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Published: November 2nd 2019
It was a long summer of lots of hiking, stair climbing and general hill practice in preparation for a 10 day trek to Annapurna Base Camp (also known as Annapurna Sanctuary) in the Himalaya - something that has been on my bucket list for years. It was originally planned as a 60th birthday destination for Vera but unfortunately a hip injury derailed her. So the gang of four became myself, 2bob, Angie and Jeff. For me, just getting to Kathmandu was an exhausting adventure in itself which was somewhat due to my decisions. On October 21st I chose I work for the Canadian Federal Elections as a poll clerk which was a long 16 hour day followed by 4 hours sleep then flying to Montreal for 5 days for some volunteer activity with CSCT. Sunday October 27 saw me flying back to Vancouver where Kelly met me and I exchanged my suitcase for my travel back (we would be meeting up in Thailand in a few weeks) and 16 hours later I was on my delayed 14 hr flight to Hong Kong (4am departure) - another 10 hour layover and then 5 hours later I flew into Kathmandu. In hindsight, the
View for Kathmandu from Swayambhunath
length of travel time meant my tired body was already on local time and ready for a good nights sleep by the time I arrived at Apsara Hotel in Thamel, Kathmandu. But first there was the convoluted visa application process at the airport to be endure. I thought it was tedious, but in conversation with the others (who had arrived earlier in the day), I got off lightly. A paper application form which was rejected, then a bit of a wait in the lineups for the electronic machine to fill in all information. Take the slip of paper which was spit out over to another line to pay the fee of USD $50. Then it was the final desk where I finally had my passport stamped - and time to escape the terminal where I was met by a representative of Nepal Hiking Team. Time lapsed was probably about 45 minutes which I thought was long enough, but I found out later that it took Angie and 2bob TWO hours to get through the same process.
We are staying in the area of Thamel which is the tourist part of the old city - heaps of small hotels, restaurants,
Stupa at Swayambhunath
shops selling all the equipment you would ever need for a trek - and of course the endless tourist shops with prayer flags, singing prayer bowls and yak or cashmere scarves and blankets being everywhere. Narrow windy streets that make finding your way home a challenge at times - and a few areas that are actually pedestrian zones, although it seems that some motorbike riders consider themselves pedestrians. Add cars to the roads outside this walking area and it becomes a bit of an adventure but still, my first Impression of Kathmandu is that it is mellow version on India.
The Tihar festival which is a five day long Hindu festival that is celebrated in Nepal and is also known as the Festival of Lights was on its last day - most buildings were covered strings of twinkling lights. Which explained the colourful view I had when the plane was coming into land. From Wikipedia - “The festival is novel in that it shows reverence to not just elders and gods, but also to animals such as crows, dogs, and cows that have long lived in relationship with humans. People make feet patterns of Laxmi (the goddes of wealth)
on the floor of living rooms or courtyards using materials such as colored rice, dry flour, colored sand or flower petals outside their house, which is meant to be a sacred welcoming area for the Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism. Crows and ravens are worshipped the first day, dogs the second day and cows on the third.”
Our first destination on October 30 was to the Kathmandu Durbar Square - a 1.5 km walk that took at least an hour due to the constant rubber necking and photo taking. It was a surprise to find Hinduism so dominant and there were small Hindu temples along side Buddhist temples (stupas) and their all seeing eyes.
The term Durbar Square which means Royal Square in English, is the generic name used to describe areas opposite the old royal palaces of Nepal and generally consist of temples, idols and open courts. These squares are the main remnants from the former Kingdom of Nepal with the Kathmandu Durbar Square being one of the most famous. Unfortunately the area was heavily damaged during the 2015 earthquake and still in various states of repair. As it appeared that many of the main structures were
Cremation pyres at Pashupatinath temple
still covered in protective scrim and scaffolding, we decided to forgo the 1000 RS (USD $10) entry fee and head off to religious site of Swayambhunath.
Jeff did an awesome job of navigating the increasingly grotty alleyways which were a great introduction to the reality of the city - and which included walking past the appalling slaughterhouse - piles of discarded head and bones, behind which was the horrible sight of skeletal thin water buffalo who had outlived their usefulness. Then we crossed over the sacred Bagmati River - filthy and full of garbage, eventually reaching the base of the hill where where a long vertiginous flight of stairs lead to Swayambhunath. There were great views of the city from the top of the stairs. We had seen smaller versions of stupas throughout our meanderings - a white dome with buddha eyes above - but nothing as large as this. The white dome at the base was massive and the main part of the stupa above was renovated in 2010 and gilded with 20 kg of gold. The large Buddha eyes on each of the four sides of the stupa have a “third” eye above while the nose is
a depiction of the Nepali number one. Add brightly coloured prayer flags attached to the peak and it was a spectacular site. This temple complex (sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists) is also known as the monkey temple due to the swarms of rhesus macaque monkeys that swarm the place. Myth has it that millennia ago, a fellow aspiring to Buddha hood was living where the stupa now stands. Instead of keeping his hair short he let it grow and it became infested with head lice - these lice in turn transformed into monkeys - an apt description as they crawl and jump all over the place.
We had a meeting with Ganga from Nepal Hiking Team on the morning of October 31st where we were briefed on our upcoming trip to Pokhara and trek to Annapurna Base Camp. We followed this with a long walk to the Pashupatinath Temple on the Bagmati River which was about 3.5 km away to the east - the opposite direction of yesterday’s excursions. Once we left the area of old Kathmandu, the streets widened significantly and we were in the “normal” city with lots of traffic - crossing the road was the
standard “watch for a teeny break in the traffic, take a deep breath and walk across at a steady pace”. The sidewalks were quite rough in places and you really had to pay attention to where you were going especially as at times there was a 12 inch sharp drop to road level. The Pashupatinath Temple is the oldest Hindu Temple in Nepal (built in the 5th century). Entrance fee for the complex was 1000 RS (USD $10) and we could go everywhere except inside the temple itself which was restricted to Hindus. So we wandered down to the ghats (steps that line the river bank of the awfully polluted sacred river) where cremations take place. Foreigners are able to observe the funeral activities that are taking place, but we had to cross over the river to the “viewing” area. There are 6 crematorium platforms where a few fires were lit but no bodies were obvious via the naked eye. Further along the river, a family was performing pre cremation rituals for a deceased person. First the shrouded body was laid on a stone ramp close to the waters edge where their feet were washed. It was somewhat gross to
see family members actually drinking from the river!!!! Then the body was moved to the top of the steps where the rituals continued. We left before the body was laid on a bamboo ladder and taken to the cremation pyres. The ashes then supposedly float down to the Ganges - although with the amount of garbage in the river, I wonder how far they really get!!!
Returning to Thamel, we took a taxi which was worth the 600rs in entertainment value as we became “one with the flow” of crazy car and motor vehicle traffic. As nice as our hotel is, our rooms are on the front and right above a night club so lack of sleep has been a bit of an issue. We hope that when we return to Kathmandu (to the same hotel) we get quieter rooms. But now, November 1 it is time to move on and travel to Pokhara for the next step in this adventure.
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