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.”

KING OF NEPAL’S BIRTHDAY – truck loads of screaming kids: ‘Hello, bye-bye, Kathmandu!’ 1976

[This turned out to be a mega day – it started with a spectacular sunrise over the Himalayas and then dropping down into the Kathmandu Valley we found ourselves swept along in celebrations for the King’s Birthday.  My battered overlander’s shoes were not keeping pace – I was picking up blisters as well as cheerful children along the way.]

TUESDAY 28TH DECEMBER, 1976 – Part Two

“Lovely walk down – soon became warmer.  Little lad pointed out jungle to left.  Another kid joined us waving a palm type leaf, dressed only in grubby shirt – asked my friend if this was a friend of his and he said no firmly!  His school began at 11 but he’d set off down because his school was going into Kathmandu for the King’s Birthday.

At village we saw 2 truck loads of screaming kids set off shouting, “Hello, bye-bye, Kathmandu! Kathmandu!” Truck over-brimming with them!

Walked to Bhaktapur because minibus not there – it passed us just as we entered town!  My feet and Nikki’s were blistered from loose shoes coming down hill, so hobbled painfully to nearest cay shop!  (They make it with boiled milk and water in the same pan like Indians).

Through Bhaktapur – passed dead animals, potter spinning big stone wheel with a long stick.  Bought little cake things.

Caught trolley bus – whole of Nepal seemed to dash for door as soon as opened – nearly trampled in the rush!  Then there was loads of time before it left and everyone had a place so it was futile to begin with!  Don’t think there’s a word ‘queue’ in Nepalese!  Imagine the indignant looks and tutting that would receive such enthusiasm in ‘respectable’ Britain!

As bus progressed more and more piled on until it was almost impossible to ever get off!  Chris was complaining about rubbing shoulders with a frenchman and bottoms with a Nepalese!  He and Mark were swinging from the bars.  Pam was worried about the kid next to her with a plaster on his face in case he had chicken pox and also about the dead chicken in his mother’s string bag! 

(A mother was feeding her baby on the bus even after the baby had fallen asleep!)”

SUNRISE OVER EVEREST – burning snow and sugar in the porridge, 1976

[Not even the discomfort of a cold night or sugar in the porridge could detract from the awe-inspiring sight of the sun rising over Everest and the Himalayas – and the sound of school girls singing through the dark.  Not surprisingly, this magical memory has stayed with me and influenced a scene in my novel OVERLANDERS.]

TUESDAY 28TH DECEMBER, 1976 – Part One

Banging on door at 6.  No one felt like waking – pretty cold because only a few blankets and no bag. 

Staggered out and up very steep hill again (Nagarkot about 6,000ft)  View was breathtaking – mist rising out of valley – mysterious blue ridges, then dark blue ranges of the Himalayas, nearer ones snow-capped, waiting for sun to rise – great feeling of expectancy.  Gradually deep pink light began to seep into valley and catch the peaks – snow really burning in dawn light.  Then sun rose to the left of them all – brilliant orange light.  Saw Everest’s blue peak clearly – little orange cloud above it.
Group of girls chanting down the road – lovely sound.

Down hill again for breakfast.  They put sugar in the porridge and the coffee!  Not my lucky day!

Set off 8.30 down to Karapati again – met a little guide (in his pyjamas!) – thought Pam woul know an Aussie girl that he had the passport photo of, because she came from Oz!  He pattered along beside me – english quite good, 11 years old.  I gave him my passport photo (spare copy) and wrote my address for him – he looked at picture and said “very good” with a grin!”

Girls singing in the sunrise, Nagarkot, 1976

EVEREST COTTAGE – Tibetan bread, roaring fire and Eagles (Californian variety!) NAGARKOT 1976

[The strenuous puffing and panting of unfit overlanders that morning was rewarded with specacular views of the Himalayan range and Everest hidden in cloud that my Kodak Instamatic did not do justice to!  Magic surreal moment was after dark sitting by cosy fire in candlelight, eating simple meal to the strains of The Eagles, at the Everest Cottage …]

MONDAY 27TH DECEMBER, 1976 – Part Two

“Lovely view over valley and jungle to the right.  Cay stop – sat on terrace step in sun.  Reached top at about 4.  Two vans up there at viewpoint – fantastic panorama of Himalayas – from Annapurna to beyond Everest (semi-circle).

Went for coffee at nearby coffee house – all really thirsty.  Then rushed out to see sunset over mountains -lovely pink light and gorgeous blazing orange behind clouds over Kathmandu Valley with dark trees silhouetted on hill in front.

Then rushed around trying to find somewhere to sleep – eventually went down very steep hill to “Everest Cottage” – opened it up for us because no one else there.  Lit a big fire in large room with hight matted ceiling.  Candlelight in all rooms – sat round fire relaxing.

Then had Nepalese meal – plain but good fare – rice, little omelette, veg curry and dhal soup.  Finished with Tibetan bread (like stodgy pancake).  Sat round fire drinking Chris’s Country Liquor.  They put on tape – Eagles.

