Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Strike

We arrived at the Nepal border around noon on March 12th and after a painless visa-on-arrival process, found ourselves in the middle of an open-ended, regional, general strike. Hotels were open but most other businesses were closed. Buses and taxis were not running. The only available mode of transportation was bicycle rickshaw.

Our original plan was to cross the border, take the local bus 4 kms to Bhiarawa, then 22km to Lumbini, the Buddha's birthplace, stay 2 nights in Lumbini and continue by bus to Royal Chitwan Park where we were scheduled to meet up with friends. Now, no buses and the rickshaw drivers wanted, commanded, 500 Nepali rupees (10 times the normal bus fare) to carry us and our bags one way to Lumbini. Another option was to take a bicycle rickshaw 25 kms north to Butwal where we could then catch a bus to Pokhara, but that meant skipping Lumbini.

The locals told us the strike was in it's 10th day and was confirmed to last at least 2 more days. They also said that it was a bad idea to go to Chitwan Park as several policemen had been killed in that area during the strike. After some deliberation, we decided to spend the night in Bhiarawa and day trip by rickshaw to Lumbini on the 13th and go on to Pokhara on the 14th - no Chitwan for now.

We found a nice hotel. The next objective was to find an Internet cafe and email our friends to meet us in Pokhara, not Chitwan. Walked out of the hotel and strolled around town. It's quiet as there are no buses, trucks, or cars; only the occasional motorbike. The bicycle rickshaw drivers are feeling good as business is booming at inflated prices and cruise by us asking "Lumbini?", "Butwal?", "Where you want to go?".

Most of the stores are closed or have their doors just half open. We don't see single restaurant that's open so we eat at a noodle stand - 4 plates of veg fried noodles at 10 NRs each. We see a few other travelers and chat with them, hoping to get some information. A pair of Polish women are quite jovial. They are part of a group that has charted a bus and are off tomorrow morning to either Pokhara or Kathmandu. They invite us to ride along with them - "It's a big bus".

Eventually we find an Internet cafe that's open. Woohoo! The connection is good and Sun-Ling is able to "chat" with our friend and it is agreed to meet in Pokhara on the 15th. This cafe also sells phone SIM cards and we fill out some forms, hand over one passport photo and 516 Nepali Rupees (NRs) and we are mobile. Woohoo again! After tanking up on more fried noodles we head back to the hotel and call it a day.

To make a long story short. On the 13th we hired a bicycle rickshaw for 700 NRs to take us the 22kms to Lumbini, wait for 3 hours, and return; a trip we will never forget. And on the 14th we hired a rickshaw to take us and our bags 25 slightly uphill kms to Butwal where we caught a bus to Pokhara, arriving at 7:00 PM. On the 15th we met up with our friends. The strike ended on the 16th.


Fast Eddy said...

Are you convincing me I want to become a world traveler? Hmmmmmmm, not very dern much.

It's wet here in Raleigh, skies pouring as I type. Spring peepers love it, we are serenaded in the evenings by their chorus.

Anonymous said...

Hi John,

I'm finnish/chilean journalist. We're working with a traveling site for less known routes and atractions, I'd like to use some of your pictures that you have in Flickr from Bhairahawa.

Of course we will put your credits with the fotos!

Let me know and send me an e-mail please.