Travels with the Beard – Nepal and Beyond

Our travels, chickens and surviving life

1st Day in the Village

We heard the sound of childrens’ voices as the first light of a new Himalayan day began to sidle in through the cracks in the wooden shutters over the glassless windows.
They were gathering down below the small, wooden balcony outside our room; chattering and laughing, running about and chasing the chickens. The kids were waiting for us to emerge so they could shout, “Hello! Hello!” and of course they were waiting to see what goodies we had for them in those heavy rucksacks we’d lugged all the way from England!
I won’t spend too much time whingeing about my aching back and sore legs. An uncomfortable night spent on a rock hard bed, with my jacket for a pillow, and a lumpy cover to keep the cold away was probably to blame for my seized up joints!
Suffice to say it really wasn’t one of my better mornings, but by the time I’d staggered about moaning and groaning, found my clothes & given them a good shake in case someone else was already in there, and pulled my walking boots on, I felt a bit better. Just a bit….
We opened the rough wooden shutters that passed as a door, and stepped over the threshold onto the balcony. I smiled to myself as I recalled the number of times I’d actually fallen out onto the balcony. No such indignity today, thank goodness.
Tod was disgustingly bright and smiley, and as soon as the kids saw him they squealed and raced up the rickety ladder to join us – the balcony swayed and creaked under the onslaught and I felt the first worry of the day coming on.
The kids jumped around laughing and pulling Tod’s beard & practising
their English on us, but I noticed that although these were village children who we knew from our previous visits, there were none of ‘our’ class amongst them.
Where were they all?
It was a national festival and school was off, but even so we couldn’t see any of our class of 2009.
Kalyani’s mother climbed into the room behind us through a kind of hatchway that opened from her house next door. She came over to the balcony and shooed the kids away, pulling us back into the room and closing the shutters.
In the dimness that descended we saw she had laid Nepali tea and boiled eggs on the floor for us. We thanked her.
She is a truly kind and thoughtful woman, a mother hen whose caring nature could translate into any other culture.
After breakfast we began the major job of unpacking and organising the gifts. We had no idea when Kalyani would arrive, and until she did we had no way of discovering where ‘our’ children were.
We pretended not to notice that the door was pushed slowly open & one by one the children slid quietly into the room & sat on the floor whispering & giggling, watching us.
Kalyani’s room is no more than 10ft by 12 ft, but you’d be amazed how many small Nepalese children can pack in and still leave room for Tod and I to pile clothes, pens, hair shampoo, soap, towels etc, onto the bed.
We had just emptied both rucksacks & established some kind of order amongst the gifts to be distributed when a voice shouted from behind us,
“Tod! Fiona! I’m here at last!”
We turned and saw our Little Ant, Kalyani, standing grinning in the doorway.
The carpet of small children at our feet parted as if by magic to let Kalyani, Tod and me grab each other in a group hug. We were all talking at once, so pleased to have met up again after 2 years.
Kalyani was hot and out of breath. She had come as quickly as she could to join us, and had been walking since 1st light.
When we finally emerged from our hug, and plonked down on the floor together, we noticed that one or two of the children were crying, and Kalyani’s mum was sobbing.
But we HAD kept in touch from the first time we’d met in 2009, when Tod and I had spent 5 months in Nepal. We’d managed to reach Kalyani by mobile phone at least 2 or 3 times a month since then.
We knew that she’d applied for a visa to join her husband in Australia, but when she told us now that the visa would be through any day, we were shocked. It was really going to happen.
Kalyani wanted us to spend time with her in Kathmandu before she left for Australia. We were already 2 days later than planned in our itinery due to the strikes, and were due to go south to Chitwan in a day or so to see Karma. But we said yes. Of course we said yes.
