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   The year before last, I was in Kathmandu..... (April 15, 1996)

The year before last, I was in Kathmandu. It was no longer the capital of a fabled kingdom that it had been on my first visit. It was one even the hippy centre that it had become in my second visit several aeons later. It was now a dusty, dingy crosded city, and it could have been anywhere in Noerth India.

So these are the three Nepals I have experienced.

The first time, the Tribhuvan Rajpath, the highway joining Raxaul to Kathmandu had no been completed, or, to be honest, had just been compledted but I did not have the money for the bus fare.

I went by the royal Nepal Government train, now disbaded, to Amlekganj on the other side of the terai, then took a bus a short distance to Bhimpedi, then walked over the hill into Kathmandu. The town then was the 400-room Singh Darbar, much of it damaged later in a fire, the central chowk, which happily has remained largely untouched, and Sherpas, who had come down to the valley for the winter (it was January) to trade, buy salt, and get their teeth attended to by Bepali dentists. There were no tourists, though in the summer, the mountaineers came. I had to get a permit to enter Nepal.

The second time, I went by bus, from Siliguri to Birganj, and Birganj to Kathmandu. It took two days, with a halt in a seedy hotel at night.

Kathmandu was filled with hippiqes, and because of their presence, there was a lot of international food available …and cheap. The Soaltee had opened and it had a casino. You could get a free ride in the hotel van, plus a handful of initial counters, to play the slot machines at the casino. And, in the town, there were a lot of budget hotels. I stayed in one called Mustang, it had everything else. On the roads, the taxis were Toyotas.

The last time, I flew to Kathmandu by air, Royal Nepal Airline. In fact, the main reason I went was because of this direct Bombay-Kathmandu flights, leaving Sahar in the early evening and reaching Kathmandu in mid evening. The time diference is only a negligible 15 minutes, which, I think, they have maintained in order to establish their identity as a separate country.

There was an international airport and a domestic airport (Nepal has three more airlines, including one with the ery evocative name of Himalayan Airways), rows upon rows of travel agencies, offering wildlife sanctuaries, mountain climbing, shooting over water rapids, Himalayan sunsets, and trips to Tibet. There were alse several five-star hotels, most of them empty. I stayed in one called Yak & Yeti. I liked the name and I like the hotel.

But the rest of Kathmandu was disappointing. The worst was that because of the pollution, I could not see the snow mountations ringing the city. And Kathmandu without the mountains is like any other place.

 
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