Everest and the Toenail

Life in Kathmandu, Nepal and Beyond

The Art of Leaving

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Saying goodbye to a place and its people is only part of leaving. The experiences and memories of a time and place travel onwards with you. Some places I have left with relief. Collapsing on a hotel bed with the family in Harare having left Nairobi physically unscathed. Some years ago sitting on a plane on the apron at Khartoum Airport waiting to leave, weeping uncontrollably. In two short weeks I had seen a man shot on the street outside my hotel and thrown into the back of a pick-up truck like a sack of potatoes. I had watched a Jane Fonda workout session in a club while on the other side of a high wall a queue of patients lay dying on the road waiting for admission to a hospital. The Famine Hilton, tables groaning with food while outside men, women and children starved to death. A child with a swollen belly and lifeless eyes covered in flies abandoned by the side of a road. A mass of humanity surviving in refugee camps in northern Uganda when every morning a plane circled over the camp and rolled a bomb out of the plane hoping to hit the dispossessed living in tents below. I have not said goodbye, not really, to those places. Physically I took off and flew home, emotionally such experiences tie me in ways that ensure I never leave.

Leaving Nepal is altogether a different matter. Even though I have a deep desire to return to familiarity, to our house with its open fire and backyard, to friends and family and my choir, to logistical paradise, yet the closer the day for departure comes, the deeper in go the hooks that locate me here. The purity and stark beauty of the white vertical deserts of the Himalaya, the trauma of two major earthquakes, the woman with the gangrenous leg, the peace and focus to write, the spiritual beauty of the daily rituals of faith, the cries of the beggars and hawkers in the street below my window shall keep me here, untouched by goodbyes. The art is in the way one takes leave, how one manages not the tearful goodbyes or keeping hidden the secret desire for smooth roads, but managing the enduring experiences that have defined me. Physically the gap between two worlds will open up, internally five years will remain influential and ever present. Part of me can never leave, the hooks are in too deep, the ephemeral binds me, the mystery ensures that I can never fully release the hooks that dig, unreleasable, into the flesh of my memory.

Written by jamesaeoglethorpe

December 2, 2016 at 9:17 am

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Snapshot: The Confetti of Fiction

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As a means of laying a trail for runners on the weekly Hash some groups use flour to mark the way (not so suitable in a land where people don’t have enough to eat) or shredded paper. Paper from US sources here is double shredded so is close to flour in consistency. Our paper is coarser. As part of the pre-departure adventure the CoP borrowed a shredder from work and we set about shredding the contents from a large plastic bag for use by the Hash. The bag contained documents with personal information on them plus many, many drafts from two novels and numerous short stories. I fed the pages into the grinding maw of the machine, looking in discomfort and embarrassment at some of my work. What a nice image it made. Tiny pieces of my fiction finding their resting place, scattered like confetti over the landscape of this stunning country. A million words I rejected during these past five years lying anonymous on the earth, biodegrading words absorbed into the soil.

Written by jamesaeoglethorpe

November 26, 2016 at 1:06 pm

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One Last Hit

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This is the text which I read aloud, with all the other talented writers, at the end of the Himalayan Writers Workshop given by a master craftsman, Eric Weiner. 

I am 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

November 18, 2016 at 2:27 pm

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Dawn: Seti River

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Written by jamesaeoglethorpe

October 20, 2016 at 1:24 pm

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Pics: Poon Hill Trek

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Just got back from our trek to Poon Hill with two friends. Here are a few pics. A moving farewell to this astounding landscape and the sacred Himalaya. It was a long climb. On the day we got to the top of Poon Hill and began our descent we walked over 25,000 steps. But the ascent through lush green valleys with clear streams was one of the many highlights. I took first prize for a spectacular crash, flying through the air and landing unhurt in a bush, my fall partially broken by my backpack. Apart from many leach bites and bloody socks we suffered only a few aches and pain. Our trip was led by Ruk, a wonderful fellow, with three (two shown here) porters. They looked after us every step of the way, cared for us and Ruk was most concerned about my sugars.

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Our guide, Ruk (in the green), Tikka on the the left and Harka on the right. According to Ruk, Harka once carried 95kgs up to Ghandruk.

 

Written by jamesaeoglethorpe

October 18, 2016 at 7:12 am

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Snapshot: Isolation

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From the spine of the ridge looking to the south fields of clouds nestled up against the distant blue hills. To the north a vertiginous swoop into the Kali Gandaki gorge, the deepest in the world. Towering beyond it the white peak of Annapurna South, crumpled rock, evolving mountain raised upwards from the seafloor by the active earth into the breathless depths of deep blue sky.

At the viewpoint a crowd of people, Asians, flavours of Europeans and Americans chattered in wonder, a diversity of languages blending into the thin air. Climbing up the steps into the united nations of tourists came a tall white man, the temples of his sunglasses decorated with bling. Reaching the viewpoint he stopped and looked down at his phone. On the front of his farm boy red cap embroidered in white letters: Make America great again.

 

Written by jamesaeoglethorpe

October 17, 2016 at 9:21 am

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Singapore 6

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Grand Prix day in Singapore. Met up with Ewan’s Falls Church friend, Andrew, who lives and works here. Went on the bridge between the Super Trees.

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Once there E was pounced on by two Singapore sweeties who, when asked if they would like pictures with either Andrew or myself declined.

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View from the viewing deck of Andrew’s apartment block. The straight over the bridge, about a third of the way along on the left was our grandstand.

IMG_0035.jpgPano from the straight seen above.

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Andrew, me and Ewan. So glad we got to see him.

 

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HAM flashes by finishing third at the end of a memorable race. A Scot and his son sat in our row. The name of their son was Ewan.

img_0019An unforgettable four days in an unbelievable city with my tolerant, patient and one of my two wonderful sons.

Written by jamesaeoglethorpe

September 18, 2016 at 9:56 pm

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