Monday, March 17, 2008

The disdained junkie from Palpa and a playfully pestering ride to Pokhara. And then....Shivaratri time!

I arrived yesterday in smoggy Kathmandu, back into metropolitan atmospheres so it feels. Dirty and foul smelling Kathmandu, crammed to the neck with tourists. Still a lot to experience in the KTM valley in the next full week.
It has been nearly over 2 weeks ago since last letters. Times moves faster than you think, when on the move, on wild treks or enclosed by nature and wildlife.

So, to continue in the steep mountain region district of Tansen, where I found myself during the writing of last post. In the town of Palpa to be exact. I strolled around town, mostly uphill, to see the prime spots that it offered. No sooner had I set off or a young man came walking by my side. It was at the local sport pitch, which was a long plateau where young military men were playing various sports (football, volleyball and cricket) and a carnival had just been dismantled, cabins of rides and plastic animal seat lying all about. He introduced himself as Kiran and offered me to walk me to my desired spots and to tell me something about each place. Sure deal. We saw Palpa’s main temple and its pornographic woodcarvings (see below) on several poles. Wooden erotism, excitingly cut. Then the town square which was empty due to the rain, followed by a demolished palace. Tansen Durbar, as the LP guide had expected me to found it untouched, former place of the provincial governor, built in Rana style in 1927. Interesting info? Nope, very much former indeed as it was now reduced to heaps of red stones and eloquent stone carvings lying about. Kiran told me that the Maoists attacked in January 2006 and destroyed the palace, more about the siege. For a short time there were fights between the few thousand Maoist rebels and the Nepalese army. The army sent more troops and prevailed to regain its controlled spot on the Palpa hills again. Their camps more fortified since then, as I could see with my own eyes. “There still are some Maoist rebels active, but the scarce few are all down in the valley in spot where there isn’t much army”, Kiran said in a common tone. We sat down on a wall for a while, looking at the misty view of valleys and people walking by, talking about his business studies, his life in Palpa, his dreams and hopes. He wasn’t positive or inspired about each subject that passed and instead quite gloomy in all his answers and thoughts. To remain, live and work in Palpa seemed to be his reluctant wish for the future but rather a wish that came from experiences while working in Dubai, UAE for nearly a year. Not good experiences by all means, as he didn't like the spirit of the people and their big money lifestyles so that he resigned and went back to Nepal, back home to Palpa and so his life re-took its slow course.
Kiran invited me to his local hangout, a small, dingy and dark bar/eatery, hazily lit by candlelight and owned by an elderly Gurung woman who ran the place with a still vital energy. Soon his friends joined, introduced themselves to me and it became clear that alcohol was their recurring ritual for ending a day of work or non-work, evening after evening. Here I got my first taste of the local raksy wine, which is not wine as in the red/white tradition, but more like a rice wine made out of millet. Fermentation through moonlight, that sort of natural strong spirited jest. It tasts quite ok for a sip, lighter than vodka, whiskey or rum, but surely heavier than wine. No one knows the percentage of alcohol in it, as every raksy brew seems to vary. Perhaps depending how yellow or heavy the moon shines. I tasted some of the local food, a sort of small donut made out of chickpeas and spicy herbs which I forgot the name of and some crispy cubes of buffalo meat for the novelty. Meanwhile the friends drank beer or raksy in a tempo that speeded past my slow chia orderings. My friend was visibly nervous about something, his hands unsteady and trembling, with a weary look on his face. I nearly felt it was time to go, as I wanted to relax on my own and eat somewhere. And then he confided to me that he had a problem, 'a drug problem', and with bits the story came out of him, pulled from his worried mind. His friends nodded solemnly in confirmation. He was a junkie of the brown, which is the nickname for opium around here. Kiran wanted me to tell him, to advise him what would be best to do, though at the same time he already answered his own question by informing me that he thought of checking into a clinic in Kathmandu. I could only agree and usher him to do such without more to add. We went out of the dim bar and it was pitch dark on the street as the power has failed again -which almost is a daily norm in Nepal between 6pm and 9.30pm, I've learned by now-. He really wanted to show me his house and as he kept acting so nervous and giving me awkward vibes, I didn't really want to. I gave in and I walked behind him over a narrow muddy ridge down past a military post down to his house. Soon enough I found myself sitting inside, in a room with his studying brother and a sister who was sleeping in a bed nearby, with a hot cup of chia in my hands. I stayed about an hour, talking about god knows what with the brother while my man for most part of the time was elsewhere, doing something else until he popped up again. After that, it really was time to go to my hotel as they had the urge to lock the gate at 10pm every evening. Kiran somehow felt compelled to accompany me. "Just for a small moment", he said, "and then I will leave you". Indeed the gate was locked and we had to wake up the moaning Tibetan woman to let us in. Up in my room we talked some more, me trying to butter him with positive subject to make him feel more at easy. Still the nervousness persisted and it came to the point that he wanted to leave with me giving him a souvenir. A personal souvenir. Errr, well you can have this postcard of Pakistan, this passport photo of me if you really must, and some other nicknacks. That all took a while and I became slightly annoyed by his reluctance to accept and go, while I had been as fair to him as I could be while my tiredness was setting in. We exchanged addresses and I did promise to send him some postcards and a cassette compilation. Such promises are no problem. It's more hard talking people into positivity if they can't follow your drift or direction and feel quickly at loss when listening. Perhaps the book of James Frey 'Inot Million Pieces' would be of any help to him, if only I had it with me or to be bought in a non-existent international bookshop. I don't know. I do hope that Kiran will get through this episode and get his life back on track.

