Well, India is but a memory now. A weird, sweaty memory. And now I’m in Nepal! Whaaaaa! Booked it on a whim because it was a cheap flight and I wasn’t sure where else to go. But I’m here now! And it’s really lovely! And, in case you’re unaware of how a diary works: I’m going to tell you all about it right now!
I found myself in a frightfully good mood as my plane banked over the Himalayas and descended into Kathmandu, city in the clouds. I got a bit furious at the airport because the visa-getting was a farce, but I made a few friends in the queue and we shared a taxi together into Thamel, the touristy section of town. I was with a Nepalese dude who now resides in the USA and was able to travel basically forever because his mum passed away and left him a hefty inheritance, and an English girl who was able to travel because she’d done a couple of dodgy-sounding clinical trials.
Kathmandu was instantly preferable to many of the cities I found in India. It’s probably not a good idea to compare, but it’s hard not to when you visit two iconic cities in one morning. Kathmandu is hot, boisterous and polluted, sure, but next to Delhi it looks like the Cotswolds. (Aside: I just googled the Cotswolds and oh god I miss the UK countryside so much it hurts) I found my hostel, Monkey Temple Backpackers, by meandering endlessly through crowded streets all strung with colourful Buddhist prayer flags and asking every third shopkeeper if I was on the right track.
My first night was quiet enough; I sat on the terrace overlooking the city, towering clouds above and mountains encircling, chatting to a girl from Andora who was working at an NGO in the city. We went out for mo mos together and I had a couple of beers, and I headed off for slumber at a reasonable hour. The next day, however? Ohoho. Let me tell you. Strap yersen in, pal.
I got up early and reasonably un-hungover and made my way to Swayambhunath Stupa, which is a lovely great temple atop a fucking steep hill with lots of monkeys running around. The climb was rough and I properly tortoise-and-hared it past all the old couples, only to collapse midway up and get overtaken by everyone. I spent an hour or so wandering the complex with a wisened old man who attached himself to me and showed me each and every shrine in the place for a few simoleons.
I hopped back down the hill afterwards and aimed my prow homeward, however five minutes into my journey I was accosted by a very small child in a big jacket who looked uncannily like the Artful Dodger except for he was Nepalese and not clad in a top hat. The young scallywag was called Asis, 11 years old, and spoke far more languages than I (but one, alas), and he so impressed me that I decided to beat him to his inevitable request and ask if he wanted some money. He told me no, money is not everything, and that he would rather simply have some food. I told him that money buys food, but the sweet young moron did not seem to make this connection.
We went to a shop and he asked me to buy him 25kg of rice for his family for 1800 rupees – about 15 quid. I told him he was a very nice child but he could absolutely get stuffed. I instead bought him 5kgs of rice and a coke, and a large bottle of gin for myself. I shook hands with Asis and, as I watched him stagger away under 5 kilograms of my smug western benevolence, I realised that I had in all likelihood been scammed and the kid would give the rice straight back to the shop and take a commission. Oh well.
Not 5 minutes down the street I passed an old temple from which a tall western man emerged. He looked quite a lot like Jesus, but with a longer nose. He had long hair, beard, craggy face, wide smile, kind eyes, and a faded bindi on his forehead.
“Greetings, my friend!” he said, and I began to apologise and walk on. His accent was 100% English, but he spoke in a strange manner.
“My friend, do not be hasty! You give me gin, we make blessing?”
“I take sip of water, and we make blessing? I give you cigarette.”
“Sure… why not.”
And so I sat with the tall man, who turned out to be quite wonderfully mad. He told me his name was Thor, and he was here to cleanse the temple of bad energy with a golden crystal he was waving around. The golden crystal was the sort they build spaceships out of, I was informed. He told me that he had met a young man named Loki, and that Loki was only 18 years old but was distraught because his family were killed and he was forever cursed to bring death to all around him. Thor and Loki were going to travel to the Himalayas to make an offering to the universe in order to lift the curse – though they may die in the process.
Thor told me that he did not know where he was from, but that I may have heard of him already in the newspapers. He told me that if I had heard of the Cornish Pasty uprising, in which the SAS roamed the streets, I would know his story. I told him I didn’t know anything about the Cornish Pasty uprising.
Thor was born remembering all his past lives. He told me he was there when Christ was buried, and that at the time it wasn’t such a big deal (I didn’t bother to mention the fact the Christ quite definitely wasn’t buried). He told me he had sailed in a boat with Ra, and that Ra was very tall and every time Thor asked him a question on life, Ra simply laughed, because he had true wisdom.
