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March 17th 2008
Published: March 17th 2008
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Swayambhunath Temple

Today we set off on a walk to the Swayambhunath Stupa about 1.5 miles north-west of Kathmandu's Thamel district. The walk took us through the backstreets of Kathmandu with the usual noise and commotion that I'm beginning to get used to. Looking out towards the hills and mountains all we could see was a misty haze of smog. It was very dusty under foot too and we saw many people covering their faces from the dust and smog. As we got nearer to the Stupa we saw quite a few school children dressed up in their uniforms and the area seemed slighter better off than we'd seen before. As Swayambhunath is also known as monkey temple we weren't too surprised to see a couple monkeys swinging in the telephone wires.

We crossed a 'river' on our way and it had to be the most polluted river I've ever seen. There was rubbish and detritous all along the banks and it absolutely stank to high heaven! We even saw a couple of pigs rooting around on the banks. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise to note that the quality of the water supply here in Nepal isn't exactly high. And it isn't just us weakly westerners suffering the consequences either as I read in an article in a Nepalese newspaper. A safe water campaign has just been launched by the Department of Water Supply and Sewerage, UNHABITAT and the Coca Cola Company to promote simple household water treatment to reduce diarrhoeal diseases. If the state of the river is any indication of the state of the water supply this campaign can do nothing but a good thing for both locals and tourists alike.

So we finally reached Swayambhunath, well actually not quite, there were the 300 stone steps to climb first and what seemed like 300 people trying to sell us bangles, carvings etc!! Just like the steps up to my office at work, the final few steps got gradually steeper and steeper so we were glad of a breather at the top while we listened to our guide telling us all about the history (I can't quite work out what is fact and what is mythical stories yet!) of the Stupa. The base of the Stupa is a huge white mound that, if I understood it correctly, represents creation. There are four Buddha statues representing the four elements earth, fire, air and water and 13 gilded rings rise up in a tower from the mound and these represent the 13 degrees of knowledge needed to attain enlightenment. I hope I got that right! Around the base of the mound are sets of prayer wheels containing prayers that are supposed to be 'released' as you spin the wheels. Our guide explained that the inscriptions on the wheels are about the muddy waters where the lotus flowers grow (or our bodies) transforming into the lotus blossoms (our souls).

The whole area around the stuppa is awash with traders selling all sort of trinkets, carvings and jewellery so it was refreshing to see equal numbers of people coming to bring offerings and to pray or worship. We only saw a few monkeys but I managed to get a nice photo for my girls. And since I'd hear nothing but bad things about monkeys grabbing your stuff and biting I wasn't too disappointed!

Durbar Square Revisited

As we were walking back to the centre of Kathmandu it started to rain and the dust turned to mud beneath our feet. Sandals obviously weren't the best choice for today! We went to the same places in Durbar Square that my personal guide had taken me to a couple of days before and I was pleased to find out that he had actually been very good. All the same facts he'd told me came from our group's guide too. What a shame I hadn't taken more photos on that sunnier day! My group wasn't able to see the Kumari this time as she was obviously having to do some important hovering elsewhere (apparently she isn't allowed to touch the ground and we had visions of her levitating, David Blane style, into view at the window!!).

After seeing the sights, sounds and smells from some side streets off Durbar Square we headed to the top of a local restaurant (what is it with steps today?) and had a leisurely lunch looking over the ramshackle roof tops of Kathmandu. One thing about the rain - not only was it more refreshing but it made the smog clear a bit to reveal some of the hills and mountains.

Now for those of you who don't like yuck don't read on....I blew my nose (remember all the smog and dust of earlier in the day?). The contents were black! I dread to think what it was doing to my lungs. We are all really looking forward to leaving the smog and grime of the city behind us and heading towards the moutains and views that Nepal is so rightly famous for.

Cultural evening out

We rounded off the day with a trip to a lovely restaurant near the Royal Palace (can't remember it's name). We were greeted with a welcoming red splodge on our foreheads and went into the restaurant. We sat on the floor on cushions around low tables. Poor Mark and Phil were struggling to fit their long legs under the table much to everyone elses amusement!

We were then treated to course after course of lovely Nepalese food from little cups of rice wine, poured from a great height, to momos (kind of vegetable filled dumplings that were more like tortellini than dumplings), loads of little dishes of all sorts of vegetable curries and dahls with rice... it just went on and on. All accompanied by Everest beer!

On the little stage there was a band of musicians playing traditional Nepales folk music
Our local guide telling us all about Swayambunath TempleOur local guide telling us all about Swayambunath TempleOur local guide telling us all about Swayambunath Temple

He wanted to know all the currencies we used and fleeced the Irish girls of some of their Euros!
with drums, a wooden flute, a squeeze box accordian (set on the floor with the side pulled in and out to make the sound) and a lady providing the vocals. There were also some dancers in traditional cosumes, the women in red and gold with huge head dresses and lots of eye make up. The men's style of dancing is very camp and one guy in particular camped it up particularly well.

Raj, our tour guide, had quite a few shots of rice wine, so when his favourite song started there was no stopping him! Up he got and danced away singing Resaam phiriri, resaam phiriri, udimaajaunci dandamaa bhanjyang, resaam phiriri! It means something like: silk cloth floating, I wish to fly straight to the top of the mountain! The evening was rounded off by us all getting up to have a 'conga' type dance around the room - great fun.

St Patrick's Day

I almost forget to mention that it was St Patricks day and the 6 Irish girls were well up for a celebration so we scoured the Thamel district for a glimpse of anything remotely Irish and were amazed to stumble across an Irish Bar with an Irish Singer! We had a great time singing along to some old Irish favourites and the girls even did their own turn at the mike.

Unfortunately it was an early start the next day - so we hoped the hang overs wouldn't be too bad!

Additional photos below
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Metalic Nepalese flagMetalic Nepalese flag
Metalic Nepalese flag

Does any other country have a non rectangular flag?
At the House of the Living GoddessAt the House of the Living Goddess
At the House of the Living Goddess

Sharon, Linda, Michelle, Phil

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