Hotel Shanker Lazimpat Kathmandu 44600 Nepal

In the beginning, there were only Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur—three names most talked about when discussing Nepal. Freak Street and the three Durbar Squares were the places most familiar to tourists. Mount Everest and the Himalaya, too, were famous, although more intimacy with them was sought after by only a rare few of the more daring. The rest, meaning the vast majority of mostly backpackers, were content to while away the hours, and if high on hashish (as they usually were), the months, lounging in the bright winter sunshine on temple steps in the durbar squares, or sipping hot lemon and eating apple pie and Juju dhau (King curd) in some dimly-lit, smoke-filled café of Freak Street. Life for the tourist (and for the lucky locals) was far simpler in those days, which I daresay, will one day be called the golden age of Nepal tourism (not in the economic sense, but in most other ways). The streets were mostly silent, with a solitary car passing by maybe every ten minutes or so, and a taxi to be sighted was a fortunate event for someone traveling quite a distance. The weather was cool most of the year, and as for pollution, the word was not in the Nepali dictionary. Tundikhel, in the center of Kathmandu, and very close to the center of the capital’s universe, New Road and Basantur Durbar Square and Jhocchen, a.k.a. Freak Street, seemed so big that one could even believe someone’s claim that it was the biggest parade ground in Asia. Other cities around the world may have their ‘central parks’, in and around central areas, but I bet none are as open-hearted as Tundikhel. You’ll have to worry about getting mugged most of the time in those so-called ‘central parks’. But Tundikhel? Its large space uncluttered by any trees, not even shrubs, and so there was/is no chance of any muggers hiding in the bushes. Of course, it’s not a lovers’ park, but hold on, it was where boys rendezvoused with girls and vice versa in the good old days. The chaste days, one should add, when love was as pure as the Himalaya. Cinema halls were few and far between, and no English films either, so no corrupting of young minds by lecherous Hollywood flicks. Old Hindi movies would be shown, mostly, and in those days, the camera switched from a scene of the beginning of an embrace by the lead pair to two flowers swaying towards each other. Nothing chaster than that! The world was cooler, purer, calmer, and truly leisurely for the blessed people of the valley of the gods. Yes, all they had to worry about was how to keep the more wrathful gods pacified and happy. And, so, festivals every other day was what served this purpose. Most festivals were/are known as jatras, and they all involve the carrying of a god or goddess on a palanquin, or a chariot, from his/her temple of residence to another, and later, from there to here again. Meaning, another jatra! And, of course, everybody looks forward to a nourishing feast after all that carrying and pulling, right? Or even after all that plodding around the block in a procession. So, feasting follows; gods are happy, people are happier! It’s a far cry, an extremely far cry, today, from what was yesterday. True. Yet, the festivals remain, the feastings do, too. Most times, the gods have been reasonably placid, but sometimes, as we experienced two years ago, the earth shook mightily for quite some time. The gods were angry. It happens now and then, I guess that’s to be expected; after all, the gods too need to vent steam once in a blue moon. Besides efforts to keep the gods placated, the people of this ancient valley have also tried, to some extent, to honor their gifted ancestors by ensuring that their magnificent works of art, craft, and architecture remain intact. It’s not easy, all this, in the light of modern developments, which are undoubtedly needed around the world, but certainly not helpful to keeping the valley of the gods as blessed as before. Global warming, perhaps, came sooner to this once cool valley than elsewhere; the uncontrollable proliferation of mass media has corrupted souls, minds, and spirits of the once chaste and pure denizens; and the roads, the peaceful sight of which was so soothing in days gone by, are now torrents of chaos and bedlam;.
Funny thing is, even after all this destruction of age old values and aesthetics, and the creation of new and modern concepts of development, there isn’t anything new that is worth putting on the tourist brochures. It’s still the very same things that are so difficult to save from the dangerous claws of ‘development’ that we continue so desperately to trumpet as the primary reasons for visiting Nepal!


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