Let us become nobler

Sanskrit word 'Arya' or 'Aryam' stands for nobility. Let us implore everyone to become noble, the Arya or Aryam. Christians, Muslims, Hindus or Jews, communists or capitalists, rich or poor, clever or dumb, weak, meek or bully. Uncomfortable perhaps are they with other, threatening peace. Ray of hope for the world is ‘include-all’ ideas of ancient Indian wisdom popularly known as Hinduism. Only they knew how to celebrate individuality of each person. Aryas respect ideas of others, respect way of worship of others, help others and become a noble citizen of this wide and varied world. Idea behind this blog is to bring out those ideas and help each of us become better than what we are. 'N' in the 'Aryan', by the way, was a mistake made by colonial 'experts' who wanted to underplay and undermine the culture and religion of those who they clandestinely enslaved.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

21- Kailash, Kathmandu and Kashi – A story of Shiva and me.

(A decade ago after a trip to Tibet, Nepal and India, I wrote down my impressions. It was not meant to be a book, however after it was read by some, it was suggested that if it gets published, interested persons can use it. However I thought (and still think) that the narration was more of a personal quest into Bhagavan Shiva and that it may not interest a wider audience. Therefore instead of commercially publishing it, I thought of placing it on a website of Publishing house Harper Collins’s website known as Authonomy.com. It remained on their website for people to review my narration for many years. However, last year, when Harper Collins shutdown Authonomy.com and I realized that some people still wanted to read my account, I decided to place all 26 chapters of that travelogue on this blog. Reader views and comments are welcome)

Chapter 21.  Nepal

Taxi came promptly at 6 am and dropped us off at the Kathmandu main bus-depot. Literally hundreds of buses ply everyday between Kathmandu and the Indian Border 250 km south. We took a luxury air-conditioned coach to reach the Nepalese border town of Bhairahawa. Our research on Internet had informed us that the road was very picturesque. A good Samaritan had posted there that the views from right-side windows were just fantastic. Therefore when we had done booking, we ensured that we get right ward seats (seats on the same side as driver’s side, while traveling from Kathmandu to Bhairahawa. Views from opposite windows (Left-wards) too were not bad; in fact, even those views were indeed splendid except the view of river. We had almost continuously river on the right and that they had continuously mountains. As our journey began, we ascended the height to reach the mountains surrounding Kathmandu valley overlooking Kathmandu city and then disappeared among series of mountains, ultimately descending into flat plains known as ‘Terai’ when we reached closer to the Indian border.


Bus ride gave us a good opportunity of seeing the countryside that is impossible for an airport-to-airport hopper. From the coach window we observed corn fields, village folks, their dressing, their various small shops and businesses, their school going children (I thought girls out numbered boys) in smart dresses, walking, talking and biking, languages and customs of people, political slogans on walls or bill-boards, (mostly Maoist-slogans but still visible, a few pro-king, pro-monarchy slogans), hawkers selling cheap Chinese wrist watches, plying Indian trucks, buses and motor bikes on the roads, snack and fruit vendors. Meat shops in Nepal were different - neither hooks nor hanging carcasses and no refrigeration, instead, fresh meat (Buffalo meat and chicken meat) was laid on the table, covered with cloth or net.


People’s dressing could be divided by age. All the aged people dressed in the traditional Nepalese style but the entire younger generation was dressed on western lines. To hazard a guess, the dress-sense changes could have occurred due to 1) millions of European tourists all over Nepal for past five decades, 2) many tourist give away their belongings to locals before going home to rid themselves of excess baggage (just as what we too did), 3) Christian missionaries, who are unusually active in Nepal, who dole out used-garments collected from all over the world through their affiliates, 4) recent drive of Marxist Communists who would like their members to discard traditions and old customs, 5) sense of identification with west, 6) Feel of ‘liberated’ wearing western outfits, 7) the ease of use provided by T-shirts and pants when compared with other traditional Nepali garments and 8) Being cheap, easy to afford.  Currently only older ladies and elderly men seem to be wearing traditional Nepalese attire. Men in Nepalese jackets and tight trousers. Women in the red sarees with red blouses and adorning the hair-parting with traditional red powder. Traditional women seemed to prefer blood-red color that signifies bravery, the Gorakha-spirit.


