We have made it to Kathmandu!! – a conscience rocking experience

22 12 2010

It has taken 14 days, over 1,000km and (repeatedly) up and over passes as high as Ben Nevis. Crossing into Nepal has been our greatest challenge so far and we are pretty darned chuffed with ourselves to have made it this far.

Kathmandu has proved a little oasis of woolly yak-ary and fake North Face-ary.  And with temperatures dropping rapidly crossed with NO HEATING AT ALL we have rashly invested the grand total of £30 on a yak jumper for Liz and a fake North Face jacket for me – wooo Happy Christmas us! As we head up onto the high Tibetan plateau and Himalayan passes we will be grateful for these toast makers. Sadly (though in this weather not that sadly) we can’t afford the $1000+ costs of hiring a guide to cycle with us (as per Chinese rules) up to Lhasa and so we will throw our bikes atop a jeep and drive there and then onto a 2-day train (though this is far from certain due to yet more Chinese vaguery) into mainland China. We still have a 150km cycle up to the Tibetan boarder to complete but thought we would write a Nepal sign off blog now as power, let alone internet connectivity, is less than assured for the next few weeks.

Nepal has been a delight and a moral strain. As with India the vast stretch between the very poor (dubbed undeveloped) and the very rich (hailed developed) is highly pronounced.  From the slow perspective of our little saddles, where there is tourism there is aggression – the closer we got to Pokhara or Kathmandu the more the groups of children parading back and forth to school became a source of anxiety – long gone the open inquisitive choruses of ‘goodbyegoodbye’ that greeted us along the Terai, now only demands of ‘tourist, tourist, STOP! Give us your money!’ rock our middle-class consciences as we speed up to out-pedal their clattering chase.  This could be a throwback to the days of the Maoist uprising when tourists were regularly stopped and expected to pay a contribution to the cause – but it also echoes our experiences in India.

The busier the roads the thicker the pollution; the more ‘developed’ the range of goods on offer the higher the rubbish piles that flank the road. And the grubbier the children. In the neat villages along the Terai the children were always clean, the closer we came to ‘developed’ towns the grubbier they got.  In Phokara and Kathmandu there are even postcards with close up images of wretched little urchins ill clad in stained torn rags.  An image that seems unrecognisable to us outside of these main tourist hubs and hangs close to the suspect morality of portraying potbellied starving children in Africa.

When we started this whole shebang we were freewheeling under the hazy notion that cycling was an equalizing mode of transport – the world over the bicycle is the poor wo/man’s transport, right? On a bike we will be on an equal footing with the locals, right? But as we progress we fear we are merely a constant reminder of difference – and maybe nowhere more so than in Nepal. While maybe we are not the flashiest of lycra clad, GPS welding cycle-tourers we are by no means subtle. There are times when our decent spec bikes are an embarrassment (however much they are held together by cable ties) – their very presence

grubby leg ... ooooh

anomalous in an essentially medieval country. Our greasy, stinking cotton trousers maybe less than appealing, our budget maybe as tight as they come, but we fear that in such an economically raw environment we are only ever beacons of wealth and opulence. And this is difficult for us, because however cold it is, however much there is no heating, we know we can always go out and buy the knock off North Face and the (seen NOWHERE ELSE IN NEPAL) Yak-ary. We have loved Nepal but are left mildly uneasy that the bits we loved – the rural idylls, the clear open roads, the open curiosity and friendless are being polluted … by us.

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