Sunday, September 28, 2014

Exodus: It's Dashain Time Again

Yeah, that'll be us.
Well, it's time to cue up Bob Marley in preparation for sitting for hours behind trucks and buses painted with Bob Marley's smiling visage as we join the exodus of almost everyone from Kathmandu to almost everywhere else in Nepal that isn't Kathmandu.

It's Dashain again. The biggest holiday of the year. The time of the year to worship the goddess Durga and celebrate her victory over evil by going home to see mom, dad, and all your friends and relatives who have also gone home to mom and dad. Which means ... well, I'll quote Thursday's Himalayan Times:

"Some 1.3 million people have exited from the Valley since September 11, the day when the booking for bus tickets was opened. An additional 1.2 million people are expected to leave the Valley in the coming nine days. Some 3,000 buses are said to leave Kathmandu daily for various destinations. An additional 500 buses have been pressed into service this time on the existing fleet of buses."

Over 70 percent of the estimated 4 million people of the Kathmandu Valley come from outside the Valley, and most go back during Dashain. Like, well, us. An estimated 85,000 people are leaving each day -- at the moment. Which is still the good time to go, to beat the crowds.

We'll be going at the bad time, just before the main days of  the festival. So we'll be on the exact same two-lane road as a good chunk of Kathmandu. In fact, we'll all be in the exact same LANE, because all roads may lead to Rome but only one road, basically, leads to Kathmandu, and no one goes in to Kathmandu during Dashain -- if you're in a Kathmandu family you're already here -- so that'll be, what? A hundred thousand people in a single lane?

Here now, for your Dashain pleasure, is my proposed Road Appropriate Dashain Song. With appropriate scenery and apologies to Bob Marley.

Two trucks bump. All traffic stops, for miles and hours.
Because, well, this is the road. All of it. So whaddaya do?
Exodus, movement of  Nepali people
Exodus, movement of Nepali people

Men and people will fight you down
If you try to get a ticket late
Let me tell you, if you can sit in the bus aisle
Everything is all right

We're the patient nation 
Trod through many tribulation
So we gonna ride, alright
Up and down, up and down on the highway
Then we gonna walk, alright
Up and down, up and down on the mountain 

Exodus, movement of Nepali people
Exodus, movement of Nepali people
Seriously? You want to name your truck
after a famous disaster?

We know where we're going
We know where we're from
We're leaving Kathmandu
We're going to our fatherland
Send us another Durga
Gonna part this traffic jam, alright

Exodus, movement of Nepali people

Exodus, movement of Nepali people

Move Move Move Move Move MOVE, you darn traffic!

But it's worth it, right?
Because you get to see your family!

  दुर्गा पूजा २०७१ को उपलक्ष्य मा हार्दिक शुभकामना !

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Landslide Season

We had tea there; now it's in the news. What's left of it.

This restaurant looks awfully familiar. That is to say, both "familiar" and "awful."

There were two lethal landslides last week, and one hit a place with a quirkily typical Nepali name, Typical Restaurant, in a village with an even better name, Pumdibhumdi. It's such a good name I wish I had an excuse to say it over and over, under better circumstances.

If you want to go to (or leave) Pumdibhumdi,
learn to row. Or pay the lady in back.

Who, you'll notice, was not given a lifejacket.
Because Nepal.
We've been there. It is (or was) on the banks of Phewa Tal in Pokhara, on the side of the lake that's all green, as opposed to the side that's all tourists and pina coladas. The inspiration for the hike was the lady in the picture at right, who lives there. The lady at the oars, not the one sitting there looking like some colonial memsahib. I'd try to Photoshop myself onto the oars to give a much better impression, but that would lose the whole point, which is that while she was rowing we talked to her, and she's from Pumdibhumdi and makes her living plying boats across Phewa Tal, which is also how her kids get to school in Pokhara, because their village has no road. We were so amazed that there was no road to a village directly across from Margaritaville Nepal, aka Pokhara's Lakeside, that we figured we'd find out for ourselves what the area was like.

