Rohit Chandra

Nepal

REPORT ON NEPAL

  • I arrived in Kathmandu on Dashain – the biggest annual festival in Nepal, noticed people everywhere walking around with these humongous, red-blob-like-tikas
  • Nepali hats galore! 🙂
  • Kids swinging off distinctly, unique swings: hanging from 4 really long arched bamboo poles that meet in the middle
  • Bright colored attire of women especially the red, red, red saris!
  • The Kingdom of Nepal has what is called a Constitutional Monarchy.
  • The King himself applies a tika to the forehead of all subjects in an open court on Dashain day – all day! [Dashain is definitely worthy of an aricle in itself with LOTS of ritualistic animal sacrifices practised with fervor and fanfare – to this day!]
  • Later the same evening visited (old town) Thamel and had a fantastic Nepali meal with Nepali moonshine – on this big festival day.
  • And then I got to gamble in the biggest & best casinos of Nepal. Interestingly enough Nepali citizens are not allowed to gamble – gambling is for foreigners only – go figure?
  • The city of Kathmandu itself is rather filthy with trash, dust, & garbage everywhere 🙁
  • Lots of stray dogs. (Thank god this isn’t Korea 😉
  • All the street signs, signboards etc. are in English yet the license plates are all in Devanagri script – hmmmmm…
  • And lots of tractors drawing trailers
  • …driving on the left hand side of the road
  • The traffic cops were wearing pollution masks: a piece of square cloth strapped across the mouth & nose (ala Jain munni); looked like they were standard issue – part of the uniform.
  • Dangerous, undivided mountain highways with who knows how many daily, & routine fatalities – no really! 🙁
  • Typically buses, trucks and even large commercial lorries have multiple bright colored and often-faded ribbons tied radially from the center-bottom of the front grill to numerous points’ front & top of the cab – a series of “V”s if you will, with differing angles and a singular apex 🙂 Sometimes it is just a single “V” – all crossing over the windshield and blatantly obstructing the driver’s view.
  • Honking and blowing the horn at every bend on the road & then some! 😉
  • Different notes are generated with varying levels of insistence to communicate varying intents amongst the drivers. 😀
  • Right indicator is often given by a vehicle, to let the driver of the vehicle following it know that it is ‘ok’ for him to pass (from the right!)
  • The drive to Pokhra along the Trisuli river was truly breathtaking:
    • …with frequent and long suspension bridges for foot-traffic across the river, and even a: wirebridge! A single steel cable stretched taunt across the Trishuli River. Do they monkey crawl across? 😉 Many of them do, there’s also a manual trolley basket on the wire – pulled along by sheer muscle power of the persons riding in it.
    • Banana, and Papaya trees by the way side.
    • Occasional egrets.
    • Lush green fields and mountain slopes with step farming of rice/paddy
    • …and in the middle of the fields there’d be this solitary, skinny, narrow brick house.
    • In some places, dense foliage/jungles on the mountain slopes with no farming.
    • Smattering of red, yellow, purple and blue flowers in the lush landscape.
    • Natural streams of water everywhere especially in the foothills of the mountains around Pokhra.
    • Sometimes there’d be just a metal pipe (man made of course!) coming out of the mountainside spouting water – go figure!
    • Village folks beating the rice grains out of the stem on the roadside.
    • Kids swinging off home made swings on tree-branches.
    • Occasional cause-ways on the highways.
    • Beautiful valleys, gorges, streams, rivers, mountains, waterfalls, underground rivers, plains, fields – Terai. Natural beauty probably at its best!
  • Young boys swimming and doing naked back flips by the lake in Pokhra – Phewa Tal
  • I stayed at the fancy Fishtail lodge that sits on an island in Phewa Tal with no land access. None! That’s right, one has to take a boat across each time you want to go to your hotel or leave it – day or night!
  • Totally loved Pokhra – the serenity of lakes and the magnificence of the Himalayas rising behind them create an ambience of peace and magic.
    • I walked around the local bazaars, shopping for embroidered t-shirts, sarongs, kurtas, and a slew of local souvenirs.
    • Visited the underground cave idol with the phallic symbol of Lord Shiva– Gupteshwar Gupha.
    • Saw the dreadful rush and the deep gorge made by the boisterous and powerful Seti Gandaki river that flows almost entirely underground and is as much as 20 meters deep.
    • The awesome Devi’s (water) Falls.
    • Bindyabasini temple with the fresh stench of death from the animal sacrifice of only a day before (in honor of Dashain).
  • Pokhra is known as a center of adventure, given its immediacy to the Himalayan Mountains, it is the starting and ending point for many trekking expeditions.
  • Splendid view of the mountains, especially when the still water in the lake reflects the mountain peaks creating a double image. Mt Fishtail reflected in Phewa Tal – oh very, very picturesque, you could stare at it for an eternity and still not tire of it… 🙂
  • Getting to Sarangkot in the dark, before the crack of dawn, and watching the first rays of the Sun come up across a series of snow capped peaks all over 8000 meters (over 25,000 feet) – the Annapurna range & Mt. FishTail (Macchapucchare). Looking down & seeing the Pokhra valley with the river snaking through & wisps of cloud below me – truly breathtaking!
  • (BTW, I gotta tell you – it is quite a unique experience to be flying in a commercial airliner at 20,000 ft, look out of the window and to see mountain peaks – right there! At your eye level – wow! You should try it sometime 🙂
