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109 days in Kathmandu
Sunday, 05 August 2007
We stayed a total of 109 days in Kathmandu – Patan. First of all to service our truck and replace a few essential parts. From April upto July 2007 we’ve seen a bit of the life in Patan, at the southern end of Kathmandu city. It’s been pretty good times, with many different episodes during our stay. Certainly we will try to come back and see some more of the life in the capital valley of Nepal. For now we had to go again, our 150 days visa expiring in 2 weeks with the heat and the monsoon waiting patiently for us. We stayed at the Janashakti Auto Workshop  located at the southern tip of Patan in the Kathmandu valley. With electricity, running (ground)water, security guards and shops nearby it’s a good place to stay for truck service or just park to see Kathmandu Valley.

Kathmandu is an excellent place to shop for electronic stuff, mainly from China. It’s shipped in by trucks loads coming over the Himalayas by road. The china market behind New Road in Kathmandu is an interesting place. iPods, Sony mp3 players, USB sticks, computer stuff anything which can be copied is there. Prices vary in great extend, if you’re looking for the real stuff, Kathmandu is probably not the best place to look.

For internet we used the GPRS service of Mero Mobile. For 1600 Rs we got 24 hr access per month, which is a pretty good deal. Looking at the GPRS service in greater detail, we experienced two continuous problems which the helpdesk was unable to solve. First was the DNS service unable to translate certain websites into the correct IP address. Second was some short of blacklisting of sites. In both cases, website not found – sorry! In total we has a list of 5 sites which dropped of the map every few days. Both problems could be worked around with Proxy servers. However with an average of 3-5 Kb/sec connection adding a proxy server doesn’t really help the speed. On average the service worked quite well, sometimes faster than the average internet café! And Janashakti Auto Workshop is close to a GSM antenna!

During our stay we extended our tourist visa’s to the maximum of 150 days. A pretty hassle free process finished the next day for 30 US$ for 30 days. The last 30 day extension needs extra authorisation but was issue’s without any questions asked. Even to stay a little longer upto 180 days there is an official loophole. Returning to Nepal in the same visa year (jan-dec) with some of the 150 days left it’s possible to get a free tourist visa for the remaining days upto 150 days. With this special entry visa another extension in Kathmandu is possible upto a maximum of 30 days. After that you’ll have to wait till January next year for another visit or overstay your visa.

Overstaying your visa results in a penalty of a few dollars a day. When showing up at the border with more than 3 days overstay, officially one should return to Kathmandu Immigration to get this sorted. (also at landborders) Depending of the reasons for overstaying an extra fine upto 50.000 Rs is legally possible – so having a good reason might help a lot. It seems it’s better to visit Kathmandu Immigration first before trying to exit on an expired visa. Or, you just might get lucky…

For any reason don’t try to extend a tourist visa beyond 150 days. Officially it doesn’t exist, because the rules don’t allow extensions beyond 150 days. (See the loophole above) For valid reasons like sickness there is the provisional visa procedure. However come well prepared and don’t take it lightly. When you can, involve your embassy to put things in writing. This makes a provisional visa request or overstay a diplomatic issue. You can also paper trail your request by officially registering your request in writing for a longer stay at the Kathmandu Immigration.

For those travelling with a vehicle, a carnet de passage is required. Officially when entering Nepal one should have the CdP stamped. Ours got stamped in the Bambassa – Mahendranagar border. Nepali customs don’t stamp the vehicle into passports so it’s possible to leave Nepal by air/land without car or any questions asked.
Also we heard stories from other travellers who didn’t get their carnet stamped on entry on main landborders. What happens when leaving? (might be more here later)

The official stance of Nepali customs is a maximum stay of 6 months for a vehicle in 365 days. To be on the safe side, a CdP year starts when entering Nepal. There have been examples of enforcement of this rule – so be careful. When your vehicle breaks down there is an official exemption to get permission for a longer stay. It involves a procedure where the police checks the credibility of the breakdown and sends an official statement to Nepali customs. It’s a lengthy procedure taking about several weeks – but it gets you and your vehicle in clear waters.

With our TATA compatible Benz truck we found out that not all truck parts are so easily available. During hydraulic brake service we had all rubber seals shipped by DHL, except for the brake cups for the rear brakes. Those are fitted on some TATA busses. Shipping by DHL is pretty quick, however Nepali customs can add a few days on delivery. On car parts there’s an average of 30 % tax above a value of approximate 100 US$. For shipments over 1000 US$ we’ve been told the TAX rate is even higher. Shipments are inspected also – so wrap parts transparently – so essential small parts don’t get lost due to opening of non-see through bags.

