When there is so much around you to explore it is hard to sit in class all day, especially if the professor just reads out of the textbook and you are only in class for attendance purposes. But even from the other, more exciting classes with more interesting professors, you need to a break once in a while. Last week was IITD’s mid-semester break which I put to very good use!
On Saturday morning, day 1 of 9, Dominic and I arrived at the airport bright and early for our flight to Kathmandu. As Dominic was let through immigration and security, I was held up by a rather friendly and chatty immigration officer. “Yes sir”, “I love India”, “beautiful culture, land, women”, “blah, blah, blah”. I finally got through and as I was waiting in the security line I saw Dominic up ahead looking at the flight board. All of the sudden he looks up, turns left, grabs his bag and runs off! I think to myself that I have never seen someone in such a hurry to use the bathroom. Taking my time now because I know it’ll take him a little while to return, I meander through security and reach the same board. Dominic nowhere in sight, I look up and see “Kathmandu flight AI213 – Final Boarding”. I do the same turn and run off! About halfway to the gate I was intercepted by an airport officer looking for Alexander Harmsen. “Uh oh…”. For some reason our airplane was boarding extremely early and I had even missed the final boarding call in which they include the passenger names! Long story short, we made it onto the plane – an old Airbus 319.
Surprisingly everyone in the capital city of Nepal had face masks. About 20% of citizens wore them constantly and the rest, we were told, carries them in their pockets. The pollution and dust combination is just far too terrible for people’s respiratory systems. I had to agree and considered purchasing one myself. The streets were less developed and it was clear that there was even less money in Kathmandu than some of the smaller Indian cities we visited.
Fun fact: Nepal is 80% Hindu and 10% Buddhist – this surprised all of us
We met up with my roommate, Jerry, and took the 7 hour bus ride to Pokhara early the next morning. No sense in staying in the polluted Kathmandu Valley if there are mountains to discover! After a bumpy, swerving, treacherous ride we arrived in Pokhara, a much smaller city, situated on a lake in the mountains. We decided we would rent scooters and go up into the mountains!
At sunrise we saw this view from a height of approximately 1700 metres above sea level
And that was only the beginning of the day! My friend Dominic has written a great story about our crazy scooter day found here:
For an entire day I drove around with my mouth open admiring the scenery around us. I recently saw a picture of myself in the Okanagan Valley, Canada and a quote saying “this might be the most beautiful place on the Earth”. I take that back 100%: that was before I had seen Nepal.
An old Nepali man who had been to Holland once upon a time.
A trail of blood from animal sacrifices running down the steps leading up to a gorgeous temple at 2000 metres.
A tiny restaurant along the side of the road cut out through the mountains.
A lake in the middle of nowhere with Nepali women washing clothes at its edge.
A refugee Tibetan monastery with its own cultures and traditions.
All seen on our scooters!
We eventually had to leave this beautiful mountain hideout and go back to India. After little sleep and three different buses, we completed a journey across Nepal and arrived at the India border at 3:30am. Following a family, we simply climbed over the undefended Nepali border and walked into India. As the family disappeared, Dominic and I decided to stick around until the border opened to make sure we were not doing anything illegal which might ruin some fun for us down the road. When the guard finally showed up at 7am we were told to go back to Nepal to get exit stamps. Obtaining these from a little shack next to the “Welcome to Nepal” sign, we were allowed to get the entry stamps to India and continue along the way to Kolkata.
Even though poverty is all around you in India, you become desensitized to it after being here for the 3 months that I have. However, once in a while you become painfully aware of it as there is always such contrast here in India. Sitting at the train station waiting for the Kolkata Howrah Express was one such scenario. As Dominic and I left Nepal, we had anticipated finding an ATM in the Indian border town of Raxaul. Not finding this, we had to accept the fact that we would have to survive the next 18 hours on the train with a little over 200 Indian Rupees (~$4 CAD). Stocked up on cookies and water we purchased at the Raxaul train station, we sat down waiting for our train and tucked in to our delicious biscuit breakfast. Almost instantaneously we were approached by beggar after beggar, women, girls, old, young – all asking for a cookie. As hard as it was, we knew that giving one up would mean that we would have to give up all of the cookies we had. Giving up all the cookies would mean we would not eat anything for the following 20 hours. A tough choice emotionally, but ultimately you have to decide for yourself what your role is and that you cannot help out every homeless or desperate person that asks for help. I have definitely decided to donate more however, and finding organizations that utilize this money in the best way is a much higher concern for me right now. Even more reasons to continue supporting Engineers Without Borders!
- Nepal experiences controlled, planned, rolling power outages because it does produce enough power for continuous electricity
- I saw a little girl wearing a shirt that said “I can’t afford to love New York”. Really makes you stop and think
- I am still only drinking bottled water because I do not trust the tap water or filtered water in India or Nepal
- The Nepali royal family was killed in 2001 by the crown prince and ever since the country has had no official government. Elections are being conducted yearly but the transitionary government, Maoist factions and military usually rules to count the votes as void. It makes it really hard for Nepal to participate in the UN, in international organizations and in signing foreign trade agreements. The public is growing more and more unhappy with each year as we found out from a retired Gurkha soldier in the hotel he owned.