October 12, 2009: Freak Street

At first I was a little bit disheartened when the guy at the front desk of my Thamel guest house told me that last night would be my final night with them. I felt like I was getting kicked out even though he explained they had reservations to honor. It was a good thing, I concluded. I needed a push, because I really didn’t want to be there. 
A few days earlier I had wandered south of Durbar Square to the street unofficially known as Freak Street. In the 70’s when hippies were all about turning on, tuning in, and dropping out this is where some of them went. Living practically for free in this outrageously cheap area and enjoying the abundance of marijuana and hash, the hippies found a home in this little bohemian enclave. 
(side note: a rat just came scampering across the floor beside me as I’m sitting here typing this…ok…distracted, but I shall proceed)
Anyhow, without knowing much of its history when I came across this area the other day I was struck by the chill vibe. I could feel it in the air and I liked it. I saw dreadlocked hippies drinking beer in the afternoon, smoking cigarettes and playing chess, reading books, and hanging out at sidewalk cafes looking all zoned out, people-watching. Very different from Thamel.
I needed a place to relocate to and this seemed like a refreshing alternative. I found a humble little room that offered little comfort, but at least it was cheap and the lock on the door seemed adequate. The sweet little Nepali girl who checked me in was so irresistibly cute it made me happy just to spend a few moments with her. And at less than $2 a night, what the hell. How could I go wrong, if only for a night.
Immediately after setting my bags down, I walked across the street to a little coffee stoop where a couple of seasoned-travelers were hanging out.
When you come across these common backpacker scenarios, you never know who knows who, nor can you really know the dynamic of the situation. At this moment I saw individuals sitting together silently. Sometimes they would talk, or laugh a little, and then curiously someone would get up and walk away without any regard or word of farewell. I’m drinking a delicious french press of coffee (the best cup I’ve had so far). The others, they are smoking cigarettes, sipping herbal teas, and nursing pints of beer while staring out into the void of their thoughts.
After spending a little too much time inside my head, I was really happy to come across this crowd. I broke the silence and made a little small talk with the folks around me. Quickly this silent ensemble came to life and I got to know my neighbors. There was a kiwi named Clint, a curious Malaysian dude named Azli, a beautiful German Israeli woman working at the American Embassy, a Nepali hipster, and an American gal wearing Nepali garb reading Eat Pray Love. 
Before long we are exchanging ideas and laughing. The community feels so good to me right now. Beside us, there’s a barefoot hippy with dreadlocks twirling balls attached to rope. The sound of sitars and tablas are blasting out from a music store nearby and I’m in love with this moment.
Azli, a 44-year old Malaysian smiler (who looks no more than 30), he sees my book “Joy of Living” and says to me ironically, “there’s no happiness in living.” I like him instantly. With two spools of colorful yarn, he’s crocheting a “pouch” for a friend and he says to me that he is the most productive person in the world. He’s been on the road for the past 15 months and says he was born with the gift of a photographer’s eye. After viewing a few of the photos on his camera, I have to agree. He invites me to his room to view his collection of photos and this sounds like a great idea. 
Once we get to his room he pulls out his MacBook and begins a slideshow of photos he’s taken of his travels through India. His photos are beautiful, so striking I immediately feel like crying. Beauty and sadness conveyed poignantly in the eyes of his subjects– these primoridal expressions of life he has captured are bleak, often lonesome, and yet in all these photos of poorer-than-dirt India, there is a persistent hint of joy and salvation . The soundtrack he choses for this moment is Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah”, which strikes me as the perfect fit! The lyrics of this song push me over the edge and now I’m totally overwhelmed with emotions.  (To see his photos, check him out on Flickr.)
As much as I’m enjoying this moment, I am now late. There is a concert tonight in Patan and I’m really excited to be there. It’s the 2nd to final night of Jazzmandu and tonight’s show is a fusion of Nepali classical music with European jazz musicians.  I must go!

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