Banged Up Abroad – Prison In Nepal
It was a cold and seemingly uneventful night in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu. The cold had left us with little want of the city streets and in need of a place to warm ourselves. We were a bit of a rag tag group. Earlier that day Dave had made his way from Pokhara, a small city in the West of the country about ten hours drive away through the low land Himalaya of the city sprawl that we were in. He had come to meet up with Cat and I for some trekking and some friendly faces. Cat and I had just returned from a twenty-three day trek from the small town of Jiri to the base camp of Everest, following the trail that took Sir Edmund Hillary and his faithful friend and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay to the peak so many years ago. Spirits were high as the blanket of stars appeared through the smog-filled streets beckoning us towards our dinner location for the evening. Having recently acquired 2000 Nepalese rupees ($40 Australian) worth of charras, a local derivative of hashish, the night was going to be a relaxed affair. So with dinner out of the way and a party killing curfew of 10:30pm fast approaching we decide that a movie back at the guesthouse was on the cards.
After a small detour to my shared room with Cat to roll a joint, Dave and I headed to the common room with the new James Bond movie in hand. Cat had opted to sit this one out due to stomach issues, so Dave and I headed on to the comforts of the lounge area with high expectations of the coming attraction. We sit to watch the movie in a room about 2 metres wide and about 5 metres long, but to our dismay the very cheap copy of James Bonds latest adventure skips dramatically. Not the last disaster of the evening I’m afraid to say. So with the movie well and truly unwatchable Dave and I decided to have a joint and call it a night. Being a somewhat bohemian cafe/guesthouse that we were staying in and the ever present lingering of other patron’s hashish smoke filling the hallways and eating area, we thought this to be nothing out of the ordinary. So as you can imagine, we were somewhat surprised when twenty policemen, two sniffer dogs and two camera crews barge down the stairs to our previously comfortable sanctuary. Through the shouting and the manhandling we could see that we were not going to be able to talk ourselves out of this one. This realization was confirmed with a very tight pair of handcuffs.
Later, in my prison cell surrounded by killers, kidnappers, drug addicts and a Tibetan monk, I was able to put the pieces of the puzzle together. This being how thirty or so police with media in tow managed to get past all the hotel staff without even the whisper of a warning to come our way – information that was passed on to the other more Nepalese looking patrons in the upper levels of the guesthouse. Seemingly earlier in that evening a fellow inmate of my current quarters had a prostitute in his room not too far away from the guesthouse in which I was staying with my companions. The police had knocked on his door after a tip off (prostitution is illegal in Nepal). The lady of the night had then tried to flee out the window and had proceeded to fall 4 floors to her early demise. This had sparked an outrage in the local media on how the police weren’t doing enough to stop all of the illegal activity in the Thamel area of Kathmandu. So out comes the raid squad with cameras in tow! Sending out scouts into surrounding guesthouses to find tourists smoking hash.
Apparently media blankets are up and running in Nepal, keeping the public out of the loop when it comes to real issues. Like the looming genocide of the Maoist government, who have reportedly (not by Nepali media) been using heavy-handed tactics to enforce that no other government parties can become large enough to oppose them. This information I learned from not only my fellow cellmates, but also due to the fact that the three of our faces lit up the local television sets within the hour of our meeting with the police.
Once the police had taken Dave and myself outside to the police jeep to be hurried to the station, I was beginning to think to myself how lucky it was that Cat had missed out on this whole ugly scene. But then to my dismay I see a disheveled and tired woman dressed in my clothes be escorted to the truck. I find out from her that they barged into our shared room and had found the remaining hash on the bedside table. So with news cameras headlights blazing unpleasant light on her sleeping eyes she is dragged from the comforts of our bed to join Dave and I. They didn’t even give her time to get into her own clothes and instead made her put on the first things she could find – a pair of my cargo pants and my favorite jumper.
A police holding cell in Nepal is generally made out of concrete. Wooden pallets covered in urine-soaked blankets lay on the floor next to a bucket that is supposed to be a bathroom. Fortunately though (for Cat) the rooms are segregated. The women’s side is better, but not much. Before knowing this I tried to insist that we all be in the one cell. A guard who didn’t speak English and who preferred to point a bolt-action rifle between my eyes than get a translator made short work of my plea. Both cells could have used a slather of kerosene and a match to better the living conditions. A fire would have been welcome for warmth since being the start of winter the temperatures dropped dramatically fast that night, and with shoes being left at the door so we couldn’t hang ourselves with the laces made it even colder. Needless to say, it was here that we would spend the night.