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October 24, 2006

Farewell Tibet. Hello Nepal...

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LOCATION: Kathmandu, Nepal
Longitude: N: 27.72°
Latitude: E: 085.31°
Miles from Singapore: 4865

Crossing the border into Nepal here was a momentous occasion for two good reasons; the 'tricky' bit of crossing through Tibet was now behind me (something that had been looming since leaving Singapore) and if the rear tyre on my bike completed spat the dummy I could always take a bus to Kathmandu for parts and return without the hassle and expense of crossing back into Tibet. As it was the freewheel hub had spewed all of it's bearings out on the road just 30kms before the border and it was thanks to the help of a couple of Irish fellas met on the road from Lhatse that I was able to continue at all. That plus the final descent being all downhill so no pedaling required!

The change in surroundings between 4000m to 2000m is quite remarkable. From the arid austerity of the Tibetan Plateau to the lush indulgence of the Nepalese rainforest the mind is bombarded with a plethora of stimuli that jostle and overwhelm the senses; the smell of wet earth after recent rain, the sound of birds and insects that couldn't survive at high altitude and the rich hues of dark greens that dominate the scenery. It reminded me of coming off the ocean after a long crossing in pedal boat Moksha: sensory overload, but at it's best.

My first impression of the Nepalese people is very positive. They are friendly and polite, but keep a respectful distance from my bike and the trailer if I stop in a town or village. No sticky fingers over everything like in Tibet! And no stone throwing (yet). The pace of life seems more laid back here also, perhaps reflecting the kinder climate? On the final run into Kathmandu I passed through several army road-blocks, evidence that the long-standing dispute between the government and the Maoist factions in the outlying provinces (and around Kathmandu by the look of it) is still very much unresolved. So I'm guessing the goodwill towards foreigners isn't always extended to one another! In fact my daily scan of the local papers here indicates quite the opposite; daily kidnappings and killings by the Maoists and the recent failure of both sides to come to any form of agreement after much anticipated talks presided over by a special committee from the UN. It reminds me that I need to keep moving onto India in case things suddenly go awry here and I get stuck. The hippy-trippy peaceful exterior of places like this can be so deceiving to the uneducated eye, as proved by East Timor earlier this year. The surface smiles and good humour of the day mask the deep scars and lingering grievances inherited from many generations of inter-tribal disputes and conflict, just waiting to erupt into violence given the right circumstances.

But for now, it's wonderful to be in Nepal.


Posted on October 24, 2006 8:35 AM