LAST SUNRISE IN KATHMANDU – goodbye to Swaggies, KC, backstreets and friendly puppy, 1976

KC, restaurant owner, Thamel, Kathmandu

[Last sunrise in Kathmandu – goodbye to last of the Swaggie friends and final breakfast at KC’s before Nikki and I flew away from the snow-clad Himalayas.  Chrispin waved us off – he was heading off to do more travelling around India, so I took his large suitcase home and leant him my backpack and sleeping bag not thinking I would have need of them again for a while … bad call as it turned out!]

THURSDAY 30TH DECEMBER, 1976 – Part One

“Up very early because Heidi leaving at 6.  As she went I could lie and see the sunrise out of the door.  Lovely winter morning – dark clouds with orange-pink light seeping into sky behind.  Hils dark behind and trees in foreground full of the noise of birds.  Streets quiet for once but dogs already beginning to stir in hotel courtyard (big black one and little black puppy that looks like a baby bear and plays with my tatty jeans!)

Waved off Heidi, Pam and Mark – fresh cool air of early morning.  Met Chris and Nikki and went for breakfast at KC’s – he was still asleep on the chairs!  OK and KC helped get us breakfast – fried eggs, toast and lovely milky KC coffee.  Back to hotel after KC wished us happy journey – amused when I said I’d see him in Scotland.  He has a saying that: Chinese food is best food, Japanese women best women, Nepalese dope best dope and Scotch whisky best whisky!

Taxi waiting for us.  Frances saw us off – Adrian still sick in bed.  Went to airport via narrow lanes – last glimpse of narrow streets inhabited by cows and dogs.  Our into fields then airport.  Chris organised us into right queues etc trying to cheer Nikki up.  Customs nosed around in cases – opened my souvenirs.  Body search – girl helped herself to coconuts and Nikki’s cigs!  Walked out to small Nepalese plane – Chris waving us off from terrace.  From plane, Nikki noticed that he lit up cigarette (she was always trying to control his consumption).  Waved us off even when in the air. 

Circled over Kathmandu – saw terraced brown fields and houses for last time growing more distant – picked out the Boudhnath Stupa.  Great white range behind us, slightly clouded; then left Kathmandu Valley and on into smaller range of hills with roads winding through them.”

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LAST DAY IN KATHMANDU – goodbye bicycles, Freak Street, Yeti Travels, KC’s! 1976

[The Thamel quarter of Kathmandu had become home and I was already growing nostalgic at the thought of leaving the place.  But the group were melting away and it was almost time for Nikki and I to make our way to Delhi to find the elusive return tickets.  One more day of cycling the backstreets of the city, mooching around Freak Street, drinking endless milky coffees – and of course a visit to KC’s.

WEDNESDAY 29TH DECEMBER, 1976

“Di up really early – bus at 6.15.  Said a sleepy goodbye!  Said a second sleepy goodbye to Shirley a little later.
Morning – breakfast with Heidi at Shangri la – talked of education and interpreters!  Hired bicycles with Chris and Nikki and went to Yeti Travels – tickets to Delhi confirmed!  Signed away most of travellers’ cheques!  Gave us sweet tea.  Chris’s money come through too, so he treated us to coffee at the Ra Ra Restaurant!

Back on bikes – really good fun.  Lunch at Kathmandu Guest House with Heidi – had savoury pancake rolls.  Later set off on bikes again down narrow lanes – hair-raising ride avoiding cows, people, vehicles, gutters, porters with swinging poles of earth, dogs and babies!  No one gets out of the way – though we soon got the idea of ringing bells continuously!  No wonder Nepalese are addicted to bells and horns!

Went to Aunt Jane’s (parallel with Freak Street) for their lunch.  Very small restaurant upstairs – very famous – perhaps first of the ‘trendy’ places to go.  In Freak Street plagued as usual by boys with Tibetan books and people offering hash.

On way to Yeti Travels again, nearly got knocked over at roundabout – one of many near collisions!  Great fun though.

Had coffee and apple crumble at KC’s for last time – sob! sob!  After dark spent last of rupies on little presents eg Nepalese hats – shops are lovely at this time because still bustling with sounds and life and welcoming lights.  Know this narrow crossroads so well – on first night the bus got stuck there – quite nostalgic about leaving.”

