Hello, Kathmandu!

Jun 13, 2011


After a whole night of resting. I finally started my tour of the city. First stop? A visit to a goddess’ house! Well, that’s not something that you see every day. A living goddess, breathing and looking at you from out of a small window up a building that is maybe a thousand years old. And she was a little girl, about nine years old, with a face painted so white she might have been a geisha. But I know Hindus would kill me for likening their living goddess (a.k.a. “kumara) to an entertainer.

The only problem was that you can’t take her photo. You are only allowed to take her photo during special festivals. So all you do is look at her. And hold your hands together as if in prayer---bow, pay respect to a goddess, feel awed. She looked haughty, looking at us from that high window, well, a goddess looking at human beings from a heavenly window would look haughty. And she turned this way, and that way, and I thought she was going to wave at some point, but she didn’t. Within half a minute of appearing, she vanished into the darkness of her “heaven”.

The secret window.


Feeling Touristy


After a lazy first day in Nepal, visiting the home of a living goddess, and ending up in a really nice place to eat dinner in a tourist/backpacker’s district called Thamel. Its narrow streets and a billion neon lights and the endless crowd of tourists and locals mingling with the rickshaws and taxis and motorcycles and all sorts of hawkers give it an awesome atmosphere.  Almost like Bangkok but way more subdued. There are mobile food vans---well, basically carts with four bicycle tires---selling fresh fruits, and there are hawkers trying to sell you all sorts of goods. From sarangi (a kind of Nepali guitar) to musical pipes, and then there are those who come whispering to you, “Do you want to smoke?” Of course, they aren’t offering you cigarettes, but hashish, marijuana, and some would even claim to have coke or heroin or whatever you want. Thamel is certainly a heartbeat in the polluted city of Kathmandu.




But on top of all this, there are professional beggars and street children. They pester you and make you feel sorry for them. There are those who come and say “please I don’t want money, only food for baby,” and when you decide to buy her something, she takes you to this supermarket where she fills up a whole trolley full of goods---enough to stock a small shop somewhere. Which is what I hear they do: they have shops and the goods you buy for the “baby” here ends up as stock in this shop somewhere outside the Kathmandu valley. Well, sometimes, they hold a bundle to their chests, but these bundles don’t really have any baby in them.

We ended up in a bar and restaurant called OR2K. Really cozy place. Romantic. Real low lights, you have to leave your shoes at the doorway, and sit on the floor---more like Japanese dining arrangements---and eat from low tables. The windows where wide, but cigarette smoke hung in the air like it was an opium bar of some kind. The hum of conversations and the traditional Nepali music was rather---ahem!---arousing and the food sort of aphrodisiacal. Many of the couples were lovers, but a few tables were crowded with party folk, drinking and smoking and eating real good food. There were one or two lonely eaters---the ones "seeking enlightenment" I suppose.

So that ended the first day. The second day (really my third day there, it being Monday and I came in on Saturday). We ate in a restaurant called Gaia, then headed up to Swoyambounath. Ha! It’s the kind of place that doesn’t need a lot of words to describe.

I thought I’d seen it all at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, with all these Buddhism and all. But Swoyambounath was different in certain ways. We went up a really long steps, I didn’t know how unfit I was until I tried to climb up those steps. And there were monkeys all the way.



The monkeys played on the statues, on all the prayer flags that hang from the trees, and they sat by the steps looking for ticks in each other’s bodies. It being off-season for tourists, there were mostly Nepali folk, and some Indians on pilgrimages or others who come to worship their gods. The thing about temples in Nepal is that both Buddhists and Hindus pray from the same temples. So while Swoyambounath is a Buddhist temple, many Hindus come from all over South Asia to pray here.

And the monekys are cheeky. They like snatching bags and stuff from people. Especially food stuff. One monkey snatched a necklace when a vendor wasn’t looking, and it went up a tree so fast and wore the necklace! It is a thing I will never forget! I tried to take the pics, but they are a bit blurry because my camera is crap.

And on the temple itself, one man was carrying a big tin of biscuits for his son. But a monkey snatched it off his hands and jumped away to feast with her own child. Unlike muggers in the cities who will snatch your property and vanish to hide in the dark alleys, these monkeys steal, and only jump a pace away, so you watch them while they feast on the loot. The vendor whose necklace was stolen could only shrug, for maybe he was used to such things happening. But this Indian man, who had come all the way from some city with his family, he watched in horror as the monkey and her baby feasted on the biscuits, right in the presence of an excited crowd.




But then, to Hindus, these monkeys are holy. There is a Hanuman, the Monkey God, and I am not sure what role they play, but they must be some kind of angels or something. And for a monkey to steal your biscuits---well, you would be sad for a few seconds, but after a while, you might shrug it off with the thought that you are feeding the gods! So this must be a blessing of some sort.

To be continued . . .

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