July is usually associated with the seasonal monsoon that sweeps up from the south-west of India, but actually enters Nepal from the east. So officially it is known as the south-west monsoon and enters India from the south-west, surges through the Bay of Bengal, turns around and enters West Bengal and finally arrives in Nepal. The mighty Himalayas block its progress further north and the rain bearing, dark clouds unload their burden on the land south of Manang and Mustang bringing much needed precious rain water to start rice-planting. It hasn’t always delivered and some years have been dry, but in recent years, the monsoon hasn’t failed us. However, this year it is behind schedule.
Although the rain is a blessing for farmers, for many of us it’s a nightmare. For commuters who don’t own cars, getting wet is inevitable and getting splashed by speeding cars is a common hazard. Add to that the poor drainage of our city streets which means areas like Jamal in Rani Pokhari, Putali Sadak, Tripureshwar to name a few, are flooded. Then there are the idiotic bikers who never carry a raincoat, preferring to take shelter under the overhead bridges during heavy showers. That results in ugly traffic jams unless the traffic cop in his bright orange raincoat arrives to shoo away the miscreants. Good luck with that! However there are many positives: the dust vanishes and so do the irritating mosquitoes and the air gets cleaned regularly.
The monsoon also dampens the spirit of tour operators as few tourists opt to come during the rainy season. The trickles of tourists who do arrive are those with plans to travel in the rain shadow areas like Manang and Mustang or those who are on their way to Lhasa or Mt. Kailash, the abode of mighty Shiva. This is officially the off-season for the tourism industry and many tour operators choose to travel themselves. Many of them are off to Europe and the U.S. for a bit of marketing and promotion to bring in more tourists during the fall season. Making personal contact with other tour operators in the west plays an important part in boosting Nepal’s tourism. There’s nothing like meeting your counterpart in Europe, shaking his hand, sharing a meal and discussing the ups and downs of tourism and making plans for co-operation in the future. E-mails and phone calls don’t have quite the same effect as meeting someone in person, who might someday become a close friend and business partner. Many tour operators share a bond that goes beyond business deals.
The monsoon is challenging for everyone. For entertainers, it’s difficult to predict if people will show up for a performance if the rains do not relent. I remember the first International Music Day Festival organized by Nepalis, inspired and initiated by Alliance Francaise. The stage was set in Basantapur’s open square and the musicians were all ready to rock. Heavy rain started pouring from the afternoon and we waited until 9 pm before admitting defeat. The concert had to be postponed and did take place on the 22nd of June. But 21st June is actually the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year and is celebrated as International Music Day. Similarly many events are disrupted and planning an outdoor event is highly risky. So the major hotels come up with indoor events and since most of their clients will arrive in private cars, there is less chance of no-shows.
But for those who love greenery, this may be the right time to go for a short walk around the valley’s edge. Yes, there may be leeches, but there are ways to keep them at bay. Salt for example! During the monsoon everything is growing to its full potential and the various shades of rich green of the vegetation is awe inspiring. Everywhere you look, you see a range of vibrant colors as if the plants are fighting for your attention. A hike up from Sundarijal towards Chisapani is rewarding for the simple magic of monsoon colors. In case of heavy rain, one can take shelter in one of the lodges at Mulkharka, which is a short distance from the reservoir. The path isn’t slippery and once on the main road that comes all the way from the national park gate at Budanilkantha, you can stay on this motor road and still enjoy the greenery. If the clouds disperse, there are great views of Kathmandu valley below.
So, there are still ways to enjoy the monsoon months in Nepal. Some actually organize Monsoon Madness festivals while others go out to the rice fields to enjoy the ‘Mud Festival’. But the wise thing to do would be to head up to Manang or Mustang for a rain free trek in the desert-like terrain. Yes, you can either dodge the rain or plunge right into it!