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Goodbye, Kathmandu

Srinivasan Balakrishnan

As I woke up at 9 that morning I was not feeling well; I felt feverish. Was it because it was the last day of my week-long trip to Kathmandu? Having left Gangtok (Sikkim) on 4th Jan. 1986 early morning and landing in Kathmandu on 5th noon, I had enjoyed a 5 day-5 night stay in Kathmandu, capital of the world’s only Hindu Kingdom. My budget did not allow further stay or further sightseeing, though there was so much to see; I had not visited National Museum, Natural History Museum, Balaju Water Gardens, Buddhanilkantha, etc., for want of time and money. I would have loved to avail the Mountain Flight trip for an aerial view of the snow-covered Peaks. Wow, what a sight it would be! Finally, it was time I packed off and returned to my den in Gangtok. I booked my return bus ticket with Simrik Travels to the border town of Kakarabita (Nepal Rupees 122). The bus was to leave only at 6 PM. Finally it was time to bid goodbye to Kathmandu, though reluctantly.

With much time left, I visited Hanuman Dhoka Durbar and the Tribhuvan Memorial Museum (entrance fee NR 5) till 12 Noon. It showcases everything about the Royal Family. There is a small Numismatic Museum also. Returning to Hotel New Anand in Lagan area I packed up and checked out quickly before 12 Noon to evade paying extra rent. But I dumped my luggage at the hotel reception and moved out. That is cheating! As last minute shopping I bought maps of Kathmandu City NR 5, Nepal Political NR 15 / Physical NR 40, and picture postcards NR 9. Lunch was aalu paratha & aalu-gobi subji for NR 11; I am fed up of the omnipresent aalu (potato)!  I started yearning for my self-cooked items!

I hurriedly scribbled on the picture postcards of my very nice stay in Nepal with the weather being pleasant & enjoyable, and that I was starting that day and will reach Sikkim by next evening. These cards were posted to my maternal granny, parents, two sisters and Hari, a close friend in Gangtok, who had by then been transferred to his native Kerala. After all, I was on my first-ever foreign trip and should not I tom-tom about it! My parents had retained the cards which I seized for my philatelic collection. 

As it was the last day it was time to splurge and celebrate my successful trip. At the Super Bazaar I exchanged Indian Rs. 50 for NR 85. I faintly remember visiting a gambling casino for which Nepal was popular among Indian tourists, but I had not mentioned it in my jottings. I am sure I did not play because I did not want to lose whatever little money I had carried - losing the bird on hand for two in the bush. I bought three magnetic chess boards @ NR 30 (of the size of geometry box) and a bar of Cadburys chocolate for NR 18. At last I had the money to celebrate my foreign trip! With still enough time on hand, I roamed in the captivating Durbar Square of Kathmandu and then in my ever-favourite Ason Bazaar, the commercial heartthrob of the city. My last click of the trip was the old & new Durbar Square of Kathmandu. With this I had clicked a total of 128 photos during my Nepal trip which is roughly 3½ film rolls, each of 36 frames.

             I went back to New Anand lodge; after refreshing at the common washroom I collected the luggage and reached the Bus Park. Though the Simrik Travels bus left at 6 PM sharp, it was held up at the city gates for about an hour due to security check. On the way I sipped three cups of tea @ NR 1, bought 2 salt biscuit packets for NR 6. Damn tired of the roaming around, I slept like a dead wood; hence no nasty vomiting. As a consequence I missed the dinner but emptied one of the biscuit packs!

 

                It used to carry a small transistor radio during my trips; I had a big 2-in-1 radio-cum-tape recorder in the room. With the transistor radio I listened to Nepal Radio programmes and news. My three years of Gangtok living helped me pick up Nepali to a tolerable extent; I understood but hesitated to speak. I jotted down the reported daily temperature (in Celsius) of Kathmandu, Pokhra and Biratnagar during my stay period; Kathmandu recorded the lowest with 2ºC and Biratnagar the maximum with 25ºC.  Overall it was a pleasant weather condition.

1986

Date?

