Thursday, June 01, 2006

Red Rain

A busted bus and lots of dust
Kathmandu, Nepal
via Haldwani, Banbassa, Mahendranagar, Kolapuri, Butwal, Manikamana, Mugling, Dadhing & Narayanghat


Note to self: do NOT, repeat not, take a bus ride across the Terai (flat lowland plains of Nepal) in pre-monsoon season. Unless you want to melt into your seat! I really thought there would be nothing left of me but a puddle on the grimy bus floor and at every stop I had to soak my chunni (scarf) in cold water and wrap it around my head like a coolie, to prevent my brain from exploding. I must have looked like a total dork (white lady with a dripping towel wrapped turban-style on her head, dripping down her shirt and face) but I so did not care. I was sweating so profusely I finally had to remove my glasses (they wouldn't stay on my face) so I could only marginally enjoy the wonderful scenery that begins at Narayanghat - green jagged hills and deep river gorges, hills covered with terraced rice paddies like giant emerald steps.

Well, Border Crossing #3 was an experiment. I'll never have to do it again. Next time I will go via the more common Bhairava/Senauli border crossing. Never in my life have I been so glad to see rain as I was in, oh what was the name of that little village where we stopped to fix the flat tire? As all the other bus passengers were shutting their windows against the rain I was cheering for joy and sticking my head out the window.

Riding across the Terai did give me a chance to see (even without my glasses) some of the changes in the emerging democracy. A half hour after departing the Immigration post (just a little concrete cinder block box that says "Tourist Information" - you would never know it was a govt. office - I realized something had been missing from the walls inside - the mandatory portraits of King Gyanendra and Queen Komal. These 2 are (or were) everywhere in Nepal, from the smallest juice shop to the biggest 5 star hotel, peering down at you like overweening parents. No more.

At the whistle-stop village where we paused to repair the busted tyre I wandered over to the snack stand, where everything is still made on beautful wood-fired clay ovens. There were Maoist posters with the face of leader Prachanda, advertising the big "Jana Sabha" (meeting of the people) tomorrow in Kathmandu. I knew what the posters said but played dumb and asked the hotel owner. "Maoist," he said. " The Maoists have put this poster." It was obvious from his tone that he would never have put it up himself, and was only keeping it out of fear. I began to see this poster everywhere.

At Narayanghat, clean-cut, energetic young men in red t-shirts (with the same Prachanda portrait) and carrying megaphones clambered aboard the bus and spoke authoritatively to the driver. Soon half a dozen civilian young men got on board, without, I noticed, paying any fare.
This happened at every stop between Narayanghat and Kathmandu, and I soon realized they were sending delegates and followers to tomorrow's meeting in Kathmandu (commandeering the bus free of charge). At the dinner stop, I saw buses packed with dozens of men riding on the rooftops, red flags waving from the bus's prow.

Everyone in town seems to be expecting something momentous from this meeting today in Tundikhel. My favourite hotel waiter Hari has agreed to go with me as translator, and I have to go get ready and meet him now. My camera is acting up (again!) so I don't know what photos I will be able to get but I will do my best. There should be at least 50 to 100,000 people there.

More later,
Caroline, back in Kathmandoooo!


Shinu Mathew said...

Thx 4 the mail. My mail server have developed some snag and I am not able to reply you. Hence this comment.
A few months back, it was Ambedkar Jayanthi and since Ambedkar is a big name in maharashtra, the organisers arranged a big rally in Dadar. People came from far away places, rural Maharastra. You know how they reach Mumbai? That particular day, whoever wearing a blue ribbon on their head have the right to travel free in all the buses and trains. So it is great comfort to know this is not only in India.
The commies are going to act tough. See the signs. Prachanda shows his face, they are holding a meeting. I think Maoists are gearing themselves up for a democratic setup. May be in Chinese Line. not in Indian Communist line.

mp524 said...

Hey, you are in KTM finally. I heard it's quite hot in ktm itself so it must have been unbearable in Terai at this time of the year. Anyway, now that you are in ktm, you can enjoy relative coolness of the mid-hills...and what a day you choose to (or happened to) be in ktm! I have been reading about this rally for the past couple of weeks and now even the BBC is reporting of 200,000 + people in this maoist rally. Some Nepali bloggers are reporting figures of around 500,000. I guess we just don't know how many people turned up (or forced to do so according to some reports). Look forward to seeing the photographs you take of the event! Hope you have a nice stay in KTM.Cheers, mp.

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...


Alan Rosenberg from New York City wrote:

Hi Caroline: I just took a look at your myspace page and
blog: very
interesting. The story about the self-flagellation
ceremony/festival/whatever was fascinating. I saw that same
here in New York and it was pretty intense even without the
blood, as
it's done here. Your comparison between the Hindu
celebratory) and Muslim (dark, grim) cultures was
fascinating. I'm
dying to go to India.

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...


Darkhorse in Nashville writes:
"There's a little yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu/Strange days indeed!"
Dear Little Idol,
You're writing like Orwell in Spain, my ghod, there on the precipice of change (and rain-gullied roads).
I worry now--Marxists you could talk to, but Maoists? Commandeering the buses, soon the hotels, everything, maybe including 'Western corrupt influences' like you?
But the charm of the place - "where everything is still made on beautful wood-fired clay ovens."

Blog away, stay close.
yr erstwhile writer, Darkhorse