Back from Pokhara after a bone chilling ride back as all flights were suspended, infinitely delayed by the arrival of real rain. The front rolled in above the lake gradually obscuring the hillsides until they vanished. And 48 hours later it’s still raining up here in KTM, long soaking, persistent rain. It’s warm and we are amongst the clouds and I am safe.
Parts of the journey up from Pokhara were like a visit to hell, with diesel fumes replacing sulfur. In the darkness we climbed up the escarpment on deeply trenched, very narrow road, smack behind the tail of a lorry, our driver steering out to see if a suicidal overtaking move was on the cards. Heaven only knew what was barreling down the escarpment entering the blind corner, ahead overloaded, shot suspension, dodgy steering and shit for brakes heading for us.
There is a profound difference in attitudes to fate, life and death between myself and the Nepalese I am proud to call my friends. What will be will be, nothing can be done. The lorry didn’t smash directly into us. All was as it was supposed to be. For me, it was a series of calculations about if the guard stones and railing would stop us, or would we tumble down the drenched mountainside to the river in spate below. What would be manner the of my death, thrown to bits as the vehicle disintegrated as it turned cartwheels shedding parts and bodies? Or would I go straight through the windscreen. Not helping this situation was the sudden arrival in the headlights of a bounty of green grass on the back of a bare footed woman. Walking at night in such an intimidating hell, our vehicle passed within an inch of her, one wobble in a pothole and there would have been pasture all over the road.
Somehow though I felt completely passive. The CoP asked why I didn’t say something and frankly its because I didn’t think to do so. I felt in the grip of something that was at once coldly terrifying and yet I was unconcerned. I had surrendered myself to the arms of fate, the embrace of which was at once warm and cold, and certainly perplexing.
In the midst of the dire situation unfolding in the east of Nepal the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Damodardas Modi is on a state visit. He brought with him offers of practical economic aid, plans to build a piepline for petrol between the two countries. Most significantly of all he said in public that the Lord Buddha was born in Nepal.
Sometime ago an Indian newspaper published a story that said Buddha was born in India. It created a lot of bad feeling in the country. The Nepalese people are hardy, resourceful and proud of their country and its past. They have an ability to recover from bad situations with great fortitude: road widening, natural disasters, and they rebuild.
Dodi visited Pashupatinath and the Temple to Lord Shiva, the most sacred of all Hindu temples. He brought with him a gift of 2500 lbs of sandlewood, the preferred fuel for cremation.
The birth place of Buddha in Lumbini, home to the highest mountain in the world and Pashupatinath Nepal is a nation with great cultural richness and home to a remarkable, indomitable people. As a trust building exercise and an example of careful and generous diplomacy Dodi’s actions have brought a smile Manbhadur’s face.
I find using an unfolding human tragedy on my blog particularly difficult. I am not a journalist and thus the information I can relay is second hand. The BBC said the landslide was “near” Kathmandu. It was 75 kms away on the road I have traveled leading to Tibet. I guess Kathmandu was closest population centre that was well known. The seriousness and extent of the landslide is large. Human suffering aside, so evident in the pictures of children being dragged out of thick suffocating mud, five hydroelectric power plants are threatened, at least the power house of one is underwater, the remaining four downstream are threatened with inundation. Were these five stations to be lost it would represent a major issue for the country already tottering on the brink with an aging energy infrastructure.
Landslides happen, particularly during the monsoon, sometimes in well forested areas, as the body of rock lets go of the skin that clings to it. Hundreds of people have lost their livelihoods, fields, houses, friends, family, relatives, 100s are still missing and must be presumed dead. Most Nepalese live such hard lives. It was close to the area of the landslide where the CoP and I went walking and found an epileptic woman, her burned leg turning gangrenous. It is a hard, isolated area, subsistence living, eking out a back breaking life.
How does one square this disaster with the lives it has afflicted? As far as I know the army are reluctant to blow the newly created dam so the river floods behind it, while downstream whole villages are being evacuated. There is no such thing as fairness in this life. This fearful accident reminds me that I am lucky beyond measure compared to those who are facing death and economic ruination, stranded in the cold and the dark as the rain falls, in fear that the skin of the earth will slide away beneath their feet.
The counter clicked over 15,000 lifetime views on the blog overnight. Seems amazing to me that so many pages have been seen. While my blog is intermittent now I still treasure the opportunity of being able to describe something of my journey and have it enjoyed by friends, loved ones and total strangers that have visited the blog from – and it’s no exaggeration, – all over the world. Thank you all for reading.
Early morning Mount Machhapuchhre – Fishtail Mountain – part of the Annapurna Himal.
A gentle rain is falling, clouds sitting in the valley. Our next door neighbors suddenly erected an bright red awning, maybe a wedding, so it is very damp for them.
Said goodbye to a family last night who are traveling onwards with their two daughters. I only wish I had met them earlier – part of the fabric of an ever changing expatriate community, you meet and then they are gone.
On the Saturday afternoon Hash the other week I met a psychologist who specializes in hypochondria. Nice mind, thinks about people that is similar to how I think about characters and discuss people generally. She is out here studying, on a personal and professional journey, looking at integrating eastern techniques like yoga and meditation into more formal western practices.
I told her about my anti-hero Cary Rodondo, a character in my novel, Reprisal, and how I had looked at myself in the mirror one morning when I was writing the book and asked myself where this beast of a man had come from inside me: I had come to understand that we all have the potential within us to be someone really horrible. She said one word, “Control.” And pieces started to fall into place.
This generous, golden thread of meaning and ideas, passed on through conversation, especially when unexpected, is surely one of the joys of being a human being, although the celebration next door is not so joyful at the moment.
The South African freelance designer and calligrapher, Andrew van der Merwe (http://www.writtenword.co.za/home.htm) is a multifaceted artist. Some of his best known works are telling visual statements created on the sea shore in sand. The selfless, crafted pieces are made more poignant by their brief lifespan. Then the ocean takes their spirit and meaning away on the tide.
In September last year an article about Andrew’s work appeared on the Coldsmoke website – http://www.coldsmokeco.com/blog/2013/09/04/beach-calligraphy-a-south-african-artists-unique-approach-to-the-classic-art-form/
. UPDATE: Coldsmoke have now taken the page down, but no apology, or attempt to put up an accurate, correctly sourced article. Firstly the website got his name wrong, secondly the pictures were not of his work – according to a friend he would never leave footprints – and the picture on the page was not of him.
Suggestion to Coldsmoke. 1. Google: Andrew van der Merwe calligrapher. That’s Andrew, not Alexander. 2. Under the search bar click on images. 3. Select pictures. 4. Replace the existing images with a fulsome apology, and acknowledge the source of the real images. It would go some way to repairing the damage to Andrew’s reputation that shoddy editorial practices have caused.
Images: copyright © Andrew van der Merwe