Travels with the Beard – Nepal and Beyond

Our travels, chickens and surviving life

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.


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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