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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Friday, 1 April 2011

April 1st: Dhulikhel in Nepal

On April 1st 1979 I was in Dhulikhel in Nepal.  Dhulikhel was a little town to the east of Kathmandu, sitting in the hills at the edge of the Kathmandu Valley.  The town had beautiful brick-built town-houses among the winding lanes and several old temples.  There was a cheap lodge recently opened to serve NGO volunteers and a restaurant on the main street showed that tourism was beginning.  The town did not feel at all touristy, though the kids did approach me as I walked around the streets and temples or sat at the view-points in town.  I remember walking one evening through the old town in the moonlight, very busy that night, the activity at the windows, the round windows in particular and a lot of people in the streets, a puja at a temple.

On this day I walked with friends to the shrine of Namo Buddha.  We set off about 9am and stopped in at the Kali temple on the hill above town which got the sunrise.  We descended to Kavre, where we spent a long time over tea, enjoying the peace and simplicity of a village away from the road.  Then there was a long walk around the higher part of a spur in the heat of the day, the track really a road now and in fact a couple of taxis did pass us.  At Namo Buddha I visited the lower stupa or sat in the shade of the old houses, then climbed to the Gompa, where there was a friendly monk, the stele of Namo Buddha cutting off his flesh to feed to the tigress, and fine views from the very top of the hill.  We returned by a different route with a long steep descent into the valley.   We stopped for tea and boiled eggs in the friendliest and least spoiled of all the places we passed.  I wrote this in my notebook:
Little one-room chai-shop, a room behind for the family; we're having chai and hard-boiled eggs.  We sit around table, three benches and a fourth in the middle.  Door has a gate, windows are wooden varnished black, open on a hinge to attach to the ceiling outside.  Three or four men sit to join us in their chai, an old-faced woman, black skirt and red velvety shirt, white cummerbund, red thin glass necklaces, with pins, an old silver coin, hair in a braid with long red cotton tassel, she has three glass bangles and a beautiful silver bangle on each wrist, face lined like a Tibetan with circular nose-plug on either side, no earrings but large holes.  People go by with baskets slung from the head.  Chickens and goats search around.  A pile of firewood, kids playing.  Three houses visible, one has a thatch roof and whitewash, a pile of hay downstairs, a pile of wood upstairs.  Next door an old-style brick town-house, carved windows and arched verandah, lions carved on stone lintels as corner-piece, deserted.  Another house has thatch lean-to, two shade ochre wash.  Nice bridge coming into town in stone, with a Kali shrine, stone stake in front, red powder all over the many-armed image.
Another day we walked to the old town of Panauti down in the valley.  It was a hot, dusty day and Panauti felt lethargic, crumbling in the heat.  The most atmospheric spot was where we entered by a meeting of two streams.  At the largest temple I wrote this in my notebook:
Big Shiva temple, quiet rural feeling, something like a farmyard.  Big temple has three-storey pagoda, fine carvings on the eaves, Shiva standing on two smaller figures and big griffins or similar in the corners.  All hung with old pots and pans and bells.  Main image inside is not large, but seems to be a Shiva head facing four directions.  Two lion-type animals with broad grins at each of the four entrances.  A big bell suspended at one corner.  Red brick and dark carved wood.  Gold for the top by the trident.  Other little shrines dotted around the yard and some houses in the corner.  One corner has two little cottages with thatch roof and tumbledown look and women and babies sitting outside.  A cat on the roof disappearing into a trap-door.  On another side in a garden a fine built house, could be new, not the normal Nepali town-house style.  Tiles on top, well built brick and ornamental plaster, it rambles around a courtyard, looks very nice.
Mostly I liked to wander around the hills behind the town.  Some jottings from my notebook:
Near Dhulikhel, 2008: Picture by Trym Asserson,  CC
I can see far below a dirt road, a streak of white with a couple of buses kicking up the dust amid a lake of green wheat.  A smaller hill behind fairly bare, some trees and terraces, and patches of smoke where they're burning.  Away to the left much higher ridges disappearing in the haze and the clouds, dark green outlines only, shapes of a valley, and I imagine that behind there will lie some of the high white peaks I haven't seen.  Near me is a plantation and below it are some darker green small trees and grey-brown terraces, stacked sometimes with mounds much darker, a dozen two-storey houses, with windows and awnings, mostly ochre, though some of the upper walls are white-washed, thatched roofs with a characteristic pleat at the top.  A path leading to the left, a man asleep beside, dressed in white, and two people carrying burdens of leaves or twigs.  Butterflies and swallows around me, a couple of brown cows I can't see in a patch of grass between the trees.  The crowing of a cock.

I'm sitting by a little stream in the corner of the paddy fields, near where the trail from the pink house reaches the bottom of the valley.  The noise of the water as it tumbles through a man-made dam forms a constant backdrop of sound here, the surplus of the water flows away to the wheat terraces.  A woman and her daughter are doing their washing a little way away where the stream flows into the valley, clothes laid out all across the banks.  Flowers, of course, white, bursting out by the stream, some very pretty yellow ones, and little violets and the yellow/red ones that line the paths between the canals and paddies.  Butterflies and all sorts of insects more obvious than birds around here; mostly little butterflies, yellows, white and orange, a little zebra-coloured one, and occasionally a black and blue one or a colourful dragonfly or damselfly.  Grasses and mosses, ants and spiders on the shady rocks on which I'm sitting.  There's a yellow wagtail very grey on top here, the calling of a cuckoo above the bubbling of the water.  And the trees rising up to the ridge bright green and brown in the sunshine.  Cactus and straggly trees on the dry, brown terraced slopes leading up to Dhulikhel.
Dhulikhel Town, 2008: Picture by Mdipua, CC

Looking at pictures of this area now, the towns and villages and Namo Buddha itself seem very much changed.

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