In June 2007 the annual water shortage hit Kathmandu. Water supply is interrupted more often and at some area’s get their water hauled in by trucks. Still many locals get their water from public water taps in the streets. On a daily basis we saw mainly women and children carry water canisters, buckets home at the end of the day. Janashakti Auto Workshop gets it’s water from a private groundwater well – we didn’t notice that much from being short on water however we realise it could very easily be different.

Electricity in Kathmandu is prone to loadshedding – capacity is not enough to supply the full demand. During a few hours per day sections of the city are switched off from electricity – sometimes only shortly. Everyone is pretty well equipped for such events. Candles, flashlights, car batteries, inverters and generators quickly put to use when the electricity is switched off. Life simply goes on, but work sometimes stops. That is for those where work depends on electricity, like where computers are involved.

With our white Sheppard Indra, the dog population in Kathmandu really catched our attention. Basically every place in Kathmandu is populated by dog packs with their own territory. The dogs are pretty social and they are usually fed by people in the area. This compared to dogs we’ve seen in Pakistan, Turkey or Iran – who are less sociable, more aggressive and being throwed stones at. Nights pass by with a lot of dog barking while territories are guarded with endless stamina. Without intervention we think the Kathmandu dog population will grow explosively in the years to come. As in any big city the dog catchers profession will probably peak somewhere in the future.

Bhand’s, strikes and roadblocks in 2007 is a normal daily life thing in Nepal. Usually somewhere round the weekend traffic is suddenly absent, people walk and bicycle the empty streets. It’s a pretty strange event and usually affected us no more than reschedule shopping or trucks repairs. Normality returns usually round 5 pm so everyone can get home, buy food and go on with life.

And when there are no roadblocks, there is petrol shortage. In June / July 2007 the Indian Oil Company cut supplies to 60 % almost immediately causing sold out petrol stations in Kathmandu. Reason was unpaid bills by Nepal – and partial payment was demanded before supply was back to normal. Supplying Petrol and Diesel is government business in Nepal. We wondered many times how unpaid bills could run up so high when there’s control over the retail price? Demand in Kathmandu is pretty high, given the long long car and motorcycle queues! Anyhow, life is such – and in time the situation was resolved. Till the next strike in the Terai hit fuel supply in Kathmandu again.

End of June we got invited by Irwin Bikram Chaudri to attend a convention of the Godavari Alumni Association (GAA – ) to discuss the current situation in Nepal. The GAA is the association of graduated students from the prominent St. Xavier’s School in Kathmandu. Many successful Nepali’s originate from this school and are pretty successful abroad and/or in Nepal. The convention had the topic “Towards a merit based society”. The intention was to discuss what St. Xavier’s Alumni could do as a whole to help Nepal progress with the 2007 situation as a starting point.

As absolute outsiders it was interesting to notice that there is quite a passionate platform among the 100-150 attending Alumni to make a big difference on this subject. A few hours of the convention was consumed by academic definitions of merit or a merit based society. What to do exactly as Alumni Association was left undefined. In the discussion phase there where many who suggested what to do (now) – regardless of the convention topic. Even so relevant was the question who are we as a whole? As in like what can we do given our current identity as a Alumni Association? As a follow-up a committee would be created to make a draft action plan. The convention was closed with a very catchy remark “the right man for the right job”. As in any country, society, business or community that’s a big (and maybe continuous) challenge. The have the (s)election system putting the right man on the right spot is a big merit on itself.

Leaving Janashakti Auto Workshop and Nepal after nearly 5 months didn’t come easy. It’s good living, people are very hospitable and are used to seeing foreigners.
Many many thanks to Irwin Bikram Chaudri, Diliph, Sam and the crew – we had a great time in Kathmandu, Patan and surroundings thanks to you guys!

The drive to India was eventful to say the least. The monsoon was in full swing – causing many landslides, slippery roads and many accidents with trucks and busses.
At some points we could nearly squeeze through a mix of a landslide and a truck crash.At Bahratpur / Narayangadh we had a contact through Janashakti Auto Workshop to show us the way to 20.000 lakes in Chitwan National Park to spend the night.

