Nar Phu Trek: Maoist Tax and Aussie Songs: Day 2 of 16

dinesh wagle
I was feeling better on the second day. Pic by Brooke

This morning I was a new man. I wanted to walk. Feeling like doing something is different than actually doing the job. But I had to walk. Returning back was the only other option which I certainly didn’t want to choose. Come one, Wagle the trekker, returning back on the second day? The message would be too bad for the world trekking community (ha ha), I thought! Then I remembered my earlier trekking feats: Langtang and Gosaikunda, Kimathanka, Dadheldhura-Doti, Ghandruk-Ghorepani (and numerous other trails that are not in popular trekking maps). Hum… I am a great trekker. Thinking such things and encouraging myself, I kept moving while talking with the trek partners about everything from politics to the economy of Nepal. At one point I was asked about the interest rate in Nepal. Then I realized that I had forgotten to warn my friends not to talk with me about hard core economics.

Let me introduce Mathew William Yager (Matt) or “the nude Aussie” as he introduced himself in my notebook, here. The tall guy with one trillion tonnes of sense of humor and a portable guitar that probably weighted less then a kilo (I am not sure and I forge to ask), wanted to learn how to blog. I promised to teach him and started giving a few doses of instant ‘what-is’ on blogging: Why it is so much popular, how it is really easy to get your things published in the internet via blogs etc. A quick note from the first night: Inside the dining tent, Matt had demonstrated one of his skills- singing and playing guitar. He sang a song called The Big O upon Jennifer’s request. That was hilarious.

Wagle on the Kanak Ridge

As we return from Nar Phu trek, I pose for Wanda’s camera on the trail that passes through the ridge from where journalist Kanak Dixit accidentally fell a few years ago.

We passed through that treacherous ridge that I have named as the Kanak Vir. Celebrated Nepali journalist Kanak Mani Dixit had fallen off from there a few years ago. He was severely injured and survived with drops of waters for, I think, more than forty-eight hours. There were railings in place on the side of the cliff. Wanda and I guessed the exact point from where the silver haired activist might have had fallen.

It was so hot, inside and outside my body, that again I could feel that I was hardly dragging myself up to Bahundanda from where I made a phone call to my home and talked to my great grandfather Tanka Raj Poudel. I tried to make a few jokes out of Bahundanda (the hill of Bahuns). Bahuns are always clever, I thought, living in dandas and watching people all over from the top. But Bahundanda, at 1300 meters, wasn’t really tall compared to where we were heading for.

Tourists paying Tax to Maoists
A foreign tourist walks away from the Maoists after she gets receipt of the “tax” she paid to the rebels.

We arrived at a place called Jagat in the evening where Maoists were collecting money (they say that was “tax” by an autonomous regional government of their party) from foreign tourists and Nepali travel guides. Rs 100 per day for foreigners and a day’s salary for Nepali guides. I saw a guide strongly arguing with the comrade as to way should he pay them. Then comrades said it was voluntary. “If this is voluntary,” the guide replied, “I am not paying.” He didn’t pay.

Sorry Comrades
I am Sorry, Comrades: Maoists showed me this apology letter written by a foreign tourist last month (7/12). “He used very bad language against us and we made him say sorry in written,” said the cadre.

I took a few photographs and a video shot of the Maoist guy convincing tourists to pay the ‘tax’. I came back to the camping site, took off the shoes, bought a ballpoint pen in a shop nearby and went back to the comrades in action in flip flops to interview them. The conversation began when I slightly pulled out an identity card of a Maoist and inspected. He asked and I replied. I told them that I was a reporter traveling for fun. Before, I learned, they had taken me as a tourist when I was taking. Now they are clearly agitated. “You should have told us earlier about your identity,” one of them insisted. “You should have taken permit to take photos.” It was now my turn to fight back, verbally though. “Well, why should I reveal my identity and seek our permission to take photos of the activities that are of public interest and were happening in a public place? You claim to be running a peoples’ government and, as a citizen, I have the right to take photos of anything that is happening publicly. Plus, if a tourist can take a photo or shot video without asking, why should a reporter seek your permission?”

“We might have spoken inappropriate words,” the other guy said. “That will not be good.”

“Well, that’s your problem, not mine,” I responded.

Above is the video of a tourist talking with the Maoist ‘tax’ man.

Feeling the tension, the guy who was issuing the receipts and dealing with tourists while listening to our conversation intervened politely. Bodhraj Regmi, who identified himself as a district level cadre and a “road in-charge”, explained that it was my right, especially as a reporter, to take photos, to collect the facts and report them. He also told me in detail how much money they collect from tourists, why they collect (because the government, he said, needed money) and also shred stories of tensions with tourists in collecting “tax”. Some tourists are very haughty that they don’t want to pay the tax, he said. For such tourists, the comrade continued, “we try to convince them politely about our mission.”

“All kinds of people come and not all of them pay the tax willingly,” he said. “20 percent of them pay happily. 60 percent need a little bit explanation. 10 percent need pressure. Remaining 10 percent are really though. They just keep asking too many questions and say they are not here to pay the tax. They want to start debate. But we try to convince them. If they start moving forward without paying tax, we stop them and keep them with us for talks.”

“Do people return back?”

“Yes, there were two instances when two tourists returned back. They didn’t want to pay the tax.”

“Sometime we had to feed the tourists because they say they don’t have enough money to eat but came here because they really wanted to come. We have two such instances when we fed two Israelis.”

After receiving money, Maoists give tourists a receipt and a flayer that lauds the 19-day April Movement.

The Maoist cadre also said that though they were strictly enforcing the cease-fire rules announced in May, collecting tax was their right as they were running a new government.

Tourists paying Tax to Maoists
Wanda discusses with the Maoists and asks for guarantee that they will not levy tax in the route again.

I came back to the camping spot and, after listening to a few songs from Matt, had dinner. I was doing a story about guitar for Kantipur newspaper and here this guy was taking the musical instrument to the highlands of Manang and was playing every now and then. “Its romantic,” he said about the instrument. I had asked him why guitar stands out among the musical instruments and was popular among youths around the world. “And you become famous playing it. It’s easy to carry and suits for all kind of music.” Then he sang one anti-Australian government song. “Songs that convey message and songs that make you feel the life,” Matt said. “I like to sing those kinds of songs.” Cool dude, I thought. He aspires to record songs and bring out an album. Good luck.

I can’t play any musical instrument and I can’t dance either. That makes me feel bad. You need to have at least one such talent, I think. Anything. Dance, sing, play a musical instrument or recite poem. I lack all of them. I admire people who can dance but rarely dance! Some people might think dancing is just moving your body and bending the waist. For me, proper dancing is more than that.