On the outskirts of Arket we came to our campsite, a school yard. A few drops of rain fell. A light shower, I thought would be very welcome in this heat. A moment later the sky fell in on us: thunder, rain and wind seemed to come out of nowhere and we fled to the shelter of a narrow veranda around the tin-roofed school and watched our campsite turn into a lake. Amazingly most of us had arrived. “Table man” as we called him, staggered in last, dripping under the dining table. A.P. our chief guide or Sirdir took charge. The school doors were prized open. One room was turned into our bedroom, another into a kitchen and dining area. Some of the porters climbed up onto the roof to mend the leaks in the tin, while Sheri, the cook, marshalled his minions and cooked us momos in the semi darkness. These are delicious little dumplings stuffed with spicy vegetables or fish. Soon we were safe in our sleeping bags on the tarpaulin covered earth floor. Almost asleep I heard Tony come in and say, “A.P. says there are Maoists here and they want to see us.” We thought he was joking at first. Poor Liz began to shake with fear and said, “I knew this would happen, I knew this would happen.” Penny and I calmed her down, and together we walked back to our makeshift dining room. The Maoists turned out to be two young fanatics, a spokesman and his side kick, who gave us a very long political lecture to explain their work of robbing the rich tourists to help the poor. He talked about the corruption in their country. “For example,” he said, “money which should go to help the poor areas, usually ends up lining the pockets of corrupt administrators.” He talked about their hopes that we would go back to our country and petition our government to put pressure on the king of Nepal to allow a democratic government to be elected. “They are very smartly dressed for poor Nepalis,” I thought, wondering where some of the money might go. However Tak, who became our spokesperson, treated them with great tact, and eventually we were allowed back to beds, our purses a little lighter. In the morning, after a further call from another Maoist and a further lightening of our purses, we were given a certificate as proof of payment, which we were instructed to show to other Maoists further up the track. This was insurance against further inroads on our finances. They know that the equivalent of £25 per head, is not too much put tourists off coming here, and is taken with usual Nepali politeness.
As we travelled further up the valley we became aware that many of the villages were either run by or were being helped by the Maoists. Where ever we saw the hammer and sickle fluttering like a prayer flag, we tended to find a more prosperous and well kept village. I found myself thinking that if Britain had such poverty and such a corrupt government, then I might be a Maoist.