It turned out to involve trees, cliffs, more trees, and more cliffs. You couldn't really get close to the lake; it was all too steep and forested. We were grateful that one trail somehow led us accidentally down down down onto the aforementioned Typical Restaurant with its tea and boats. The whole place was a landslide waiting to happen. But then again, so is much of Nepal.

The landslide, when it did finally happen, took the lives of four sleeping workers, ages 18 to 28. I'm not sure what the landslide toll is this year, but it seems to have been eight just last week: the four at Typical Restaurant and four at yet another landslide in Sindhupalchowk, which is the same district where a landslide a few weeks ago drowned a village, killing around 200 people, displacing thousands, blocking the only highway to Tibet, and creating a new lake where the road and highway used to be. (I use the term "highway" loosely, in the Nepali sense, which basically means a paved road that goes somewhere important and may possibly, but not necessarily, have up to two lanes.)

This used to be a village.
Also the only road north from Kathmandu to China.
The Sunkoshi River swelled into a lake after a landslide.

People are raising funds
and supplies for victims of the Sunkoshi landslide through campaigns
such as Fill The Bucket

Which is, of course, terrible. And if you live here, it also means things like: To drive or not to drive? I've been wanting to go to the village for the Teej festival, and going to the village, like going anywhere out of Kathmandu, involves this long and winding road ...

The Prithvi Highway, which is how you drive into and out of Kathmandu from basically anywhere.
Kathmandu is a valley, and traditionally it was wonderfully well fortified, being located -- well, HERE.
So nowadays, whether you're a truck carrying goods to feed and clothe the city's millions
and supply us with fuel for our traffic jams and buffaloes for our momos, 

or whether you're in a bus or car,  you'll almost certainly approach or leave it on this two-lane road west.
 You take it to go east from Kathmandu, too. Driving east  involves driving west  for four hours 
until you drop south, reach the plains at Narayangarh and find ... ANOTHER ROAD!
Then you can fiinally start east. OK, there was also a road north to Tibet (China.) It's a lake now.
And there's a southern road, the Hetauda Road, but it's often one lane. (How do you like backing up in mountains?)
So this is pretty much it, folks.

But I have a strong preference for not getting caught in a landslide. Or on the other side of one, since we'd have to wait it out while the newly formed hill was cleared or a trail built over it. (About 600 tourists trapped on the Tibet side of the Sunkoshi landslide were ferried out by helicopters. WIMPS. I'd wait to walk out, like all the Nepalis. But then again, I don't have a plane to catch. Or anyone offering to pay for my helicopter.) See the trail below? That's over a landslide that blocked a road for so long it got onto maps.

How to get across a landslide.
This is on the "motor road" on the western loop of the Annapurna Circuit --

specifically, in Myagdi district between Beni and Tatopani on the way to Mustang / Muktinath.
We had to get out of the bus, trek up and over the Landslide Mountain
(about 45 minutes, as I recall, with my elderly but tough Nepali in-laws),
and then get on another bus on the other side. Private vehicles, for obvious reasons, weren't an option.

Anyway, we decided if it didn't rain steadily for two days, the ground would be okay (in Nepali Roulette terms), and it only rained a little bit, so we did end up going to the village. Along the way, on the stretch of the Prithvi Highway between Kathmandu and Naubise marked by tight hairpin turns and vertical walls of rock and dirt along which trees and bushes cling gamely but unconvincingly -- the stretch that, if you live here, you probably think of as "the really steep part" (because, like Eskimos with all those ways of perceiving snow, you've learned to differentiate "really steep" from various other levels of steep) -- we counted TEN LANDSLIDES. Little baby ones. They were just covering a bit of the road, but weren't blocking it. Yet. 

The  road is actually very pleasant, in its way.
To the right, there's a dropoff (down down down) to the Trishuli River;
to the left, that's a wall of dirt (hopefully not ready to fall).
Wonder what's around the corner ...

Feel like a monsoon drive? It's not too bad. Most of the time.