Sunday 29 March 2009

So Long Nepal

Last night in Pokhara, Leaving more people behind now and so it should be a sad night but it isn't. It's more a celebration of my stay (or at least that is how it felt for me, the others probably felt that everything could return to normal again) The night starts as normal with a beer and chatting at the bar. Keep an eye on Mandeep, if a beautiful woman walks the speed at which he trails off from conversation is a good indicator of how attractive she is. The usual suspects are all their, Moniek is talking to a guy I don't recognise. Rick is at the bar with Trev halfway through another bottle of Gorkha. Lucy and Quentin are losing at pool and the locals are crowding around the stage enjoying the music. Just another night at the Busy Bee.

Bimal comes over to my table and tells me they are playing over in Paradiso tonight and I should come and maybe play one time. I'm drunk at this point. Not fallover drunk but drunk enough. I've just put back a Flaming Sambuca and I am pretty sure another one is on the way. It is not the right time to be playing the drums but I agree. People start calling it a night in the BB and head over to All That Jazz but I hold back and then after one more drink head over to Paradiso. We walk in and it is pretty empty. I order beers all round and then Bimal calls me upto the stage. I stumble on the way but once sat down the room stops spinning and the drum kit comes back into focus. Needless to say it wasn't my best performance but everyone was drunk so it was well received and I enjoyed it more than previously.

After that we finished the drinks and headed out, I think I was supposed to pay but didn't. It's ok though, I'll be back in a few years to settle the bill! The rest is a bit of a haze to be honest. I remember not being able to find “All That Jazz” and getting involved in some kind of fight. A police van pulled up and out came 10 officers who surrounded us. A motorbike screams up alongside me and yells at me to jump on. In seconds we are blasting down lakeside at 70kmh (hey come on, it was only 175cc) towards my hotel. The biker drops me off right outside and I realise I didn't tell him where to go. I ask him how he knew and he points at my bike, smiles and rides off.

So whoever you were, thanks for the ride!

Philip got back about 10 minutes later, didn't know anything more about the fight than I did. After ATJ they went back to BB for a drink but apparently it was quiet all over town and so called it early too. Philip had a 6am start the next day so we watched an episode of Family Guy and I went back to my hotel room for one last night in the closest thing I have had to a home in 9 months. It's a good feeling leaving it (huh what?) I love it here but when it is time to move it is defiantly time to move. I'd been getting that feeling, the itchy feet feeling, for a few days and so when I woke up in the morning and the sun was shining I knew it was a good day to ride.

I hit my usual points of call on the way out, the last morning routine, Down to the Asian T House where I meet Shiva (the best omlette chef in town) and had one last breakfast. I check the guest book and look up Gubi's comment. The date? 18-2-09 exactly one month ago. I remember the morning he left and think of the similarities. The gap we left is still there and so I write my own. Just as I am about to leave Shiva tells me he has a gift for me, I kinda figured what it was (think back, if you can, to Pakistan and the “gift” from the police officers.) but he gets out this big package wrapped in newspaper. It's a Kuhkuri blade complete with sheath. I take it out and look at the blade. It isn't the sharpest and the decoration isn't the most intricate or beautiful. The surface of the knife is slightly rusted and the wooden sheath is discoloured. I'm lost for words. As I run my fingers over the cutting edge I try to think of a way to say thank you but nothing comes apart from a handshake and those two words.

Back on the bike and over to see Raju. Blessings of all blessings, Andy isn't their and neither is Peter. Raju doesn't speak much English which makes saying bye a lot easier. We shake hands, wish each other luck and get a few quick photos before me and Graham set off. I make a promise as I ride off. A promise I have made to people here already but one I need to confirm to myself. I'll be back, dunno when but I know it is true. I have made good friends here and I want to know that their lives turned out well.

Four hours and 200km later we arrive in Kathmandu. Horns and traffic, cows and crazies. It's India.. almost. The traffic isn't so bad and they only use the horns once every 3 seconds. Philips caught up with us and you can get wifi pretty much anywhere. The hotel room is a hotel room. Identical in every way to the other 100 hotel rooms I have stayed in and yet so completely different to the one I have just left. It is to be the base of operations for the next 7 days.