We agreed to leave the village and return to Kathmandu with Kalyani the next day. We felt sad already. A sense of loss hovered over us.
But for now we needed the answer to the riddle of the disappearing class of 2009, and it was now that we discovered just how much had changed in the life of the village since we were last there in 2011.
The village school, where we had taught and had so much fun, had been demolished and rebuilt further up the mountainside. It was much bigger now.
‘Our’ class had dispersed, with some of the children moving on to the local state school, some leaving school completely, and some moving out of the area, either to study or accompanying their parents who had found work elsewhere.
Kalyani herself had lost touch with most of our class.
But right on cue Parbatti leapt through the door & grabbed Tod and me, laughing and sobbing at the same time. We hugged her. Parbatti is a wonderful bright, softly spoken. shy girl who was in our class.
The last time we saw her, in 2011, she had been standing on an isolated track outside her family house, waving goodbye to us as we walked with Kalyani to another valley.
Parbatti watched us go, waving and crying silently until we turned a bend in the track and lost sight of her.
Friends of ours, Sue and her granddaughters, had ‘adopted’ Parbatti, and have sent her letters and presents. We had brought bags of goodies from them for Parbatti and her best friend Susila.
We asked Parbatti about her family and her schooling – she was still attending the state school, and still uncomplainingly walking up to 4 hours a day to get there and back. She told us her family were all well, and that she was still enjoying school.
Eventually the large tears that had been running down her face constantly since she arrived stopped, and she wiped her eyes with a handkie I gave her.
But then Tod passed her the bag of presents from Sue’s girls, and if the look of astonishment and pleasure that appeared on Parbatti’s face could have been bottled, it would have lit up the whole of Nepal for a year.
She sobbed, sitting there on the floor with the bag on her lap, her tears making little damp patches as they fell on it.
Now our Ant is not known for her patience, and as Parbatti was being slow opening up her presents Kalyani grabbed the bag and began rummaging in it. There was total silence in the room. All eyes gazed and all breath was held as Kalyani started pulling out the goodies. The ‘oohhs’ and ‘ahhs’ got louder as the goodies mounted up, and when the envelope containing photos of Sue and her girls came out, Kalyani and Parbatti were swamped by a mass of squealing children as they all tried to look at the photos at the same time. Tod and I tried to bring some order to the scrum.
We rescued Parbatti’s presents for her and asked Kalyani to tell the kids that we had something for everyone – no one would leave without a present, and that went for the adults too.
But we judged it prudent not to give Parbatti the presents WE had brought for her just yet – she looked rather shell shocked, and was quietly reading through the letters Sue’s girls had sent her.
In the absence of any other member of our class of 2009 we decided on a plan of action. With Kalyani’s help we filled half a dozen bags with a variety of goodies and clearly marked the childrens’ names on them. Kalyani’s father agreed to deliver the bags to the children he knew were still in the area.
That left us with a pile of goodies ready and waiting to be distributed! Ha!
By this time the room was packed to the rafters with villagers old and young, laughing and talking, squished together on the floor like sardines, and overflowing out onto the rickety balcony.
I felt a worry coming on. Would the floor collapse under the weight?
We noticed several villagers in the throng that we specially wanted to speak to:
Molly had come in; the yak milkman was there; Kalyani’s sister was there; half a dozen village men had come to see Tod; and of course grandfather and grandmother had arrived.
Kalyani’s mum was sitting in a corner of the room laughing, chatting, and wiping away the occasional tear. It seemed that her happiness for Kalyani’s impending new life was weighed almost equally against her sorrow at losing her daughter.
Tod and I took deep breaths, grinned at each other, and began the distribution.

