Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Travel Traps and Drugs

I just heard a podcast on Democracy Now about a young, American woman's plight with police in East Timor and it reminded me of how so many come to Nepal, totally trusting that things will go well. They roll with most of what they travel into, but there are many, many traps that young people can fall into.
This is a familiar scene from the river near many temples.

A few years ago I hosted a traveler from the US who brought a few things for me from America. Although I was aware of the marijuana issues in Nepal, I had no idea about hard drugs here. Marijuana has been part of the Nepali culture for many generations and each year on Lord Shiva's birthday, generally celebrated in March, smoking marijuana is legal. However, the police are on the lookout a few days prior and Nepali who are caught with it can fall into problems. Tourists, too, can get caught up in it, so it's best to be very careful here about it. But it's plentiful and the majority of the young men are said to partake of 'ganja.' 

The reason for marijuana being illegal is most likely primarily due to the US foreign aid requirements. Additionally, marijuana use is associated with being lazy. You will see men dressed in yellow and orange going around collecting from businesses and passersby. These are sadus, a tradition that has come from India. They love to have their picture taken by tourists, but you will be asked to pay afterwards. Be sure to obtain the price of the donation prior to the picture. These men can often be found at Shiva temples; people bring them donations of ganja.

Pashupathinath on Shiva Ratri, very crowded on this day.

 All that being said, be careful not to fall into the 'hard drug' trap. From what I learned during my guest's stay about heroin was that it can be a real problem. First of all, heroin is available in Nepal for an unbelievably low price of less that $10 a pop. But falling into the drug scene in a country on the other side of the planet is a foolish thing to do. The local drug dealer will become your new best friend and will be there for you throughout the time needed to go through all your money. Western passports sell for a lot of money on the black market, so what do you think your new friends will be doing while you are flying high or passed out?

When this guy came to Nepal, my guest, I offered my driver for him for the day and they both went to Kathmandu. Soon I got a phone call that our tourist had disappeared. Apparently he had been in contact with someone online, other than me, because that night he had exploding poo. Soon, I was getting reports of him 'walking with someone who had just gotten out of jail.' He became an embarrassment until I could get him out of my apartment, which cost about $50 to have it happen without incident. As far as I know, he made it back home without formal problems.

Without your passport and money you can end up getting deported back to your country. When you are asked to leave Nepal you will not be given a free flight home. No, you will be housed in a special room while you call everyone you know back home to get the money for a flight home. You will not be allowed to fly to Delhi or anywhere else-just wherever your passport says you are from. You will not be allowed to come back to Nepal for at least two years and your passport will be stamped 'deported.' If you go traveling again you will be much more likely to be harassed in every country you enter until you get a new passport.

In the meantime, you will be living in a fairly small room with about 20-30 other tourists of your gender and paying for your own food. Hard drug use can also land you in jail and then court, as well, but I have not known anyone who had to go there. The government is still very weak from the recent civil war, so you would possibly be able to work with the local police via negotiations.

Tourist Police Station is in Kathmandu's Darbur Square (Hanuman Dokha)

Imagine the nightmare from such thing. Regardless as to your propensity for hard drug use, I suggest putting your embassy's consulate's number in your phone and get his/her involvement as early on as possible if problems arise. One tourist friend got into trouble for another reason and his consulate allowed him to stay with me while he worked on getting his ticket home. This is where coming from Europe or America will really come in handy.  My troubled, tourist friend told me about people in that room from Africa and Asia who were treated a bit differently. I do not mean to say that the police are anything but respectful in Nepal. I have never heard of a tourist from anywhere getting beat-up by the police or anything like that. Although you might run into a 'bad apple' I have never heard or seen the police be anything but respectful, helpful and polite to tourists. My advice would be to obey the laws and be as respectful as possible to any police officer. They work very hard and are holding the country together quite well, considering.

You should also put the tourist police phone number into your phone upon arrival. There will be someone there who speaks English and possibly your own language. Tourist Police: 01 4247041


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