What a roller coaster. Where to begin. Coming to Nepal really came down to the wire because of the political situation. We had been watching things closely in the news and also communicating with our travel agent back home about whether or not our tours were going to be running. We had decided to book organized tours for Tibet and the Annapurna circuit in Nepal precisely because of the political situation (we are generally more fond of independent travel), as we felt that having people on the ground during political instability would be the way to go.
For those who may not have been following, there has been a 4 week build up in Nepal consisting of ever larger rallies and protests against the self installed Monarch who stripped the country of it's fledgling democracy a couple of years back after the majority of the royal family was murdered by one of the crazed cousins. The new king had seized power to try and control the Maoist rebels in the country, and in doing so, he created a new constitution and dissolved parliament. The Nepalese people saw their democracy slipping away. Finally, during this last week, things came to a boil and the people had stormed Kathmandu, paralyzing the city. The Monarch and the army responded with force, installing curfews, and restricting movements. Some were killed, but all tourists were still OK. By last Wednesday, it looked as though the country would slip into revolution. We were due to fly in on the Friday.
Then, almost miraculously, on Thursday at just after midnight, the king made a new announcement that he would re-instate parliament, and the protesters, represented by a 7 party alliance, would be allowed to select a prime minister. A massive protest rally planned for Thursday turned into a massive celebration.
We were thrilled, as we thought this meant that everything would be fine in Nepal for our tours and we felt a sense of relief as we boarded our Royal Nepal flight the next day. I kid you not, there were 38 people on the plane - I counted them - and only 10 of us were tourists, so this gives you an idea of the affect the recent news had on tourism. Our first reaction upon entering Nepal and coming into the city of Kathmandu was that it was just like India, only softer (aka India "light"). It was very hard to tell that only a couple of days before, the entire place was in chaos and the military were beating people back in the streets. All except for the strong army presence still patrolling with rifles all over the place - I guess that was a sign. Still, there was a strange sense of elation in the air, the people were happy - they were opening up their businesses, and just glad to be back. One could not help sense that every individual was walking around with their chest puffed out, as though they were the prime minister, and had just created a new beginning for all. The pride with which the people are owning their democracy is palpable. They feel they stood up to darkness, and won. It's an amazing surreal sight/feeling being here right now as history is made.
Nevertheless, there was chaos - but it was ours. I woke up Saturday morning to an E-mail that said all our tours were cancelled! Damn - our agent in Vancouver said this would be highly unlikely (things had to be really bad) and we had received no word by Thursday, the day things turned around. We found out after some digging and contacting the local rep from the tour company that they had made their decision to cancel on Wednesday (when things looked really bad) and the information didn't flow to our agent in Vancouver and to us until Saturday morning - the day before the tour. Our hearts sank. If we had known in Bangkok - we might not have come. What to do now?
We decided to work directly with the local agent and try to make things work. Long story short is we are still going to Tibet and doing the Annapurna circuit, only we are doing them in the reverse order. We will be heading out on the Annapurna on Monday the 1st of May. The local agent did a great job getting us sorted and he told us amazing stories of his experiences over the last few days including sleeping on the floor of his office with his co-workers as a result of the various curfews being imposed by the Monarch. He was beaming with pride in telling us how proud and happy he was that he was a part of creating a democratic future for his country. We felt a strange sort of respect when we congratulated him personally on helping create his country's future, and he seemed very proud. We take our political stability far too lightly in Canada, and one only has to speak with a fellow like this for a few moments to realize it. I was nearly speechless.
Our crazy day ended with a visit to one of the local stupas to take in some of the views and culture. It almost seemed pointless compared to the rest of the roller coaster we experienced today, but sometimes the sights are not the ones you see with your eyes, rather they are the ones you feel with your heart.
PS - the "planet" will likely be out of touch for a number of days as we are out on the Annapurna trek. Please don't abandon us! We will return with more stories of altitude and alligators in short order. OK, I'm lying about the alligators, but I needed a word that started with "a" to make the rhyming work.