A couple of years ago, around January, the bone-freezing climate of Pokhara drove my wife and me down to Lumbini in the Nepalese Terai in search of sun and heat…and a visit to the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama, born in the year 1563 BCE. (Archaeologists’ discovery puts Buddha’s birth 300 years earlier, although I don’t think this matters too much.)
There have been better journeys and there have been worse. The first stage in the journey from Pokhara to Bhairawa found us on a bus, having left the town at 06.30. The road wound on hairpin bends through deep valleys with narrow river-beds that would be filled with gushing waters in the monsoon season, eventually broadening out into flood plains and enriching the earth for the winter and spring crops. A last glimpse of Machapuchere – Fishtale Mountain – was the image I had before hitting the plains. Its peak pointed impressively to the sky above darker, brooding foothills.
We could have flown from Pokhara to Lumbini, but then we would have missed the hair-raising sight of trucks at the bottom of 1000 feet ravines, a reminder of the fragility of life.
The Pokhara-Bhairawa bus
We passed Sangye and Palpa, untidy little towns with a variety of weathered dwellings, rickety and under sloping, rusting, corrugated roofing pinned down against sudden gales by large stones, tyres, and other discarded paraphernalia that people are loathe to discard, later to be recycled for whatever use in future times of need. Then, the inevitable sight of the huddles of women in doorways outside shops and houses, young and old; and in their midst, the toddlers being preened by the women. The men?…perhaps off to the middle east to earn much needed cash – or in the tea-shop.