Tear gas, riots and curfew internet

I had been moving very quickly over the last few months and was spending only a few days in each town I visited before moving on to the next one. By the time I had reached Nepal I had already decided that I would miss the south coast of India and take it easy where I was and actually start treating my trip like a holiday. With Nepal being so absolutely dirt cheap it was a very easy decision to make.

We left for Lhasa, Tibet in our 4wd tour and had an amazing 3 day drive down to the China/Nepal border, passing Mt Everest and even more stunning Himalayan scenery along the way. I didn’t have a digital camera back then and took just a few photos but luckily the memories of the beauty are still very easily held in my head.

Crossing the border we left the somewhat organised China behind and were not long after in the complete disorganisation that is Nepal. We were delayed for hours at the border as there had been a rock fall and the road was backed up for miles and supposedly impassable. We kept walking along the line of taxi drivers and eventually found one that was tired of waiting and said he would do his best to get through. It took him about 30mins to move 100 metres as the road was blocked with cars and all the drivers had just left them to sit in the shade and our driver had to get out and move all their cars one by one as he very tightly weaved his way through.

Once we were on our way it was very smooth sailing and the area blocking the road was passable for us in the car but the line of buses waiting to go through was what was causing the delay. As always happens on trips like this we got a flat tyre along the way but still reached Kathmandu after 2 hours due to our driver’s expertise and driving exceptionally fast and weaving through traffic in a very shaky old death trap.

I spent the next few days relaxing in the Thamel region of Kathmandu city and it was a real highlight of the trip. Wandering  through the little streets, stopping off in cafes to watch the world go by and buying plenty of $1 pirate DVDs to take home. Despite it being a nice to place to walk Kathmandu also had a lot of poverty and very poor people begging in the streets, I feel a little guilty but when the two lepers, all covered in lumps, tried to grab my leg as I walked past I did let out a little cry and move from them as quick as I could. I felt bad that I had treated them like ‘Lepers’ but I guess that is actually what they were and probably didn’t mind. Maybe the saying came from someone who had had the same experience as me.

After a week in Kathmandu I headed off with some guys I had met in China for Pokhara, Nepal’s second city, and we had planned to hike up into the Himalayas for a few weeks but on arrival we were told that it was the wrong season and there would be too much cloud to see anything. We didn’t want to walk for a week and then see cloud so we spent the next two weeks just doing nothing but play cards and become regulars at the movie days in the local restaurants. Gal and Kik spent most of their time smoking the cheap hash that they kept being offered in the streets. It was a hilarious sight when we hired a row boat and let these two row us for a while, they were so stoned that one was rowing forwards, the other backwards and all we did was go round in circles for 5mins and they never noticed.

I also got my second case of Girardeau in Pokhara and it laid me up in bed for a few days. It is a horrible feeling when you are peeing out of your bum nonstop and even worse when you are puking at the same time. I lived on rice and curd for 5 days and seemed to be getting better and headed back to Kathmandu where I needed to go and apply to get my visa for Myanmar (Burma).

I had bought a Bike when I was in china and intended to ride it through Nepal but once I saw the cheapness of the busses, $2 for a 10hr trip, I decided against it and just used the bike around Kathmandu’s streets and sights. I rode the 40mins to the embassy and headed back to watch some of my new DVD’s while I waited the three days for the visa to be ready. It turned out that buying the DVD’s was the best thing that I could have ever done with what eventuated the next few days.

It had been reported on the news that some Nepali workers had been kidnapped in Iraq and would be executed if certain demands were not met. The Nepali government stuck by the usual process of not negotiating with terrorists and as such the 12 men all got murdered on film. The business minded DVD sellers came up with an ingenious plan to download the footage of the incident and sell it off for $1 a pop to anyone that wanted it.

The 11 men had been shot and the poor other guy was laid on the ground while someone pushed a knife threw his throat and cut outwards, they then pulled his head back allowing blood to gush out as though someone had just released a valve on the Hoover Dam. When he had stopped shaking and his throat had stopped making gargling sounds his head was then hacked off and after holding it up for all to see it was dropped on the ground and kicked around like a football amongst the kidnappers. A day later the Indian government got 7 prisoners realised and the people of Nepal were very unhappy that their government had not achieved the same result.

