Tuesday, May 29, 2001

Uphill Treks & Downstream Rafting

The Ghoses are beginning to get adventurous in their old age. Last month, first S.. went on a short trek on the Annapurna circuit and then a couple of weeks later the entire family ( Jaya included ) had their first tryst with White-water Rafting on the Trishuli.
Nayapul is an hour's drive from Pokhara on the Baglung-Beni road, which leads towards the Kali Gandaki the deepest river gorge on earth. From there, one takes the short 20 minute trail to Birethanti - the entry point for the Annapurna Circuit treks. After registering at the check-post of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project - run by the King Mahendra Trust, who has the manadate for the area, the real trek begins along the bank of the Modi-Khola. The first couple of hours is an easy walk, which can easily make the novice a trifle over-confident and those among them who are also a little greedy - like you know who - can compound the mistake by succumbing to the temptations of a sumptuous Dal-Bhat-Tarkari meal at Shauli Bazar, where you break-journey - ravenous as you after an early and the morning's exertion for the uninitiated. What follows is a back-breaking 3 hour uninterrupted climb - which is a sheer endurance test. But, finally - when you reach Ghandruk ( about 2000 mtrs ) - a picture post-card Gurung settlement ( the second largest in Nepal, I'm told, the first being Siklis ) with its closely spaced slate-roof houses and terraced fields above and below.
Ghandruk offers remarkably nice facilities for stay - with running hot & cold water and electricity ( it has its own micro-hydel power project ). In the evening you amble through getting lost in the alley-ways of the village before returning to the dining room of the lodge for another round of Dal-Bhat-Tarkari amongst the din of conversation fellow trekkers excitedly exchanging notes of their day's highlights. Despite intentions to sleep till late in the morning - you get up early and are thankful for it because you get the most gorgeous view of the Anna South and the Machapuchare in its glorious Fish-tail aspect. After break-fast - while others proceed on their journey towards MBC and ABC (trekkers parlance for the Machapuchare and Annapurna Base Camps ) - the meek and timid start their trudge backwards and half-way through realise what they mean by a truly a knee-breaking descent.
Just before reaching Birethanti - we stopped by at the Ker & Downey's Sanctuary Lodge for a quick inspection. That's a place we could even bring Jaya ones the weather gets a little cooler. Since we reached Naya Pul earlier than scheduled - took a short drive upto Baglung to get a first glimpse of the majestic Kali-Gandaki. In retorspect, it was a good start - leaving you with a mild touch of the DMM ( Dil Mange More ) syndrome - that's about all one can afford at this old age.
The down-stream rafting is another story to be told over a camp-fire evening.

Monday, May 28, 2001

Lal Maans, King Alphonsoes and Zhu Rongji

This seems to be the season of Food Festivals in Kats and there has also been a spate of articles on Indo-Nepal relations. While the provocation for the first are not known ( the tourists are not coming anyway ) the latter was probably prompted, at least in part, by Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji's visit to the Capital.
But, talking of Food first, there was the Karavalli Festival at the Anna, followed by the Thai fare at the Hyatt, the Singapore Fest at the Yak & Yeti and finally the Rajasthani at the Everest. Having visited two of them ( and, earlier the South Indian one at Radisson some months ago ) I have come to the firm conclusion that all Food Fests are FRPs ( Financially Ruinous Propositions ). The Thai fare at The Hyatt was an unmitigated disaster - they simply didn't have an honest dish of Thai. Anyday, I would vote for the Yin-Yang in Thamel or Humro Sulu and Prachnada's Ban-Thai on Durbar Marg ( even at the risk of offending my dear daughter's Darling Monica Auntie ) and better still say Zindabad to Ready-Made Lobo's Thai-pastes from the friendly neighbourhood Bhat-bhateni. The well marketed "Padharo Hukum" at The Everest , which was a big hit among the city's Marawari aristocracy and the 'diplomatic' ( pun optional ) diners, didn't quite live upto the hype and expectation ( and, on Friday night at the India House dinner, which was also catered to by The Everest, one suspected that we were served left-over Lal-Maans ). Vested interest groups from closer quarters of the family, of course, billed the Karavalli as the best of the lot, adding an unsolicited footnote as to how Coastal Indian Cuisine and Sea-Food couldn't have been appealed to the uncultivated popular palate . S, our self certified food critique, was not around to vouch for it - however, since then he has been seen making regular post-lunch trips to the Anna Coffee shop to get his quota of Alphonsoes and Vanilla ice-cream. ( One of the minor perks of shifting his office to a more 'central' location is his rather unconvincing explanation).
Any discussion on Nepal's foreign policy and relation with its Northern and Southern neighbours has to begin with a reference to the analogy of the proverbial Yam ( stuck between two boulders ) attributed to the late King Prithvi Narayan Shah some 2 centuries ago. But, recently some plain speaking articles displaying a greater semblance of balanced view-point have appeared in the media on both sides of the Indo-Nepal border. First there C. K. Lal's hard-hitting - "Tourism fizzles as India sizzles" in the Nepali times some three weeks ago. Lal wrote: The problem of Nepali tourism isn't that Indians aren't coming, the real problem is that deep down we do not seem to want them.
Then , there was Rita ( Manchanda)'s centre-piece in The ToI - Not A Himalyan Task. Though, it seems like the piece was a casualty of severe editorial pruning, losing some of its focus as a result, she makes a point for "enlightened introspection and imaginative re-structuring" on both sides to inject greater equality and mutual respect into Indo-Nepal ties. She quotes Ashok Mitra, the inveterate Bengali-Marxist analyst from the Economic and Political Weekly "A time will come when Nepal ( despite being the only Hindu nation of the world ) will join the ranks of the certified enemies of India". Then there was, of course, Dubby's little piece on the (South ) Block - but I preferred his earlier one on Eating Out in Kats.
We are told that, 'Ji' in Newari means 'Our Own'. So, the instant empathy evoked by by Zhu Rongji was not unexpected. But, for us the most positive take-out of the visit was, Soaltee flew down Apro Nelson Wang from Amchi Mumbai to cook for Chinese delegation. This was meant to be pre-publicity for Nelson opening a branch of his China Garden in Kathmandu - at the Soaltee, where the old GGs used to be. So, happy gourmet times ahead.

