Though a straight line appears to be the shortest distance between 2 points, life has a way of confounding geography. Often it is the dalliances and the detours that define us. There are no maps to guide our most important searches; we must rely on hope, chance, intuition and a willingness to be surprised.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Nepal - Kathmandu

(Local girls under the watchful eyes of the Buddha.)

Kathmandu is another of those place-names that's managed to retain some exotic feel to it, post-mass tourism, like La Paz, or Addis Ababa, or Timbuktu.
It is a very special place, dirty, dusty and incredibly noisy, but definitely, definitely unique. It was also my first introduction to Indian style poverty on the trip. I'd been to Sri Lanka before but wasn't fully ready for the onslaught of hawkers, wise-guys and scams.

It's in a different league to Belize and Bolivia.

It is possible to lose your patience and compassion when you are constantly targeted. I found myself a bit worn out, especially after my really positive experience in Cambodia.

But then I had to remind myself that more than two-thirds of Nepal's 25m population live on less than $2 per day. What would I do? With a good proportion of the tourists arriving in the country making 100 times as much, I think I'd do pretty much the same thing.
(Temples in Nepal are a mixture of Buddhist and Hindu, just as in Cambodia. The inside of some of the temples was quite earie and beautiful.)

It's the incredible disparity in incomes that's the real driver for this experience. I have been constantly reminding myself of this both in Nepal and since arriving in India. It makes me feel better and worse at the same time!
(I had the good fortune to arrive in Kathmandu the day a public demonstration by the communists was taking place in the centre of the old town.)
(Shiva and his consort Parvati look down on the residents of Kathmandu. On this occassion, they are watching a communist rally, the relevance of which would surely have escaped the original builders of the temple.)

The temples here are 400+ years old, and provide perfect grandstands for public gatherings. RIGHT: though communism in Nepal is of a religiously tolerant type, not everyone seems convinced by the political rhetoric.

As fantastic as Kathmandu is, after 2 days the noise and hassle gets a bit wearing. The car horns were getting me down, and keeping me up, until i didn't know whether I was coming or going.

I had an urge to see the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas up close and had heard great things about Pokhara, a town sat right at the foot of the famous Annapurna range. So, on the spur of the moment, I booked a flight with the wonderfully named 'Yeti Airlines'.

There were literally a bus-full of passengers on the flight and as the bus drove away from the terminal building I imagine that every one of my fellow passengers was, like me, nervously and silently speculating on which of the jumbled assortment of small aircraft would carry us between the highest mountains in the world.

There was widespread relief when we pulled up at a modern looking turboprop plane. A relief, I didn't share as I recognised it as a Jetstream 41, an aircraft built - in part - by friends and relatives of mine at Prestwick airport...

...friends and relatives who had mentioned on a few occassions that they would never fly on them!
Obviously I arrived fine, otherwise I wouldn't be writing this. And Pokhara turned out to be a very mixed experience, but with some fantastic moments - pictures to follow!

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