I have a bridge to jump off and Tibetan soil to touch. My motorbike needs to be reduced to its component parts, fitted into the smallest crate possible and then loaded onto a plane. I have to get a haircut, a new wallet and a couple of new shirts as mine are literally falling apart. One week till Thailand! Excited? Oh hell yeah! It's good to be moving again!

So long Nepal and thanks for all the fish!

Wednesday 25 March 2009

Happy Holi

The peaceful town of Pokhara has become a warzone. Bright red smears highlight the pavements and walls, war crys echo down the streets. Victims are everywhere stumbling into restaurants looking for escape but there is none. Dazed and confused another projectile flies through the window and strikes an innocent in the face. The explosion splatters everyone close and red, gushing from his face, runs down his shirt. He stumbles backwards previously untouched by the madness he is now just another victim of Holi.

It started at about midday, nothing too bad. A few skirmishes here and there but generally nothing major. I'd been on the streets already and had to be careful, dodging out of the way when a mob came through. Most westerners were being left alone at this point. Ever the journalist I had gone back to my hotel to get my camera.

Happy Holi.

I returned to the madness and on leaving the hotel was confronted by a mob. They charged screaming their war cry. “Happy Holi, Happy Holi” their war paints of reds and greens glisten in the sun and I am soon part of the madness. As I duck to protect myself I feel hands pawing at my face. The whirlwind passes and I am left slightly dazed but grinning from ear to ear. It is Holi, the welcoming of Spring for Hindi's and a festival of colour. As I walk down the street I see other westerners walking along in the same state as me. As we get close we laugh at each other. Reds, blues, pinks, greens. All the brightest colours of the rainbow cover our faces. The spirit of the festival has overtaken us. You can't help but enjoy it and I soon have a 1 litre bottle filled with purple water and adding my own splash of colour.

A child of 10 makes a sneak attack from behind, green water splashes over my shoulder and I turn and chase. With revenge sorted and balance restored to the world I carry on my way down lakeside. The street is pockmarked with colour and I soon find myself within another group. They are singing and dancing and each comes upto me to add to the mess on my face and I add to theirs. A bit of red powder this time, smearing it down their chin or on their forehead. It's still pretty calm and all really friendly. The young kids are out and having water fights. It's the best time of their lives. Some hide on the rooftops letting down streams of water bombs and others in the street attack with water pistols made from whatever they can find. We eventually stop at a bar. It is packed out with tourists seaking shelter but we stay on the street. Too covered now to make a difference we greet everyone who passes and exchange colour. We are changing colours like chameleons blending into one another. With each wave of people that passes we are unrecognisable and taking photos of each other to show us what we look like. Laughing and smiling in some kind of colour induced ecstasy conversation flows easily and a bar of complete strangers are now close friends.

I honestly can't find the right words to describe this so I am going to fall back on the photos:

Ok before I write about the rest of the day there is something that amazed me about this day. I said earlier that I walked down the street and was left alone. What amazes me is not only the way people throw themselves into this festival but the way they restrain themselves as well. Even the photos don't really show it and I have put a video on facebook but there are probably millions of videos now. It is total ecstasy in these crowds. They are dancing and singing. Jumping around like lunatics. The looks on the faces of people are that of men gripped in drug induced happiness smiling and laughing so much it has to be unhealthy. They literally charge at people and cover them in colour from head to toe. As one of these groups approach several things happen to you. Firstly there is a bit of fear. Then they reach you it is madness with hands all over you and strangers within milimeters of your face. The madness is catching and I caught it very quickly. They soon pass and the result is devestating. The madness left my body and it left a gap when it went. I felt both extremely happy and empty at the same time. It was like withdrawal symptoms, fortunatly my next hit was always just around the corner. But back to what amazed me, within this crazy indescribable mass of people there was complete control. If I didn't have colour on me I would not be approached. There were thousands of people dripping in colour and then a few people who were completely untouched by any of it. Some people with cameras were getting right inside the mob to get photos and they would walk out clean like they had a protective bubble around them.

