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Nepal: Kathmandu, 1976

August 2, 2011

Descending the Cairo Side a novel of the traveling life

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I still smile when I think of the bus ride to Kathmandu from the Indian border.  Traveling with my good friend Tony and a Tibetan refugee who lived just outside the city in Kathmandu Valley, we made good time in a rickety bus that climbed through the foothills with slow but terrifying disregard for the safety of the passengers.  We drove through temperate evergreen forests and wondered at the sudden change of climate.

At one of the passes we stopped for chai and it began to snow.  I was dressed in thin cotton space pants and sandals; Tony wrapped an African sarong around his shoulders for dubious warmth.  He had never seen snow before and it was a marvelous sight to watch him as flurries came down.  He was as entranced as any four year-old might be in similar circumstances.

We were hungry – the bus ride that carried us perhaps 150 kilometers took hours and hours.  I procured from the chai stand a package of Brit-style tea biscuits and so began a craving for the things that never seemed to go away. At one particularly hair-raising junction we got off the bus and observed another conveyance that had fallen off the road. Fortunately for the passengers, rather than rolling several hundred meters straight to the bottom of a plunging ravine, that bus had caught on trees that grew horizontally out from the face.  We hoped that the people inside had been able to extract themselves without serious injury and clamber back to the road.  No telling how long they may have waited there for another lift.

1) Himalayan foothills near Kathmandu, mostly deforested

And so we arrived at the end of the day. We bid a temporary farewell to our Tibetan friend and sought refuge in the precincts of Darbar Square and the old city.

2)  The old city, Kathmandu

We found an inexpensive hotel a block from the north end of the square and began our explorations. Kathmandu in those days was a city replete with sights, sounds, and smells of old Nepal and Western influence covered the ancient landscape with but a thin layer of modernity.

3) City life

Restaurants that catered to the tastes and pocketbooks of travelers abounded.  You could still buy hash cookies and other delights for the mind at many of the small eateries.  One famous place, Aunt Jane’s, was purported to serve great home-style American chocolate cakes.  The only time I checked it out I noticed the staff washing dishes on the floor of the squat toilet. I’d had enough gastro issues and promptly departed.

Mysteries abounded. One of the temples of Darbar Square was reputed to have been carved in great antiquity from the trunk of a single tree.

4) An ancient temple

The great spiritual significance of the Kathmandu and its place in both Buddhist and Hindu realms was not lost on us.  We tried to take the energy of the valley and we tried to learn more about ourselves and the world at large.  It’s difficult to calculate whether we succeeded or not. So many years later memories of Kathmandu have faded, to be replaced mostly by deteriorating photos and our own advancing years.

Oddly, mental images of the bus trip remain fresh.

5) More evolved minds than ours preceded us

Photos by Ken and Peg Herring, early 1980s

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One Comment leave one →
  1. John permalink
    June 30, 2015 11:07 pm

    I think it was in around November 1976, I had many pieces of Aunt Jane’s chocolate cake. It was very good, just like home. Traveling overland from Athens to Delhi. Then a flight from Delhi to Bangkok via Nepal.

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