A day of smoke and fire!

err guess i should first off point out the obvious, none of the photos posted are any i’ve taken! ‘cept maybe a a few


The first after i got into Kathmandu, woke to find that it was a day of riot and demonstrations, apparently the government had raised the price of petrol and kerosene, yet again.
They’d tripled the price in the last year and folk just couldn’t stomach it anymore
Sure it never even made the news back home but they were the worst upheavals, since the king finally, and reluctantly, relinquished some of his power a year ago.
Good to see such a display of people power, all that i witnessed was overwhelmingly peaceful and good natured, but reports in the paper were not so benevolent
The problem obviously is that the economy is quite heavily dependant on tourism, Kathmandu (off season i know), bbut it does seem loads quiter tourist wise than 20 years ago,
any more troubles and the tourists probably won’t come at all. Still power to the people and all that! as far as i’m concerned.
Thankfully the government backed down the next day and all returned to the cheerful bedlam of normalacy.

The morning was spent huddlimg in internet cafes, sending emails and not quite sure what was happening
Every few minutes there’d be a ruckus a couple of streets away and in a minute, clang, clatter the shops would hurtle down their shutters and we’d be locked inside.
Exciting stuff!
At every road junction the protesters had dragged barricades across and lit fires
The fires consisted of burning tyres, periodically these would explode. The sound of an exploding tyre is exactly that of an exploding bomb. They go off with quite a force!
Whats more they burn with an acid stench and the smoke is a black, vulcanised smog, smells horrible, everytime you wipe your forehead, it comes away mottled black with dirt.
as though the pollution in Kathmandu wasn’t bad enough
After lunch i decided that after all it was a good day for a walk and decided to head for the burning ghats of Pashupatinath, the most holy Hindii site in Kathmandu, where they cremate all the bodies
I guess if theres going to be smoke and bedlam, may as well be holy smoke
It was actually remarkably easy walking out there, no cars, so much more pleasant than usual, all the demonstrators i met were in quite a festive mood,
they wore face masks, but that may well have been against the smog, rather than as is the fashion of anarchists everywhere
The times that Police sirens sounded in the distance, the mood noticeably darkened, they bristled.

Many folk came up, asked where i was going and pointed me on my way
The usual questions followed ‘which country’ I remember one small boy who helped me at a wrong turning, he very much reminded me of Finn.
He was non plussed by the capital of England, but, as ever, ‘Manchester United!’
So far as Nepal is concerned ‘David Beckham’ remains the most famous human being on the planet. I countered with ‘Christiano Ronaldo!’
He responded ‘Ronny’, only later did i grasp, it was old Jimmy Sommerville, spud head lookalike ‘Wayne Rooney’ he referred too



Once i got to Pashupatinath i found it a sombre yet calm place, without wishing to be a ghoulish, diana car crash type voyeur, you can stand within 5 feet of the ghats and watch the bodies burn
They are wrapped up in white windings, but all burn through to the skeletons.
There are a special group of men responsible for the burning, they mostly resemble ruddy faced trolls, the job consists of neatly stacking large piles of wood,
hoiking the body on board, then adding presumably sanctifying ghee and tending to the fire
It actually takes a suprisingly long time to burn a body and a large amount of wood, i guess we are not as combustible as i’d imagined
The family stand around watching, none of them seemed that sad, subdued and just getting on with it was the general vibe

The old woman being cremated, which i stood watch over, didn’t seem to have any family, a regular, Eleanor Rigsby.
I guess if there is any message here it is the great leveller of death. We are born alone, we die alone.
Having said that tho’ in the stratified Hindu world view, there are different burning ghats depending on your caste and social position.
I found the whole process oddly reassuring, a very coherent response to death, which allows for ullullating, mourning and the necessary rituals of grief.


Afterwards i dodged the guides and the quick buck ‘one photo, photo’ Sadhus. These Babas are as dressed up as your be Mohawked London Punks.
They doo look an impressive site in their faded saffron robes, the flourish of whiskers and skin caked with dust, all topped off with a forehead red daubed with the Tikka.

Once on the other side of the river, you can see the pre burning rituals, the familly comes from the temple down to the Bagmatti river, holy in Nepal, and here annoints the corpse with the water
poking from beneath the bindings a pale yellowed foot.

