Category Archives: Travel

Road to Ruin

Pristine Countryside at the Mercy of Marauding Modernity

Do you remember the track ‘Long Road to Ruin’ from Foo Fighters – an American hard rock/heavy metal band? The title of this essay is inspired from the very track.

Well, here I’m not talking about thrashing and thundering hard rock music though I’ve been an ardent fan of AC/DC –other renowned hard rock artists from Australia. Their music is like a tonic to me: whenever I feel low and down I find my solace in their thundering guitar chords and crashing cymbals. You know some people dismiss hard rock music as nothing more than ‘pollution’- noise pollution. To respond to the critics, AC/DC then had to prepare the track ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’ for their best selling studio album ‘Back in Black’ in 1980 as a counter argument.

During the week-long election holiday I was on a day-long hike to the hill of Kahu in the northeast of Pokhara valley. I loved the hike very much. But together with the joy of hiking, I came to confront, much to my chagrin, the harsh reality the development efforts had brought to that place. The beautiful hill of Kahu, however, was not the only and the first place where I witnessed the local development effort at its most brazen and crudest form.

As we reached the crest, we found a drab-looking viewing tower there- which looked as if it was hastily- built- closed and the area littered with plastic wastes. Later we also found the hill was criss-crossed by a dusty country road which leads from Phoollbari area to the very top of the hill. The road snakes through the scattered settlements on the steep eastern side of the hill with sharp bends and countless potholes.

Some vehicles, mostly motorcycles, were parked on the crest of the hill which had some level grounds- I don’t know whether those level grounds were bulldozed so as to make room for parking or naturally occurring. Seeing those machines at the top of the pristine hill, a strong feeling of repulsion took hold of me. Didn’t those roaring modern machines look like a sacrilege to the tranquil, pristine crest? Didn’t those machines disgrace the rustic feel of the hill? Oh I felt so bad to see those ugly machines resting at the top of the beautiful hill like a victor standing proud at the top of the pile of the corpses of his defeated victims. Here those ugly machines appear as the victor and the poor hill as the victim.

The white-washed watchtower, on the other hand, was a sorry sight, not in any way in harmony with the rustic surrounding. The tower appeared to be hastily and badly built with no attractive features and in no way matching up to the bucolic environment there. The tower could have been built using local materials using local style of architecture which would be compatible with the pristinity of the hill. But, alas! the tower was nothing more than a pitiful sight of a lone ugly pile of concrete completely alienated from its surrounding.

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                             (A moment during the visit)

With development comes destruction. This newly-coined refrain quite well exemplifies the development practices in our country. We know road building and other infrastructure works have taken their damaging toll on the natural state of many places. So far I think in the name of promoting tourism, bringing road to every [possible] tourist destination is not a wise idea. First, it kills the pristinity of a place as more people flock to the place. More people mean more pollution – of every sort- and undue pressure on the natural environment. Big number of tourists alone doesn’t ensure tourism development. What matters more is spending capacity of tourists. A few tourists with taste for refinement and luxury can spend more than a thousand backpackers. Some places like the hill of Kahu are better suited for a small number of epicurean tourists, not for mass tourism.

Second, tourists travelling on vehicles have little interaction with local people and local culture thus preventing them from having the better understanding of the locality. They are also less likely to contribute significantly to local economy. Third, it discourages hiking or trekking which is one of the major forms of recreation/tourism. Examples are already evident in major trekking areas like Annapurna Circuit. Previously several weeks- long Annapurna trekking has now been shortened to a mere week thanks to the road building efforts in many of the places there. As a result, there is a massive drop in the number of trekkers. The other disadvantage of building roads in such places is it becomes an easy means for bringing in alien and incompatible things like concrete in the remote, unspoilt countryside.

Granted, local people do need basic facilities like roads. But the problem we have here in our country is we have already become too much infatuated with roads that we see the building of roads as the foremost condition for development. Efforts for building roads even in the most impossible landscapes like Mid-west and Far-east have not only guzzled financial resources but also have overshadowed other vital aspects of development like water supply and sanitation, health services, etc. I don’t think early 19th century English people were less developed with no motorways or only a fewer railway lines than we 21st century ‘modern’ Nepalese today are with all these black topped roads and vehicles.

The pristine Rara Lake is also facing the same problem. Construction of a country road which passes from near the lake can in future bring in more travelers resulting in mass tourism and killing the pristinity of the lake for good.

Well, do I look like a neo-Luddite? I’m not opposing the construction of roads or use of vehicles as it has become inalienable part of our lives. What I want to emphasize after my visit to the hill of Kahu is some places are better left with no or little human intervention so as to preserve their pristinity and attract the epicurean tourists.

But the marauding modernity in Nepal, it seems, is all set and determined to rip through the remaining bastions of natural beauty and pristinity.

Revisiting the Childhood Crush

Temples in Kathmandu impress me more with their sheer size than intricate craftworks.