The next morning, I woke up realizing that it was my birthday. Not a special day to me otherwise, but the fact being on this trip, alone, and in such a nice mountain area, it did make it more special for once. I bought myself some cakes, a few small flowery banana's, fresh bread and walked up the Srinagar Danda mountain, the high hill looming over Palpa, where my guide and guidebook promised a nice view of the Annapurna's was to be seen. If clear weather. It was clear by a bright sun, but misty clouds shrouded the distant mountains, so I enjoyed looking down into the valley and onto the wall of clouds. Special to me nonetheless in this moment of morning time, on my b-day. In the late morning I took a bus to Pokhara. A busride that should normally take 4 hours, if with a mini-bus and not a government bus. I got into a government bus and the ride lasted over 6.5 hours. But what a ride it was, those views! Valleys, gorges, ridges, rivers, forests and many dwindling roads curving around mountains. The full package of driving in mountain territory. That the whole ride a few persistent gypsy kids were pestering me from behind and next to me, didn't bother me too much. There were 2 poor families sitting in the back who let their kids run aloof on me, perhaps sent with a silent mission to get anything from me. I really didn't mind and actually had fun with the kids, especially with the timid young girl who was most persistent of all. In a dull yet lush begging voice, she constantly said *hey* to me. A voice that already sounded like it had endured rejection beyond a certain limit so that it had become blunt, worn out into a monotonous strain, emptied of any negative or positive emotions. From time to time I gave her an the other little things. cookies, some loose change I found in my bag and pockets. The rest of the time I ignored the begging, reading my book. Except to disrupt it by pulling funny idiotic faces and grins now and then. Or mimick her, which she found brilliant play. Or by tickling her unexpectedly on her arm or fingers when not looking. Pure and free fun. That reminds me, to quickly get rid of the more annoying streetkids -not the sweet ones-, the best method is to tickle them and see how quickly they run away and stay at a safe distance from the tickler. It's harmless and playful. Anyway, I think the girl and her siblings must have thought of me as a weird cuckoo since my behavior was too inconsistent for their own planned tactics. But yeah, 6,5 hours of begging would leave many a westerner crazed so I rather played a play that I could enjoy too ;)