LIKE DURHAM MINERS’ GALA – King’s Birthday: parades, bands and cocky lads! Kathmandu 1976

[This amazing day which started with a burning sunrise in the Himalayan foothills and a packed trolley ride with dead chickens and excited kids on their way to the King’s Birthday celebrations, continued in Kathmandu.  Its happy crowds, banners, noisy bands and side stalls reminded me of the annual Durham Miners’ Gala – and it all took my mind off those blistered feet.  What better way to finish the national holiday than with a meal at KC’s?!

Heidi, Sally, KC and Di at KC’s on King’s birthday (King and Queen in background!)

TUESDAY 28TH DECEMBER, 1976 – Part Three

We finally disgorged back in Kathmandu! 
Town by post office was almost deserted; no rickshaws to be seen.  So walked into centre – great crowds on public park and lining the streets – people selling chunks of fruit on pavements.  Processions of people, especially kids parading round field and then up New Street to Durbar Square.  We we couldn’t get through until finished so wandered up New Street.

Like Miners’ Gala Day [in Durham] – people pouring in and the sound of bands.  These bands consisted of small drums, cymbals, pipes and flutes and strange singing.  Lots of schools in uniform marched with banners – a few managed to swing arms in time, while some cocky lads followed and mimicked.  Other groups of Nepalese carried biers with greenery all over – couldn’t see what sat underneath.

We rested blistered feet (me, Nikki and Chris) in Paras Hotel, by Nepal Bank, and had omelettes for lunch.  When emerged again, streets breaking up – went back via back streets to hotel.  Heidi and Di packing for Pokhara.  Finished rum.

After shower, went to KC’s for their final meal.  Had lovely tomato soup and hamburger steak with salad and roti (ie potato).  Followed by night life! (rum and lemon)  KC in good form – bought me night life; offered me and Nikki job driving a hamburger stall!  Full of new ideas and plans for saunas, bakery etc.  Fred and Jan came in – Fred still not well enough for him to go trekking.”

BOXING DAY IN KATHMANDU – bicyles, buffalo steak and the blues! 1976

[Word came through that return tickets for Nikki and I were waiting at Post Restante in Delhi – this was the pre-electronic quaint old days of handwritten letters and cryptic telegrams where mail was sent to post offices in large cities to await collection.  So the next step in finding the elusive tickets was to arrange to back-track to Delhi …]

SUNDAY 26TH DECEMBER, 1976

Slept in!  Got up and went with Nikki to book tickets for Delhi.  Yeti Travels confirmed flight to Patna but not Delhi – our usual luck.  Back to hotel – Di still sleeping; Heidi got touch of flu but wandering up and down corridor!  Went and joined Sally and Adrian in Shangri la for pancake.

Then went into Yeti Travels again to check mail – got letter that should have received on 23rd – from family in Malvern – various rude messages tacked on end of Mum’s letter! [from brother Torquil]  Met Rob there – he gave me lift back to hotel on back of bicycle – hair-raising experience!  Dodging cows, rickshaws, roundabouts – nearly thrown into gutter but didn’t come off once!

Met Sally on roof (superb view over Kathmandu and surrounding hills, could see Swayambuth easily).  Went and gave jackets to little man to put dragon on.

Had drinks in Anders’s room with Heidi, Bill, Shirley, an American couple en passant (French interjection!)  Then Di, me and Sally went and ate at Shangri la – buff steak and chips, then coffee at KC’s – met Hans and Chris.  Then went for drinks in Gary and Beryl’s room (Canadian couple that met us all over Xmas and live near Bill and Shirl in Vancouver). 

Great evening – packed at first – Chris and Nikki (went early because Chris got dizzy spell), Rob, Maree, Diane, Mark and Pam, Hans, Chris, Di, Sally, me, Anders, Heidi (left then came back!).  Had great chat with Little Chris about Skye – he climbs in Cullins – very keen – made me feel close to home.  Listened to tapes, then Gary and Rob started playing guitar – Rob played blues and Gary played bongo drum; then Gary played folk songs and lovely Philipino song.  Shirley came in because couldn’t sleep.  Then got complaint about foot stomping from bloke below!  Beryl broke party up at 2.30 because of noise.  Said goodbye to Di, Rob and Maree.”

