It is in the nature of communist revolutions, many scholars have noted, to screw up a good cappuccino. Lying on the hotel bed my second morning in Kathmandu, I find that the medicinal properties of caffeine have assumed heroic proportions in my jet-lagged brain. There was airport NescafÃ© in New York and London, anemic hotel java in New Delhi, and watery airborne muck everywhere in between. Now, all I really want from life is some strong coffee. While I wait for room service to deliver the cure, I try the phone number one more time. I’ve dialed it for a day with no results. The telephone system in Kathmandu is inexplicable. I can’t tell if I’m getting no connection, or no one is answering, or I’m dialing the wrong number.
If someone ever does answer, that person is supposed to know where the guerrillas are. The insurgents, elusive revolutionaries from the hills, call themselves Maoists. Nobody paid attention when this hard-line faction of communists declared a “people’s war” back in 1996. The guerrillas were almost without weapons, and did little more than organize propaganda rallies for poor farmers in Rolpa district and other remote western zones of Nepal. But they’ve earned a reputation for severityÂ—banning alcohol, cutting off the hands of hashish dealers, and forcing village gamblers to eat their decks of cards. And last September the revolution entered a new, militant phase. A thousand guerrillas appeared from nowhere to blast their way into Dunai, the remote western town that served as the gateway for Peter Matthiessen’s trek into Inner Dolpo in The Snow Leopard. The pace of attacks has picked up since then: This April the Maoists stormed two remote police outpostsÂ—known here as POPsÂ—in the western towns of Rukumkot and Dailekh. The posts were overrun at night by hundreds of guerrillas hurling homemade hand grenades in human-wave attacks. Seventy police officers were killed, some of them executed after they had surrendered. On July 7, another 39 were killed in three simultaneous attacks in Lamjung, Gulmi, and Nuwakot districts, west of Kathmandu. Smaller skirmishes are now a weekly event, as the Maoists drive the government out of whole swaths of the countryside, stripping the dead and the prisoners of rifles, ammunition, and shoes. With up to 5,000 full-time fighters, and as many supporters in part-time militias, the biggest problem the Maoists face is having more recruits than equipment.
Author: Patrick Symmes
Published: January 9, 2001