Past Adventures: Nepal Part 1

4 September 2012

Lady with the umbrella, Kathmandu

In March 2007 (thats the first point because it’s 5 years ago already!!) I received an e mail from a prominent kiwi mountaineer inviting me to join his party leading clients up Mt Everest during May/June of that year. I was to be the doctor on the trip as their planned medic had to withdraw at short notice. Of course I jumped at the opportunity. Because it was at short notice I could only be present for part of the trip and so myself and another physician from Canterbury, shared the duties. She went out with the team and spent the first month (and did the hard yards I suspect) and then I joined them in mid May when we swapped over.

So I travelled solo to Bangkok, where I arrived late but stayed in a sumptious hotel (shame the time there was so short!) and then onto Katmandu.

Nepal i sandwiched between India to the South, China and Tibet to the North and East. To the North are the Himalayas forming a mountainous strip and barrier, through the centre are hills and fertile plain at about 1300m and to the south are lower lands characterised by jungle type environment.

As we descended into Nepal I peered out  with a sense of excitement and apprehension. It is always fascinating to see clues to a vastly different culture from the air. I was struck by the fertile hillsides with patchworks of terraces, small farm buildings or shacks and networks of paths and dirt tracks. I mused how this had come out of necessity and how these features and practices had been borne from years of experience in a crowded land. These people made maximum use of their precious resources and boy it looked beautiful from the air!!

The city came into view a non distinct sprawl of delepidated buildings and smog set in a basin surrounded by medium height brown grassed mountains. The Himalayas could be seen in the distance.

And then we were landed, arrived, out of the metal bubble of Westernisation into the noise, clammer and humanity of the East.

I had 2 days at each end of the trip in Kathmandu.
The final two days I was not well  (subsequently microbiology would confirm Shigella Dysentry and Campylobacter), so the time I had at the start was more significant.

The first thing I noticed was that this was a place with few boundaries. THe airport road was tarmac but beyond that it became dust and cattle wondered amongst the traffic (which was too congested for it to be a danger),

then we traveled through streets and I recall being stuck in a traffic jam where several street converged to a grassy area where some children played cricket. The batsman hit to the boundary, the fielder closed in on the ball only to be cut off by another wandering ball.
That was Kathmandu encapsulated, alive, disorganised, dirty, delapidated but sharing.
I will come back to this trip in future blogs but for now a few images of those first 48 hours in Nepal.

I forced myself to get up at 4 am on the first morning there and managed to make my way across time in the half light in a city with few street names. It was worth the effort as I made the high point of the temple on the hill where they were celebrating the Monkey festival. At the time I was more focused on the sunrise and the landscapers perspective, but nevertheless I had the sense to capture the colour, energy and ceremony of that occasion.

And so to the title image. I found this one it captures the lot of women in these cultures. Hardworking, alone (from their menfolks who have to work away to make money), colourful, serene.
The story behind this image is interesting. I knew about opportunist tour guides but I underestimated their cunning and persistence. My western politeness had allowed me to strike a conversation with a young Indian Nepali. He  asked me where I was from, looking for etc, told me his story and where I was looking for. He then of course offered to escort me. I then smelt a rat and refused saying I wasn’t willing to spend money on this, but he denied that as being his motive, he’d just show a special place nearby. O-k-a-y I thought.
And so we went into the warren of identical small two story narrow streets that is medieval Kathmandu.


He shoed me this delapidated square with markets when the heavens opened and we sought shelter under the tarpaulins of the stores. it was a lovely opportunity to spend time with the locals and to observe and of course to photograph.

To complete the story it became obvious that he wanted money, i angrily refused and finally gave him a paltry sum by my standards and made a hasty getaway as a crowd formed.

An important lesson in these cultures: “No means No” from the start. These guys are the masters at seizing opportunity because they have to be to survive. Marketers and salespeople take note!