Nepal, December 27, 2011
First Published: 11:38 IST(27/12/2011)
Last Updated: 11:38 IST(27/12/2011)
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There are many reasons to visit Nepal. The best views of the Himalayas, amazing trekking trails, loads of adventure sports, exquisite monasteries, ancient temples and until fairly recently, shopping arcades full of cheap imported stuff for the Indians.
The Indian love affair with
Nepal lost its sheen ever since the political overlords opened-up the economy in the early 90s. With the easy availability of ready-made garments, shiny sneakers, music and electronics at home, the typical indolent tourist of India, uninterested in the slightly dangerous but mostly wonderful Himalayan experience has shied away from the hill kingdom.
With cheap travel options available to South-east Asia, internal unrest and a rather similar cultural backdrop, Nepal dropped out as a go-to destination a while back. Indeed the casinos too - the last pull perhaps - have now been out done by the floating boats of Goa.
Thus, I was rather amused when I received an invitation to a marriage in Kathmandu and pounced on the opportunity. Three of us, me and a couple of old friends decided to stay back for a week after the ceremony and explore all the adventure & excitement the country had to offer.
Landing in KTM on a September morning, we realized that we hadn't checked with the weather gods.
With the monsoon season still on its receding worst, we were a bit wary of my chances to make it through the Annapurna base camp, the Tibetan border, the kayaking expedition, the mountain biking and the bungee jumping itinerary we had meticulously planned for in the hour long flight.
But it couldn't be all that bad. At least now we had a chance to 'explore' the city, instead of running form one point to another, or that is how I pitched our state of affairs to my friends whom I had admittedly coerced into a 'vacation' in the Himalayan kingdom.
Insistent on making the most out of our time in KTM, amid torrential rain, flooded rivers and trembling landslides across Nepal, I offered them the old western pitch of finding a Shangri-la amidst the hills.
The Kathmandu valley is effectively the only flat land in the country. Most of the nation's population and economy too is restricted to the valley. We then, were at least stranded in the ideal place to be stranded in; if you believe in that sort of thing.
The first three days, being in a multi-star hotel were indeed luxurious. Shielded from the real world, we concentrated on eating, drinking and doting on the fairer guests. Occasionally we went about trying out the different casinos in the city, which we unanimously found to be rather awful, but not because we lost in the loads,each time.
Out of options
Cash strapped, dehydrated and bored we moved to more affordable premises after we had out-partied the 'posh' hospitality. We found a nicely maintained bed & breakfast, run by a lively Israeli couple with a penchant for trekking and mountain climbing.
Sincerely advised to not venture on to anything dangerous, we decided to cut the trip short and return in some other season, as the only interest we really had was in the mountains and the wild.
We got our flight tickets rescheduled for the next day and headed out into the town for some sightseeing.
Kathmandu has many fantastic temples, in fact the most popular spot, Durbar Square, is a collection of dozen or so small and large temples spread out in the centre of the city, surrounded by the erstwhile royal residences and major markets. Of note to Hindus, is the Pashupatinath temple, a major religious spot on the north-eastern edge of the city.
Most of the city's touristy activities though are limited to Thamel. A shopping district by day and nightlife haven by night, Thamel has it all; trekking gear, Buddhist robes, woollen carpets, Tibetan masks, pirated movies, pubs, Guinness beer, hashish, cheap lodges, dance bars and pimps.
Some souvenir shopping and Nepalese food later (which is a rather poor cousin of Indian food); Having had our fill of the city, we were all set to depart, but vowed to return in a few months time.
On the morning of our return journey we woke up to news reports about a freak accident in the hills involving a small plane with a bunch of tourists on-board. Helicopter and single-engine plane rides around the Himalayan peaks are very popular as they provide some unforgettable vistas.
Due to the harsh weather conditions, especially at higher altitudes, one such plane had crashed that morning, bringing the airport to a halt. Our flight was cancelled and our ticket moved to the next day's flight to Delhi.
We returned to the B&B, slightly shaken, but soon picked up our spirits after having some delicious pancakes. We decided to spend the day exploring the narrow lanes of Thamel and may be stack up on some Yak cheese or a khukri (traditional Gurkha knife).
Wandering or rather dodging our way through bikers and other lost tourists, we were spotted by Aaron. An amiable boy, not a day older than fifteen, he followed us around the market, offering to strike up the best deal for everything we dared to look at.
After our strategy of ignoring him failed and charmed by his energetic pitches, we started chatting with him about the various wares on display. He started guiding us through the busy streets of Thamel to lead us to the best shop for a sleeping bag, a traditional mask and a Buddha statue.
"Where you from boss? You want weed? I get you good deal", he chirped after getting perhaps a bit too comfortable with us. Smiling at this, one of us replied to the negative. "No thanks. We are from India. You know Delhi? We are from New Delhi".
"Oh so why don't you call me Arjun. My name is Arjun, not Aaron. Foreign people cannot say Arjun, so I say Aaron. You want girl? I get you good deal".
Instantly interested and then repelled, we made it clear that none of us were interested in any such activity, but since we liked his company, we kept on chatting, asking him about Thamel, the tourists, especially the Indian tourists and his thoughts about India.
After every few sentences, he would diligently get back to try and get us a good deal. This he would habitually do in English, despite talking to us in Hindi about all other things.
We got a lot of information about his and dare I say Nepalese (or as Indians say, Nepali) point of view, including the best clubs for the evening, which was the only thing we paid any attention to during his monologues in broken Hindi, and English sales pitches.
The last night
All decked up for the night out, our efforts came to naught as all that Thamel has in terms of clubs are essentially Dance Bars (of the Bombay type, not the Brixton type) which are differentiated by the type of music they play -- ghazals, rock, disco or Bollywood - but are similar in so far as featuring a jolly group of girls dancing around tables.
The only redeeming feature of our last night in KTM was the cheap alcohol, which we enjoyed and jollied up to!
It was all down hill after that as someone came up with a brilliant idea to keep us amused. Still not sure who the perpetrator was, perhaps the waiter serving our table, we nevertheless were all excited to follow it through.
The plan was simple enough - catch hold of a pimp, go to a bordello, discuss the going rates all in the name of some entertainment and local knowledge. This to our alcohol-immersed brains was a splendid time pass; an adventure in its truest sense.
Finding a dark alley is rather easy at two in the night, the time when most 'clubs' close down and the 'staf