Kathmandu: squares, shrines and stylish coffee shops, our adventures in Nepal may be nearly over but not before one last stay in the capital…222 days in.
Returning to Kathmandu for our third and final visit we had two goals; tick off those remaining must see sights from the guidebook and for Helen to avoid the Kathmandu cough this time due to the notoriously poor air quality. First stop on the architectural trail, Patan, a former medieval capital now absorbed into the Kathmandu sprawl. Navigating our way across the capital on foot, the journey there and back was nearly as interesting as the sightseeing; however, we were surprised with the difference a few kilometres can make to the architecture; streets opened up onto larger squares with a quieter, courtyard feel. Our highlight was the golden temple, a Buddhist monastery with some skilled metalwork, worth the modest entrance fee.
Perusing the paper the previous day, we spotted there was a festival of sorts on at the stupa in Boudhanath; the site was being purified following the renovation from the earthquake damage. Guide book in hand, instructions were to catch any number 2 bus. After many number twos claimed they weren’t going that way, we flung ourselves on a bus that appeared to be heading in the right direction. Catching a bus in Nepal is an experience itself, it’s even a recommended ‘highlight’ in the guidebook and although this bus trip didn’t have any goats or a live chicken hidden underneath a sari it was definitely a memorable one. With enough seats for 20 people, we estimated there were at least 50 on the bus, we were squished in all directions from the constant shuffling as people got on and off but an hour later we completed the ’30 minute’ journey for a grand cost of 50 pence for the three of us! Arriving as dusk fell, we joined the throngs of people completing the circumambulation of the stupa. We stopped to people watch as they lit butter lamps and said prayers. With the stupa lit up, darkness now fallen and a slight chill in the air, it reminded me of a Christmas market.
Final destination on the sightseeing checklist was Bhaktapur, another medieval city in the Kathmandu valley and (prior to the earthquake) the best preserved according to the guidebook. The city has not only temples and architecture on offer but a strong cultural history still present, therefore the entrance fee was for the whole city and at $15 each we hoped it lived up to these claims.
Alighting the bus, a local guide, Hari offered his services, usually we refuse, especially recently having Glenn and the guidebook to ably inform us of the highlights; however, his style appealed to Mike and after a bit of bargaining we had ourselves a guide for the morning. It is sometimes fun to hire a guide, as well as pointing of the sights as we walked round, we also furthered our knowledge on Hinduism and we had someone to answer the questions we had been puzzling over about Nepali society that the Internet couldn’t answer, such as what is the difference between all the Tikas? Short answer, not so much these days but they used to signify for a woman whether she was married or not. We had a fun morning being shown round the city, Mike found a kindred spirit in his appreciation of erotic carvings on the woodern roof struts and tried his hand at the potters wheel.
With that, our stay in Nepal was over, time for us to say our goodbyes to Glenn as he headed back home (unfortunately with a poorly timed affliction to the digestion department) and for us to head back in South East Asia, to continue our travels. After nearly two months in Nepal, what did we make of the country that would in all likelihood be the poorest of the whole trip? It’s a tough one to compare and rank countries we have visited, the experience you have depends on what you see and do and the people you meet. We had some amazing experiences in Nepal that I will remember for years to come, treking, rafting and wildlife, it is clearly well established in these areas for the western tourist. I would recommend to try and get off the tourist trail to experience some everyday Nepal and it did make me reassess what I think of as poverty, finally I’ll leave you with Mike’s analogy of the country:
Travelling to the towns and villages in Nepal is a little bit like the local village fete back in the U.K.; full of lots of stalls cooking foods and handmade bracelets that you don’t really want, with music adding to the noise. However, you’ve turned up on day 17 of the fete, all the good food is gone, the grass has turned to dust with rubbish strewn all over the place and the portaloos have long since maxed out. Yet people are still flocking in droves to the fete and all the while the purveyors just see the fete as a money making exercise and have forgotten how nice the village green was just three weeks ago. You may retort that this view through western eyes is unfair. Like many other Asian countries, Nepal and it’s people aspire to be like the West, most Nepalis wear fake brands, drink Coca Cola and spend their time on mobile phones, yet still bend over double to sweep dust around the streets using an inefficient straw broom that has no handle. Of course, this stems from poor governance, and in time the people of Nepal will hopefully get the support they need to live in harmony with the amazing nature that surrounds them.