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Mother Nature vs Buddha: Battle for my soul.

Friday, September 26th, 2008

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As detailed in my last post, I had just a few days left on my Visa so I had planned to do a couple of days at Buddha’s birthplace in the little village of Lumbini, about 22 kms from the Indian border. I had whittled my time down to five days, lounging around Polkhara with Youssef, a guy I saved (he had just been in a wreck when I passed by and gave him my spare clutch lever). I decided that the time was right and planned to head out the next morning. When I woke up it was to a torrential downpour. I didn’t really sweat it as the ride out wasn’t a long distance. I did however, not want to do the ride soaking wet. Once it hit noon, I wrote the day off as another tv day and snoozed joyfully away. The following day found the same circumstances so I started to worry just a bit. Thankfully, Mother nature blessed me with a spot perfect day. It was actually the best day that I have had weather wise as the rain had cleared off the haze and left perfect views of the Himalayas that peaked over the surrounding hills. It was so good that most of the way down I got views of the snow capped mountains.
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I had gotten through the mountains and hills by the time I was just about to reach the Tarai border town of Butwal. The Tarai is basically the flat land stretch that runs the whole of Nepal from East to West. It is here where the curves end and roads are straight as an arrow. As I came to the last of the curves, I started to notice a backlog of lorries and buses. When I just about reached the town, I saw that a whole side of the last hill had come down and wiped out the road for about fifty yards. Even from a quarter of a mile away I could see that it was gone. They had four bulldozers shoving rocks and dirt, but they had only gotten about a quarter of the way through. It was not looking good.

Even though a few of the locals gave me their opinions that it would be opened up that day, one look and you could tell that it wasn’t going to happen. It wasn’t a problem for most in-transit people because they were able to climb to the top of the hill and across to the other side where buses picked them up for the remainder of the trip. The freedom that I enjoyed so much having the Schwinn was trumped big time. I decided to head back up the road 28 kms to the semi-touristic hill town of Tansen. I was able to find a decent hotel (with tv) and a fancy restaurant that served western food, so things weren’t all that bad. I figured that I was still only a couple of hours away from Lumbini so even losing one night wasn’t going to make much of a difference.
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The next day around noonish, allowing for some flex time to ensure the roads were open, I headed back down the hill to find the same back log of trucks and buses. They still hadn’t completed the excavation and by the looks of it they still had about a third of the way to go. I was pretty bummered. Since the hotel where I was staying did not have hot water and it was high enough to be a bit chilly, I had not showered. Refreshingly, just up the road a bit were a line of water falls with one having a perfect little pool at the base. I ended up spa-ing it up a while waiting to see what would happen. Since it was getting a bit late and I could tell it wasn’t going to be opening, I decided to call it a day and spend another night back up the hill.

Now even with the time frame getting a bit less flexible, I was still not sweating the situation. I could still spend a full day at Lumbini and then head over the border the same day. It wouldn’t be much quality time, but oh well. I did however start sweating it when Schwinn petered out and I had to switch over to the reserve on the fuel tank. Even though the fuel situation had gotten much better, the price of fuel in Nepal is about 50% more than in India so I did not top up my tank when I left Polkhara. Now with all this extra running around I was doing, I was running out of fuel. Luckily, I still had a litre of back-up fuel stashed in my bag so I dumped that and figured I would have enough to get back up the hill to Tansen where I could fuel up. I slowly cruised my way back only to find out that the two stations in town were out of fuel. Their explanation was that since the road was closed, there was no way to get the fuel in. That’s when it kicked in, Mother Nature, you are one cruel bitch. I calculated that after the run back up the hill, I should have around half to one litre of fuel left to make it down and hopefully across the landslide where hopefully Butwal had fuel. I didn’t sleep so well that night.

The next day, I wrote off the worry about the Visa as not getting stuck in the middle of nowhere became a huge priority. I decided that I would wait until I got confirmation that the road was open before I headed back down as if I could not get across, I would be stuck there. Around 10am the manager let me know that the roads were back open temporarily as long as there wasn’t more rain. I decided to wait until noon as I didn’t want to get stuck in a line of lorries and buses. Since the way was two-thirds down hill, I ended up just coasting down with the motor off for most of the way. Even in the flat areas I scooched along using boot power. When I finally got across the landslide I was amazed to find that it was actually no more than a hundred meters from the town. I quickly zipped on over to the station where we had gotten fuel before only to be told that they were out and they did not have an idea where to get some. Shit. I tossed around the idea of checking into the hotel where we had stayed before and then searching on foot to see if I could scrounge up some black market petrol. I decided that I had enough and I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I fired up the Schwinn and headed off towards the border hoping to find a station along the way. Thankfully, I found a station not more than a kilometer outside of town where I was able to stock up. From there it was a quick jont down to the last town before the border area. It was around early evening when I got there and like most border area towns it was hot, dusty, and congested. I stopped at a little shop for a drink and took a head clearing douse under a water pump.

