Monday 26th February
Yesterday was the first day that I was left on my own in Kathmandu … and I managed to get lost twice in the space of a few hours. Part of the problem was that I didn’t have a map, another part was the complete absence of street names or road signs and the other part is my lack of a sense of direction. It wasn’t a disaster as I took Chris Drew’s advice which was that if you don’t know where you are, hail a taxi and ask them to take you to your hotel. That was fairly successful, although it turned out the driver didn’t know my hotel and took me to another one a few blocks away.
Today was much more successful. I visited Chris at his office. He works for the International Nepal Fellowship, where he is seconded from BMS. One of Chris’s Nepali colleagues got be a taxi to take me to Bhaktapur and managed to negotiate a price that was less than ⅔ of the rate I would have got as a foreigner. When we got to this town just outside Kathmandu, the driver said he would wait and take me back for the equivalent of £4, which sounded like a good plan.
I am used to haggling over my mobile phone contract and with the AA, but not so much in shops. I was quite pleased with myself for getting a notebook for ¾ of the asking price, until I saw something similar in a less touristy shop for less than ½ the price I paid! I also agreed a hefty discount from a tour guide. Having felt quite pleased about that, I then felt slightly guilty in case that would mean that one of his children wouldn’t eat that night. It was OK, though, as I found out later that he didn’t have any children.
Nepali Hindus are known for their fairly peaceful and tolerant nature. Buddhism is the largest minority religion in the country and people seem happy to incorporate elements of Buddhism into their religious life. The 17th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal argued that it makes sense for human beings to have faith in God in that if there isn’t a God, there’s nothing lost, whereas if there is, one is in God’s good books. The Nepalis who mix Buddhism with Hinduism have gone a step further and followed two faiths perhaps in the hope that if one doesn’t work the other will – the equivalent of an each-way bet.
A new constitution in Nepal came into force in 2015 which preserved the country status as a secular state, but it also increased restrictions on religious conversion. My guide in Bhaktapur was telling me about religious tolerance in Nepal and so I asked him about the law that prevented conversions, which is particularly aimed as Muslims and Christians. He told me that Christians hassle people and go door to door trying to persuade them away from their culture, promising them free food and a place to live if they convert. He thought it would be OK if Nepalis become Christian just because they want to. This may not be how we see evangelism, but it’s interesting to see ourselves as others see us.