Category: Asia

My auto-rickshaw flipped over

i broke my collar bone yesterday and i’m stuck in indian travel hell. i’m in a bad mood for sure.

i left varanasi on a 2.5 hr late train after a 4am wakeup. i was heading to bodghaya, the place where buddha meditated for enlightenment. got off the train and shared a moto-rickshaw with a japanese guy. part way there the two drivers in the front seat switched. why i’m not sure. my guess is that the 2nd guy was just learning how to drive but i don’t know. i didn’t object because they spoke no english, the country road wasn’t chaotic and he was driving conservatively. then another rickshaw was for some reason driving right at us on our side of the road. my rickshaw turned to sucessfully avoid it but tipped and crashed. everything fell on to my side. japanese dude (unhurt landed on top of me), rickshaw pined me, windshield fell out. scrambled out and away quickly because they couldn’t turn the thing off. i imediately saw that me shoulder was broken. looked like it was a near compound fracture by how stressed the skin was. a nice suv stopped to gawk and i ran over to them, and basically demanded that they take me too the hospital. i saw that the rickshaw driver was all bloody and i left.

the guys in the suv were a great help and also not. in gaya, they took me to the “specialist”. tiny two rooom clinic where i was breezed past the massive crowd waiting. the doctor told me that i only dislocated my shoulder, which was true and i also broke something. i told him i broke it (you can see the deformity! and he again said no. dude was very unhelpful, not asking about anything, nor helping me to rest my shoulder. got some immediate xrays (w/ like 15 people in the room. broken. not that it was explained to me. he gave me a shot, three different pills (one is calcium, two others i don’t know), then pushed on the bone a little bit. i have no idea whether he successfully reset it, doubt it!. didn’t even give me a sling. but i do have a strange style wrap on that has some plaster too. the medical care was free though.

what to do? i decided to try to fly to delhi and was told i could do so that night from patna, 3hrs away. the guy lives there and would drive me. they were super generous, buying me food, water, not accepting gas money, paid my phone bill home… drove one hour, then detour to pick up one guys wife (who he ended up trying to get with, i think to impress me). i don’t care! i broke my shoulder. then a very strange stop at the “school” that he owned. there are many many of these private “universities” here. a half dozen students were there taking a test and i was paraded in front of them for photos. and it turned in to over an hour where i had a “minder” and was told to sit in a room (which i didn’t do). it was pretty shady. later, when i felt trapped i started making a fuss about being in pain and wanting to go to patna. then they good naturedly told me that they weren’t going to patna but that they’d take me to the local train that went there. are you fucking serious?! ok, lets go, it leaves in 10 min. at the station, they turned out to be going to patna and would take me for $20. i decided to make my break from these semi-helpful, yet shady dudes and go by train.

lonely planet describes the area that i’m in as the most dangerous in the country, w/ banditry, lawlessness, violenence and an attitude that its ok. great. so i’m standing at a rural local train station that likely never has tourists. of course i’m a scene w/ 50 people staring at the guy with an arm in a homemade sling, road rash and torn clothes. somebody gives me a train ticket for free. the a guy that speaks a little english comes over and is a friendly face. thank god. he sticks by me and carries my bag. finds me a seat. its a 2hr ride. at the station it’s a dense mob of humanity pushing each other. but a batallion of big men surround me as protectors. thank god. and the guy carrying my bag stays w/ me for the next hour as i go to 9 different counters trying to get on a train. they’re sold out til the next night, the same time as the next plane. grrrrrr… india is overcrowded and even w/ doctors permission, and 5 diferent officials helping, there is no way. so in to town i go.

then the nightmare of patna. at night the streets are extremely crowded and i have the usual rickshaw driver who is scaming me. i refuse his hotel that is expensive b/c me gets a big commission. we head out and i find only a dozen “full” hotels. rumor is some don’t allow tourists. and the others are full of indian tourists. so i go to the lying rickshaws scam of a place. it’s excessively unfriendly. fuck you hotel wellness. but at 9 pm, after 7 hrs of post injury travel i settle down to room service.

this morning i’m dumbfounded by patna. not a single friendly person and no businesses open at 9am.

i’m going to delhi. have a real doctor reset my bone tomorrow. a broken collar bone is a minor injury. i can get rid of most of my stuff and travel light. but i don’t know what i’ll do. monsoon is going to make anywhere that isn’t the mountains shitty. and i can’t carry a pack for at least a month. i need to escape the hell of urban india. i’m going to have to make some decisions in the next few days.

fuck fuck fuck

What? Why?

