The one with the dead bodies

China to this day remains one of my favourite countries and I have thought many times about going back there and starting a hostel or teaching English or anything that allows me to explore it further. I saw most parts of China, avoiding the westernised east coast, and found that the Tibetan towns on the Chinese side of the border were some of the best.

We entered Langmusi with two things on our mind, seeing a sky burial and visiting Leisha’s cafe. Leisha’s got nothing but rave reviews from the lonely planet and was famous for its Big Mac yak attack burger, a huge meal made from the local Yaks(similar to cows). The sky burial is an ancient Tibetan tradition that had been banned for many years by the Chinese Government and was only recently allowed to take place again.

We had a walk around the town to get our bearings and to see what we could explore over the next few days and then headed for Leisha’s to get all the information we could about seeing a sky burial. Leisha was a great lady from the Xinjiang region of China and as such was a Muslim and quite different in culture to the other locals in town. She owned her cafe with her brother, who we thought was her husband, and it was the backpacker hangout in town. We asked how we could see a Sky Burial and she said that there is no set way to see one, you just have to head to the monastery at 7am and wait until you see a tractor driving up the hill with a body in the back.

A tractor with a body in the back took a little bit of the shine of the magnificent spiritual event that we were hoping to see but oh well, if that’s the way they do it that’s fine. I ordered my Big Mac yak attack and tried hard to beat the 1.5hr record set by an American guy but to no luck. By the end I wasn’t full and even considered ordering some chocolate cake, I was just sick of the taste of Yak meat and Potato.

Next morning we were up and looking for the tractor at 7am but by 9 nothing had happened so we headed to leisha’s and spent the day playing cards and drinking milkshakes. We tried again the next morning and still nothing so we explored town and the local monastery and headed into the hills for a hike, where the diarrhoea I had developed from the Yak Burger took full effect and I had to rush of for a few emergency squirts.

We decided that the third morning was the last and that if there was no burial today then we would get the 11am bus out of town. We all crossed our fingers and headed for the monastery and took vigil waiting for the little tractor to start its drive up the hill. I headed off with one of the girls to scour the monastery for information about a burial. It is very difficult and probably very funny to try to explain to a Tibetan monk in sign language that you want to go and see the birds eating the dead body. We spent 5mins explaining to him and he just kept pointing to the hill and shrugging so we gave up.

It was getting late and we had all but given up hope and headed back to see the others, on the way we heard a yell and rushed to them to find they had all gone. We looked up the hill and there it was, the little blue tractor with three bodies in sheets bouncing around in the back. Jackpot, we were off. I started running after the tractor along with the others but it was hard. We were at altitude and heading straight up into the hills, still we persevered and kept running because we just had to see these vultures eat those dead bodies.

It probably sounds really morbid and in some ways we felt a bit morbid watching it but once the ritual started to take place and we stood at a distance in silence and watched as the men sliced open the backs of the dead people and cut the tops off their heads, it felt like a very special experience.

The whole time these two men were preparing the bodies the vultures, about 2.5 feet tall, were beginning to sit in the hills around the pit waiting for their feed, some even came early and had to be chased away. It only took a few minutes preparation of the three bodies before the men walked away and the 30-40 vultures swooped down from the hills and started chowing down.

We asked the locals we were with if we could take photos and they said it would be better not to so we respected the family sitting near the bodies, burning the bones of the dead as the men bought them over, and kept our cameras out of sight. The idea of the burial is that the person’s spirit is given to the birds to move to the sky to wait for its time to be reborn, something like that anyway.

The ritual seemed very spiritual and we stood sombre until the guys moved in with their little axes and started hacking up the bodies and throwing parts all over the place for the vultures to continue eating. It was a little harsh in its own way to see a guy hack off a human leg and toss it through the air and see two birds fight over its flesh. That was the way it was for them and I could only think that it is maybe a better way to go than being buried in a box and eaten by worms.

The ritual had been going for around 25 mins and most of the vultures had left the pit and only a few remained when a Dutch tour group turned up and stormed past us straight to the pit and started taking pictures, What a bunch of knobs was all we could think from where we were. We did however wait for the last vulture to leave before heading in ourselves to take some photos.

I looked to the family and didn’t really know what to say or do, in a way we could have been disrespecting their culture but most of the time they didn’t seem too bothered by anything we did. The best I could come up with was to place my palms together under my chin and bow to them in the way you do to other Tibetans on meeting them. I don’t know if it meant anything to them but it made feel better at least showing some respect.