Road took us up and down many mountains, providing us with some great sights, sometimes from deep in the valley looking up to mountain peaks, or from top of the mountain, looking down on towns and river. Mountainous road, though picturesque, was risky. It was narrow, without adequate markings, with deep gorge on one side, wall of mountain on other and to make it more deadly, with continuous traffic in both directions. This time around, there were no falling rocks but we had to face one tire burst. We spent about an hour under full bright hot mid-monsoon, post-shower sun.  On one side of the road was a puncture-mending-shop and on the other a restaurant, a fruit shop and a vegetable shop. Shopkeepers appeared sleepy and felt that we did not deserve to be noticed. However we had to wake them up. Driver got the flat-tire repaired. Rubber tube in the tire was punctured by a steel nail like wire. Tire repair shop had an ingenious contraption (fairly common in rural areas in Nepal, India etc countries) for sealing up the hole in the tire-tube. Why to replace the entire tube for a small hole? What they do is interesting. They take a piece of rubber, apply rubber adhesive on it and place it on the hole to cover it. The rubber glue needs to be ‘cured’ by heating, so they squeeze glued part in between two iron plates which are then heated by coal fire. No need for new tube or even electric power. All this was taking time hence instead we took off to mend our hungry stomach. We picked up a few peculiar looking fruits, known as Nepali-pear and some bananas. Pear looked more like an apple but with skin of a kiwi, however, inside, it was same characteristic juicy pear that is known to us. We took a cup of tea, bought some biscuits and also some savories. Most of the products on the shelves happened to be well known Indian products such as Haladiram, Parle-G etc.


Nepalese language is a daughter language of Sanskrit. They too use the same Devanagari alphabets. Being very similar to Hindi, it was understandable to us albeit if we paid attention. In their writings, I noticed a common occurrence of the alphabet ‘Ang’, in the construction of Nepalized spellings of words. In India they hardly ever use that alphabet. (‘Ang’ is the fifth alphabet of the Indian languages, Ka – Kha- Ga- Gha- Ang). When written in Nepalese alphabets, the word such as “Parking” would end with ‘ang’(पार्किङ), if it was any Indian, language, the last alphabet would be just ‘ga’ because ‘n’ would have been by a dot on the preceding ‘k’(पार्किंग) I have a friend of Nepali origin, his family name is Gurang. His name too ends with ‘ang’ hence not needing the dot on the preceding ‘ra’. I thought the Nepalese construct to be rather a genius use of underutilized alphabets.


Once we left the hills and hit the flat terrain, Terai, the climate had turned warm, rather uncomfortably warm as is the case during moist tropical monsoon season. Relief comes only after a brief rain burst. But today that was not to happen. When we reached Bhairahawa, it was early evening, giving us ample time to choose a good hotel to spend the night in. We saw signboards atop an office of a travel agent. Boards announced ‘Gujarati Restaurant’ and a ‘Gujarati-welfare-Society’. Gujarat is a state of India on its western border and its population is known for highest per capita spent on tourism and travelling. Their food is moderately spicy but distinctly sweet due to predominant use of sugar and or jaggery. We haven’t had Gujarati food, now for nearly twenty days and were dying to eat it. Without delay we entered his office, however, alas we discovered that the signboards were misleading and both were in reality nonexistent. That smart travel agent was (ab)using it to attract Gujaratis. However he explained to me that those Gujarati establishments were seasonal outfits and functioned during the periods in a year when tourists from Gujarat arrive in large numbers, April-June peak season. Sweet-talking agent proved to be clever or we gullible but he did succeed in selling hotel-room reservation and we doled out as if under spell, the wads of currency notes. The hotel was on the main road, just a five minute’s walk away from the international border. We claimed our room and set out in search of second-best alternative after failed attempt at Gujarati cuisine.


At the counter of a restaurant on the main road we spotted a Sikh gentleman; this chance-vision assured us of possibility of Indian food there. We were not wrong; we ordered two plates of ‘Thali’. It contained varieties of Punjabi food, albeit cooked in Nepalese (presumably) style. I am not too sure if we enjoyed it, but were certainly happy to sit down and observe surroundings. Among the customers, were a middle-aged couple on one table, a young girl on the other table, two men on the third table and we on the forth. Rests of the tables were empty as it was rather late from the standards of rural areas. Middle-aged couple finished soon and went away early. The girl was a Nepalese student who was studying in Bangaluru (Official name of the Anglicized name Bangalore) and was returning to meet her parents. From her confident air, she must have been a frequent traveler on this route. She too finished sooner than us. In the end we were left with two men who had ordered their food and brown fluid, presumably double-whiskey; if it was beer, the quantity was too little. While they were still at it, we finished our dinner and returned to our hotel. Saw a bit of TV, placed a wake-up call with the reception and slept.


