A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India:
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 636 km
Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat – 34 km
The story so far:
On his search, Mr Felix has ridden through Hell, died in the bathroom, been visited by the Ghosts of Lovers Past, fallen down a mineshaft and most surprising of all, found the Green Gibbon. It’s now 5 in the morning, and he’s on the roof of his hotel in Narayanghat, taking a tea break and thinking about how all of this started.
Part 12: Kathmandu – Day 1!
I arrive at Bangkok International in November 1974 jumping out of my skin. I’m 21, green as all get out and as hungry as hell.
Asia – let’s eat!
The first thing I noticed when I got through customs and entered the main concourse was a man in uniform holding a machine gun who sidled up to bot a cigarette off me.
I guess he could see the large, brightly lit neon sign above my head flashing: ‘Newbie!-blink Newbie!-blink’, not that you’d have had to be clairvoyant to pick it up.
Well, you never argue with a man holding a gun and that’s one rule in Asia I’ve never wavered from.
I gave him a fag and he declined a light and wandered off without a word. No problem! Happy to help the Thai military any day, sir.
I climbed on a local bus and we took off down the highway like a bat out of hell, which was just fabulous.
The road from the airport in those days was a potholed wriggling mess, and the bus sped and wove and lurched, and motor bikes screamed by and wove and lurched, and the Thais standing in the aisle of the bus fell back and forth and I sat wedged into the rear seat with a couple of other backpackers and looked around and recognised a state of mind I’d almost forgotten about - unbridled joy.
Ah, Bangkok, what an entrée.
A few days later I’m walking down Freak Street in Kathmandu. It’s alive with hippies and a score of Magic Buses are lined up on New Road offering trips to Goa, Sri Lanka, Kashmir and all the way back to Europe. It couldn’t get more exotic.
One hundred bucks will get you to London, even.
Not bad, but I’ve got four months and I’m going to bus it, train it and hitch if I have to down through India, up through the Khyber Pass and into Afghanistan and Iran, and then one way or another make it into Trafalgar Square under my own steam.
That was the plan, and as I walked through the Durbar Square chatting to bearded Frenchmen in beads and kaftans, and longhaired Norwegian girls in beads and kaftans, it looked like a shining plan indeed.
I was so engrossed in this magical landscape of strange colour and form that I walked all the way back to my guesthouse past the Chi & Pie in Maru Hiti, a distance of half a kilometre, completely absorbed in smell.
When I got the door and woke up, I had no recollection of the short journey other than the pungent and mysterious aroma of Nepal.
I was in another world, close to heaven, intoxicated, and I wanted to be here, and what a difference that was to the forced march I was undertaking at home under Emperor Napoleon.
Of course it was all a dream, but I didn’t know it then, but dad, a.k.a. Napoleon, did, as I was soon to find out - but what would he know?
Dream-shmeam, it smelled like freedom to me and like your big Hollywood break, I knew it would only walk in the door once.
That evening I sat on the roof of the guesthouse and watched the sun go down over the Bagmati River and felt a great sadness welling up in me. Reality, that great leaden weight that refused to float away, was pulling me down again, and along with it my big Hollywood break (all 12 hours of it!).
I was in a very deep hole indeed, I realised, and shining plan or no shining plan, at the end of it all I was due back in the engineering department with the rest of the inmates come March 23rd, and the thought horrified me.
What to do?
Walk out on four years of toil and sweat at the university with only a year to go? My dad would never forgive me. Living with Emperor Napoleon you learned to withstand a lot, but cowardice? Gee, they shoot you for that.
I might as well tell dad that I wanted to be a poet as tell him that I wanted to leave the university and trip the light fantastic in Nepal.
No, I needed a genuine reason to leave, and one I could stand by, and I didn’t have one, dream or no dream.
Deep inside, when I tracked it along the echoing corridors of my mind, I knew this whole intoxicating world was a dream. The way it stood it may have been escape, but it wasn't freedom.
It didn’t have substance, and Napoleon wouldn’t be Napoleon if he couldn’t smell a ruse when it was served up at the dinner table. And that’s one thing about living with the likes of Mr Bonaparte - you may hate his guts, but he keeps you honest.
Yeah, I was in a bind, but I had four months to work it out, so I wandered off and got myself a large plate of daal-baht and spent the next two hours on the loo, and loving every minute of it, as fools do.