I’ve heard the stories, I’ve read about it, I’ve seen it on TV, but as a first time Asia-visitor you cannot be fully prepared what it’s like to participate in the utter chaos the traffic is. That is really the first thing you encounter when you get out of the airport, after the standing in every wrong line to get through the visa process.
I think they officially drive on the left hand side, but I can’t tell for sure… The taxis don’t have seat belts and consider a mere centimetre enough to pass any other vehicle or person. They also think it’s a good idea to drive their cars through a 5m wide street which has people selling stuff on the side, pedestrians, scooters and motor cycles and then honk at random. It was so tight I was afraid of burning my leg to a scooter exhaust.
Anyway, enough about the traffic. I flew into Kathmandu hoping to get a look at the Himalaya in the background, instead, I got this:
I arrived in the pouring rain and thought this was going to be it, but luckily the sky cleared later and after a much needed nap I ventured out into the grubby, noisy and confusing city Kathmandu is at first sight.
It goes without saying that I got pretty lost, but somehow ended up on Durbar Square where the destruction of the earthquake was quite visible. Here and there you’ll pass a building that’s partly collapsed, but the worst damage seemed to have been on the religious sites.
The next day I headed for one of the largest stupas (Buddhist place of meditation) in the world, Boudhanath Stupa. Also here the destruction was clearly visible, yet they were already busy with the reconstruction. This World Heritage Site is a very imporant place for Tibetan Buddhists who may be on a pilgrimage or have fled to Nepal.
Here’s a little before and after the earthquake of the Boudhanath Stupa: After circling the stupa a few times clockwise, having a look at all the different rituals people perform there which I don’t understand (e.g. throwing rice and money at images of deities), and after enjoying a what felt to me as the best iced coffee I ever had at a rooftop cafe, I headed straight for the next site: the Crematorium.
Yes, at the Pashupinath Temple (which I wasn’t allowed to visit not being a Hindu) they also do rather public cremations on the banks of the Bagmati river. As there were so many things going on at this large complex, I got myself a guide. Or more accurately, the guide got me. Many guides walk around there striking up conversations with tourists and before you know it you’re on a full blown tour and you’re going to have to pay them at the end. I knew it though, and I was fine with it. Kumar was a good guide, friendly and funny. It was also useful because walking around there you have no idea where you’re allowed to go and what is ok to take pictures of (though I only took pictures with my camera and I don’t have a laptop so can’t upload these right now). He told me of all the stages they go through with the cremations and why they do it like that. In short it’s all about returning the body to the elements: Fire (burning of the body), water (remains and ashes are dropped into the river), wind (smoke goes up in the air) and earth (remains dropped into the water seep into the river bed).
The guide also introduced me to the Sadhu, you know, the Hinduist holy men that do yoga and pose for pictures which they charge richly for. I didn’t really want to, but then did it anyway because I did want to take a nice picture of them. There’s just something terribly crooked about sitting next to a Sadhu who puts a tika on my forehead and while smiling at the pictures discussing the price of it all… I secretly took a selfie in the taxi back:
I suppose though, it’s the only way they can earn some money, and with the decreased tourism after the earthquake there’s not much of us to go around…
Back in the hostel I met some random collection of people (Minnesota, Wales, Poland, India and strangely but truly Myanmar) and as it was the Polish guy’s birthday we wanted to do something “fun”, so we ventured out in search of Tibetan hot beer they had heard about. It looked like this and tasted like vinegar:
I don’t recommend it.
Day number 3 I went to the Monkey Temple! Or actually Swayambhunath, another sacred stupa for Buddhists, second most important outside of Tibet after the Boudhanath. I walked there with a little help by Mr. Google Maps, which had calculated a nice route for me. It got me there, but I REALLY wonder who in whatever deity’s name would have mapped that “street” that was a mere path as wide as one foot, which also included a jump over a little stream… Adventure! After that, the ascent of the steps to the temple… By the time I got up there I was absolutely soaked in sweat and my face was so red I was afraid it would explode. So did the people all staring at me I think. I do not understand how these people can walk around in jeans and long sleeved cheap fabric shirts and not break a sweat! How?! HOW?! In all fairness, I am 1350m above my regular altitude and I climbed up another 200 to the top… Shortage of breath can be expected.
There were lots of monkeys on the Monkey Temple, which entertained me for a good while on my way down. Here’s one at the temple eating a banana enjoying a good view over Kathmandu:
And those were my first days in kathmandu! I am now at the All Hands Volunteers base, next post will be about our efforts.