The Imprints of a Soul

(Part 3) Rebirth
Give me your hand,
The child whispered to me.
I’€™ll take you somewhere
Alive and free.
It was in those hands,
I saw the fate
Of awakening.
In those shimmering eyes,
I saw the life
that was calling.
A longing
to be.
Another chance,
you may call it.
The day it all began.

 

(Part 4) The End of the Beginning
I remember.
I remember the tears
behind the veil.
The cries
Of scales
Digging into my pink flesh.
The vultures arriving.
Talons and decay.
Nothing left.
‘€œOne last breath,
I beg you.’€
She cried.
And as she opened her eyes,
the madness died.
The vermillion pools of
Scarlet red.
Another stranger
she thought
was dead.
He said to her,
‘€˜Believe in me
when the candle flickers,
behind the iron gate.’€™
‘€˜Don’€™t let it fade away.’€™
‘€˜Just wait.

The future is now

 

— Ashesh Maharjan
http://amaharjan.wordpress.com/ 

I’€™m not surprised, not at all. I knew all along that this day would come. I knew it right away, back in 2008. Well, I know it’€™s easy to boast about your ability to predict the future when the future is ‘€˜now’€™ and nobody is really going to know if you really predicted it right. But it doesn’€™t matter at all, since it’€™s too late and nothing can be done. You have no choice but to walk all the way to your office, a few miles from here, and your home is a few miles in the opposite direction. This place, in Maitighar, used to be a busy traffic island. Now it’€™s a park. We come here to ease our poor legs, since they have been working all morning. I live in Lagankhel and work at the Bir Hospital in Sundhara and it’€™s a tough day.

Anyway, it’€™s 2048 A.D. and Kathmandu is a dark, cold city. It can hardly be called a city as there are no automobiles running on the street anymore, just a few ambulances pass by now and then. Ambulances don’€™t scream as they used to, because the road is all theirs now. We had a few of these things around till 2015, some distinctly rich could put up to ride till then. But the unfortunate ones wouldn’€™t tolerate them. I heard they flipped those cars and burnt them. Still, we see a few aeroplanes, since they are fueled elsewhere. But, aeroplanes are of not much use to us since there are only a few fortunate ones who can afford to get the hell out. Load shedding schedules were modified every six months or so, all the while lengthening the dark hours, till it stabilized about a decade ago. Since then we have had three hours of electricity a day, three days a week.

Television and music systems are no longer a part of daily life. The crime rate has gone up. People have been shifting from one alternative resource to other since. The owners of candle businesses, those with manual industries, and the few with land have become the wealthiest ones in our society. But they are no less anxious than you or I. They have their own aches to ease when it comes to transportation and efficiency. People have changed professions. Most of them are turning toward agriculture since people in the city are short of food and it’€™s quite impossible to transport food from elsewhere without fuel.

I used to believe that everything happens for good. Now I don’€™t. Since I work in a hospital, I’€™d observed some brighter sides of the crisis. Less people suffered from respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, throat inflammation, chest pain, congestion and a host of other different diseases pollution would bring. But that was only during the few years that followed the crisis. After a few more years, people poured in once again. A massive number of malnourished people came to us. With the abated food supply everything had started to become more expensive. The poor were the first to suffer miserably. People who studied at night in the candle light suffered all different kinds of defects in vision. Myopia, hypermetropia, purblindness to name a few. Every now and then we heard that an international agency had arrived to deliver aid, but it never happened. Or maybe the donation was never large enough to be noticed. Or maybe we had expected too much. Or it could be the same old story of dirty politics. Politicians- they never seem to back off. Not even in these desperate circumstances when we seem to be going backward.

When I was young, back in 2008, we had lots of vehicles around. Anyone older than their mid forties should be able to recall the dreamy scene back then when Ratnapark was just a few minutes drive from Lagankhel. Now, it’€™s a two hour walk on a day like today and an hour and a half when I’€™m in a hurry. Legs are the kings of the street, bicycles too. I wish I hadn’€™t damaged my old bicycle after I had my motorcycle. I guess I shall buy a new one soon. It’€™s hard to believe I once had a motorbike. I see it every day in my garage, but I miss riding it. It had only been a few years of luxury. I was a kid back then with a thirst for speed and risk. I was amazed by the way bikes could make you feel the rush of the air. Then, we ran out of fuel. And it was never the same again.

I keep telling myself not to be nostalgic, but I can’€™t seem to help it. Not a day goes by with the thought that kid in me is long gone. This old man is all there’€™s left. I got to live with that. And hope. Hope is a good thing, probably the best of things. Yes, I hope that someday the dust covered piece of metal in my garage is going to come alive once again. And I’€™m going to feel the same rush of air, with the rays of crisp sun on my shoulder. Well, I know it seems unlikely. But not impossible, or is it?

