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Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Charm of Nepal

It was my first trip to Nepal last week on 19th July. In fact it was my first trip to anywhere out of the country by flight. Until then I had only ventured out to Singapore and Thailand. Although I was excited about the journey, I was apprehensive at first about the prospect of not being able to smoke during the entire flight. Way back in the 70s as well as the early 80s, people were not so health conscious as yet. The awareness and their rights had not been cultivated yet. As soon as the ‘no smoking’ light went off after take-off, I would immediately light up a cigarette. And no one bothered about it. Back then it was an acceptable part of co-existence. But not anymore! So the fact that I would have to refrain from smoking gave me sleepless nights preceding the trip.
It was a transit flight on Thai Airways to Kathmandu via Bangkok. I have had much experience in flying, so the journey itself was sort of predictable. I sort of knew what to expect. All went well until we were nearing Kathmandu when all of a sudden, the aircraft went into free-fall for at least a good 4 seconds or so. It seemed so long though. And not once but twice. The Captain came on the air saying “we are facing air turbulence!” I thought then that he could have done a better job in pacifying the passengers, many of whom I noticed appeared to have gone into a state of shock, including my colleague seated next to me. My age didn’t afford me the luxury of displaying fright, at least not to my colleague. So I simply forged on a brave front, comforting him that it was just ‘airpockets’ that had created vacuum in the atmosphere. I still wonder if he saw through me to notice that my heart was by then somewhere between my navel and my lower belly!
We finally reached the airport in Nepal where my Nepali agent was waiting for us who took us straight to Annapurna Hotel that we called home for the next 4 days. I had not looked up the net for details on Kathmandu, so apart from the fact that Everest lurked somewhere near, I didn’t know much of the city. The temperature was like Camerons and therefore bearable but I was told that November to February are very cold as it snowed around the mountains. Couldn’t get a view of Everest though due to the heavy clouds.
What greeted me during our drive-around was a bit unsettling. This was a city without any form of traffic control. Cars, lorries, buses, taxis, vans, bicycles, motorbikes and every form of other vehicles that come in odd shape and sizes, fight for space on the narrow roads, probably originally intended only for 2 vehicles. I would not be far from wrong if I add that they very nearly ‘nudge’ each other as they pass, so to speak. I particularly found the deafening sound of horns blaring for the slightest of reasons, often for no reason at all, annoying and amusing at the same time. The only traffic light I came across near the former King’s palace was on permanent red mode. Traffic police standing on elevated platform at road inter-sections appeared more ‘ornamental’ than to serve any real purpose. I didn’t wait long enough to notice if motorists paid any attention to them.
The next morning I awoke at about 7am as I usually do back home in Rawang and noticed that it had already dawned. The 2 hours and 15 minutes time difference meant that it was only 4.45am in Nepal. After freshening up, I walked out to the main road outside the hotel hoping to see a tea stall like what they show in Indian movies. Not one soul was in sight……just an occasional lorry passing by. Returned to the hotel and was told that breakfast would be served in 2 hours time. It was then that I realized that although it had dawned, people don’t start work until it is about 8.00am in Nepal. And the shops would open only at 10.00am (12.15pm in Malaysia).
Later after completing some tasks at the agent’s office, I went out with Sumon (agent’s driver) to look for interesting things to buy. Looked around for some nice belts for myself but couldn’t find any with my waist size. It is interesting that Nepalese are generally not fat and most of them are just the correct weight and size. The people manning the shops along the road didn’t speak any language that I could understand but Sumon was there to help out. So that didn’t pose any problem. Through him, I managed to get some nice clothes for my family at reasonable rates.
Evening was interesting. The agent (Mr. Rudhra) told me that he wanted to take me to some watering hole to chill out. What greeted me was beyond my wildest expectation. Walking in, we were ‘namaste”d by extremely beautiful saree clad Nepalese damsels. They had a stage at one end of the hall where about 15 artistes were seated with their musical instruments. Each one then took turns to render a Nepalese number that was accompanied by lovely Nepali dancers performing their traditional dance. It looked like a slightly faster version of our own joget. But it was soothing and immensely relaxing. The pretty girls waited on you while you enjoyed your drink. The language they speak in Nepal is a corrupted version of Hindi…… that moment, I regretted not knowing Hindi.
Requested for a couple of Hindi songs that the singer obliged. He sang very well. I joined him during his rendition of Kabhie-Kabhie, a 70’s song, punctuating it with Amitabh Bachan’s dialogue that I had memorized during my younger days, being an ardent fan of the legendary actor. It was well received. This was live music at its best unlike in Malaysia where they use pre-recorded music from keyboard for the main instruments. I truly enjoyed the night and made sure that I went back the next day to continue with the fun and festivity. On my last day, a deep sense of melancholy seized me when I realized that I wouldn’t be able to see them anymore and worse, that I would not even be able to communicate with any one of the lasses over the phone because of the language barrier.
On the last day of our stay, we took a trip to the largest and most significant Sivan temple in the world that was constructed sometime around 400 a.d. It was a spectacular sight to behold, I must admit. Walking in, you get goose pimples just looking at the place. But of course I didn’t realize the significance of the river that meandered alongside the temple as I nonchalantly flicked my cigarette butt into it only to learn upon my return that this was the Bagmati River that eventually flowed into the Ganges! What a pity that I didn’t snap any photos of it.
After spending a couple of hours, we were chauffeured to the airport for our flight back. As I turned to say goodbye to my host Rudhra and his driver Sumon, I vowed that I will surely return for another visit of this only Hindu Kingdom (now Republic) in the world. My wife would love this place.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

54 long years...!

(Granddaughter is similar attire)

In retrospect, it has been a long and arduous journey this life, and I’ve just reached the 54th milestone today. There were more downs than ups so to speak but the joy in the ups sort of overshadowed the regrets in the downs. But it had been indeed a long, long journey. No one told me it would be this long……..though I hadn’t expected a bed of roses either. But nevertheless when I look back, I can’t help but wonder how I succeeded in managing it all along.
The happy moments I cherish and rejoice at the joy and fun that accompanied each of those moments. The friends I kept, many of whom are still with me….and time passed.
The not-so-good memories and the sadness and sorrow that I suffered with no one to care or console….and you realize you have to go it alone……but time still passed to heal those wounds though some scars do remain that don’t hurt as much anymore.
Priorities changed when situations changed. Things considered important then are not so anymore. And I still wonder why or how it is so. They tell you that you are wiser for the experience but continue in the very next breath that wisdom is relative. So I can’t tell what is real and what is not anymore.
I do not crave for a long life like some people do. I just want to be around during my healthy years to be able to enjoy it all in the company of those I love dearly who mean everything to me at this point in life. In that context, my family beats them all.
My darling Kalavitha takes the icing providing me with the much needed joy to go on for now, giving me new reasons to continue looking forward to each new day.
Its one more year to retirement………….and the counting starts now!