The journey from Varanasi to the border to Pokhara was like something from Monty Python. When I asked how long the bus would take (after the train and four hours in the world’s oldest jeep) we were told “maybe six hours, maybe 12, depends if the driver stops for a sleep”. The 24 hour mission was one of those experiences you think might end your trip, but later take pride in telling your travel buddies.
The view that greets me in the morning makes the soggy and exhausting sojourn worth it. My cute, little, green guesthouse is juxtaposed between the towering Annapurnas and the vast Lake Fewa. Looking at the Himalayan Giants gave me a feeling I’ve never experienced before. Possibly genuine awe.
Pokhara is like an Asian version of Whistler. It has the same alpine, outdoor sport, catered to tourists but not touristy, chilled feeling. You can do any adventure sport you want during the day, land, air and sea. The at night gorge on burgers and nachos for dinner and then go for drinks and dancing. Obviously there’s also the more authentic spiritual Nepali experience, but it’s nice to have the choice, especially after the cultural emersion of India.
After a day of hiking, I travelled back to town squashed into the boot of a jeep with a total stranger, as the local taxis were on strike. What else can you do when you’re in a darkened squeeze, than talk about politics in Nepal. Nepolitics, if you will…
Banduraj explained that in June 2001, there was a royal coup/massacre which sounds like a plot from a Bollywood movie. The official story goes that the Prince got drunk at a family party and was dismissed. He returned with a gun and killed ten people, mostly his immediate family. Some said this was fuelled by a refusal from his mother to accept his chosen bride because she had Indian family. With the King and his immediately family all killed, the king’s brother ascended to the throne, his own family present but unharmed…
The alternative version, widely believed by the Nepali people including my new history teacher, is that the king’s brother arranged for several assassins wearing masks to resemble the Prince, did the killing. With the royal family dead he ascended to the throne, as was his intention all along. Either way, he was extremely unpopular and only lasted a few years before another election was called.
The main talking point in the upcoming election is devolving power from central government yet to be established provinces. Disagreement is fuelled by some ethnicities getting their own province whilst others have to share or may be spread across two. Needless to say Kathmandu where all the bureaucrats live with the best education system, and tend to be Hindu and Indian heritage, are perfectly sectioned. Whilst the population who live on the peripheries, largely agricultural workers, from Buddhist and Tibetan heritage are seen as getting a raw deal.
The geopolitics of Nepal is fascinating. Stuck between two economic and military superpowers, the country is a blend of both India and China, but is also the victim of their political muscle. One of the proposed peripheral provinces is largely Maoist. The centre fears if they get their own province, the people there will push for recognition as part of China. This would have an impact on Tibetan sovereignty and would also give China and India a shared border. China maintains a desire to control Tibet because of the money that tourism to Tibet generates. After decades of violent suppression, the Chinese government is now cosying up to Tibetans by funding infrastructure across the border. India would like more influence over Nepal due to its natural resources of aluminium and its natural water sources.
There’s so much to discover in Nepal, both the nature and the culture. I would definitely recommend a visit.