India is proving to be hard. I’m basically in a third world travel crash course, even after all my travel experience. For instance, I went to mail a package. Hardly even a package. Just two DVDs of photos. But instead of going to the main post office, which I was discouraged to do because it was far, I went to a closer branch that dealt with packages.

It’s the first post office that I’ve ever seen that didn’t have a business attached to it to help with packaging. So I was sent to a store to find card board. Then I was sent to another store to buy a whole roll of tape. Then a friendly local started helping me out. Locals make India. Everything would be infinitely more challenging if there weren’t over a billion people, many of them happy to help. So with help, I then walked for fifteen minutes to buy a special fabric that I had to cover the box with. It’s at that point that I gave up. Because after the fabric, I had to walk to another shop to buy thread and a needle. Then sew it. Then on to another shop to buy wax and a candle to seal the stitches with. From the first time I asked someone where the post office was, I spent 1.5 hours on the task. And I only got about half way. India is hard. I’m just going to wait for a smaller town to mail the package from.

Buying train tickets has been exponentially harder. I won’t go through the whole saga, nor will I explain what I’ve learned about how the process works. But I did spend at least 6 hours, waiting in lines, talking to heads of the station, researching online, trying to buy online, changing my itinerary,… SO many trains are full. And that’s totally normal. I can ride “jumping class”, aka the cattle car, which I did the first time and is best avoided. I’ve been supremely flexible with where I want to go, when I want to travel, etc, etc And yet, I’ve still delayed my departure by two whole days just for a four hour train ride. Oh how I miss having buses that you can just jump on. Finally I moved on to the next stage of my railway education and went to a travel agent. And booked my tickets!

Varanasi is a good place to linger in. It seems like there are many other travelers that are spending much longer here than me. I think that’s a difference with India. Travelers slow down and get stuck in places a lot. Also, being the low season there is a different crowd around. Like the french heroine addict that I’ve met passed out twice. Once in a store with the store owner telling him to go back to his hotel to sleep. Once on the stairs by the river, just waking up with the help of a crowd of locals and another traveler. He had lost his hotel the night before and ended up all scraped and bleeding and totally out of it. Bad times.

India!

I made it. And I don’t know why I suffer like I do. It’s only my own fault. I planned to split the trip in to two days. 8 hours of Nepali bus was enough. My knees were killing me as there wasn’t enough leg space to fit, much less stretch. Then the 8 hours turned in to 11. We broke down, we went slow,… I should have had dinner and gotten a hotel! I’d had a snack for breakfast, a small snack for lunch and that’s it. It was my first long bus trip that didn’t stop for a meal.

But then, I continued. “I’ll see if the hotels are better across the border.” I got on a bus that was going to take 1-2 hours to the next city because the border town wasn’t better. It turned in to 4 hours. Which had me arrive 10 minutes before the night train to Varanasi left! But I wanted to get a hotel! I’ll just get a sleeper. With 5 minutes left, I bought a ticket, not a sleeper. Only general admission was left. I should have been in a hotel with a full belly hours before. Instead I got on a train. A full train. India style full. I pushed my way on to a bench with four other men. I fit half my ass. It was 11pm. I didn’t know how long the train took. Then, a few hours later it got truly India style full. People were arguing for space. Standing room only in the aisles. But I still had half a check on a bench! Whoopee. Slept, barely, for a little under three hours and the train gloriously arrived at 5am. Ravished, having eaten only two fried things, some puffed rice, some cookies and fruit, I checked in to my hotel and ate breakfast. I’m on the Ganges. I keep running in to wildly famous, huge rivers. Can’t wait to return to my tradition of drinking a beer looking at the sunset.

Varanasi is neat. The tourist infrastructure isn’t overwhelming. I likely feel that way because I’m here during the off season. I’m enjoying it.

