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Kathmandu March 20, 2013

Posted by newsthatstaysnews in Uncategorized.

I rode Yeti.  How cool is that?  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Kathmandu is grey, but the passenger’s backpacks are many colors, and all pretty gnarly.  The Israeli who’d sat next to me on the Chennai-Delhi leg of the flight spoke Hindi, which entertained the cab drivers preposterously, and then we got a cheap ride to the monkey temple on the way, way other side of the valley.  It was too way other side, so we came back to Thamel.  All the backpackers stay in Thamel.  Accordingly, Thamel has three things cheap: hookers, weed, and beds.

So some guy standing in the dark in front of our hostel asked me “you want sex? girls?”  A sharp feminist would probably point out why he didn’t say “sex? women?”  Anyway, there were ‘dance bars’ everywhere on the streets, and frankly prostitutes, too. so I’m sure he was for real.  I guess Nepal is poor, like Bihar is poor, and yet there are rich white dudes with gnarly backpacks everywhere, so you get the whole vertigo-inducing inequality tourist extravaganza.  It hurts to think if it was your people who had to put it on.


Halfway from Chennai to Beijing, we chilled in a Chinese restaurant and drank local Tuborg.  My cab-wrangling pal objected to Buddhism because it made him give up, not sensual pleasure or a mute conscience, but just actually being able to do bad stuff when he felt like it.  We ordered some Mapo Doufu, which was halfway from Beijing to Chennai, too.   In Chennai, for comparison, I ate something dry and crimson called ‘sapo tofu’, which translates from Spanish as ‘frog tofu’, and from English (as a 成语) as ‘morbid curiosity aptly rewarded.’  I wondered how he lived like this, without a home, and he said it was all about keeping up with old friends daily on facebook, and not minding that the new ones never stuck around.  Living without a home was a pretty big hit with some old Spanish dude the next table over and his way younger Chinese girlfriend, who hadn’t had one in many, many years.  Actually, who am I kidding, it might have been with some old Taiwanese chick and her way younger Catalan boyfriend – it pays to be skeptical.  Anyway, this led to another detailed discussion of the proper growing conditions for maria, humidity this time rather than sunlight, and why it thrives in Nepal but just isn’t quite right.

Cheap hotel rooms, though, that I like.  The guy who let me stay in a clean (enough) bed with a clean (enough) bathroom for $6 also called his cousin and asked where to go Salsa dancing on a friday night.  So I walked two kilometers to this place ‘Cube’.  They were playing something with a four count, so I looked at the maybe six guys in black coats lounging by the entrance and asked ‘Salsa?’ and they motioned me through.  Sure enough, three sides of the dance floor were lined with dudes just watching and drinking, not dancing.  Probably how salsa nights pay for themselves, actually.  But what was happening in the middle was salsa, and I know the drill by now, so I just walked over to the fourth side and asked a nepali woman to dance.  A few nepalis later, each of whom had told me she ‘wasn’t very comfortable with salsa’, I asked some american to dance the next song with me.  The DJ threw on a jive song, which was really, really not good for six-step.  Okay, next salsa song?  They threw on something like a bollywood hit for closing time, and that brought everyone out of their chairs.  Okay, next life.  I checked out and headed for the hotel.

In the morning, I got on Yeti.

In the morning, I got off Yeti.

I tried for the next Air India flight, but I’d just missed it by fifteen minutes, so I had six hours to burn in the city.  I walked a few kilometers to the really, really big Boudhanath Stupa (half a Qutb minar tall), walked around it a few times, wasn’t moved.  Walked back, rested by knees by the Chabahil stupa.  No tourists, no tourist swag.  Just middle aged men hanging with their friends, and young women texting.  It was cool.  I spun a prayer wheel.  I like this side of the valley better.  I got up and walked into the Pashupatinath temple.