It was great experience and one that anyone who has the chance should go out of their way to see. The pit was a sight and a half with bones and jaws lying all over, I even saw a full spine with half a skull attached in there.

We quietly and happily walked back down to Leisha’s to give here the good news about seeing the burial and she gave us all high fives as we left to get our buses onto the next town.

See photos for China:

 

The animal class train

I spent some time before I left Guernsey thinking about the places I would be wandering and getting lonely planet guidebooks out of the library to research my trip before I decided,

‘screw it, I’m just going to see what happens long the way’

I thought that before there were guidebooks people travelled and now travelling was easier and more common so why should we need one now.

It took a few weeks to get used to this and at first arriving to a city and not knowing whether to walk left or right when leaving the train station was daunting but after a while it became exciting and fun. The true test of my theory came when I arrived early morning into Mumbai Airport, the smelliest airport I have ever had to smell. They say that to truly get to know a country you first have to smell it, I believe they had just landed to India when they first said that.

I had not had too much solo travel experience before I arrived to India but I had my common sense and understood enough about the ways people would try to rip me off and how I would have to be careful to not let it happen.

As soon as I left the arrivals area of the airport I was pounced on by people behind counters yelling at me to go and buy tickets for their shuttle buses, I held strong and declined and headed for the exit. One man demanded that I go back to see him, so I did. He asked me where I was going and I told him to Bombay and that I would get a local bus outside as it would be cheaper than his express shuttle. I guess the man took pity on me and knew that I was a naive traveller and that he would have to help me get safely to town.

He explained to me that I was about 1.5 hrs from town and there were no public buses, just taxis that would really rip me off. He said that I would be taking one of his shuttle buses and that I would have to give him 40 rupees and go sit in the corner and wait for it.  I knew he was right and that I was out of my depth and best to do as he said.

As we arrived into Bombay I could not believe what I was seeing, I had heard the reports about India before but ,my god, to see it for the first time in person is something truly shocking and scary. The street was full of people laying down, lines and lines of them for blocks and blocks, I didn’t know if they were sleeping or dead, I had never seen so many people lying like that before. We continued into the city and I got more and more nervous as to exactly what I was going to do there. I had nothing planned and was obviously way out of my inexperienced depth so I decided I would get to Delhi as I was bound to meet other backpackers there who could tell me what to do.

I told the driver to drop me at the train station and I headed for my ticket. I was told that I was at the wrong train station and would have to take another train to get to that station. As I waited for the train to arrive I had two young boys come and sit with me, one either side and both with their hands on my knees. I got a little worried that they were going to pickpocket me by getting me used to their touch and stood up and made them both sit on one side of me. It turns out they were both just friendly kids and wanted to chat, not like the lady who came next to see me on the train.

As I boarded the train immediately a very poor looking lady came up to where I was standing and held her hand out for money, using her other hand to show that she needed food. I always hate when people do this and wonder why we, as tourists, are expected to go to other countries and solve their poverty issues, let the locals of the country look after their own and I will do the same in Australia.

The lady was unhappy that I would not give her money and spent the next 30secs poking me in the ribs, when this didn’t work she grabbed a piece of my flesh and twisted it hard as she could between her fingers. At first I was shocked and could not believe what was happening, but I held strong and knew she would give up eventually if I just kept ignoring her. I didn’t know that it would take 2mins though.

She gave up and went to the next person in line, a local Indian man who lasted only 10secs into the stomach twist before he gave her some money and she continued her way down the line. I must admit that I was pretty satisfied with my effort of holding out when even the locals couldn’t.

My stop came and I walked the 10mins across the train tracks in the 35c heat to the platform on the other side. I left Guernsey with nearly everything I owned and was now realising that I was very quickly going to shed a lot of the 22 kilos I was carrying on my back, 2 weeks later I was down to 15kilo.

I saw people lined up to buy train tickets at a booth and fought my way in amongst them. It was a real fight in this group and no line existed, if you tried to do the decent thing and let someone go before you then all that happened was that another 15 people would come after that. So I elbowed my way like everyone else and at the front asked the guy for a ticket to Delhi, he asked me when for and I told him for today. Apparently this section only sold tickets in advance and I would have to go around the other side for tickets for today, that was a very uncomfortable way to waste 45mins of my life.

