And by lazy, I mean sick. Really, really sick. Only it wasn't me for a change, and this time it was me trying to convince Andrew to drink some electrolyte water and eat some vegetable soup. Needless to say, it was a quiet day, and we didn't venture far… We almost didn't venture at all, until I convinced Andrew that a short walk would be better than no walk at all. Getting sick in a foreign country is not fun at all. We were expecting it to happen in India, so I guess we might have a little preview of what's to come. Let's hope our stomachs have toughened up at least a little bit for the next month. If not, we have some back up Nepalese electrolyte mix!
In addition to Kathmandu celebrating Tihar Festival (Diwali to most), Newari New Year was celebrated today by the Newari (or Newa) people. This has been a little confusing and hard to follow which holiday is being celebrated by which group of people, but interesting nonetheless. We were on a mission to get a taxi to a smaller town in the Kathmandu valley, but had a hard time finding one for a decent price, and then had a hard time finding one at all… So we ended up staying in the city and following the Newari parade inadvertently throughout the day. The Newari parade was originally a motorbike rally (An Australian married to a Newari man told me at a coffeeshop). She said that the parade of trucks must be the follow up to the motorbikes. It was mostly a lot of young men drinking rice wine, dancing to drums, and blasting pop music while skeptical Kathmandu locals watched. And by watched, I mean humored. If I didn't know any better, I would have thought a group of youngsters were being a bit cheeky, but the holiday checked out, and let the minority group celebrate.
We were going to head to another town in the valley, but we decided to stay in the city and soak up the celebrations that were already starting for 'The Festival' as everyone has been calling it here. 'The festival' is the Tihar Festival that is celebrated for five days in Nepal; this year in November. I read a really great explanation about the celebrations in Nepal, here, if you're interested.) Diwali, or as signs have read 'Deepawali' in town, coincides with the Newari (Nepali minority group) New Year as well. The town is covered in lights and it feels a little like Christmas feels back home. Only, without the commercialism, or maybe there is a certain level of commercialism here, it's just not as obvious as things like 'Black Friday' back home. Regardless, there is an air of festivity that we haven't felt in our travels yet. It's really quite lovely to be a part of, even as a bit of an observer.
Diwali is also known as 'the festival of lights' because little clay pots (like the ones in the pictures I took in Bhaktapur) are filled with oil and kept lit throughout the night, in addition to cleaning the house to make Lakshmi feel welcome. Lakshmi is the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity. A friend of mine told me Diwali is best celebrated by wearing new clothes, lighting candles in your home, and enjoying time with your family. I chuckled at her directions. At least I could wear my new scarf, that counts, right?
In the morning, our guest-house owner apologized for the noise outside. (Not that we noticed it being any louder than it is normally) He explained that everyone was cleaning their houses for the festival. As we walked around, the entire city was cleaning. Water was being sloshed out on doorsteps, sponges were taken to garage doors, and garbage on the street was swept up and out of the way. How fabulous is that? A holiday to clean your house and fill it with light? I love it. And then you get to make a beautiful rangoli outside of your house to welcome Hindu dieties, or simply, to bring good luck.
I told Andrew I want to celebrate Diwali from now on. "Oh yea, you're going to celebrate Diwali with all of the Indians in Alexandria?" He asked. "Yes." I responded, wondering if there are any practicing Hindus in my hometown. "I don't mean Native American Indians." He teased. "I. KNOW." I responded, and then told him he was not welcome to my Diwali celebration next year.
Dogs and Cows alike had marigold necklaces and tikka powder on their foreheads. When we reached Durbar Square, one woman fed the cow and then touched its forehead and then bowed before it. She laughed afterwards in that "Oh cow, what are you doing with all of that red tikka on yourself?" But I can't be entirely sure that's what she was chuckling about.
We went back to our favorite Momo (dumplings) restaurant and then walked around admiring all of the rangolis and watching all of the children go from shop to shop singing and dancing and even beating on a drum for money. Like a much louder version of "trick or treat" that may last for all five days of the festival. I was in love with Diwali until I reached into my backpack for my polaroid camera to take a picture to give to a little girl next to her rangoli… and it wasn't there.