It was now that 3 young girls approached me, they were wonderful and lightened the whole affair, they were just local girls, bored at home and out to Pashupatinath for a muck about
The eldest and quitest was about 13, along as chaperones for the younger two, obviously sisters
One was shyer that the other and whispered all her english questions to her sister
the spokes girl tho’ was an incredibly charismatic, beautiful, radiant child. I can’t imagine what she’ll be like when she’s older, but had these incredible almost blue hued eyes, bush curly brown hair
Thinking about it she looked quite Kashmirri. a very striking bunch.
It was all the usual good natured chatter, refreshingly they didn’t want anything,
with the kids in Nepal always it’s just a good natured joke, they ask for sweets, mitaii, rupees and the traditional ‘school pen, just something to say with a good natured, huge grin!
I gave these kids, a couple of English 10p pieces, shiny silver, just so that they had something to show their classmates.

They said they’d show me the way to Bodhinath, the nearby Buddhist Stupa, centre and spiritual heart of the Tibetan refugee community
We set off up the hill, i sang them a nursery rhyme, Sherbaileys fave, the grand old duke of york, the marching up the hill bit seemed approapriate!
They didn’t know this one, but countered with a hindii ditty
we all then joined in for a rousing rendition of ‘baa baa black sheep’ and even more pleasantly incongrously ‘jingle bells, jingle bells’, more Dzingle bells in their version!
Acch i wanted to sing them ‘do your balls hang low, can you tie them in a knot!’ , that would have taken me back to the school bus home from Esher C of E, but rather lewd for 9 year olds.

At the top of the hill they got bored, turned for home and pointed me on my way, the angel child asked me tho’ ‘why are you sad?’
how can you answer a child a question like that! We had just been at a cremation, but generally lonely, heartbroken, a little lost, are we not all of us, much of the time some of these
seems i am.


On to Bodhinath i wandered, got there about 4:00 o’ clock and wow!
At this time of day all the Monks, old women, young children are out.
The Stupa itself is a huge white mound in an ancient square, it is layered like a wedding cake, festooned with brightly coloured prayer flags, all a flap in the wind.
Atop of it perches a pair of Buddhas eyes, with the quizzical, spiralled nose beneath it. I’ll put a picture up, you’ve seen it before i’m sure.
The main action though is below, the whole community circles and circles in a clockwise direction, twirling the hundreds of prayer wheels and chanting the sacred mantra, ‘Om Mane Padme omm’
teh shaven haired monks in their crimson robes, with their rosary beads, one of them has these huge bottle bottom glasses and an impreswsive set of goofy gnashers!
The old women in their big skirts and thick coats, I join the parade, around and around we go
like water swirling away down the plug hole, going nowhere, still going nowhere, which is partly the goldfish bowl point.
But Such a profoundly spiritual and emotional feeling, that of just being incredibly warm, nurtured, nourished and happy.
Stirring a cup of tea, cream swirl with your heart.
It’s one of those places, wheer all you have to do is just be calm, quiet within yourself and listen, just feel the place with your heart and it is just beautiful
Such a strong sense of belonging
actually you don’t need to listen at all, the whole place just pulsates with spiritual energy, as you approach it, it virtually crackles
take time just to step aside from the gyrating current of people and sit grokking the vibe on a bench
waves of heart pleasure, looking at people, curious and uplifted
I’m deffo going back there when i get back to kathmandu


Oh and i bumped into teh Dutch girls from the airplane, all 5 of them, lovely, funnily they greeted me like an old friend, they were staying out at Boddhinath, volunteering in a school there
all a bit culture shocked, but grappling with it, i said if they were ever in Thamel for a beer. achh, the way things just drift away, when maybe they should happen. chance encounter

Anyway, i got on a tempo (shared cab minibus type thing) presumably heading back to the city? yrt because of the protests it dropped us in the middle of nowhere, somewhere out on the ring road!
The other passengers seemed equally bewildered!
Out here there were soldiers and police everywhere, they looked like they’d been in running battles. all young, strong, a little spooked and sweaty
they had battens and shields and all sat poooped out on the grass
brought it home to me that a fooolish tourist, lost and wandering far from safety hadn’t been the bbest of ideas
they all pointed in different directions when i asked for Thamel?!
all the signs were in Nepalli, it was dusk, a powercut (they’re daily occurences, always seem to be at sunset too!) and everywhere mounds of rubbbish
hey ho Finns compass to teh rescue, the one he got free with a pair of Karrimore shoes
Using this, shanks pony, i trudged wearily but happily back to the Hotel. Quite a day!

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