Once at the other side there was no line and I could not understand why people would have such a hassle to buy tickets in advance when they could just buy them on the day of travel in a leisurely manner. I very quickly understood why they did it this way when I bought my ticket, $5 for a 24 hr train trip! Bargain I thought, and the man said as I walked away that I had better line up quickly to make sure I got a seat. I thought this was a bit weird but shrugged and headed off to line up.

I had been in line for 2 hours waiting for the train and noticed I was about a third of the way along, excellent, if all these other people can get on the train then I will get a seat for sure as I am at the front of the line. I could not have been more wrong as the train approached and people started to board. It was all very orderly and quite calm until I reached my turn to get on the train, at this point someone from behind pushed me forward and I fell into the ladder of the train and had people start pushing past and over me to get on board.

I scrambled up the ladder and there were people everywhere, there was no way I was going to get a seat, I’d be lucky to even find a place to stand it seemed. I headed for the only clear space in the carriage, beside the toilets, and took up my position and watched as hundreds of people pushed and squeezed their way around the carriage. It was insane, there were bodies everywhere and until the train started moving it was so hard in that heat to even breathe.

As the train departed I realised that I could not move, I was trapped in amongst people like sardines in a can. The young boys I was trapped against started a conversation with me and we talked about cricket for a while and then they asked me to sing for them. What the hell were they on? Sing for them, bollocks to that. But they persisted and sang me some tunes of theirs and before long had me signing Advance Australia fair to them. I felt like a right Muppet then and there!

It is hard to explain the train ride in all its awfulness, it was the worst yet best journey that I have ever had to take in my life. I was so tall that people pushed their heads against me and used me as a sleeping post. One guy would always turn to look at me before coughing his disease infested breath in my face for fun, people were always stepping on my feet and by the end all my toes were bruised and bloody as I had only been wearing sandals.

As the train moved along things got a little nicer and the carriage seemed to spread out a bit and we had room to stand a few inches apart from each other. It also gave enough room for a young boy to squeeze down between my legs and try to open my backpack and steal stuff. I saw him doing it and knew that the most he could get was a t-shirt or two and ignored him, the locals saw what he was doing and didn’t ignore it, they picked him up and started beating him hard around the face. At the same time a mobile phone fell from his pocket and they realised it was the one someone had lost earlier and they started beating him even more.

When the train would come into a station we would all link arms and hold on as tight as we could so that other people could not get on the train and we could keep whatever small amount of space we had for the next leg of the journey. This also affected they way people could get off the train, if they can’t get on then they can’t get off. One big man needed to get off so he used himself as a type of battering ram to push people out of the way, as he went backwards and forwards he built up enough force that 15 people were knocked of the train onto the platform and immediately new people rushed aboard. The big man came back onto the train looking for his mobile phone that had fallen from his pocket, no-one could find it but when they realised later it was the one the little boy I mentioned earlier had nicked they called the guy and arranged for someone to take it to him. I was very impressed by this act of generosity amongst people that were so obviously poor.

The problem that came from the big man knocking all the people off the train and new people piling on was that the people that fell off had to get back on as they had all their belongings onboard. As the train pulled away from the platform these people were hanging from the ladder of the carriage and some even from the bars on the windows, I am not sure if they all held on until the next station and to be honest I did not have the energy to care, I had just decided that I was going to be sick and had nowhere to do it but on top of the guys head who was sleeping against my chest.

It is probably the closest I have ever come to needing to puke and holding it back, I was amazed that I did and also very glad I did as I don’t know what would have happened had I puked on this guy’s head? Probably nothing, no-one seemed to care about going to the toilet and squatting for a number 2 while the toilet was full of people sitting on the floor beside you, so why would they care about a little puke.

The trip continued and people on the train occasionally ran off without even asking for money and bought me bottles of water to drink. I realised that I was now 17 hours into the journey and had been standing still in one place for the whole time. I was hungry, dehydrated, tired and extremely irritable, I started pushing and elbowing people who stood on my feet the same way that locals would to each other. Despite the comradely it was still every man for himself by this stage.

At the 17 hour mark a lot of people started leaving the train and I could actually sit down, I am not sure how I did it but I managed to sit down taking up the same space as I had while I was standing up and later on I could actually half lay down and pass out for a few minutes here and there.

We were nearly in Delhi when a hippie looking guy walked past me and immediately swung around for a second look and said

‘what the feck are you doing here’

To which I replied ‘I asked for a ticket to Delhi and this is what they gave me’

They guy proceeded to rant about how the ticket seller was obviously an asshole as they have a supply of VIP tickets available for tourists to purchase on the same day and he should have offered those to me. He did finish his rant by telling me to stay where I was when we stopped and he would take me to town and show me a good place to stay.