I knew this was going to happen sooner or later… My friends and I all unintentionally took turns getting pick-pocketed in Prague, my wallet was lifted the first weekend back in America after my last long-term travel jaunt, and one of my students in Korea stole my John Deere tractor keychain when I left my keys behind in a classroom. Getting my polaroid camera taken after seventy full days without a problem is probably pretty good odds, especially considering what kind of technology we're carrying around. I'm still bummed about it though. It has been SO FUN surprising strangers by printing out a picture for them to keep. Just this morning, I snapped a little girl's picture after her mom encouraged her to wave to me. When I walked away, the mother was showing other vegetable vendors the picture and had the biggest smile on her face.
I came home frustrated with myself for getting so comfortable and not being more aware. Andrew hugged me, went back out to ask the restaurant if it had slipped out by accident, and came back with some Haribo treats to make me feel better. I have around twenty packs of z-ink paper with me that I figure I may as well hold onto. You know, just in case I rack up enough Thank You points, or see the same camera for sale in a fancy mall in the UAE, or maybe when we make it to England? OR If you're not sure what to get me for Christmas, a replacement Polaroid would be lovely.
Everyone raved about Nagarkot. "It's so beautiful! You can see Mount Everest!" They all exclaimed. Good one. We couldn't see anything, and the "town" basically was one road that winded around the mountain tops. We woke up for the sunrise, granted I was pretty much awake all night with the "Kathmandu stew" as Andrew likes to call it, but there wasn't much to see through the thick haze that had not yet dissipated. I went back to sleep, Andrew went out to get water and then forced me to drink it, until I was well enough to eat a plain pancake for breakfast and walk around Nagarkot.
Nagarkot would have been nice, had the weather cooperated, the guesthouse owners not so pushy, and maybe I had been a little warmer and not sick. Despite all of this though, the town largely felt empty, run-down, and like a ghost-town. So few people were out and about when we expected having a harder time even finding a room, and no one was super friendly when you would pass them walking on the road.
The highlight of our visit was the local bus we decided to take back to Bhaktapur. A taxi to Bhaktapur would cost us at least 800 Rs "Ok, final price, very good for you!" one driver insisted. $9.00 isn't that bad, for the 22 kilometers to Bhaktapur, but I was just a little tired of the feeling I got in Nagarkot where everyone was trying to make a buck off of us. The local bus cost 40 Rs. ($0.45) and I knew it would be more of an adventure than the taxi.
And it totally was. After the first three stops (all within about 400 meters of where the bus departed) Andrew and I made guesses as to how many stops would be made and how long it would take to get to Bhaktapur. It had taken 30-40 minutes by taxi the previous day. The local bus left at 12:15 pm. Andrew guessed we wouldn't get to Bhaktapur until nightfall. I guessed we would roll in by 3:30. Then Andrew's "more serious" guess was 3:31pm with 40 stops. I countered with 39 stops.
We were both off. way off. We got into Bhaktapur by 1:30 pm with a grand total of 23 stops. Men were on the roof, women piled huge bags of rice into the aisle, and the man collecting busfare stood in the open doorway jumping on and off with passengers and hitting the side of the bus everytime it got too close to the edge of the road. At one point we passed a much larger "Tourist" bus only holding two passengers. I wondered if they felt a bit silly as they looked in on our 30+ loaded smaller bus.
We got into Bhaktapur, unsure of where the next local bus would drop us off in Kathmandu, so got a taxi back to the city, where the electricity promptly went out. Go figure.
We started our day off with a walk from Thamel to Swayambhunath, also known as The Monkey Temple. At first, I thought the nickname 'Monkey Temple' existed simply because monkeys happened to inhabit the hill. According to legend, the monkeys are holy. An enlightened being, Manjusri (who is associated with trascendent wisdom) was raising the hill that Swayambhunath sits on. For some reason (I don't quite get why) Manjusri was supposed to leave his hair short, but he let it grow. Lice grew and transformed into the monkeys that now roam the hill and steal offerings left at the stupa.
