Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Yesterday the interim government of Nepal announced increases in the price of cooking and heating fuel and other petrols. The students staged protests that shut the city down, and they vowed to do the same today. We were riding around last night avoiding one burning tire protest after another to get to our destination. We woke this morning to students right outside our hotel burning tires in the streets. All the shops and businesses were closed and there was no traffic. We took the opportunity to see the sights of Patan in the deserted City. We saw the old Palace which has an excellent museum of the different Buddhist and Hindu gods amongst other things. We saw all the temples in Patan Durbar Square and the Golden Temple, both World Heritage sights. We saw the temple of 1000 buddha's. It was cold probably 40 degrees or less.
The streets were empty all day with roving protests going on, and as we found out, the whole country was shut down. By the end of the day the government run monopoly which controls the petrol prices backed down and rescinded the price increases. Public protests can have its effects. Noxious air not being the only one sometimes.
Nepal is very friendly place and the protests seem very tame actually and we do not feel in danger. At one point the police met with a group of marchers in the street and a quick decision was made that the marchers would keep marching down the street in one direction and the police would go in the other direction and put out the burning fires lit by the gang. Very convivial.
Nepal is going to have its first ever elections in a couple months. The country seems in its infancy of finding out about itself. The Maoists who have a few different factions amongst them have lain down their arms to participate in the government. I think the people are hopeful that the deposing of the King and the new democracy can lead to better things. I, unfortunately, have a bit of doubt that a country that is very corrupt by all accounts, with a bunch of thug terrorists trying to grab a share of power is somehow going to end up with a benevolent leader class. Still, there is definitely a feeling of optimism in the air and I think that if they can get some of the basic problems worked out this could be a country ready to move on to bigger and better things. It certainly is a wonderful place to visit.
We have been at Chitwan Park on the border with India for two days. Our power as rain gods has continues, conjuring up a monsoon like thunderstorm last night to bring the first rains to this area since September. (We also brought 3 days rain to northern Pakistan for the first time in 5 months while we rode there). But the rains brought a cessation to the omnipresent cloud of particularite stuff made up of moisture, smoke, dust, and pollution depending on whom you talk to. It was such a pleasure to be able to see the clear blue sky, take deep breaths of fresh air into the nostrils and lungs, and see the snow capped Himalayas in the distance.
Yesterday I stripped the BMW Blue Mule (it always get there, although it might drive you crazy) down and took about 30 miles of dirt trails through the accessible areas of the park. I saw cranes, eagles, egrets and tons of other unknown birds. I shared the morning light of the jungle and the lakes and estuaries with multiple packs of spotted deer, one mule deer, and a 15 foot crocodile lazily floating down a stream.
In the afternoon, Clara and I took a dugout canoe about 3.5 km down the river to the Elephant breeding sanctuary in the jungle. We again saw tons of birds (kingfishers, snakeneckbirds, egrets, etc), long thin snouted crocodile which only eats fish (and are dying mysteriously in India-Gee couldn’t be the toxicity of the water?), two mongoose playing with each other and a an old single horned rhinoceros who couldn’t be bothered to get up as our guide and I walked to within about 50 feet of him while Clara had the camera ready for the great chase scene through the high grass. We loved the elephant breeding center with about a dozen mothers and children. We played with one two year old running free who really liked Clara and the camera in her hand. Another young one stole some of her mom’s food and used her as protection against the keeper; meanwhile another one took advantage of that distraction to steal a whole burlap sack of wrapped rice balls. A fourth was playing with a length of steel pipe, first teaching himself to blow through it to make a sound, then trying to bend it using trunk and 2 legs. Elephants are clearly so smart, sensitive, deft and dexterous it feels like you are communicating with an equal when you shake their snout, or return a “namaste” salute with your own “hello” and wave of the hand.
Today we took an all day jeep ride into the depths of the jungle park in search of the elusive Royal Bengal Tiger and some rhinos. We were disappointed on both fronts, especially Clara with the rhinos, but we did see tons of other creatures and saw beautiful rivers, trees, with the Himalayas as a distant backdrop. The highlight for me was first thing in the morning where I spotted a huge black Sloth Bear up ahead. He rose up on his rear paws, looked amiably at us for a few seconds before shambling off into the tall plant life. I have always loved Kipling and Disney’s Jungle Book and my college brethren nicknamed me Mowgli, so the lattice of coincidence of walking past Mowgli’s Jungle Tours this morning and then seeing what looked to me to be Ballou the bear enjoying the ‘bare necessities’ of life was quite magical.
During the rest of our time we saw scores of spotted deer, mucho wild pigs, many beautiful peacocks and peahens, 2 types of crocodiles, rhesus and lemur monkeys, and a jackal. There are over 552 types of birds here, some of the ones we saw were kingfishers, wild hens, roosters and pheasant, hornbill, grey headed eagle, parakeets and multitudes of others. I tried to show Clara a two headed smoocher but she wasn’t having any of it.
To cap off the day, I dropped the camera somewhere along the way and it was run over by a tractor. The camera was on its absolute last legs, and Clara’s brother and I promised her a new camera for her last birthday so it looks like the present will be presented in Kathmandu.