Dogster: The road to Phulbari

Old Oct 22nd, 2010, 08:38 PM
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Dogster: The road to Phulbari

It’s a nasty stretch of road from Thamel to Dhulikel, a pot-holed, pock-marked plod of a highway that stretches from Kathmandu to China. The air is filthy, the traffic is vile, horns and screeches, belching fumes warn the incoming of more hell to come, console the outgoing with thoughts that there must be somewhere better than this. A wise punter would just wind up the windows and think of home.

Stick with it. After about an hour of this, just as you get to Dhulikel, if you dare open the windows, you’ll find yourself breathing in real, live air. It’s no illusion. One side of this horrid Nepali tourist town is open to the valley below. Tourism has built a row of hotels pointing at the non-existent view of the Himalayas in the distance. This is the raison d’etre of Dhulilkel – the view.

‘Ptooey,’ you can say, as your car takes a mysterious right, just before the Bus Station Square. In a blink you’re off the bitumen and in the hills. Hardly a house, just a brief Bhutan of jungle, a Darjeeling of descending slopes, a Bali of rice paddies etched layer by layer in curves down the steep sides of the mountain. Yup, you’re climbing through a mountain, curving along the ridges, up, up, up from Dhulikel. The odd person will pass you on the road. Watch their expression. See that double take, that ‘what on earth are foreigners doing here?’ expression?

That’s when you know you’re in Dog-world.

Stay focused. When the big views swing from the right-hand side of the car to the left and get bigger… you’re nearly there. Well, kinda. Now is the time to offer soothing words of encouragement to your driver. The road hasn’t just got worse; it’s just got worse than that. If you can’t see anything out the window, don’t fuss. That’s not blind panic; there’s a shower coming through.

Everything goes white. The road turns to river, the rivers turn to mud. You’re driving up a mountainside in Nepal and you can’t see a thing. If you could see the view you’d be gasping. You’re gasping anyhow, but that’s just sweet Nepali fear – you ain’t stopping till you get to the top.

Note your driver’s body language. If his head is swiveling from side to side, if he’s muttering ‘no-o-o-o, no-o-o-o…’ you’ll know you’ve almost arrived. Right at the peak of despair you’ll come to the next turn off. This one goes left.

Well, what’s left of the road goes left.
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Old Oct 22nd, 2010, 08:41 PM
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Phulbari? Phulbari?’

‘Five minutes!’ waved a hand.

The scenery is glorious. Grey mist parts to reveal luscious green fields, terraced, abrim with produce. A conga-line of houses snaking up a hill, a glimpse of gold, a clump of damp bamboo. The road is mud and river, mixed thick with dirt-brown green.

'Phulbari?’ Phulbari?'

‘Five minutes!’ waved a hand.

Didn't they say that ten minutes ago?

'Phulbari?’ Phulbari?

She looked at us with an expression of utter confusion.

'What on earth are these foreigners doing – here?’

Double-Dog-world.

You’re on top of a mountain somewhere strange in Nepal. The rain has stopped, the mist has cleared. There’s a track, a farm-house, some chai, a kitchen full of gentle locals, a host: a Govinda, a welcome-back smile, that gate…

Phulbari.

Fool-bari.
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Old Oct 22nd, 2010, 08:45 PM
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In 1967 a young German graphic designer set out in a VW bus and drove from Europe to Asia; a brave thing to do in those days – but very apropos. The whole world was changing and Hans Hoefer set off to see it before it was gone. His timing was perfect.

He was especially intrigued by Bali, where he earned a living selling his photographs and sketches. It didn’t take him long to see a gap in an emerging market.

It was the right idea at the right time in the right place. In one brilliant move he tied together all his passions; design, photography, words and travel. Young Hans Hoefer made a guidebook.

Insight Guide: Bali was published with the financial backing of a local hotel in 1970. With superb photography and text on the history, culture, cuisine and special topics of the destination, in one sweep it transformed and influenced the publishing scene of travel guides forever. I bet it changed Hans’ life, too.

Twenty five years later, when he divested the title in 1997, Insight Guides was one of the biggest companies in travel publishing, having sold over 20 million copies on over 125 destinations, and the only guidebook series available in 10 languages.

By the sound of it, our not-so-hippie Hans ended up a squillionaire.

So what does a retired fifty-something squillionaire do with all those squillions?

He was in his early fifties with too much money. He still carried a mindset brimming full of counter-cultural ideas. Those formative teenage years in the Sixties re-emerged with a vengeance; Rich Van Winkle woke up in a Nineties cave.

‘There shouldn’t be a distinction between working life and non-working life. It simply freed me up for another phase.’

This phase involved him buying properties in Sri Lanka and transforming them into very swizz boutique hotels, buying/building an eighty-five foot schooner that plies the S.E. Asia waters – and the grandest folly of them all; buying up the top of a mountain in Nepal and creating an organic farm: Phulbari.

Ever the businessman, Hans has made Hoeferworld available to the cashed-up cognoscenti.

‘I see myself as a rocket in space that occasionally switches on its engine to speed up and change direction,’ he once said.