But no other temples appealed me more than the famous Changu Narayan did.

I first knew about Changu Narayan when I was 9. There was a brief description with a picture of this oldest temple in Nepal on the history book of grade 4. Actually the lesson was about Manadev, a Lichchavi king and Changu Narayan was built by him along with Managriha, a castle. I was quickly in love with the temple then. But over time, the childhood image of it slowly ebbed away as I grew older. I never visited the temple.

Time went on. Sometimes it seemed whether I’d completely forgotten this world heritage site. But, in fact, the childhood memories of it had only left dormant. And recently it became prominent again.

Only a few months ago, I managed some time out of my schedule to pay a visit to this shrine.

Driving through (and also walking) the golden, harvest-ready wheat fields and the greenery of vegetables from Byasi, Bhaktapur to the small hilltop of Changu was quite an indelible experience.

You know I was apparently holding my breath to have a glimpse of this temple that once had fascinated then 9-year old child so much.

And I was like ‘oh my god!’ as I for the very first time saw the spire and the top of temple from the bus stand at Changu. The picture goes like this:

Chagru_Narayan

I’d now finally arrived to the place of my childhood crush. And the rest is history…

That is, I spent the whole day gazing at the magnificent temple and the wide assortment of bas-reliefs from our glorious past.

PS one of the many sculpted reliefs of Lord Vishnu (with his vehicle Garuda) at the premise of Changu Narayan has long decorated the front face of 10 Rupees bill.

Why Nyatapola isn’t the Best Temple in Nepal

Why I love going to Kathmandu? Yes, She’s from Kathmandu. But she’s not the only one that so much appeals me to visit Kathmandu. Ancient ornate temples and  monuments are also there dwelling the valley!

Nyatapola, the five storied temple in ancient city of Bhaktapur of deity Siddhi Laxmi from the Malla period, is  often regarded the most magnificent and beautiful temple in Nepal. Bhaktapur Municipality has its logo made entirely of silhouetted Nyatapola. Most profoundly, this five tiered temple graces the front of 100 rupees bill, the most used bill. Besides these, Nyatapola has been depicted/honoured in many other occasions and places.

But I didn’t find it as much appealing as it had been depicted, well at least in the case of its massive five-tiered base. It quickly dawns on anyone that gazes at the temple that there’s a stark discord between red-brick tiers and stone stairs that lead to the door and stone gatekeepers (of five different types). How beautiful Nyatapola would have looked if the tiers had also been made of stones same as gatekeepers and stairs!

Nyatapola temple, Taumadhi square, Bhaktapur

(Picture taken by myself during my visit to Bhaktapur, Taumadhi Square approx. a year back)

The base tiers should also have been made from stone so there would be a matching, homogeneous display of marvelous architecture from our glorious past even after the renovation. The red-brick tiers have been a sacrilege not only to those centuries-old massive, original stone sculptures (guardians) but to the whole temple too. Those base tiers were renovated during King Mahendra’s reign, the plaques attached to one of the walls of the tiers tell.

Those red-brick tiers have totally defiled the originality and beauty of Nyatapola. Either replace those stone guardians with red bricked ones or reconstruct the tiers with stones. Nyatapola’s one of the main attractions along with its skyscraping height, massive base, balance and symmetry is the massive stone gatekeepers that stand on either sides of the stairs up to the door. Remove those guardians (they are, in ascending order from the ground: famous wrestlers from Malla period, elephants, lions, griffins and female deities) and Nyatapola will look like a king without a crown.

So, the red-brick tires of Nyatapola should be reconstructed with stone blocks so it could match to those rough, sturdy stone guardians and further the beauty of the most magnificent temple in Nepal.

The Most Envied Place

Heard, Chhimkeshwori Mahotsav is being held for 3 days, from today. Subash Dai provided me some information. I still wonder how such Mahotsav could be organized at such remote place. Anyway, I love that place and always wish to be there. But this time, damn we missed the Mahotsav. Tomorrow is Fagu Purnima i.e. Holi, the possible influx of people on the eve of the Holi to the Chhimkeshwori Mountain will help make the Mahotsav more enjoyable and crowdy….. Fagu Purnima and New Year are the days, when lots of people visit the temple, located on the hilltop of Chimkeshwori although It sees a good number of people visiting the site throughout the season of ‘’Laligurans’’ i.e. Rhododenron, from beginning of Fagun to mid Baisakh.

The place is really beautiful and also equally scenic. Chilling cliffs, hugeness of the mountain, scenic beauty seen from the hilltop, abundance of Laligurans forest, beautiful country scenes around have made the mountainous site a  place worth to visit. I still miss the village ‘’Bhaange‘’ and ‘’Labdi‘’. Last time we visited the place was on 1st of Baisakh, 2065 i.e. New Year day.

Now, I’m really missing that beautiful place. But I hope, we could soon make a visit there. Let’s see.

(Written on March 9, 2009)