So we had to change our original plans due to the monsoon which meant as far as I was concerned we would bail to India. I explained to the kids that we would have a last day back in Kathmandu and then head to the subcontinent. They weren’t impressed. “do we have to go to India, why don’t we go to Pokhara” asked both kids. I didn’t really have a reason, there was no pressing reason to chip to India and so I worked a bit of magic and we are now headed to Pokhara for a couple of days of chilling like Winston in what is touted and verified by me as being the most beautiful place on earth.
With that sorted we decided to mooch about Kathmandu. The idea was to take a taxi to the outskirts of the city to Boudanath Stupa (the most revered Tibetan religious site in Nepal) and then make our way back across the city, through the suburbs to a temple on the banks of the Bagmati river and then back across the city to Thamel. Naturally without a map and fully expecting to get lost.
We visited Boudanath last year and so I won’t say much about it, other than its a massive stupa perched on the outskirts of Kathmandu. It was built around 600AD and contains a myriad of myths about who is buried inside, why it was constructed etc. It is however built on the ancient trade route from Tibet to Nepal and so full of Tibetan people and a real insight to life in the rooftop of the world, a country closed to most and currently impossible for any Westerner to visit. Marred by years of infighting and China deciding it belongs to them and the Tibetan people deciding it doesn’t, naturally immigrants have fled and made their life in Nepal. The whole Tibet issue is absolutely fascinating for the outsider, but a real struggle for those involved. Nevertheless the stupa is hardcore buddhism and gives a real insight into one of the most private civilisations on earth.
From there we headed through a village and was trying to make our way to Pashupatinath which is the biggest Hindu temple complex in Nepal. I have always found Hinduism to be a very in your face religion, a relentless combination of spiritualism and ecstasy. Of all the religions I have ever observed Hindu is the one which really leaves me breathless. Some of the traditions, from paint bombing each other with coloured rice, to the chanting and walking in lines that can be miles long, to burning the dead in the street. The religion is about as mind blowing as it gets and from the outside it seems both extraordinary and down right fascinating. It is the polar opposite from the chilled out Buddhists sat chanting and burning incense, Hinduism at its most extreme is difficult to comprehend and often difficult to observe, those practising it seem trance like as they all sing and dance around. It’s like an illegal rave from the nineties with paint thrown in and a figure in the middle. Real unadulterated, hardcore west coast massive stuff.
We eventually found the complex and strolled inside, trying to avoid getting rabies from the billion monkeys that call the place home was not easy. Nonetheless we soon entered the grounds, apparently from the back. we decided to chill out on a bench before proceeding and were approached by a police officer. He told us that the complex was open only to Hindu people. I reckoned out we were Hindu and was having none of it. I drew a spot with a biro on my forehead and he didn’t see the funny side. He said he would let us enter for 500 rupees, cash only, on the sly. It bugged me to be honest, I’m all for money talking and offering up a bribe where necessary, but not for the exploitation of religion. Any religion. Besides, inside the complex was about fifty temples and about ten thousand people. Would no one notice three white people strolling around. It was a one way ticket to a chinning and so we politely refused and left. We got a great look inside the complex and it did look interesting. But what we had noticed from our vantage point was some kind of music festival. It was across the worlds dodgiest rope bridge and so we headed off Indiana Jones style. There was a fee to get in of I don’t know how much and after a bout 5 minutes of the ticket vendor being completely unable to get the price across to me and me completely unable to have the slightest clue of what he was on about he just let us in.
It turns out we had entered some Hindu music festival, it was like a small scale Glastonbury with music tents and people raving. Now I love music, all kinds, including Hindu but this was bad. Seriously bad, even Charlie can sing better than the crooner that was entertaining who knows how many thousands of people. Stood still like absolute muppets I had a trick up my sleeve. I happen to know the universal dance that can fit any music, whether it be Hindu music, Islamic tunage, English music, or a tune 220 Beats per minute. Oh yes – The funky chicken. That’s right, that bad boy dance is universally adaptable. And, if there is rhythm you can do the leg dance too. Simply grab your ankle and move it back and forth funky chicken style. After about half a second I realised people didn’t appreciate my skills and so we bailed, quickly.
Scams. Thats right, ingenious ways to part you from your money devised by those in desperate need aimed at those seemingly not in need, i.e tourists. The following scams are all what we have endured in our time thus far in Nepal and to be fair, no different from any other Asian country. The first one today was the milk scam. It went like this… Woman comes up to me holding a baby “Sir, sir, can I speak with you” I say “No sorry” and continue walking “But sir I don’t want money, please help buy my baby some milk she hasn’t eaten for two days, please help me sir” Now, there was one thing wrong instantly. Her boobs looked like they were on steroids, they must have tripled her body weight and she was no slim jim. About 99% of women in Nepal breastfeed and why wouldn’t they, its an expense they don’t have to consider. I walked away but the scam goes like this… You agree, she takes you to a shop that just happens to sell the milk she needs, You pay way over the odds and feel great about yourself. The second you’re out of sight she returns the milk and the shopkeeper and her make a tidy profit.
Then was the taxi scam, we agree a price which to be fair is probably three times what a local would pay anyway. The driver then for the whole journey doesn’t speak a word of English. Yet, the second you arrive at your destination and give him the price you agreed he claims he meant per person, not per car. I have had drivers (particularly in India) get out of the car and get aggressive in their tone. The key here is not to rise to it. The Nepalese people are by their nature very genteel and so a laugh and a shake of the head and they are on their way. In India a mention of the police is a sure fire way to settle the argument since many drivers are not licensed anyway.
The most consistent scam we have encountered in Nepal, and one that I only twigged on today is the tax scam. If you was to ask me what one of my biggest pet hates was I would reply “The service charge in Restaurants/Hotels” In the UK few people know this, but it is not obligatory and so if you was that arsed about it you could argue the point and it wouldn’t be added to your bill. But in Nepal it is obligatory and it really winds me up. But that’s not the scam, in addition to the 10% service charge is the 13% government tax. Now, what has been happening is that both taxes have been added separately. Lets say my bill comes to 1000NRS you would think that with both taxes added the total would be 1230NRS. Not so, what happens is that 10% is added to the original 1000NRS making it 1100NRS. Then the 13% is added making it 1243 NRS. Then what happens is that for some reason the Nepalese have ’rounding up’ which means 1243NRS becomes 1250NRS. Now I know on the grand scheme of things it’s not a lot of money, but a scam nonetheless.
The final scam we have encountered in Nepal and one that really makes me feel a bit sorry for the guy purveying it is the bird shit scam. I mean really, has anyone in existence ever fallen for it? Basically what happens is that you are walking along minding your own business, not a bird in sight. Suddenly, a guy bumps into you and notices during the collision that a bird has unloaded itself from the air. It has missed every building, anyone else and landed right on your boot. But guess what – They guy just happens to have a boot cleaning kit on him, thats right and for a small fee he’ll remove said bird shit. I mean come on, it looked just like talcum powder and water, it was ridiculous. I just wanted to slap him and pay for him an education.
Still, it all made for an interesting day. Next we head West to Pokhara before we head South to India. For me, that’s when the real scams begin 🙂