  • In all of Nepal there is a very strong Hindu presence, and
  • …just as strong Buddhist presence
  • Land slides and sadhus (“holy” men in saffron robes) abound in this land.
  • Multi colored Buddhist prayer flags flutter in the breeze…
  • Peepal trees being worshipped all over – with the sacred red thread tied all around the trunks, in some instances a diya (earthen lamp) being lit to the tree. Hindu mythology believes the Peepal tree to be (Lord) Vishnu Bhagwan.
  • In this beautiful land of Mixed Religions: Buddhists believe in Hindu gods/deities/values and go pray, worship and participate in Hindu services, temples, and holidays AND vice-versa! They all seem to practice multiple religions! [Deserves an article in itself.]
  • And then there are soldiers everywhere: armed with guns (not khukris) and wearing bulletproof vests, despite the fact that they were barricaded behind sandbags and concrete (to protect from rebels’ bullets)
  • Lots of checking of vehicles – HUGE Maoist problem
  • Everyone had to get off from their buses and was body-searched through the numerous checkpoints. As if that was not enough, they also had to present their identification and reason for travel too!
  • The Maoist problem is really severe with people getting shot and killed – everyday! The day that I was there, over 50 people were killed in a fierce gun battle between the soldiers and the Maoist rebels – just a few kilometers away from where I was – oh joy!
  • As you drive around Nepal one can see open sewage running along the highway smattered with a tiny strip of foot-bridge for each house – just barely enough for one to be able to place ONE foot on it.
  • Stray chickens/roosters darting across the highway.
  • The occasional person carrying a bale of leaves to feed his goat at home.
  • Outside many homes there is a small, narrow, round thatched-roof structure for cattle – typically with 2/3 buffalos tied under them.
  • Locals carrying the tall, elongated metal matkas with narrow necks.
  • Men, women and youths with conical baskets (ala tea-picker) on the back; supported by a strap across the forehead: the basket may be used to carry a baby, the elongated matka of water, bale of leaves, firewood or what have you…
  • Similarly any load on the back (baby, large sack, or firewood) is often braced with that strap across the forehead.
  • First thing in the morning: women bathing at the communal, public, municipality taps – all along the highway – in their blouses & petticoats – soaping themselves in clear sight of all…
  • …and then as they are walking back home: carrying containers of water for the household (because they don’t have running water supply at home!)
  • People playing carrom outside by the wayside with the board on a drum! Now didn’t I see that in Africa too?  : )
  • Occasional pagoda architecture.
  • Stacked “walls of drying corn on the cob” raised up from the ground to protect from bugs, ants & termites.
  • Back in Kathmandu, visited the famous Hindu temple of Pashupati which is actually not at all impressive architecturally. If anything it was filthy, sticky, covered in bird poop, icky milk and birdseed offerings, not to forget teeming with monkeys, money-mongering priests, touts, and guides. Not a pleasant experience.
  • The (literally) adjoining human burning ghats (open-air-crematorium) on the river bank did not help to make the experience any less unpleasant than what it already was, what with the stench of burning human flesh…:( sorry!
  • Swayambhunath is perhaps the most recognizable photo of Nepal (yes, even more so than Mt Everest!), it is a Buddhist temple atop a hill with a monstery right behind it, one that visitors can visit – supposedly 2500 years old. It also has the prayer wheels all around the stupa alongwith streams of the 5-color prayer-flags leading up to it and at it. The place despite being overrun with monkeys, seems to have just as many devotees and tourists. [Buddhism & religion in Nepal is definitely worthy of an independednt article …]
  • Bhaktapur – just outside Kathmandu – on the other hand was a really quaint old town showcasing some wonderful buildings, temples, and pagoda style Newari architecture! Interestingly enough all foreigners are charged a fee to enter the town of  Bhaktapur!
  • At the Bhairon temple there, one hundred buffaloes were sacrificed just days before my visit. (Remember Dashain, when thousands of animals are ritualistically sacrificed all over the country?) The place reeked of the smell of death and there was blood everywhere with flies all over. I even stumbled into one room where the headless body of a buffalo lay with 4 stiff limbs in the air – yuck!
  • Patan was very similar to Bhaktapur with a Durbar (Court) Square and a series of ancient buildings and temples; it too had a fee for foreigners, but being in the heart of the city with no marked boundaries, it was nowhere as quaint or scenic as Bhaktapur.
  • The city of Kathmandu has its own Durbar Square and a street called “Freak Street” alluding to the white-man of the hippie era. 😉 This is where most of the petty drug trade was conducted and thence where the white-tourist (“freak”) was found. Even today the trade exists – more than once I myself was offered drugs here.
  • An hour & half from Kathmandu is Nagarkot. Went there before sunrise to take in views of the Sun rising over the entire Himalayan range including Mt Everest!
  • To visit the temple of Manakamana (heart’s-desire): a 2 mile long cable car ascends over 1 kilometer in a mere 10 minutes! A very scenic and serene 10 minutes if you will, overlooking the foothills of the Himalayas – beeeeautiful!