Bhagavan Buddha was borne as a prince of Kapilvastu, about 2,500 years ago in a town known as Lumbini. Both these towns are very close, about 35 km, from Bhairahawa. Nepal and indeed India has hundreds of Buddhist temples and other Buddhist holy sites all across their lengths and breadths but these two are among most significant.


Next day morning, woken up with the alarm, we quickly took shower and got ready to start after a nice cup of tea accompanied by Khakharas (Press-baked thin pancake) we had carried from Mumbai with us. Today we had to say good-bye Nepal and Namaste India. When we were checking out, we saw a big crowd of Sri Lankan pilgrims. They were on a Buddhist tour circuit. They had crossed the border into Nepal after touring Buddhist holy sites of India, Gaya, Kushinagar, Saranth etc. Pilgrims were mostly old women and were led by a few men; one among men was presumably a senior spiritual man, to whom all the women were paying obeisance, bowing at his feet, reverently touching them. We were rather impressed by their large number (4-bus-loads, presumably, +200 people) and their devotion, unmindful of surroundings. Everyone was dressed in clean white cotton saree-like dress. The saree is a typical body wrap worn by Indian and other south Asian women. It is an unstitched piece of cloth several meters in length. Generally colorful, either plain or printed with designs or with embroidered patterns.


Our objective was to proceed to the border and cross into India, just a five minutes walk away. However walking was not an option as we had some luggage with us. We could engage a taxi or engage a Cycle- Rikshaw. In Nepal as well as some parts of India, push-pedal-Cycle-Rikshaw is a cheapest and the most common mode of travel for masses. Personally, Cycle-Rikshaw is my vehicle of choice. We waved at a Rikshaw driver who was slowly pushing his unoccupied Rikshaw, obviously on a lookout for passengers. He was more than happy to offer us his service. We dumped our luggage in his Rikshaw and sat down, partially on the seats and partially on our bags (As bags had taken away some of our seating space) and asked the driver to take us across the border to a waiting 7-seater Mahindra Bolero SUV. Border crossing here was a unique happy experience! We knew that Indians do not need visa or passport and hence we did not expect any inconvenience, however, our passage was more comfortable beyond expectation. Before we could realize, we had already passed the Nepalese immigration, the Indian immigration and the Indian Customs, us still sitting on the Rikshaw like Maharaja and Maharani. I was expecting that we would have to get off the vehicle at some point, show our documents and open our bags for inspection. But nothing of the sort happened. We were now already in the Indian town of Sanauli. Good guys on the border there just politely asked if we were Indians, what our reasons were to travel and what our bags contained, trusted our words and let us pass through without hassle. Surely Bhagavan Shiva was overseeing our progress.


Sanauli looked like any other Indian town- busy and full of people. No one could identify it as a border-town. Hardly visible were any gun-totting soldiers, barbed wires, check-posts, etc. Although in India now, the climate situation was still the same, unrelenting hot and humid, once again reminding that the borders are only manmade, nature simply disregards them. Within ten minutes of Rikshaw journey, we were now onboard the hired SUV for onward journey to Gorakh-Pur, the city famed for Saintly Gorakh-Nath from who the Nepalese people derived their name ‘Gorakha’. Our ultimate destination was Kashi-Varanasi but the route passed through the city of Gorakh-Pur.


We had an option either to take 10-hour drive to Varanasi or to take a 5-hour drive with a 24-hour break at Gorakh-Pur and then proceed to Varanasi on a 4-hour train ride. How could we pass off this God-sent opportunity of visiting a city whose patron saint is venerated by whole of Nepal and are proud to identify them by his name?


Our hired SUV was spacious yet turned out to be non-air-conditioned, necessitating maintaining open windows. We were exposed to full fury of rainless sultry Indian monsoon day, noise and dust till the end 96 km ride well into the city of Gorakh-Pur. That the road was good, with only infrequent potholes was a happy consolation.


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