monkey see, monkey do

Namaste from Kathmandu, 

   The Green Revolution has indubitably come to Nepal. It’s had the same consequences as everywhere else: elimination of hunger; but also the less desirable effects of hastening rural-urban drift and swelling the population of the urban centres manifold. It has turned the Nepalese into a nation of vendors very few of whom have been yet able to lift themselves above bare subsistence. But the redistribution of wealth which stems from international tourism is affording the country some hope for the future. Perhaps the mercantile drive is having a spin-off: engendering an entrepreneurial spirit which will enable them to adequately fleece the rich westerners into the future. We’ve seen some evidence of the incipient entrepreneurial spirit at play. 

song tax

     On our way up the mountain on the first day of our trek, we had to pay a song tax when a small band of cute Nepalese kids blocked the track by joining hands and singing a local tune. Yesterday we were shown the way up to the World Peace Pagoda by enterprising Sandeep, 15 and Naran, 16. These lads have a very broad command of English, having learnt at school. They skillfully insinuated into the conversation on the way up the hill the fact that some tourists pay them a tiger (500 rupees) but they always hoped for the elephant (1000 rupees). 

Nepal was never colonised.

     There is no obsequious servility here; so unexpectedly common in Bangladesh. (Nepal is proud of the fact that it was never colonised.) We don’t hear “yes, boss” or even “yes, sir” here but still have the odd salute. All of these mannerisms must be hangovers from the colonial period, you’d have to suspect. 

      We are staying just one night in Kathmandu, where the gods allegedly live with the mortals and the film industry is called Kollywood. (It’s called Dollywood in Dhaka.) We have adopted our favourite method of discovering the city: on foot. Durbar Square is a fascinating ancient city, still standing in the middle of Kathmandu. There are some wonderful examples of 15th-century Nepalese architecture, mostly centred on places of worship in public places. The Nepalese haven’t yet learnt the best way to attract the tourists here, by turning the narrow streets into a virtue. We had to contend with beeping motorcycles and cars as we trudged around the magnificent ancient city.

the monkey temple

      Later we found our way to the Buddhist temple called Swoyambhu. This rests atop a mighty hill, with quite a few hundred steep steps to the summit. On the way up – as well as street vendors left and right – there were hundreds and hundreds of monkeys in among the trees, and on the steps, and everywhere else. At the top, there is a substantial complex of buildings and monuments and a commanding view of this massive sprawling city. 

    A report in The Himalayan Times informs us that the Kathmandu Metropolitan City has determined to clean up the city in preparation for a big regional meeting. The report says the council wants to remove rubbish which has been disposed of by “denizens and pedestrians”. I’ve got bad news for them: there is an immense job ahead of them and not enough time. 

      The Green Revolution has many benefits but there can be pitfalls, too. Do these people really want their culture swamped by a consumerist ethos which brings disposable nappies, Snickers and Coca-Cola? Do they really want the pollution in the rivers which comes with development? Do they really want an urban poor supplanting a rural poor, where at least the rural folk were happy and healthy? 

  Peri bhetavla from Kathmandu


Other photos from hereabouts

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