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Published: April 19th 2019
Yesterday I left my trusty raincoat at home and got rained on. Today I left the sunscreen at home and sunburnt…but I had my raincoat! I got this travel thing down!!
I met a tour guide, Hari, yesterday and we talked about a tour that was a bit off the beaten track. It sounded interesting so I signed on. The first stop was Swayambhunath stupa, aka the monkey temple. This is definitely on the beaten track, but it was the only big tourist attraction the days itinerary. Hari suggested we walk to the temple, it was only 20 minutes. I thought that would be a good idea. Never trust Nepalise with time. They are about as good with time as Aussies are with distance. It was a long 20 minutes. And even then, it only got us to the temple steps. An impressive 365 steps, up a ridiculous hill to the temple itself. It looks fantastic but took me substantially longer than 20 minutes to get up those steps. At three points along the way there are frescos on either side of the stairwell, so of course had to stop and take photos. It was not so I could take
Deep breaths, pretty peacock, Deep breaths
a moment to catch my breath……yeah I didn’t fool anyone. And I still had to keep making stops along the way. Even when we got to the ticket booth (only 12 short steps from the top) the ticket seller encouraged me to take a seat an admire the view. It was a great view.
Swayambhunath stupa backs onto national park, hence why it is called the monkey temple because it the monkeys swarm out of the park to gobble up all the offerings to the temple. Behind that park is a mountain covered in forest. As we were walking up to the Stupa, Hari and I got onto a conversation about the native wildlife. They have bears and tigers here. I jokingly asked, we are not going to get eaten by a tiger going up this hill, are we? “Oh no” he replied “not this hill.” Turns out Hari occasionally hears the tigers roaring in the forest near his home….on the mountain, behind the Swayambhunath stupa. So not this hill, but maybe the next one.
On a nicer note, the monkeys are reasonably friendly, not that I would pat one, but they are very comfortable around humans, unless
you produce some food. At one point I was taking photos near a water feature which the monkeys were using as a spa. A woman about 3 meters from me pulled out a banana. All those sleepy monkeys came to life pretty damn quick. Even though they are small, swarming monkeys make a pretty scary sight. She got so scared she just threw it at them before they got to close. Monkeys are sacred in Hindu so no-one will harm them, hence their comfort with us. It’s three years in jail for hurting a monkey. Same goes with cows. 20 years for killing a cow intentionally. 8 years if you do it accidentally. There a not a lot of cows here, because they don’t use them for mass production, but quite a few wander around freely. I’ve seen cows wondering through busy intersections, two bulls taking a rest in the middle of the highway, they really need a signal for Cow on Road
. If any of those cars should happen to collect the stupid creatures, that’s jail time….no demerit points though.
The views from Swayambhunath stupa views were awesome. It is on a huge hill (hence the stairs) and
when you stand at the base of the temple the whole of Kathmandu seems to open out in front of you. If you don’t know what a stupa is, it’s a Buddhist monument. It has a square base and domed roof, topped by a spire. The spire has a square base with each wall facing North East West & South. Each wall is painted with a set of eyes, the traditional two eyes plus the third eye, and a nose that looks a little like a question mark. This symbol is the Nepali number one and represents unity. It is not known what is inside the stupa, it was once raided my Muslims, about a thousand years ago when someone told the Maharajah that it was filled with treasure. They broke into it but allegedly found nothing and went away empty handed. Rumour has it that it is filled with the lotus flower, a simple of purity. The Buddhist mandala paintings, which depict the way to Nirvana, are supposed to be an aerial view of the stupa. So I think interior of the Stupa is a series of symmetrical doors and hallways. That’s my theory.
The next destination was
the Single tree, which involved walking up the next hill, the one with the tigers. Hari did ask me if I wanted to take a taxi, but I had recovered from the 365 steps and I thought, hey I can do this. I should have taken a taxi. The first challenge was getting across the highway. It’s a four lane highway with about seven lanes of traffic. There are no road rules here. Well maybe there are but I don’t think anyone pays attention to them. Clinging to Hari like glue we walked across the highway, amazingly cars, bikes, trucks, they all just stop an let you go. FYI there are no pedestrian crossings here, there is barely a foot path to be seen and I think I’ve seen three traffic lights in the whole city.
