Foreword, April 2020
I’m not sure why I’ve never written about my trip to Nepal at the end of 2017, I think life got in the way. I guess the great thing about lockdown is that it finally gives you time to do all of the things you haven’t got around to!
Back at the end of 2017 I left Bangladesh and wanted to put some space between that phase of my life and returning back to the UK for a bit. I decided on Nepal because it neighbours Bangladesh and I wondered if I’d bother going back for a separate trip. What followed was honestly one of the best trips of my life.
Recently, in the midst of a London lockdown, I suddenly came across some of my old photos from Kathmandu, Bodnath, Pokhara and Patna (Lalitpur) on Google Drive, and was inspired to write about this truly enchanting country.
My arrival into Nepal was chaotic, there was some confusion in getting from the airport to the hostel I was supposed to be staying in, and so I ended up trailing round hotels on a cold December night, looking for somewhere to stay. However, as soon as I saw the rooftop view from my window, I knew I had found the right place.
Kathmandu reminded me of an alternate India. I saw less colonial architecture, and less multinational brands, and more street-side shrines and monkeys. Of course, Thamel (ठमेल) is quite a touristy area, but I managed to wander down some side streets and find some fantastic local temples…whilst dodging some of the stray dogs!
A few days into my stay I wandered into the beautifully named Garden of Dreams (built 1920). I was not disappointed, there was grandeur here, both natural and man-made, but the tranquility of the place in contrast to the bustling streets around it had me hooked. I spent an afternoon drawing and taking photos, and finally feeling like I could properly relax.
A short while later a colonial building caught my attention. I had heard that there was an old library nearby, and I’m quite a fan of libraries in general, so I knew I’d visit at some point. However, when I saw the exterior, I was taken aback. The place appeared quite wild, with overgrown shrubs and even an abandoned car outside. It was only later that I learnt that the library is known as the Kaiser Library, and it dates from the early 20th century.
What I found inside exceeded my wildest expectations. The still air of the reading rooms reminded me of Oxford, but the artefacts themselves were beyond belief. I found so many beautiful books that would have definitely been locked away had they been in the UK. I carefully examined a few, feeling as though I had wandered into some kind of fairytale.
I found an illustrated Victorian edition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a first edition of the Illustrated War News from 1915, and even a travel book dedicated to England’s countryside (actually this library is particularly well-known for its collection of travel literature).
As I stalked the bookshelves and dusty stacks I felt as though some 20th century aristocrat might well appear around the corner. Parts of the library looked as if they had been vacated in a hurry, I saw a chandelier, left dusty next to a gilded mirror, empty niches, with their deities long since removed, and portraits that seemed to belong to another world entirely.
The rooms were quite crudely lit, and barely illuminated were the monochrome portraits of bygone Nepali nobility. As sometimes happens in libraries and museums, I had the uneasy feeling that the people that had once inhabited that place still lingered, unseen. Yet I consider it a privilege to have walked among them in a place where the last century seemed so tangible.
I left the library with the feeling that Nepal was going to be somewhere that I would really enjoy.