A Travellerspoint blog

On Top of the World- Nepal Style

Conjuring preconceptions is a tool we all wield and is one I’m convinced none of us will ever master. For anyone who has met in person someone they had only ever spoken to on the phone will know that nine times out of ten our mental image of that person, based on their telephone manner, is wildly inaccurate. We discover that old people are in fact young, heavy people are slim, attractive people…not so much and in the case of ‘Clare’ a cross dressing former colleague of mine, males are female.
I think the same can also be said about new places we visit. Having, in recent weeks, visited such Asian mega cities as Singapore, Hong Kong and Beijing I had convinced myself, in my ignorance, that Kathmandu would follow suit showing many signs that it was embracing the Western World.
However, this preconception was utterly smashed the moment we touched down in the airport. I was expecting to arrive at a large, gleaming terminal building, not the relatively minuscule brick building that greeted us. Even the immigration officials were not as I had expected. It was not the usual mean stares and cold personas you usually get upon arriving in a country but three smiling aging men wearing brightly coloured hats who looked liked three comedians about to deliver the punch line. Kathmandu itself is a bustling city of narrow winding streets full of rickshaws, motorbikes and taxis all fighting with each other for their share of road space and it is not uncommon to see several cows taking a nap right in the middle of it all.

Anyone flying into Nepal for a trekking tour will have images in their mind of stunning scenery and soaring mountains. Living near the Rocky Mountains my images were based on those. Yet again though my preconceptions failed entirely to capture the true magnitude and magnificence of the Himalayas. We saw colossal mountains reaching heights I could not have imagined, terraced rice fields soaring up the slopes to heights the folks of Babel would be proud of and appeared to touch the earth’s rim in all directions. We saw child shepherds being dragged down winding paths by their crazed goats and incredible waterfalls that appeared to fall forever; and we saw all this on our bus journey from Kathmandu to Langtang National Park where we would be trekking.

The bus ride itself was one of the craziest experiences of our lives. It was one of those times when your preconceptions proved to be 100 percent accurate and was exactly what you’d imagine a bus ride in this part of the world to be like. They filled every seat and square inch of standing space with people and their possessions. Passengers clung to the sides and rode on the roof and there was even the token chicken along for the ride (I kid you not about that). As with most long bus journeys, regular toilet stops were made, however, due to the complete lack of public restrooms in the Himalayas, the toilet breaks consisted of everyone piling off the bus and taking a pee side by side on the edge of the road. I was a little hesitant to join in with the mass urination but in the end thought ‘when in Rome’. The bus followed an incredibly windy road that at times felt like we were riding the edge of a giant slinky and which could only be described as a dirt track. At times the road appeared to be only as wide as the bus and it felt like we were driving along the edge of the abyss. We passed up through the clouds and through mountain villages for 12 hours witnessing the mad flow of humanity and their chickens in this truly unique part of the world.

Having spent a night recovering from the bus journey, we headed out into Langtang National park. Our trekking party consisted on me, Jana, our guide Suresh and Primm, our porter who had the unpleasant task of carrying both my bag and Jana’s bag in a super human effort through the mountains.
Over the next few days we headed higher into the mountains passing through villages to cries of Namaste (hello) from the local children, passed women piled high with fire wood and men struggling up hills with large milk urns and water containers. The landscape changed dramatically the higher we trekked passing along a raging river, up through jungles and over barren planes, often flanked by 8 foot tall marijuana plants-a little surreal to begin with.

What was really striking was the fact that unlike other parts of Asia, the Western Sorld has had next to no impact on the mountain communities we visited, with the sale of Snickers bars being the only infiltration of the outside world. We often felt like we were trespassing in a simpler world where stress did not exist and contentedness was the order of the day. I have often heard travelers describe places they have visited as having ‘beautiful people’ and have always considered this a generic answer that I’ve never really understood. However, the people of this Himalayan region are beautiful with their beautiful smiles and humble manner and it was amazing to witness a community so vastly different to our own.

On many occasions whilst being here, miles away from home by more degrees than just geographical distance, it was hard to believe we were actually in the Himalayas getting to experience all we have. In these moments pinching myself would have failed miserably at convincing me of this reality- I believe a wrecking ball to the side of the head would have been required.

We may not have reached Everest this time around, but for the past two weeks we have felt on top of the world! Next stop Jordan…

Posted by davekrohne 03:18 Archived in Nepal Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

China's Trains-A case for animal right's activists perhaps

During the early 90’s in the UK I remember a period of unrest about the conditions in which livestock was being transported by trucks. At this time, all the newspapers carried photos of cattle packed into trailers more tightly than Bronco’s fans in Wal-Mart on a Sunday in Colorado.

The epicenter for the animal right’s protests appeared to be the harbor close to where I grew up. For many weeks protestors blocked the entrance to the harbor and chained themselves to the trucks in a desperate attempt to stop the cattle transportation.

