Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Live music fusion with sunny terrace

Buddha Bar
Kathmandu, Nepal

Or so says the sandwich board outside my favourite WiFi spot. Kathmandu is a good a place as any to be stuck with an illness; it's international enough in population and cuisine that on any given day, you feel at the crossroads of Asia, and indeed the world.

A small but steady trickle of tourists come through daily. Guest houses offer fifty percent discounts at this rainy time of year, and trekking is sometimes limited by the weather (the clouds obscure higher snowy peaks). Even though I don't feel like much movement, it's rarely boring; there are world travellers each with their own story, adventures, itinerary and interests showing up every day.

I have some new travelling companions. Ming, a Malaysian working in London; Florienne, a Belgian woman who's travelled here to study the lives of working Nepali women for three months; Kit, Ming's friend from London, and Dave, a hardy Australian who just biked (yes, an old fashioned bike...not a motorbike) from Chengdu to Lhasa, then from Lhasa to the Nepali border. Yes, his butt is very, very sore. (He preferred to stand rather than sit on the hard metal bench the other day.)

In my recuperating state, I am just a headline away from history-making events. The Nepali Prime Minister, 85-year-old Girija Koirala, just returned from a getting life-saving medical procedure in Bangkok (that would be SO like Nepal - for him to die right now and leave the Democratic parties without what little leadership they have). Maoist "supremo" Prachanda talks a good plan in the papers - no more enforced collection of "donations," no more commandeering the excise offices (in many areas the Maoists are the government, and have taken over commercial offices, even requisitioning materials from contractors, and accepting bids on public works projects). In spite of this, the papers carry daily reports of abductions by the guerillas and continued extortion of funds - most famously from Chitwan National Park, Nepal's Yellowstone. (The Maoists in that area reportedly demanded 50 million Nepali rupees revenue from the park, a wildlife refuge for endangered species such as rhin0.)

Prachanda also requested that his comrades cease holding "People's Courts" (aka kangaroo courts) - but only in "the large towns and cities." So it's okay to have guerilla justice in the remote areas, I guess. Yesterday I read an account of a man, appointed mayor of a small town by the royal regime, who had been humiliated, tarred and feathered, lead around the village, and forced to renounce his office. (He was rather elderly; still they forced him to do 10 sit-ups in penance for his sins.) Who knows, maybe this geezer was a corrupt bastard who had terrorized innocent people, but the precedent of ad-hoc justice is unsavoury.

The majority would really like to give the Parties a chance, but the democratic forces are lacking unified leadership and a strong "face." (Sound familiar, American Democrats?) The Maoists have Prachanda & Co. with their snazzy red shirts and slogans. The few remaining royalists (mostly a bunch of withered old men) have the King, who is hiding out in the palace these days and hasn't peeked out for a month, literally. But the Parties have only GP Koirala, who as much as admits he is on his way off of this mortal coil. In an interview last week he listed restoration of peaceful and effective democracy at the top of his to-do list, "before taking retirement from this life."

The million mutinies continue. Many ethnic groups are now demanding various levels of autonomy and regional independence, most notably the Tharu in the Terai or flatlands bordering India. They don't seem to trust that they will be properly represented in a new federal government. I personally feel that some level of regional autonomy within a greater Nepal would be welcome, considering how alienated the villages have always been from the Centre. Complete independence, however, would further fragment the country; as the famous "yam between two boulders" - a tiny nation sandwiched between the giants China and India - they need to remain unified.

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iatromante said...

Unrelated to your post but just a little wink of appreciation for your amzing web-log that I've found via browsing from my friend John Hall Discogs profile page..! Keep keepin' on this great web-log. Thank you.

Shinu Mathew said...

hope u r doing fine.
where ar u now? Still in Nepal? OR back in India?

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

Thanks Shinu. I've just been offline a lot since the past 2 days wireless didn't work and everywhere I went, the net seemed dead slow.....I am still in K-du pondering the next move. Bad news: I need another camera.