Syed Nazakat in Kathmandu, Nepal
We travel for new experiences, and this was a definite first. As the plane touched down at Nepal ‘s Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, I could see a curtain of greenery rushed past the window. I had never been to Nepal before. But I was familiar with Kathmandu. It was from here that Indian Airlines Flight was hijacked in 1999 to Afghanistan, where the hijackers agreed to release their hostages in exchange for the release of three top militants from Kashmir.
It was a relief to land in Kathmandu and to discover Nepal is all set to welcome New Year and that temperature is just 24 C compare to New Delhi’s unbearable 44 C. As we drive through the narrow streets of Kathmandu, I saw people sat in the sun, a toddler played a solemn game, digging a hole in the earth and women picking lice out of each other’s hair. Older children rolled bicycle tyres down the road. From here, the outside world looked like a decadent society, one that had lost touch with what matters. The funky array of humanity is letting it all hang out. There isn’t a trace of artificial or plastic surgery here in Nepal. Everything is real, natural and so cool.
Nepal, as Mukund Padmanabhan , a senior journalist from India who had visited Nepal some 13 years ago said there is nothing new in Nepal. Everything seems as if it has been left touched in all these years. But in many ways, Nepal is changing. The King has finally gone and there is a sense of newly found freedom. I saw a new kind of light in the eyes of Nepali children. At a cybercafé named K@mandu, they peered into flickering computer screens—an experience, judging from their excitement.
As we turned off the crumbling road on our first day, and took the grassy path uphill, nothing but the immediate moment seemed to matter. There were young tourists parade newly minted fisherman pants, woven-in dreadlocks and still-raw tattoos. You’ll be seduced by the buzz that comes courtesy of all these bright, young backpackers fresh off the plane.
A day after, a half an hour drive from our hotel brought us to the Swayambunath temple. This buddist temple situated on the top of a hill west of the city, in one of the most popular and instantly recognizable symbols of Nepal. An inscription indicates that King Manadeva ordered work done on the site in 460 CE and by the 1200s it was an important Buddhist center. Our local guide told us that this temple is commonly known as the ‘monkey temple’ as large tribe of naughty monkeys lives there. From here the views were breathtaking; Kathmandu city sits snugly in the valley, the lush forests rise upwards and in the distance the outlines and snowy peaks of the Himalaya. That was absolutely incredible.
By evening, we went to Patan. It has a long Buddhist history and the four comers of the city are marked by stupas said to have erected by the great Buddhist emperor Ashoka around 250 B.C. The central Durbar Square of Patan is packed with temples: it’s an architectural feast that reflects religious beliefs of Nepali people.
But today this place has morphed into something akin to a very happening place, where couples come and chill out. There are roadside shops selling everything from underwear to fake Rolexes. Leaving the group behind, I and Huma, a journalist friend from Pakistan went to a nearby hotel rooftop to take the picture of the square. Young couples, away from crowd and people, were enjoying coziness and intimate moments inside the dingy restaurant. We thought we disturbed them. But they were oblivious of outside world. At the one corner of restaurant, two violinists were playing old Hindi Music.
As sun hiding behind Stupa we left the Patan. The walk down the old town was a joy. We breathed the air, smiled at the ring, and felt boundlessly energetic. By sun set we were back to hotel, exhausted. We took little bit rest and after that we set off for another venture: to check night life of Nepal. Thamel, as friends had said was the best choice. There are discos, clubs bars of sorts including the girlie places….but it was not really that happening; mainly it consists of small open bars where men sit drinking beer and talking to the “bar-girls” or scantly clad girls do pole dancing. In one Bar, a dancing girl poured hot candle wax on her body to entertain her guests. It was painful, cruel. The bars are now officially close at 12 pm, but this does not stop some places from turning music down and carrying on till the early hours of daylight. And if you want to make some money, you can test you luck at number of casinos. They are exclusively for foreigners. Nepalis are officially forbidden to enter Casinos.
As the clock strikes 12 in Kathmandu, there was a great atmosphere and crowd. It was to celebrate, to welcome Nepali New Year. We went along with the happy crowd. The streets become a chaotic forum of cars, trucks, motorcycles, tuktuks, cows and young people trying to somehow escape the jumble they were creating. I looked at the Himalayas in the distance and felt so lost.
I wanted to room around and visit countryside but wrongly booked return ticket and mundane things like work intervened, and I am in New Delhi a week later. I would say that my memories of that time in Nepal might have faded, but they haven’t; the smallest things can bring them back. And there is a saying that Nepal is the kind of country that lingers in your dreams long after you leave it.
(May 5, 2007)