Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Everest calling - Kathmandu

Sleeplessness had fatigued me so much that it came down on me with its full weight at the airport when we were waiting for a few members of our troupe to join us from Chennai. I sat on someone's baggage first, then sat on the floor, reclining against a pillar whose protruding panels hurt my back. I cursed, shifted to the middle of the baggage of 20 plus people on the floor, reclining against the baggage first and finally lay supine on the floor with my shawl for my back and pillow.

The airport itself was not much – small, looking run-down, having brick finished appearance, brick coloured…, small filthy bathrooms. It was a view of ugliness after the gorgeous Delhi international airport whose only flaw was the gate 10B that was very far away from the security checkpoint. I told you I had almost missed my flight.
The only pretty thing about the Nepal airport was the mirrors with carved wooden frames on all pillars.

My neighbor in the plane had said 500 rupee notes would be confiscated at the airport. Not on arrival but on departure from Nepal. I had 4 or 5 500 rupee notes with me. We hoped to get it exchanged at one of the foreign exchange shops. We would learn soon that even the exchanges did not accept these denominations.
Upon entering the airport, the notice about 500 notes caused us all much anxiety.
A good way to make money I thought - confiscate 500 rupee notes from unsuspecting Indians!

After finishing all formalities, which were not much, I saw the custom guys near the exit opening peoples' wallets and checking. I quickly took the notes from my envelope and put it under my clothes in the big bag.

I learnt later from Jaggy (a friend and part of the troupe) that Pakistan prints counterfeit 500 Indian rupee notes and circulates them in Nepal and other countries to destabilize Indian economy. That’s why Nepal does not allow people to carry these currencies into or out of the country - for fear that those might be counterfeit 500 rupee notes.

So do not carry 500 or higher denominations of Indian currency to Nepal. Carry only 100's or less.

Coming out of the airport, I saw that Kathmandu was ringed by distant shadowy hills.

I mistook the airport entrance gateway arch a few hundred meters away from the airport, for the Pashupatinath temple. My neighbour on the plane had said the temple was close to the airport.

The Pashupatinath temple that the cab driver pointed to as we drove to the hotel, seemed like a collection of temples with pagoda tops. A temple complex. We would visit this temple after our Everest trek.

I dozed for most part of the drive to the hotel, not seeing much of the 'foreign' city. When I opened my eyes, I realized there was not much to miss in the first place.
The road where I got down was a narrow lane that had a profusion of overhanging electric and other cables for festoons.

After finishing some business at the counter, we entered the courtyard of hotel Thamel Eco resort.

The interiors were in complete contrast with the ugliness outside.

After resting for a few minutes, we left the hotel room for a stroll on the street just outside, lined on both sides by a motley mix of interesting colourful shops.

there were beautiful paintings in on eof the shops. They were paintings of various mountains, scenic places, people crossing bridges, yaks, rivers...
I asked him if they were created in the image of real places or mere imagination. He said 'real places'. We told him we were trekking to Everest Base Camp and asked if we would see those pictures on our way. he said 'yes' and my anticipation soared.
Photography was forbidden and I had to position myself on the opposite side of the street to take this picture. They were too expensive or I would have bought one.

This is a tea shop where you get a variety of tea.

Dinner at the hotel was buffet.
‘Pure vegetarian’, said the elderly attendant at the dining hall pointing to the buffet.
'Do people in Nepal eat veg. mostly or non veg.? I asked.
‘There are both kinds of people but mostly they are veg’.
‘Are the Hindus more in number or Buddhists?’
‘Hindus are more in number.Hindu Rashtra Hain Na', said he.

It was the only Hindu kingdom in the world. I learnt it from my father when the king of Nepal was killed in that family feud a few years ago.
All the men of Nepal had shaved their heads. In the Hindu tradition, the raja is considered the father (Pita Saman). The king is expected to look after his subjects like a father would his children. And when a father dies in the Hindu tradition, sons shave their heads.

I felt sad for the state in which the only Hindu Kingdom of the world should be. Impoverished. Naïve.
When Air India flight had been hijacked from Kathmandu, it was understood by people (whether or not it was true) that Nepal was a poor country so it was easy to bribe people even at an international airport.

We were 29 of us. Introductions were still going on. Smaller tables had been joined to make one long table around which we all sat.
Food was good. It tasted quite Indian. North Indian.
People looked good too. Excited. Fresh. Clean. Energetic.
We did not know then that it would be a long time before the food tasted that good again. And people looked that good again.
It would be just 16 days but it would seem much longer.

The trek had been organized by an adventure group in Cognizant, an IT firm whose employee I used to be, years ago. I learnt about the expedition from a friend still in cognizant and I had joined. There were a few others too who were not from Cognizant.

Cognizant T shirts were given to all of us to be worn upon reaching Everest Base Camp.
When was the last time I had received a Cognizant T shirt?
I had resigned in 2003 September.
Who knew then, when I had left, that one more T shirt from the company was due to me?

The hotel had 24 hours hot water supply. I oiled my hair, following the once-in-3-day ritual.
Not my usual hair oil but the new parachute coconut hair oil. It had the scent of jasmine. So close was it to the fragrance of the jasmine flower that I wondered how they infused it into the oil. Mankind was making a lot of needless progress in the wrong direction.

Some chemical added to the water for purification or whatever had made the water yellowish. After washing, my hair felt like coconut husk. God…

There was no electricity in the hotel. And lighting was due to generator or inverter or whatever.
Suman, the guy who agreed to charge my lithium camera battery at a special plug-point, said that for 18 hours a day, there was no electricity in Kathmandu and all over Nepal throughout the year.
‘Are there no power stations here?’
‘There are. Many. All the power is sold to India. UP, MP and other states’
I felt truly sad for the state of the only Hindu kingdom in the world.


notgogol said...

Great pics. You seem to be in love with those gaudy necklaces.

Sowmya said...

Yes I love those necklaces. On the showcase.
But would like just a few of them on myself.

You need a taste Notgogol...

vishal said...

Memories of my visit to Kathmandu came flooding back. Very special trip.