Due to the growing tensions, the harbor was being patrolled heavily by the police in an attempt to try and control the protests.
One after afternoon at this time I was nonchalantly riding my bike along the sidewalk near to the protests when I was suddenly set upon by two bored police officers. Apparently it is illegal to ride your bike on the pavement and they proceeded to reprimand me for the next 15 minutes about my terrible indiscretion.

Now I did not in anyway disagree with the protestations of the animal right’s folk, however, after my run in with the police, and if you’ll excuse the pun, my only beef with the situation was with the protestors as it was their actions which had caused the police to be in the vicinity when I was committing that heinous crime.

The protests eventually ran their course and I was left feeling pretty indifferent about the condition of cattle traveling economy class in the back of trucks. However, my indifference was heavily challenged recently having suffered the condition of China’s overnight sleeper trains.

We were traveling 17 hours from Shanghai to Xi’an and the close quarter conditions we were going to endure became apparent immediately upon arrival at the station- it was more like a holding area for herds of cows than a waiting area for passengers. Everyone was herded in through security gates with no sense of order into an area fit to hold perhaps one third of the people there.
The conditions on the train did not fair much better. Six people were squeezed into a space where only two people would normally be comfortable. The beds were stacked bunk style, three high, either side of the minuscule compartment, leaving just enough room between beds for you to raise your head slightly in the prostate position.
The bed’s design seemed to fail entirely in acknowledging a human would be sleeping on them, being far too short and narrow for even the slightest person.

I’d like to say that in these conditions the on board restroom was a breath of fresh air. However, that could not be further from the truth. The smell of the urine stained toilet cubicle didn’t so much offend the nostrils but your entire being down to the darkest corners of your soul. Add to this the continuous hawking of people clearing their thoughts (a favored Chinese pass time apparently) and that just about spells it out to you.

Looking back now at the conditions in which we were transported I am a little surprised not to have seen some animal right’s activists chained to the tracks in front of the train in an act of repulsion.

Having suffered these conditions personally I feel my indifference to cattle transportation is changing to become more in line with those protestors at the harbor. Perhaps next time people decide they want to protest this issue, I will ride my bike (legally of course) down to join the protestors, chain myself to the nearest dreadlocked activist and demand that the cattle are provided with at least sanitary restroom facilities.

Posted by davekrohne 01:10 Archived in China Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

Memoirs of a writer with a blockage

Collin's Online Dictionary defines 'writer's block' as 'a phenomenon involving temporary loss of ability to begin or continue writing, usually due to lack of inspiration or creativity and is a complete pain when you're trying to write a travel blog for Asia'

Let me begin by apologising for the complete lack of blog contributions by yours truly in recent weeks. Perhaps for anyone who has been regularly reading my on-line drivel, it does not seem all that long ago since I last wrote, however, for me it feels like an age
Time plays funny tricks on you when you don't constantly monitor the passing of days and weeks. Not having a regular schedule creates the illusion that things we did or places we visited only last week feel like months past. On any given day, if quizzed, I would struggle to answer correctly which day of the week it was and would fail miserably at establishing the date.

Nontheless, I am all too aware that the regularity of my (ever popular) blog entries has dwindled recently and I am convinced I have been suffering from my first case of the dreaded 'writer's block'.

During our time spent in South East Asia there was no shortage of potential material that at any other time would have caused me to sit down and write. However, nothing has really clicked recently and I began to feel swamped by half baked ideas that never really forfilled their potential. Some of these ideas are as follows.

Ever since Jana and I landed in Asia it has become apparent that we have completely lost our sense of balance. Neither of us can remember the last time we fell over in a sober state, yet during the past 6 weeks Jana has fallen down stairs, fallen off a bus and just this morning got knocked flat on her face by another pedestrian and I managed to trip over nothing in particular and fall prostrate in front of oncoming traffic.

Perhaps finding ourelves in a situation where we were suddenly much taller than the average local has afflicted us with a bizarre type of vertigo which has effected our sense of balance. Whatever the reason for this strange set of events, it may be worth considering heading elsewhere and surrounding ourselves with taller people for our own safety.

Another potential idea was the fact that we were, on several occassions, blatently lied to, particularly by taxi drivers in an attempt by them to dupe us for every penny they could.
When we had just stepped off the bus in Kuala Lumpur for the first time we needed to find an ATM and politely asked a taxi driver if there was one close. He informed us that the nearest ATM was 4 Km away and offered to take us there for a 'special price'. Being downtown as we were, I struggled to believe the nearest ATM was 4 km away and after walking 2 short blocks we had a choice of 3 banks and multiple ATMs to chose from.