I was maybe three kilometers from the border where I could just cut my losses and get to India, or I could make the twenty-two kilometer dash to Lumbini where I could do a quick stop and pay my respects to the gods. After doing a quick “making it to heaven” calculation, I figured what the hell it was a once in a life time opportunity, and you definitely want to show respect to all possible heaven voters so I turned around and headed off to Lumbini. Mother Nature 0 – Steve 2.
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Lumbini is where Buddha was born. Beyond that it get too complex for this little blog, so in the end, I made it there. On a side note, the place where Buddha was born, the actual spot, is marked unceremoniously by a stone. It is held in a little building in a gigantic park with a bunch of “mine is bigger than yours” various country sponsored temples. Although the temples were fairly grandiose, the actual Buddha birthplace is fairly low key, but I imagine Buddha would have wanted it that way.
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I ended up doing a really quick run through the park which involved me driving Schwinn around the grounds firing photos on the go. Even though I had finally made it through what were surprisingly difficult obstacles, there was still one large challenge. Since I was bringing Schwinn, an Indian bike, to Nepal, the government imposes a fee of $75R per day that the vehicle is in Nepal. On entry into the country, you are asked to put up a sort of deposit or guesstimate of how many days and corresponding cost that you will be spending in country. Any additional time could be paid for in Kathmandu or Polkhara. Well, knowing this, Justin and I had just put up one weeks worth and figured we would work it out whenever we got around to it ie. sneak across the border and not pay anything. I had just gotten an e-mail from Justin a while back telling me that he had tried to sneak across and was chased down by a couple of guys. He ended up giving them his last bunch of Nepalese Rupees ($700r) and they let him go. For me it was a bit riskier as I had been in Nepal for three and a half months. That times $75R a day adds up to a lot of rupees. Should I get stopped, I was screwed. On top of that, I was on the final day of my Visa and overstaying would have just added to the complications. I decided to just go for it and made a run for it.

Now making a run for it turned into being stuck in a line of lorries with people and bicycles cramming all the nooks and crannies. It would have been faster to walk across the border. My plan was to drive across both border crossings and then walk back across and do the in and out stamps. I made it past the initial set of crossings before some guys started yelling at me. I couldn’t go anywhere so I just kept nodding to them and inching my way forward. Some more guys came up to me and were telling me that I had to go back. I just kept telling them that I would but I just had to turn around, as I kept inching closer and closer to freedom. At the final check point more guys started yelling at me to stop, and I kept giving them the nod of the head and the finger in a circle signifying that I was going to turn around. The moment I caught some sunlight I took off. I was in India free and clear. If they chose to chase after me, good luck to them I was out of there. I quickly found the only recommended option hotel which was described as a “bunker”, checked into a room, and then walked back across the borders to do all the necessary paperwork. I had done it. Freedom.

Now, for those out there who think I am tempting fate with my mocking of Mother Nature, I just want to clarify a few things. Should I be driving down the road and run into a rock or a pothole which causes me to wreck and die, Mother Nature does not get the point as it was my haphhazardly driving or perhaps lack of precaution that caused the misfortune. Now, if perhaps I am driving along and a bolt of lightning incinerates my head, point Mother Nature. I am even willing to succeed the point should I be driving along and a rock comes loose from the top of a mountain and clobbers me in the head and which in turn causes my demise. So, if something crazy should happen, I don’t want to look down from heaven on a bunch of people talking crap how I got my just dues because I made fun of the Gods.

Responses to Comments and the next step.

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

Shawn- Russia is a possibility but 2011 is a bit out there. I’ll keep you updated

Michael- Glad to hear that you made it through okay. Not a bad route if you want to see a slice of Africa. It’s good to know that people are using my info to get around. I was actually pretty proud of the Congo stuff that I did. I did hope that it would encourage others to visit the areas and at the minimum inject some cash and hope into the local economies.

Miriam- I still dream of the day that I can go back to the promised lands. “Kagbeni- my dear dear Kagbeni” (as the tears flow.)
[read on]

Everest Trek part II: The descent.

Monday, September 15th, 2008
kala-patar.jpg If you’ve ever read or watched those movies that are made about those climbers who have climbed Everest, most of them are made strictly because something bad happened. Thousands of people, and ... [Continue reading this entry]

Photos: Mt. Everest Base Camp Trek

Saturday, September 13th, 2008
Here's my shots in a kind of time line. Enjoy as I will be trying to avoid snow capped anything for a while. ebc.JPG The end of the road is Jiri which ... [Continue reading this entry]

The Trek: Everest part one.

Saturday, September 13th, 2008
ebc-29.JPG I am back in Polkhara. Kathmandu is, well, icky. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not horrible, but you just get the capital city ickies after a while and it doesn’t quite ... [Continue reading this entry]

Back from Everest.

Monday, September 8th, 2008
100_6564.JPG Well, I’m back. The trip was successful and now I am doing some serious celebrating (watching tv), relaxing (watching tv), catching up with whats going on in the world (watching tv), and ... [Continue reading this entry]