Everest and the Toenail

Life in Kathmandu, Nepal and Beyond

One Last Hit

with 4 comments

This is my last post on this blog. This post is by way of a thank you to those who followed my Kathmandu journey. One Last Hit is a piece I wrote during the inaugural Himalayan Writers Workshop in 2016 under the tutelage of the estimable travel writer Eric Weiner. It was read at our farewell gathering at Dwarika’s Hotel in Kathmandu in front of friends and family.

Writing this blog was an immense pleasure and reached people all over the world, as well as a number of loyal readers who were kind enough to comment. My thanks to each and every one of you.

 

One Last Hit

James Oglethorpe

Five years hooked on the golden high of Kathmandu. Now I remember, mourn and seek the rush of one last hit before the cold turkey of departure.

I am walking the highway to enlightenment on the inner loop of the Boudha stupa. Single men chant holy scripts to the echo from behind paper masks. The stressed, the lame, the aged press their foreheads in worship against the stupa’s wooden doorways. A thousand fingers reach into recesses, seeking to touch small, evenly placed Buddhas. Out of the crowd a grunt and groan as a bespectacled body in a leather apron, robes of deepest claret, hefts itself on to its knees. Stands. Walks. Kneels. Prostration hand protectors slide forward, wood scraping the path, face to the brick. A rotational symmetry of herding humanity we follow our commuting lanes at varying speeds and orientation—from the functional vertical to the overpowering horizontal.

Sun shafting obliquely into a temple, focused light exploding in an empty glass mug held low by a monk rising from his morning chant. North to south, through east and west the prayer wheels are turned, pigeons flock, rising up through incense smoke, circling clockwise and settling back on the ground in a flutter.

Back home, on the roof, behind the forest of tottering black stalagmites, buried within the smog, the rim of the valley lurks. Unseen I look down at a woman in the narrow, brick-lined street. Red clothing, gold bangles and necklaces, self assured, upper caste, head held high. Raising a finger to her lips, as though summoning silence, she walks on and stops. On tip-toe she draws down an overhanging branch covered in jasmine blooms and picks three flowers. Cupping the petals in her right hand she places them at a shrine before moving on, crossing a bridge over an open sewer of a stream and is lost to sight.

It is time for me to move as well, only I cannot do it with such grace, dignity and faith.

Sitting in a café with Darlene we watch monkeys travelling along the phone lines outside the balcony. A large male with an impressive scrotum displays in front of her. ‘Oh man. Just typical,’ she sighs and looks away. Dreads fall to her shoulders in a tangled mess, the self harm of a grey piercing through her lower lip disfigures the exquisite proportions of her face.

‘Just chill,’ she says. ‘Kathmandu is all about the spiritual journey.’ She lights a cigarette. ‘Look inwards, go beyond the present. Celebrate mindfulness,’ she exhales a lungful of smoke towards me.

I’ve had it with these cosmic fuck wits. There’s so much bullshit in Kathmandu. Pages of stoned memories from self-absorbed journals blowing around the dusty, claustrophobic streets of Thamel, so much dharma dandruff.

‘Oh please,’ I exclaim.

‘No, dude,’ she says, ‘you’ve got to see the spiritual geometry.’

‘You mean like the malformed children scuttling along the pavement?’

‘You’ve got to learn to let go.’ Darlene smiles with pity, putting her lighter in a cigarette packet branded with a pair of rotting lungs.

Perhaps it’s just me, but her inner light shines with all the intensity of a low watt eco bulb.

I take off in a Maruti on my own. The seatbelt is irretrievably jammed and I prepare to be thrown through the windshield. My life will end, bleeding out on the feral road, surrounded by a curious crowd of the medically illiterate.

A reassuring, plastic, day glow Lord Ganesh, like me a stout fellow, looks out from the dusty dash board of the taxi, weed decals stuck over its air conditioner flaps. I smile and wink back at the trunk, swollen belly and big ears. Ganesh is considered auspicious at the start of writing projects and remains my guy.

The white mobile coffin rattles its way toward Durbar Marg without a hope of stopping if some hapless Rajesh pulls out into our path without looking. Impatient, unimpeded momentum is the priority for every motorcycle driver. They are like a gang of loaded football fans stumbling into a society ball, shouting, elbowing their way to the front of the line, oblivious of decorum.

Whatever. If Rajesh is going to die today he will, regardless of employing survival tactics like knowledge of traffic rules and courtesy.

*

Next to the dinner plate and a candle on the hotel table where I am dining with a friend rests a clay dish, about four inches long, brown, unfussy. I watch others place rice, greens, nuts from their own plates into the cupped ceramic leaf. OK. An odd local custom, decanting food from a big plate to a smaller one. Maybe it’s so the diner can discipline their appetites, some Buddhist malarky: by consuming less you are consuming more.

My waitress stands behind me as I start to pick at the offering with my fingers. She leans in over my shoulder. ‘No,’ she says. ‘The little food is for unfixed spirits, those that have no-one to remember them.’ The waitress moves the sullied food back closer to the candle. As she withdraws she touches my right shoulder in a conscious, hidden moment.

*

Across the sacred Bagmati River in front of the temple to Lord Shiva, silhouetted in the darkness, a corpse lies on a pyre. A man, chanting words of ritual, walks clockwise around the body, pausing now and again to sprinkle rice and flower petals on the shroud. For a moment he stands at the head of the body, bending over the still flesh and bones. As he steps back a pillar of flame leaps from the mouth of the carcass, towering briefly into the darkness before sinking back into the chimney of a throat. Fuelled by accelerant and igniting fatty tissue, flames consume the remains. The released spirit begins its journey across the grey river of sewage and plastic bags flowing between us. The scent of burning flesh is in my nostrils, smoke from the unknown barbecued human being fills my lungs.

Rising from amongst a flickering carpet of candles the voices of worshippers are exultant in prayer.

The body burns. A yellow moon rises.

I am at peace.

 

Written by jamesaeoglethorpe

August 21, 2017 at 10:29 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. So lovely dear James ….well done and, me plus a lot of others will miss those blogs of yours!! Take care ….did you see the eclipse today ..if so how lucky were you !! LOve patti xx

    Sent from my iPad

    Lock Chowk, Jawalakhel, Lalitpur, Kathmandu, Nepal. Mobile …00977-98510-38597 UK mobile ….0044-7788-522126

    >

    pattilockoap@gmail.com

    August 21, 2017 at 1:37 pm

    • Thanks, darling. I saw about 80% here, so fun. I have let it go, so I will maybe start something else soon. I’ll let you know when I do. xxxxx

      jamesaeoglethorpe

      August 21, 2017 at 7:40 pm

  2. Dear James, it was lovely following you from when we met on a raft down a slow river four years ago. With you we managed to take Nepal with us a little longer… and to appreciate little moments through your eyes in a way that brightened up similar ones at home. All the best, Angelika

    Angelika Hamilton

    August 21, 2017 at 6:30 pm

  3. Hi Angelika, thank you for your kind words. So glad mine reached you. Wasn’t it one of the best experiences? I’ll never forget it. James

    jamesaeoglethorpe

    August 21, 2017 at 7:42 pm


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