On another occassion, in Bangkok, we were heading to a Buddist temple and when we were just across the street we were advised by a very friendly and smiley taxi driver that the temple was currently closed for prayer and would not re-open for 2 hours. He then kindly offered to take us on a city tour at a 'good price for good customer'. However, after further investigation we discovered that the temple was infact very much open with no evidence of anyone at prayer.

Beyond these, another potential source of inspiration may have been the multiple times we were rudely awoken at 4.30AM by the local muslim priest. The reason for this is the priest was calling us to morning prayer over his beefed up speaker system attached to the bell tower of his mosk. Without getting too deep into the topic of religion, I felt myself wondering why the whole city had to be woken up at such an ungodly hour so a select few could stumbled bleary eyed to prayer.
I have given this a little thought and I believe a better idea maybe to provide the faithful with an alarm clock so they can wake themselves up. Perhaps they could set up some type of mosk loyalty incentive scheme where after attending morning prayer ten times they are presented with a free alarm clock preprogrammed to chime at 4.30AM, much like the set up where I was given a free bible after I tormented the Sunday School ten times as a kid.

It seems funny to me now that any of these, and many other events like them, failed to convince me to pick up my pen and start writing. However, now that I am sat in Shanghai in the relative comfort of our 3 star hotel and as a proud member of an organised tour, I find myself to be more relaxed and able to focus my thoughts.

Travelling through Asia can be simply described as an experience, and by this I absolutely include the full spectrum of the good, the bad and the ugly.
Asia has many fantastic things to offer the willing traveller. Jana and I have visited the best beaches we've ever seen, spent time staying with remote mountain tribes, ridden on the backs of elephants, trekked through incredible jungles and eaten some of the best food we're ever likely to savour.
However, on the flipside it is sometimes hard to build up the courage just to step out of your hotel room knowing that by doing so you wil be subjecting yourself to being constantly harrassed by taxi drivers, massage parlours, beggers and suit taylors. You are also constantly aware of the danger that you may be pick pocketed and you never know if the next inhilation of air will bring with it the sweet smell of cooking or the stomach wrenching odor of open sewers.

Our time here has been as equally a challenge as it has been rewarding and we have walked a fine line between frustration and euphoria.

I believe it is this mixture of feelings that has prevented me from writing any new blog entries recently but as a certain level of clarity settles in my head I believe I would not change a single thing about our time here and I am truely amazed that we are getting to do this incredible thing. We also both agree that our experiences so far have made us appreciate a little more just how good we have got it back home.

Anyway, that's all for now and in the meantime I need to go find out what date it is because i'm a little concerned that we may have a flight to catch today. Until next time...

Posted by davekrohne 01:33 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Passports, Bribes and Corrupt Answers to Prayer

A big part of planning our world trip, and one of the monotonous tasks we had to do, included researching the various visas we would require as we saunter from one country to another. Some countries require you to apply for visas before you enter the country and others allow you to obtain a visa at your point of entry. When we looked into the Thailand visa requirements two things became apparent pretty quickly. First, it was clear that we would be able to organise our visa at the border crossing. Secondly, and more importantly for the topic of this blog, the condition of your passport would be taken into consideration by immigration officers before issuing a travel visa.

According to the UK government website for citizens travelling abroad, entry to Thailand will most probably be refused to individuals carrying damaged passports.

With this being said, my passport is in its eighth year of the allotted ten and I can honestly say that it has not aged particularly well. It has apparently aged in dog years, having the appearance of being much older than eight and should really be considering early retirement. I have to attribute the immense speed in my passports decline to too many vacations in the sun, too many Atlantic crossings and too many trips out to bars in my pocket to act as a form of ID. It seems that it is true what they say about too much sun and alcohol speeding up the aging process!
Any idiot looking at my well used passport will quickly notice the complete lack of gold emblem on the front cover that has long since worn away, the torn pages on the inside and the way the plastic cover on the photo page is coming away from the backing paper. In its current condition it could definately fall into the category of 'damaged' and could have definately lead to a refusal of entry into Thailand which would have catastrophic consequences to our future travel plans!

Bearing this in mind, as the day approached for us to head from Malaysia to Thailand I began to feel a little apprehensive about getting across the border successfully so the night before I said a quiet little prayer asking that there would be no problem once we finally got to immigration. In a place like Malaysia, there is no shortage of religions, temples, gods and shrines in which you can direct your prayers, however, having had a Christian upbringing I sent my prayer by way of the big man upstairs.

