Day-3; Katmandu-Nepal

I woke up way before I usually do. I was looking forward to a spectacle filled journey aboard the ‘mountain flight’. I hopped into a local taxi, which is anything between a rundown maruti 800 and a vintage toyota automobile. He charged me an nominal amount of Nepali Rs 400 which amounts to INR 250. I was at the domestic airport 15 minutes before departure which was 7:30 a.m

The Katmandu airport is small, but artistically built. The facade is like one big wave of red stone which seems to come crashing down on the visitors to the airport. The waveform is gradual and serene. Frozen in the moment when the wave touched the shore.

The ignoramus that I am, I assumed that the flight would start on time. Th flight was late by over 45 minutes, enough time for a snack and a small nap. The aircraft seemed to be an 18 seater turboprop. My seat number was the last one on the right side of the aircraft. If you are on this flight, you can choose to see the mountain ranges either for the first half or the last half of the journey because the flight is on the southern side of ‘The Great Himalayas’. Since I was on the right side of the aircraft and we were flying in an easterly direction, I had to settle for the last half of the flight. There was a consolation because, we were allowed entry to the cockpit, one at a time, which had a panoramic view as opposed to the limited view available through the window beside each seat. I stayed on in the cockpit for a long time.

Now for the view. To put it simply, I have no words to describe what I saw. Imagine miles and miles of fine,…really fine cotton which seem to form delicate ululations every now and then, signalling a mountain beneath. It seemed to stretch till infinity and the blue sky seemed to gently exert itself to melt into the clouds beneath. The clouds are suddenly interrupted by the mighty earth which seemed like huge swathes of chocolate cake with the vanilla icing of perennial glaciers above the iceline. ‘The Great Himalayas’ seemed like one huge desert spread in a feast for the Gods. I was left speechless as we approached the mightiest of them all-The Mt Everest. The beauty of the experience is that one has no idea of space because we have no reference points. The enormity of this experience leaves you speechless in it’s visual impact. The Mt Everest was soon in closer view, stoic and huge. Towering above all and leaving one feel so miniscule in this vast expanse of time and space. It seemed to be showing the ‘finger’ to the Gods themselves.

The return was pretty quick. The excitement was ebbing slowly. I got a certificate of participation and returned with memories for a lifetime. The working part of the day was uneventful. Towards the end of the day, my last day at Katmandu, I decided to get dropped at ‘Thamel’. Thamel is ‘the’ place in Katmandu. Anything and everything is supposed to be available in Thamel. I got dropped at around 19:30 and decided to take a walk, which is the best way to explore, in my opinion. I started walking and could see that this is a place for three things-outdoor gear, boarding & lodging and memorablia. There were dozens of joints for each category. I saw quite a few deals which were quite irresistable. I continued walking and was stopped suddenly to the tune from an audio shop. I just walked in and asked for that record. The shopkeeper managed to bundle three records for INR 500,…decent deal. I also got directions to a place where I can get local food. I was yet to take a bite of local food. I started walking again and came across outlest which seemed to specifically cater to the needs of tourists from developed countries. Why would one want to lead life as one always used to,..if one is travelling? There is a saying in Tamil which goes like this-“In public places, one should melt with the light”. I agree.

I walked around peeping into weird stores trying to absorb all that I could and then followed directions to reach the eatery. I seemed to forget the name, but I remember the dish that I was supposed to have. This place was in a narrow bylane with very little illumination. I passed a couple of ‘Ladies dance bars’ with loud numbers blaring from dark confines. I kept following directions to reach the place which was situated on the first floor. It was virtually deserted. Since it was deserted, I took the liberty to play the records that I had just purchased and settled down to have ‘Dalbandhtadkari’.

It is one my most peaceful meals ever. The restaurant was empty, the music was slow and distant, lulling to the nerves, the food was sumptous and tasty and I was in no bloody hurry. What a meal?

I took over 45 minutes to complete my meal and beer. I paid them a handsome tip and left to get a taxi. The taxi guy took me on a very weird path and left me at the hotel. The night was still young and I walked to the Casino to see if there are any cultural programmes. There were none and I retraced my steps to my room and settled for the night.

The next day was a bland return to India. No fun in that. Someday I will return and you should venture to this country atleast once. Good fun, it was,…

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Day-2; Katmandu-Nepal

The second day was a slow starter in Katmandu. I had planned to visit the Swayambunath temple in the morning. Alas, if only everything happened as planned. The reason why I had planned to visit this temple inspite of being on a business visit was the fact that my appointments were scheduled after 11’oclock. As usual, I got up late and decided to take a walk along the bylanes of the city to get a first hand feel of the city. Slipped into a pair of jeans and set off outside. The first thing about this city is the sheer ethnic mix of people in this place. I found Chinkis, North Indians, South Indians, Goras and the people in between, as a result of ‘globalisation’. I walked for about 300 metres before I came across the quintessential ‘chai’ shop.

I requested for a cup of chai and sat down to wait for it. The stall was a bakery, a restaurant and a family recreation centre, all rolled into one. There were atleast 6 people in the stall and I had no idea who prepared my ‘chai’. I got my chai and started sipping it. The weather was pleasant and a cup of ‘chai’ complemented it very well. There were all sorts of bikes in Katmandu ranging from Enticers, Pulsars and Cd100 models to strange imports from China, which seemed like bits n pieces of a lot of bikes I know. Soon, there was a strange procession with a few people playing flutes which were black in colour unlike those in India, which are a lesser shade of brownish green. A couple of school children, women dressed in sarees and the roadside romeos. We have so much in common.