All I can say is that they had the mob mentality. They opened their hearts up to being part of a single mind but they retained enough control in all of it to keep their own mind too. I have no doubt that if one person in the mob put colour on someone who didn't want it then everyone else would do the same but no-one did. Unfortunately, as the sun was setting, I saw some drunk bikers riding around specifically looking for people who were clean and then targeting them. Another reminder that no-where is perfect.

So for me and the rest of the day. Well the group that had formed at the bar moved around a little and got a bit bigger, eventually there were 11 of us so we decided to go for a group wash in Fewa lake. Hired a boat, paddled out into the middle stripped off and dived in. Someone even bought shampoo so we could get the worst of it off. It was good to get into the cool water after running around for half the day and after a bit of splashing around and the odd backflip we cracked open the beers and watched the sun set behind the mountains. After letting the girls try to peddle the boat back in and basically spinning it in circles I took over for the ride back. It was slow going and we had drifted away from the dock but we got there eventually and with only one broken bottle. We docked and after a small incident involving a dog and a drunk Jordie we were back on dry land. We split up and agreed to meet up at the Busy Bee later.

The rest, as they say, is history. A night of too much alcohol which is a story played out all over the world a million times a night and, I suspect, you don't need to read about it.

Wednesday 11 March 2009

The right beat

Heart rate 120bpm. It just happens to be the same rate as the song that is playing at the moment. A nervous vibration runs through my leg, up my spine and into my fingers. I look around. No-one else feels it, they are deep in conversation and completely unaware of the incredible things happening around them. As the song finishes a line of sweat runs down my back and my hands clench uncontrollably in anticipation. The singer takes a swig of water and reaches up to the mic. “We'd like to ask Oliver up to the stage”

My heart rate doubles, I look around expecting to see people looking at me. They aren't. Still in conversation they don't understand what is happening. I get up. The walk to the stage goes from 10 meters to a hundred and each step rings out the toll to my own death sentence. Every sense says no but I am walking now and it is too late. I reach the stage and climb up. I've been up before, it is one large step that requires a bit of a hop. It feels like Everest

The singer clears his throat, “we dedicate this song to Oliver, our drummer” and the guitarist starts. 1.. 2.. 3.. 4, 1.. 2.. 3.. 4, 1.. 2.. 3.. 4, 1.. I got it, I started on the right beat, amazing... shit, where are we... 4.., and then everyone is in! Lead, second and base guitar and we are all in time. The song changes as the singer starts “Look at the stars..” 3.. 4.. and then it is over. 4 minutes and 29 seconds gone and I remember nothing. I am sure that we missed a verse it was over that quickly. I leave the stage, grab a beer and sit down at the same table I was at before. After 5 minutes talk returns to motorbikes and girls. Nothings happened.

Later Bimal comes over to talk to me and I ask about the missed verse. He looks at me a bit strange and tells me I didn't miss a beat. He tells me how nervous he was and that he was repeating to himself “don't mess up, don't mess up” I didn't imagine the look of relief on his face. He is proud but not just of me, he is proud of himself. Tomorrow the sun will rise as normal, at 2pm I will have my drum lesson as normal and, If I am lucky, the band will let me play again.

Tuesday 3 March 2009

“Get one of the browns to do it”

A few posts back when I first wrote about Nepal I said something about being “home”. People close to me, probably only family actually, will know that that is a very dangerous thing to commit to. Maybe they don't fully understand either but to write it and post it was hard for me because of parts of my life which may be one of the reasons I got on a bike and started riding. There is no need to worry, however, because the great repercussions of that one word, the vibrations that pass through time much like the vibrations of a musical instrument, have been cut short. Nepal is not home and it never could be. At the time of my first writing I couldn't know this of course so now I will try to explain.

I still love Nepal. The people still smile as sweetly, the beer tastes just as good, the women are just as beautiful and the view is still incredible so what has changed? Well for starters I met the ex-pat community. It is a strange collection of people mostly from Britain who hang around only with other westerns. Ages range from about 25 to 60 mostly male but some women too. Mostly single and all angry about something.

