Day five finds me and Sam in Bhaktapur, a small ancient town outside of Kathmandu city but still in the valley.
The past couple of days have been pretty fantastic. After my last entry we went to explore Durbar Square (Durbar means Palace in Nepalese) which involved exploring the overcrowded back streets of Kathmandu.
The thoroughfares through the city are fairly narrow and extremely packed with both people and traffic. The horn system works here too, and it’s common for bikes and taxis to brush you/each other as they pass, where back home they would grind to a halt.
En route to the square we stopped at several temples and other points of interest, including a tailors shop where some of the girls picked up their orders. As ever, we were provided with Chia (tea) while we waited.
At the square itself we took a tour guide who was able to shed light on a lot of the symbolism and history of the religions and buildings. Religion here is Nepalese Buddhism/Hinduism which is strangely entwined and their history is still in the making, with the murder of the royal family just a few years ago which has left the monarchy suspended and the government an ‘interim’ power.
One of the main attractions of the square is the Kumari, a young girl who is revered as a god-descendant of Buddah and has to posses a number of particular qualities before she is chosen over the other candidates every eight or so years (in a similar process to the selection of the Dalai Lama in Tibet). She makes appearances once a day at 4pm, but we were unfortunate to discover that she will only appear if you make a donation, which we were a bit disappointed about.
One of the other important things about this area is nearby Freak Street. In the sixties, Nepal became infested by a western hippy population who came over “in suits, tried the marajuana, went back to their hotels, took of their suits and never went back,” in the words of the guide. The hindu holy men who wear dreads, bright orange clothes and face paints became to be worshipped as gods by the new hippies, and as a result many fake holy men now wander the temples handing out flowers and trying to get money for having a photo with them.
In the evening Sam, Jen and myself went to watch a Hindi movie. Shackalackaboomboom is mostly spoken in Hindi, bar a few lines, which made the plot somewhat thicker, but it was very entertaining, even if using your phone in the cinema is compulsory (and not minded at all by the locals).
On the way back (in the dark), Jen mistook a sewage filled drain on the side of the road for hard paving and ended up knee deep in excrement. Not particularly pleasant, but apparently not a too-rare an experience. We also had to pass massive New Year celebrations in the street which involved large numbers of excited Nepalese jumping up and down in front of a stage erected on the road leading to the palace.
In the evening we went for food at local restaurant OR2A (?) with a few of the other volunteers and ended the night drinking chia with Andy at Organic, a fantastic upstairs cafe overlooking the streets in Thamel.
The next morning Sam, Anna, Jen and myself all went off to the 6.30am mediation and yoga session at a local Buddhist guesthouse. My first attempt at both left my legs dead, but it was a worthwhile experience at improving my state of mind. Afterwards we watched a video on the exile of the Dalai Lama (who’s laugh reminds me of Doctor Hibbert’s from The Simpsons).
We got back to the hotel and met our taxi driver for the day who drove us to Nagakot (via a number of temples and Thimmi, where a famous New Years celebration occurs). We also had the strange and somewhat eye-opening visit to the main Kathmandu cremation site (Pashupatinath) and watched a number of cremations along the river as well as visiting a home for the elderly that had been setup by Mother Teresa.
After visiting Bodhnath Stupa, we finally arrived at the Hotel At The End of The Universe and I managed to get a first full nights sleep after dealing with a large number of flies and a huge spider. We had hoped to make sunrise the net morning, but unfortunately it was overcast so just settled by going back to bed.
After waking again we walked the mountain paths down to Bhaktapur. We were accompanied by a stray dog for the whole three hour walk who we named Nips and then caught the local bus down the town itself.
We got just to the edge of the city when it started to rain. An old man invited us in from under shelter we were in, but we refused only being minutes away from our accommodation, but after a minute the rainfall became so heavy it poured through the structure we were under and he insisted – guiding through what had almost instantly become 5 inches worth of water flowing down the street.
We sheltered on the top floor in not much more than a dark room with a potters wheel and the rest of his family who (like all Nepalese) were more than willing to talk and entertain us until the rain passed.
I’d like to have written more about all this, but the internet cafe is about close. Since we arrived tonight we have also watched a torchlit parade and the huge chariot being heaved through the streets, both to do with the Bisket Jatra festival which goes on for another two days.