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We Reach the Village

The bus plunged down the steep track that had been gouged out of the mountain side & for 20 minutes or so slithered along on the red clay surface at walking pace, allowing us to take stock.
It was indeed a ‘new’ track, but the most astonishing thing was that alongside the new track a veritable village of new houses had sprung up.
For the most part they stood on newly created terraces which had already been planted with the new season’s crops, & millet and potatoes had already begun to grow. Not a bad effort so early at 7,000 ft. They looked lusciously green and healthy.
Goats stood about here and there pulling leaves from those trees that had survived the onslaught of man’s need to destroy, create, expand, & which still remained standing amongst the newly cut terraces. Water buffalo contemplated life from the shade of their newly built shelters, and chickens strolled here & there scratching for seeds.
We very quickly lost our bearings & were unable to work out which way the track was taking us, but we began to ascend the side of the valley more & more steeply, & the bus engine began to scream & screech with the effort. We staggered over the brow & plunged downwards once again. Then began a series of mind boggling, stomach lurching switchback turns as the bus stopped, & reversed at each one, skidding & skittering from side to side as it got going again.
We reached the bottom of an unfamiliar valley & began the steep climb up the other side. The track was no more than a matter of a foot or so wider than the spread of the bus wheels, & of course there were no safety barriers. We crawled slowly upwards. As we got higher the view became breathtaking, spectacular, and one that most humans could never grow tired of.
This valley was forested right up to its mountain tops, & the vast number of shades of green in the vegetation and trees shimmered in the sunlight and turned in the breeze.
We stared out the window at the roof of the world and tried not to look down.
The light was beginning to fade as we crawled through what we realised was the rhododendrum forest. It had just come into flower and the massive, gnarled rhododendrum trees were covered in wonderfully red blooms; truly a sight to behold. But I hadn’t always felt so affectionate towards them – this was the very forest we’d had to climb through on several occasions in order to reach or leave the village. Well, I should say that this was the forest that Tod & Kalyani had had to drag me through, and push me up the really steep parts!
Ha! I would never have to suffer that indignity again! Tod and I smiled.
And then suddenly we emerged from the forest & knew exactly where we were. Lohrimani was in sight.
Apart from half a dozen new houses the village of Lohrimani appeared mostly unchanged, & the bus pulled up outside Kalyani’s uncle’s shop, a small wooden shed packed with sacks of rice and herbs.
Wearily, very wearily, we got out, and were immediately swamped by villagers who had come from Salle to meet us, and wanted to say hello.
It was so very good to see them all again. This was what we had come half way round the world for.
Kalyani’s father, another couple of her uncles (don’t forget that Kalyani holds the world record for having the greatest number of aunts & uncles) and Molly & her son Buddha Llama who had been in our class.
They bundled us into the shop and made Nepali tea.
Molly hugged me so tightly that I couldn’t breathe, and we grinned at each other and shook our heads. She hadn’t changed in the last 2 years, but I couldn’t tell her that as I didn’t speak her language, and she couldn’t speak mine. But somehow that had never mattered to us, and we knew that we were friends, friends from vastly different backgrounds & cultures, but friends nevertheless.
Another of Kalyani’s uncles beckoned us outside & Kalyani’s father told us in pretty good English that we could ride to the village in a truck.
Deja Vu!! but this time I managed to scramble in with just a bit of help, and then Tod & I held on for grim death as we were thrown round in the front seat for 30 minutes.
At long last we were within sight of the village again.
I can’t tell you how good it was to finally climb down the steep path & stop in front of Kalyani’s parents’ house.
We looked around. In the dim remaining daylight Salle didn’t seem to have changed – the view out across the valley, the houses, the chicken huts….
Kalyani’s mother rushed out of the house & hugged us both. Grandfather came as fast as he could & hugged Tod again and again.
He grabbed my hand, touched my face, and hugged me too. I noticed he had lost the sight in an eye since we had last seen him, and I wondered if it was due to some simple problem that could easily be fixed if only he lived in some other country. But he still seemed to have retained his old vitality & sense of humour.
We were tired. The villagers had put our heavy rucksacks upstairs in Kalyani’s old room, and now they ushered us up the unstable ladder onto the wooden veranda, and into the room to eat.
Hard boiled eggs and chips – they had remembered!
Then they left us, and we heard them shushing each other and laughing as they closed the door on us.