Twenty four and half hours after the journey began I was finally on the platform and breathing fresh air at last. I was so happy and relieved and also proud of what I had just achieved. Hippie Guy returned and we walked together into the tourist area of Delhi and he found me a nice, cheap guesthouse where I got my own room and went straight for a shower, not before the owner had told me that hippie guy was a dangerous man and I should avoid him. I wasn’t bothered and told him that he might be dangerous but so far he had done nothing but help me and at the time it felt like he was saving my life.

I undressed for the shower and saw that my feet and ankles were twice their normal size and all bruised, I had bruises a third of the way up the calf of each of my legs. I jumped in the shower and proceeded to pass out in bed for the next few hours thinking about how those 24 hours had seemed like a week’s worth of experiences in India and I was so glad that it had happened. As I say it was the best and worst travel experience of my life.

I told an older local couple of the journey a few weeks later and they were amazed, they told me that they had lived all their lives in India and they had never ever taken then general class train, I told them that maybe one day they should.

See photos for India:

 

The friendliest country

At the time I went to Pakistan it was listed on the Australian Governments website as one of the 4 countries in the world that you should not travel to. Not just as a precaution but they were actually warning people inside the country to get the hell out if they were already there. As I crossed the border from India I said to myself again the question that I always make a point not to answer ‘oh well, what’s the worst that can happen’

The border crossing was very smooth and surprised me a little as to how easy it was. I had no guidebooks with me, as normal on this trip, and had no idea where I was staying or even going besides that I was heading for Lahore. I saw some buses waiting across the border and asked for one going to Lahore and was thrown into the back of one immediately and off we went. This is a reason why it is always advisable when travelling in countries like this to get a little local money before you enter as you never know what will happen on the other side. If I hadn’t had a little local money and had waited to change it then I would also have had to wait another 4 hours for the next bus.

The bus was a weird experience to say the least. I climbed aboard and noticed that the bus had just a bench at the back and two along each side, no seats in rows as on most buses. At the front of the bus was a section that was locked and protected by a metal gate, this is where the women sit as they are kept separate from men for reasons only the Koran can tell us I suppose.

I chose to sit on the bench at the end of the bus as there were less people there and I thought I would not stand out so much. Well, welcome to Pakistan! If you are white you will stand out, no exceptions. Within a minute of being on the bus I had two men come and sit beside me to talk about cricket, and Steve Waugh and Shane Warne, I also had every other person along the sides of the bus turn around to face me and stare. At this moment I realised exactly what it must be like for a celebrity to have people watching their every movement, in my own little world here on this bus I was a celebrity to everyone else there.

I had no idea where I was going in Lahore and figured that I will just walk around until I find something, I’d been doing it for 6 weeks now and had had no real problems. The bus conductor came to collect money and ask where I was going, I responded that I had no idea and said just drop me in the centre of Lahore. This caused great discussion amongst the back bench of the bus and after a few minutes the conductor said that I had to go to temple district because all the other backpackers went there. I said OK and asked how to get there and he said ‘don’t worry I’ll show you’

We reached a stop in town and the conductor got off the bus with me, walked me to another bus and told the conductor for that bus where he had to tell me to get off. At some stage of the journey the conductor asked me a load of questions in Urdu, which I obviously didn’t speak so he grabbed a guy from the front of the bus who spoke English and made him come and sit next to me. He introduced himself and said ‘I am here to tell you when you have to get off the bus’  we reached my stop and the translator gave me the directions for a hostel given to him by the conductor.

I started walking in the direction they pointed but took some wrong turns and could not find my street. I hopped into a department store and thought that so far the locals had been helpful so I’d try my luck again, it worked and the guy inside walked me 5mins down the street to where the hostel was.

I went to the reception desk and was greeted with a big smile and a bottle of water, it was 40c outside and a bottle of water was like a cold beer after a long days work at that moment. I chatted with the owner of the hostel about things and once he realised I had no guide book and no plans on what to see he seemed a little worried. I found my bed, mattress on the floor, upstairs and went outside for a smoke, the owner of the hostel arrived 5mins later with a copy of the lonely planet for me and some recommendations on where to go on my way to China.

Top 4 countries to get the hell out of! I couldn’t believe it, this was one of the friendliest countries I had ever seen.