Some first impressions about India:

– I see about thirty men for every woman.

– I have no personal space. Someone turned the page of my book while I was reading it! A guy slept on my shoulder.

– People sleep everywhere. Lots of people on rooftops to escape the heat. And lots of people sleeping in the train station and in the streets.

– My lunch was delicious.

– The touts are everywhere. One followed me for thirty minutes as I walked around.

– I’m being lied to constantly.

– It’s cheap.

Kathmandu Valley

Got my tent back. And resolved the feeling that I’d been isolated from Nepali people.

Went to the Indian Embassy today, a week after my first visit. I’ve got to go again in a few hours to pick up my visa, then all is set! It’s good until December 3rd. So maybe that’s when I come home? I’m leaving Kathmandu first thing in the morning. Not sure if I’ll head directly to India (Varanasi) or stop in a Nepali town on the way (Bandipur). Whatever I do, I’m excited. Most travelers I’m meeting have spent time in India and virtually all are going there. Most people are going to Ladakh too. It’s definitely the trail.

I had a week to wait and staying in the tourist area would have made me grumpy. So off it was around the Kathmandu Valley. Spent most of my time in Bahktapur, a world heritage designated Newari town. Most people go for a few hours, I spent three days. It was the start of being the only one in the hotel. Bahktapur is a maze of narrow brick alleys and templed squares. It’s famous for it’s intricately carved doors, windows, temples and roofs. And yet (at least at this time of year), it’s not over-run by tourists and still feels vibrantly local. I happened upon festival time. Celebrating some deities and Chapatis. Hundreds of women were praying and giving offerings at the endless number of shrine sites. There were hundreds if not thousands of places to revere. A bump on the sidewalk? Throw some rice! A statue in the sewer? Rub some powder on it! A shrine? Do the whole shebang! Really and orgy of hinduism for the Newari culture. Another thing that I like very much is that amongst the people, it’s the men who wear traditional dress. And another, I ate local food for days in a row. Lots of mo-mos. Dirty cheap. Dirty and tasty. Visited another temple, the oldest in the region, and was bored. Why am I still filling my time with seeing so many temples?!

Then, back through the insanity of Kathmandu’s highways to Patan. Another place known for the same things as Bahktapur. Another hotel out of the way. More contact with locals. The famous square had many hundreds of locals in it every night, and at most a few other tourists. I watched a demonstration get started, complete with torches (nicely medieval). Learned that the next day was to be a strike. Some Newaris want the capital to be declared an autonomous zone. How do you separate the seat of the government from the government?

It was said by an expat that it was the most intense strike in his nine years in Nepal. And after walking around most of the city for the day, I can say that the immediate area that I was staying in was the most dangerous. All traffic besides human rights observers, media and ambulances was stopped. Mobs of angry men forcefully stopped anyone else riding a moto or bicycle. I saw a burned moto. I saw bicyclists attacked with sticks and their tires deflated. I saw a vegetable seller who was open for business have her wares destroyed. I struggled to find food and ended up walking over two hours to the tourists area for lunch. Lots of tires burned in the streets. And as a nightcap, some vehicles were destroyed in front of my hotel. First a group were hucking bricks at a parked truck. Then a guy pulled them in to a heated argument (I thought to tell them to stop). But after a few minutes, everyone smiled, shook hands and went to a different van and collectively started to trash it. Eventually it was flipped on it’s side. Then dragged away from buildings, and flipped again to be upside-down. Then, set on fire. My first mob vehicle fire. ahhhh 

In the morning there was an orgy of business, cleaning and religion. Seemed like everyone was making up for lost time. By 6am, the streets were packed like a market day. There was even a parade at 6:30am.

I moved up to Thamel. Visited another temple for the views of the city. Ate my first steak in years (blah). Had a good time hanging out with Gehaz. And mostly just killed time in the tourist hole. There aren’t many of us here, I love the low season.

I’m in a great mood. I’m going to head to the last major temple this evening for sunset. And I’m looking forward to some touring in the heat of india before some more trekking.

