After a slightly rocky start to my arrival in Nepal I have decided that this place is pretty damn cool! My flight from Sri Lanka to Doha was slightly marred by the fact that my video screen was not working so instead of zoning out with bad american films I had to resort to reading bad american sci-fi novels instead…actually “Rendevous with Rama” by Arthur C. Clarke turned out to be a very good Sci-fi novel, but that’s not the point. I got into to Kathmandu at 8am, sans luggage and with no helpful reassurance as to when it would arrive. I got to the Kathmandu guesthouse to find my room wasn’t ready and so decided not to bother showering or complaining and instead settled in the sanctury of the cafe with a cappucino and pancakes. After a brief wander around Thamel, during which time I passed at least seven huge bookshops full of an amazing selection of literature and guide books and only having two guys approach be to ask if I needed a taxi, I had decided that Nepal was literature-rich and hassle-low which endered the country to me immediately! By late that afternoon, both Kristy and my luggage had arrived and my initial annoyance had completely evapourated.
How to describe Kathmandu? The city is like everything I always imagined in my mind and never thought could possibly exist. We are staying in the traveller’s central of old Kathmandu, Thamel. Narrow streets lined with shops selling everything from prayer bowls to fake northface trekking geer, travel agencies, cafes, guesthouses, restaurants, rickshaws, motorbikes, taxis, tour touts and temples. Everything feels somehow very old, as if you could remove the cars and light bulbs and be looking at a street view that has not changed much in hundreds of years. The people are a mixture of indian, chinese, mongolian and tibetian features dressed in anything from sarees, to traditional nepalese outfits, jeans to shalwar kameezes.
Kristy and I spent our first day exploring the vast number of Hindu and Buddhist temples, pagodas and stupas around Durbar square and wandering around the muddy streets of the old part of the city. The food here is fantastic, I am already hooked on momos, a kind of light dumpling snack filled with meat or vegetables and lassis, a kind of curd milkshake with fruit. Everywhere smells of incense and the oil lamps burned in the temples, of motorbike fumes, or sickly sweet rotting vegetables. We also visited Swayambhunath, a hill top buddhist temple affectionately known as ‘Monkey Temple’ due to the large numbers of roaming Rhesus macaques scurrying over the walls. On the way up at one of the stalls I was shown how to play a traditional game called ‘Tiger Moving Game’ played on a slate board with 20 brass goats and four tigers. After managing to beat the stall seller of course I ended up buying the board and pieces, as did Kristy and we now spend our lunchtimes perfecting our respective ‘tiger’ or ‘goat’ stratgies!
Kathmandu is a photographer wonderland. The temples, the architecture, the life, the clothing, the people. There are also numerous little nooks and crannies from which to surruptiously take clandestine photographs of people, without them noticing, which is always handy. But whether it’s mothers and babies, buddhist monks examining stone tablets, local guys relaxing on the steps of stupas or, like today in Putan, crowds of people gathering around in circles playing drums and singing everywhere you look is just the perfect photograph begging to be taken. We’ve been blessed by pilgrims, had numerous red spots daubed on our heads, fed the pigeons to increase our karma, learnt about the hindu and buddhist religions in the fascinating Putan museum, ridden around on a crazy bicycle rickshaw, brought children’s bird whistles in a hindu festival and for my birthday meal tonight we went to a traditional Newari house for a huge meal and cultural show of local dances. They kept pouring us small clay pots of local rice wine which is incredibly strong! So tomorrow we are getting up at the crack of dawn to see another festival in a nearby town to Kathmandu and then we are on to Pokara by local bus which itself could prove to be somewhat of an adventure sport. The Lonely Planet helpfully points out that your chances of dying in a road accident in Nepal are 30 times higher than in Europe! Fantastic!