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KathmanduA few lazy weeks in the trekking mecca of Pokhara are followed by some even more lazy weeks in the capital. Its tourist sight take only a few days to discover. Highlights include Hindu temples, Buddhist stupas and several age old squares, surrounding palaces and wooden pagodas dating from ancient kingdom times. With Kathmandu not being a modern city anyway, these structures make you feel like you travelled back in time.Kathmandu valley as such is overcrowded. Like in many so called Third World cities, infrastructure development in Nepal's biggest urban agglomeration can not keep up with population growth. Waste water is running openly through town. Rubbish gets incinerated on the streets or disposed off in rivers. There is not public transport and no street lighting, but smog and congestion instead. During and after heavy rains even main thoroughfares become flooded with smelly brown water. Daily electricity blackouts can last up to 16 hours. During my stay there was no gas or petrol for two weeks. It comes as little surprise that many Nepali don't exactly admire the nation's political elite.


May-July, 2011 -- After decades of struggle between the king, the parliament and Maoist rebels, Nepal tries to start over.Nepalese people have been waiting for a new constitution since the end of the war in 2008, but the deadline gets postponed again and again. Whenever a new deadline approaches, radical strikes are paralysing the country.Although traces of the war, which has been going on for more than ten years, are barely visible in the streets, the young federal republic remains politically fragile.Nepal's geography makes organising the nation a tough task. By the time news reach the remotest valleys of the Himalayas they might not be news any more.

Mr. Average Nepal... is Hindu, living in one of the metropolitan regions of Kathmandu or Pokhara or in the Southern lowlands near the Indian borders. In Nepal, like in India, it's less talent or diligence deciding ones fate than rather land ownership, caste and location.The everyday lives of a mountain farmer and an office employee in Kathmandu are two worlds apart.

First daysIt feels as if I had mistakenly entered North Korea: No motorised vehicle as far as the eye can see. Everyone else is either walking or cycling. Different from India, I now look into distinctive Asian faces.I really am in Nepal, but a three day strike has been called. As mentioned above, a new constitution is due to be decided upon. Every political faction tries to draw attention to its demands. They drive around in loudspeaker vans or use radio to call a strike, prohibit the use of motor vehicles, then mine the roads and threaten to attack any strike breakers. Practically all public life comes to a standstill: The farmer is not allowed to use his tractor, the worker can't switch on his machine and no one must use motorbike, bus or car.Even the military only walk, do nothing and watch hot-blooded activists install road blocks. To me it doesn't seem like a very convincing approach to winning political support.Only after several hours of discussions with border police they finally let me in. I am required to have big signs stating GERMANY and TOURIST on each side of the van in order for protesters to let me through instead of attacking me. Tourists are exempted from the strike.In general travelling Nepal is pretty easy, thanks mainly to the friendly Nepali but also the more moderate climate. People are a bit more laid back and less curious than in India, almost as if they had seen a foreigner before. A good place to recover, recharge and relax.

Park in the shade and sleep longMy first goal in Nepal is to gain altitude to flee the brutal heat in the lowlands. I use the first days to relax under huge shady trees. Right the first evening I get invited by the neighbours. The plates are full with Dal Bhat (rice, vegetables, lentil soup), the simple but delicious national dish. Later on we join in front of the TV and laugh at the naive idiot hero of a Nepalese comedy series.Nepali go to bed early and, with the sun rising, they get up again. They find it very amusing to see the allegedly so hard working German lying in bed until ten.Even in the capital most streets are dead quiet by 9 pm.It's not the only thing that separates Nepalese from Western life style. While I need to go grocery shopping every few days, most locals are self supporters. They do not produce any problematic waste. Even their plates are woven from big leaves and wooden tooth picks.

Mountain callsWhoever wants to discover Nepal needs to leave the few roads and wander into the mountains. Other than, say in the Alps, most Himalayan valleys are not connected to modern infrastructure. Therefore small distances can turn out to require day or week long treks, surmounting a few altitude kilometres.Together with Angelika, my persevering Austrian companion, I hike from Pokhara to Annapurna Base Camp (4200 masl) and back. Most of the time, unfortunately, low hanging clouds block the view at the surrounding summits. But for a few clear moments in the early hours of the day we're enthralled by the peak panorama towering yet another 3000 metres above the base camp.But why does it take a whole week for a distance of only 50 kilometres as the crow flies? Well, according to the trek profile the difference in altitude is a solid twelve kilometres.

Nepalese porters don't look as if, but they are tough as old boots. Each one of them carries up to 120 kilograms on the back - not in old boots, though, but in sandals and t-shirt, even above 4000 masl. Every German Goretex and thermo underwear dealer would foresee their certain death, but somehow these porters seem to buy their equipment from the real experts.

