Sunday, 18 January 2009

Memories of Nepal

It's a bit sad how, now that we are back into the routine of life in grey, clean and cold London, the feeling of being amid the chaos and colour of Nepal and India is fading quickly. So while the memories are still fresh, here are some of the most vivid things about our trip - starting with Nepal.

Mad traffic
Nepali and Indian traffic is dreadful. Partly it's because there's no such thing as road courtesy and partly it's because there is such a huge variety of smaller vehicles on the roads, from motorbikes to rickshaws to horse carts, so people are always trying to squeeze past each other and into gaps. Two lane roads usually hold three lanes of traffic, or rather one big snarl of vehicles trying to shove past each other. Instead of using their rear vision mirrors, drivers toot to indicate that they're changing lanes or overtaking, in imminent danger of being hit by someone changing lanes or overtaking, or just because they feel like a good old honk.

It's particularly hairy in Nepal, when the general madness gets extra spice with narrow mountain roads and vehicles left to rust mid-lane. One particularly nerve-wracking moment involved our bus driver overtaking on a blind corner, with a massive drop off the hillside on our left and while talking on his cellphone.

One the bright side, for some reason Nepalis love musical horns and patterned ceilings on the buses.

The Himalayas
We only got to see them flying into and out of Kathmandu, and for one day near Pokhara. But they were unforgettable. No wonder they thought the gods lived up there.

Nepalis, particularly the men, like nothing more than a good snort, hoick and spit. Charming.

Having said that, the Nepalis are in general lovely, friendly people. Even if an alarming amount of them did want to sell me pot or hashish.

The drug dealing shouldn't be a surprise, given just how many young tourists come to Nepal looking for a good time. They come in two main types: the trekkers, with their polar fleece and pants of many pockets, and the hippies, all flowing clothes and hair. Kathmandu's Thamel area and the Lakeside section of Pokhara are magnets for travellers, crammed full of shops offering books, tramping gear, pashmenas, souvenirs or Ayurvedic medicine.


Stupas and temples
Hinduism and Buddhism (often mixed together) are huge in Nepal, as you can tell from the massive number of stupas and temples. Particularly memorable are the R18 carvings on some of the Hindu temples - the religion that brought us the Kama Sutra certainly isn't as prudish about sex as Christianity or Islam!

The stupa at Bodhnath, one of the world's biggest

Patan's temple-packed Durbar Square

And not just in the jungle of Chitwan National Park and the nearby town we stayed in, where elephants regularly wander down the main street. Animals, from wild dogs to hawks circling above the cities, are everywhere.

It's true that going to the Third World is a bit like stepping back into the West's past. Then there are the household animals - chickens, goats, pigs, buffaloes - kept for survival rather than cuteness. As an animal lover it's great, though it reminds you that Western animals are, like Western people, very well fed.

Carry that weight
Speaking of going back in time, you also see a lot more human labour in Nepal. People are often walking past with huge loads on their backs, held on by a strap around the forehead.

They're forever coming up to you, often for to harass you for money or gifts, but (and here's when it pays not to get too cynical and defensive) also to practice their English or talk to those strange tourists. I had some really nice chats with them.

Biggest disappointment
The constant haze in the valleys meant we could not see the Himalayas reflected in Pokhara's very pretty lake.

Best random moment
Playing guitar and singing along with some Nepali high school students on the bus from Kathmandu to Chitwan. They liked Nirvana, Guns N' Roses, Green Day and ... Bryan Adams (Everything I Do, I Do It For You must be the biggest song in the history of the universe), but were best at hammering out some cool Nepali tunes.

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