In room with Chris and Nikki (Mark and Pam other side of partition) – wall to wall bed and nothing else!  Mouse running above our heads in the roof!”

TREKKING OVERLANDER-STYLE – jeans, wedges and an orange! 1976

[After three months of sitting on a bus and doing nothing more strenuous than sightseeing and drinking cay, a trek into the foothills of the Himalayas – however short – was a test for the average Overlander.  Standard trekking equipment – jeans (newly washed for the first time since Kabul), Afghan jacket and scuffed wedged shoes!]

MONDAY 27TH DECEMBER, 1976 – Part One

Nagarkot, foothills of Himalayas, 1976

“Waved them [Rob, Maree and Diane] off from hotel – going to Bangkok.
Left after eleven with Chris and Nikki – meeting Mark and Pam at trolley bus.  After and few 100 yds the ropes of trolley came off the rails!
At Bhaktapur walked across vale – stopped for cay after 2 mins!  Asked way to Katipur, but man said didn’t have any of it!  Over bridge saw women washing below – and through filthy streets of Bhaktapur to Durbar Square.  Had another cay stop! (lovely curd).

Then piled into minibus with milk churns crunched up against our knees; 2 lads kept swinging in and out of van door collecting fares and pushing in sacks and people on top of us!  Really good fun!

Dropped at Karapati then started walking – little boy guide joined us plus various little fellas with baskets strapped to heads.  Up rocky path – very steep straight away.  Stopped on rocks for lunch (my breakfast) of cheese, bread, tomatoes, and an orange.  Talking of cheese, Chris said look behind me and I nearly jumped 10ft to see 2 black goats peering over my shoulder!

Went on past lovely little hamlets – yellow and orange painte houses with thatched roofs, with hens and kids rushing around, little stores with nuts and grain etc., women pounding grain and sieving it; cows trying to block us off!  We were wheezing and panting all over the place!  I managed to keep up near front!”

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.”

CHRISTMAS IN KATHMANDU – porridge, parties, pipes! 1976

[Christmas in Kathmandu: at the start of the trip I hadn’t expected to still be there for the 25th – a return plane ticket should have been waiting from Asian Greyhound.  But it was a very happy day with all the right ingredients: good food, drink and lots of friends with which to share it – and a dusk walk with a magical moment when musicians came out of the dark like a group of Biblical shepherds playing their pipes.]

SATURDAY 25TH DECEMBER, 1976

Christmas!
When woke, Di gave me and Heidi a little Xmas stocking filled with nuts, sweets, bics and tangerines!  Got up leisurely and had breakfast with Sally and Anders, Heidi and Di at about 11.30!  Sally and Fran gave me a little bead choker and card.  Had porridge at KC’s – all a bit chaotic from the night before – some suffering!

Nipped down to corner shop and bought vodka, spicy nuts and sweets for Di and Heidi and peanut butter for Sally and Fran.  Back to hotel for cocktails in Chris and Nikki’s room again!  Went on till about 3.30!  Great atmosphere – chatted with guy off Contikee – trip where bus rolled – didn’t get on together etc – not like Swaggies!

Went for lunch with Di and Heidi – had gorgeous mushroom and chicken roll at Shangri la served by sweet grinning waiter!  Went for evening stroll with Di round streets – lovely dusk with moon and evening star and mist settling on hills around.  Passed a little band playing drums and pipes and bells – lovely rhythmic beating in the half dark.  Streets busy still (passed shop stacked with coloured glass bangles).  Di still not better.

Met Sally and Heidi in KC’s cake shop and Heidi treated us to piece of pie and coffee. 

Had a drinks party in our room with selection of spirits and nuts – Bill, Shirley, Sally, Fran, Adrian, Anders all came.  They all went off to KC’s and I went down to ‘Cafe de Star’ where Rob and Maree prepared a fabulous dinner – we stood around having “Crispin’s aperitif” ie country liquor, water and orange, until meal served.  All sat in far room at long table – Rob, Maree, Geoff, Jan (Fred ill) me, Diane, Mike, Hans, Ian, Chris, Nikki, Mark and Pam.  Really super evening – all stuffed ourselves with turkey, chicken, carrots in butter, peas, cauliflower, stuffing and roast pots, follwed by Xmas pud and white sauce, presented with flaming Cleopatra whisky on top!

By the time it came to KC’s cake we were all so painfully ill that we sat there just looking at it!  No one moved for hours because couldn’t face going up steps – Geoff and Jan had to stagger back with Fred’s grub.  All gave Geoff his Xmas pressy – woolly waistcoat, pen, biro.  Had my bottle of Muscadet wine from Channel crossing!  (And hotel made us a punch).  Everyone in good mood, cracking jokes etc. 

Mike said farewell because off early – so I said, “Ceylon Mike!”  Eventually all lights in other part went off and waiters went to sleep on floor – so we finally broke up and crept upstairs to bed with pieces of cake!”