A visitor struggles to glimpse the Himalayas
(John Cerone photo)
The outline of the Himalayas can be seen through the haze from the hills of Kathmandu.
John Cerone, of Boston, is a professor of international law at New England Law/Boston. He recently returned from a business trip to Kathmandu.
By John Cerone
Upon disembarking in Kathmandu, I craned my neck in every possible direction, rather naively believing that the mountain expanse would be ever-present. After all, the natural environment is the main thing Nepal’s tourist industry has going for it.
Unfortunately, the famed Himalayas were nowhere to be seen.
Nepal is one of Asia’s poorest countries, owing in part to years of conflict. During the conflict, vast numbers of people who were uprooted fled to Kathmandu, leading to serious overpopulation of the capital. This combination of factors has yielded a staggering level of pollution. It seemed toxic, as evidenced by my prompt acquisition of a hacking cough.
The resulting haze was impenetrable. I couldn’t even see the hills immediately surrounding Kathmandu, let alone the distant mountains. The situation was worsened because it had not rained for almost six months. I had arrived at the tail end of the dry season, shortly before the rains would come to provide a degree of cleansing to the city air. Many of the locals walked around with scarves covering their mouths.
Yet I was determined to use my one free afternoon from my business trip to get up into the hills surrounding Kathmandu to, first of all, breathe, and secondly, try to catch a glimpse of the mountains.
Now I only needed to find a date for my trip up into the hills.
Unfortunately, gay social life in Kathmandu is somewhat muted. Notwithstanding recent surprising legal developments (including legalization of gay marriage), homosexuality remains a major social taboo. There are no gay bars in Kathmandu, at least not that identify themselves as such.
I eventually found a match over the Internet. He was an expat who had been living in Kathmandu for some time -- and he had a motorbike.
He offered to give me a ride up into the hills. This is one of those things that is far more appealing in the abstract. The traffic in Kathmandu is completely bananas. A staggering number and diversity of vehicles share the streets. In addition to cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, and buses, there are rickshaws, cycle-rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, and horse-drawn carts, as well as other wheeled (or dragged) contraptions pulled by various animals. Multitudes of people were crammed into vehicles that appeared to be carrying four or five times the number of passengers for which they were designed.
After about 10 harrowing minutes on the back of the bike, I decided to hop in a taxi and asked the driver to follow my traveling companion up into the hills.
The driver warned me to be careful about leaving the car window open. That day was Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, and the youth were keen on nailing every moving object (or subject) with colorful Holi powder.
(John Cerone photo)
Young people rode a Holi bus, seeking out people to douse with celebratory Holi powder.
Although still far from crystal clear, the vista from the hills was impressive. But disaster soon struck. My companion got a puncture in his tire. While wandering the streets looking for a repair shop, we were repeatedly doused with various colors of Holi powder.
Eventually we found a tire repair place run by an Indian family. And a family business it was. The kids were covered in grease, and eagerly loaned their assistance to the repair.
Upon returning to my hotel in Kathmandu, I tried in vain to scrub off the Holi powder, but it – as well as my hacking cough -- was with me for days.
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