New years eve is always a bit of a conundrum for me in that I’m never quite sure where to place myself. My friendship group in London town tends to celebrate the occasion together with the birthday of our friend Lauren who was born on the last day of the year. This year I knew that things would be tricky socially having just arrived in the country but I expected at least to fall on my feet with regards to some party or other. Having been heavily involved since my arrival with editing the county souvenir, when the day came I spent the early part of the evening attending first a “homecoming wedding” with Dr. Ajit and his family of a family friend who’s daughter had just returned to Nepal having got married abroad some months ago. It was a good perspective on Nepali weddings – large events – lots of food and many extended relations and friends in attendence. After this Dr. Ajit and I went back to the editing grind and in the event we ended up editing articles right up until the witching hour. Dr Ajit dropped me back my hotel at 11:45 and I rushed out, bought and quickly polished off a beer on my way to the to the nearest bar in the centre of Thamel. With literally 5 minutes to go I rolled into “Paddy’s Irish bar” paying the exorbitant Rs.400 entry fee (about £3) and laid down a further thousand rupees for a double Scotch whiskey.
With 1 min ago I turned to the nearest people at the bar an Indian lady from Mumbai and her colleague and introduced myself before the lights suddenly went out and we started to wish each other a happy New Year. Actually it was just load shedding kicking in prematurely and there was some fiddling before the generator kicked up and 30 seconds later the band then called down the New Year proper. Somewhat confused and laughing we then did the whole well wishing process again with the traditional embrace of the New Year. Everyone was quite merry so I needed to play catch up pretty swiftly. I introduced myself and got acquainted with the gaggle of people who are gathered near the bar. A couple from Delhi, my new friends from Mumbai and team of Nepalese physiotherapists with their expatriate volunteer colleague from Scotland. We exchanged pleasantries and commentaries about our times in Nepal. Most people are coming to the end of their journeys it seemed, celebrating the New Year before heading home to start work in the new week. I tracked over to the other side of the bar and encountered an English accent on the air. Sitting down I joined a group of English speakers all of whom were apparently teachers working together in Bhutan (as far as I can hazily remember). It was one of those kinds of nights that is truly international. Not knowing anyone really particularly well we forged something of a improtu gang ready to take the night on head first…. however just as fun was getting started the party was closed down. In fact all over Thamel all the bars shut at 1am and in a moment literally thousands of people were on the streets. I remember thinking at the time that if one place had a late licence that they could literally print money by the sheaf. But in the end, not for want of trying, our gang could not find a place to carry the party on. For about 20 min we searched hither and thither and “queueing” for bars which were apparently still going on underground. Having been in this situation quite a few times in the past, without a formal plan of action, I sensed doom on the progress of the night.
However all of a sudden the minibus appeared out of nowhere and a British guy jumped out and started directing people inside. My first thought was that it was some kind of press-gang arrangement where we would be taken to one of those “exclusive bars” and be charged a lot of money. My danger sense was wrong however and actually it turned out to be genuine so I jumped in and introduced myself to two lovely ladies who I found myself sitting next to. Our team which by this stage included the Mumbai couple, the Delhi couple and a few other stragglers also piled into the car. I quickly found out that as circumstances would have it we had joined an entire Boeing 747 crew from Qatar Airways. The British chap who jumped out was the captain of course – and the two lovely ladies were naturally air stewardesses. After five minutes of general hilarity we settled into further discussions about who had come from where and what the plan general was. We were already on the road and rolling… I had no idea where we were going but we trundled off in the minibus somewhere as far as my sense of direction told me to the south west of the Thamel area. People kept saying “Park Plaza” which I took for a hotel destination. After a time and a chance for more extended introductions we eventually entered a large walled compound of, evidently one of the most expensive hotels in the city. Arriving en masse as we did our party then divided into two. The first group stayed with me and we managed to reopened the bar whilst the second group went off to ply the casino. I can’t say anything particularly important happened in the ensuing hours but we enjoyed each other’s company in the fashion that tends to happen when you’re with people you’ll likely never see again – fresh and disinhibited (or maybe that was just the alcohol?). We shared some stories and I was quizzed about my “small camera” (5d with 35mm f1.4) I was particularly impressed with the riddles of the two pilots – I guess they’ve a long time to train their delivery whilst cruising at 35,000 feet.
Eventually after a few photos and some fond farewells we decided to pack it in and I stole out of the hotel in the early hours of the morning to grab a taxi back to my place. In the process very carefully depositing my green hat, scarf and gloves so that I would have to come back to reclaim them on another occasion. Tired and surprised that despite starting the night out friendless I had achieved such a bounty of experiences I fell into a contented and somewhat inebriated sleep – ready to carry on with the editing in the morning.