THE ADVENTURES OF ANNAPURNA, PART 1 – KATHMANDU
Just a few days before I stepped on a plane I became a bit itchy, then a bit more itchy, until I found myself down at the doctors surgery faced by, not one but two physicians staring at me and scratching their heads as if in some way it would ease my discomfort. The cause? I have become allergic to myself.
Stress and anxiety, in my family it would seem, seem to run hand in hand with actually just existing. I thought I was ok, I didn’t think I was stressed, but the anxiety of doing something so massive as a) getting in a big lump of metal that is actually supposed to float through the air for thousands of miles, b) leaving my bolt-hole safe place of home for a whole month c) not having the security of hubby with me for all that time and d) the thing that really pushed me over the edge – packing, caused the histamine to totally take over my body and forced me to stuff as much fexofenadine down my throat as humanly possible.
By Tuesday morning I was fixed, delivered to Heathrow with a big lump in my throat and pockets full of damp tissues (and fexofenadine), checked in and through to the bar in departures in less than 20 minutes. And suddenly I became calm. We were on our way and despite what I’d thought an hour before, I didn’t want to turn back. I still f***ing hate flying though.
This is my diary account from my sketchbooks, with writing so tiny so as to fit in the few pages I could actually carry the entire journey…
Day 1 & 2 – Sleep deprivation & the journey to Kathmandu
We land after a somewhat epic, but easy, journey on a pretty much empty flight – sorry Jet, you were brilliant, but it did show you were hitting the wall. Three seats for the price of one, copious food and a lovely doze meant that I didn’t mind flying too much while we were actually in the air, and the absence of any neighbours in the seats surrounding me meant that I didn’t panic anyone by hopelessly grabbing at the seat in front during take-off and landing.
First impressions of Kathmandu are as I expected; busy, dusty, vibrant as we bounce around in the back of the tiniest cab ever (with the biggest luggage ever), navigating the winding journey between cars, scooters, pedestrians & cows to Tom’s house, situated on the British camp over in Lalitpur. Which we are reliably informed is not part of Kathmandu but has kind of been swallowed by the encroaching, dusty onslaught of buildings that have crammed into the space between the hills. Not that you can see them through the haze of fumes and dust. It’s midday, hot and despite my body crying for sleep I’m not actually tired.
We drop our bags, shower (for what it’s worth) and head off on foot to explore the old part of the city. And to learn the fine art of crossing the road in these parts. There are no road markings because there is very little road to attach them too, there is a vague attempt at a zebra crossing here and there that everybody ignores, and to add to the gameshow theme, no road names, house numbers, or anything that could offer even an inkling of location. You simply cross the road by walking out into the traffic and hoping for the best, and locate ourselves by keeping up with Tom.
We find ourselves at the Bhimsen temple, with the most extraordinary wood carvings – huge doors and window frames – all carved and restored incredibly fast after the 2015 earthquake destroyed this place. There is still evidence of the rebuild continuing, but the attention to detail of the reconstruction is awe-inspiring. But we’ve been on the go for about 30 hours and the guide that preys on us traipses us around vendors selling every type of Nepali and Tibetan craft, rushing through a mumbled explanation of anything vaguely interesting and then I nod off in a thangka workshop. It’s not that the beautiful Tibetan mandala paintings are anything but wonderful, but I’ve just seen the exact one for sale down the road and I’m now stuck in front of a guy ‘painting’ this one and all I want is my bed.
So what do we do? We go for a beer of course, then food, then sleep. A good long sleep as we have the next day to ourselves…
We’re picked up at midday (about 6am GMT) by Tom’s regular and trusted taxi driver Amar. 3000 rupees for the day buys us all the sightseeing our tired bodies can manage. That’s around £20, a good days wage apparently. Amar has a family to keep on this.
First we make our way to Pashupatinath, an incredibly spiritual place of funeral pyres for all castes and class. We see a man celebrated and his pyre lit before watching the family of a significantly richer man gather around his pyre, burning for an hour already. Smoke mingles with incense and puts the dehumanised practice in the UK into perspective. This, this is how it should be. A celebration. Our guide tells us that those that have taken to western practices of medicine or diet, not keeping themselves totally natural, will take longer to burn; nearer 5 hours rather than 3, and I understand how this couldn’t be made to work on the conveyor belt that is death in our home country.
We walk back to Amar’s box on wheels, looking at religious temples as we go and I find myself glancing back to see how the pyres are getting on, it’s almost hypnotic.
Next we find ourselves at Boudhanath, a huge round stupa surrounded by masses of prayer flags and a bunch of red robed monks silently coming to their 1.30pm prayers, the peace broken by a young guy deliberately blaring out bad rap to protest against…what? Needless to say he receives looks of death from some of the monks, which I try to balance with my understanding of Buddhism and he seems to enjoy. This has so far been the only deliberate act of antagonism I’ve seen here in Nepal and it angers me.
We find a rooftop restaurant, enjoy our first taste of thali (dal bhat – a meal I ate pretty much on a nightly basis, especially as portions are refilled until the pot is empty), drink a beer and appreciate the (now) peaceful view over the bustling city around us. It might be the beer, but right now I feel on holiday and excited about what’s to come.
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