Nirvana

20 Jun

…or not…

From my cafe

So, into Kathmandu. This has got to be the craziest city I have been in on this trip. The closest I can say is that it’s like Bangkok’s Kao San Road  – the tourist heart of Bangkok – only….bigger. The streets are full of signs, mostly because each doorway has at least three businesses behind them. I’m actually in Thamel, the backpacker heart of the city – souvenir shops, DVD shops, shops selling khukuri (gurkha knives) (motto “better to die than be a coward”). I feel, curiously, a little bit lost and disoriented – so I’ve spent a lot of time drinking mint tea in a little cafe overlooking the heart of Thamel.

News from the street though…..

The Kindle has died in a way that no one at Amazon has seen before… it resets itself every 10-30 seconds. That’s made using the Lonely Planet guide to Nepal REALLY tricky (now reading everything on the PC) (you remember, the PC, the one with a clothes peg to make the screen work). New Kindle on the way (thanks, Amazon) but not much of a help right now. I’d just spent a day sending my stuff direct to the Kindle using the wonderful MobiPocket too. Stay tuned for more technology disasters (spoilers, spoilers) to come.

I visited the India embassy to get my visa – a quick rickshaw ride (first time I had done this, but the streets of Thamel are so narrow that taxis struggle). A summary of the conversation follows. If I HAD hair, I would have torn it out.

“We cannot give you a visa until the 27th, sir, because that is the first day on your passport that you can enter India”.

“But surely you can give me a visa that becomes valid on the 27th so that I can start to make my way across to the border?”

“No Sir, we cannot. You will have to come here on the 27th and then we will make you the visa.”

So the only option is for me to travel round Nepal and then come all the way BACK to Kathmandu to get my visa. Oh well…

Needless to say, I am a bit confused…. fortunately, the British Embassy in Shanghai have carefully worded my passport – if they had said I was travelling on the 27th, and the Indians hadn’t issued a visa until the 27th… then I would never have got home, as I wouldn’t get to the border until the 28th, and I would be stuck in the netherworld between Nepal and India.

To clear my head I had another pot of mint tea and went for a walk to Durbar Square. On the way, finding the real heart of Kathmandu – past the sari shops, the dosa sellers, wonderful little places selling everything the modern Nepali could possibly need. Rickshaws are in evidence everywhere – but no-one has invented the sack barrow. I have seen men carrying washing machines and refrigerators on their backs. The square is interesting, full of old buildings and stupas and people passing the time of day. And on the way back, I get lost, having to recruit a taxi to get me home.

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The world is brighter here than Tibet – the Indian influence has brought bright saris to the street, along with wonderfully decorated rickshaws and trucks. The mandala paintings (thangka) are lovely, and I was indeed tempted to snap up a couple. I am having to really resist shopping here! The calls have changed, though. I still get offered hash and other questionable drugs. Offers of massage or ‘boom boom’ have disappeared, to be replaced by people who make ‘trekking? coach ticket?’ sound like an illegal activity. And what is it with the Tiger Balm sellers?  I think I have a friend in the pakora seller at the end of the street – in the few days I have been here I have become a regular, and I am always greeted with ‘Namaste’ and a prayer greeting – even if I am just passing (there’s a limit to how many pakora can be eaten in one day). Trivia note… the Trekking Pass is called a TIMS which means there are lots of wonderful TIMS based photo opportunities around…

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I try a tongba, hot millet beer, at the local bookshop/restaurant… which reminds me of jar wine in Cambodia. Not sure how Tigger and Snuff feel about it. There are cows creating chaos in the streets, of course..

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Anyway, after a few days of complete mental fug I made a few decisions about my life, and booked a trip to Pokhara for a bit more countryside. I also procured a map of Kathmandu – which opened up all sorts of possibilities. It’s odd, because just having that map made things so much clearer. I knew where things were. I knew where I could go. I felt comfortable wandering off because I knew I could get back. Sometimes, we just need something to give us a little bit of perspective – and then anything becomes possible.

“Anything” in this case became a walk through the backstreets of Kathmandu in search of the Buddhist temple of Swayambunath. Just walking with real people helps shift my mood. I’m the only tourist around (the rest take taxis) but Swayambunath has a really nice feel to it once I have climbed the steps to the top of the hill. It’s monsoon season, and the hills are cloaked in rainclouds, but there are awesome views over the city, and out to the surrounding mountains. Hawks swoop overhead, while macaque monkeys raid anything and everything for food – these cercopithecoid guerrillas have been known to raid rucksacks in search of food.

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I do a circuit of the prayer wheels – and find out what a vajra actually IS. It’s a stylised thunderbolt, and it feels kinda significant for a number of metaphysical reasons. I might blog about it, but it’s answered a question that’s been haunting me since Hong Kong. More to think about. This is a vajra, by the way…..no, it doesn’t look like a thunderbolt to me, either.

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On the way back, I get lost. Again. In the same place. Doh!

Anyway… early morning bus to Pokhara. Still touristy, but the view is better.

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