When one thinks of Nepal, one can easily visualize the scenic beauty of Kathmandu and the immense landscape that surrounds it. With the freshness of its environs and the amalgamation of myriad cultures and traditions to please your aesthetic needs, it sure is a heaven. Here, I am going to take you to the other world inside Nepal which is no less interesting. You will see a lot more of the country besides its greenery, mountains, pagodas and the mysterious beauty of the streets. There is some abstract charm to the city which increases as the day progresses. It can be anything, the nearby suburb, the colours, the smokes, the aroma, the animals or, simply, the embracing phenomenon of darkness. Let’s not discuss this city with the characterization of black and white; but, observe it in the mysterious grey-shade. As the locally famous adage goes, surrounding this particular area ‘Birgunj’:
“Sooraj Ast, to Nepal Mast(As the Sun sets, Nepal goes delirious)!”
Birgunj, the second largest city of Nepal, has nothing much to offer you as tourist sites; but it can surely enthrall you with its enegmatic dynamism. When you notice it for the first time, you can just find yourself unable to keep pace with the dynamics of this multicultural sub-metropolis of Nepal. The city is sure bustling with crowd, but it’ll never engulf your individuality. Unlike the other metropolitan cities, it gives you a warm welcome and the markets are quite cheap also. You can walk, talk and shop there like a king. The array of smiling shopkeepers waiting on you with a variety of things; be it spices, decorative pieces and flowers, imported clothes or Chinese electronic goods, the city can make you happy even with your tiny pocket.
I cannot forget the visit that I paid to this city one soothing December afternoon. As soon as I reached the market, it started raining heavily. There was not much surprise to see people busy doing their jobs unperturbed, thanks to the clean and well maintained roads and the well shaded paths surrounding the shops with parapets. The shopping became fun as so many colourful umbrellas popped and plied across the roads. As a school student, I could not stop my curiosity to check all the new gadgets, toys, branded but relatively cheap track-suits, school bags, video games, artificial flowers, variety of pasta and noodles, tasty cookies and chocolates in a spate of colours. Although I was not interested in buying all of them, but the variety drove me crazy.
As the night fell, in the Christmas season, the small industrial city started to glow in the coloured neon lights. The scene was completely different from the day-sight. For the first time, I witnessed the night-life of the city, which I had only read in the newspapers. Apart from affordable yet unique restaurants, there were bars and pubs that came to light in the darkness.
The simple love of the citizens for alcohol and casino has made the city an attractive destination for those who have an eye and nose for nocturnal adventures. Tourists from different corners of the world come to the city and let their hair down in the much talked about watering holes that the city has to offer. But the streets can be proved to be a vegan’s nightmare, because of the non-veg aroma that fills the city by the evening.
I simply used to love the street foods here as they looked so fresh and yummy with Nepalese spices. You can enjoy a variety of street food here ranging from the region specific momos and pastas to panipuri, very green and refreshing pao-bhaji, dahibadas, bhel-puri, burger and tikki chat. Talk about sweets, you can find all the Indian sweets, but, never forget to taste the hot and juicy ‘meher ki mithai’ from that corner of the street!
You cannot expect a single type of cuisine in Nepal given its variety based on multi-ethnicity and varied geographical features. But you can expect the Indian similarity in their staple food. For Indians, it’s like home away from home with added fun and peace. Even language cannot be barrier for Indians in Nepal given their close cultural ties with India. Nepalese is the official language and you can frequently hear people speaking other languages such as Newari, Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Maithali and English in some elite pockets of Nepal. In Nepal, kavisammelans(poet gatherings)are held frequently that are basically Nepali, Hindi and bhojpuri specific. ‘Kavi sammelans’ in Birgunj is a commonplace.
There are some places which one would be interested in watching, such as, Ghantaghar, Buddha Chaitya, an old style market near Mai-Sthaan, City Hall, Gadhiawara Pokhari, Godess Gadhi Mai Temple and the famous Shankar Acharya Gate. Lots of foreigners can be spotted in the Birgunj market as it is generally considered as a stopover place for travellers who are to explore the other destinations in Nepal.
Birgunj is known as the hub for trading and commercial activities in Nepal. It’s very easy to enter Nepal as it doesn’t require much paperwork. You can reach the place Birgunj once you have entered Nepal; by air, by rail or by road, whatever suits your commutation requirements. You can also use rickshaw, taxis and buses for local transport.
Finally, among tinkling rickshaw bells, jolly crowd and some unidentified abstract feel of this city of Nepal, I was plying towards my home. The darkness of night had a sense of peace and joy. I have always wondered how these people can afford to be this happy with their meager salaries. Well…wealth has nothing to do with happiness. The simple message that the carefree and casual attitude of the hardworking Nepali people seemed to convey was, ‘work hard and live the life king-size, we are not going to carry our savings with us after death’.
Suddenly, the rickshaw stopped with a jerk and a combination of two different shades of blue appeared before me, with a whistle and lathi. Oh my…she’s a beautiful Nepalese female security guard and it’s the custom checking post! She sputtered as she scoured through my belongings—white rabbit chocolates-wye wye noodle-brickgames-video game cds-wafers–she looked up and gave me a smile. I smiled back and bid my adieu to the serene and amazing land of Buddha!
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wonderlane/3117120729/]