At this point I thought fuck it, I’d have some fun, so I told Thor of my Indian exploits and theories on fake spirituality, and how in truth the biggest questions have the simplest answers. Thor loved this and told me I was special, that he agreed with my thoughts on faux-spiritualism, and that finding yourself was, by its very nature, selfish. With a manic glint in his eye, he promised me that I had a blinding bright future ahead of me. He said that he could see it that I would make the whole world laugh one day. I told him I want to be an author, and to make people laugh. Now, this is where it gets weird. I mean, it’s already weird… but… weirder.
Thor said that I should write like Terry Pratchett, because Pratchett writes humorous parables that the wise can learn from and the unwise can laugh along with. Then he told me that I should also write quickly, unceasingly, without editing. I should simply be honest and whatever emerges from my fingertips is there to stay. I should write spontaneously. Spontaneous prose, you might say.
Now, Terry Pratchett and Jack Kerouac – pioneer of spontaneous prose – are my two favourite writers in the world. Nobody has influenced my writing – and life – more than they. And this strange tall man cleansing temples in Kathmandu had nailed the both of them without taking a breath. I began to feel odd. Maybe this character wasn’t such a madman after all.
I told him my thoughts about Varanasi and how I’d felt oddly fine with the death, because death and nonexistence is such a simple reality when we remove all stigma and societal input. He then told me that if you want to understand life and death, you must make a packed lunch and go sit at the gates of hell, and eat your sandwiches. You mustn’t be afraid, you must simply observe, and wave at the demons. If they are hungry, you feed them sandwiches, because they were once like us.
I’ll admit he lost me a bit here, but man – eat your sandwiches at the gates of hell – what a fucking cool sentence. Then it was almost time to part, and he told me I mustn’t reveal what I learned in our hour together to my family, because I cannot save anybody but myself. He told me that stealing karma is spiritual theft, which is the most heinous thing a person can do. He said that to attempt to impart my new knowledge upon my family would be like putting pearls before swine. He admitted that sounded harsh – calling my loved ones swine – but told me the metaphor is severe on purpose to portray what a monstrous act it would be.
I solemnly promised I wouldn’t try to save my family with Thor’s secret knowledge, and said I must be leaving. Thor took my hand and said ‘bless you Dan’, and we parted. Not one second later I glanced back, and the road was completely empty. He was gone. I stood in the dusty road, mouth opening and closing, my mind boiling over with the slow realisation that I may have truly been in the presence of some otherworldly being. Thor himself, walking the earth.
Then I glanced a little more to the left and saw him by the roadside waving his magical gold rock around. Oh.
Back at the hostel I breathlessly told everyone of my encounter with Thor. That night I quaffed my gin and got twatted, and around 15 of us headed to a bar called Purple Haze. We danced for a few hours and I made a knob of myself as usual, and we left the bar at 2am. Now, if you thought things were weird so far: mate. Open a beer for this one.
I saw Thor in the street. Sober, I may have avoided him, but I was not sober. I yelled ‘Thor!’ and he yelled ‘Dan!’ and we embraced like old friends. Thor said the universe had conspired to bring us together, and that we must head out on an adventure. He hailed a rickshaw and told the driver to peddle us wherever he wanted to go; the universe would guide us. For the whole ride, Thor massaged the driver’s back, for some reason. The driver was about to take a left but Thor suddenly sensed this was a mistake; we must go right, and lo, we ended up at some shitty dive bar in outer Thamel.
There was a weird coked up Nepali dude on the door who was trying to usher us inside with such urgency that I had to tell him to back off and let me finish my beer. Meanwhile, Thor had befriended the rickshaw driver, and after my can was empty we headed inside as a trio. The place was low-roofed and gloomy, draped in cigarette smoke, and full of young men in tracksuits. A Nepalese girl in denim cut-offs came and sat beside me the moment my arse touched the sofa. She introduced herself and I thought this seemed rather brazen, until she placed her hand on my thigh and suggested we go upstairs and I realised that, ah, we were in a brothel.
I told the girl as gently as possible that I had no intention of sleeping with her, no matter how drunk I was, so if she could stop asking that would be lovely. She shrugged and told me to finish my beer. I tried to make normal conversation because – what the hell do you say to a prostitute? I asked her first if she was okay, but thought this sounded condescending, so I opted for nonchalance and instead asked how her day was, then realised that her day probably wasn’t particularly pleasant. So I asked where she was from.
And so I found myself sitting in a brothel with the alien mystic Thor, an elderly rickshaw driver, and half a dozen angry prostitutes, and I mused quietly on my life choices as I cradled my beer. Then, delayed by half an hour or so by the booze, my ‘what-the-piss-am-I-doing’ sense kicked in, and I got up and shot for the exit without a word. I leapt down three flights of stairs, burst out into the street, and sprinted all the way home in fits of laughter.