It was surreal heading back into Kathmandu. I’d come back to apply for my Indian visa as I’d heard they’d started issuing them again, and whilst it’s possible to arrange it in Pokhara it’s already more expensive for a British citizen than other nationalities because our government is a twat to them so they reciprocate the twatishness, and once you add the agency fee on and the stress of wondering where the fuck your passport is because it still has to be posted to Kathmandu in a country with an infrastructure that just collapsed, twice, I thought fuck it. Might as well just go there. As the bus rolled through the outskirts of the city I looked at the damage. That building was fine, so was that one, that one had a massive crack through it, that one was missing its front, that one was fine, the whole top floor of that one had shifted to the right, that one was a pile of rubble. Thamel, the main tourist area, seemed largely undamaged. Alobar1000, the backpacker hostel I was staying at, had sustained no physical damage but a member of their team, a trek leader, had been killed in Langtang which had been particularly badly hit with landslides too. We’d finally managed to get hold of Sonam, our trek leader to Everest Base Camp as he’s from a village in Langtang and whilst him and his family were safe, he was homeless. In less than a minute his house and the houses of his neighbours were destroyed and rebuilding was nigh on impossible with the landslides and the torrential rain.
Walking through the city now is a very different thing than before. Buildings and walls are being held up with wooden or bamboo or metal poles. I’m not even shitting you, they’re literally propping the buildings up, it wouldn’t take much more to send them crashing down and the ground is still fucking shaking with aftershocks of varying power. Turns out I don’t feel shit under a six but that doesn’t mean they’re not happening. All it takes is for any manner of loud noise and everyone freaks out. There’s an area near a shopping mall which is just tents now, huge tents donated by the Red Cross where people are living. And Durbar Square, well that’s not really there any more. Ancient and historic, worthy of UNESCO status, survivor of so many earthquakes before, it’s just rubble now and tents have gone up here too so the people rendered homeless have somewhere to take shelter. The buildings in Kathmandu are so old and rickety anyway, and the streets are so, so narrow. It’s said that that’s why so many people were killed. When the earthquake happened they bolted outside to try and get to open ground which is pretty scarce here, and the buildings just collapsed on top of them as they fled. As awful as the death toll currently is, well over 8000, so many more lives could have been lost if this had happened at night instead of midday.
Volunteering options here at the moment seem to be run out of two hostels that I know of; Alobar1000 and Fireflies. There’s a place in town where you meet up if you’re free and keen then you’re driven to a place not too far from Kathmandu which looked like it was completely destroyed. The mission here was to provide materials for longer term structures made from bamboo and mud with a metal roof which should last up to ten years. Those who were capable were building their own houses with materials supplied, but we’d build them for those who couldn’t. They were very simple; Bamboo poles were fixed together then more bamboo was smashed with a sledgehammer which is easier said than done, then they were unfurled and wedged in place as wall structures. That’s as far as I got in the few days I went out with them. After that I believe a mud mixture is applied by hurling the mud at the walls as hard as you can which sounds like it’d be a shit load of fun for about four minutes then it’d get pretty old. There were mud holes all around the village for this bit. I think it’s finished with cow shit too but I’m not sure. We were building a home for an elderly lady amongst the rubble of what used to be her home. She brought us tea, and sometimes she sat and watched us work with a sort of sadness. One of the Nepali volunteers spoke to her for a while. Turns out she lost her ten year old granddaughter in the earthquake too.
But it wasn’t all work, Joe who I’d met on a train to Darjeeling was here too, as was Jess who I’d met in Varanasi and all three of us were in Cherrapunji together. Joe had come to help someone he knew up in Nagarktot, and Jess is a nurse so she’d come to volunteer her skill set. A mate of mine, Freddie, who I’d met years ago in Venezuela was also in town and all of us plus Jess’s volunteer buddies got utterly shit faced on chyaang because Freddie’s Nepali mate who he’d come to visit knew where we could buy it in litres which resulted in me clinging to the back of his motorcycle as we rode through parts of Kathmandu I would never have found on my own to pick it up. Apart from that I’d gone and gotten a bit ill. Not awfully, bed bound ill. Just shitting through the eye of a needle ill, which was fine as long as I didn’t have to stray too far but when I had to go to the Indian embassy to fetch my visa I discovered the hard way as I walked back to my room that there’s no actual way to walk very briskly and clench at the same time.
