Our first impression of Kathmandu, not nearly as brown or hot as India. At an altitude of 4500 ft, the air is noticeably cooler, thinner and less hazy than Delhi. Trash still litters the roads, but not nearly to the same extent as in India. Clothing styles are decidedly more western than in India as well, although there are still a considerable amount of women in the local garb. Kathmandu is a city of 4 million people, relatively small by India standards, with the vast majority recently settling here.
Our guide in Kathmandu, Kasey(sp), was another master’s degree educated, anthropology trained local. He shared a wealth of knowledge about the culture, the politics and the history of Nepal. I wish I could remember more. Leo and I came here with just a bit more than a blank slate regarding our knowledge of Nepal. We knew they were famous for the beautiful mountains and of course the song by ??? singing the praises of Kathmandu.
Up until less than 5 years ago, Nepal was a monarchy. Currently there is an interim government with their first democratic elections to be held in the next few months, although there is some doubt
about when they will occur. There are over 100 registered parties vying for control of the government. Communism, (supported by the Chinese) is supported by approximately a third of the population but the majority are non-communist but split into many fractions. Our guide was excited by the prospect of an election, but wary of the instability and potential violence that may be part of Nepal’s not so distant future.
Nepal is a primarily Hindu country (85%). However, their brand of Hindu feels different than India. There is definitely a Buddhist influence. The next most prominent religion is Buddhism, followed by a small minority of Muslims and Christians. To our Caucasian eyes, the Nepalese, appear more “Asian” in appearance but there is still quite a diversity. According to our guide, there are 103 ‘ethnicities’ represented in Nepal.
It took a little more than a half day to travel from Delhi to Kathmandu. So after checking into our hotel we began our city tour. We visited Durbar Square and the home of the Living Goddess (Kumari Ghar). A young (3-4 year old) girl is selected to serve as the Goddess. She lives in the temple and is raised
by caretakers until her first menses and is then done with her service. The Nepalese people will come to worship her on several holy days. Dubar Square is a World Heritage site where the monuments were built between the 12th
centuries. The intricate wood carvings adorning the buildings are beautiful. It is hard to believe the wood can survive that long and still be in that good condition. Nearby we walked the alleys of “Freak Street”. It was best described to us as Nepal’s Haight Ashbury. Our guide enjoyed listing the famous visitors who have stayed in this area (think Beatles, Richard Gere, etc). Our last stop of the day was Swayambhunath Temple and Stupa, also known as the Monkey Temple. Perched high on a hill overlooking the valley, this ancient site offers great views of Kathmandu. The Buddhist influence was evident. The monkeys made the whole thing quite entertaining with babies clinging to their mother’s bellies and hopping from tree to side of the building and back. We went back to our hotel for the evening and enjoyed an inexpensive dinner of a mix of local, Indian, and other assorted food. The mattress was just a bit
softer than a rock and we had to get up at 5 AM which came much too soon. Waking up early seems to be a trend in a number of the stops on this adventure, this one to catch our scenic airplane tour of the Himalayas. Although the skies were overcast, we were told the test flight had views of the higher peaks. So along with 20 other passengers (all of which were a group of Indians coming from Minnesota), we flew to 21,000 feet (3,000 ft above the cloud layer) to view the world’s highest peaks. The view was wonderful, seeing all the tops of the peaks to the north and east of Kathmandu, including Mount Everest. Each one of us in turn, could also view the mountains from the cockpit of the plane. Since mountaineering to the top of Everest is not on our bucket list, this is likely as close as we will ever get to the top of the world. How often does one get to see the world’s highest mountains, up close and personal (relatively speaking). The pictures don’t do it justice!
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