 

Everest Base Camp Trek – Up and Down the Mountain

Stooping to board the 16 seated Sitar Air Jet bound for Lukla and the Himalayas, my thoughts bloat with fantasised fables and imagined trails. The mind is a leech when it comes to expectation.

For the past few months whilst working in a ‘€˜quintessential’€™ English Pub, mechanically serving pint after pint to already inebriated customers, my mind has been premeditating my Nepali adventures; weaving threads of information as thin as gossamer into a lucid tapestry of tall trekking tales. So as I seat myself, instantaneously reaching for my belt -Lukla having been quoted ‘€œThe most dangerous airport in the world’€- I tell myself to curb all calculations so as to live presently. Moment by moment.

An air stewardess bends down with a silver tray offering ‘€˜mango chews’€™ and cotton wool. She is wearing full make-up, a pencil skirt and heeled, patent court shoes. Her composed demeanour and soft, scarlet smile juxtaposed with the dozen or so sleepy trekkers’€™ shrivelling in their seats makes for a sublimely surreal scenario. One that wasn’€™t written! (Well, at least in my mind.)

As the jet wheels from beneath us spiral into the morning haze, I turn to my window and like a child press my cheek against the sticky plexiglass. And there I remain for the next half an hour; fixated, sucking on my mango chew, watching the heavenly Himalayas roll past as in a cartoon flipbook. Until the equally illusive Lukla 200m uphill runway appears in view and with it an unremitting replay of unnerving ‘€˜Lukla Landing’€™ Youtube clips’€¦

We survive! After a warming brew of Tibetan Butter Tea, we’€™re headed for Phakding with our walking poles and the Sacred Himalaya flag swinging in bold motion. We pass O mani stones, napping porters and yaks with heavy loads and seesaw gaits; pause at the dubious wooden sheds boasting ‘€œ2-6pm Happy Hour’€ and loiter for bemoaning dogs eyeing Gary’€™s canvas bag brimming with biscuits. At Phakding we lunch for Dal Bhat (one of many to come). Reaching Monjo I’€™m shown to my room, a 6x6ft MDF box, adjacent to the lodge’€™s only toilet. I shrug it off: clearly the pure air has drugged me with nonchalance.  But later, cocooned in my sleeping bag, my mind is orchestrated by a symphony of lumbering rats, grunting floorboards and sluggish slashes followed by a flush. Not a moment of shuteye. Ke gar ne!

A hearty breakfast of Tibetan Bread (so hearty my Swiss army knife finally finds its calling), omelette, honey and masala tea sees me striding forth to Namche Bazar, always following two steps behind Babu our assistant guide who saintly renders to my automatism of ‘€œAnd how do you say’€¦. in Nepali?’€. Reaching  ‘€˜Namche Bowl’€™, we meander through tunnelled streets of North Face fleeces, Fair Aisle wool beanies, yak bells and mountain literature. Suddenly we are back in Thamel, only 2040m higher. So we retreat to our lodge for a game of ‘€œBackpacker: The Ultimate Travel Game’€.

After an acclimatisation day ‘€˜strolling’€™ to the Everest View Hotel and Khumjung to pay witness to the Yeti scalp and Sir Edmund Hilary School, we set off for Tengboche. Feeling quite invincible, Mark and I venture ahead of the group, scrambling up the rocky terrain like mountain goats. Only to be called down soon after and told off for losing ourselves on the Old Yak Trail. So our leader, Binay, taking authority sets the pace naming us ‘€˜Team Bistare’€™ and we snake somnolently to our goal. On arrival our eyes meet Her Majesty Chomolungma and neighbouring Lhotse and Nupste. Seemingly floating on a carpet of celestial cloud they peer omnisciently down at the German Bakery. Even at 3820m there is cake!

The following morning, shielding our faces with buffs, sunglasses and factor 50 Sun cream, we set off for Dingboche, stalking our way through winding woodland, crossing bridges cloaked in prayer flags and circling Stupas, old and new. The ascent is quite demanding and proves gruelling to those few members already suffering from altitude sickness. We arrive at our lodge, sloth like. Swimming through that ‘€˜snooze’€™ period when your first morning alarm has sounded and with groggy thoughts and groggy vision slowly, slowly images come into focus and actualise. Indeed, it’€™s sometimes quite overwhelming to comprehend the sheer beauty and scale of the landscape that you tend to estrange it, labelling it with ‘€œnot of this world’€.

On our second acclimatisation day, headed for Chhukung at 4730m, the effect is dreamy, otherworldly. As if promenading in a parallel universe; a plane of existence where time stops ticking and magical phenomena breed. Where the land and sky merge, shaping an ethereal mass of ivory blaze. The feeling is vertical!