Some tidbits:

– Tshirts of Goa are very popular for Nepali men. But not as popular as the wrestler John Cena or Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears.

– Nepal is my 25th country. I think.

– I’ve read 20 books in the past five months.

– Temples often have sex acts carved on them. All sorts, anal, oral, with horses, etc, etc

– While watching the van burn, a guy turned to me and with a smile said “This is Nepali culture.”

35 days of walking in Nepal

First off. I’m pissed. I just got back to Kathmandu a few hours ago. Happy, relieved and grateful for the past three weeks of walking. I’m at my hotel, picking up my stuff that was sitting in storage. “Where’s my tent?” – “Your tent? It’s missing?” – “Yes.” – They watch me search for a long time for it. – “Oh, was it black with one pole?” – “Yes.” – “A tourist took it. Don’t worry. I’ll call him and it will be back in few days.” – “What?! You let a tourist take it? How do you know it has one pole? How do you know what color it is? It was in a stuff sack.” Obviously, they are lying and something is fishy. But really, all that I care about is that I GET MY TENT BACK. The dude looked kind of worried when I totally poked holes in all of his lame theories that it was a mix up. And he made some major slips. Like letting it be known that he was present when the tent was set up in the yard. That he was present when a “tourist” “borrowed” it. And letting it be known that he could (and did) call said tourist on his personal cell phone to get it back. He definitely got concerned when I pointed out that it was a “special” tent that couldn’t be bought in stores, that it costs $250 and that the police would be called if it didn’t come back. The guys of the hotel are nice dudes (I’ve stayed there for about five nights so far), and this pisses me off. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I’m 30% hopeful that I’ll get my tent back and 0% hopeful that I’ll get money for it if it’s not returned. ARGH.

ANYWAYS………. Again, hiking has been excellent. I did a mishmash of treks. Flew to the tourist hub of Lukla, hiked to the Everest region. Got really sick (vomiting, dehydration, diarreah). Got snowed on. Went around the first pass due to snow and weakness. Hiked to Everest Base Camp and up the Kala Patar view point. Hiked off the Everest superhighway over Cho La Pass. Hiked up the Gokyo Valley, across the glacier, up to the many lakes, Cho Oyu Base Camp, and Gokyo Ri view point. Hiked over Renjo Pass and got further off the superhighway. Back to Lukla. Then from Lukla to Tumlingtar, fully off the beaten track.

Nepal tea house trekking can be quite nice. It’s nice to dodge out of storms in to hotels. It’s nice to sit around fireplaces and socialize with other trekkers. It’s nice to have a bed and someone else cooking. And it sucks to be in the bubble of tourism. I spent most of my time in Nepal in the bubble and had little nepali food and even less contact with normal nepalis. It’s trekking, not traveling. But from Lukla to Tumlingtar, it’s been a perfect mix of the two. Only one hotel that we stayed at had had another tourist within the last three weeks. The villages are really inhabited! Locals going on about their lives! Even at a guesthouse you have to get them to open up operations. And there is no pasta to eat, no snickers to buy, just Dal Bhat all the time. One night we were even invited over for a homestay. Slept outside on a box bed on the second story overlooking their fields. Everything but the sugar and spice was grown on their land. Even the flour for the morning pancakes was made on the spot. Talk about fresh and local. I was invited in to numerous other houses as well. Simply by virtue of being a tourist. And the fact that it rained lightly almost the whole week so people were gracious to take me out of the rain. It was the “middle hills” region and we lost and gained a ton of altitude. Up a valley side, down a valley side. You can look across the valley at the next tiny village. It looks not far, but might take four hours to get there.

The Everest portion of the trek was quite different. High altitudes made me sick from the dry air. The walking was sometimes laborious. The views when the clouds parted were epic. It’s obvious and yet doesn’t strike you until you experience it. The mountains are huge. And there is a higher density of big mountains than in the Annapurna region, so it was more dramatic. And it was nice to have the snowstorms. A dusting of snow on everything made it all the more beautiful.

I should write more. But I just got off the plane from the boonies and don’t feel like it. Next up… getting an India Visa (which may take over a week) and trying not to get pissed about my tent and the touts selling me flutes, rugs and drugs.