The India and Nepal Diaries Part 12
Contains some strong language
The names of other people appearing in this diary have been altered
To a degree this is a story about not very much. Mainly about being young and slightly stupid in places and cultures we didn’t know or understand. Everything told here did take place and it is more or less an exact transcript of my actual diary. And so, on that note, I do not advise anyone to do anything we did. However, we learnt a lot from it and, I think, came back from our exploration as wiser people. I hope you may also.
Leon had ordered a personalised pattern to be stitched on a shirt of his choice from one of the shirt shops. We were supposed to have picked it up the day before but after our walking round the city in search of temples we had just felt too tired. So, this morning we disappeared off into the thrall of Thamel to pick it up. This involved identifying which shop it was that we had actually ordered it from out of the many lining the streets with their lavishly displayed fronts.
From there we walked to the Palace Museum. This was quite literally the original palace of King before Nepal decided to abolish the Monarchy and become a Federal Democratic Republic in May 2008 after a way to help bring to an end their 10 year long civil war.
The museum was closed, so with google maps in hand we dawdled along to a park to sit for a while. You had to pay entry. Other than it being a clean space with lots of seats and Wi-Fi, there wasn’t really anything there. Most people just seemed to be sitting in the shade on their phones or taking selfies.
After the ensuing boredom and lack of enthusiasm reading our bought books, Leon’s phone, being a font of knowledge, told us that the National Museum was a short taxi ride away. The place was made up of three buildings, the main one of which was built by Nepal’s first prime minister. They were each designed in their own style; one looking like some French stately home, the other two looking a little temple like with multiple roof layers and elaborate carvings. The first two were art galleries and were mostly filled with wood, stone and metal carvings and casts of various Hindu gods of Buddhist figures. Though these were all intricately designed and utterly incredible, each one probably taking hours and hours of work, they were also all pretty much the same. The curation and documentation was generally rather poor, or in fact often it was non-existent and so we did not learn much. The whole place felt slightly run down, though it was out of season and maybe we were just being particularly unreceptive that day. I was definitely feeling a little flat. Our favourite bit was a fantastically bad taxidermy section filled up with many native animals and a funny mirrors section.
We spent most of our amble around following a couple who were far more interested in taking selfies and pictures of each other than actually looking at the artefacts. Sadly, the four of us seemed to be the only visitors in the place.
After a dodgy light lunch, we visited the Nepal Military Museum which was literally opposite the National. For anyone who likes guns and machinery this is an interesting place to go. It had a lot of info and walked us through a strange, but fascinating non-linear time line of Nepalese military history with everything from victory paintings to the evolution of uniforms.
By the time we got back to our hostel it was already early evening. I decided to go present shopping and spend a while trying my hand at haggling as, up to this point, there genuinely had not been the time available to experiment. It turned out that taking the time to stand and chat to shop owners, while studying their wears and looking doubtful was a good way of working down to a decent price. I was on a low budget after spending so much the previous day and I let them know it. It’s not so much that you want to rip them off or anything. It’s more they are just very good at selling things and keeping a person in their shop until you have bought something. Part of their brilliance is that they are just so genuinely nice and relaxed to chat to that, by the end of a conversation, you want to buy something purely as a sign of thanks for their friendliness. If you don’t keep your thoughts straight you can end up spending a lot of money.
I bought a few things and then got chatting to a guy walking down the street about good presents for family. He knew a sari fitters and we ended up on a twenty-minute stroll through the streets, chatting about life and the local area while we went to find it. It was an iridescent, brightly coloured stall, throwing shafts of warm light out into the shadowy street. I went in and feeling rather embarrassed realised there was nothing I could afford. I so wanted to buy something, but both my finances and the space in my bag had substantially diminished since our arrival in Kathmandu. I took their card and tried to extricate myself from the shop. My new friend didn’t seem to mind and we walked all the way back to the exact place he had met me, chatting all the while. Apparently, he worked in the massage parlour just down the street.
