On the streets of Kathmandu- and particularly in Thamel, the main tourist hub- it is possible to buy anything and everything. For the right price you can get it made, brought-in, re-created or invented and (with particular reference to outdoor and trekking gear), it’s usually pretty cheap.
Amongst this amazing spread- as there is in any developing country that attracts hoards of tourists- there remains one staple : The Gimmicky T-Shirt.
If you’ve got an idea, then you can stick it on a T-shirt…or cap, bag, sweater, beanie, shawl, jacket, headband…you get the idea! However, it’s the local ideas that make you laugh, spruiking magic such as “24 Hour Dahl Bhaat Power” and countless recreations of Hindu deities.
Over the past few weeks, one commonly-recurring shirt has caught my eye. It shouts: “Nepali Flat: A little bit up, a little bit down!”, referring to the local tendency to describe even the most arduous and precipitous track as “flat”. Such predictions are generally followed by an enthusiastic wag of the head, indicating neither yes or no, but something akin to “Trust me man, I was born here!”.
Think a little bit deeper about it though and that simple T-shirt could just as easily explain the state of the nation and, indeed, what to expect when travelling and (trying) to work in this country. Let me explain…
During the first two weeks of July BPM will be attempting one of it’s biggest undertakings to date: taking a group of 14 people into rural Nepal to conduct medical work and help with the building of the Moonlight Community Healthcare Center. For Kerausagawara village, this will be far-and-away the biggest influx of outsiders to ever visit and will re-enforce (in their minds, at least) our overall commitment and dedication to this project.
But working in the village will be the easy part. First, we have to get there.
Anyone that has been paying attention to the news of late might have noticed that there’s a bit of water flowing on the Indian subcontinent. In fact, there’s still more than 7000 people stranded in flood-ravaged Northern India- many in provinces that share direct borders with Nepal. The culprit is an early monsoon of huge intensity which has swollen rivers, dismantled roads and swept away whole communities. Needless to say, Nepal itself has also experienced a large amount of rainfall and finds itself in an equally precarious position.
Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the normal obstacles we face with travel to Kerausagawara: namely, a minimum 14 hour bus ride, followed by a few hours of steep hiking. It’s usually a dusty, bumpy, butt-numbing, sometimes dangerous experience. Now, let’s add a couple of weeks of heavy rains and swelling rivers to that equation and so begins our logistical nightmare of the past few weeks; one that can only be described as “Nepali flat”. What follows is an extremely abbreviated version of a conversation that has been running for almost 2 weeks now….
“So, the usual road we take in the Jeeps is unpassable you say? No problems, lets go another way”
“Oh, we can’t go that way because a bus slipped off that road last night?”
“Ok, well, lets think about this: how about we fly?”
“Well, we could fly, but they only fly to that airport on Wednesdays and Fridays”
“Ok, we can make that work…”
“Oh…And it’s a 1-2 day hike to the village from that airport”
“Mmmm…so what about this airport?”
“They can’t land at this one at the moment because of the clouds- it’s higher up, you know”
“Besides the flights cost more to this one. And the trekking is harder. And longer.”
“Oh….Ok, Ok, Ok- here’s an idea… wait for it, it’s a good one. What. About…: HELICOPTERS!?”
“OOOOOO! Yeh!, THAT’S a great idea!!!…I have a friend, who has a brother who’s cousin is in the Army. Lets ask them. Maybe, possibly or definitely they can help”
“Soooo, the private helicopter is to expensive. Much much too much”
“Um, yeh Ok…but what about the Army helicopter?”
“Oh that isn’t too expensive- it’s only about $US60 each”
“FANTASTIC!!!!…Let’s book it!!”
“Oh, we can’t.”
“Well, actually we can…but not until the day before”
“Well alright, that’s something we can work with”
“But we can’t book it this time…They’ve all been sent to help with the floods and nobody knows when they will come back….”
“How about we just go in Jeeps?”
“AAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!” (…followed by tears, sobbing and much teeth-grinding).
Hopefully, by now, the idea of “Nepali flat” as a description of this country is starting to take shape. Let’s not even begin to talk about the never-ending maze of visa approvals, government registrations, kowtowing to local ‘authorities’, materials acquisition and transport, or the fact that in the past 24 hours we’ve had word that they have been running test-flights onto an airstrip in a village only 2 hours away from Kerausagawara!!
In the end, these constant obstacles and ever-changing goal posts leave me with even more drive to help those on the ‘receiving end’ of such hardship and a great appreciation for those volunteers that sacrifice their time and money to come and help.
Stay tuned, it seems like this ‘adventure’ has only just begun!