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The Bus Journey

The bus left more or less on time, and we drove through the smog along the Kathmandu Valley, picking up new passengers as we went.
There were about 40 seats on the bus, & when they had all been taken people began to stand in the aisle.
Of course every space on this bus was smaller than you’d find in Europe or the USA – the Nepalese are considerably smaller than us – & it was impossible to sit straight, with legs out in front. In order to fit we had to slant slightly to the side, knees pointing left or right.
On this particular journey Tod was sitting by the window & I was next to the central aisle.
As the aisle filled up with swaying, seatless travellers the human crush overflowed across the seats and across those of us unlucky enough to be sitting in them.
In no time at all I was squashed hard against Tod, and unable to lean back on my seat because a woman had slipped an arm down behind my back & was resting her head on the top of my seat. She began to snore.
Now it must be said that the Nepalese do not harbour any principles of personal space, and nowhere is that more obnoxiously obvious than when travelling on a Local Bus.
I couldn’t move, pinned as I was at a decidedly awkward angle, and I bagan to sweat.
The bus was by now massively overcrowded – even the roof space was jam-packed, & we could see a row of sandal-clad feet hanging over the edge above our window.
We started to climb up and out of the valley and the bus, overburdened engine roaring, slowed to a crawl. It laboured up the hills, bumping & crashing into craters, bricks & stones on the rough surface of the track. It swayed ponderously around bends, leaning over, over, further & further, seemingly often just beyond the point of no return, then crashing back into an upright position.
The scenery outside the windows changed quite quickly from smog-laden, jumbled brick factories, half built houses, & pocket handkerchief patches of cultivated land, to the steeply sloping lower reaches of the magnificent Himalayas.
A wall of squealing Nepalese suddenly swayed in the aisle, lost their balance and fell on me. In complete panic I began pushing them off me, shouting & trying to catch my breath. But it was Tod who grabbed & shoved, leaning over me to push them back into the aisle, and pulling me towards the precarious safety of the window.
I wanted off that bus! I wanted to scream & run for the door. But of course that was the problem – I knew I couldn’t move anywhere. I was trapped. Tod & I couldn’t even change places – there was no room.
So I just had to breathe deeply & hang onto my sanity.
Ten hours later we reached the first, and only town in the region, albeit a very small one by Western standards. I’m reasonably sure that Chericote has a law that obliges its residents to walk up & down the main street & round the square constantly. Because that is just what they do, in massive, moving waves of humanity.
The bus has to edge slowly through them, horn honking & driver shouting, making for the relatively clear road across the square.
This time we stopped in the square, & amidst much loud talking & hand waving the bus began to disgorge 20 or 30 of its occupants.
I breathed a sigh of relief; but too soon.
Now here’s a strange thing:
There is a Wicked Gnome in Nepal that blinds the travelling Nepalese to the fact that in order to exit a bus the way must be clear & free of INcoming travellers. And conversely, in order to board a bus the way must have been previously cleared of all those travellers wishing to exit said bus.
Sadly, the Wicked Gnome is stronger than anyone can imagine, and keeps Common Sense locked in a deep, dark cavern, from which it seems unlikely that he will ever escape.
Tod & I watched open mouthed as Nepalese travellers LITERALLY CLIMBED OVER ONE ANOTHER in an attempt to either exit or enter the bus AT THE SAME TIME.
Unless you have seen this you really cannot comprehend.
We are talking old ladies, babies, young men & women, the works.
That Wicked Gnome really has a lot to answer for.
Eventually we set off again, and an hour later reached Cowah – the ‘Village of the Damned’ as we call it – at the top of the valley.
Here the Wicked Gnome had a trump card up his sleeve, because before anyone could move a group of local shopkeepers began loading their wares into the bus. The aisle rapidly filled up with sacks of rice & boxes of bottled beer, standing 3 ft high and completely blocking the way.
Only when everything was loaded in did half a dozen travellers inside the bus stand up & insist that they needed to get off, and they proceeded to attempt to do just that.
Yes, I hear what you say, but believe me, this is the staggering TRUTH!
And of course, not only did travellers leave the bus, in a scrambled heap, but then another half dozen got on. Tod & I lifted an elderly lady over a stack of sacks of rice, one of which had split and sent its contents over several seats.
Eleven hours in that bus must surely be enough for any mortal. I know it was for us. But it was a 12 hour journey.
We had been told that the buses now go down the valley to the village of Lohrimani, an hour or so from our destination, but we were completely unprepared for the route it now took.
We turned off, onto a completely new road.