Jan. 5

Jan. 6

Jan. 7

Jan. 8

Jan. 9

 

Place?

Maxm./ Minm.

Maxm./ Minm.

Maxm./ Minm.

Maxm./ Minm.

Maxm./ Minm.

 

Kathmandu

19 /4

18 /4

21 /3

20 /2

19 /4

 

Pokhra

17 / 5

21 / 8

21 / 6

20 / 12

20 /7

 

Biratnagar

18 / 4

18 / 4

19 / 5

25/ N.A.

-- / --

While strolling around in Kathmandu one evening, I peeped into the All-Nepal Artists' National Art Exhibition organized by Kalakar Bhela Samyojak  Samity at Palposa Art Gallery. There were some 100 exhibits of paintings/sculptures with price ranging from NR 500 to 8,000. During the trip, my budget permitted me to buy only a Nepal national flag and a polythene carry bag with dragon design! The snaps, maps, tourism folder and bits & pieces of papers like tickets, labels and wrappers are my valued mementos! I saved the negatives in the nick of time by getting them scanned, though a few were already damaged slightly and a few more could not be saved at all. Time had its toll on my and the film memory!

Back to Pavilion:

                The bus from Kathmandu reached Kakarbitta, the Nepal-India border town, at 8.30 AM on 11th January 1986. There was again checking by Nepal Police. Preserving some Nepal currency notes and coins, the rest of NR 66 I exchanged for Indian Rs. 37! Paying Rs. 6 for a jeep ride, I crossed over to Siliguri in West Bengal. Now it was the turn of Indian Customs checking - why 2 chess boards (the third I had kept in my jacket pocket), and 3 unexposed rolls? As if I was smuggling them to sell for millions of dollars! Were they simply doing their duties or expecting something? I am not an expert reader of others thoughts. So I didn’t budge and asked them how just 2 chess boards mattered? One was for my own use and another for gifting; and the rolls were excess ones, left unexposed. Convinced more of my grittiness than the truth in my statement, they let me off. With the ordeal over, I reached Siliguri by 10 AM but the bus for Gangtok was at 11. I had to capture the seat. Else I would be pushed to the back most seats that would terribly add up to my road sickness. Hence no time for eating anything; no supper, breakfast or even lunch. I simply survived on two glass of tea at Tista (50 Paise each) and the remaining biscuit packet bought in Nepal. Thank goodness, the bus fare was the same – Rs. 19.50, they had not hiked it up during this period. When I lumbered into my room in the Diesel Power House area of Gangtok, Sikkim, it was 6 PM – almost a continuous travel of 24 hours. Alas, no power! I prepared the 2-minute Maggi sweet-&-sour noodles and had a cup of tea. I really love the tea that I make but hate utensil washing. Heated water on gas stove and bathed; so refreshing after the 24-hour road journey!  Managing with candles I prepared rice & dhal in the cooker. When power was restored at 8.45, I switched on my portable TV to watch English news from Delhi as I enjoyed my simple menu without aalu! Then it was a content stomach & sleep – of having visited a foreign nation for the first time. The eight-day trip – starting right from Gangtok and getting back to Gangtok – had cost me Indian Rs. 955 or Nepal Rupees 1625.50. Breakfast was complimentary at the lodge in Kathmandu, which only means the cost had already been included in the room rent!

Ruminating on the trip now in 2018, after 32 years, what I vividly remember is the sight from Nagarkot View Point of snow-clad peaks, including Mt. Everest, the marvelous Durbar Squares of Kathmandu, Patan & Bakthapur and their lively bazaars, innumerable pagoda temples, Buddhist Stupas, of death & life mingling on Bagmati River banks at Pasupathinath Temple, and Kumari Goddess. The rest of the memories have faded, including my favourite Ason Bazaar. If sponsored by my wife, the Finance-cum-Home Minister, I would love to visit Nepal once more. Because I want to prove Nepal Tourism Board’s claim of “Naturally Nepal, Once is not Enough!” Nepal - so near, yet so unique! 

 Writers contact:

 krishnanbala2004@yahoo.co.in 

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