At the end of September it wasn't that bad in Kathmandu. The blockade hadn't been going for very long and the taxis rates were up about 30% at worst. Traffic was heavy, exhaust and dust filled the air. Leaving to the KTM airport, my taxi was 3x the normal rate early in the morning when traffic was still low. Even during rush hour, the traffic was uncharacteristically sparse and the air was distinctly breathable. The petrol lines were often backed up for 1km or more, resulting in massive taxi camps. If driving is one's job, then all there is to do is to wait for gas. Restaurants are forced to cut items from their menus that take too much gas to cook, so in many places you can only get rice and curry. Coincidentally, I had the best curry ever in a Mexican restaurant that couldn't cook the Mexican dish I ordered.
I took a trip south of Kathmandu valley to the border town: Birganj. I wanted to see if anything photographic was happening. Birganj is dirty. Questionable hotels, questionable transportation, questionable curry. It's dirty and the air is worse than Kathmandu. Little specks of policemen dotted the streets, carrying 60-year-old pea shooters; not a match for rioters. In many of the border cities there had been riots, protesters killed by trucks breaking the blockade, and an incident in which something like a dozen policemen were butchered and impaled on pikes. But in Birganj it was very quiet. After all, Dashain was on and people were celebrating.
I was unable to get to the area where the blockade was. It was a little bit into the Indian side of the border, beyond my reach. The best I got was to witness a procession of demonstrators heading south through town. There were bikers waving black flags and rusty khukri knives followed by trucks, tractors, and buses brimmed with local supporters of the blockade movement. They were of a celebratory mood. A truck passed with speakers blaring, two dancing girls performing for the rowdy squad of partisans. I presume they were transporting demonstrators to the blockade to swap places with those who had been sitting on the border for a few days; a personnel rotation. It seemed routine to the police and everyone; something that they had gotten used to. I watched the last of the tractors and trucks disappear past the gate to India, then return with much quieter passengers.
I left later that night as I could feel the onset of a fever that would put me down for about a week, better to face that in a more hospitable area. The bus set out 3 hours late after all assigned-seating quarrels and mechanical issues were settled. My companions for the bumpy ride back to Kathmandu valley: a sleepy young man's magnet of a head on my left shoulder, and a large reeking petrol can.
Failed journalism and sickness aside, it was quite a nice trip. I spent a lot of time with a dear friend, and I got to see a bit of Nepal. The nature is beautiful and the cities are kinda gnarly. Many people seem to be reluctant to go there, for fear of safety, or because they think everything got knocked down. Really, NepaI is very safe and there are is a massive tourism industry that hasn't stopped working. People are still going there for treks, climbing, and volunteering. The country is addled by infrastructure problems with the fuel crisis and winter as insult to injury; so what Nepal needs is for tourists to come and spend money. That's the best way to help.
I do wish I'd made arrangements to go to the Everest camp or another long trek, but realistically my traps got pretty kinked after just two days of trekking with a small pack. I think I need to get something fixed before I attempt two weeks of high-altitude trekking. Maybe another time. Back to work.