By May our convoy for the journey across Tibet and China gathers in Kathmandu.But, with the 60th anniversary of the occupation (or liberation, depending on your perspective) approaching, China closes the Tibetan border to foreigners. After clashes in which some Tibetan monks were killed, the Beijing government obviously tries to keep nosy foreigners out. After seven weeks of waiting in Kathmandu we're finally ready to go.The last few miles to the border pack a punch. The van drowns in the muddy track, which is the only road connection to China. Despite rain, darkness - and obviously after having consumed substantial amounts of alcohol - a locally recruited crew of construction workers levels the track for 40 Dollars. The damage to the car will get fixed later in Laos.The next day we get a little introduction to Chinese bureaucracy. In the end, however, all four vehicles of our convoy roll across the Nepalese-Chinese Friendship Bridge into Tibet.

Spaceship inspection (Tansen)

The devil in the temple (Kathmandu)

Mountain path (Annapurna region)

Street scene (Kathmandu)

Typical domestic flight (Anapurna region)

Compare yourself: to the left a German, to the right a Nepalese (Pokhara)

Strike means: Mobility like a century ago (near Butwal)

The strike makes few people jump for joy. (Tansen)

Some are just bumming around... (Annapurna region)

...or sitting in the sun. (Tansen)

Of course I wanted to climb Everest, too. But: It was closed. (Pokhara)

Rats may look cuddly, but they're a nightmare once you got them in your car. (Changunarayan)

These goats just shake their heads when they trekkers plodding up the hill. (Annapurna region)

Great host with his grand daughter (Tansen)

DIfferent calendar: Happy 2068! Why not treat yourself with a new lamp? (Pokhara)

Centre right: Annapurna I (8091 masl), the world's tenth highest mountain (Annapurna Base Camp)

Up and down, up and own... (Annapurna region)

Deurali Panorama guesthouse(Annapurna region)

View towards Mt. Machhapuchhre(6997 masl, Annapurna region)

Annapurna Base Camp

Once upon a time, there was a glacier. (Annapurna Base Camp)

Above 4000 masl the air gets perceptibly thin. Never mind, the guy on the right will run the Annapurna Marathon. (Annapurna Base Camp)

Optical illusion? No, the body adapts: After the trek, our heads were much smaller than our feet. (Annapurna region)

Get it? Annapurna Base Camp is right behind the leopard.(Annapurna region)

For several days a porter has carried a bucket full of hot water up to 4200 masl - without it spilling over or cooling down! That's why it costs EUR 3.50. (Annapurna Base Camp)

Only briefly does the sky open up...

...before filling up again like a bath tub - with fog.(Annapurna Base Camp)

Swayambunath stupa (Kathmandu)

Temple complex at Changunarayan


Patan Durbar Square(Kathmandu)

For a festival this massive chariot is being pushed through town. (Kathmandu)

Asians typically have black hair. (Kathmandu)

Always check where you park. (Kathmandu)

After a rain shower (Kathmandu)

My home at Irwin's workshop (Kathmandu)

Farewell barbeque after seven weeks of standby (Kathmandu)

Forced break in the mud: The guy in yellow would have had a bulldozer, too, but he was too drunk to operate it. (Barabise)

Exiting to Tibet: Our convoy waiting on the 'Friendship Bridge' (Kodari)

Additional Information

NEPAL (updated 07/2011)RouteBhairahawa (from India) - Butwal - Tansen - Pokhara - Bandipur - Kathmandu - Bhaktapur Kodari (to Tibet/China)Entering via Belahiya/Bhairahawa crossing (south of Butwal, from India)No problem, visa on arival or 15/30/60 days at EUR 2/day. Validity of Carnet de Passages will be the same as the visa's. Carnet extensions at border customs or Kathmandu airport. However, my overstay didn't get sanctioned.Exiting via Kodari/Zhangmu crossing (Friendship Bridge, to Tibet/China)Three days bureaucracy delay, very complicated. For details see Tibet/China.RoadsDrive on the left. Conditions of main highways are mostly bad, local roads very bad. 4WD and high ground clearance vehicles are better off.The Mahendra Highway (also 'East West Highway') in Terai region as well as the Prithvi Highway (Pokhara-Kathmandu) are in acceptable condition. The Arniko Highway is prone to mudslides between Barabise and the Tibetan border and may get impassable for a few days. Should be easier with 4WD, though.Bandipur is hard to reach by truck (no turn-around). For the connection between Pokhara and Jomsom you'll need high ground clearance from Beni on. Many locals including bus and truck drivers are not in control of their vehicles, high risk of accidents. There is no road traffic act. Accidents with personal injury lead to arrests of all parties involved until the case is legally closed.FuelPetrol (EUR 1/L) and diesel (EUR 0.75/L) are available. Fuel shortages occur regularly, mostly concerning petrol and LPG. This also applies to Kathmandu valley.CampingIn general no problem but it might be hard to find level, solid ground off the road. A few good spots can be found in my Camp Spot List.MiscellaneousHigh quality products (spare or technical parts, household articles, Western food) are hard to get. Electricity shutdowns (almost daily) may influence water supply, too. Beware of power surges when using high end electronics (e.g. laptops). Rains may flood or wash away roads. Nepal is not always a state of law, corruption is rampant. Strikes can bring normal life to a halt, possibly affecting SAR teams and ambulance. It's recommended to acclimatise before reaching high altitudes.All information subject to change (note time of writing).

fabian pickel