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To Begin the Journey

Kalyani (the young village school headmistress with whom we had become friends in 2009 during our 5 month stay in her village) was detained in her husband’s village by the death of his grandmother.
Kalyani’s husband lives and works in Australia & so couldn’t be there, but of course Kalyani was expected to take part in the ensuing ceremonies.
We understood.
She sent her youngest brother to accompany us up to the village,
“You must not go alone,” she said, “it is too dangerous these days.”
Please don’t get the idea that Nepal as a whole is dangerous for foreigners – I don’t think it is. But we were traveling up to a remote, isolated region, not far from Everest, and very far from ‘civilisation’.
We also had with us 2 large rucksacks stuffed with goodies for the village children and adults, & quite a bit of money to give to them.
We had therefore immediately become a potential target for the unscrupulous have nots, and would almost certainly not have reached the village with our luggage or money intact.
Kalyani’s brother looked 12 years old but was actually 17. He came with us in a taxi to the bus station to buy the tickets that would get us up to the village.
The bus station is not one of our favourite places. In 2009 it was nothing less than a stinking cess pit. In 2011 it had been somewhat cleaned up; but now it seemed to have slipped back into the realms of unbelievable filth, and massive piles of crawling rubbish.
No one collects rubbish in Nepal.
No one cleans it up.
No one seems to take responsibility for it, and to be honest no one seems to be in the least bothered by the piles of rotting garbage which stream in unsightly ribbons down the sides of so many mountains, and gather in mounds to block so many rivers.
The monsoons wash the rivers clear again, but no one seems to care where the rubbish ends up.
The story of our time in Nepal is very much tied up with the stories of our chaotic travels here.
Each journey is an adventure.
But when the ticket seller told us that there were no longer any micro buses on the route we would have to take up to the village, our hearts sank. That meant we’d have to travel in a Local Bus. Much more risky.
The mountain tracks are rough, high, and narrow, and the safety barrier hasn’t yet been invented over here.
Last month yet another Local Bus slid over the edge of a mountain & 26 of its occupants were killed. Odd that; because usually every occupant will die – the heights involved are breathtaking.
So we bought tickets for seats on the Local Bus the next day for the 3 of us, and a seat for our rucksacks.
If we’d allowed our rucksacks to travel on the bus roof they would doubtless never have arrived.
Time in Nepal has become confusing. How did it manage to get ahead of the UK by 5 hours and 15 minutes??
We asked the hotel reception to call us at 5am. Kalyani’s brother said he’d call us at 4.45am. The taxi was due to pick us up at 6am.
The best laid plans….
Kalyani’s brother woke us up at 4am. Reception rang us at 4.30am.
OK. We were up. No problem.
I went into the bathroom to wash. Every bathroom here has an open vent/grid in the floor out of which a faint odour of sewers will often creep, filling the room with a disagreeable smell that seems to stick to the towels and sneak onto your clothes too.
You get used to it.
I began to brush my teeth, carefully, using water from our filter bottle, and leaning over the basin.
Without warning a huge bubble of putrid air belched out of the vent on the floor behind me & completely smothered me in the worst, the most disgusting, abominable stink I had ever experienced.
I retched, dropped my toothbrush & the water bottle, ran out of the bathroom & threw up in the bedroom.
Tod grabbed me & sat me down, then quickly slammed the bathroom door shut against the raging stink inside.
I threw up again and sat shaking on the edge of the bed.
Unfortunately we needed our washing stuff, which remained in the bathroom.
In situations like these you need a quick thinking Tod, and he grabbed my perfume, opened the bathroom door, and emptied most of my ‘Opium’ into the stinking haze inside.
I would just like to point out that I wasn’t peeved at this astonishing misuse of my precious perfume, probably because I felt too ill to protest.
Adding insult to injury the taxi driver couldn’t sleep & picked us up at 5.30am.
So we and our rucksacks were settled on the Local Bus in good time for the 12 hour journey to the village of Salle.
We were about to start yet another adventure!

