06 June 2013

Sit and Spin - Kathmandu's Ferris Wheel

 No. It's not safe. And that's what makes it fun!

I had seen it from afar too many times to count, each sighting sending a chill up my spine.

I could see it poking up over some trees and buildings each time my taxi crossed the overpass between Ratna Park and the back way through Tapathali to the Bagmati Bridge, and I would mutter to myself, or to anyone else nearby: "I will ride that Ferris Wheel before I leave Kathmandu."

The problem was, I could never actually find it. The wheel in the distance looked positively monolithic from that one road, but no Nepali I asked seemed to know what I was talking about. As my days began to count down other priorities took over, and to be honest, I sort of forgot about my carnival goal. 

Until a few weeks ago. Kalina and I were drinking soda pop and attending a fair trade event at Exhibition Park when all of the sudden I could hear the delightful sound of children screaming in equal parts terror and glee. "I know that sound." I said, and as we turned a corner, there it was, looming up ahead - the ricketiest, tallest, positively scariest Ferris Wheel I had ever seen.

However, it soon became clear that this was a case of "so close, yet so far." The heat was unbearable, and Kalina and I already felt nauseous. We were rapidly losing our ability to withstand the muggy, woozy sun of midday, and we sadly turned back toward Lazimpath. "We'll come back!" We both exclaimed, but there was a part of me that knew that it wasn't going to happen.

That, my friends, is the look of glee. Glee!

A few weeks later I was gearing up to leave Kathmandu during my final week. The boy was back in town, and I was determined to show him some of the reasons that I find the city magical. We wandered through the back lanes between Thamel, Indra Chowk and Durbar Square and saw the Kumari Devi's house, the Tooth Fairy shrine and a 2000 year old Buddha. As we began to meander down New Road and we randomly happened to bump into Kalina and her roommate Katie.

It was still early, about 3pm, and we were all in good spirits, happy to be together hanging out with the lion's share of the afternoon stretched out in front of us. "Should we get a coffee?" I asked. Kalina's face lit up.

"Let's go. To. The Ferris Wheel!" It was settled. We started off on the sweaty walk to Exhibition Park.

Step right up, step right up. But mind the giant holes in the ground....

From just outside the gate, we realized that this was not simply a standalone Ferris Wheel - no, it was a small amusement park! There was a scrambler, a small dragon coaster, bumper cars and a merry go round...

....and there was the wheel itself. 

Up close, we could see that this was not just a normal Ferris Wheel - it was operating at roughly double the speed and the carts were wildly swinging back and forth. This was actually like, a ride, not just some county fair, Fern and Avery, easy-does-it, old timey snooze. My knees began to grow weak and a mix of excitement and dread - the amusement park feeling - began to build at the base of my neck.

I look like I am saying, "Ole!"

Once inside I was greeted by another wonderful surprise - an abandoned ride, its parts scattered on the ground. Now, I love beautiful old abandoned buildings, everyone knows that - but an abandoned carnival ride has got to be one of the most gloriously unsettling things I can imagine. I scampered over and immediately began exclaiming "Wow!" loudly, over and over again as I clambered on top and inside of the cars.  Ben, Katie and Kalina waited patiently as I examined them and fawned over the cogs and wheels like they were precious works of art. When I had finally had my fill, we walked over the the star of the show, the behemoth Ferris Wheel.

The child in the red harness was screaming and crying like she was being tortured, and it made me laugh like some sort of horrible sadist. But man, it was funny. I'm laughing just thinking about it.

I believe that it was at this point that Kalinka looked up and said simply, "Nope." No amount of cajoling or pleading could get her on that ride, but the boy and I were feeling more brave. We paid for our tickets on what was being hailed as the "Joint Wheel" and eagerly boarded the ride.

"This is either going to be much scarier or much less scary than we are expecting it to be." I announced.

The "Vaporizer" Wheel was closed due to neglect.

The Wheel began to spin, and within minutes Ben and I were calmly approaching the highest point of the axis. The view was stunning, as the ride reaches taller than most of the city's buildings, and we could see the entire expanse of the Kathmandu and into the valley.

"Um, I think it's getting faster." I said suspiciously, and he nodded.
"Yeah, the operator winked at me the last time we passed him."
"Oh god! Not a wink! You never want a carny to wink at you! It's like a gypsy kiss! BAD THINGS HAPPEN."

The ride did indeed pick up speed, and I was starting to examine the rusted joints, the extremely young, slackjawed staff and the flimsy pin holding our cart to the wheel. In a country that sits on a huge earthquake faultline and that has no safety inspections and no government, the last thing you want to start contemplating is the sturdiness of the 6 story Ferris Wheel that you are actually sitting on at the time.

My stomach began to drop each time we began the descent, and I was starting to feel nauseous, but at that point it finally began to slow down. As we neared the top for one final spin, I told Ben about the North American tradition of kissing your date at the top of the Ferris Wheel. He obliged, choosing a moment when none of the children or families on the ride were looking, as even a chaste peck is scandalous when in public in Nepal (totally fine to hold hands - or junk - with your buddies, though). 

When it was all said and done, I was happy to have gone on the Joint Wheel - but equally happy to get off of the Joint Wheel. While it may not be the largest, or the cleanest, or the safest - Kathmandu Fun Park offers thrills, one way or another. Now about those safety inspections.....

Public romance in Nepal? Verboten. Public bromance in Nepal? A-OK!


Pat said...

I got butterflies in my stomach just reading about your experience! Good for you for being brave and riding the "Joint Wheel". Me? My "joints" hurt too much to ride the Joint Wheel, plus, I admit, I would have been scared shitless. Just saying.

jason halway said...

This ride are very exciting to all child or young.You may feel a little bit nervous when ride it.It is the most interesting to me.