Finally, Pokhara in sight and quick enough I found myself sitting on a motorbike, with all 3 bags heavily hanging on me. I was taken to a better hotel, by that I mean a hotel that is more expensive than a backpacker place but to pay 3 euro's for a huge room, a big plush bed and hot shower, it does not cripple your budget really. And still my b-day, so to refuse a bit of luxury would be very stubborn. At the hands of irony I found myself in company of many Dutch tourists from the southern provinces, the actual owner of the hotel also being Dutch -sigh-. But why should I moan here, out of poised exclusiveness or nomadic elitism? Pah, let it rest. I dwelled easily in my plush surroundings though I kept a low profile either way not to be marked out by the few-week-holiday'ers. There, elitism. I'm flawed and doomed in my own sauce.
My Dinner was served in a small shack where I could enjoy the choice of Tibetan food again. Momo's, thukpe and thentuks. Yum. Up to then, it had been quite difficult -read, nearly impossible- to find any Tibetan food in the previous places. The Pokhara streets were dark and I could not see much of its glory as people told me of. Several shops were open, such as internet cafe's, souvenir joints and luxury supermarkets. Super swell supermarkets I must say beyond my initial detested feeling, as I found cheese. Real cheese. In the big, round shape where pieces could be cut from. Wow. Luxury. And it was yak cheese, the furry Tibetan buffalo animal. Oh so happy, just by cheese. There were many bars in the street, more than I have seen anywhere in the past 5 months and even a cslight shock came to me to see so many foreigners gulping down alcopop of every form. Did I get so strayed away from that to feel that? I sat down in a blues bar, in the hope to hear blues that weren't played and asked for the local raksy, which they did not have. They had to re-import it from the very same shack where I ate my nice Tibetan meal. I might have better stayed there and had more fun. There were all these booming places above the bars and shops, which called themselves *dancing restaurants*. What? The neatly dressed fella at the stairs ushered me up. So I went up to inspect, though I should have known from my first feeling. From the door opening I saw many guys sitting around tables, drinking alcopop and eating bits n bobs. In front of them, a Nepali Asian beauty dancing on a podium, while Nepali disco echoed all around her. Description; very short skirt, luscious moves and entertaining the rowdy males like a monkey doing its taught trick. I was out in a whim and down at the stairs the host fella asked me if I liked it. Or if I would like some more, like some live action with his female employees, like on cue a well shaped Nepali gal walked past and gave me a wink. "No thanks, I got yak cheese", I answered with sincere happiness. I was happy indeed. Cheese! The guy just looked puzzled at me, as if realizing he was dealing with a stoner or some other insanely drugged, out-of-place male creature that was beyond reasoning with and I left him to juggle his jigsawed thoughts. Bzzzz. Off I was, to do some reading and cutting cheese in between pages. Happiness. You find it in the most banal forms or situations while traveling, away from the routines of home.
The next days in Pokhara I spent with buying pirated arthouse movies (legal crime I say!) and planning my trek in the Annapurna mountains with my to-be guide Hem, who I met through the ever handy couchsurfing network. Also I rented a mountainbike with suspension and drove around the lakeside, the big nice Phewa Tal lake and the surrounding hills. One of the days was the day of Shivaratri, which signifies Shiva's birthday and the marriage between him and goddess Parvati. Just search for Shivaratri on youtube and you'll find loads of viddy's of saddhu's and locals getting high and do some spinning dances or other crazed things out of Shiva's holy name. The day is actually all about people, young and old alike, to get severely high on bhang, a brew of a cannabis product. (funny factoid, the pictured Bhang shop in Jaisalmer is actually the place where we got our brew one night in November) So, the day of celebration. The one day in the year that cannabis/bhang is not illegal in Nepal. And the people celebrate with a righteous vigor as if solely ment for spiritual use. Isn't that what drugs are about in fairness? Back to my story. I cycled away from the lake to smaller villages past the hills stretching to the far end of the lake. Slowly raising roads and muddy tracks soon appeared. Having passed a few villages, I could see a little temple in the distance right next to the lake, where a crowd of locals had gathered. I drove up to it and looked at the ceremony. People invited me in straight away and they even wanted to make me drink the bhang, but since it was just morning.....naaah. A cup of sweet chia was good enough. Some people were seated and were making flower garlands while other were cutting fruits, dough and nuts for the offerings. A fire burned in the middle meanwhile. I looked in the small temple, filled with offerings and burning incense sticks. Suddenly an old men inside the small space woke up with a shout and shook all over his body and stood up. "The spirit is in him" somebody told me, and the old men pushed his way past us and ran towards the fire, kneeled down and put his bald head on the bright glowing wood for several seconds, only to be helped up again by others so they could sit him down. An ashen flesh mark decorating the crown of his head, ouch. I stayed a while, seeing the ceremony of reading the Shiva story while the temple bell tolled by people's touches. Kids were surrounding me whenever they could. I think they were still without bhang. Wait till tonight kids, just wait. I took photo's of some scenes, the temple, the kids and the mother with her 2 bug eyed children. I cycled on and went back to the Pokhara lakeside, where I drove to the northern part of the city. I wanted to make it up to Sarankot, a 4 km steep drive into the mountains. I only got halfway since the gears of the bike weren't working well and it was heavier than I expected. Halfway I met some kids driving on self-made carts down the curved mountain road, in the same dangerous barrier-less way that kids do in Southern American countries like Colombia. Action pics below. On my way down, I reached the Bhagwati temple, one of the biggest temples of Pokhara and I saw many people going inside and hearing music. When I came in, what a chaos of sound came over me! On one side a performance of local folk artists, on the other side a open aired temple with saddhu's singing acoustic songs and behind that another temple where 2 priests were playing live temple music, which was amplified to outside. 3 different sounds, 3 angles. Full on Shivaratri temple mashup. I couldn't resist recording it. Here.