The funeral pyres by the Bagmati river (which ends up in the Ganges, and is sacred), are public and open.  I’d never seen a shroud-wrapped body stacked up on top of cordwood and lit.  I’d never watched a man patiently push the logs around to keep the pyre piled up high as the fire shrank and things shifted, and throw straw on it to get it hot again.  Never heard the ‘plop’ that logs and body bits make as they’re swept into the river.  I was moved, but more as a confirmation than as a revelation.  Yup, we die.  We go ‘plunk’.  Some guy washes our ashes down with a bucket.  La Rochefoucauld said ‘neither death nor the sun can be looked at steadily’, and older folks mostly agree with him, so maybe I wasn’t looking at death, just at body parts.  I sure wasn’t looking at the sun.  Kathmandu is grey. pasupati

I made it back in time to hop my flight, and pick up Gandhi’s autobiography where I’d left it.  It was a long flight.  I hadn’t eaten in 30 hours for the reasons up there, and here he’s doing that kind of thing every other day just for exercise.  Guy’s wife comes, says ‘I don’t want to touch an untouchable’.  To which Gandhi replies ‘okay, then.  I swear I won’t eat for two weeks’.  His wife is all sad, and says “alright, alright, I’ll touch an untouchable. just eat, ‘kay?”  And Gandhi says “too late, already swore.  no food for two weeks.”  Somehow, his proudest moments have a habit of happening when he’s standing in front of his wife, and she’s crying.

So Gandhi wants to love everybody the same, but he’s been hitched since thirteen, and his wife was knocked up twice before he went to college, and now what?  Is it weird that he finds it gross how badly he’s wanted to lay a woman he treated like a servant, who’s illiterate and uneducated and to whom he can’t read the Bhagavad Gita in sanskrit?  He’s pretty serious about that disgust, too, sort of like the whole Aristotelian virtue-continence thing, where not doing stuff you want to do is kinda idiotic, but wanting to do stuff that just messes you up is really, really idiotic.  It’s only, he says, when you’re actually horrified by bad things that you can swear not do them, and only when you go all in that you stand any chance at all.

So he wants to be everyone’s dad, and he is, kinda, in a ‘you know you wanting to be an english major is straining your father’s already weak heart, young lady, he’d hoped for so much more from you’ kinda way.  If you’re young and liberal, and rich, and educated and all that, you may not have a damned clue what I’m talking about.  But some mill-workers go on strike against some mill-owners, and he’s cool with both sides, but then the mill-workers get rowdy and hurt people, so he’s says he’s just not going to eat until they get it together and end the strike.  And his buddies the mill-owners are like: ‘now we have to concede or you’re gonna die, brother, what’s up with that?’ And he says it has nothing to do with them, and it’s ’cause of something the workers did, and what does he know if that means they’ll have to concede.

But, he’s not so good to his actual kids.  Doesn’t bother letting them get educated, ’cause character’s what’s important, anyway.  Maybe if they follow him on his three mile walk to work, he’ll talk to them about some stuff outside of themselves and their playmates, but then again if someone else shows up and asks a question, maybe not.  After all, why should they have all the advantages he had had, before he gave up the ones that can be given up, the easy ones?

So, let me be clear.  He believes in what he believes in, and he doesn’t care if that’s painful.  None of this modern-day three-hour hunger strike against the war; he’s willing to hurt himself to make other people do what he wants.  Feel how you want to feel about this kind of nonviolent resistance, about pointing the gun in your own face instead of putting it down, but respect his courage.    He gets farther into heads of people who don’t like him that I get into my own head on a bad day, and he gets way far into the heads of people who he doesn’t have to think about at all.  A lot of the other Congress showboats, not just from how he tells it, either, think freedom is when people shovel your latrines, but you don’t shovel anyone else’s.  So, respect where it’s due.  I don’t like a lot of his other stuff, but then again all these bad stories about him are stories he wrote into his own autobiography, so that’s cool, too.

I guess it’s like this: I think if you try real hard to live a good life, you get a pretty good life, not immunity to colon cancer and faster healing of broken bones.  I’d take that, though.  Getting to see the Himalayas with my own eyes was a blessing, and unless, like the Israeli, travelling’s what you are about, it’s a blessing you can’t earn or deserve in any real way; you can’t keep it longer than it’ll stay, and maybe you wouldn’t want to.  They’re cool and you gotta relish them, and then your plane lands, and you go do what it is that you are about.  Am I getting ahead of myself?



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