Polling Day in Nepal

The locals had advised us to leave Kathmandu.

They said that all vehicles had been barred from plying on the road the next day, and that the shops were likely to be closed.

As such, we would be better off enjoying the cool and crisp mountain air in nearby Nagarkot, a village with unrestricted views of the Himalayas which is slightly more than an hour’s drive away from Kathmandu.

And the occasion: Nepal’s second Constituent Assembly elections which took place last November.

Nagarkot

After thinking it through, we decided to heed their advice and head for Nagarkot.

Besides, it’s not like we needed much convincing to see the Himalayas.

Upon arriving at Nagarkot, we had a walk around the village to take in the Himalayan views and then settled down for dinner at our hotel, Niva Niwa Lodge.

With Shyam Kayastha, a human rights observer from the Human Rights and Peace Foundation

And it was there that we had a chat with its owner, Shyam Kayastha, who offered to drive us around the polling stations the next day to observe the election.

He was a human rights observer from the Human Rights and Peace Foundation.

And given that the prospect sounded very interesting, how could we reject his offer?

So we arranged to meet him at 7am the next day.

Polling Day in Nagarkot

Over the next few hours, he drove us to the various polling stations (mostly in schools) around Nagarkot.

And it was indeed an eye-opener.

Polling Day in Nagarkot

Scores of voters milled outside the polling stations, and inside, we could see people casting their votes under the watchful eyes of soldiers.

Truly a front row seat as history unfolded before our eyes.

Polling Day in Nagarkot

And it added an interesting dimension to our trip, which was already chock full of highlights such as a trek through the Himalayas and strolling through the atmospheric towns in the Kathmandu valley.

Which is why I think it’s worthwhile paying some attention to the news while travelling.

Trekking in the Himalayan foothills

Though our visit to the polling stations in Nepal were somewhat led by circumstances, I knew what to expect when I flew in to Mumbai back in 2009.

It was 26 November – the one year anniversary of the Mumbai attacks which killed 164 people and wounded at least 308.

Reminders of the 2008 Mumbai attacks

If you don’t recall, the 2008 attacks were twelve coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting four days across Mumbai, by members of Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Checking the news, we found out that there were commemorative events across the city on the one year anniversary.

And we made our way to some of them.

India marks first anniversary of Mumbai attacks

Our first stop was the Gateway of India, which is next to the Taj Mahal Hotel, one of the sites of attack.

Crowds were milling around the area in front of the hotel.

Mumbai residents marking the anniversary of the terror attacks

Some held banners to denounce the attacks, while teachers brought students there to explain what happened.

There were also more than a dozen television news crews giving round-the-clock coverage on this significant date.

Being obviously foreign-looking, we were interviewed by some of them, on live TV no less!

Interviewed by Focus TV

We also made our way to the other sites of attack, like the Café Leopold and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.

But the main commemorative events took place at night, and it was then that we saw candlelight vigils and prayer sessions.

Candlelight vigils in Mumbai

Not exactly your typical fun-filled holiday, but we did get a sense of the resolve, resilience and solidarity of the people in Mumbai.

And in that respect, it did feel like we managed to scratch beneath the veneer of tourism, and gained a better understanding of Mumbai, superficial as it may be.

Candlelight vigils in Mumbai

But keeping track of the news doesn’t mean just being aware of solemn events which grab headlines.

There can be more frivolous reasons.

Chinese rocker Wang Feng’s concert in Tianjin

Like the time I found out about Chinese rocker Wang Feng’s (aka Zhang Ziyi’s boyfriend) concert in Tianjin.

I had an early morning flight out from Beijing the next morning, and though Tianjin is only about half an hour away from Beijing by high-speed train, attending the concert meant I would miss the last train.

And taking the earliest train the next morning meant I would miss my flight.

But still, I wanted to attend the concert, and I didn’t want to change my flight.

Chinese rocker Wang Feng’s concert in Tianjin

So I arranged for a taxi driver to pick me up at 4am in Tianjin to bring me to Beijing Airport.

Sure, it’s pricey (close to S$100 if I don’t remember wrongly), but hey, I’m on holiday.

And the concert was amazing!

Downtown Tianjin