My first day of work in the field revealed that the culture of a society plays such a dominant, yet unnoticed manner. For an outsider, that too from Mumbai, Katmandu was so different. People in were in no bloody hurry. I did not see a single act of speeding in all the three days that I was there. People here seemed to be either relaxed or they had given up and were going with the stream. Either way the city had a relaxed pace. During the day I heard about a ‘Mountain flight’, which supposedly takes one very close to Everest. The very thought made me tingle with excitement and I booked one immediately.

I had a break between work (my work consists of calling on customers), and I decided to take a walk. The streets suddenly change, with roads morphing into cobble streets and concrete structures make way for wooden carriages and temples with intricately carved wooden panels shrouding strange mysteries, of temples which have fallen into disuse long since. In a country thriving on tourism, peddlars are never far away. They peddle wares which seemed to be straight out of their house. There were masks, bowls, figurines, all of which seemed like someone was trying to sell anything that could be one could lay hands on, to stave off a hunger crisis.

I bought two Tibetan singing bowls. They are supposed to be made of 7-9 metals which might include gold and silver. I also bought a pair of masks, made out of plaster and painted with black, with the wide contoured portions progressively shifting from shades of black to maroon. There were many items that I would love to take, but did not have the space to accommodate in my case and hence had to leave behind.

Later that night, I thought I should have a taste of the famous casinos of Katmandu. Gambling is legal in Katmandu. I visited the casino adjacent to my hotel and chanced upon the ‘one handed bandit’,the roulette wheel and the poker table. I saw people from all walks of life, some gambling listlessly and others havin a good time giving away some change. There were some ‘cultural’ programmes also with teenagers swaying to popular Bollywood numbers and a couple of Nepali beats too.

All in all, a great day.

Day-1; Katmandu-Nepal

I have heard of Nepal and have seen a few pictures of Mt Everest. Nothing prepared me for the kind of experiences that I was about to have when I boarded my plane to Nepal on a ‘Sales’ visit. The closest experience would be my visit to Benares/ Varanasi. I was about to be blown away, not once, to say the least.

I do not want to harp on the plane journey which was becoming bland as hell with my periodic sales meets. The silver lining was the approach to the Katmandu airport. There is supposed to be only one way to approach the valley of Katmandu. So, the approach trajectory of inbound planes will have to be the same. When our plane approached Katmandu, there was this thick blanket of cloud(s), stretching like cotton wisps for miles in the easterly direction. The wisps started to huddle after a few moments signalling an impending obstacle ( no prizes for guessing that the obstacle was The Great Himalayan mountain ranges). I was reminded of geography wherein I was told that if it were not for the himalayas, India would have been a desert. It prevents the cold and dry winds of Mongolia from blowing southward and also prevents the monsoon winds from moving northward. Returning to the sights outside my window, I was able to appreciate a clearing in the thick blanket of clouds and was soon able to guess why. It was so beautiful. It looked like a hanging mass of thick curd which has been scooped clean in one portion, just where planes have to descend to make a landing. As we were descending, I was able to see the beautiful valley of Katmandu unfold with the landscape looking like a piece of rag cloth with abundant green patches in it.

Fast forward to my hotel and the magic had just begun. The hotel where I had booked a room, The Crown Plaza, Soaltee, was one of the oldest and one of the best hotels in Katmandu. It was situated in the outskirts of the city and had a beautiful promenade. Unlike your usual vision of a five star hotel, this hotel was not a multi storeyed behemoth. It was like a monastery with vast gardens and cobble stone pathways. The building featured redstone and looked very quaint, which it was. This hotel is over 30 years old. Interestingly, the approach to the entrance to the hotel had chairs which in turn had thick hides instead of cushions. The hides were atleast 5-6 mms thick. I had never seen leather this thick.

The hotel featured abundant woodwork. The floor were paved with wooden planks which squeaked when walked upon. I found it funny and irritating at the same time. The walls feature quite a few of the fabric work called ‘Thangka’. It is an intricate painting done on fabrics with the help of natural colours from herbs and generally featured an interpretation of the various events in Buddha’s life. The painting had a lot of details and the style was very oriental in terms of the morphology with respect to the characters featured in them. I presmued that they would be very expensive for the reason that they seemed quite laborious to make.

Moving on to my room, I had a huge window on one side which had no surrounding wall. What I mean is that an entire wall was the window. The window had three layers. The outermost layer was a fine wire mesh. The middle layer was the glass pane. The innermost layer was intricatley carved wood panels which were brown with repeated layers of paint and weathering in whichever order you may please. I guess the mesh was a recent addition and the other two layers must have been the original design. Each layer except the outermost one could be opened from the middle in a vertical partition. It seemed quite majestic. 30 years back, when the hotel opened and the concrete plague was not daubing the landscape, the view must have been fit for a King. The room was dominated by darker shades of green. The shade was a very different one. The only object I am reminded of is a bamboo shoot which has not been exposed to sunlight, the one which is very near the ground and in the core of a clump of shoots. The room was soothing and relaxing.

The local beer-‘Gorkha’ was as strong as it was bitter. I was adviced to go to dance bars in ‘Thamel’, but I decided to just relax for the night. What a day?

Days begone,…

I had travelled to Nepal over three weeks back and am yet to write a single word about it. I had always wanted to but have not been able to. That was what I thought.

What could be the reasons and I am reminded of that garbel that I hear repeated often- “I don’t have time”

Come to think of it and I just cannot accept myself saying that. It is so untrue because I cannot do all the things I want to because I do not plan sufficiently. It is just a matter of planning.

I cannot get up early because I sleep late. I sleep late because I end up chatting with friends. I chat because I do not prioritise things. I do not prioritise because I do not plan. It is a funny cycle and it is costing me dear. It is costing me my life in small, miniscule, bits and pieces.