Here is Chapter Eleven of Common Sense and Whiskey, the book. We're publishing each chapter here on the blog (Track down previous chapters here). You can order the entire book at Amazon.com, at BN.com, or direct from EarthPhotos Publishing. Here's the Kindle version (just $6.99). Click these photos to make them bigger. More photos and additional commentary are available at A Common Sense and Whiskey Companion. And here's the China Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.
Ashray Raj Gautam waited in the dark before dawn. Men worked under the hood of his Toyota Corolla while we stuffed our things in its trunk. We pushed the car down the hill to get it started, and little Gautam took us to a town called Banepa, north of Kathmandu. Mirja bought junk food, I bought cheap Indian whiskey, and Gautam disappeared.
We waited for a long time, and when he came back, Gautam had a confession. He did a sheepish, dusty little shuffle.
“We came here with no fan belt.”
He was sure we could get one in Banepa but he couldn’t find one.
“Excuse me sir, we have to wait for new car from Kathmandu one hour.” He went to find a phone.
So we were off, sort of, driving from Kathmandu to Lhasa. Our Tibet travel permits would be waiting at the border. The fellow who booked us said don’t bring pictures of the Dalai Lama (I had five), and don’t be surprised if the police follow you – they’re not too used to private visitors.
Banepa, Nepal, was a lane and a half of bad tarmac twenty kilometers outside Kathmandu, with twenty meters of dust on either side of the road, and businesses the length of town with their garage-door-fronts rolled down closed.
Buses bumped into the dust and blasted their horns. They shared the verge with chickens, goats, kids, bags of grain, metal rods and tubes, the general refuse, and us.
Two old folks worked the length of town with rough straw brooms, whipping up a dust tornado, moving trash from here to there to no use. Boys held up bread into the windows of the buses. They spit and coughed all the time.
It’s no surprise life expectancy is 55 in Nepal. In Banepa the air was opaque. You couldn’t even see the neighborhood hills. Forget the Himalayas, you couldn’t see out of town.