The variety of places to eat was immense, each of them offering different cultural dishes from different countries around the world. I met up with Leon and we went out for some Mexican food at a place with a fantastic live band playing traditional Nepalese music on tabula, bansuri and sarangi. Coincidentally two Dutch people from our hostel walked in and we invited them to join us to eat. It is great being able to sit at a table with people you barely know and have the most fascinating conversations purely because you can and because you are both having the same new experiences. Being mutually unsure (or scared or happy) with other people is a fantastic way to bond.
Breakfast has always been my favourite meal of the day. This probably isn’t true, as lunch and supper, followed closely by any other time we eat, are also fantastic times to be alive. However, it is the shear simplicity of breakfast that has always attracted me to it; the fact that it basically only ever includes three key components: the receptacle (plate or bowl), the main thing (toast or cereal) and the complimentary addition (the spread or the milk etc). There are so many variations on those simple morning items that it is almost silly. Breakfast is the food that can be made so fast and enjoyed so much whether you are eating it in the morning or at night after getting back late. I had almost been craving it over our trip. Anyway, I divulge. All the above is probably bollocks.
We got up and had some fantastic muesli with yoghurt and fresh fruit. It was mind-blowingly good after mainly eating quite bready, heavy foods for the past weeks.
Again, we tried the palace museum and again it was closed, but only until 11. This gave us some time to kill and we skittered around the block ridding some silly unexpected energy burst we had gained to find a cinema. The sudden urge to watch a film overcame us and we went to see if they did anything in English. They didn’t, but there was one across town that did, right next to the city zoo. We decided to head towards both, after going around the palace.
The ‘Narayanhity’ palace, as it was called, was built in 1963 by the then king after he ordered the demolition of the original one on the same site. The estate consisted of a complex of gardens, outhouses and the main building. Though it was incredible on the whole, it had a slightly kitsch 1960’s feel about it. The concrete building was filled with mirrors and endless numbers of stately rooms for different occasions, painted in overly bright and lurid colours and filled with amusing sculptures and plaster work.
In 2001 the Nepalese royal family, including the king and queen, were shot dead in one of the outhouses at the palace by the crown prince and hair to the throne. He then turned the gun on himself and spent the next three days in a coma, during which time he was crowned king before being announced brain dead. We had never heard about any of this and we walked through the site of the royal massacres reading the noticeboards in a subdued state of shock. The buildings had been demolished.
We got a taxi to the cinema which turned out to be in a shopping mall full of branded shops. ‘War of the Planet of the Apes’ was on later in the afternoon and so we booked tickets, happy to go and see anything that was available, and then headed off to the zoo. Entrance was incredibly expensive, but after going all the way there we decided to lump it and go in anyway. There were some incredible animals (particularly the collection of pheasants), but on the whole they were often in small cages and many of these appeared to be empty (though we were also, slightly stupidly) short of time and so didn’t spend long enough looking in most.
Typically, half way round and as far from the exit as was possible to be, it started raining. The steady droplets evolved into a torrential downpour and we were forced to shelter. Every now and then the falling flood would lessen and we would make a dash for it, now very aware that we might be late to get back to see the film. What should all have been a relaxing experience was becoming a piss-taking game played with some omnipotent dice. We decided we weren’t going to play and ran through the rain back to a taxi. We bartered harshly, failed, payed up and then rushed back to the mall now totally soaked.
The cinema was pretty swanky. The security guards on the entrance gave everyone entering a search and they removed our water bottles and food from our bag. This was irritating as the food and drinks counter was massively expensive. I ended up buying some sickly-sweet toffee popcorn stuff that I could barely eat.
Upon emerging back out into the world we felt strangely relaxed. The cinema exit opened onto the roof and we spent 10 minutes stood there looking out over the city in a quite zen link state before descending back down into the hustle and bustle of the mall.