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The Garden of Dreams, Kathmandu

Over the past few years we’ve spent many days wandering the streets of Kathmandu. We’ve seen the sights, dodged the sprawling piles of rubbish, avoided the pools of rancid, smelly water, and marvelled at the enduring testaments to bygone splendour tucked away round every corner.
How we feel about Kathmandu can be neatly split into two:
We love it. We love the now familiar sights and sounds; we love the all pervading smell of incense; we love the smiling people who endure so much simply to survive.
And we dislike it. We dislike the all too pushy shopkeepers (who have forgotten the government dictate that they must not hassle tourists); we dislike the corruption that sends creeping tendrils into every walk of life. And what could you find to like in the fact that the only water available to the residents of Kathmandu is delivered in water tankers once a week, and that electricity is rationed to the bone.
The latest in a series of general strikes kept us trapped here 2 days longer than planned. We wanted to be away, up to the small village of Salle in the Everest Region, up and out of the Kathmandu Valley smog, up to see our friends once again – after all, that is why we are here.
Our large, heavy rucksacks are packed with presents for the children and villagers of the small, isolated village where we attempted to teach English for 5 months, 4 years ago.
This will be our second return, but exactly as before, actually getting back up to the village is fraught with problems.
So we wait and wait. The ultra grimy heat begins to get us down – you can taste the polluted air in your mouth. We begin to cough, and the constant disturbed nights sleep takes its toll.
I fall over the straps of our rucksacks which wait by the door of our room – Tod’s fault for leaving them there; I drop the only towel on the dusty, dirty floor, rendering it unusable – Tod’s fault for, well, some reason or another; I can’t find my hairbrush – Tod’s fault again; My face cream shoots me in the eye under pressure from the altitude – the final straw.
I’m lucky.
“We need to go & spend time at the Garden of Dreams” Tod says, and smiles that smile of his that makes everything ok again.
So we go, walking slowly and carefully along the narrow, morning streets, avoiding the water that most shopkeepers are throwing down outside their shops to keep the filthy dust at bay; swaying out of the path of speeding scooters; jumping out of the way of dashing taxis; politely refusing rickshaw rides; and laughing as Tod is offered drugs for the umpteenth time.
“Do I look as though I smoke it?” he asks me, peeved,
“Yes!” I tell him.
We leave the tourist area & walk along a wide boulevard lined with street sellers, beggers, and tiny crying children who may or may not have parents. We walk in silence, weighed down with guilt.
A high wall, high enough to block any view of what is behind it, suddenly looms on our left. We walk along to the small, arched doorway in it. ‘Garden of Dreams’ is etched into the brickwork above our heads, and we pass through the doorway and turn sharp left.
The ticket seller smiles at us and asks for 400 Rupees, surprisingly less than on our last visit. We pass our money through the glassless window & take the proffered tickets.
We walk half a dozen steps and enter the Garden of Dreams.
As on our previous visit 4 years before we stand and stare around, marvelling at the sight that has unfolded in front of us.
The noisy rush of sound from the street outside is suddenly so muted as to be almost excluded; the filthy, grime filled air that habitually blankets Kathmandu is kept at bay here by the tall trees and gentle breeze.
We breathe deeply.
A couple of nosey chipmunks rush across to us and then race each other up and down the thick trunk of an impossibly tall, exotic looking tree. We smile.
And then we stroll over sloping grass to what looks just like a perfect Victorian band stand, and settle down on the seats around the inside.
We sit in peaceful silence and stare around.
The ‘Garden of Dreams’ is described as ‘a neo-classical historical garden.’
It was created by Field Marshal Kaiser Shumsher Rana in the early 1920s.
We gaze at pavilions, fountains, pergolas in a mixture of ancient Greek style beauty & European colonial style facades.
The large pond is classical, and through its clear water we watch fat, slow moving goldfish weaving in and out of the floating water lilies.
After Kaiser Shumsher’s death the Garden fell into disrepair. Its eventual renovation was financed by the Austrian Government, and the Gardens were opened to the public in 2006.
It is worth noting that the 200 Rupee entrance fee means that probably only foreigners will benefit from this wonderful, unique Garden.
We strolled about & then sat under the high, cool columns of one of the pavilions. We had coffee, served to us by a friendly, softly spoken waiter who told us he was proud to work in the Garden of Dreams. We understood.
Some time later, when we felt refreshed and renewed, when the Garden had worked its magic on us, we left that peaceful, elegant oasis of calm, and walked once more back through the teeming, airless streets of Kathmandu, ready for our forthcoming trip to the village of Salle.

