Voyage to Nepal

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At the beginning of January 1885, I left Motihari. From this city to Kathmandu one has to travel about one hundred and sixty-three-kilometres, mostly through the advance ridges of the Himalayas, which border the south of the valley of Nepal. The journey is partly done in a palanquin, partly in a sort of hammock called a dandy, carried by four men, who can, if needed in a narrow paths, go in single file. Since nothing can be procured on the road, the number of coolies necessary to carry the provisions is about forty. They trot all the way and take turns without down, about every five minutes.

The most dangerous region to go through, because of the deadly miasmas it contains, is the thick swampy forest called the Terai, located at the foot of the Himalayas. When one crosses it at night, torches have to be lit to keep away ferocious beasts which swarm there like rabbits. The forest starts near the village of Semelbasa. Pretending to go and buy torches, my coolies left me there a whole night, hoping that tigers and panthers would eat the traveler but spare the bags of rupees he had. A number of candles, taken from a food basket I always had with me, saved me from the ferocious beasts. A benevolent deity, Visnu probably, preserved me from the miasmas that I feared more than tigers. The night had to be spent working on the palanquin, turned into a writing desk, to keep the candles from burning out. When, in the morning, the gang of my kind companions returned to see if there was anything left of the European, a speech, short but energetic, made them understand that the revolver is an instrument specially created by Siva to smash the heads of refractory coolies in the Himalayas.

The two passes of the Himalayas that one has to descend towards the valley of Nepal are those of Sisaghari and Chandragiri, both very difficult. One has to travel several times on paths sometimes no broader than a few centimeters, carved in the sides of the mountains and overlooking depths at the bottom of which one can hear a roaring torrent. The splendid view one has from these heights is beyond description. The cloudy summits of the Himalayas , dominated by the gigantic bulk of Gaurishankar, creates around you a crown of snow, while at your feet spread green valleys and forests. Compared to such a spectacle, the most beautiful sites of Switzerland or those imposing regions of the Tatra Mountains, which I had the opportunity to describe here previously, were to me nothing but a pale display.

The weariness and the troubles of the journey wee by far compensated by the beauty of the Himalayas, even more so by the spectacle which the cities of Nepal– Kathmandu, Patan, Bhadgaon, Pashupatti– would offer.

After having crossed the last range of mountains, we reached a point above the valley, where, in a small space, lies the capital and most important cities of the country. The Valley gave an incomparable impression of fertility. The slopes we were descending, at points crossing swift streams, were covered with most beautiful trees. The villages, hidden under this exuberant vegetation, were revealed only when we were close to them. With their little temples, their wooden houses all sculpted, each of them looked like a cluster of pagoda.

We entered Kathmandu with the escort sent to meet us by the Resident. A large crowd had gathered in the streets to witness our arrival, which had long been announced. I could see an event it was in country, and also realize from the start the rough and embarrassing curiosity which is typical of the Nepalese. Wishing to go to the president’s house, we had to cross the whole city. Our escort was doing its best to push away spectators who were pushing us from all sides; it was useless.

(Excerpt from Voyage to Nepal by Gustave Le Bon. He was the first French scholar to visit Kathmandu, in 1855, during the powerful time of Jung Bahadur Rana)

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