Pilgrim On a Paper: Day 5

I woke up quite late today, probably owing to the fact that I was feeling a bit too comfortable in the warm bed in my room at the Backpackers’ Inn. I awoke, however, some time in the afternoon, and after much stretching and dallying in the warmth of my room, I went out on the street to find a cellular phone store to get myself a Nepali SIM card, a task I’d been putting off for a while. Having got myself an NCell connection, which the store owner assured me had the best coverage of all Nepali networks, and having surrendered prints of both my thumbs and a photocopy of my passport, I was back online with the rest of the world.

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Kathmandu Durbar Square

The store owner graciously pointed me in the direction of Jhochhen, a place recommended to me by Mr. Ravindra yesterday as the original Freak Street, the hub near Kathmandu Durbar Square where the Hippies first converged on in the late sixties and seventies. I wandered through Thamel and Indra Chowk, crossing several Stoopas of antiquity and small temples adorned with ornate ornamentation and dotted with students and young folk, mostly young couples and kids bunking class, perched idyllically atop the narrow ledges of the monuments and antiquated structures. This does indeed make for a pretty sight. Pigeons flock upon the cobbled streets, pecking at feed thrown them by tourists and locals alike. Reminiscent of Trafalgar Square in London – until the nineties, and excessive monoxide emissions.

indra chowk

There were several curio stores lining these narrow streets, selling, among other things, Tibetan masks and thangkas (miniature Buddhist paintings on silk, mostly representing Buddhist history, specifically the lives of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas) and singing bowls.

At the entrance of Kathmandu Durbar Square is a gate with a sign that quoted an entrance fee. Prem Da had told me about this, and had advised relying upon my Nepali to get through for free. Luckily, I was not stopped by the official, as I sauntered past the checkpoint, trying to look like a nonchalant local.

At Durbar square, which is where many royal Nepali courts have been held through the centuries, including those of the Mewars and the Ranas, I purchased a few small chillums as souvenirs for friends in Bangalore and Goa from the handicrafts stalls that were aligned along the length of the Square.

chil

 

Souvenirs from the Himalayas!

Just beyond the Durbar lay a shady, crooked little street or rather, alley, that had signs on the establishments that said Freak Street. The stores, restaurants and pubs along this lane had a dated feel, that made one feel as if one had time-warped back to the Kathmandu of old, the reason why all the trippers of yore congregated here at the top of the world amidst the majestic Himalayas. It was written in the cobbles in the street, in the tiny shrines that lined the way, in the aged wood of the stores and the faces of the storekeepers therein. Freedom. Pure and age old, seasoned by an ambience of Peace and the feel-good, chilled vibe of Hippie Central.

I bought a small, bronze statue of the Siddhartha Buddha, as imagined by the Tantric sect of Buddhism.

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Freak Street?

Chahana had advised me to sample the world famous curd sold around Durbar Square, and when I found the first Yoghurt store on Freak Street, I stepped in to taste some of the rich, creamy Himalayan curd. It was divine.

I walked back to Thamel, and on the way, stopped to lunch at KC’s restaurant, which tempted me with the promise of wood-fired pizzas and pastas and coffees, emblazoned on the windows. This restaurant claims to be Thamel’s oldest. Established in 1978, it shares the building with Urgen’s tattoo studio, which I checked out after my very well done pizza loaded with ham, bacon, cheeses and mushrooms.

I’d obtained my friend Ayush’s number this morning, and I called him to arrange a meeting in the evening. He was to meet me after he finished work in an hour.

I walked back to my hotel in Jyatha Thamel, passing on the way, the ever present drug dealers, who kept propositioning me as they had the previous day, and children from the ages of 4 to about 13, in gangs, huffing glue in soiled plastic bags right there on the streets, in full view of locals, store owners, tourists and policemen, none of whom seemed to bother or even notice at all. I was surprised at this phenomenon, when this habit is obviously such a huge black mark upon the health of the country’s children and future generations. The kids loom around the alleys in packs and alone, like little feral things, begging off tourists and locals, sometimes over-persistently, tugging at clothing and arms, dazed and confused from the intoxication of the glue.

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A rather disturbing sight

Ayush met me near Thamel Chowk, which is the centre of the nightlife District, with all the better pubs and clubs. We were meeting after quite a while, and had a good time catching up and talking about the old days in Bangalore, during college. We headed to Purple Haze, for a few drinks, some live music and some good views!

Ayush left soon after, and I was left to walk the streets again. I ventured around Thamel, and stopped at a quaint-looking steakhouse, where I treated myself to a nice pepper steak dinner, with a scrumptious cheese and lemon pie on the side, with a large latte. Hit the spot just right!

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