Tiptoe through the tulip rickshaw through the riot

Trip Start Dec 28, 2004
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Flag of Nepal  ,
Tuesday, December 20, 2005

this is going to be a long one so get comfortable. and to begin with i should say that im safe and sound and in one piece despite the past few days. so i was residing outside of chitwan national park and decided to pack up my bag (forgot my battery charger AGAIN!!) and head down to India. I knew this was going to be a journey that would fray my nerves mostly because it was a 5 hour bus journey to the border and then going through customs into India where I would have to catch another 2 hour bus to the nearest city with a rail hookup and then a 14 hour train ride into Delhi. Even if everything went perfectly, life would be very unpleasant for the next day or two.

my first bus was leaving at 9am so I got my wake up call at 8 and brushed the teeth and went down to have breakfast with this older British couple that I had met the day before. Having said goodbye to them I jumped in the back of a jeep and rode the 10 kilometers to the bus "station". First sign of trouble was that the bus I would be riding was not a tourist bus or even a long haul nepali bus but instead was a friggin local bus packed with school kids starting off for the morning. Not that I don't just adore kids but the fact that its a local bus means that its going to be stopping every minute or two to drop people off and pick them up...For 5 or 6 hours! After squeezing my sizable bottom into a seat we started off with the arduous task of dropping every nepali child in the country off at school,or so it seemed. After about an hour we had traveled about 15 kilometers (8 miles) and had reached the nearest largish city. This is where things went bad.

by the time we reached the city there were only 5 people on the bus and I figured we would be doing pretty good time now that we had gotten rid of the children. Well of course we stop at some little shop in the city and I figure its to get some chai (tea), but we are sitting there for about 30 minutes which is pretty bad even for the nepali standards. Well im starting to get impatient and irritated mostly because this is just step one of a LONG trip and it was not starting well. Finally the bus starts and we chug down the road, through some back alleys and further into the city. As we drive, I look up and notice that there seems to be a good number of fires burning in the city this morning. im not talking cooking fires either, but instead, thick black smoke rising from 3 or 4 different places in the city and of course we are headed right for one of these spots. Well no worry because we have stopped again and the driver gets out of the bus. Now I am thoroughly pissed off, I mean I have been traveling with these people for 2 hours and have gone 15 kilometers, what the hell kind of country is this? No wonder its still 3rd world, no one can get to work for gods sake!

so you have to picture....I am the only westerner on a nepali bus that is stopped in the middle of a city, no other westerner in sight and no one that speaks english. After sitting around for about a half hour I walk up to see what the fires are about and see that one of the police shacks that they use as checkpoints has been set ablaze along with other smaller fires that are in the middle of the street. Nothing too serious really so I head back to where the bus is. As I sit and try and figure what my next move is going to be I notice that NO vehicles are moving on the street. Well the occasional bike rickshaw will motor past but all the trucks and buses are pulled onto the side of the road and just sitting. After awhile, one at a time,they begin to pull into alleyways and off the street. I think it a bit odd and then I hear a noise that can only be described as "crowd noise" and I look up and see about 1000 nepalis running down the street in full sprint. The running would taper off until everyone would stop and then....Turn, pick up rocks and chuck them over my visible horizon at foes unseen. Well that's definitely interesting but nothing to worry about really, I mean every day life is going on all around me just 2 blocks from the rock throwing. People eating lunch and fixing motor bikes and having conversations with one another. As I look around I begin to FEEL how western I am. The best way I can describe it is if you were in a really bad neighborhood in Chicago....You just don't belong if you know what I mean. People would look at me and talk to their neighbor without breaking eye contact with me. The nepali people have always been really friendly and quick with a smile but there were no smiles to be seen by anyone who cared to notice me.

as I watch the people next to me and their apparent unfriendly nature, the people with rocks have turned and begun to run again,only to turn and charge back the way they came. It was definitely a game of push and shove with one group taking chunks of city blocks from another, back and forth. The only thing was that I couldn't see who they were battling with. This went on for about a half hour and each time the group came running in my direction they would run a little closer to where I was standing. By now im not even pissed about my travel delay, I have come to the conclusion that I need to get the hell out of here. The problem is that there are no taxis...No cars...No buses...im stuck, and to top it off, I look up and finally see the second group of combatants and wouldn't you just know it.....Shield and stick wielding police. ahhhh a full blown riot, hadn't been in one of these for awhile.

the game of give and take kept up for another 30 minutes or so, each time the group of protestors coming closer and closer as they fled from the nightsticks. Finally they reached some invisible barrier and every single shop owner closed his rolling steel doors at the same time, locked them and then disappeared. The every day life that had been going on had stopped completely and now people were peering around corners and standing in groups watching the flames in the distance. I suppose it was just a matter of time but the group that was throwing stones finally reached where I was standing and then just kept on running...Followed soon there after by the police who were chasing them quite enthusiastically. both groups passed by me as i stood with my back against a wall (quite litterally). i really didnt have any idea what to do as i found myself a few feet from some really pissed off cops with sticks (first time they werent pissed at me though). the surprise came when the police finally passed....there was a group of protestors behind THEM and i guess chasing or moving forward and towards the police...its all a little muddled but all i know is that i was now ass deep in rock throwing youths. i mean i know im jewish and this sort of thing is in my roots but come on! so of course out of nowhere tires appear and are laid in the streets and now i understand the black smoke. it is surprisingly easy to start a tire fire i have learned. now that im in the middle of the protestors im pretty sure im in some kind of danger...im not sure which group would like a shot at me but i have a distinct feeling i need to leave. i kind of sheepishly back down the alley that my bus has pulled into and stand there for about another hour watching truck loads of police unload into the streets. finally a nepali guy asks the question ALL nepalis ask...."where you from?" well thank god this guy is a bike rickshaw driver and offers to take me out of the battle site and try and find a ride BACK to the hotel i left this morning.

I climb aboard the rickshaw and let me just say that i never feel comfortable on these things just because you have some guy working his ass off to tote you around. well now we are cruising through town, past burning tires and masked youths...past the police with the sticks and sheilds...it was quite the surreal experience sitting on a rickshaw through a riot. all i need was some trippy music and the scene would be complete. we went about 6 kilometers to the bus park for the city but lo and behold there are no buses or taxis....a general strike has been called....for the entire friggin country. no one is going anywhere. this guy offers to rickshaw my ass another 20 kilometers to my hotel and what choice do i have really so we start off on the journey but only a few minutes into it he is able to wave down a speeding mini van that turns around and agrees to give me a ride for an exhorbanant fee. all in all i was gone 6 hours and went 0 miles. upon arrivng, the british couple were surprised to see me and the staff were also quite shocked. when i tried to explain what had happened they all nodded their heads (staff) and one showed me the morning paper.....seems the day before a soldier had walked into a temple and gunned down 19 people for no particular reason...there were riots all over the country and the entire place was shut down. at least for that day. my hands are tired from typing so i will relate part 2 next time......like i said...im safe and unhurt
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