Staying at the Himalaya Tibetan
02.10.1966 - 03.10.1966
I woke early but the mountains were clouded in so I went back to bed. They stayed blanketed all day, unlike me. After breakfast, the sun came out so we decided to do a bit of local exploring and walk to the Pokhara Lake and back.
The tranquility of Phewa Lake, Pokhara
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The action on the airfield opposite is a source of constant interest. The unsealed strip is surrounded by a barbed wire fence and cows and people stray across when no planes are about. When a plane approaches a siren is sounded and all animals, human or otherwise, clear the field and allow the plane to land, right in front of the hotel. The buildings of the airport consist of a one storey control tower, like a small stone box, and another small stone box for the ticket office. There is an open, canvas roofed, bamboo shed with a couple of seats for waiting passengers, but the real terminal is a huge tree with spreading branches, under which everyone crowds in the shade and up to which all the planes taxi. There are supposed to be two morning passenger flights into Pokhara each day from Kathmandu, and when the DC3s arrive the seats are removed and the planes ply back and forth all day between Pokhara and Bairawa with freight. Mid-afternoon, the seats are put back in and the planes fly off to Kathmandu for the night. With the airfield right out front we are becoming quite attached to it, almost to the point of thinking of it as ‘our airport’.
Pokhara Airfield from the Himalaya Tibetan Hotel
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The Himalaya Tibetan
The cheap and basic hotel we are staying in is a business operated by the Tibetan refugee community. They also have two tea shops and the handicraft shop next door. The section of the hotel where we live is a long rectangular building at the back containing three rooms. The floor is mud, the roof is bamboo and thatch and the dividing walls between rooms stop at ceiling level, or where ceiling level would be if there was a ceiling. There is no glass in the single window, only bars and wire screening, and there is wire screening on the top half of the door. In the room next to us are two Tibetans involved in the freedom fighter movement.
The Tibetan Refugee Camp
At breakfast we met one of the three Cambridge graduates who run the refugee camp, under the auspices of the U.N. and the Nepalese Red Cross. Their disciplines are history, languages and biology but they clearly have diverse practical skills as well. There are presently 500 Tibetans under their care, with another 200 on their way down from the north, though the camp is already full. There are around 12000 Tibetans currently living in Nepal, mostly semi-nomadic people, and they come from all over Tibet. Many others lost their lives during the flight south during a bitter winter, and the yak herds that were a measure of their wealth were decimated. The existing settlement is temporary and is pretty ramshackle, consisting of a lot of huts made from any material available - bamboo, straw matting, canvas tarpaulins, and each has a few sheets of galvanized iron to serve as the roof. That at least looks shiny and new. In the centre is a mound of prayer stones and there are many flags on bamboo poles. The three British guys live at the camp in one of the flimsy huts, which have been known to collapse suddenly in heavy storms. Fortunately they can be put back up again almost as quickly. The Tibetans have not been permitted to lay foundations to any of the structures in this camp, as they are squatters on the land, although they have dug channels everywhere to drain away the monsoon water. The Nepalese Government does not allow any photos of the temporary camp as it is such an eyesore, and something of an embarrassment to them.
About a kilometre further down the road is the site of what is to be the new, permanent settlement. They have 14 acres there and have put down the foundations of new buildings comprising 138 housing units in blocks, plus dispensary, schoolroom and administrative and community premises. Any land not built on will be cultivated. The acres were granted to the Tibetans by the Government of Nepal and the community hopes to buy more. The plan is to have the place completed by the beginning of the next monsoon.
The Tibetans are a very jolly lot and always Namaste to you. The kids are always laughing. Many of the women, especially the older ones, and some of the older men too, wear the same amount of traditional clothing as they would up on the Tibetan plateau, and they must surely feel the heat down here in the valley. The younger ones tend to wear less clothing, though still traditional in character, and the kids of course run about practically naked. There are a few Lamas around, sent here by the Dalai Lama to act as spiritual leaders and teachers. Most of the refugees have picked up some of the Nepalese language, especially the kids. The aim is to preserve their Tibetan culture while still being flexible enough to integrate with their new Nepalese environment.
(above and below) Tibetans in the Pokhara Valley
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Up early but again the mountains were only occasionally visible. We sat around drinking tea until the first plane arrived, then went over to watch all the activity. They worked very efficiently and it soon took off again. About midday we set off to walk up to Nandara, hoping to get a closer view of the peaks. This took us through Pokhara Bazaar and on past the Shining Hospital as far as the other Tibetan camp, at which point we decided to turn back, as we were walking into another storm and it was obvious that we would see nothing no matter where we went. We made it back to the hotel just as the weather was closing in - a violent electrical storm with much thunder and lightning.
Pokhara town consists of one long, slightly twisting road lined with typical Nepalese shops and houses like those found in Kathmandu. It is about half an hour’s walk from the airport and it takes about another half an hour to walk the length of the town. It is reasonably large as towns in Nepal go and is the largest outside the Kathmandu Valley. In the way of temples it has only a few, and they are more shrines than temples - small ones with the pagoda type of roof, and in the middle of the street. On clear days Annapurna can be seen in the background at the end of the bazaar, but we were not lucky enough to see it.
Main street Pokhara, with its mountain backdrop shrouded in cloud
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From what we saw of the Shining Hospital it does not compare as a structure to the solid Mission Hospital at Tansen, though it is probably larger and certainly does as good a job. There are a lot of half cylinder, Nissen hut type buildings in a field serving as the wards.
The Tibetan camp run by the Swiss though is in much better shape than the one near the airfield and has a much more pleasant site. It is grassy and fairly tidy and the stone and thatch buildings look much more permanent. They are doing quite a lot of building up there too. The whole place looks a lot more organized, though they have probably been at it quite a bit longer. They also have their stone mound with its myriad flags, around which the people walk saying their prayers. They really are a wonderful people these Tibetans, joyous and happy, always laughing, and never fail to greet you with a Namaste. Their spirit is undaunted by their travails. If the Nepalese seem much more cheerful as a people than the Indians, the Tibetans are that much brighter again.
Tibetans at the camp run by the Swiss
The prayer mound
This evening’s storm was the third successive one we have had in the valley, and each day they seem to arrive about sunset. They are quite wonderful, with spectacular cloud and lighting effects. Even though we have hardly seen the great snow peaks, they still exert a dominating influence and are beginning to take on a personality - and I am beginning to hate them for not showing themselves. They certainly seem to control you from their majestic shroud of cold, grey, ominous cloud, tinged at sunset with pink and gold. Their silent, icy aloofness is almost frightening.
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