Trip Report
Nepal in winter 1980
Tuesday September 17, 2013 3:46pm
Here's some excerpts from the diary I kept, recently unearthed from the dust, when I was in Nepal in the winter of 1980.



"Hiked down to Jomosom today from Muktinath. Very windy in the gorge-almost knocked me over a couple of times, well, several times. I was constantly leaning into the wind, scurrying over the smooth stones.

I stopped a lot today coming down the upper valley, watching the clouds and light change in that fantastic basin. I thought about how I should have spent the day climbing to the pass or a peak for some cathartic experience (writers note: it was mid January, probably a good thing I didn't try that) For a while I was rather bummed out thinking how lazy I was not undertaking that, especially hearing all the other trekkers talking about going over to Manang.

Then I thought of Mathiassen and his writing about being in Inner Dolpo and not seeing a snow leopard or having massive visionary experiences. But then, he realized that it just wasn't that way all that much. The experiences of your life add up and at the time you may not think it's much but it's going, life is progressing.

I came up here and I saw these beautiful mountains and people and these temples and the Miracle of the Fire and Water. And though you may not have seen the snow leopard, you felt a presence there and saw what it sees and walked in a high land where the sun burns bright and hard. If you saw this and felt something in you wonder, that's what such trips are about and it really doesn't need to be that you climbed to the top of such & such, it is good that you wondered, at yourself and the strange sights and manners of a world unlike the one you came from."



"...Ah, eating. Going to the New Style and Chi and Pie and the Kathmandu Pie Shop. This place really is a food trip. Get all kinds of odd balls in the Pie Shops. A junky sits at a table looking pretty ragged and pasty and doesn't eat anything, just talks out loud to himself or if someone asks him what he wants, he rants on in some mysterious monologue about something only he can follow.

He sits in a corner mashing up some hash for an hour, puts it on the table and forgets about it while he searches for the chillum in his bag, muttering away like some demented Santa Claus. He finally collapses against the seat back from the exhaustion of his search and stares hollow-eyed at the ceiling.

Meanwhile the people sitting nearby are having a discussion about over-the-hill junkies; how some of them get violent or die of repetitive epileptic fits (is that part of the amphetimine series???). Occasionally they shake his tree which he answers with a strange esoteric diatribe and they look on like clinicians, apparently feeling so wise and better somehow than this poor soul. I have an urge to go over and slap them all across their smug and shiny bright faces, down here playing at slumming. I only hope someday it becomes real for them, and then we'll see how snappy they really are."



" I get up in the morning and pull on my clothes and wash my face and go downstairs and ask for porridge and black tea and settle back looking outside at the passing scene in Pig Alley. The freaks and the Nepalese passing by. Produce being taken to market. Big sacks of potatoes or beans or onions on either end of a pole being toted uphill by a Nepalese who's rhythm of walk bounces with the sacks. The newly slaughtered meat is carted up in the morning from the river, carts and rickshaws full of hacked up quarters and sides, pots full of entrails, occasionally falling off into the open sewer of Pig Alley only to be tossed back on again.

A French woman lives across the alley and she always comes across in the morning and looks in the hotel for someone, muttering away in French, never finding whoever she is looking for, her face knotted in masses of worry wrinkles around the center between her eyes so that her face always looks like a mass of radiating lines with big black circles under her eyes.

I asked the young man who works at the hotel who she is and he tells me she had lived there for years, having been married to a Newari man, but then divorced, Hindu-style, so they don't live together. Every day she wanders the streets looking for him. She is wasting away because her family in France sends her too little money. The hotel across the street lets her stay, though she doesn't pay. They have taken pity.

He goes to the window and watches her as she goes up the hill to Durbar square. Someday, maybe soon, she will die. There are blessings in all things, don't you know?"



"An interesting side note. Saw a very western-looking sadhu doing a chaulk drawing of Shiva, Vishnu and Christ on the cross yesterday, the latter picture pretty unusual for Asia. Today the Christ had been totally obliterated but the Shiva and Vishnu were in perfect condition."



"There's a Nepali here who walks about with a bamboo cane and lots of reading material of assorted sizes with no bindings so that it looks like he is carrying a huge cauliflower of paper under his arm. He's always dressed in green with a green Newari cap with some silver metals on it. He has a meticulously kept mustache and strange attractive eyes and always Namastes touching his forehead to me when he meets me.