After 'Monkey Temple,' we traveled around Kathmandu Valley to the ancient Newar town, Bhaktapur. Another UNESCO World Heritage site, Bhaktapur held a (surprise!) Durbar Square and lots of temples. It's the third largest town in the Kathmandu valley, and famous for its wood, metal, and stonework. The most obvious was the wood work, and the pottery that seemed to be made and sold everywhere in the town.
Our walk to the temple felt very much like the walking tour we went on earlier in the week. I was happy to walk along taking pictures when I felt like it, that is, until I was a little bit overwhelmed with all of the garbage thrown into the river and watching people go about their daily routines (washing their hair, bathing, and getting dressed) right next to the waste strewn into and onto the banks of the river.
We are so lucky to have a developed sanitation system. Can you even imagine bathing in this water? This is just one of the many instances that I feel so very fortunate. I cringe when the water is cold, and after today, I feel spoiled for doing so. It's clean, it comes from a faucet in a tiled bathroom, and I'm cringing because it's not the perfect temperature? Obviously I need to re-evaluate a few things…
After climbing up a steep set of stairs, we arrived to the top of Swayambhunath. It was like a smaller – much smaller – version of Boudhanath – with holy monkeys. The stupa was the center of colorful waving prayer flags. Different groups were in prayer behind the side we climbed up to the top. Dogs and monkeys stole and ate the rice and fruit offerings around the stupa.
On our way back to collect our bags and a taxi to Bhaktapur, we took a bit of a detour and ended up walking with some cows who were not pleased to be sharing the road. Not only did it turn on Andrew at one point, but it started picking up speed at another, and I walked quickly to stand behind a bike with a Nepalese man keeping a safe distance. There are a lot of animals roaming the streets here, and most seem to be regarded with the same indifference we regard birds at home. They have all seemed pretty tame, that is until this one reared back on passersby with Andrew and I nearly in too close of range.
Thankfully, Bhaktapur's animals (chickens mostly) were on the tamer side.
Bhaktapur offered more to do than we were told by our Kathmandu guest-house owner. It had a small town vibe to it, with lots of tourists milling around, or leaning up against pagodas in the Durbar Square reading or people watching. We wandered outside of the tourist areas, tried the custard that the town is known for, and hunted down more momos (think mandu in Korea or dumplings in China) to snack on while we sat above the town on a restaurant rooftop.
We were intrigued when the town literally shut down between 8:00 and 9:00 pm. Because of our late afternoon snack, we didn't go out for dinner until it was too late to eat at any of the recommended restaurants. They were all closed, or in the process of closing their shutters and pulling chairs in. We barely made it to a corner shop to get a snack before it, too shut down for the night. Our room was so cold, I crawled directly into bed, still zipped up in my fleece just to keep warm… Needless to say, I did not get back out to take a picture of the room, which was so tiny, you're really not missing anything – except for the fake flower displays.
After an hour and a half waiting inside the tourist agency for our $25.00 car and driver for the day, we finally set off to see the thre must-sees of the city. Seriously, an hour and a half! We went to this agency because they brought us into the city at a fair price, and quoted us a cheap car (we think because they thought we would sign up for a trekking tour with them when they gave us their sales pitches for every. possible. tour.) on our first night in Kathmandu.
By the time we were on our way to Boudhanath, we had little patience for the Kathmandu traffic, and were anxious to see something, walk around, and do more than just sit and wait! Despite the tourists and the army of Chinese photographers, Boudhanath was a site to see, followed by a somewhat morbid experience at Pashupatinath, and an expected (after Kathmandu Durbar Square the day before) visit to Patan Durbar Square.
Boudhanath is one of the most important places of pilgimage for the Buddhist.It's the center of Himalayan Buddhist and studies in the Kathmandu Valley. According to the pamphlet we were given with our entrance ticket, it's one of the largest and "most significant" Buddhist monuments in the world.
