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Letter from Kathmandu - Sex n drugs n rock n roll

By: Jo Chaffer, posted 30th August '10

Part 3 of life in the happy chaos and damp stickiness of summertime Nepal

It's now late July and the monsoon has been drenching us all fairly comprehensively for the last few week. Sex, drugs n rock n roll? - thought I'd open this latest tale of life in the blinking lights, biggish city of Kathmandu with a provocative title. Jo ChafferProvocation in its many and varied forms seems to be quite a big thing here at the moment: from the political arenas of the PM stepping down and the big three parties playing power games with the populace on who should fill the vacant post (and government), to skinny girls in hotpants and high heels stepping out (in some sort of) style on the stinking, sodden streets. There's something to provoke thoughts, conversation and temperatures at every level.

The build up to the rains throughout late May and early June was a weirdly trippy, time-in-slow-motion period where the air seemed to be replaced by a warm, fetid soup. As the barometer continued to drop so did my energy levels, to the point where the simplest task seemed improbably wearying. Each day the temperatures crept a little higher, the skies darker and thicker. Humidity was such that the slightest movement produced baubles of sweat that quickly coalesced into small rivulets flowing down every bodily crevice and crease. Sweat stains and fraught tempers ruled the day (and night). It was neither pleasant nor pretty. We called it PMT (pre monsoon tension).

The only remedies for me were a swim in the sparkly pool at the Park Village (a swanky hotel up the road), carrying at least three changes of clothes and lots of deodorant whenever I left the house and best of all a long, cold g&t to cool down before the nightly sleepless wrestle with damp sheets and mosquito nets. That wasn't sexy at all.

Kathmandu by bikeBut, as with anywhere else in the world I guess, the young cool crowd seemed to relish the rising temperatures and chance to show off beautiful bodies in micro shorts, strappy tops (for girls) and pointy collared, chest plunging shiny shirts (boys). It's been like living in a scene from Grease!

One of the weirdest crazes to hit the mean streets of downtown ‘Du is fakey-tattoos. These are basically American tan tights painted with bad stretchy graphics of blue and red tigers, devils and wild haired women etc. The slicky-haired, vest-topped microbus boys seem to be the prime protagonists for this quite bizarre and unconvincing fashion. They wear them on their fore arms and sometimes on their calves too. It's very odd. And very popular.

And worse, as the tattoo tights get older they wrinkle and sag into nylony cuffs stopped from slithering off completely by fakey Rolex type watches. I guess I'm just too old to appreciate the sex appeal...

The girls have responded in some style too. There are so many twenty somethings out and about looking vixen like and alluring in hot pants and hooker shoes.......... I've come to think this is their small window of opportunity to dress daringly before marriage strikes and life in the red sari begins. It seems that there are many fairly liberated young woman, well-educated with some sophisticated and informed views on the world. They are highly westernised (or Indianised?) on the surface and in speech but the problem pages in the women's mags read differently. How they actually go about living their lives is still very traditional and conforming to older society values and norms. It's intriguing to watch and try and understand.

Kathmandu boys flirtingAnd all this on show / off limits stuff makes it really confusing when I think about getting to know anyone well enough to befriend or even date. Is it possible? Where to start? How to know who could be possible? How far to go? How to approach? Or not to approach and respond? What about the Western / Eastern cultural misconceptions? It's most confusing for a girl. On the one hand this is definitely a society where machos get far: river guides, rock stars and the ultra-cool urbanites dripping wealth through cashmere and Gucci (not fakes) are revered and have a ‘wow' factor with their sex appeal and money on show. On the other hand though there's officially no dating scene, hand holding constitutes an unacceptable intimacy, arranged marriage is still the norm (even for rock gods) and the divorce rate is phenomenally low.

The only way to be close to your gal is to whip her away for a picnic on the back of your motorbike - then maybe you can touch! There's a tale by Oshi, an Indian guru that reflects the KTM date scene scarily well. Two lads are sitting chatting together over a soda one evening. One says ‘hey my girlfriend got really hot with me last night. We had the wildest sex'. His mate wants to know more ‘so tell me then... what happened?'

‘Well we went out on my motorbike and she snuggled up real close'
‘and then?'
‘we went to the river and watched the sunset.'
‘and then?'
‘she sat so close to me I could feel her warmth. When she moved her head her hair brushed my face'
‘and then?'
‘we whispered in each other's ear. She told me she loved me'
‘and then?'
‘she took my hand in hers and held it tightly'
‘and then?'
‘what you mean there's more?'......................................

Kathmandu street bandThe other thing confusing my forty year old head is the preponderance of ‘Death Note' T-shirts. I get it totally on the long haired, metalheads big into the underground, guitar / dark rock / indie scene. Where I'm in a dither is the ‘Death Note' T's in baby pinks and blues on quite cutely cherubic 14 year old giggly girls. Maybe it means something different in Nepali?

Music, of one form or another, is everywhere it seems. The music scene here in KTM is very much alive and kicking with underground metal and indie bands, loads of talented guitar (and air guitar) players, gigs on every night of the week: jazz, blues, rock, punk, soul you name it...some wild local DJs playing some ultra cool new club venues, moonlight dance festivals in jungle clearings in the valley rim, it's all out there. For the most part though the old rock and grunge kings still rule young boys' hearts: Iron Maiden, ACDC, Nirvana, Metallica, Chilli Peppers........... they reign supreme.

And the soundscape changes constantly here. May / June was a whole month of frantic, manic high-pitched very, very early bell ringing (occasionally with drum accompaniment) waking the gods and also waking me. I'm not sure which of the many million Hindu gods this was to appeal to - it could possibly have been all of them if the volume was anything to go by. Think a hundred school bell ringers on amphetamines. The noisy worshipping became more interesting and less eardrum wrecking when one early morning run I came across a group of middle aged men dancing fervently to more traditional live music - tabla, sitar, drums, tambourines and horn players - on rugs under a spreading peepul tree. 

In June / JulKathmandu Footbally we were treated to early morning/all day/ all night Bollywood classics (kind of Venga Boys go Hindi) as the monsoon wedding season kicked off. Huge dance parties under big tarpaulins on local rooftops - swarms of Honda Hero and Pulsar motorbikes clogging the alleyways outside, vats and vats of dhaals, tarakari and rice to feed the hundreds; flashing lights, plastic flowers and lots of sparkly stuff. Weddings Nepali style are big fun!

Now though the sound of the city and the fervent is all but drowned out by the cicadas and tropical bird calls surrounding my house - it's quite magical. And also quite high volume, but in a very wonderful way.

So that's sex and rock n roll Nepali style. Drugs - well beyond antibiotics and Imodium I don't have much local insight. Thankfully my usage of the latter has now stopped (nearly) and I've been well for a whole month (mostly) - which is nice.

More on the madness post-monsoon and back into trek and bike world next time.

Pheribe Taunla 


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