Sunday, 14 January 2018

A welcome in Kathmandu

The plan, in coming to Nepal, was to spend some quiet time recuperating from the events of last year. Maybe I should know better than to think life here could be quiet. So much has happened in this first week I can’t condense it into one post, and so I’ll give you snippets, and then more snippets when I get home.

The airport in Kathmandu no longer alarms me. To be fair, the airport itself has never alarmed me, and the computerised visa system now makes the arrivals process significantly easier and quicker. No, it is the landing, in the mountains, which had been a bit breath-holding. One minute you think you are several hundred feet above the ground and then, a quick circle with mountains crowding on all sides, and you’re down. (It’s still alarming if it’s windy!)

But I hadn’t expected all the Nepalis on the plane to stand up and put coats on. I’ve been here in January before, and know it can be chilly in the evening, but this time it was actually cold. Not England-cold, not the raw, bone-eating cold of home, but still cold. And cold enough for poor people without warm clothes to die in Nepal this winter. So, I tell myself, put your fleece back on and stop grumbling.

Besides, after the usual preliminaries at the hotel I was invited to join the group of young men cooking potatoes on a fire in the courtyard. We sat close enough to get hot knees. The flames fizzed and crackled, smoke wafted into the night sky, and the potatoes were delicious. Welcome, I thought, to Nepal.

I had just one full day in Kathmandu. I wandered out in the morning, armed with a map and the sun in the south. So how did I get so lost, so often? Yet each time I ended up on a street corner, clearly bewildered, someone took my trusty map and relocated me. Each time I’d set off again, with confidence, only to get lost again. (Once a lad was sent to run after me, as I’d taken the wrong turning within half a minute of leaving the man who had sorted me out!). 


I’m rarely fazed by being lost. And it matters not one jot in Kathmandu - the streets are teeming with people and motorbikes and cars, small shops spill their wares onto the pavements, the air is so thick with diesel you can taste it, icons at the roadside exude wafts of incense, there are potholes and storm drains and the occasional dog - but the Nepalese are unfailingly kind and generous. If I had to choose one city in the world to get lost in, it would be Kathmandu!

Sunday, 7 January 2018

By the time I get to Kathmandu ...

By the time I get to Kathmandu you’ll be having your Tuesday lunch ... yes, it’s that time of year again.

I’m packing. As a process it doesn’t faze me - I just gather everything I need and tuck it into my suitcase. (What? No rucksack? Sadly my knees have, finally, rebelled at being asked to carry a quarter of my body weight on my back. And so I’ve found a lovely wheelie suitcase with plenty of pockets and I am beginning to forgive it for not being a rucksack.)

But packing is so much more than just shoving things into a suitcase. It comes with that tingly feeling that precedes every trip. Even returning to somewhere I know and love, like Nepal, it is impossible to predict what might happen. 

Last time I visited just after the earthquake. There was devastation everywhere, but almost no tourists. How much has been rebuilt? Have the tourists returned? What has been built to lure them? I know that Pokhara now boasts the longest zip line in the world (a drop of 600m over 1.8km) ... shall I?

Last time I had too close an encounter with a crocodile. The time before that it was a tiger. Is it time to settle by the riverside and steer clear of the wildlife?

Last time Tika’s children were aged 6 and 14. Is the little boy too big for balloons now?

I know I need some recuperative time after the challenges of last year. And I know the country well enough to be sure I can find some restful places. I also know that it is full of the unexpected - and  to go with too many plans means I miss the opportunities that might leap out at me (metaphorically - I don’t need leaping tigers!)

These are the sort of mumblings that accompany my packing. It is a glorious dialogue between the familiarity of last-minute preparations and possibilities that lie ahead. 


Enjoy your Tuesday lunch. While I unpack in Kathmandu.