Peter (names have not been changed to protect the innocent as there are no innocents)

Peter is large friendly seeming guy from Switzerland who has married a local lady. They seem happy together so no problems there. The problem is that Peter is a biker, like myself, who visits the same motorcycle mechanic I do. The mechanic, Raju, is someone I have immeasurable respect for. I cant explain this but when you take your bike to Raju you buy him tea. He doesn't demand it or even ask but you just do because it is right. Peter spends at least an hour almost every day at Raju's but I have never seen him buy a cup of tea, drinks plenty but never buys. He always has a job of course that needs completing and Raju (for some reason I can't quite phantom) will always go up and do the job no matter what else he is doing. I have never seen Peter pay for this work but I have been told that Raju keeps a running total and gives him the bill each month at which point Peter refuses to pay it, calls Raju a con man, eventually pays half and walks out angry. To make it worse when someone comes to Raju (a random person) for repairs Peter will actively tell that there is a mechanic somewhere else who will do it for less or he will tell the person how to fix it themselves.

Daniel (also Swiss come to think of it) was in the BB with me last night having a beer. He paid his bill and took his change (50Rs or about .5 Euro) and held it over a candle burning it. Owen, an Irish guy I met a few weeks back, and me tried to stop him but he did it anyway right in front of the waiter. (Try to recall my story about Bimal the drummer) 50Rs is about half a days wages for the waiter and I looked into his face as this money burnt. He struggled to stop himself grabbing the money and then walked off without saying a word but his face said it all. I tried explaining to Daniel the situation. That people work all day everyday here just to feed their family. That 50Rs covers the cost of rice and dal for a family of 10 for a day and what he was doing was the equivalent of burning 30 Euros. His answer was that he gave the money back to the universe. Owen and me got up and walked away.

There's a Welsh lady who moved here and setup business. All she does is bitch about the locals and how they try to sabotage her because she is white. When she orders a beer she clicks her fingers and doesn't look at the barman. Didn't have one nice word to say about any locals and specifically hangs out in western only areas.

Any number of people who have nothing to do all day but have opinions on how the country should be run and what is wrong with it but they have the perfect solution if only people would listen. They complain about the politics and the police. They are upset about the intermittent electricity supply and know what must be done to fix it. Hell even the weather could do with tuning up a couple of notches.

Back to the bike again now. I was adjusting the rear shock and needed the rear wheel lifted off the ground and the bike rested on blocks. There's a guy there who is mouthing off a lot and using me and my bike as a topic of conversation for no-one in particular. I had been working for going on 2 hours and he had been there the whole time. Raju had rightly walked off for a bit of peace and so I asked this guy to help lift the bike “Get one of the browns to do it”

I struggled and did it myself. When Raju came back he looked over my work and nodded his approval. He appreciates motorbikes the same way an artist appreciates fine art and so while everything is off the bike and he can get a good look at the engine he looks at everything. Gently twists the throttle and watches the carbs. A squeeze of the clutch just to get the feel. Nothing goes untouched and as I watch him for 15 minutes nodding and shaking his head I find myself strangely desperate for his approval of my bike. He finally gets up and with a smile on his face gives me a little nod and walks off. Later I ask him if he wants to ride it. “No friend but thank you” the other guy, the “get one of the browns to do it” guy, is on his feet before I have even finished asking Raju if he wants to ride it and is practically shouting that he will have a go.

They all hang in western only areas, have no Nepali friends and treat the locals like crap that should only be talked to when something needs doing. I asked one why he lives here “Oh I just love it here”. The place stinks of British Imperialism.

So what to do about it huh? Well for starters I have to avoid these people for the next 3 weeks. I have decided that whenever I meet someone I don't like I will just walk away and not get upset with them. I wont judge any more or I will try not to. I have my own flaws, plenty of them. Yeah that's it. I wont let people ruin this little slice of paradise for me and when I leave I will hold it as a memory. I wont make it something it is not in my mind but when I think back I will always smile at the place that was almost perfect.

I dedicate this post to Raju as it is the only honour I can truly give him. A man who knows who he is and doesn't try to be anything else, a great judge of character who can make you feel like everything or nothing just by looking at you. You will never know the effect you had on me. By accepting me, you gave me more honour than I deserve.
Stay safe and ride well friend.