Now let me fast forward to the morning we headed to the border crossing by bus from Penang, Malaysia and introduce to you ‘Nikson’ the slightly eccentric, talkative individual who sat next to me. It was five in the morning when our bus left Penang and all I wanted to do was try and catch a little sleep and perhaps take my mind off my concerns about my passport’s condition. However, Nikson decided he was not going to allow me this one wish. Nikson is a Malaysian national who amongst other things has made a little money exporting stolen copies of Microsoft Office to the USA which to me was a slightly surprising confession during the early hours of the morning. He insisted on talking at me about the places he’d been, business contacts he knew and deals he’d pulled off. It was all pretty interesting stuff and he had an infectious, if slightly high pitched laugh. However, he would not take my hint of shutting my eyes and letting my head roll forward that I just wanted to sleep and after some time I gave up. At this point I thought I would voice my passport concerns to Nikson as he appeared to be a seasoned border crosser. Once I had described my predicament to him, he simply smiled at me revealing a full set of twisted, stained teeth in all their glory, and said ‘Bribe the immigration officer with some money left in your passport’. He said this as matter of factly as if he was giving me directions to nearest computer software store.
At first I thought he was joking but as it turns out this is the done thing in these parts and it helps speed up your way through immigration and limits the level of harassment you receive from the officers about ‘damaged’ passports.

So, in my passport I included a small amount of money and as predicted I sailed through immigration with no questions asked.

Now as I sit here in beautiful Thailand I find myself in a conundrum. I consider being allowed in the country and the proud owner of a Thai tourist visa with the condition of my passport as an answer to prayer. Whether this answer manifested itself in the form of Nikson and his matter of fact advice or in the immigration official accepting my small monetary incentive, the fact remains that my heavenly assistance appears to have been facilitated by a means that may not be considered strictly above board.

This is where my dilemma lies. I hear God moves in mysterious ways but can these include methods that are not exactly on the straight and narrow? Part of me believes I got the outcome I was looking for but I can’t feel entirely comfortable attributing this to heavenly powers when the answer to prayer I received requires me to then go to confession.

Posted by davekrohne 20:32 Archived in Thailand Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (2)

Singapore-or should that be Singarich?

Something you quickly discover after you head off on an elongated tour of the globe is that so many times places you have very little enthusiasm for turn out to be trip highlights and places that you had high hopes for often fail to live up to your expectations. This may have something to do with the former catergory having nothing to live up to, but nonetheless it never fails to be surprising when it occurs.

When discussing the potential highlights of our world trip I was often heard saying 'a city is a city is a city' in an attempt to sum up my lack of enthusiasm for city hopping. Such places as Sydney and LA are on my list as pretty uninspiring places to visit, offering little beyond run of the mill shopping precincts and skylines, that don't get better the more times you see them. Althouugh you can spend time walking around such places for a short while, more often than not it is the things outside of the cities that truely interest me.

As the plane touched down in Singapore I assumed that it would simply be a gateway to the rest of Asia, merely a stop over to purchase some cheap electronics at the world famous and utterly crazy discount electronic mecca that is 'Sim Lim Square'. It is a mad, five level shopping mall that is completely dedicated to selling electronics . As you walk around you are constantly harrassed by merchants promising you 'the best price' or 'good price for special customer'-all the while doing their damndest to rip you off the best they can.

So you can imagine my suprise when I was smacked clean between the eyes by Singapore and by the fact that this island melting pot could be more appropriately named Singarich as it is rich in culture, religion and ethnicity. It is an insane microcosm where religions peacefully coexist side by side, East effortlessly meets West and the ancient appears to embrace the 21st century with open arms.

In this place that is a city, a country and an island all rolled into one, you can be nonchalantly walking down a nondescript side street and suddenly stumble across a huge Hindu temple overwhelmingly adorned with multicoloured figureens, with the sounds of drums eminating from within providing a melodic rhythm to those prostrate individuals deep in worship.

The smells of burning jostics, spice and citrus are everywhere and it seems that at every turn a different street vendor is attempting to sell a local delicacy leaving you in a perminant state of salivation. Everywhere you go there is something happening to distract you. BMX stunt riders and break dancers jostle for space in underpasses and bizarre, apparently spontaneous mass line dances breaking out on the sidewalk, where young and old alike, with no apparent lead line up, start dancing, all knowing every intricate step as if they were born with the right moves.

For all the temples and architecture that echo back to times past, the skyline is dominated by the glass and steal gorges of the downtown metropolis. The multitude of modern skyscrapers hints at the cities affluence. It is not unusual to see Ferraris and Porches tearing up the streets and the $600 million arts complex has the look of a giant armadillo. There are more shopping malls, restaurants and coffee shops that you could shake a stick at and it seems anyone who lives here enjoys a very social existance.

It is safe to say that we had a great, if not short time here and the appeal of living here could be very strong. However, in a place where you can buy dinner for $4 but a beer will cost you 14 I can honestly say i'm real happy living in Denver and paying $2.50 for buy one get one free of the best watered down beer you'll ever drink. Thank god for the Park Tavern!

Posted by davekrohne 05:16 Archived in Singapore Tagged backpacking Comments (3)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 11) Page [1] 2 3 »