Kathmandu

I slept really badly. I got up at 6.30am and managed some breakfast – not quite as good as yesterday. Idli today (a southern indian rice flour thing) with a bit of curry, not the biggest fan of idlis. And some fruit. I was supposed to be picked up at 7.30am for my transfer to the airport. Nothing arrived. 7.50am I asked the hotel to call for me. Apparently they are coming at 8.40am….!! Still enough time for my flight, nothing I could do. So I got my room back for 50 minutes and had another lay down. 8.40am and still nothing. 9.10am and I gave up and paid (again) for a taxi to the airport. What a waste of £10 – to drive basically 5 minutes.

The airport was a chaotic mess of men and mountains of luggage. Seriously, how much luggage does one person need?! 5 trolleys each it would seem. I finally got through, all a bit stressful for my 10.40am flight. But I had enough time.

It was just a short trip into this rather odd, expensive place. Perhaps I would have liked it more if I had got to go diving.

We left a bit late, just after 11am and had good views across the sandy desert and the rows of white box houses, before we headed off to the ocean. The sky was completely clear, so we had amazing views over Pakistan. Mountains and sand, miles and miles of nothing.

Coming into Kathmandu was scary – we suddenly entered thick clouds and a huge amount of turbulance. Luckily it was soon over, we broke through the clouds and into cool views of the Himalayas. Rice terraces, small houses, rivers and crops. I’ll be trekking in similar places in a few days..!!!

When we landed, about 4.30pm, there were no buses waiting for us, so we were just left standing on the Tarmac, in really strong winds!! After about 10 minutes two buses turned up and everyone squeezed on, it was like being on a packed tube.

Immigration was quite chaotic. So many lines and no clear labelling. I already had a visa so did not need to join the visa queue. So which one?! I opted for one that looked short, turns out that was wrong too. I had to go to one which had no queue whatsoever. It took about 10 seconds and I was through. Easy!

Baggage collection was another chaos. My flight was not even listed on the board. No idea where to go. Several indian flights had landed just before, so people with mountains of luggage were hanging around. Just chaos. It took almost an hour for bags to arrive.

And finally I got outside. Into pouring rain!!! It was only about a 20 minute drive to my hotel, and I arrived at 6pm.

I’m staying in Thamel – the middle of the touristy market area. Awesome.

I literally headed straight back out again. I eventually found an atm and really fancied just going shopping, but it was time to eat! I had already found a vegan restaurant online – and it did not disappoint. For single people, they just put you on a table with other random people. Which was fine. I had one German girl and one Dutch boy. They were both at the end of their trip and really nice. I had some mint lemonade (still water blended with fresh lemons and mint – so good!) and a coconut tofu curry. Which came with what was basically a tray of rice! It was really good.

Rather than head of shopping straight away, I decided to have an early night instead – it’s been a long day!!

Sunday 5 March 2015

Another night of barely any sleep. Feeling rubbish. Still got a cold, all blocked up and managed to be sick. Not a good start. The hotel had free breakfast, I managed a few spoons of plain porridge oats made with water and banana.

But can’t sit around feeling ill. Things to see!

I’ve hired a driver for the day to take me around to some of the further away temples (in the Kathmandu Valley area). I could try the public bus, but really not feeling up to that!! Or try and get taxis at each place, but that seems like a faf. So driver it is!

He was on time at 9am and we headed out of the central city, heading South towards Patan. There were several demonstrations happening across the city, not sure what they were protesting/celebrating! And the driver spoke no English, so I couldn’t ask! It was so busy with slow moving traffic, just so many vehicles everywhere and lots of people moving around. We crossed the river into the southern part of the city, it took half an hour to reach the area of Patan and it’s own Durbar Square.

Patan – also known as Lalitpur (City of Beauty) – was once an independent city state, but after years of the spread of the growing cities, it is basically now a suburb of Kathmandu.

There are three Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu area – Patan, Kathmandu city and Bhakatpur. There isn’t an entrance as such, just streets that lead into the square. On a couple of these streets there are stands where tourists can pay an entrance fee. Locals don’t pay, they just wander around as they please. It feels a bit cheeky to charge $5 entrance fee to see the outside of a few buildings (that you can see from standing at any of the streets leading to the square!). The temples in the square were constructed during the 14th to 18th centuries. There were buildings, pagodas, small temples and a waterhole. All the buildings were red and black coloured, and covered in ornately carved windows and statues. It was bustling with people moving around and hardly any tourists at all. The square was small and after wandering around, I headed off down some of the smaller streets.

This was a local housing area; people hanging out on their front steps, children running around wells and small stalls selling mostly chillies and onions. I stumbled across a temple called the Golden Temple. With just a 30p entrance fee it was comparatively a bargain! It was a Hindu temple. There was an inner courtyard full of statues covered in tikka (people rub this coloured powder onto statues and themselves after prayers), rows of prayer wheels and oil burning all around. It was a really nice temple.

I wandered around the streets a bit more and went into a few shops. One shop I went to sold singing bowls. I’ve never seen these before, they are ornately painted brass bowls, which when you run a wooden stick around the rim they made a sound. They ‘sing’. They are sometimes used during meditation. I really like them!!

Fruit stalls flanked the main entrance of the square and I bought a hand of bananas, nice sweet mini ones. Bit expensive at £1, but wasn’t feeling up to bartering for bananas. And they were really good!

Just behind the fruit stalls was another small temple. It was possible to climb onto this temple for a great view looking out onto the busy square and the bustle below.

It took nearly half an hour to cross back to the Eastern side of the city. There was just so much traffic. The next stop was Pashupatinath, a temple area just past the airport. This area is home to the most important Hindu temple in Nepal. Many Hindu pilgrims come to worship here. Whilst tourists are allowed to wander around the surrounding area, non-Hindus are not allowed into the temple itself. This is because many years ago some Muslims entered into some of the Hindu temples and destroyed a lot of important relics. So they aren’t running that risk anymore!

Despite not being able to enter anything, there is still a steep $10 entrance fee!!! Just past the entrance booth, there are touristy stalls all along the walkway heading to the river. They were selling the usual – t shirts, a lot of brass statues and bowls, and every colour powder paint you could want (what they use at Holi when they throw it around). The temple area is set on the banks of the Bagmati river – this is a holy river and similarly to Varanasi (India – I visited 2 years ago) funerals are held on the banks. And despite being holy, it was rather dirty looking.

Today there were several funerals happening, 3 funeral pyres were burning away a short distance away on the other side of the river. There are a couple of bridges separating two parts of the river. On one side of the bridge, ordinary people are allowed funerals. And on the other, this is reserved for members of the royal family. There was a massacre of the royal family back in 2010 and the funerals of 10 people took place here. There was one funeral happening on the royal side today, it had not yet started, the body was covered in yellow cloth and laying by the side of the river.

Some people were right up in the funerals taking photos, that seemed totally wrong, I stuck to the other side of the river bank.

Sadhus people are those who have left ordinary life and are wandering holy men. They lead a life of celibacy, yoga and a search for enlightenment. They were all old men, wearing tatty sheets as clothes and many with very long dreadlocked hair. Some had painted their whole bodies and others just their faces. Many of them were sat around the complex in small groups soliciting photos, for money. I couldn’t come here and not get a photo…so even though I am opposed to paying for photos, I did pay them 30p for a photo.

I left the river along one of the other exit routes and ended up in a local market, full of all religious stuff. Flower garlands, small bunches of flowers, bracelets, incense, books and paintings. It went on forever! There is a hill, with steps leading up away from the river. I headed up to have a look and ended up in a large temple complex of stupas – it was cool. Felt a bit like the temple ruins of Cambodia.

After an hour of wandering around, I left, just as another funeral was a starting and some of the others were coming to an end, with the ashes left from the burnt wood being swept into the river.

The next stop looked like it should only be about 5 minutes away, but we spent 20 minutes in standstill traffic!! The street was a large shopping area, everything from hardware to clothes and food. Kathmandu is full of UNESCO World Heritage sites – my next stop, Bodhnath is one of them. But also Patan (this morning) and Bhakatpur (going there tomorrow) are too.

Bodhnath is a Buddhist stupa and is the largest in Asia. A large, white, circular concrete base and a white tower which has the eyes of the buddha painted on all sides. There are prayer flags draped from the top, down the sides all the way to the bottom. I’ve never seen so many flags on a stupa before – it was so cool.

There was a man standing on the top of the dome putting more flags up!! It’s Nepali new year next week and they are getting ready!! The first stupa at Bodhnath was thought to have been built around AD 600, when the Tibetan king (Songtsen Gampo) converted to Buddhism. The king is thought to have constructed the stupa as an act of penance after killing his father. However the stupa has been destroyed many times since by invasions, so today’s stupa is a modern construction. Stupas were originally built to house holy relics. I’ve been to many that have a tooth or hair of the buddha. This one is thought to contain a bone.

Thousands of pilgrims come here each day to circle around the base of the stupa, many turning the prayer wheels which are running around the entire circumference. These are small brass cylinders that spin when you run your hands along them. It’s also possible to head up onto the base for a close up view and you can wander around the whole circle of the base. This was cool!

I got stopped several times by groups of indian tourists who all wanted photos of me. Individual photos, group photos and couple shots. And that was just 1 group of them….! I had forgotten how annoying that was.

All around the stupa is a circle of shops and cafes. So many of them!! As well as a few clinics for monks…!!

After I had done a full loop, I realised it was 1pm and given my lack of food all day, I was quite hungry. There were plenty of cafes to choose from, so I picked one at random which had a rooftop and ordered a traditional food – momos.

Momos are small steamed dumplings. Traditionally a Tibetan food, but this area acted as a route between Lhasa and Kathmandu and many stopped here to pray for a safe onward journey, so there is quite a Tibetan influence in religion and food in this area. Typical fillings of momos seem to be buffalo or vegetables. I opted for vegetables!! They were really good!! I’m not usually into dim-sum type food (after a bad experience in Hong Kong!) but these were so tasty!!

Lunch ended up being quite expensive at £3…..(I know, not a lot of money but momos are supposed to be a cheap fast food. Paying for the view here!).

A 20 minute drive back into the touristy markets of Thamel and I was dropped back at the hotel at 2.30pm. Time to go shopping!! There is so much choice – endless shops of T-shirts, baggy trousers, prayer flags, singing bowls, felt animals, fruit, maps, flags, masks, etc etc etc. Exciting!! I spent the next hour wandering around the busy streets and getting back into bartering – it’s been a while!!

I bought a t shirt (£2) some prayer flags (60p), some new elephant trousers (£3) and a singing bowl (£10 – probably a bit overpriced, but it’s a nice one and I’m being quoted silly prices everywhere). I also tried buying fruit in several places, but everywhere was trying to charge £1 per mango!! Ridiculous – I buy them cheaper than that in London!! So sadly no more fruit. That was fun.

Through the maze of streets I made my way back to the hotel. At 4pm my driver was back and ready to take me to a different hotel – I’m joining a group and the starting hotel is outside of the touristy area. It was a slow drive out of Thamel, weaving between people and motorbikes and other cars along the narrow streets. The new hotel is set in pretty grounds, but not as nice as the guesthouse I just left!! I’m sharing a room now – with an English girl who is really nice. I met the rest of the group shortly afterwards at 5.30pm. 14 of us – 4 Australian, 2 German, 1 Canadian, 6 English, 1 Swedish. And all really nice – seems like a good group this time!!

We headed into town for dinner, back to Thamel but as we entered from a different side I didn’t recognise the part we were in (despite wandering around here earlier!!). For dinner I had my first dal bhat – the traditional Nepali meal that I will probably eat for almost every single meal whilst here!! Similar to an Indian thali, you get free refills of everything. On your silver tray you have rice, lentil soup, curried vegetables, cooked spinach, a popadom and a pickle. It was really tasty! And I ate way too much…!! A top travelling tip seems to be that after 8pm bakeries discount by 25%. They were packed full of people (and us….) stocking up for breakfast! By 9pm we were back in the hotel and heading to bed!! Wow. Early night again!

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