On the plane from Sydney to Bangkok, a some three weeks ago now, I met Bipeen – a Nepali who has been living in Australia the last couple of years who was on route to visit his family in Kathmandu.
“I’ll pick you up at the airport” he wrote me on facebook.
Sure enough he did, and his kind and generous family invited me to stay a night and experience typical family life in the Tibetan area of the city.
Tibet may be in strife but at least Tibetan culture is everywhere!
The view from Bipeen’s family home.
I spent the next day on the back of Bipeens bike, exploring temples and shops, and coming home with far too much stuff than I know how to get to transport to Sydney (what you can see on the top picture above is the least of it).
We even squeezed in a Bollywood movie named Kites (one thing I forgot to do in India). Set in Las Vegas and Mexico, with English words jumbled throughout the Hindi and an onscreen kiss (oo la la – a big no-no for Indian movies) – this movie was a new breed of half-Hollywood-Bollywood. A very over-the-top love story about the torment over choosing between true love and money. The protagonists chose love, a very lustful love… I loved it!!!
The next day I farewelled his family and set off to find some hiking buddies in Thamel. Instead I met up with Gil, a Brit I’d made on a plane from Coimbatore to Delhi about five days go, and while missing to meet up with Vilas, an American I’d met on the plane from Delhi to Kathmandu (are you noticing a pattern here?), I enjoyed an entertaining night on the town and on shisha (well I gave it a short puff anyway – I’m not very good at inhaling) and laughing at those who were better at it.
While Nepal may be far more relaxed than India, it faces similar issues: horns still beep (albeit not as loud), beggars still beg (while with more limbs attached), and street husslers still hassle you for this and that, with bargaining required for every last rupee. On most occasions I’m too lazy to argue over a dollar or two and then when I see seasoned travellers getting everything from rooms to taxis to souvineers, for half the price I pay. Apparently it goes part and parcel with the nationality: Aussies/Brits/Americans/West-Europeans pay the most, then South American/ Spanish /Eastern Europeans, and with Israelis/Middle Eastern and hippies with dreadlocks getting the best deals without even trying… Slowly slowly I’m starting to haggle, as friends demonstrate the way. They say a price, you say half, then you meet in the middle. That’s the game and while it’s a pain in the arse, I’m starting to realise that playing it actually feels better than knowing you’ve been ripped off.
My worst experience in Kathmandu was THE BABY NEEDS MILK SCAM.
“Please please come,” a mother with child in one arm grabbed me with the other, leading me to a supermarket. “My baby needs milk,” she said, showing me an empty bottle. I looked into the child’s big brown eyes and I nodded, how can I not buy this poor baby some milk?
As I walked into the supermarket I saw the checkout chicks shake their head. When the mother lopaded me up with two large boxes of powdered milk, each 1000 rupees ($20) and a third smaller box for 800 rupees I wasn’t sure what to do. I was expecting a small carton of milk costing a dollar. “You have to mix them,” she said. I put one of the identical boxes back and handed 1800 rupees at the checkout. As I exited the woman thanked me and invited me over for tea at her house, some 1 hour drive away. I declined politely then looked up to be surrounded by more women with babies in their arms and empty milk bottles in their hands.
“Milk for my baby, please, please,” they said. “I have five babies at home. I need to give them milk. Please.” I look into more little children’s eyes and nearly fall for it again.
“I have no money left,” I told them, “share with this lady.”
“There is ATM over here,” a mother that couldn’t have been older than twenty told me, pulling me toward the bank. Then it dawned on me: I’d fallen for the oldest scam in the book. The boxes of milk powder had been placed to one side of the road, and the woman with the baby was now looking for more prey to scam into buying more mik powder which I guess she could sell.
“If you can’t afford to feed your babies then stop having them,” I told them, walking away in a huff. I hate so much what poverty does to people. I found out later that babies are rented out for the day, that often they are dropped so they look like they are “crying for milk.” $40 for 10 minutes work. A clever yet deceptively sick way to make one’s living.
Similar and in a better way to India, as you can see from the photos, Nepal offers many good experiences that make up for the few bad ones. One of these good little moments was in a shop where I bought some little chimes and asked the shop keeper what the symbols on it mean. “OM MA HUN,” he read. “It means accept the now. 100%. This is happiness. The sound is the dance of silence in your heart. It represents inner peace. Peace comes when your heart and mind are balanced.” I thought it a lovely little message to take away, and I didn’t bother negotiating on the price.
Gil and his friend Brett were leaving the next morning for Pokhara. “You’re welcome to jump in our cab!” they offered. Porque no?! And so began a new little adventure…