My celebrity status continued when I went for a walk along the streets and found a lot of people coming up and asking if I was American, a white person was assumed to be an American at this time, something that caused me a major incident a few days later. People seemed to find it hard to come up and say hello and instead would bump into you, making me worry they were trying to pickpocket, and when you turned around they would say ‘Oh hello, are you from America’ to which you reply ‘no, from Australia’ to hear their excited response ‘Australia…Shane Warne, Steve Waugh’.

A new friend from the street saw it as his duty to show me around Lahore, I immediately saw this offer as Dollar signs, I had just come from India after all. Albert, or whatever his name was, spent 3 hours showing me the city and refusing to let me pay when we stopped for some mango shakes, I pleaded with him to let me pay as 10cents for me is nothing, but for him it is really something. He would have none of it and said I was a guest in his country and it was his duty, I just thought it was a way for him to ask me for more money or to convince me to buy something from his brother’s shop when the tour was over. Neither of these things happened and he was just a really nice guy who was being friendly, to this day the Pakistani people are the friendliest people I have ever encountered.

I was so exhausted from the heat of Lahore that I just had to get back to the hostel to lay down, I could feel a bit of heat stroke coming on so said my goodbyes and thank you to my new friend. On the way home a little beggar kid was walking with me, poking and pinching me with his hand out, but I held strong as always and said to myself that unless people stop my movement forward they can do whatever they want and I will put up with it, within reason!

Little beggar kid crossed my line when he grabbed my arm and tried to pull me back and stop me from moving, he had followed me too far(15mins walk) and I was not giving in and he realised he needed to go back. I was so hot and sweaty and tired that I just snapped and flung my arm forward while he was holding it. This kid flew into a parked car and hit it pretty hard, he was only about 7 years old. I didn’t feel guilty for what I had done but worried that the adults around might lynch me for abusing a young kid like that. The kid ran for his life and I looked around without being obvious and saw people waving to me and saying well done, they agreed that the kid should never have tried to stop me.

Thank feck for that I thought and the next day I headed for Peshawar, the town bordering Afghanistan near the Khyber Pass, where life got a little bit more interesting for a short period of time.

See photos Pakistan:

 

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:

 

 

The day they wanted to Kill me

I felt a bit bad on my bus ride to Peshawar. I was on a luxury class bus and the only foreigner onboard yet the hostess lady after explaining the rules of the bus in Urdu then started in English. She had terrible English but was trying really hard and after 2 mins had got her first sentence out and went for sentence number two. I was going to tell her not to bother as I understood enough but thought this might hurt her confidence in speaking my language at another time, so I smiled and listened hard while she was explaining. It took a while but all I can say is her English was so much better than my Urdu,  she did a great job.

As we drove into Peshawar I thought we were driving into the depths of hell. There was so much pollution about that the sky was a cloud of exhaust fumes, it really was filthy but how can you judge when so many places don’t have the luxuries we have. I have to live with this for a few days, they have to live with this for life. I’ll just have to blow my nose each night and try to sell the tissue back to Shell to be re-used at a gas station at a later date I thought.

I got a rickshaw taxi to my hostel in town and the larger than life and very anti American owner, let’s call him Mohammed,  sent me to my room and asked what excursions he could arrange for me while I was there. I mentioned me desire to go to Dara Town, a tribal village 40mins south that make illegal weapons and smuggle them across the border to Al Qaeda and rebels in Afghanistan. This tour was stopped by the Pakistan government after September 11 and I assumed it was just the government being careful and over cautious.

It wasn’t until I had paid a hefty fee($30) to Mohammed and headed off on my trip to Dara Town that I had realised it wasn’t the government stopping us going, it was the village itself saying we support Bin Laden and we don’t want white people here. Mohammed had not made this clear and told me he had friends there and all is well and we will have a fun day shooting guns and seeing people make them by hand. He told me to dress in whatever I wanted and be at reception at 8am.

When I arrived he immediately questioned my attire and said I would need to get changed as I stood out too much. A few minutes later I was wearing a white Muslim style robe and a Muslim hat that are so popular there and off we went

We stopped first in Dara City, a few kilometres from the village, and met with Mohammed ‘s friend. His friend said he was the police chief in the city of 6 shops but he looked like the local hash dealer to me. His police desk was in front of a wall of guns and filled with cigarettes and set of scales on top. Mohammed bought a block of hash and offered me a smoke which I declined, I was heading to no-man’s land and wanted a clear head. I had asked that if the police can’t go into the village then what happens if someone gets killed, the response, well they die! As easy as that, they die. I pushed the issue a bit and he followed up with the repercussions of killing someone. If the dead persons family deem the killing wrong then they kill the killer, if his family deem that wrong then they kill back in revenge and it keeps going until someone says ‘Oh it’s ok, he deserved to die, he should not have done that’

Maybe I should have been a little concerned by his time, heading into a no man’s land where death is a small issue in day to day life, but I was still excited by being off the tourist trail and seeing something uniquely different ‘what’s the worst that can happen’ I thought.

