Thursday, 19 May 2011

Kathmandu - City of Temples (and Traffic)

The Nepal/Tibet border was closed to foreigners and had been since February. Rumour was that it would open in a week’s time. This meant that we had a week to kill in Kathmandu. Apart from delaying us this wasn’t such a hardship there were still plenty of places we hadn’t yet visited in the city. So we went on a temple binge, visiting all of the temples mentioned in our guidebook. Durbar Square a short walk away and on the way to was the best cake in Nepal at Snowman Café on Freak Street. We went to the Hindu holy sight of Pashupatinath, where open cremations take place. It felt a little it uncomfortable paying to walk around a temple site seeing funerals taking place. The site is next to the holy river of Bagmati River which was all but a trickle and disappointingly non-Hindus were not allowed into the temple itself. We peered through the gate and saw a huge gold statue of a bull or a least its rear end, complete with balls the size of space hoppers. A more worth while trip was to the Durbar Square at Patan. Cleaner and tidier than the Durbar square near Thamel we spent a pleasant afternoon there. We decided not to eat in the interestingly named ‘Third World Restaurant’ next to ‘Third World Guesthouse’ and found a quiet place with a pretty courtyard garden. On another day we marvelled at the urban sprawl of Kathmandu from Swayambhunath Stupa and enjoyed the Buddhist calm at our favourite Stupa of Bodhnath. But these sights were just a handful of temples, stupas and holy sites in Kathmandu. We saw many more on our ambles around town, tucked away down little streets or surrounded by traffic jams. In between this, Gopal, our trekking guide, invited us to dinner at his flat in a suburb of Kathmandu. We had a lovely evening, although dinner was so late that at one point we thought we’d misunderstood and were about to thank him for the tea and head back. Later in the week we learnt how to cook Dal Bhat ourselves when we went on a mornings cooking course.

It wasn't until we left Kathmandu to go on our trek that James said 'oh, so they do actually drive on the left here.' Most of the time in the city it is impossible to tell which side of the road cars are meant to be driving on. And with the traffic comes the pollution which chokes the whole of the Kathmandu valley. When Kathmandu got a bit too much we headed to the Garden of Dreams on the edge of Thamel for a picnic. An afternoon in this oasis of calm where you leave the chaos and smog and traffic at the gate kept us sane, in between visits to Snowman Café. 

Apart from the traffic and consequent pollution, there are piles of rubbish and the stinking clogged rivers, amongst which people try to navigate the streets, tripping over each other, it is desperate poverty which is so difficult to come face to face with. But whether it is street children picking though the rubbish, the leper begging in the street, the horrifically burnt woman asking for a rupee or the man in the wheelchair selling newspapers trying to adjust to plastic bag he is using instead of a catheter. The poverty is overwhelming and although individual situations are desperate the saddest part of the poverty in Nepal is the lack of opportunity. Illiteracy is 70% and families have to sacrifice everything to try to put their children through school, but for what? Many people are trying to seek work aboard, a brain drain which just exasperates the situation. The government, nearly a year after the first constitution amendment deadline, is still squabbling. The next deadline is on the 28th May and despite the government parties promising that they wouldn’t call strikes during Nepal’s ‘year of tourism’ this looks unlikely. Combined with fuel shortages it is creating yet more hardship for the people.

There was a strike on today and the roads were wonderfully quiet and Thamel was actually pleasant to walk around. We waited around nervously as it was the day before we were meant to be leaving on our Tibet tour. The day had not started well with our tour agency changing the goalposts again and more misinformation. We decided the best option was to spend the day in the Garden of Dreams and have a picnic there. Unfortunately, whilst trying to leave the hotel a power cut struck, trapping us in the lift. Trapped in the darkness of the lift, with nothing to do but wait to be rescue, I ate the picnic. We eventually made it to the Garden of Dreams.

We couldn’t afford to stick about whilst the inevitable strikes crippled the country but no one knew if the border would open the next day. If it didn’t then we would have to fly and this would mean our overland dream back to the UK would be over (and we were pretty worried about how much the excess baggage would cost us).

Hindu holy site - Pashupatinath

Golden balls at Pashupatinath Temple

Patan Durbar Square after some rain

Monkey at Swayambhunath Stupa

Our sanctuary the Garden of Dreams

Boudhnath - my favourite stupa

On a Dal Bhat cooking course - adding the spices

No comments:

Post a Comment