XMAS EVE IN KATHMANDU – PARTY TIME! 1976

FRIDAY 24TH DECEMBER, 1976

Xmas Eve!  Di not well.  Went into town early and sent telegram home, “Happy Christmas – love you all. Alcoholica”!
Met up with Mark and Pam – wandered back – Mark bargained for our postcards – any excuse for an argument!  Walked through backstreets – cows, dark shops, rickshaws, kids with pockmarks – Pam worried in case gets chickenpox.  Met Rob and Maree eating rock hard gooey things – Mark said looked like cow pats!

Went in later to collect suits – Di went back because sick.  Yeti Travels, then expensive tea at Ra Ra Restaurant – not good.

Had bread and cheese and curd in room – Di in bed; Heidi egg nogging!  Then went to rum punch party in Chris and Nikki’s room.  Really good fun – lots of people there, great drink.  Rude comments about my green suit – “come in your pyjamas” etc.  Sang Christmas carols then decided to sing outside KC’s – so we all grouped at the door and sang away – difficulty in remembering words, but appreciated by diners at KC’s Xmas Eve party.  Sally knocked down some of new kitchen wall!  KC very tolerant with us.  Some of us sneaked in and listened to guitarists and drank Night Lifes, while others went on to sing elsewhere.

Tried to organise going to midnight mass but didn’t know where place was – Mike had already set off walking, had said I’d go too.  Joined others in cake shop – KC lit cake with brandy on – all had some – kept pouring rum into my coffee – no one paid for anything!  All very merry.  Went round kissing everyone merry Xmas.  Back to restaurant – funny little urchins grabbing onto us out of the dark.  Locked us into restaurant, so Nikki rushed back for Chris and others!  Pushed back tables and had a disco – really great bop.  Finished about 3 o’clock!  Got Xmas kiss from KC!”

SEVEN MINUTES IN TIBET – or at least gazing at the sentry post! Tibetan border trip, 1976

[Overland drivers were a resourceful lot and often had to supplement low wages (or no wages) with side trips until they got paid.  They held the trump card – the bus itself.  The Derek referred to in the diary was Derek Amey, another driver for Asian Greyhound whose overland trip had set off a little before ours.  I signed up for his day trip to the Tibetan border – that mysterious land under Chinese control that had fascinated me since reading ‘Seven Year in Tibet’ by Heinrich Harrer. 

In the 1920s my mother had been a baby carried around on a makeshift carriage through the Himilayas on my grandfather Bob Gorrie’s forestry work.  A family story tells that some high up British diplomat was piqued to discover that some British baby had beaten him into Tibet!

Derek Amey, who now lives in Australia, has set up a brilliant overland website covering many trips and bus companies from the 60s and 70s.  http://www.indiaoverland.biz/]

SUNDAY 19TH DECEMBER, 1976

Up early – Derek’s bus trip to Chinese border (ie Tibet).  Misty to begin with.  Lovely scenery into foothills – wooded winding gorges, green rivers; stopped at one which begins in Tibet and flows into Ganges!  Stopped at fantastic waterfall – another division between Tibet and Nepal.

Saw brown mountains of Tibet peeping between green slopes at borderBridge with Chinese guard in green sentry box at the other end.  Had passport stamped on Nepal side. [Kodari]

Stopped for lunch by river and hot spring baths (grotty concrete affair) – good KC’s packed lunch.

Stopped at swing bridge for fools to rush across (ie I didn’t!)  Grandmother, mother and happy kid – old woman with huge earrings in ears and big discs in nose.

Saw rice paper factory at side of road – mill to grind corn then muslin screens which woman used to sieve water and pulp mixture (bark pulp and ground corn) then left to dry in open air and then paper peeled off.

Lovely villages – mellow orange brick and dark thatch.  Women breast feeding by road.  Little kids carrying even littler kids!  Got back sixish.

Went to Shangri la with quite a few of the others – so service slow.  But nice when it came – shared a Tibetan dish with Di (like omelette) and also Buff Bean Curd (Buffalo meat) Nice.”