Once he handed me a note scribbled on a Yak Cigarette package addressed to the World Traveller. The body of the text was illegible but appears to contain a religious motif and he signed it with his name (illegible) and after it, the title 'King of the World.'

I've met the King of the World and he lives in Kathmandu."


  Trip Report Views: 1,004
Branscomb
About the Author
Branscomb is a trad climber from Lander, WY.

Comments
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survival

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Sep 17, 2013 - 03:48pm PT
SWEET! But G'damn it, I can't read.

I need PICTURES!!!

Thanks for the post.
Jan

Mountain climber
Colorado, Nepal & Okinawa
  Sep 17, 2013 - 05:46pm PT
Nepal is crazy enough without bending your mind on Freak Street. There are lots of interesting westerrn people in the city doing worthwhile projects and interesting things. Why focus on those who have lost their way?
Jaybro

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
  Sep 17, 2013 - 06:05pm PT
True, but it's amazing the stuff we are witness to, daily, the goes largely unseen, even if is not pretty.

Thanks for those vignettes.
Banquo

climber
Amerricka
  Sep 17, 2013 - 06:07pm PT
Thanks, brought back memories. I stayed in a hotel in Kathmandu for Christmas 1981. The guy who ran it was very excited about decorating the place for the westerners staying there. He had a life-size, gory image of Christ bleeding on the cross painted in the lobby. I simply thanked him for his attention to detail. I went back n 1984, it seemed like it had changed quite a bit in three years. These days, I don't know what it's like.

Me on right. Freak Street around Christmas 1981.
Me on right. Freak Street around Christmas 1981.
Credit: Banquo
Branscomb

Trad climber
Lander, WY
Author's Reply  Sep 17, 2013 - 06:39pm PT
I think a sense of tragedy is one of the most valuable ways to understand the world. The Freaks and the so-called losers are the most immediate reminders we have of tragedy, living and real.

I think when we ignore them and write them off as 'losers' who aren't worth writing about because they aren't making some sort of 'contribution', we are ignoring, at our own peril, the fact that there, except by some fluke of grace, is a vision of ourselves that can be all too real, all too fast.

It's not a long walk across the street to that. For that reason alone, it's worth writing about, just to remind us to be humane.
Jan

Mountain climber
Colorado, Nepal & Okinawa
  Sep 17, 2013 - 08:04pm PT
I agree in a general and artistic sense but my sympathies will always be with the Nepalese who are so poor and hardworking with everything stacked against them. If you want a sense of tragedy, that's a better place to look and a situation where you have more of a chance of making a difference.Very good writing though. Good enough to remind me of my one or two encounters with Freak Street - and again be depressed at the thought of it.

guido

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
  Sep 17, 2013 - 10:55pm PT
Thanks for the voyage into Nepal and especially Kathmandu in the early 80s, crazy place but you have to experience it at least once in your life. Oh how I wished I had seen it in the 50s.
Jan

Mountain climber
Colorado, Nepal & Okinawa
  Sep 18, 2013 - 12:00am PT
Yes, I have often envied the first westerners to explore the Himalayas, mostly British and Swiss.
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Sep 18, 2013 - 12:08am PT
interesting read.

ah, yeah, to be a first visitor, that would be something. paradigm shifting to be sure.
tioga

Mountain climber
pac northwest
  Sep 18, 2013 - 09:12pm PT
Well-written and interesting...and focusing on these less glorious sides is good. I'm kind of wondering what happened to this French woman...

(And thanks for not posting the usual drivel of "I bagged that mountain look at meeee!" or "we westerners will save Nepal cuz we're white!" kind "oh my god I'm from bumpkinsville, USA I just had spiritual revelation in nepal goin' vegan wearin' prana now!" Most of it is pure plain neo-colonialism)
Ghost

climber
A long way from where I started
  Sep 18, 2013 - 11:16pm PT
A writer who later became famous for a lot of other books wrote a series of four stories that almost exactly parallel your diary - including your empathy for the freaks and losers. The stories also had a lot of climbing.

The were collected under the title "Escape from Kathmandu." Writer was Kim Stanley Robinson.

