuinely believe Leahcim, the damage he will drag them into would take years to be repaired. The not so well educated Nepalese workers in the hostel and some travellers from India was mesmerized by him so much that they had sit down meetings and discussion during the day about how to change the constitution of Nepal to save it.

Like someone once told me …. Some people should not be allowed to own a passport.

Then there was the druggies. There was about three of them I think but could have been more. Mickey, Drug-Mikial, and JD. Every evening I did not go without the perfect scent of marijuana. My constant rolling of cigarettes was mistaken as weed and people keep asking me for a hit only to be disappointed when there was no weed in it. Soon I was left alone in my own corner smoking and observing the zoo like character in the hostel.

Remember what I said about everyone seems to be Volunteering? Everyday one could wake up in the morning and just decide to Volunteer and the next maybe skip if one is too drunk for it. The hostel had a system to send volunteer where they are needed. I thought it was a cool thing to do till I found out what they were doing.

One fine day a lot of volunteer woke up in the morning and was driven to a village to dig a big pit to make a swimming pool. I later found out that the swimming pool would eventually belong to the hostel owner up and coming guesthouse. If only one would think that a swimming pool is a luxury item instead of something that is really needed by the village.

Another story I heard was told by Mickey. A group of them got so high one night and decided that the next day they were going to go to a school and help teach English. I thought they were just joking around but they actually did woke up and went to the school and tried to teach English. Mickey came back midday and was furious with the security guard that would not allow him and any of the group to enter the school grounds.

Their lack of knowledge of how to speak the local language Nepalese did not help with explanation to the guard. Mickey could not believe that his folks were turned away, that these poor uneducated Nepalese kids in school was not being taught properly. He was offended when the guard with his lack of English language said to him

Go home, your help is not required.

How could our help be not required Mickey ranted in the hostel. I felt that it was for the best that these kids learn from somebody else. A 20+ spoilt brat from abroad that only commits one day to teach would do more harm than good.

I considered volunteering many times even before I reached Nepal. Being in Nepal made me realized that I don’t want to do it anytime soon. To volunteer means requiring more sacrifice than just a few months of your life. A commitment more scare than a marriage or a vow to god.

If one volunteer to feel good of oneself than it will do more harm than good.

If one volunteer for he feels pity or remorse for others it will do more harm than good.

For excessive help will only cause people to be dependent on others. One can already see the side effects of the many volunteer and money funded for the Nepalese victims. Do they need help??? Yes … the question is will your help have a long lasting impact on their morals and way of living. Nobody knows.

I am becoming heartless one could say. I feel no pity nor pain in the suffering of others. I feel their loss but at the same time do not feel the need to help them for I see there is no need to. Walking around Kathmandu I saw all the ruins and fallen rubble and the local people banding together to clear them up, tear them down and some even rebuilding.

The effort warms my heart for I see no volunteers among them. One should built his own home and future with his own hands and not rely on others. One Genuine Volunteer was Sahara from South Africa which was doing clearing up works. She said that the local government do not allow any volunteers to go into ruin buildings to tear them down for it is unsafe. Only after the locals has bring it down do they allow the volunteers to sort out the rubble. Make sense I thought. While I explain the danger to her about semi fallen buildings and ways of demolishing it she realized it was more dangerous than she initially thought. I do hope she does well.

She was one of the very few that was genuinely helping out the locals. The crucial things that needed to be done before rebuilding, which was brute hard physical labour of clearing the rubble. She did it every day, waking up every morning for the last 3 months I think.

Some other projects are even more bizaar than the rest. If you think about it why is it, that there is always a new hut build out of bamboo and mud bricks everyday. Asanam was telling me of how they all went out to the village and built the huts for them. Where did they sleep before you came and built that hut? One will come to realized that not all of Nepal is in ruins. The over excessive volunteer that flood the place after the earthquake just prone the locals to abuse the goodwill by making these volunteers do things that are not really crucial.

Do they really need it ??? Maybe not but how do you turn down free help? Give them something to do I guess, make them feel wanted for they are the few visitors now in Nepal after the earthquake with spending money since the tourist are gone.

From my point of view … what these people really need is a donation of jackhammers, excavators, dump trucks and portable generator. The brute force labour of breaking concrete with a sledge hammer is just not productive. Giving 10 hand of volunteer I think one jackhammer will make much more progress than any time wasting activity.  

The motto of Nepal now is “We will rise again” and I believe they will with or without the help of volunteers.