Over Christmas in Pokhara my brother and I went for a nightcap at Café Babylon, a first floor bar atop a rickety spiral staircase. We ordered an Everest beer and 2 glasses and sat at our table in anticipation. The previous night we had stumbled into the same bar quite late and noticed some of the patrons enraptured by a metre by metre piece of wood dotted with red and white discs.
I had seen this once before, at a Tea House after a never-ending set of stairs. Tonight it was our turn to try our hands at one of the Carrom board games. As a pair of revellers known to partake in pool at dingy bars, we were excited by what looked to be a finger-flicking variation of the common game. The owner of the bar laid the square of wood on our tabletop and explained the rules of one of the games, called Saddhu. It’s very similar to pool or snooker with the aim being to sink the discs into the 4 pockets available, and fouls being dished out for sinking the main disc aka the white ball.
We were surprised to note how difficult the game was to get the hang of. We were both a touch too cocky and presumed the technique and hand-eye coordination would settle in quickly. Our shots were wildly wayward and we found that the skills required are much more intricate than we had presumed. As the game drew to a close our shots didn’t cause such embarrassment in front of the bar owner and I felt a pulsing addiction for this new game surge through my veins. I noticed a look in my brother’s eye that said he was similarly hooked.
When I got back to Kathmandu, and after our family farewells, I set out on a mission to get a carrom board. I was as confident about finding one as I was about how good I would be at it on that first night in Babylon Cafe. I spent half a day trawling through shops around New Road and Bishal Bazar. I then traversed busy roads and street bridges after being pointed in the direction of Bag Bazar. I learnt that when you’re asking for directions in the city you must be aware that everyone is willing to help, especially when they don’t have a clue. My favourite experience of the day was being directed by the owners of a stationary outlet towards a furniture shop in Bag Bazar. When I arrived I asked the suited assistant where I might find a carrom board and he smilingly suggested I try the stationary shops. I set sail for home and wearily asked a few people on the way if they could help to no avail.
The next day I met up with the Royal Mountain Travel team and dared them to hazard a guess at where I might find one. I was directed to the sports shops on the Jyatha road. I was getting warmer. I walked around for a while and saw no sports shops. Ready to call it quits I noticed a piece of wood leaning against the wall in a stationary shop. After my experience over 24 hours I couldn’t quite believe that it was physically possible to purchase the game. Still tentative, I asked the guy who stood in front of the dusty book shelf if that was what I thought it was. As soon as the words came out of his mouth my cash was in his hand and I was loading the board into the back seat of a nearby taxi. My recommendation would be to try stationary shops around Jyatha road and Asan. I would also suggest you wear your trekking boots and be prepared to ask the same question more than once.
Article by: Nick Monro
Title Image: Alastair Humphreys/Flickr
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