Posts Tagged 'kathmandu'

Existential Panic World Tour Part 8: Prague-o-rama

Well, I’m in Prague. I must say former Eastern Bloc country or not, after Kathmandu this place seems positively luxurious.

I’m staying with my parents in the outside of the city, but near a metro station. Our landlord, a kindly guy with flamboyant facial hair named Mr. Rippl, took it upon himself to redecorate the place in a style befitting the new rapidly Westernizing Prague. He hired a decorator and spared no expense. The result is an odd combination between the cool modernist sensibility of Ikea and a bordello. The door is covered padded leather, there are at least ten large mirrors in this four room apartment, and there is more gold and pink in the master bedroom than in the Trump tower. Nonetheless, there is a TV with CNN and MTV, a shower with actual water pressure and a refrigerator filled with beer and there is nary a lentil in sight.

Our apartment is in a Le Corbusian soviet-style nightmare development. Soulless blocks of flats, each seemingly designed to outdo the next in sheer modernist brutality, extend into the horizon in almost every direction. The Czech have tried some half-hearted attempts at landscape design, but most seem to have weeded over. Nonetheless, there are no stinking mounds of garbage, no ill-tempered, leech-bitten cows wandering in the streets, no ten year-olds hawking hash nor are there any microcephalic children begging for change. Yup, it’s all very quiet here. Of course there are no snake charmers, Tibetan monks or Himalayas either. Can’t have everything.

Anyhow, I spent my final hours in Kathmandu doing some last minute shopping. I bought a sweater, a book on Yetis, and a handful of T-shirts. In virtually every shop they sold calenders with Buddhist imagery printed on handmade paper. I debated buying one but then thought better of it. I left for Kathmandu airport (among one of the most dangerous in the world because the country’s too damned poor to afford radar) on a cab blasting Elton John’s “Goodbye English Rose.” It was an oddly melodramatic moment. I spent several hours languishing in the absolute chaos of the Dehli airport until I boarded my Austrian Air flight. There everything was jarringly clean and orderly. Oopah music was wafting over the PA and the stewardess in their smart fraulein outfits offered everyone bread, cheese and a drink of their choice. I arrived in Prague after about 12 hours total traveling time and with little in the way of a good night’s sleep. I deposited my bags and headed into town. As I sauntered among the beerhalls, the gingerbread architecture, the Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonalds, and the legions of tourists, I happened upon a small boutique that specialized in Asian knick-knacks. There hanging next
to a pile of Tibetan incense was the EXACT same calendar with the Buddhist imagery that I almost bought in Kathmandu. Suddenly, my lack of sleep caught with me. For one terrifying moment I really wasn’t sure where the hell I was. Was I Nepal? Czechland? Ann Arbor? Fortunately, at that instance my mom slapped me on my back and said, “Let’s go get a beer.” I complied. I needed one.

Anyway, on Thursday I’m off for deepest darkest Russia, which should prove to be at least as wild and woolly as my Nepal escapades.

Existential Panic World Tour Part 4: How Jon Got His Groove Back or the Himalaya Shuffle

Three Nepali who asked for me to take their pictures.

You will all be happy to know that my intestinal tract no longer reacts like a spooked animal to food, though I must say I’m become much more paranoid about what I put in my mouth now.

Anyway, I’ve just returned from a short hike around the Kathmandu valley with the ever-perky “Mr. Nepal.” We left the smoggy haze of Kathmandu for Bhaktapur (where “The Little Buddha” was filmed) and began our hike for Nagakot which reputedly affords a spectacular view of the Himalayas, including Everest. Now, since I arrived in Nepal I had yet to see real dipped in the wool mountain. It being the tail end of the monsoon season, the Kathmandu valley was blanketed with a thick layer of clouds every day. I was beginning to think that the Himalayas were, in fact, an elaborate ruse devised by the tourist board.

Outside of Bhaktapur, Udhap (aka Mr. Nepal) asked a goat herder which was the best path to Nagakot since his favorite trail had been washed out from monsoonal rains. He lead us to one trail which probably was the fast route, because it went straight up the mountain. Panting and sweaty, we eventually stumbled onto the one and only paved road to Nagakot. We stopped by a food cart selling Fanta and coconut meat and checked our shoes and socks for leeches.

Like finding a wedding ring in your Ballpark frank, discovering a leech dangling from one of your appendages is one of life’s less pleasant experiences. Leeches are common in Nepal and India during the Monsoon and immediately after. They frequently hide in tall grass or they drop from trees. The earlobe, I heard is a favorite sucking ground. I always imagined leeches as looking like vampire slugs but, in fact,
having the privilege of looking at one up close as it worked its way up my shoe, they are actually quite small to begin with. Only until after they get a belly full of blood do they swell to slug sizes. I flicked a handful off my shoes, thinking that I had successfully thwarted the leech onslaught. It wasn’t until I reached the hotel and discovered that my sock was drenched in blood that I realized different.