Sunday, May 27, 2001

On and Off Air with Urmila & Valli

Not much has happened in these couple of months when we went "off air" and yet a lot has happened in our lives. But, we''ll resume from the latest with snippets from the past few weeks in reverse order of chronology.
Since we don't have "Memorial Days", we make do with "Bandhs" to get our quota of long weekends. Starting today ( Sunday ) there is a 3 day national Bandh and after a day's break on Wednesday (allowed, thoughtfully, to let people to get a refill of ration and some much needed constitutional ), there is another strike on Thursday called by an arm of the Maoists. So, for all practical purposes, this week is going to be a wash-out. Bandhs, someone remarked, has been the most enduring export of West Bengal to the region - so what if the rest of India has developed immunity to the follow Bengal syndrome and no longer catches a cold everytime the Bengali sneezes. In Bangladesh, they now have weeklong hartals and the trend is soon catching up in neighbouring Nepal through the Bangabandhu corridor across the Fulbari.
Alarmel Valli, who came for her second performance to Kats in 2 years, was superb beyond words ( what's more - at last night's dinner she turned out to be a nice - no airs - person as well). S came along primarily to redeem his reputation of being 'culturally challenged' but admitted that it was one of the most peppy ( vibrant ) Bhartnatyam performance he has seen - tho' others didn't quite appreciate his comment that, she is something of a more classical version of Urmila Matondkar. In a recent TOI interview - Urmila said - 'sexyness' is something 'raw' that comes from within . Valli brings that to life that primal passion - combining a rare earthiness and an unmatched sensuality. In each of her movements and unbelievably perfect postures, she alternates between the sublime and temporal, transcending from the physical to the spiritual with consummate ease. Little consolation for him that, she is married also to a Ghose (Bhaskar - who spells his surname also with an 'e' at the end ). Much of last evening's cocktail conversation was speculation over whether - Sagarika, Bhaskar's daughter of his earlier marriage ( a journalist and now author of a book on Delhi's socialite bureucracy - 'The Gin Drinkers' ), was older than Valli. But, she must be having a spell on older men. Last time, after her performance, we had the doddering Kishunji going up on stage to present her the customary bouquet and asking - whether she was a Miss or Mrs ? When she clarified that, it really didn't matter - lovable KP retorted that it was indeed of vital importance since he himself was a bachelor.

We had the Ramaswamy family with the children and Usha's parents over for lunch today. It's a pity that, they'll be leaving soon. June it seems will be a month departures. After Ram & Usha, it will be the turn of the Hormises. Believe it or not, DCK has called it a day ( not from Golf but from the Bank - rather abruptly - it would appear to outsiders ) - though the grapevine has it that they may be around in Kats for some more time. At 70+, he seems to be a good match for gritty old Koirala in powers of "staying on" and , infact, could lend him a tip or 2 on or off the course. Jeff Cox of the Grindlays had also to prematurely following the merger with Stanchart and he was none too happy about it as he made quite plain in his now famous "good-bye" note. We must get ready to join the queue soon - otherwise, professionally it can only be downhill - the way things are going here.