Basically, Boudhanath is a giant stupa with different legends concerning its origin. My favorite is the legend from teh Himalayan Buddhist who believe a widow is responsible for what is now one of the four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Nepal. Jyazima (the widow) didn't have much money as a chicken seller, however she wanted to make a large offering to Buddha. When she asked the local king for permission to make a great offering, he said yes, but she had to use an area of land "measuring the size of a single buffalo skin." She agreed, but instead of laying the skin on the ground as one might do normally, she cut the skin into strips, laid the strips end to end, making a large area, and claimed the land that lie inside the buffalo strips. Genius- right? All of the rich got upset at her "trickery" and complained, but the king stood by the permission granted to Jyazima. It's suggested that the meaning of the stupa has her name in it, but I didn't see this anywhere, aside from the pamphlet handed out about Boudhanath.
We walked around the stupa, clockwise like pilgrims and other visitors following suit. There were so. many. people. And while it was cool, again, it was a hard balance to strike between paying our respects to this holy site and not getting annoyed with the other tourists and photographers that were everywhere. Lots and lots of prayer flags were strung up, and I enjoyed listening to them flap in the wind almost in perfect sync with the prayers that were being chanted. A man oiled the prayer wheels around the base of the stupa after his son ran ahead to spin them all before him. Monks sat tiredly watching the tourists go by, and vendors hawked religious artifacts. It was nice, but when we arrived back at where we started, we were ready to go.
Andrew says I do not have the budget (let alone room in the old backpack) to buy adorable baby clothes when one of our own is not in our near future. He's right. However, I thought a little Nepali/Tibetan outfit might be the perfect addition to my new collaboration with Zengerine.com. In the very near future, there will be a collection on Zengerine.com where items I have found around the world will be featured and select items will be sold to lucky buyers! More on that later, but seriously, how cute are these shirt-jackets?
Our next stop was Pashupatinath, one of the most significant Hindu temples in the world. Tourists are not allowed inside, but instead free to pay a steep entry fee to roam around the outskirts of the temple and then along the banks of the Bagmati River. This river is a spiritual property where Hindus are cremated along side the banks only after they are dipped into the river three times. While we were there, several fires were blazing, and one body was carried down to the bank and covered with a cloth waiting to be carried and dunked into the river. We didn't get a guide, because we knew we had little time (thanks to our hour and a half sucked up at the travel agency office in the morning) and didn't want to rush someone else explaining what was going on. It felt wrong being there, not only as an observer, but again, watching other tourists take pictures of the cremations, river, and most likely mourners sitting on its banks. It didn't help that every few yards someone would approach us asking if we would like a guide (for a fee, of course) and dressed up Sadhus (wandering monks, most likely dressed in gold robes and lots of make-up) sat idly by for pictures (for a fee, of course) which made me question their dedication to achieving liberation if they spent their time pimping themselves out for pictures.
I didn't take many pictures, and only one brief video of the far sided entrance. It didn't feel right. What pictures I did take were of the grounds away from the funeral like activity or of the backs of the Sadhus.
It was approaching dusk by the time we got to Patan Durbar Square. Again, somehow we managed to walk right in without paying for an entrance fee. (I swear, we weren't doing this on purpose!) It was much like Kathmandu Square, and people watching was the thing to do. So, that's just what I did. But not for long, because Kathmandu is cold once the sun goes down, and my fleece and yoga pants combination simply are not warm enough allowing me to stay out late.
Patan Durbar Square feels like it's still in Kathmandu, but really it's located in the city of Lalitpur. An ancient king resided here. It's one of the three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It wasn't as big as the Kathmandu Durbar Square, but it felt cleaner, and more like a little city square than a world heritage site, especially as I sat and watched a mother and father chase a ball around with their two infants. This game was participated by anyone walking by, which confused the little ones who were pretty much running in circles because they could never get to the ball in time and a passerby would have to stop it and kick it back to where it came from before it got lost.
On our way home, ("home" I should say) we stopped to pick up a yak wool scarf (or three) for me, my mom, and Zengerine! Holy warmth! It could easily double as a blanket, which is exactly what I need to survive these Nepalese nights! One of the beautiful striped ones will be on sale at Zengerine.com in the very near future!
Yes, laying on a Thai beach would have been a lot warmer than Nepal in November, But, I'm officially in photographer's heaven in Kathmandu. Before we even figured out where to go for the (Lonely Planet recommended) walking tour from Thamel to Durbar Square, I was already tickled with some images and only that much more excited to see what else Kathmandu was going to let me take a picture of.
