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Published: December 1st 2011
The weather in Pokhara had closed in again. For two days I was greeted in the mornings by grey fog-heavy skies, pathetic drizzle, and a noticeable drop in temperature.
And so, with a week left in Nepal, I excitedly booked yet another bus journey, the final one of this trip, from Pokhara to the bustling capital, Kathmandu.
The journey between the two main tourist hubs of this mountain realm is a well known six hour ride along the Prithvi Highway. As the road twists and turns around hair pin bends with terrifying drops below, altitude is gained all the way, ending in the relatively high-up city known as KTM, (which I always thought was a motorbike). Well known and a promised six hours it may be, however there was one more bus induced treat in store for me before I would arrive at my final destination. This junk yard reclamation project generously called public transport was to remind me once more of the joys of bus journeys in this part of the world. We broke down three times. The promised six hour journey turned into eleven and my fellow passengers and I alighted feeling refreshed, clean, and full of
the joys of life.
Arriving in Thamel pretty dirty and exhausted I smiled at the buses revenge for my writing a piece noting their ability to induce humorous travel anecdotes. I was punished for my impudence, but stocked with further ammunition to embellish my growing list of bus themed tales.
Thamel is like Pokhara on speed. Taking myself for a well earned beer I was politely introduced to the apparent 25% Tax that exists throughout Nepal on all goods, funny that I had yet to experience it anywhere except this hub of tourist fleecing opportunists? Not too keen on this new financial initiative I headed the next day for the small community of Boudha. Four kilometres outside Kathmandu this enclave has grown up around the largest Buddhist Stupa in Nepal. As I arrived I became aware of the cyclical nature of things. I had started this adventure in a predominantly Buddhist community, and now it seemed, I was to end it in one.
The Stupa itself is a magnet to Tibetan refugee communities, and also Buddhist Hill-Tribe Nepali groups such as the Thakils, Sherpas and Llamas. Throughout the day hundreds of traditionally dressed hill people and Tibetans
circle the monument in a clockwise direction offering their prayers and earnestly fingering their beads as they step. In the mornings the streets around the spiritual base are awash with tour groups, flashing cameras and diplomatic wives drinking coffee and chatting as if they were on the Kings Road, but in the afternoons the locals are left to themselves and you can experience a different Boudha. I found a lovely room at Pewa Guest House in the grounds of one of the fifty Buddhist Monasteries which inhabit the back streets surrounding the Stupa, and every afternoon would sit and listen to the horns, cymbals and chanting of prayers coming from within the red and gold temples. The sounds from these afternoon concerts transported me to the plains of Tibet and my imagined feeling of what it would be like to see the holy city of Lhasa. This sense of peace and history is further reinforced by the community being almost entirely made up of hill people, still dressed in attire from an older age. Men and women alike wore thick, heavy and brightly embroidered cloaks and extravagantly shiny fur hats coupled with hide boots and most importantly; prayer beads.
I stayed in this peaceful enclave for three days. Every day, on my little back street, I took Chai or ate Thukpa soup at Pasang Llama’s local eat house. Pasang Llama (Llama being the group name to which he belongs) is from the mountains north east of Everest and used to be a mountain guide before he got married and settled down. He, his wife and his sisters-in-law turn out cheap local specialities that far outshine the same dishes in tourist restaurants overlooking the Stupa which cost up to ten times more! But not only is their food good, but it was a real pleasure to sit with them and talk about issues such as teenage pregnancy, drug addiction (both huge issues in KTM) and the influence of the incoming Maoist government. They were keen to compare issues in Nepal with those in Europe and I was able to learn a little more about their lives in contemporary Nepal.
After three days of tranquillity, chanting monks and wind wizened old ladies I was ready for a re-introduction to city life and I headed back to KTM. Never wanting to visit Thamel again I headed for “Freak Street”. When the
overlanding hippies of the 70’s rocked up in this little mountain city this is the street they made home. It really is quite a cool little strip. It lies just off Durbar Square – a collection of royal buildings built between the 14th
Centuries where all the previous Kings of Nepal were crowned. Nepal no longer has a royal family and it’s a long time since any royals actually lived here as a new palace was built over a hundred years ago, but the architecture of Durbar Square is quite staggeringly beautiful and I spent a couple of mornings trying, and failing, to encourage my little digital camera to capture the grandeur of it all.
I picked my last guest house at random. It had been in the same building since 1972, had been a part of the dread-locked, pot-smoking, glory days, and had recently withstood a building next to it falling down in an earthquake! It was also, amusingly named “Century” as if in a final cyclical homage to my second home in Pokhara. Staying on Freak Street for my final three days I prepared for the coming of a new life in Amsterdam, but I
still managed to find time to make a little local eat house my regular haunt. Here I once again enjoyed being part of local’s lives on the street whilst enjoying Chai, Momo, and the best Samosas I had on the whole trip.
Nepal had been a phenomenal experience. It has a huge population but feels tiny and quiet in comparison to the giant of India shouting up from below. The people of Nepal are a beautiful kaleidescope – from the farmers of the Terai in the South to the Hill groups of the North, the immigrant Indians, Tibetans and the Chinese. It has areas where tourism dominates, in some areas this is appropriate, in others not, but it also has areas where tourism isn’t even considered and all of them are worth a visit. Nepal is also going through an interesting time, the people are eager to finally receive the constitution they have been waiting three years for, and to see the impact of the new Maoist regime in the coming years. I for one, will look in from the outside as an interested observer.
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