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A Welcome Return to Kathmandu

We forget, don’t we?
The brain has a crafty mechanism designed to obliterate those most difficult or uninspiring memories – memories that you don’t want to revisit, whether you know it or not.
Things you swore you’d never do again; situations you prayed you’d never have to face again.
So, here we are again, back in Kathmandu!
The trip was, well, tiring. I swear I will never do it again. If only there was an easier way to get here from the UK. But if there was, maybe Nepal wouldn’t hold the attraction that it does, and wouldn’t reach out and drag us back here again and again.
We saw within 5 minutes of settling into the micro bus outside the airport, and setting off towards Thamel, that things in Kathmandu had changed during our 2 year absence. Not for the better.
The roads were in a worse state of repair than 2 years ago, and God knows they’d been bad enough then. We crashed, bumped and crawled along, avoiding the moving mass of humanity that thronged the route, and peering through the clouds of grimy dust at the all too many shades of humanity that sat or lay at the side of the roads.
Sad eyed women with tiny babies wrapped in filthy cloths; elderly men seeming abandoned, and staring into space; unwashed children chasing each other through piles of rubble and old bricks that seemed to be scattered everywhere.
Somehow, there seemed to be more people, more rubble, more decay than we remembered.
We arrived at the hotel in somber mood.
But we cheered up when the staff recognised us and made a fuss! Well, they made a fuss of Tod and his beard. We laughed.
We spent our first full day wandering round, renewing our aquaintance with various shopkeepers & drinking Nepali tea as if it was going out of fashion.
The worsening economic situation in Kathmandu has forced several of them to relocate over the last 2 years to smaller, cheaper premises off the tourist track. They bemoaned their fate, and the fate of their country.
It seems that the Nepali parliament is still in uproar, making any semblance of governing the nation unrealistic.
And, what do you know, there is a general strike today and tomorrow.
4 years and 2 years ago we sat through several general strikes, unable to travel, unable to do anything at all – all shops and offices were closed.
One shopkeeper who had the temerity to open up was rewarded by having his shop burned down.
This time however, maybe 25% of shops in the tourist area are open for business, in defiance of the strike. They have had enough.
But there is little electricity in Kathmandu – certainly not during the day. 2 years ago the noise of generators struggling to provide light to the shops and offices was a constant background roar. But now they are all but silent, having fallen victim to the worsening financial situation. Petrol comes in from India, and it is expensive.
Now here’s an odd thing:
Nepal is usually 5 hours ahead of the UK. I say ‘usually’ because believe it or not, some fiendish quirk of fate has provided Nepal with an extra 15 minutes. Yes. I kid you not. It is now 5 hours and 15 minutes ahead of the UK. What on earth has happened? Where have they nicked it from? Has Nepal somehow moved through space faster than us? Have we in the West stumbled and lost a quarter of an hour somewhere? Is our 15 minutes floating around in the ether, discarded and lost?
Will an astronomer spot it one day heading in our direction?
Or is there someone amongst us who should have been famous?

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