I got up in the morning and rode my bike through the narrow streets of Thamel and was amazed that all the shops were closed. They were always open, day and night, as tourism was the biggest business in the region and they were all about the sell sell sell. I brushed it off as some sort of special day that no one works for religious reasons and continued on.

After a few minutes I rounded the corner onto a main street and immediately realised why the shops were closed. The city was rioting! In the distance down the road I saw hundreds of people yelling and throwing things, there was a huge plume of smoke going into the air from the middle of the road and it looked like shops were having their windows smashed. I stopped and freaked out for a little bit and wondered what I should do? I came to the conclusion that they were protesting killings and would never kill a tourist due to it being their main economy and decided to keep going on my way and hope for the best.

As I got closer I could see that they had knocked two motorbikes down in the street and set fire to them and also dragged some tyres from a local shop to keep the smoke pluming. They had also set fire to two shops and one guy was upstairs and throwing everything from inside the shop down into the fire while everyone cheered. I asked someone what the hell they were doing and he just yelled ‘feck the government’

I kept on riding and saw that no-one was watching me and became a little calmer as I rode past another three tyre fires and realised that I was through the worst of it and the road was now clear. I took a deep breath and chuckled a little about what an experience that was and hoped it might be over by the time I got back.

I rode for another 15mins and into the next neighbourhood of Kathmandu and nearly fell off my bike in horror. The previous riot was nothing compared to this one. There were thousands of people in the street and fires all over the place. I kept my notion of them not hurting tourists and kept riding through, stopping once to watch as a another shop was being gutted upstairs and having all its computers and chairs thrown down into the streets. It was hilarious when as one computer fell down it clipped some power lines and they sent sparks flying in all directions upon us and all these hard core protesters scattered in fear, I was the only one left in the street near the fire. I looked at one guy as I rode off and said ‘You Pussies’ he just lowered his head and looked away.

I finally reached the embassy and told the guy there that it was madness out in the streets today, he just smiled and gave me my passport back. I really wanted some reassurance from him that it was no big deal and nothing to worry about and his little smile didn’t do anything to calm the fact that it could be getting worse as I ride back and I was now in an area of town that you don’t really want to hang around in.

The ride back was much the same as the ride down except for a few more buildings on fire and a lot more people joining in on the protests, if you can call them that. This had been going on for over 2 hours by now and still there was no presence of police or army in the streets which surprised me, I thought that maybe they were letting the locals get it all out of their systems and come out to chase them off when their adrenalin had calmed down.

I was about 10mins from the hostel and taking the side streets back when all of sudden I got hit with a feeling that stopped me dead in my tracks. I suddenly couldn’t breath and my eyes were stinging and so watery that I could not see out of them. I put my T-shirt over my face but it did nothing so I sat on the bike and pushed myself forward opening my eyes every few seconds to see if I was still going the right way. Some people came running from a side street carrying a lifeless body all covered in blood and I asked them what was happening?

The just yelled ‘Gas, Gas run’

I screamed at them ‘where, which way’

To their reply of ‘It doesn’t matter its everywhere, run’

All I could say to myself was ‘oh feck’

At first I thought that the fire was burning paint and this was causing the fumes but after a few minutes it dawned on me that the police had arrived and I was riding through tear gas. I had no idea if I should go forwards or backwards as I didn’t know which way the gas had come from to reach me. I thought that I should keep moving forward as if I go back I am heading more to the centre of the trouble, as I rode off with my eyes closed I was thinking that if it gets any worse I think I’ll be collapsing in a heap and who knows what else.

It only took a 5mins until I could see through my watery eyes and was able to take decent breaths again so I started pedalling quickly as I wanted to get back to the hostel and wake up my Israeli roommate to take him back out into the streets to watch. I was enjoying this now knowing that tear gas won’t kill me. I raced into the hostel and saw an Italian guy on the floor hiding. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was scared for his life and didn’t want to be seen. I laughed and told him to get up and come with us outside and join in the fun. He declined and kept praying on the floor.

I woke Gal up and told him he had to come with me as it was like Gaza strip outside, fresh from his 3 years of national service I thought he might enjoy it. We headed back out and saw that even the tourist streets of Thamel were now full with protesters and tourists taking photos and following them. The softness of the protesters was shown again when the 50 of them were chanting and cheering with signs as they rounded a corner only to meet a line of 4 police. They all stopped mid chant and started heading back from where they had come with their heads down. One guy kept walking and as he passed the police they did nothing so he let the others know and they all resumed full chant and marched past the police, looking very nervous as they did.

