Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Nepal 20 years ago

The trip to Nepal was very special as it was my first trip out of India. Back in those days traveling abroad was not a very common thing among the upper middle class families, maybe one world tour after retirement was all they managed. So, the idea of Nepal at that age was definitely a great thing for me!

Well, writing about the trip after so many years is a little difficult, but I want to write about it as I still have very distinct memories of some parts of the trip. As I write along I am sure my memory will keep getting refreshed.

I don’t distinctly remember every detail of the airport formalities. We took our flight from Calcutta Airport. My parents helped me and my sister with the boarding cards, I don’t remember how the security checks happened. I remember how excited I was to board an aircraft, as it was my first time. We clicked photographs before boarding the aircraft and then some more inside. Photography was allowed at almost every phase, fortunately!

It was a 45-minute flight. I enjoyed every bit of the trip on board, especially, the food that was served. As we were nearing Kathmandu we heard an announcement asking the passengers to look outside; we were flying over Mt. Everest. What a wonderful sight it was! It was amazing to see the pristine beauty of the mountain peak outside our window. It felt great as I was looking at something that I read about in my Geography text book, feeling rather proud that I was the only one from my class who could claim to have seen Mt. Everest! Soon after we could see the valley of Nepal as we were descending towards the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu.

I don’t remember anything that happened after disembarking from the aircraft. The next thing I remember was that we went to check into a hotel. The taxi driver helped us find this hotel and I remember vaguely that my father got a discount on the room tariffs. This is where I learnt the word ‘tariff’.

We took 1 double bed room with an extra bed as my sister was quite small and I couldn’t sleep in a separate room. I have very faint memory of the hotel and the hotel room. I remember, we were very hungry and we ordered for some fried chicken. A very cute little boy who was a waiter came and served us the food. My parents spoke to him for a bit. We were so hungry that we finished the plate in no time, so we had to order for some more. It was so delicious that believe it or not, I still have the taste in my mouth!

We hired a taxi for the city tour. A very smartly dressed driver in a Toyota taxi, very common in Nepal, was waiting for us outside the hotel. It was a very unusual and exciting experience to get into an international brand of car. He took us all around Kathmandu. We went to Swayambhunath, Pashupatinath, a very pretty garden, no clue what it was called, also don’t remember in what order we went to these places.
























Swayambhunath Temple in Kathmandu


We had told our driver, who was also our city tour guide, that we didn't want to visit too many temples, only the famous and distinct ones. He took us to the Budhanilkantha temple. We were not too excited to go there after visiting Pashupatinath and Swayambhunath, but he insisted saying that this temple was unique.

When we got there a rather funny thing happened. My mother and my sister went in first and my father and I reached a couple of minutes later. The moment my father and I were about to enter the temple area an old man literally charged us with a stick and started pointing towards a notice board. We got a a little scared for a moment but then we were in splits when we read the notice, it read that foreigners were not allowed! That old man thought that my father and I were foreigners and non Hindus. What gave him the idea, God knows! Both of us, from no angle looked or till date look any different from my mother and sister. Anyway, after the little confusion my mother came out and managed to convince that we were a family, and then the cracked old man allowed us to enter.

This temple was indeed unique. There was a pond and in the middle of it there was a huge stone figure of the Lord Vishnu floating. This huge statue of sleeping Vishnu is believed to be carved from the single block of black stone of a type not found in the valley during the 5th century. Had my mother was not around my father and I would have missed this lovely piece of work, thanks to the mad old man!

Besides going to sight seeing places we went to a mall one evening. We picked up a lot of things only to realise later that most of the things we bought were made in Bombay (Mumbai)! The idea of shopping malls was rare in India back in those days, and the display of such variety of things was very tempting. So, without giving any thought we shopped with huge excitement.

On another day we went walking around the hotel to get a feel of the place. We went through narrow lanes, some were quite dirty. But the mixed culture of Nepal was very apparent, even to a young girl like me. We bought some music tapes that were not available in Calcutta, one of them was a collection of Roberta Flack songs. I picked up "Killing Me Softly" from this tape.


















On the streets of Kathmandu

We went to Dhulikhel and Bhaktapur, though my memory of both is very faint. Dhulikhel was was very beautiful and we spent most of our time in a hotel garden which was situated right at the edge of a mountain. I remember we met a big group of tourists who came from Denmark. All I remember of Bhaktapur is that it looked very ornate, very beautiful. One could feel the rich culture of the place. We bought some really ornamental souvenir from there.

Nepal today as we know, is very different from what it used to be for a variety of reasons, but I do hope that in spite of the changes that are inevitable, it still holds the beauty and uniqueness that it used to 20 years ago.

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