Andrew and I have a (not serious) on-going argument you should probably know about. It's become a major part of our travels, or at least our communication throughout our travels. Here's the thing: I think he's an almost always awesome travel partner. He thinks he is always awesome. He also thinks I'm always awesome, which we all know cannot be true. We don't always agree. However, he IS always awesome when it comes to walking tours.
After stopping for directions a few times, we walked back through Thamel (the backpacker/tourist area of Kathmandu) and found Thahiti Tole; a stupa built in the 15th century with legends differing between keeping snakes and thieves away. I prefer the snake legend. It was busy, and we were asked if we wanted a taxi, or a trekking guide, or even "smoking" more than once, so we didn't stay long. We both preferred immersing ourselves in the small streets and alleyways lined with shops and front steps anyway.
From there, we headed west to the Kathesimbhu Stupa. This was (like many we later discovered) was located in a courtyard surrounded, but what appeared to be average Nepali inhabitants of Kathmandu. I wonder if living expenses differ when your house just happens to be looking over an ancient Buddhist stupa or not… Regardless every courtyard containing a stupa became a bit of a refuge from the hustle and bustle that was the Kathmandu street outside.
Right after the stupa, there was a tiny enclave; Nag Bahal. I felt like I was in someone's private courtyard it was so small, but the men sitting on the steps or in the windows above didn't seem to mind, or even notice we were there. We didn't stay long, as there wasn't much to really see and the shade was much cooler than the sun streaming out on the street.
Given our instruction was to walk past a string of dentist shops, I was amused by all of the signage, and wondered how comfortable Dr. Walker (my dentist since I was a child) would feel with me going into one of the shops to get some work done.
Our next stop on the tour was the Sikha Narayan Temple. I was more enamored by the city life surrounding the square. Rickshaw drivers were parked, some napping at the edge of the temple platform. On the opposite corners, men sold flowers, women sold vegetables, and it seemed that nearly everyone had a newspaper to read.
At the far corner of the square, there was a twisted piece of wood with thousands of coins nailed to it, offerings to the toothache god. We speculated that maybe it could look like a mouth? a set of teeth? Any thoughts?
Back on the tour, I trailed behind Andrew, fascinated by the bright tikka powders for sale on the street. Given that I've only seen red tikka powder before, I was curious what the bright colors were used for. Some google searches led me to discover that it's used largely for decorations for Diwali, which is part of the bigger festival season of Dasain & Tihar, here in Nepal. Regardless of what the tikka powder is used for, the colors are beautiful and really light up a dusty city street.
Asan Tole was our next stop. Bustling is not an accurate word for this busy junction. Andrew and I went our separate ways exploring and observing. Tea vendors operated out of shops lined up on one side of the junction. Motorbikes parked in the middle next to a shrine that men sat around and watched the traffic flow in every direction around them. Women sold flower garlands in front of the Annapurna Temple at one end. Vegetables lay in front of vendors on what appeared to be the street for cars and motorbikes. When Andrew found me and asked if I was ready to go, I smirked, unsure if this was one of those places you could ever be "ready" to leave.
Back in the day, the diagonal street that we took from Asan Tole was the main commercial street in Kathmandu. It was the main caravan route to Tibet, that is, until the construction of another road after an earthquake in 1934.
After walking through the busy street, and eyeing some Ganesh marionette puppets, we ducked into another courtyard to see the Seto Machhendranath Temple, also known as Jan Bahal. Attracting both Buddhists and Hindus, this was the most busy courtyard/temple so far on the tour. According to our Lonely Planet: "Buddhists consider Seto (White) Machhendranath to be a form of Avalokitesvara, while to Hindus he is a rain-bringing incarnation of Shiva." I think, although I'm not sure, it was a group of Hindu women who arrived shortly after we did for some special prayer or blessings. They bought grain and scattered it for the pigeons in the courtyard (for karma), circled the temple before us, and then sat in a line while each received blessings. I wish I knew what was going on, but enjoyed watching all the same.