Unknown artists - Bhagwati temple songs (3 angles)

Quite special stuff to see and I was the sole tourist there out of the thousand or so people walking around. It was a great experience and folks came up to me to have their pic taken with me in front of the temples, bells or shrines. I couldn't escape it. It was nearly getting dark and it ended. What would the evening bring? I again ate momo's and chowmein in one of those cheap eating shacks, by the guiding hand of my soon-to-be guide Hem. Next morning we would leave to do a 5 day trek in the Annapurna mountain sanctuary. So for the sake of fitness it was out of the question that I could drink alcohol or get hammered with bhang. Not that I wanted to. When I went back to the hotel, I heard people singing nearby. Ofcourse, curiosity could not kill this cat, so what else could I do than to witness it and perhaps take part?
In a courtyard there were about 30 people sitting around each other. The men were playing dhol drums and khartals and sung together with the women next to them. The women took separate turns of dancing to each short song, lasting about 30 seconds to a minute at the time. A young boy around the age of 10, introduced him as Raju and it was clear that he had tasted the vivid virtues of bhang. haha, how high he was, but so positive and enjoying it too! He asked me if I was married and without waiting for my answer and said " here, you can have my sister, she is single". The 12 year old girl next to him looked up in shy disbelief as her brother's spontaneous words. Pure cheekiness from this little fella, though he meant it sincerely. I really think he did. At one dance, a voluptuous women got into a trance and she dropped on the floor, still having dance spasms. The other women just laughed, helped her up and she kept on dancing while several women were cautious enough to keep her up. Soon another women got into a bhang trance and she was more out of control, as she was still too fast to stop and stept on some of the musical males or other folks. Fun! Laughs! The release of spiritual joy! Nothing was spared it seemed. Next to me sat an middle aged English fella, who also wasn't completely sober anymore. Liquor being his spiritual guide. He was utterly filled with love and joy as he spoke livid poetry to me about his soon-to-be wife, "a Nepalese beauty of 32 years of age", according to his own words. "Right now, I am the luckiest man in the world, the luckiest!" The man, having tattooed *love* on his 4 fingers of each hands surely looked lucky and happy for he had experienced 2 badly ended marriages in his life. Sure he could use some luck. So could his woman (a hardworking nurse) and her family. Luck. A good thing by all means, if it works out both ways in this case. The lucky man left as quickly as he had entered the scene. I left soon afterwards, waved goodbye to the Nepalese mothers who had so many times tried to lure me on the dance clearing, but which calls I sorrowfully didn't answer as I was trying to record some songs. Like this one.

Unknown artists - Shivaratri courtyard dance song

That was the end of the night for me, way past midnight and I had to rise early enough to arrange my trekking permit, sanctuary fees and taking the bus with Hem to the starting point. Next post will be about the 5 day trek, the relaxing days of Pokhara and the Chitwan wildlife park. About time I enjoy Kathmandu a bit.

Here some more recordings, taken from the radio. This is the Lok Geet style. Vocal folk with instruments and digital adjustments. As I said, it feels like a happy dubstep riddim with sweet and fast lyrics. I really like it. Especially this female version.

Unknown artist - Lok Geet song (female)
....and it gets rougher, yay to bad reception!

Unknown artist - Lok Geet song (rough)

here the riddleboutbunch of photo's....

dark cloudy view on Tansen valley


The heaps of stone, what once was Tansen Durbar palace

narrow streets of Palpa

Maoist graffiti

Yes, vote for sun! It was allover several walls.

Kiran, the confessed

Tansen - Pokhara ride, our bus had to wait as an accident blocked the road. Took photo of kind father and daughter.

View on river and hills beneath

misty Pokhara at the lakeside

The temple at the other side of lake at Shivaratri

The kids at the temple, peace y'all

Mother with her two children, nice eyes.

View on ridges and road to Pokhara

lake mound view

kids on cart

and cart going down......zoefffff

a sunnier lake, not all days were grey in Pokhara


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