A diamond in the rough

The plane veered hazily through the high mountains of the Himalayan footsteps wandering gradually into the Kathmandu valley at a slow descent. Peering from window to window one could see the snowy peaks of the vast white hills and envisage their immense natural beauty.

As the plane slowly steered down towards the invisible runway it was unavoidable noticing the entirety of the effect of pollution on the city. The whole sky once clear and crystalline blue in colour is now shrouded.

A mass of foreigners descended onto Nepalese concrete. Stumbling into the terminal building you are presented with a form to be filled in by foreign nationals. A section at the bottom claiming to be only necessary for Indian citizens is actually obligatory for everyone who is not Nepalese, and make sure you do not forget a spare passport picture for the form!

After a great deal of hassle and inconvenience we managed to escape the airport’s bleak and harrowing terminal and stepped out into the city. Taking in a deep breath of fresh, well, polluted air, a great number of eager hands start to grab at your baggage.

A man lifted my bags about a metre and a half into the air into the car boot. He then held out his hand for a tip that I refused him. Not suggesting this is the best, kindest, or most humane course of action, but I had my own moral hang ups and drew the line at essentially stealing your baggage and then blackmailing you to get it back.

Unemployment is a big problem in Nepal, and, as with any developing country one of the reasons for its economic state. The men at the airport trying to carry your baggage for you cannot find employment elsewhere and does the only thing he knows how to do.

The lack of education in his generation has led to him and many other Nepalese being unskilled and unemployed. Now, however, education in Nepal has roughly repaired itself and the percentage of children being given free education is at a fairly high rate.

Many of the unemployed are so because they are intensely religious and devout. They, such is the case with Buddhist monks and Hindu temple priests, devote their entire life to their religion.

A Nepali native who had exclaimed his detestation of the lack of work-ethic presented by many of his fellow Nepalese inhabitants continued in proclaiming his agnostic beliefs. He claimed that religion is useless in his country, and that those men who decide to rest their lives in religion – whilst being spiritually fulfilled – are economically hindering the rest of society.

Whilst the initial perspective of Kathmandu may have been clouded by a veil of pollution, Kathmandu has a spiritual side to it. Breathing in the fumes of development became easier as the air was doused by burning incense. We found a temple cluttered by sheets of cloth bearing messages in Nepalese. A vibrant mix of colours spewed life into the place of worship. Each one of these messages was a work of art by its own merit.

The immaculate scenery surrounding you contrasted by the polluted and industrialised cities presents an ideal hybrid of the old and the new. Enchanting paintings of the Hindu gods, their vessels and reincarnations adorned trucks. Nepali script, Devanagari, is one of the closest existing to Sanskrit, composed of intricate symbols resembling a long-lost culture that has faded into the undulating Nepalese hills.

Driving out of Kathmandu towards Pokhra the sky slowly became clearer and it opened the way to the beautiful and expansive green hills of the Annapurna mountain range. Rolling on for miles, the long curved road that trailed around the mountainous foothills seemed endless but magnificent.

However beautiful and impressive the view may have been, the road is a death trap given the steep drop and lack of alternative route through the mountains. A bus ahead of our car veered uneasily and tipped over onto its side causing traffic to queue for miles back.

It took about two hours for ambulances to make their way through the frantic but cooperative drivers to get to the site of the accident, at which point it took a while for the mess to be cleared up, the road to be unblocked, and the traffic to once again start moving. It is heartbreaking to bear witness to an ambulance being held behind a driver who felt it necessary to jump a small portion of the queue when there is no other way round.

Eventually being on the move again we were forced to halt once more. Local elections were taking place in Pokhra and a blockade stopped entrants to the city until six in the evening. Stuck in a car with no air conditioning and very little water at the hottest time of the day we left the track and drove up into the relatively undisturbed village of Bandipur.

The traditional Nepalese farmhouses with thatched roofs, the vari-coloured foliage and extensive rice-paddies, the blossoming large red flowers dotting out in random and unusual areas making the contrast between the green and bright but deep red encircled us.

When the barriers to Pokhra were removed, a coach driver had not been paying attention and ran onto some extremely sharp rocks that had fell from the adjacent cliffs and had torn to shreds one of his tires. The rest of the journey was in the dark.

The view in Pokhra was unique. In the foreground, the small city of Pokhra began to beam with life and in the horizon the snow-topped mountains complimented its leisurely pace. Seeing the Himalayas in all their immense beauty was definitely one of the best things about visiting Nepal. The sheer magnitude of their size is emphasised by the fact that the group of mountains I was staring at were the sixth and seventh tallest in the world.

Any negative feeling towards the country was removed at that moment and my heart was filled with gratitude for my presence. This emotional attachment to the country was formed over a split second of seeing the incredible and picturesque panorama.

The rest of the trip paled in comparison as the strongest memory I have was of this city, and this view; best seen during a boat trip across the Phewa Lake, which did itself paint a lucid portrait of nature’s extraordinary wake.


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