For those Transglobalistas living under a different rock than my own: Nepal’s politically and historically charged Constituent Assembly elections have shaken things up a bit over the last two weeks. The rampant posturing and threats of violence intended to cow would-be voters from the polls didn’t work (over 70% voter turnout, go figure), and ground-level, tourist-facing signs of unrest have been unexpectedly, thankfully mild; at least for those of us not attempting to book transit into, out of, or within the country. In other words, for those of us staying put, like moi, the election impact was minimal.
[There were some interesting moments: unidentified explosions echoing off the surrounding mountains at night; pressure cooker bombs found, and defused, in a village not far from Kathmandu; Molotov Cocktails used to assault a bus traveling in defiance of the bandh (33 injured, no fatalities); radically increased police and military presence in town, even in Lakeside, the tourist quarter; more unidentified explosions. But these more serious acts remained on the periphery for travelers like me—indirect suggestions unfolding offstage.]
I was subjected to minor inconveniences of the First World Problem (FWP) variety: no taxis willing to carry pilots to the Sarangkot launch site; diminishing stocks of non-replenishables at favorite eateries and cafes (no Baskin Robbins! No Feta Cheese! OMG!); entertainingly small demonstrations ranging up and down Lakeside proper, typically consisting of a single, tiny car with massively oversized, overdriven loudspeakers screaming unintelligibly distorted propaganda, followed by a passel of flag-waving bikers (the majority were “moped-ers,” actually); establishments closing early due to insufficient patronage. In truth, the streets were enchantingly empty. Forewarned of the pre-election bandh, many travelers had escaped to India or to Kathmandu’s more familiar comforts; others, having delayed their departures too long, became impatient at the impossibility of overland transport and simply donned their rucksacks, disappearing into the trekking routes, yoga courses, and meditation retreats surrounding my adopted hometown. Still others used their own two-wheeled transportation to escape onto the deliciously deserted, haunted intercity byways; my friends Kevin, Matt, & Anna disappeared this way.
For those who remained, though, the feeling was pleasant, idyllic. Everything slowed–and scaled–way down. The ubiquitously irritating, proto-capitalist aggressions of the Lakeside touts all but evaporated, the emergent mood more Village Chill than Mountainsport Mecca. For me and the illustrious cast of remaining drifters and geeks I’ve helped assemble here (call me the Pied Piper of Pokhara), it was a special time-out, a holiday from, and within, our individual quests.
One of the nicer developments during this time was Dinners on the Rooftop, an impromptu Apex Guest House tradition started by my wonderful Swiss friends, those two-wheeling ambassadors of joy–JeanDa et Leo. Our happy, diepnosophistic coterie included, in various daily permutations: Yours Truly, Jean Da, Leo, the sexy, punk-chic cycling duo Velo Sieben–Michael and Gergana from Deutschland (flagged down by me in the middle of Lakeside traffic as they rode into town), Mónica & Steffi (the “Tennis Twins”), and Autobummlers Max and Julianna. (I fill up the guest house, JeanDa & Leo cook the dinner; a perfect division of labor.)
Daily activities tended towards the relaxed and varied.
There was a lovely daytrip to Phewa Tal‘s smaller, more remote cousin Begnas with the Tennis Twins (one Spaniard, one Greco-Briton) and friends Susanna (Anglo-Italian) and Gudrun (Danish), including impromptu Tango & Salsa lessons at a lakeside restaurant cum fishing hole (and surprisingly passable canoe-piloting, which skills had gone unconjured by me for decades). There were many lazy afternoons spent reading (Pico Iyer—slowly growing on me, Thomas Pynchon, Arundhati Roy—whose political work is less maddening to read outside of India than within), studying (Nepali, far too little), and writing (highly belated Transglobal Tuesdays, viz #5,6-7). There was also a full-on, high powered Club Night, with the above-named Begnas Beauties transmogrified into glamorously flitting Glitter Girls and the cycling crowd rockin’ it—like the pot-bellied, sissified, manscaped, weekend Harley warriors back home, with their overpriced, oversized Hogs and concomitant branded accessories, could only dream of. (There was a live DJ, freely-flowing whiskey shots and charas, some decidedly non-Latin dancing, followed the next day by assorted Walks of Shame and mild hangovers; the latter worn sheepishly to brunch like badges of dubious honor.)
