As I was flying from Chengdu, China to Kathmandu, Nepal – over the most spectacular vistas you will ever see from the window of a plane (8 of the 10 highest peaks in the world are in Nepal and they’re on glorious display), you might have thought I would be in a paroxysm of delight. And I was … sort of.
But I was also plenty cranky because we were flying over Tibet – where I was supposed to be going for three spectacular days, if my visa had not been rejected by the Chinese government. Yes, after I’d spend $200 to assure that my passport, Chinese visa, 30-day in advance Tibet visa application, confirmed flights, carefully crafted bio (in which I assiduously tried to avoid using the word “writer”) and thorough retinue of places I wished to travel was in order, China flipped me the bird.
Now, the fact that you even need a separate visa to go to Tibet, which China is obsessive about referring to as its own territory, adds salt to the wound of having to pay $500+ for a stupid Chinese visa … it’s like paying an arm and a leg for a USA visa, then having to pay extra to visit Montana (which would be totally worth it, btw). In any case, I was bitter about my aborted visit to Tibet when I could SEE IT from the plane… in fact, we landed in Lhasa and spent an hour in its militaristic little terminal.
To make my bitterness even more acute, my adjusted plans to visit additional Heifer projects in Nepal (after my last-minute rejection in Tibet) were jettisoned by threatened Maoist strikes throughout that country. So yeah, I was experiencing a little Global PMS (Post-Maoist Sh#$%t).
This dusty, frenetic city of 1 million people is wall-to-wall shopping, drinking, eating, building, bargains, music, stupas, shrines, westernized food, trekkers, scarily fit Europeans, aging hippies, buskers, players, monks and prayer wheels.
I also thought Nepal was a monarchy; but the King and his family were assassinated in 2001, and a Maoist revolution succeeded in 2006 (hence the strikes that truncated my project visits). This small landlocked country, sandwiched between the titans of India and China, is the only Asian nation never to be colonized and knows well how to walk the delicate line between diplomacy and independence.
Not to sound too tourist guide-y, but Nepal is a land of contrasts, from the rice paddies of Chitwan to the nosebleed peaks of Annapurna and Everest– and a country of constant surprises.
(But that’s tomorrow’s story.)