Nagakot was a small village but it is slowly evolving into a tourist resort. A number of five star hotels have been built there, though during the off-season (e.g. during the monsoons) the place is empty. We stayed at a decidedly half star location called the Himalaya Resort. The room was carpeted in astro turf which didn’t hide the odd dead bug lying on the floor. The “resort” was perched right on a ridge that would have had a fantastic view. The clouds had rolled in though leaving the entire panorama white. Slowly though, as Udhap and the hotel’s owner beat each other in chess, the clouds parted revealing much of the valley below, yet they refused to show the Himalayas. “Don’t worry,” he said. “At dawn all will be clear.” That night, me being the only guest in the hotel, drank Nepali Rice spirits (think of sake and kerosene mixed) and looked at the valley in the moonlight. There was only a few light to be seen. I also learned that night that “Colorado” means “black penis” in Nepali.

When I groggily awoke, I discovered that it was of course that it was pissing down a cold hard rain. Hiking under such circumstances is risky at best, but since I left my fleece in Kathmandu, it was out of the question. So we caught a bus. It was pretty much what I imagined it would be like: toothless women with a pound of gold hanging from their noses clutching chickens to their laps; old men spitting out of the window; people hanging off the bus from the doors and roof. It was crowded, hot, and sweaty. As the bus snaked down the mountain road I oscillated from fits of terror to mere numbed detachment. The average Nepali road is as wide as an American driveway and full of every imaginable variety of vehicle, from rickshaw, to elaborately decorated truck, to scooters, to the odd Mercedes. The road is further clogged with pedestrians, cows, goats and anything else you can think of.

Back at Bhaktapur we changed buses for one bound for Dhulikhek on the highway to Tibet, which afford another alleged view of the Himalayas. We stayed at the Royal Inn Hotel which was booked full with a Nepali film crew who was shooting a movie there. That night Udhap and I played more chess with the director who was very, very drunk. Udhap and the other non-film stars had a very casual reaction to said stars. For example, Udhap once said referring to an youngish man sitting in the next table, “XXX is a good actor, but he hasn’t risen much in the business.” Then the man nods and says, “Yes, I haven’t risen much in the business.”

Before that though, I looked on the hotel’s roof deck to try to see the Himalayas. The rain had stopped but the clouds were still played peek-a-boo with the mountains.

I decided to walk about the village of Dhukilek. It was a charming place and aside from the odd Coca Cola advertisement probably looked much as it did three hundred years ago. No shops hawking email access or ten year olds hawking hash like in Kathmandu. I walked blithefully along, snapping pictures until I realized that my camera case had fallen off my camera. Backtracking I came upon a trio of women sitting on a towel in front of the local temple. She handed me my case, which apparently had dropped off right in front of them, but she also wanted me to take their pictures. She tried to communicate something else to me too but I couldn’t make out what it was. Soon a crowd developed around me and soon some guy who looked a lot like Bob Denver of Gillian’s Island fame translated in a circuitous manner. The women wanted me to send them the pictures. Ok, sure. Then they lead me to the local Hindu temple and asked, almost demanded, that I shoot them in front of a statue of Krishna. Soon my roll was spent and they eagerly wanted to know when they would get the photos. They gave me a remarkably vague address (behind the 3rd temple or something like that) and I beat a hasty retreat to the hotel.

At 5:30am the next day, today, Udhap beat on my door and said, “Hey Mountains!” Later that day, we climbed Dhulikhek “hill” which did give a jaw-dropping stunning, amazing view. At last.

Well, for the next three days I will be at Chitwan national park going on a safari. There I’ll see rhinos, barking deer (yes, that’s right, barking deer) and tigers in the wild. Then I’ll be gazing at Himalayas, and battling leeches on the Annapurna trail near Pokhara for a week.

Existential Panic World Tour Part 3: The Kathmandu Curse

During one of Kathmandu’s many power cuts, a frequent traveler to these parts–a tall, tattooed Rasta guy sporting a Dave Matthew’s T-Shirt, lectured us Nepal Newbies of the Kathmandu curse. I was sitting in the lobby of the hotel, huddled around a candle with my fellow travelers. Rasta guy leaned into the candle’s light and after a brief dramatic pause, he declared that everyone who visits Kathmandu gets sick within a week.