Jan

Mountain climber
Colorado, Nepal & Okinawa
  Sep 18, 2013 - 11:32pm PT
I thought Escape from Kathmandu was quite humorous if I'm thinking of the right book (a yeti kidnapped and taken for a wild ride through Kathmandu on a motorcycle?). As for neocolonialism, a person from the West who had a million opportunities that a Nepalese will never have and blew them to spend their life smoking dope and hanging out on freak street is a form of neocolonialism too it seems to me, yet another version of the white man's burden - supported by the natives.

My least favorite kind of do gooder on the other hand, is the tourist who says there shouldn't be any foreign aid because the people are already living in Shangra La, can't everyone tell by the way they smile and say namaste? Needless to say they get offended when one quotes the doctor to patient ratios, the infant mortality and the illiteracy rates.

If you want to read a biting yet humorous satire of both East and West and their relationships, read Indian author Gita Mehta's book, Karma Cola.It's available in Kindle and Paperback.
Jan

Mountain climber
Colorado, Nepal & Okinawa
  Sep 18, 2013 - 11:36pm PT
And for a light hearted observation of the Kathmandu scene by local pundit, Kunda Dixit.




Acute Acronym Shortage Hits NGOs

Dateline Kathmandu
Nepalnews.com
2003

Non-government Organisations (NGOs), Quasi Non-government Organisations (QUANGOs), Fly-by-night International Non-government Organisations (FLAMINGOs) and Mainstream Non-government Organisations (MANGOs) are facing an acute shortage of acronyms which is delaying registration of new organisms, it was revealed today at an all-Nepal convention of Government-supported Non-government Organisations (GONGOs).



tioga

Mountain climber
pac northwest
  Sep 19, 2013 - 03:17am PT
I personally don't care for Nepalese or Westerners who head out there, for whatever reasons, neither I'm a Westerner myself and know well both ends of the stick. Third world chose to live the way it lives. Who cares of their doctor to patient ratio...US and other Western states have own problems and people who can't see a doctor. I don't give a rats tail about Nepal infant mortality. I personally had all diseases westerners are vaccinated against plus scarlet fever and tuberculosis as child!

Damn I enjoyed the writing that's what I'm here for.

Dk for neocolonialist propaganda: "we know better" Yeah..
Westerners in Asia are pathetic, with major agendas, and should mind their business and focus on bettering their own countries or accept local ways of life and not shove their--always condescending--attitudes and 'teach' everyone. Anyway, European westerners soon will not need to travel to Asia to experience the whole living in the East thing...they'll be able to enjoy it at home. US citizens too may end up being slaves of China it looks like, due to economy. They should care about saving own asses methinks now. I know it hurts someone doesn't want to live up to white standards.

I do care for snow leopards and hope human population will not increase, destroying their habitat, whatever it takes.

Anyway, this is a memoir/literary piece and author chooses their topic...not based on colonial notions and without patronizing "savior" complex, luckily, thanks. Made me with I could help the French lady!
Jan

Mountain climber
Colorado, Nepal & Okinawa
  Sep 19, 2013 - 02:18pm PT
You don't care about Nepalese babies but you would like to help a French tourist woman? And you're against neocolonialism? Interesting.
Jan

Mountain climber
Colorado, Nepal & Okinawa
  Sep 19, 2013 - 02:22pm PT
Meanwhile, a comment for Branscomb. No doubt this thread went in a direction you did not anticipate. However, I think it shows the strength of your writing that people could see so many different things in it and be moved enough to comment. That is the mark of an effective piece. You accomplished what every writer hopes for and that is to be noticed and remembered.Congratulations!
John Duffield

Mountain climber
New York
  Sep 19, 2013 - 02:38pm PT
some huge differences now.

Note the feet of the Porters.

1983 Barefoot
Porter 1983
Porter 1983
Credit: John Duffield

Me trying to get one of their loads up with the help of two of them
2007 hiking boots
2007
2007
Credit: John Duffield

Branscomb

Trad climber
Lander, WY
Author's Reply  Sep 19, 2013 - 03:21pm PT
Thank you, Jan. Writing is certainly one the hardest exercises there is, besides off-widths (probably a tie there for numero uno).

Anyway, thank you. Keeps the spirits up to get such feed-back.
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