After this courtyard and temple, we ended up on New Road, which basically sold a lot of imported goods, most interesting to me were the Nepali traditional dresses (daura suruwal) on display when only two months ago I was photographing Muslim headscarves on similar rows of manequins in Kuala Lumpur. Just opposite these dress shops, blanket vendors took up an entire shrine to sell their wares. Had I more room in my backpack, I would have gotten one!
We walked on, weaving through more narrow streets, rarely bumping into other tourists along the way. Later, Andrew and I agreed this was our favorite part of the trip so far. When you're surrounded by dozens of other tourists with cameras (as is the case half of the time on this trip), it takes the beauty away from exploring a new place. Being able to explore, without having to wait for someone else to take the picture you were going to take, or interact with locals without worrying about the "ugly tourist" on the same street as you is just one of the many reasons I wanted to go on this trip…
Our next stop was into another courtyard, this time a longer (much longer) one named Itum Bahal. Apparently it's one of the oldest and largest bahals in the city, although the only difference I could see was that it was much much quieter than the others. We sat and shared some baked goods we got along the way and watched a baby run around without her (his?) pants on. Our favorite part was when she (he?) went up to antagonize a dog until it barked and scared the poor thing away, much to the amusement of the women also watching nearby.
On our way out, we walked past a business (I'm assuming) that was making incense. No one was around, and I admired that there seemed to be an air of trust with the open doors, and goods sitting out. I wish I felt the same sense of trust in all countries! We then passed the junction of the Nara Devi Temple. More interesting though were the uniforms hanging outside of the offices to book bands for weddings and other celebrations. Opposite the band uniforms and dance platform (so Lonely Planet described it to be) I watched a man make snacks that we later discovered to be a big hit for the festival celebrations.
After another stupa, we arrived at our destination: Durbar Square. There are three of these Durbar Squares, and all of them are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This one, Kathmandu Durbar Square is basically a square that was built in front of the royal palace of the old Kathmandu Kingdom. Somehow we managed to sneak into the square without having to pay the 500 Rs (nearly $6.00) entrance fee. We didn't really realize there was a fee to get into the square because it was also a busy thoroughfare with what looked like people walking through the square to get from one side to the other. Perhaps this is how we blended in. We strolled through, climbed atop one of the pagodas and people watched for awhile.
Back on the ground, we wandered around the different structures, I caved and bought a Ganesh marionette, and upon exiting in a different direction, we realized to get back in, we'd have to pay… So we went through the back alleys instead.
We had planned on going up to see Swayambhunath (also known as Monkey Tmeple) after Durbar Square, but worried by the time we would get there or have to walk back, it would be dark. Dusk rolls in around five, and the darkness isn't so much of a problem as the cold that sets in without the warmth of the sun. We headed back to Thamel the way we came, had dinner and I promptly got in bed as I have quickly discovered restaurants in Kathmandu are largely outdoors and buildings are not heated. After two months in SE Asia, and the warmest clothing in my backpack being a pair of yoga pants and a NorthFace fleece… this doesn't bode well for me being warm in Nepal…
It's a little bit surreal waking up in India. Ok, it's only the airport, but still… Maybe it was because India's airport does not feel like what I expect India to feel like… Or maybe it was because we woke up to breaking news on CNN that Obama was indeed re-elected… When Obama was elected four years ago, I was sitting in a bar in Chicago with some of my closest, bestest friends, eating wings, drinking beer, being very "American." I was excited for the change that was happening in my life at the time (as well as what 'bama preached). I was finally enrolled in art school, and thought I was back in America "for good." Skip forward four years, and I'm two months into a trip around the world. Surreal. Yes, maybe that's the best word for it.
We arrived in Kathmandu around noon (from what I remember) and after reading a few blog posts about what to expect or how to survive the airport itself, I felt like I was pumping myself up for a big game or something just stepping off of the plane. It ended up not being a big deal (at all) and we even made it into the city for the suggested 250 rupees!
Exhausted, to say the least, we crashed at our (very bare) guesthouse despite the street noise that is Kathmandu, before ducking out for a quick dinner, and then sleeping some more.