Ha, I thought. I had been vaccinated to my eyebrows and I had enough over-the-counter medicine to cripple a pack mule. That is until I was felled by a cheese sandwich. Previously I had eaten in little hole in the wall (literally) places where Nepalis actually ate. One place where I had some stunning lentil curry had no electricity but did have throngs of toothless women in saris. No problem. In another place, I had spicy milk tea in hang-out for Kathmandu’s thin blue line, which consisted of a guy with a camp stove boiling milk and selling chewing tobacco behind a run-down stupa. No sweat. But when I eat a bleedin’ cheese sandwich at a restaurant which featured a menu in three languages and proudly stated that they soaked all of their vegetables in iodined water, that’s when I find myself two hours later hurlin’ in the street.

That night I was plagued by images from the Indian movies I have seen (I’ve see one more film since my last missive, that one equally as bizarre). That weird sniveling villain, those oscillating busoms of the back-up singers danced before my fevered mind. But worst of all, one of the songs from said movies remained fixed in my head playing over and over and over and over.

The next morning, after swilling some Oral Rehydration Salts (the label cheerfully read: “For Diarreha or Cholera!”) I hobbled over to the Nepal International Clinic. The doctor, a Nepali who studied in Canada, listened to my tale of woe, poked at my stomach and then handed me a film canister and told me to provide a stool sample. Talk about performance anxiety. I sheepishly handed the receptionist my “sample,” and ten minutes later I was handed a pocketful of antibiotics.

Overall I’m slowly returning to 100% though that damned Indian tune is still in my head. I’ve spent most of my two days convelesence reading Lady Chatterly’s Lover (the only thing interesting at the local used book store). Tomorrow though, I’m planning on trekking around the Kathmandu valley.

Over and out.

Existential Panic World Tour Part 2: Kathmandu!

A movie poster in Kathmandu

Man, this country is nuts. Yesterday I was privileged to see a cobra charmer; a corpse ready for the funeral pyre; errant cows; weird holy men with painted faces, unkempt hair and loin clothes; Tibetan monks; women in saris and more stupas than you can shake a stick at, but I have yet to lay eyes on a single traffic light nor I’m glad to discover a McDonald’s. There are at least six or seven sites where the average tourist can log into the net within a block of here, but most streets here aren’t paved and I’ve seen more half naked crying children standing in rubbish heaps than I care to see.

I’ve been guided by a “college student” conveniently, or suspiciously named, Mr. Nepal. He has boundless energy and knowledge about Nepal and has a contagious smile. Yesterday, we went from one end of Kathmandu to the other seeing dozens of temple complexes, each more stunning than the next. By the end of the day, I simply wanted to sit in a quiet room and detox from sensory overload.

Today, it rained most of the day, so at my behest we went to see an Indian film. It started off as a standard Dirty Harry style rip-off, but quickly became a deeply weird film-going experience. The movie began with a montage of the chiseled-featured good guys where aviator glasses and the Indian flag. Yes, these lads were honest, virtuous, and had David Hasslehoff haircuts–all the things that India, apparently, looks to for a hero. The villain, conversely, was a Sherrif Lobo look-a-like hell-bent on doing everything that made India weak–corrupting officials, buying elections, killing, raping and of course wearing really tacky jewelry. The guy who played the villain, by the way, apparently was a devotee of the Eisenstein school of acting–I haven’t seen a more campy performance since Ivan the Terrible Part 2. Anyway, the leading good guy gets predictably suspended when he shoots a criminal in the groin (who bored a striking resemblance to G. Gordon Liddy). The crook/victim was running for office and his platform apparently entailed beating up orphans and circus performers. From there the plot splits into a dozen different directions. Will the other chiseled face good guy get the girl? Will the leading good guy get his job back and get another girl? Will the villain ever stop sniveling? To make matters more confusing, the “plot” will suddenly cease and an elaborate music and dance number will kick in. Out of nowhere a dozen backup dancers pop out of nowhere and begin shaking their busoms in a manner frighteningly reminiscent of Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield” (That video scared me as a child.) In one sequence, the girlfriend starts singing on an isolated beach and out from a drainage pipe, I guess, comes the Benatar dozen. What really struck me about these sequences is that there is absolutely no coherence between one shot and the next. One moment girlfriend is rolling in the sand with her back-up, the next she’s in a completely different outfit embracing her beau. Is this an avant garde deconstruction of cinematic space? Is this some convention I’m unfamiliar with? Or is this simply really bad filmmaking? The film ends with the evil villain literally nailing the good guy to a cross and then setting it alight. For one spine-tingling moment I thought that the hero would actually snuff. According to the film, Jesus simply didn’t want it enough, because our hero managed to push over the cross, rips his impaled hands from the wood and proceeds to kick the shit out of seven or eight armed baddies. I was hoping they’d break into song at that point, but sadly they didn’t.

What was interesting about this film was the audience, who applauded when the hero suddenly saves an orphan from getting its head kicked in. I’m not sure if it’s a certain innocence from cliche at work or simply applauding is more a part of Nepali culture.

Over and out.


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