Probably we were the first driving this narrow road by truck – given the many low hanging branches and wires. After a drive through wet ricefields on a narrow farmer road we reached the gate of Chitwan National Park. The road got more narrow with trees on all sides. Nonetheless we reached the lake at 5 pm in about an hour from Bahratpur. A nice place to stay, however the place is full of wildlife. An overnight stay might cause an encounter with a Rhino thinking another Benz Rhino has violated his territory.
So we drove back to the gates– and tried to park there. But not before we got mega stuck in thick clay while turning. 4x4, difflocks didn’t help here – the clay ground sucked us in deeper and deeper. Our last option was our 10 ton hydraulic winch and the many trees around. After an hour of pulling in different angles we pulled ourselves out leaving a deep muddy clay track just before dark. We parked right in front of the gate of Chitwan National Park, which was already closed for the night.

After a humid, hot, rainy and sweaty night with a leaking roof we decided to find a place somewhere in Bahratpur / Narayangadh to dry. Not easy while with +90% humidity nothing really dries without strong ventilation. We got really really lucky. Through our contact in Bahratpur we got exceptional permission to park in the hangar of Shivani Air to fix the roof leak and to dry out the insides with ventilators. This while monsoon rains poured down heavily outside.

Shivani Air is the first fixed wing flying school in Nepal. The school is located in a brand new and excellent equipped hangar at Bahratpur Airport. We parked besides a shiny DIAMOND KATANA DA20-C1 single engine trainer aircraft. A real treat with a nice view over the runway. Shivani Air offers quality training courses for a Private Pilot License in 4 months and a Commercial Pilot License in 10 months. Hearing this we almost got tempted to stay another 4 months to try and acquire a Private Pilot License.

The training courses comply with all requirements laid down by the ICAO, FAA and DGCA. The licenses are issued by the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (NAAC) a state member of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Many many thanks to Mr. Gurung – Senior Manager Engineering and Mr Bashnet the owner of Shivani Air for this exceptional stay at Shivani Air – Nepals First Fixed Wing Flying School.

We left Bahratpur Airport round 9am and got escorted out by Mr. Gurung to Bahratpur city centre. From there we continued to Butwal through a few hilltops with landslides and the occasional monsoon shower. After Butwal the monsoon came down heavily for several hours. The rest of the day and part of the evening we drove - till we found a quiet petrol station just before Kusum. A pretty good place to stay – with catering!

The next day we continued through Bardia National Park. Not much to see this time the river was too wide to cross. A large crowd of children thought we had come to entertain them – leaving them very disappointed when we continued after a short peek at the wide streaming river. The riverside could be nice to spend the night though, however with so many children around it won’t be a particular quiet time to say the least.

Round 3 pm we hit a farmers strike – traffic congestion and many busses packed with people turning and backtracking. We just took our chances and asked if we could pass the roadblock. Without hesitation the roadblock was opened shortly and we could pass through in a big crowd of people. The road from here was packed with people walking – all because of the absence of transport. Many thought we drove a bus, and tried to stop us. We felt real sorry for all those people behind the roadblock – it seemed to us the strike hit the wrong people.

We stopped early that day at a sideroad near a big river. Again loads and loads of children – all dying to see the insides of our truck and not to forget Indra. Somehow we didn’t see sooooo much kids earlier when we entered Nepal earlier that year. Maybe it was a special day because of strikes. Being tired from driving such a large crowd was just too much – we closed the door and left them talking outside. Most of the group stayed till dusk standing, sitting, asking, waiting, playing, knocking and shouting for a glimpse of Indra. They left hesitantly in small groups – slowly, very slowly walking, looking back a million times to be very sure nothing happened without being a part of it.

After a reasonable quiet night we left Nepal at the Mahendranagar - Bambassa border. Again the CdP was asked for by Nepali customs and properly stamped. Our carnet was expired already (new one in the pocket) but it was not noted by Nepali customs. They might have done some secret counting of days but we didn’t see any trace of that.  

The Indian side of the border was changed recently. All the shops round the customs office where flattened making the whole area look like a wasteland. Maybe there’s modernisation at hand here! The Indian CdP procedure needed some explanation from our side, where to stamp / write what. Here they didn’t stamp our truck into the passport – a surprise! So that means leaving India by air is possible without any questions asked.

After 145 days in Nepal we hope to return in 2008!

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