We got back to the main street, and epi-centre, of the riot only to find it blocked by soldiers who were letting no-one pass. I told them it was OK as we were tourists and not here to riot, just to watch, but it didn’t work. Instead we went one street over and then back along a side street to where it was all happening, showing some fresh rioters the way as we did.

The next hour was spent watching them set fire to more buildings and target anything that had Arabic writing on it. Once all the shops had been gutted by fire the rioters headed for a nearby mosque and started trying to climb the fences, at the same time a helicopter came over head and started shooting tear gas canisters in amongst us. I wanted to stay a little longer but Gal told me

‘I am from Israel, when the helicopters come it’s time to run, trust me’

I did and we headed back to the hostel full of stories for all the other guests.

The buying of so many DVD’s was a good thing as at 2pm that day the government imposed a curfew for the whole of Kathmandu and it lasted for the next 51 hours as people had started to riot again the next morning. On day three of the curfew we snuck outside as we had used up all the toilet paper, and newspaper, in the hostel and needed more. We found some soldiers sitting in the street and asked them where we could get some, they knocked on a door and we were lead down a side path and from a neighbours backyard 5 rolls of toilet paper, and 4 packs of cigarettes, were thrown over the back fence.

We sat and had a smoke with the soldiers, who could not care less that we were out and about, when a police chief turned up and demanded that we leave for home. I explained that we were tourists and unable to wipe with our hands as locals do and were desperate for toilet paper. He didn’t seem to care and threatened to arrest us if we did not leave. Gal decided now would be a good time to start an argument with him and I decided now would be a good time to drag Gal away and do as he said.

As we rounded the corner for home a little voice peeped from the distance ‘Curfew internet’. We looked around and saw the boy from our local internet shop and went in to send some emails home. The place was full of tourists and I looked over some shoulders to see the type of messages being sent. Most were the usual that we would all send but one guy was saying how it was dangerous and how  he was worried for his life etc, all I could think was that if you are worried for your life then why did you sneak out on the streets in curfew.

We heard on the radio that on day 3 the curfew was lifted from 5-7pm so we all headed for a restaurant to get some food. The place was packed and the cooks couldn’t get the food out quick enough to the people. At 7pm they realised that people were still eating and waiting for food so they pulled their shutter down and told everyone to be quiet and keep eating. About 10mins later there was a knock on the shutter and it opened to 4 police with batons out and wanting to know what was happening. The owner kept pointing to us, which we thought was a bad sign, so we dropped some money and left.

As we walked down the street we heard voices behind us yelling ‘run, run’ and a stick hitting the ground. Gal and I both agreed it was the police and that we were not going to run. The yells kept coming and the knock of the stick on the ground kept getting louder and we could hear footsteps coming up behind us. We held strong and said there was no way we were running and we would take the whack with the stick as best we could.

The footsteps got closer and we were gritting and teeth waiting to be whacked, I said to Gal how much it was going to hurt and we both laughed and waited for it. At the same time a person ran alongside us and as we looked it was a little Japanese man saying

‘Ha Ha Ha, curfew, curfew, Run RUN’

We pee’d ourselves laughing and heard the police in the back do the same. Back at the hostels we continued to watch DVD’s hoping the curfew would be over soon.

The next day we were allowed out between 9-11am and again from 4-7pm and finally on day 5 everything was back to normal and the street life carried on as though nothing weird had even happened. We felt a bit lost as we had spent so long inside that now we had freedom we didn’t actually know what we wanted to do so we just wandered the streets again and found the guys still selling the beheading videos even though they faced jail time for even holding a copy. Most other tourists fled the city for India as it was the second time in a month that Kathmandu had seen problems.

While the curfew was on we watched BBC news constantly looking for updates about what was happening. We wanted to see what the foreign news reports were showing compared with what we were actually seeing from being there. The report never came and the best we got was a little sub-heading once that said ‘Curfew imposed for a second day in Kathmandu’ at the bottom of the screen. We felt let down.

See photos for Nepal: