Day One: Tuesday, 13th December.
Gordon Bennett, what a rigmarole getting money out of the bank. First, you have to find a bank which means the arduous plod negotiating the man traps which are Pathan’s streets. At the bank a disinterested young girl takes ages assembling the paperwork, all of which came to nothing when she asked for my passport. Grr I’d left it back at the guest house. Re-trace my plod. Return with passport. Go through the rigmarole again. Wait for money. Blank stare from bored clerk. Shrug of my shoulders. Still, no response. Embarrassed as always by my total lack of Nepalese I ask about my money. Totally unembarrassed by her previously well-hidden but fluent English the young lady points to another counter. “Take these to that counter”. I like the Nepalese people so I refrained from punching her and joined the queue at the said counter. I vowed never to complain about my own bank again.
One bank teller apart i just love the dusty chaotic Kathmandu valley. I am in Pathan, a city in its own right and once an independent nation but now pretty much attached to Kathmandu. The locals often call it Lalitpur. There are so many cultures, castes and different histories in Nepal that places often have different names. It depends on who you are talking to. I suppose I should be used to this. Coming from Wales, the vowel free extended coughing fit that I am happy with can return to me in English as Seven a Bed (Cefnybedd), Abba Jelly (Abergele) or Lanooklin (LLanuwchlyn).
Next up was a trip to my favourite school, the Kopila Nepa Brick Children School. Dave Phoenix, you deserve an MBE for setting this up. Bimal lal Shresthra you could have one too except the queen doesn’t appear to rate non-British people. Come on, surely it’s about time we waived the rules now we don’t rule the waves. Getting to Kopila on the edge of Kathmandu was a minor thrill I hadn’t experienced since my teenage years. Nope, not what you were thinking. I was taken there on the back of Rupesh’s scooter, something I hadn’t experienced since being stopped by the police on the back of my mate Roy’s scooter in 1970. I never did pay my share of his fine but the guilt still remains. Even the backroads of rural Denbighshire in the Seventies were nowhere near as ropy as the streets of Pathan today. To top it all, everybody on Nepal’s roads drives to their own plan, bobbing, weaving, overtaking, undertaking with total apparent disregard for any other road user, including the police whistling and gesticulating to very little effect at junctions and crossroads. Crossing the road follows a simple code. You step out. Somehow, the drivers avoid you. Well, most of the time. The fatal error, and I use the word advisedly, is to hesitate because by then the driver has assumed your route and avoided the “assumed you” while possibly running the “real you” over.
Anyway, we got to Kopila in one dusty piece. The school is an oasis in the haze; colourful, cheerful with some of the loveliest teachers and happiest kids I have ever come across.One particular young lady was pointed out to me. It turned out to be the little girl in my profile picture for Katkando. Last seen, by me, sporting an irritated look and a lot of dust, she was now at school, scrubbed up and smiling. I asked Sanita the teacher what her name was and I was told it was Julmya. Having a name has personalised her. She is not a dusty child or a scrubbed up child; she is Julmya and it was lovely to see her enjoying herself at school now. I hope she does well. She is seen here in before and after mode.
It was great wandering around the school again and meeting,not only the children, but also the teachers, Sanita, Sushma, Renu and one or two new ones whose names I regrettably can’t remember. I also met Correijne and her husband, Dutch supporters of the school who gave me a lift back to Pathan. The school has a wide variety of supporters from the UK, Netherlands and Germany. It just goes to show you how one person, in this case Dave, with local and foreign support can achieve so much. Inspirational.
Typically, I gave the driver the wrong corner to drop me off at but, hey, I had the chance to see corners of Pathan I never would have seen and most certainly would never be able to find again.
Later, I wisely restricted myself to Pathan’s main streets when looking for somewhere to eat. Last time in Kathmandu accompanied by Dave I dined at a variety of restaurants all of good quality. This time, alone, I managed to find a Korean restaurant which was probably Pyonyang’s first attempt at sabotaging a Westerner. I had ribs in a soy saiuce. They didn’t lack taste particularly but they did lack a certain chewability. I hit one of my backteeth so hard that my next port of call was a small shop to buy some painkillers. I still wonder if i am suited to this solo traveller lark.
Back in the guest house I made contact with SWAN and arranged to meet them at their office near the American Embassy in Kathmandu. The American Embassy is very big so I anticipated no problem in finding an office nearby. Hmm.