Sunday, June 25, 2006

Mystique of Mustang

The Last Shangri-La
Kathmandu, Nepal

Nothing like spending your precious time in Shangri-La lying flat on your back with an eye infection in a darkened hotel room. Thank god (can we still do that in a secular country? some people I met actually believe that a "secular" Nepal means no one is allowed to be religious anymore) - thank god there's cable TV. At least I can lie there and listen to CNN - my eyes hurt too much to read. Suddenly, every other damned thing on the TV seems to be about blindness. The Ray Charles biopic comes on HBO, and Standard Chartered keeps running that commercial about the blind marathon runner. I go to Tom & Jerry's and Stevie Wonder is playing.

The romantic in me laments the loss of the last Hindu kingdom, though I believe that due to the caste system's literal enshrinement in the Nepali law as of 1854, secularization is really for the best in terms of social progress. Now I discover there's yet another Himalayan kingdom tucked away within the Nepalese borders - the district known as Mustang (Moo-stahng).

Despite being part of Nepal, Mustang still has its own king, the Buddhist monarch Jigme Somebody. He's a true monarch and daily life begins with the locals circumambulating his palace. Mustang lies up on the Tibetan Plateau beyond the rainshadow of the mountains. Unfortunately, it costs $700 US dollars just to get a ten-day permit to visit Mustang. And that's before you pay for the porters, food, tents, mules and so on since there are no tourist facilities. Needless to say, Mustang will not be graced by my presence this year. Instead, I am looking into the adventurous route to Thailand and Burma, overland from India. This should require getting all kinds of permits in order to travel through Nagaland and other restricted northeastern states; then a special permission to cross the land border into Burma, assuming they will give it. I'm going to the Burmese Embassy tomorrow to check it out (hell, if I can't go to the last Shangri-la kingdom, Burma By Land is the next most exotic-sounding thing within reach).

Meanwhile, as I lie in darkness in the hotel, historic happenings abound virtually just outside my window. No less than the Maoist Brother #1 Prachanda came to the Prime Minister's residence a few blocks away last week for negotiations with the interim government. The Maoist leadership are pragmatic, they are not idealists and firebrands, and seem committed to joining the political mainstream. However, I don't know that their field ops will feel so enfranchised, and I predict that once the head honchos join the power structure in Kathmandu, the field marshalls will be alienated from the centre and take matters into their own hands. The history of Nepal has traditionally been Kathmandu vs. the hills; I see no reason for it to change now. You heard it here first.

1 comment:

Shinu Mathew said...

Exactly! Maoists now want the crumbs of power and in that process they forget the grassroot worker, who always believed in an armed revolution. How to retain the hold is the major head ache for the leaders.