Wheels and Flags of the Prayer Variety

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March 12th 2012
Published: March 12th 2012
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It seems as though we have chased the sunrise all around India, and we’re starting to feel the effect of those early mornings now. Bleary eyed and weary bodied we left our beds in Delhi to be at the airport three hours early rather than the customary two. The reason for the extra hour was down to the maddening experience we endured at Bangkok airport as we were destined for Calcutta; only three Indian men were boarding the flight before us, but in addition to their vast amount of luggage (much of which they wished to pass off as hand luggage), including but not limited to flat screen T.V.s, plastic bags filled with beer cans and a yard brush (!?), they brought with them an entourage of at least twenty people, all of whom crowded and interfered to the extent that a security guard had to be called to shoo them away. Slowly but surely they crept back to the desk, one by one, only to scatter once again at the reprimand of the largest Thai man I have yet to see. Unsurprisingly, as we boarded the flight, the tiny Thai flight attendants, red-lipsticked and hair-bunned, fought against the swell of baggage in the overhead lockers (watched unapologetically by those responsible).

We arrived at our destination in no time at all. Kathmandu; Capital city of Nepal. We were greeted by the owner of our hotel and as per the custom, found ourselves wrapped in a scarf as a demonstration that we were welcome. All we could think of was our beds, and that is where we passed the following few hours as we waited for our fathers to arrive. It had been little over three months since my father visited us in Vietnam, but I was excited nonetheless. Chris however, hasn’t seen his father since leaving England after our brief stay, about ten months ago. We were obviously delighted to see them as they arrived in the afternoon, and as the good fathers they are, they came bearing gifts! My Dad had fulfilled my request of a cheese and piccalilli sandwich! Perhaps an odd request but such a treat! (For those unfamiliar with the phenomenon that is “piccalilli”, it is basically a dressing comprised of pickled onions and cauliflower in French mustard. Now that I think about it, I’m quite the hypocrite for my distaste of the Korean’s Kimchi... Anyway, it’s delicious.)

That evening we took to the streets of Thamel to satiate our empty bellies, and to quench our fathers’ thirsts with a varied selection of Nepali beers.

The following day we did not venture too far but browsed the shops of Thamel, of which there are very many, each selling the same old stuff. We bought gear in preparation for hiking and took care of some housekeeping such as acquiring TIMS cards (necessary for any hikers venturing independently), and also ACAP cards allowing entrance into the Annapurana Conservation Area. In a few days time Chris and his Dad John would depart for the town of Besi Shahar and from there begin an extended hike known as the Annapurna circuit, ending up in Jomsom approximately twelve days later. I myself am incapable and more so, I am unmotivated for such an undertaking. Dad, an avid mountaineer, chose to stay behind with me and we made plans to trek to Poon Hill (Gandruk- Gorepani), a four day circuit.

Chris and I left home primarily in February 2010. It’s been the two of us together for more than seven hundred days now, and it’s not the challenge it might present itself to be. Not nearly. Every day I spend travelling with Chris is nothing short of a joy and I’ll miss not having him around; the Robin to my Batman (which I can write freely just to irritate him as he won’t have the opportunity to read this blog before I publish it! Oh, the joys of creative freedom!)

Once our affairs were in order we strolled through Durbar Square and to the area known as “Freak Street”, famous for... the “Freaks”; self titled, alternative folk easily distinguished by their dreads and lack of footwear. Particularly in India we have wondered about this genre of traveller; how do they present themselves once their visas expire and they are forced to return to their desk jobs? Answers on a postcard if you please.

The following days we went all cultural and headed for the well preserved ancient city of Bhatkpur, for which there are now steep entry fees to pay once you pass the gauntlet of persistent “guides”. The city is very attractive and quaintly photogenic, however touristy, but should you wander from the obvious route toward the smaller, less-kempt side streets the residential areas feel more organic and therefore were more interesting. Typically, small children asked to be photographed, and we responded accordingly, telling them just how beautiful or handsome they looked in the picture. “Hellooooo Tourrrrist”, they shouted in that rolling lilt of an accent. Old women watched from second story windows, boys played card games and girls held hands, smiling as they passed by.

Day three and we were still checking off the tourist “To Do” list. Happily, I might add. A flip of a coin dictated that first we would head out to Pashupatinath; a poor man’s version of Varanasi with its burning ghats. Having so recently visited Varanasi, had it been just the two of us, we may not have visited Pashupatinath at all, but felt it would be an interesting experience for our Dads. My Dad, Ste, though willingly accepting of the difference in culture, felt that our presence at the cremations were invasive, and it’s easy to see why when the bus load of Chinese holidaymakers arrive in a flurry of camera flashes.

Being a spiritual place there were many Sadhus around, as you might expect. They sat about, eccentrically dressed, advertising themselves as photographic models; 100 rupees per shot. At that rate their annual takings must be on a par with the infamous Ms. Moss. It is my understanding that Sadhu’s are men undertaking a spiritual journey of enlightenment; doesn’t seem like much of a journey to me, sat around on their lazy backsides all day with their hand out. But, each to their own I suppose...

Next, we took a taxi to Swayanbhnath, also known as the “Monkey Temple”. From a Hindu holy site to a Buddhist temple; it is an allegory for the religious temperament of Nepal, where Hindu- and Buddhism are intermingled, effortlessly. The driver offered to take us around the back but I took it upon the four of us to enter via the Pilgrims staircase, a decision I was soon reminded had been mine, as we puffed and panted up the steep steps. Here we found prayer wheels and colourful prayer flags, both icons of Nepal. A tall white stupa stood centrally, surrounded by butter lamps and a far-reaching view of the city of Kathmandu, similar in appearance to having thrown a huge handful of brightly coloured sweets to scatter and fall where they might land. We sat in a rooftop restaurant and drank tea, a perfect vantage point for photographing the many eagles soaring overhead, but it was not long before we were ambushed by a hungry and hostile monkey; our cue to leave.

We would depart Kathmandu the following morning. In a moment of spontaneity Dad decided that we would take a flight around Everest before we left, a thrilling experience I will tell of in the blog to follow. To save time, we planned that the car taking us to the airport would continue on to Pokhara so that we would not have to wait another day to catch the bus. But our plans were spoilt by a protest rendering the roads impassable. We could not leave until 3pm, at which time we said our goodbyes, and headed our separate ways.

Dad and I arrived in Pokhara in the dark. It was quite worrying to have passed not one but two upturned buses on the way, and to have come very close to skidding off the road as our driver took a corner too fast, but we made it in one piece.

We will return to Kathmandu to end our time in Nepal, but by this time our fathers will be back in England, and no doubt we will be missing them. It’s a dusty, sprawling city, Kathmandu, and not how I had imagined anyplace in Nepal to be in the time I had spent romanticising it; this, the home of the Himalayas. (That is, of course, before I’d researched and read up.) In the early days of our trip Nepal was not on the agenda, but being saved for “another day”, only to be dreamed of in the meantime. I for one am already very happy to have sacrificed a visit to the more expensive continent of Australasia in exchange for Nepal.

After four days in the city we were longing for the snow-capped mountains...

Additional photos below
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12th March 2012

Amazing first photo
I would love your cover photo for this album to be on my wall. Your camera catches such amazing detail, and you obviously have a very creative eye. I also love the "street scene," the lighting is so surreal. Much love.
18th March 2012

Thanks Dan!
That's quite the compliment, thank you! Continue to enjoy your own travels :)

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