The Hoefer Space Program was in full flight during the early 1990’s – as were the dreams.
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Old Oct 22nd, 2010, 08:46 PM
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Dreams can come true. This magnificent obsession slowly took shape. Fifteen years ago, it was finished. Fields were planted, the first crops came through. Hans kept adding to his cave house. By 1996 things were ticking over very nicely. There was just one little problem.

No sooner was it finished than the Maoists swept into violent opposition to the Nepalese government and, in effect, closed Phulbari down.

Phulbari has remained, preserved in political aspic for the decade since – maturing, lovingly maintained by his staff. Profits from the flourishing organic gardens keep it ticking over.

Few, including the Hoefers, come to stay.
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Old Oct 22nd, 2010, 08:53 PM
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Well, I think that's enough for today.

This is just a little mood piece about a wonderful place in the mountains in Nepal. Phulbari has popped up in here over the years. It was time to revisit.

If you want to get interactive, Hans Hoefer sent me this links.

'Nigel, your blog leaves me with the burning desire to go back and take that road again as soon as possible. Here it is, alas, in the dry season …

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3jcWeX_OWQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoij8...eature=related

and let me introduce you to a nice set of locals :

http://www.facebook.com/pages/I-am-K...39537712751759

Hans
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Old Oct 22nd, 2010, 08:58 PM
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Of course, a wise F'dodderer would just cut to the chase and go here:

http://thedogster.wordpress.com/phulbari-5/

then here;

http://thedogster.wordpress.com/phulbari-2a/
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Old Oct 22nd, 2010, 09:06 PM
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Ah, Thanks for posting this here. I was reading this story over on your blog earlier this week...
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Old Oct 22nd, 2010, 09:13 PM
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I prefer it with the pictures but, ahhh, we'll take what we can get. I'll just feed it in over the next coupla days for those who wouldn't know a Dogster website from a hole in the ground. I'm trying to work out how to add a mp3 file so you can have a blast of temple trumpets as well, in case any F'dodderes nod off.
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Old Oct 22nd, 2010, 10:32 PM
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Lovely pictures of this 'paradise' in remote Nepal.

Thanks for the links.

I love it that there are some people out there, like Hans, who dream about these things and actually make it happen....Phulbari....flower garden. Wonderful.

Welcome back dogster!
I reckon there's a story, dogster-style, following this intro??
Can't wait.
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Old Oct 22nd, 2010, 10:45 PM
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Mmmm, yup magical - just a few. Tomorrow for the next instalment...
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Old Oct 22nd, 2010, 11:12 PM
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It is great with the pictures and nice to drop in at odd times - but here we all can more easily get to have a chat too - so double bonus. Blog for when we don't want to talk and here when we do. The trumpet blast would be a wonderful addition! So glad you're back.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2010, 12:03 AM
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Started this on your blog the other day -- it is better with the photos I think, but great that you are willing to entertain us in both places. Feels like I am home again. Awesome!!!
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Old Oct 23rd, 2010, 12:23 AM
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Hmmmmmmmmmmm. I'll be in Nepal in just a couple of weeks. I'm booked at the Courtyard in Thamel but that's tempting. Very tempting. Even with a bad foot tempting. Any driver in particular? How long to get there from Thamel?
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Old Oct 23rd, 2010, 01:25 AM
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Yes, the website is all very good, but I miss our Greek chorus. So I'm trying to balance on the blade.

Thursday: totally, totally easy. The Courtyard can arrange it - simple. I took them up there last time and I believe they've sent a few guests since. Their car will cost more than if you call Govinda at the farmhouse direct and use his. It's about ninety minutes - ish. Maybe two hours. The drive is so interesting I lost track.

Combine the drive up with a visit to Bhaktapur - it's on the way. [see that map in the website]. You may well find a like-minded chum at Courtyard to go up with you.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2010, 01:42 AM
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Thanks. I was considering an overnight, although it would complicate my itinerary. Have you tried that? Combining with Bhaktapur sounds like a good idea. And there's nothing I like more than being driven in the mountains.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2010, 01:53 AM
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A more efficient way might be to go up after Bhaktapur late afternoon, get to Phulbari for sunset, overnite, stay all next day, overnite and go back next morning. That gives you two sunsets and dawns without losing a day sightseeing in KTM.

You can jump on the back of a motorbike to get to Namo Buddha. If I can, you can.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2010, 02:40 AM
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Dogster - I originally read this on your website but I'm glad you posted it here too. You are right that its not the same without the Greek chorus.

Welcome back.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2010, 04:10 AM
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A masterful performance w/o feedback is like clapping with one hand, eh ?
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Old Oct 23rd, 2010, 05:45 AM
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lol Becalm - another activity springs immediately to mind...

I rather enjoyed telling the Jayarvarman story with all the Greek interruptions. I think of them all as versions of Maria Callas - with an occasional Nana Mouskouri thrown in.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2010, 07:46 AM
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hahaha...love the way you associate.....
few around me appreciate my humor when I try lines like that with them.
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