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Published: August 6th 2007
Thamel in Kathmandu was the perfect tonic after months on the road - a place to recuperate and rejuvenate surrounded by creature comforts. Thamel is the tourist enclave in the middle of Kathmandu, akin to Khao San Road in Bangkok. A travellers hub where Western goods and services meet Eastern retailers and reasonable prices; a place where everything is possible and almost anything can be procured. For us it meant a bottle of red wine over dinner, our first in nearly four months! We spoilt ourselves and had a scrumptious Italian meal at La Dolce Vita accompanied by the aforementioned bottle of wine - and it was divine!!
Thamel was also the place where we caught up with people that we've met along the way, and where we met some new friends. We caught up with Irish Lucy who we met while trekking and headed out to Bhaktapur together. We shared many delicious breakfasts with American Ted, and he introduced us to the best Thakali Dhal Bhat in town! Marzena our talented Polish friend (from the arduous India/Nepal border crossing) made a reappearance and wowed us with her photos. More beers were had with Welsh Tim (of Pokhara Busy Bee
Beer and cricket watching notoriety). British couple Tracey and Darren led us astray (though there was not much arm twisting going on!), keeping us out late into the wee hours entertaining us with their travel stories!
We managed to drag ourselves away from Thamel to check out some of the sights. First stop was Bhaktapur, an ancient Newari town located on the outskirts of Kathmandu. It's a beautifully preserved place with fine examples of Newari wooden architecture. Pleasingly the town centre is car (and motorbike!) free creating a pleasant and serene ambiance that we were keen to soak up - a haven after the noise and congestion of Kathmandu. On the way to Bhaktapur we saw some innovative Nepali transport planning measures including electric cable buses and electric tempos (three wheeled minibuses) - though we're undecided as to how successful these can be given that Kathmandu is continually subject to power blackouts!
Bhaktapur was home to a strong artisan community of potters, woodcarvers, painters, metalworkers and designers. The "Potters Square" was an amazing sight, packed with hundreds of bowls, jugs and urns drying in the sun and skilled potters spinning new items on their wheels along the periphery.
A few days later Marzena joined us on a trip out to the Hindu site of Pashupatinath - a collection of temples and burning ghats to rival those in Varanasi. True to Hindu form, the burning ghats are situated along the Bagmati river which flows to the holy Ganga so that those cremated there can be released from the cycle of death and rebirth.
While we were there we witnessed a funeral that was taking place with more reverence, pomp and ceremony than we ever saw in India. It is still fascinating to see how death is such and integral and public part of Hindu life - local people and tourists lined the bridge and steps opposite the ghats to watch the ceremony and even the sadhus and sellers were quiet as a mark of respect. The deceased was a military man and when the pyre was set alight the military Honour Guard played the last post which was a pretty moving sight, particularly for us given that the day we visited was ANZAC Day.
Pashupatinath is home to many Sadhu's - Hindu 'Holy Men' - who are ascetics having renounced their families and material wealth in
pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. Basically they fill their days getting stoned, sleeping, or begging for food and money off generous and devout Hindus (who somehow seem obliged to donate and thus support their drug habits and idle lifestyle). We're sure there are genuine Sadhus out there but unfortunately most we've encountered have been little more than demanding and self-interested beggars whose antics are deemed legitimate since they're shrouded under the guise of religion.
On the Nepalese New Year while we were having lunch with Krishna and his family, three Sadhus visited his house. All demanded money, refusing to leave the premises without collecting what they deemed was due to them. It seems unfair that a hard working and relatively poor man like Krishna is compelled to part with his money to assist in someone else's pursuit of ''enlightenment" - supporting them while they sit around getting stoned instead of working. Wouldn't we all rather not be working? Better still, anyone keen to support us while we bum around the world and reach spiritual enlightenment? It all just seems pretty selfish.
Sadhus aside, there were a few pesky monkeys lurking around Pashupatinath also and Suz nearly averted an assault
... It's a hard life!
from an aggravated monkey who lept from the tree at the camera. We're convinced that the monkey was just annoyed that we hadn't paid him the obligatory 10 rupee photography fee!
Bodhnath was a beautiful sight. It's the spiritual home for Tibetan Buddhists in Nepal Tibetan culture abounds everywhere - from the prayer flags that stream from the great stupa, to the food, jewellery, art and clothing in the surrounding stalls. In the late afternoon hundreds of traditionally dressed Tibetans spinning prayer wheels in their hands or threading prayer beads through their fingers performed the kora by circumnavigating the great stupa whilst repeating the Buddhist mantra "Om Mani Padme Hum". A few devout pilgrims performed the kora whilst doing full body prostrations, laying their entire body on the ground and peeling themselves up to step forward and repeat the process again.
We visited the monastery and witnessed the monks performing a religious blessing ceremony replete with chanting, trumpets and a drumming on the huge gong and watched as hundreds of yak butter lamps were lit to line the walls of the chapel.
There was so much more to see in the Kathmandu valley but Thamel and the
charm of food (from all four corners of the world), social engagements and Tibet trip planning meant that our time there disappeared much too quickly. However, we're certain that Nepal will definitely be a place we'll return to, so we've saved some sights for exploring next time in this land of great beauty, fun and adventure!
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