[Our Dinner on the Rooftop tradition was sadly short-lived–slavered and shat upon despite our ongoing efforts at détente by the assholic introvert, post-Junkie Russian paranoid, Nikolei Vladimir Drevin and, to a lesser degree, his hyper-incomprehensible, pseudo-sentient Scotch neighbor, Erroll Wotherspoon. Five of the people I recruited to Apex found other accommodations to escape Drevin’s paranoid dementia and Erroll’s incessant, charas-fueled mumblings.]
A few days into the bandh, and bleeding rupees’ worth of lost revenue, the major paragliding outfitters began forming Jeep convoys to violate the strike. Safety in numbers and all that. (Wuzzat you say? Strikebreaking? Rebellion?! Brazenly flouting corrupt political authority?! Hell Yeah!) Sounded good to me, so I pestered the Tennis Twins into tandem flights and spent one marvelous afternoon flying alongside them in the storybook blues over Sarangkot. (The route to launch was disappointingly free of confrontation; no pesky, radical Maoists in sight, so kinda meh on the floutation. Oh well.)
And so unfurled, my flag of days fluttered aimlessly on the breeze of whim, boredom, and imagination.
With last Tuesday’s election, the strike ended. Things returned quickly to High Season norms: dozens of fresh-faced, youthful, exuberant backpacking arrivals poured into town by bus, taxi, on foot (oddly yet typically anti-social, returning friendly smiles with averted eyes or a grimace); escalating pressures to buy-Buy-BUY!; reappearing dust and noise pollution from public transport; heaping mounds of feta cheese and scoops of Baskin Robbins’ many-flavored goodness.
Even before final election results are announced, it’s clear that both Maoist factions, mainstream and rebel, have been trounced. Thoroughly. People here—as should everywhere be the case—are tired of their leaders’ extravagant, empty promises and flagrant profligacy. Already the Mainstreamers are contesting the results, tabulated with broad, independent, international assistance, including the likes of former US Prez Jimmy Carter. The Rebels boycotted the election in the first place and called the bandh, so clearly they aren’t happy, either. Locals murmur that these sore losers may respond with a return to pre-2008 revolutionary violence. My own musings, based merely upon the gross reliabilities of human nature, find it unlikely that party leaders will participate in another armed conflict; having grown accustomed to wealth and influence, they will find ways to save face without losing a seat at power’s exclusive table, however reduced their piece of the pie.
In either case, things are sure to stay interesting. And all of this as I prepare to disappear again, for a fortnight’s visit to the isolated hills of Eastern Nepal and my village, Kot.
Nearly a week later, we had a small farewell dinner of sorts for Mónica & Steffi, off for Varanasi by way of Kathmandu—making their premature escape from the Himalayan winter. Travelers here are always off for somewhere, seldom remaining in one place more than a week or two. Friendships on the road appear suddenly, build quickly to uncommon warmth and depth, and endure. Perhaps this is because everyone knows in advance how brief their time together will be. Seeing these friends again elsewhere—anywhere—along the road, is a rare treat savored by all. Most likely I’ll see these two again in Goa, or Thailand, each of us seeking warmer latitudes for the frosty month of January. Yet for me the parting is bittersweet; after halcyon days of spontaneous, easy comradery, these briefly interwoven strands of humanity have begun to unravel. Other friends will depart, all too soon. Ultimately, I am alone on this road—that preposterous, unavoidable metaphor for life—and I wonder: when will I find another such moment of community? Of clarity? Such things are unknowable, naturally, and so I reassure myself with a nugget of bastardized wisdom from the inimitable ODH (Ol’ Dirty Heraclitus):
“No man steps on the same road twice,
for it’s not the same road
and he’s not the same man.”