The walk really took the stuffing out of me. It was a pretty reasonable sized hill and it was when the heat of the day really kicked in. If a tiger had made an appearance, I think I would have just let him eat me. We finally get to the top of this hill and Hari points to yet another flight of stairs
for us to climb….oh yay! At least there were only about 40 steps here. The views at the top were pretty amazing though. The Single tree sits on top of a small landing, on top of this huge hill, all by itself. Apparently, it is a bit of a lovers lane. The young local couples come up here to hang out an be alone. There was a couple standing on the lookout up there. The lookout was made from bamboo and held together by rope. Hari assured me it was solid because the bamboo struts were quite deep in the ground, but I had to wonder how long that rope had been there. It is an unlucky couple that is canoodling up there when that thing gives way.
The next stop was Taudaha lake. Its not that impressive as a lake. It’s man made, like Shep lake but not as big. It has a nice walking track around it, a café and a shopfront selling light refreshment. If it were based in Melbourne it would be teaming with joggers and cyclist and active mummies. There were about a dozen vendors around the lake selling soy bean things. Hari brought
Hard way up, easy way down
a bag started throwing it into the water. Fish! hundreds of big fat fish swarmed to the surface to eat. It was a fish frenzy. I’m not sure what kind of fish they were but they were all sorts of colours. Red, Grey, white, yellow. At first, I though gold fish, they looked a lot like the fish we had in a damn on the farm. Only these guys were big, really big mofos. I thought I saw one with whiskers so I though cat fish. I had to get my own bag of fish food and try to draw them out more.
After Taudaha lake we made our way to a Newari village called Khokana, the pronunciation sounds like coconut. The main source of trade in this village is the mustard mills. They don’t look that impressive from the outside, just a small shed with a couple of windows and an open door. We walked into a couple of these places. While they may not be milling the mustard the old fashioned way, safe to say the technological revolution has not reached them. The industrial revolution has barely reached them! The mills were driven by an engine that
belongs in a history museum. I didn’t see anyone stoking the oven but I wouldn’t have been surprised. We went for a short walk around town, at one point I stopped to take a photo of the terrace fields. There was a bit of a drop next to the road, where some weeds were growing quite profusely. At first glance I chuckled to myself and thought, if I didn’t know any better, I would say that was dope. I took a closer look and as it turns out, I know better. It was quite a substantial crop. Hari says its just a weed here. The locals don’t bother with it. They know what it is, they just don’t care. They might dabble a bit during religious ceremonies or festivals, but mostly it’s just a weed.
After the discovery of the local weed infestation, we made our way back to Kathmandu to the white temple. I had another experience on the local buses. They have an interesting public transport system here. From what I can figure the buses only run around the ring road. The conductor (a pimply faced teenager) hangs out the open door and yells out where the
bus is going. People standing on the side of the road signal the bus if they want to get on. There are no actual busstops. Folks have about 1 minute to get on, before the conductor slaps the side of the bus, signalling to the driver to take off.
We caught two busses back to Kathmandu and then still had to catch a cab up to the white monastery. I couldn’t actually go into the monastery, which is for Buddhist nuns. They used to have it open to public but something happened to make them close the doors. Hari wasn’t sure what happened exactly (or didn’t have the words to explain it) but some tourists stuffed it up for the rest of us. Now they don’t let anyone in. I could still see the massive Buddha statue and a bunch of Nuns exercising in the yard. Most importantly, this was the highest point I had been to today. And as expected the views were amazeballs. When we got out of the Taxi we had to walk up yet another slope. The look I gave Hari at this time must not have been very encouraging. “Its not far, you’ll see!”
Resting my weary legs
It really wasn’t far up, maybe 30m, but by this stage I was so over walking up and down steps, and hills and mountains. My legs were screaming at me, and I was already fantasising about a hot shower and a cold beer. The view was worth it though, 360⁰ of Kathmandu and surrounding mountains. Really beautiful, and its not even a clear day. Apparently the best time of year to come is October/November when the skys are clearer.
After the white monastery we hopped back in the taxi and made our way home. All the taxis here are little hatch backs dating back as far as the 80’s. Aircon is strictly 4WD60. The roads are as rough as guts. I think the richest people in town supply and fit shockers. But these little cars get up and down those mountains on rough as guts roads. I have a new respect for the little Hyundai. On the way up that little car was working its but off. The driver was flogging it, even I was thinking theres no rush mate, just get us there alive. As he came up to a turn he would toot the horn to let
any oncoming vehicles know we wer there and then wheel around the bend. We only had one close call with a motorbike. The ride down, I am pleased to say was not as scary. I made it back to my hotel for that hot shower and cold beer. I even managed a bit of pizza for dinner before I passed out from exhaustion.
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