As we drove towards the village I was told that the main entrance was being guarded by police to stop tourists going through so we would need to go the back way into town. A little worry was setting in here, especially with Mohammed now high on hash, and it got worse when the driver swung on the wheel of the car and I was told to get on the floor as the back entrance was being guarded and they didn’t want the police to see me or we would all be in trouble.

I got back up to my seat when told it was ok and realised we were now inside the barbed wire fence that separated the village from the normal law and order of the outside world. Enjoying the scenery and getting excited for a day in the village was overcome by Mohammed telling me to read a book quickly, I didn’t have a book and told him so, he gave me his newspaper and reading glasses to put on and told me to cover my face as too many people were looking into the car and seeing me and that was not good, we could have problems.

My lack of brown underwear was looking like it could have been a bad idea at this moment and intensified when we got out of the car and within seconds 6 locals had pounced on us. Not physically but verbally for now, one man and Mohammed were now having a shouting match and pointing at me. I knew this was not good but tried to bluff my way though by smiling through gritted teeth and pretending everything was normal. The shouting match lasted 5mins before Mohammed told me to go with him. I smiled and said goodbye to the locals but they looked at me in disgust and seemed like they were ready to spit in my face.

We entered a house and took a photo of a guy squatted on the ground making AK-47 parts using just a file and a vice. As soon as the photos were taken we left the house and headed back for the car while being watched by the local contingent. Mohammed said as soon as we got inside the car

‘OK we are going now, you can take as many photos as you want from inside the car but we are not getting out again’

‘What do you mean we are leaving? You said we could stay all day’ I replied .

Without any hesitation he responded very bluntly and directly to me

‘ You see that man over there’

‘Yes your friend you were talking to’

‘No he is not my friend, he wants to kill you!!’

Now my ears pricked up and I realised that at this exact moment I was in one of those experiences that end so badly for so many stupid tourists that you here about on the news.

‘WHAT’ what do you mean he wants to kill me, you said it was safe for me to come here’

‘It is safe don’t worry you are with me, but if you had come just you and the driver then, sorry, I don’t think you would be going home tonight’

The story went on and the man he had argued with had told him that he was a bad Muslim for bringing an American to their home, he explained that I was Australian and wanted to see their country and the man had  none of it. He told Mohammed that it would be better for him and safer for me if I left immediately. If we did not leave now then they would make it so I would not capable of leaving.

At the end of his rant I asked if now was probably not a good time to ask for a photo with an AK-47? He said we would have to go back to the police chief’s house and do it there. I was content with this and still didn’t realise how much danger I was in, I still don’t to this day to be honest. As we started to drive off two AK-47’s opened up full automatic fire near to our car, I had seen black hawk down the night before  and knew that unless you hear whistling of bullets, or car windows smashing, then the bullets are not near to you and realised that they were probably just testing their weapons, ready to sell.

This gunfire lasted the full 5mins it took us to drive out of town and back to his friends shop. The chief looked a little shocked that we were back so soon and he and the owner proceeded to have a long debate about what feckers they are in the town and that they should all be blown up. I interrupted their rant and asked about my photos with some guns, the Chief sent an 8 year old boy off and he came back 5mins later with an AK-47 and some pistols for me to wear. While taking the photos I was constantly shown that the guns were loaded and the safety was off.

The chief even offered to take me to Afghanistan to deliver some guns with him.

‘No Passports, No Visas just me and you and two days on horse.’

I mentioned that it could also involve bandits and me dead in the desert to never return, he insisted it was safe but I decided the best thing was to continue back to Lahore and keep carpet shopping with the old American guy who always walked 10 metres in front of me as he thought we would get lynched because I was showing knees and elbows! You meet all sorts wandering I guess.

I later sent the photos of me with the guns off as postcards to friends and family with the quote on the back ‘Al Qaeda’s latest recruit’. Lucky I’m not writing this post from Guantanamo bay I guess.

See photos for Pakistan: