02.04.2011 - 02.04.2011 30 °C
We woke, the power was out once again and our room was as dark as night. Ste went on a mission to book us into another hostel and as long as the room didn’t need a candle during the day and didn’t have a mattress like a sack of potatoes, I didn’t really mind where we ended up. I packed my bag by candlelight, praying that the popular ‘Kathmandu Hostel’ could accommodate us. He returned with bad news, this was peak season and everywhere was full! I slumped onto the bed in despair; I didn’t want my memories of Katmandu to be tainted by this dumpy, rat infested hole! Our only option was to take up the manager’s offer of changing rooms. He took us up to see “The best room in the house” and we were pleasantly surprised! Big window, normal beds…it was fine! He wanted an extra 2 dollars a night, but Ste contested “after we had to sleep in THAT room, for 10 dollars!” “Okay Okay, 10 dollar” The room wasn’t yet ready, so we left our baggage in the lobby. The manager had an attempt at trying to persuade us to “have breakfast in the sunny garden” but we declined. We just wanted to do our own thing! We finally made it out of the gates and into Kathmandu.
Now Kathmandu is the largest and pretty much only city in Nepal, any other ‘cities’ are really just large towns. But for what Kathmandu lacks in size, it is certainly making up for in atmosphere. Take your mind off the game for a second in these heaving narrow streets and you’ll be swept away into the sea of Tiger Balm sellers, pashmina pushers and trekking touts. We soon realised that engaging in any sort of conversation with the seemingly friendly locals in Thamel was a mistake. As a developing-world city, Katmandu is certainly on the ball when it comes to milking the tourist money.
We didn’t want a guide but we soon had two of them by our sides. Ste didn’t want to go in the art shop but that didn’t stop his over obliging feet from carrying him in there. My only safety from these nuisances was my camera; I could spend a good 10 minutes composing one shot, far too busy to engage in any sort of chit chat about the small Stupa we were currently at. After a good 15 minutes we finally managed to break free and with a “have a good day” they vanished.
We then circled the blinding white Stupa in a clockwise direction, turning the mantra scrolls as we went; one useful piece of information the terrible twosome gave us! There was a lot going on in this tiny square, under the fluttering prayer flags that radiated from the central spire of the Stupa. All around there were Stone Buddha’s with colourful paint splashed onto their foreheads.
We kicked off our shoes (much to my relief in the sweltering heat) and entered a small temple. The decoration was all very gaudy but there were some great intricate painted details on the doors and walls. I loved the tiny dragon bells that hung on the corners of the outside walls.
We weren’t really sure where we were going, so we aimed for one of the larger Stupas called Swaynambhunath, or the more easily pronounceable’ Monkey Temple’ that was marked on our city map. It was a fair distance, but it would give us a chance to explore our new Nepali surroundings. A couple of sharp turns and we bid farewell to the tourist hub of Thamel, wandering into the unknown. We were met with smiles by the curious locals, some even stopped in their tracks to give us a “Namaste.”
There was so much to take in and So much going on in so little space. The sights, sounds and smells of Kathmandu were intoxicating. Women draped in vibrant saris hawked fruits and vegetables beside dormant cows amongst the piles of rubbish. Ancient men gathered in their masses to watch the world go by from some steps above. People scrunched fabric across their noses to avoid inhaling the asphyxiating dust thrown up by the oblivious taxi drivers that drove a gnat’s breath from their feet. The tiny dollhouse-like shops were also fascinating to peer into, where you could catch a glimpse of some overripe meat festering in the heat, or a man meticulously weighing out curry powders and the like. It would be impossible to walk these streets and not be bowled over by what you see every foot of the way.
We stopped at a junction and I snapped some kids playing on a railing; they put on quite a show when they spied the camera! “Namaste!” They shouted, jumping to get in the photo. The children in Kathmandu are far from shy, everywhere we went they loved to shout “hello!” “How are you” at the top of their lungs. This was more often than not accompanied by “Rupees?” “I am hungry” or “I am Thirsty” “You buy me Water?” – water which they then take back to the shop and get a part refund!
Yes I feel sorry for their situation, but we passed a drinking water outlet on our way to the Stupa and so we were not falling for that one. It is very difficult to say no to young children especially when they speak very good English, but it was something we were growing accustomed to fast in Kathmandu.
We had to ask for directions once along the way, which seemed to interest every man and his dog, as there was soon quite a gathering around our map. With this ease of interaction, Kathmandu had more the feel of a local village rather than a 1.9 million strong city! We were not far from the Stupa now and so we continued in a straight line. We crossed a bridge and my god, the stench from the river is something that will never leave me. I peered over; putrid waste lined the shores and the stink emanating from the detritus was of raw sewage, it wasn’t a pleasant sight but it was one that I felt compelled to take a photo of nonetheless. There were even a couple of pigs that’s called this garbage dump home!
By the time we reached the stairs of Monkey Temple the sun was low in the sky and was illuminating the thick dust that hung in the air. We grabbed a drink from a corner shop before commencing the 20 minute climb to temple summit. We made our way through the crowds of beggars congregated outside the main entrance; many of the women hoping to stir our emotions by forcing a bedraggled looking child into our path. As we climbed further we left the majority of them behind and joined the mass of tourists heaving themselves up the steep stone stairs. As we neared the top, we were pulled to the side to pay the 200 Rupee (each) entrance fee at a little booth; only the European tourists were being asked to cough up. I was thankful for the breather before tackling the remaining few, near vertical stairs.
We finally reached the giant stupa of Swaynambhunath that was basking in the warm glow of the afternoon sun. We had risen above the dust bowl streets and into clouds of incense and crowds of monkeys! The troop certainly looked like they ruled the roost, swinging from the ornate brass edgings of the stupa, probably scouting out who their next meal would come from. Not wanting a repetition of the water bottle thieving monkey scenario that occurred at Angkor Wat, Ste tucked our drinks safely away in his bag.
It was at that moment while craning my neck back to admire the towering dome of the White-washed Stupa, with its watchful eyes gazing out across Kathmandu that it hit home that I had finally arrived in Nepal. During both the planning and beginning stages of the trip, Nepal had always seemed as though it would occur in some obscure distant future, and now here we were after travelling over a total of 50,000 miles. Beautiful though it was, this stupa seemed to mark the culmination of a year’s worth of travelling. Both Nepal and India are the home straight of what has been an epic journey.
It was very relaxing up there, despite the crowds and it was intriguing to watch the comings and goings of the Buddhist devotees. We took our time, ambling though the small village of curios shops where we could have picked up anything from a goat shaped brass door handle, to a Chinese style tea set.
We rested on a wall to the chanting sound of ‘Om mani padme hum’ before a rather large monkey moved us onward, down to the western side of the complex. It was prayer flag galore down there! Stand still for long and people will assume you to be an object to secure a brightly coloured string of mantras to! The trees were laden with them, with every available branch put to use.
Not wanting to be left traipsing unfamiliar streets in the dark, we agreed to head back to Thamel before sunset and so we looped our way back around to the Eastern gate. On our descent we were collared by a group of kids who were insistent that they would escort us safely back to Thamel. We kindly declined their offer a good thirty times “You should really go back to the temple, we have no money to give you” before they left us in peace. If only it weren’t true!