Deciding we needed a little more cultural insight into life and religion in Nepal, other than that provided by the Lonely Planet, Kristy and I decided to spend a day with a guide, Krishnu, visiting a few places in and around Kathmandu. We started off at the rather unsocialble hour of 6.30am, but then Nepal truly is an early to bed, early to rise kind of country. We caught the morning prayer crowds working their way clockwise around the Bodhnath Stupa, one of the biggest in the world. It is almost totally hidden from the road, you walk through an archway and a huge area is cleared from all the mish mash of houses and this enormous white domed stupa covered in pigeons appears (it is so wrong that they are sacred here!). We also went to peer at the monk’s college and saw them all at their morning meditations dressed in dark red and bright yellow robes, looking very serious for teenage boys! From monks to monkeys, we then went up to Pashupatinath, one of the most important Hindu shrines in Nepal, and for Indians as well, as supposedly it is the birthplace of Shiva, the most important of the hindu gods, creator and destroyer (depending of course on which side of the bed he got out of that morning). It is a beautiful complex of temples, houses for the slightly hippy, dreadlocked holy men, cremations along the river that runs through the centre with burning funeral pyres and the whole place is totally overrun with glossy haired, quizzical looking Rhesus macaque monkeys.
We spent the rest of the day in Bhaktakpur outside Kathmandu for the Gai Jutra, or cow festival. Legend goes that an ancient King of Nepal lost his son, and his wife was so overcome with grief he began to think she was being overly indulgent. He ordered all his subjects to parade for one day in the Durbar square showing tributes to all their family members that they had lost throught the year so his wife would see that she was not the only one. But he also asked them to make it entertaining and humourous. So in present day Bhaktapur, by midday, every temple and step and rooftop cafe was covered to overflowing with locals and the odd tourist and a huge never-ending prcoession was weaving its way through the crowds. Families with decorated towers showing photos of their loved ones, burning incense, plaster cows on platforms, brass bands, young children dressed up in gold outfits (supposedly to resemble cows) and lines of boys and teenagers dancing with sticks…also, bizarrely the odd man dressed up in a saree with make-up on, just to get attention. It was loud and colourful and completely crazy but great fun to watch!
The following day (don’t ask me which day of the week, that has gone totally out of the window again) Kristy and I headed off down a bit and East a bit to a small hill top town called Bandipur about four hours from Kathmandu. We got dropped off on the main road after a mildly nailbiting bus ride and, with two Irish girls, got picked up in a rusty old jeep to drive the 10km up the hill to the town. Bandipur has a bizarre feeling of a old English market town. The cars can’t get into the centre due to the paved steps along the road. Wooden buildings have knarled old columns holding up the overhanging first floors, geraniums and pot plants adorn the side of the road and into the valley there are beautiful views of the terrraced rice fields and nearby villages. The place also seemed to be full of school children who unashamedly loved having their photos taken! We walked up to a tiny hindu temple at the crest of a hill and sat chatting with Rasu from our guesthouse and listening to him sing us Nepalese pop songs! That night as we slept in a our tiny brick walled room, the rain started pourring down outside the window, gently lulling us to sleep.
Rain was less amusing the following morning when we had to leave and catch the bus to Pokara. Actually, we didn’t get too wet and by the time we caught stuck in the 90 minute traffic jam outside the town, it was lovely and sunny and we got a chance to chat to our bus drivers and a few passengers, people here really are lovely! Pokara is a total tourist pre-trekking hang out, but very endearing none the less and the lakeside views are absolutely beautiful. Being the end of monsoon season although the sky is clear and blue, the fluffy white clouds are tending to stick very closely to the mountains and the result is that those pesky himalayas have not shown so much a snow capped peak since we arrived! It is still a lovely view, with the jungle covered hill slopes rising up from lake, the rice paddies squeezed into gaps between the restaurants and the waterline and the hills turning blue black to grey in the distance until they are swallowed by the clouds. In the evening we were playing cribbage after dinner (which I have introduced Kristy to although my constant victories are, I feel, getting a little boring) when we got invited to play Knockout whist with an Irishman, an Englishman and a Belgium (no, this is not the start of a bad joke!) Despite getting nicknamed ‘Ruthless’ after the first 10 minutes I lost all the games so Kristy finally got to have her card revenge!
This morning we got a taxi up to a viewpoint called Sarangkot and sat drinking tea watching the early morning cloud rise up from the valley, the river Seti cutting through the gorge and the early morning sun just breaking through the clouds. On the two hour walk back down to Pokara I managed to slip and fall on my arse three times, put my hand in stinging nettles and get leech bites on my ankle…oh and yesterday a crow shat on my arm from a tree. I seem to have temporarily become a walking diaster magnet!
Despite this however, after spending a few hours relaxing with drinks in a riverside cafe called Boomerang, Kristy and I decided to hire a wooden boat and go paddling around on the river before sunset. Even perched precariously on the back with both feet dangling in the water I managed not to fall in so maybe I back in the karma good books…