Today we ventured out into Kathmandu together! Elysia has been travelling around on her own up to this point, but today was the first chance to do some exploring with Mike.
We hired a taxi for the day for $25. It turns out that we got majorly ripped off, because the hotel was hiring them for $15, but at the end of the day we felt that we got our money worth and the extra $10 we paid will definitely make a big difference to him.
We asked our driver to first take us to Bodanath, but he didn't understand us and took us to Patan instead. So, we explored Patan.
Patan is one of the three ancient kingdoms of the Kathmandu Valley. Patan is known as the City of Fine Art. Everywhere you go are artisans working on paintings, metal forming, pottery, and a few other things. It was quite impressive to actually see people making these things. Usually they were working in their houses and they would later sell their wares to tourists and locals. We hired a guide to show us around and tell us about the history of the various temples and he told
us that there were a few different quality levels. The one to watch for is what he called 'tourist quality'! We loved his honesty. It seems that every where you go in the world they sell little poor quality trinkets.
Each if the three kingdom cities has a main square called Durbar Square. This is basically the centre if the old kingdom and everything has built up around the Durbar Square since then.
Patan is a city full of temples ranging in age. Some were as built as far back as the 14th century, while others were built very recently. Nepal suffered from a massive earthquake in 1934 and many of the temples were destroyed. Much work had been undertaken since then to rebuild these temples.
The palace was last occupied in the 18th century but there has been no king in Patan since then.
We went into the main temple in Patan and our guide told us about the main festival that goes on every year. To placate the 108 gods worshipped at the temple, there are 108 statues of animals in the inaccessible parts of the temple. Every year, at the festival, which runs
about 8 days, 108 water buffalo are sacrificed. The people that slaughter them then drink the blood of the animals, with the belief that doing so will give them energy and make them strong.
Our guide then toured us around the various temples and told us a little story about each. To be honest, I have a tough time remembering all of the details... Which is why we have to keep this blog!
The temples that do stand out are the Golden Temple and the Kuma Sutra temple. We went into the golden temple and saw people praying. The temple is square and their is a walkway around the inside circumference of the square. Embedded in the handrails are hundreds of prayer wheels (these little brass cylinders that spin). Inside the cylinders are writings done by monks. The writings stay in the cylinders for 2-3 years before being moved to a holy library. There are also bells at each corner of the temple and at its entrance. People enter the temple, ring the first bell, walk counter clockwise around the temple and spin every prayer wheel until they make it to the next bell. They ring that and
Fancy Door in Durbar Square in Patan
Thought Annelie and Sander would appreciate this door picture.
then carry in spinning the prayer wheels. They do this until they make it the full circumference of the temple. This practise is in an effort to bring good luck to the individual. Then they go down into the centre of the temple where they can pray.
In the centre of the temple we came across a small turtle, which is believed to be a lucky animal. He wasn't afraid of people at all. He didn't even 'turtle' when Our guide picked him up and handed him to Elysia.
The Kuma Sutra temple is pretty much what you would expect. Apparently, back in the day, the king had a problem with too small of a population. This temple was built as a sort if education tool, I guess. Around the outside are all sorts of carvings of different people and animals in a variety of sexual positions. (As we later found out, this seems to be a common theme. Bhaktapur also has a very similar temple).
Finally at the end of our visit to Patan we stopped in the museum which had all sorts of exhibits on Hinduism and Buddhism. We learned that the hand positioning if
the Buddha in a statue or portrait has meaning. They convey the message that the Buddha is giving. It's quite interesting. (On a related note, our guide joked with us that there are three religions in Nepal: Hinduism, Buddhism, and Tourism!)
After visiting Patan we moved on to Bhaktapur. Bhaktapur is the city of culture and was once the capital of Nepal (it lost that title in the 1500s).
Bhaktapur is quite a lot like Patan; there is a Durbar Square filled with a variety of temples. The place is filled with local people going about their business and we saw a group of kids swimming in one of the bathes. Their was another large bath where the local people would fill their water buckets for the day.
When we were walking towards the temples, we saw a group of school children looking at the temples. When they saw us they got very excited and wanted to take pictures with us. They also wanted us to take pictures with them. We spent a few minutes with them taking pictures. They were all so happy and excited to see us!
Most of the temples were very similar
to those in Patan, although one temple does jump to mind as being quite different. The approach to this temple has a very large stone staircase with large stone animals lining each side. We climbed up to the top to take in the view and snap some photos.
On the way back to Thamel we got stuck in rush hour traffic. It's like regular traffic except with a lot more smoke.
When we got back to the hotel we are staying at we met up with some students from the University of Ottawa. They are in the same volunteering program as Elysia and are really nice. We went to dinner at place called OR2k, which serves a variety of foods. Mike had an Everest beer and Nepali Dal Baht, which is basically rice with some curry vegetables on the side and lentil soup. You mix the soup with the rice and enjoy. Elysia had a Moroccan couscous. The restaurant is kinda neat because everyone sits on pillows on the floor and the tables are really low. The whole place is kit with black lights so everything glows.
All in all, today was a great day in Nepal.
Tomorrow we will head to Pokhara to start our trek through the Annapurna Mountains.
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