As we worked our way out we walked past a guy with a go pro on a selfie stick filming his walk round the shopping centre. This struck us as slightly humorous, but then most people continuously had their phones in their hands snapping away.
Got a taxi home, went to a rooftop restaurant and then spent the rest of the evening at Zostel drinking beer with and Aussie woman, two Scots men (one of whom was celebrating his 23rd birthday), a German man, and Spaniard, and a Hungarian woman. It was a rather entertaining evening. I even managed to give away my sleeping bag liner which I was going to have to get rid of now I had gone and bought so much stuff.
Most hostels have a travellers’ swap box or similar that you can leave stuff in if you can’t find anyone to pass useful items onto.
Our bus to the Napalese boarder at kakarbhitta was going to take about 20 hours and we were set to leave around 3.30pm.
I woke up early desperately needing the loo. Normally this is a natural problem with an easy solution, but this morning every single bathroom in the building was missing toilet roll. We had used all of ours over our trek and hadn’t thought to replenish supplies so now I was left helplessly running around a building full of sleeping people trying not to shit myself. All the staff seemed to have disappeared.
I hopelessly walked outside and found a Canadian guy had appeared from somewhere. The ensuing conversation went something along the lines of. “Up early?” I asked.
“Yeah I’ve just been out to get a coffee. This place is fucking crap. I’m up this early every morning and they never fucking have anything to serve drinks. It’s the only hostel I’ve been to where they don’t have a fucking kitchen or a hot flask or something. And now I want to pick up my washing before I head out and, I mean, where the fuck is everyone? It’s just fucking awful. I was here three times yesterday and there was no one at the fucking desk. I mean for fuck sake! It’s just crap. What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to find a loo with toilet roll.”
“Ah fuck yeah. I have that problem every morning. They never put any spare in. It’s like they don’t want you to fucking use it. No worries man, I’ve got a roll.”
“No worries. There’s never anyone around this fucking place."
I’ve got to admit I had no idea whether I should offer him back what was left of the role of toilet paper afterwards. It’s just one of those conversations I have never had with a stranger.
After having breakfast and packing, Leon and I sat in the common room and relaxed. I played guitar, we read stuff and snoozed on the mats laying around the space. At some point I went for a walk, then we had some lunch and got a taxi to the bus station ready to head back towards India.
Naturally upon arrival there was a hoard of people trying to convince us to go to their bus companies ticket counter. Thankfully we had already bought our tickets the day before and we were taken to our bus, which for the first time actually had comfy, non-slanty seats with a large amount of leg room.
I assume bus companies just tell tourists to arrive at an earlier time to make sure we get there, because the bus didn’t actually leave until about 5 pm and even then, it took us about 45 mins to get out of the bus station. The buses were parked so close together that they had to shunt continuously back and forth to manoeuvre round each other. Within 5 minutes we were being fumigated by exhaust smoke coming in through the open windows.
The journey itself was again a case of shuddering and jerking down windy single-track roads with traffic in both directions. A large proportion of the night was spent sat in a procession of other busses, all of which would have to stop for 15 or 20 minutes every time there was a jam or collision. At one point we sat still for about 1 hour 30 mins. But is was ok, the bus had a TV screen (result!) and they were now subjecting everyone to a whole load of Bollywood music videos (all of which were amazing funny and featured wacky dancing, usually along a boy meets girl theme). I really enjoyed them. This was followed by a Bollywood cop movie, in which main characters had the unnerving ability to disappear from the story line for long periods of time before re-appearing as if they had been there the whole time. The story line barely hung together, but that wasn’t the point. It had some fantastic fight scenes and was very amusing.
I spent most of the night watching the line of bus lights slowly descending down the mountain side in front and behind us. At about two in the morning, after trying and failing to go to sleep the bus stopped at a road side canteen where we managed to grab some noodles and a packet of biscuits before settling down to sleep again.