Once I’d sorted the visa out all I had to do was get myself a bus to the border. I’d decided not to go the usual route through the Belahiya/Sunauli border crossing. Nope. I wanted to catch the bus aaaaaall the way to the western border, the Banbasa/Mahendranagar crossing which is apparently not the natural order of things for us foreign types. It’s easy enough though. There are a metric fuck tonne of travel shops in Kathmandu which will happily sell you a bus ticket to Mahendranagar, the hardest part is learning how to pronounce it so you don’t sound like an absolute cock when asking about tickets. It’s an overnight effort, around 16 hours I think from memory? I’ve no idea how much it cost, guys, I have the memory of a retarded goldfish, I should have written it down but utterly failed to do so. What I do remember is everyone being handed a plastic bag at the start of the journey which, being all British and stuff, I thought was for rubbish but it became painfully apparent during the trip that Nepalis are rather prone to travel sickness. Yep. That happened. I also remember the TV at the front of the bus playing loud Nepali pop music which is looooong, and clearly more about fabulous moustaches than actual talent.
Western Nepal though, my god it’s beautiful! I mentally added it to my ever expanding list of reasons to come back to this incredible country. I was also somewhat buoyed by the houses out this way, they were identical to the ones we were building in Kathmandu for the earthquake victims, I hadn’t realised at the time it was the traditional way to build. Bardia National Park is up this way too, next time I definitely plan to check it out. Once at the border you get stamped out, then you have to get over the bridge and to get stamped into India, then you’ll more than likely want to get to Bareilly. For some reason I had it in my head that there’s be shared tuk tuks to cut costs but everyone had a bicycle or a motorbike or a cow. I found a guy who could take me over the bridge to Indian immigration and into the nearest town where I could wait for a bus to Bareilly, but with no idea which bus I needed to look for I ended up just wandering aimlessly until someone took pity on me, waited with me, and flagged down the right bus. Oh, it’s worth noting that the tuk tuk drivers on the border accept both Indian and Nepali rupees.
Nepal, though. It’s a wonderful, incredible place and it’s so easy to be here. The people are so friendly and warm and the scenery is breathtaking. I need to come back here anyway. I never set foot in the Annapurna region and that needs to happen in my life. I’m thinking a backpack and a map and a dedicated month. And some badass insurance and a shit tonne of Diamox. And another human. Yeah, definitely another human so I don’t die in a ditch. It’s ironic that the thing that brings people flocking to Nepal is the cause of its current misery; the mighty Himalayas. You only get mountains that fucking stunning when you’re on a massive bastard fault-line. It’s just view after view after view, everywhere you go. And in the hugely unlikely event you get bored of looking at mountains then there’s the national parks down on the plains where you get to sweat profusely whilst gawping at rhinos. Fancy scaring the living shit out of yourself? Go jump off a very high bridge with The Last Resort.
And the food! So simple but so so amazing. Rice and dal and tarkari and achar. Every day. Every. Single. Day. And you don’t get bored of it. How do you not get bored of it? I don’t understand, I would never eat the same bastard thing every single day back home but nothing is quite as amazing as dal bhat and I doubt I could ever replicate it. You even get used to the load shedding. Ah yes, the load shedding. This is basically when they switch the electricity off at certain times a day, rolling black outs across the country to a time table which you can pick up from your guesthouse. It changes from town to town and it’s different every day of the week, and most places have a generator so you’ll still have one light and WiFi which is fine unless you’re in Lumbini lying in a seething pit of biting insects and the fucking fan isn’t working and it’s probably lava temperature in the shade.
Arriving in Nepal was probably one of the most enjoyable border crossings I’ve ever experienced and from then on in it was just one awesome experience after another. Apart from, y’know, the shaky ground thing. From trekking at altitude with my sister and an awesome group of people, to bungy jumping, to chilling out by a lake. I’ll be back. I’ll be back to do the things I planned but never got around to doing because of the earthquake, and I’ll be back to do the things I never even knew were a thing until I got here, and I’ll be back to see the people in Pokhara who I now have the honour to call my friends.
Stayed at: Alobar1000