Until later that evening, when I’€™m lying FLAT in bed tossing lethargically as my stomach swells with cramps. The following morning I’€™m significantly weakened, but try to stomach a few spoonfuls of porridge to see me to Lobuche. The few spoonfuls see me 20 minutes along before I disgorge of them and continue to wander like a drunk to Thokla, 4620m. There I’€™m shrouded in several blankets as a cold sweat and shivers swathe my bones. Babu spoon-feeds me garlic soup, which my senses radically reject as I run for the doors to retch and writhe for an audience of over 50 people, all taking their lunch in the sunshine. An American medic soon comes to my aid, and pointing to my heart rate and oxygen saturation levels strongly advises me to descend unless I’€™m prepared to ‘€œfork outa twenty thousand dollar Helicopter ride outa there’€. So after another grand performance, I try to walk, only to fall. Babu, 5ft tall and small boned in stature, heaves me onto his back and begins to jog down the hill. At that moment I give way to total exhaustion and remain slumped over his back, my eyes and mind half-closed to the world. At some point we meet two men walking in the opposite direction who, on seeing us, turn back on themselves to relieve Babu from his load. Taking it in turns, they haul me from one another’€™s back dragging their feet for over three hours until we reach Periche’€™s Tokyo Medical University Clinic and I’€™m seated before Adam who hands me two pink pills and a mug of orange juice.

That evening delirium finds me as my body oscillates between high and low temperatures and I exhaust the lodge’€™s supply of blankets. I awake the next morning to Babu performing Puja for me as he knocks his Mala against my forehead, mumbles mantras from his Sadhana and tosses herbs and plants out of the window. Fortunately I’€™m a practising Buddhist, and rather than taking alarm at his mystical incantations, I smile as he greets me with ‘€œGood morning Bahini’€. He asks me to slowly rise from my slumber and begin our descent to Lukla. I look at him with pathetic eyes, swollen with tears of failure and resentment, and answer him reluctantly, ‘€œOK’€.

Taking me by the hand he leads me along the twisting trail, pausing every five minutes to let me rest and sip flat coca cola. Hand in hand, we hum ‘€œOm Mani Padme Hung’€. He teaches me Nepali and sings to me ‘€œSometimes laughing, sometimes crying, sometimes raining, sometimes singing’€.

 

Snowman

Kathmandu – the busiest city in Nepal, where people from all walks of life face a hectic day to day schedule.  Filled with restaurants, cafes, shopping malls and cinema halls, this city has been the center point for many people from different corners of the country. Different people have different ideas on establishing themselves in this city. And on this course, one man, Mr. Ram Pd. Manandhar, came up with an idea of opening a small cafe in Jhochen in 1965. With ideas from his colleagues, he decided to name it ‘€œThe Snowman Cafe’€.  It has been a popular cafe in the city ever since.

Little did Mr.Ram Pd. Manandhar know that this idea would later be one of the most popular junctions for young people in Kathmandu.  Since it was started in the mid 60’€™s, the cafe has been very popular amongst hippies, informs Raju Manandhar (son of Ram Pd. Manandhar).  Snowman provides its customers with cakes, pies and coffee – treats that have been popular since the day it was established.  When inquiring about where the cakes are made, Raju says ‘€œWe bake everything here, everything is homemade and everybody seems to enjoy them this way.’€  Rightly so, Snowman’€™s has been able to entice everybody with their delicious desserts from their very first visit. They offer their customers black forest, cheese cake, apple pie and arguably the world’€™s best chocolate cake at very affordable prices. Not always busy, Snowman provides customers with a very comfortable ambiance too.  The different paintings adorning the walls were made by foreigners who visited the café over the years. Another note worthy element is the music. Without being too genre-specific, Snowman always provides its customers with groovy music. You can hear artists ranging from Tracy Chapman to Mr.Big on their stereo, soothing and comforting to anybody at anytime.

Yes, there are cafes in Kathmandu with similar features, but Snowman has its own unique comfort. So much so, that even on one’€™s first visit, one might feel that they’€™ve been there already. There is nothing fancy about where it is located and how it is decorated. It just feels homely. I personally have visited this place more than a dozen times and I can assure anyone that there are no other cafes in Kathmandu as comfortable as this one. Better yet, you don’€™t have to be rich to go there. Good service for a good price is what you get. Considered a cool place to hangout, Snowman’€™s two floors are often packed with youngsters both before and after school.

With more than four decades of service, Snowman has been through its fair share of struggles. Having conquered all obstacles, Snowman has rightfully earned its place as one of the best cafes in Kathmandu, and indeed in the world.