Breakfast and New Friends
Since I had skipped dinner last night being so tired I went for the expensive breakfast, with 2 pancakes (crepes), honey, coffee, juice, 2 eggs any style and hashbrowns. A whopping $3 US give or take a few cents.
While I was sitting sipping my coffee I struck up a conversation with the girl at the next table and within a heartbeat she popped over to my table and we were soon deep in conversation about travel and shopping in Kathmandu. At least until I tasted the hashbrowns, which were more a fry up of potatoes, onions and tomoatoes. It was amazing and actually stopped me mid sentence (not that I would have been talking with my mouth full mum). She was leaving that afternoon and needed to do some last minute shopping and so I asked if I could join her. Jessa lives in the UAE but is from the Philippines.
Shopping Nepal style
To say that walking through the streets of Thamel, Kathmandu is an assault on the senses would be an understatement, and from what I hear it is quite tame when compared to India. I was overwhelming and brilliant at the same time, with noise and colors and smells and music everywhere in every crevice and coming from every corner.
I hate shopping but I love markets like this, where you can bargain and meet people and dig through treasures piled higher than your head in stores the size of a porter potty.
I was enjoying this preview of the market with Jessa and found it very amusing to watch her bargain. Here I thought I bargain hard, but Jessa throws in the sympathy card as well and wraps the store owners around her little finger. I should have taken notes. Our first stop was an art shop, to get something for her boss. We waded through piles of canvases until she found 2 she liked and then proceeded to bargain the guy down to well below his original price. The paintings were spectacular and all done by local Nepalese artists, apparently. I hoped to pick one up before I left.
Then onto a little road side store that was barely the size of your average lemonade stand, to find a few keyrings. I was looking for a new bag, as the one I had bought in Ecuador and carried for almost 7mths really cut into my shoulder and I loved the styles here in Nepal. We finally found a store with some good looking ones and the owner ushered us into the back to see the rest of his stock. Turns out, apparently, he runs the factory that makes them, or one of the factories might be more accurate. We browsed and searched and pulled what felt like hundreds off the shelves to open and try and look at and finally I decided on a multi colored one and Jessa chose 2, plus a skirt. The owner then offered us tea, a habit that I would find most delightful in Nepal. We chatted and looked at photos of his children.
Another useful thing is that everyone seems to have a brother, cousin, uncle, sister… who runs a store with exactly the item you were thinking of purchasing. In this case the bag guy’s brother ran a pashmina store. We went in to have a look but Jessa didn’t have enough cash on her to buy one so we moved on back towards the hotel. That is until we saw a bag that Jessa had to have, she went and exchanged some more money and bargained for the bag, then with a few extra rupees we went back to the pashmina guy and, much to his bemusement, got a scarf (of the cheaper quality) at a 3rd of the price.
When we got to the hotel she proceeded to run around like a busy worker bee exhibiting ADHD. It was quite amusing to the rest of us who just stood outside and watched. Finally she was in the taxi and heading to the airport. We exchanged info and promised to stay in touch both wishing we had met each other earlier.
After the whirlwind died down I asked Yoge (hotel owner) about a place called Monkey Temple. The conversation went something like this:
Y – you can walk
K – How long would that take
Y – oh about 30min or more uphill
K – what about a taxi
Y – you could do that or my friend here will take you on his motorbike.
K – how much would that cost
Y – oh you can pay or not pay its up to you (another trend in Nepal is this wishy washy statement)
K – oh ok well that would be great, if you don’t mind (looking at the guy next to the rather large bike)
Y – oh he doesn’t mind, he is on vacation from the cruise ship
Turns out the mysterious friend, who just sat and smiled through out this entire exchange went by the name Buddha, and is a bartender on international cruise ships. He said he was happy to take me as he had nothing else to do, how about we meet in an hour.
And so started a great new friendship with Buddha. Who else can say they have Buddha’s phone number 🙂
Not 1 but rather 3
We met about an hour later and after a few minutes of figuring out just how I was meant to climb onto the back of his offroad bike that was higher than my waist, we were on the road.
I thought we were just heading straight to Monkey Temple but instead we went to 3 separate temples. The first one was a Hindu temple called “Pashupatinath”. Also known as Pashupati, it is the oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu and considered the most sacred amongst the temples of Lord Shiva.
Only Hindus are allowed to enter the temple areas, but others may walk around the area and try catch a glimpse of the inside.
In addition to having to be of the Hindu faith to go inside, no leather (including clothing and shoes), photos or videos were allowed to be taken inside.
For most temples in Nepal there is a small entry fee for foreigners and so after finding the small booth and paying we set about exploring the non-Hindu areas. The architecture and carvings were amazing.
As we rounded one corner there was a strange smell of cooking in the air. Buddha turned to look at me with an impish grin and asked:
I barely restrained a positive answer as his smile told me there was more behind the smell that meets the … ahh… nose. I was right. The one bank that lined the river was the local crematorium for Hindus. Booking was required and then you could incinerate your family member and push the remains into the river. Remind me not to swim. It was strangely hypnotic to watch, you don’t want to, but its such a fascinating part of the culture you can’t help it.
As we wandered through this vast temple we chatted about all the countries we had been to and how we got where we were. There were macaque monkeys everywhere and you had to be careful if you were carrying anything edible.
The path wandered up the hill and gave you a spectacular view of the temple and surrounding city, it was quite impressive how it seemed engulfed by the surrounding houses.
We stopped for a soda at one spot and watched someone give one of the monkeys some cookies, am not sure why she gave him the wrapper as well because that just gets added to the litter.
There were also a lot of spotted deer in the “Deer Park”, or rather an exceptionally overgrazed fenced off area.
As we continued to walk we passed through another part of the temple that had troops of monkeys everywhere, but you could tell there were definite group structures… and that had nothing to do with the very loud, potentially dangerous to all around territorial spats that were going on. The local snack sellers (who just spread out their wares on blankets) carried slingshots just in case they got a little carried away or tried to shoplift (or maybe blanket lift) a quick treat.
After a good couple of hours we headed out of the temple. On the passing an enormous bull. There are cows everywhere often sleeping in the middle of the road, but as it is against the culture to kill them they are allowed to roam free, often not even having true owners. As we left I bargained for a necklace and got her down from 1000rs ($12US) to about 600rs ($8), but knew she still got one over me when she agreed to readily.
Our next stop was a Buddhist temple, much more to my liking as they always seem to have a very welcoming and calming feeling. Boudhanath Temple (Boudha for short), has a massive stupa Sanskrit for meaning “heap”, a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics), that dominates the skyline and is surrounded by stores and restaurants. The stupa’s massive Mandala (sansKrit for circle) makes it one of the largest spherical stupa’s in Nepal. I think it became one of my favorite places to visit and walk around. On this occasion it took me about 3 circles before I realized we were walking in a circle, I had started thinking some of the stores were chains.
It wasn’t only the amazing artwork and numerous small temples you could pop into or turning the prayer wheels, it was watching the people, such beautiful people.
truly a remarkable place and one I would return to day after day if I could. I even found a singing bowl store that I hoped to return to if I couldn’t find a bowl in Pokhara in a few days. One of the amusing things was when I came out of a temple and found Buddha with a big grin on his face and a new necklace. While he waited for me he decided to try and bargain a Nepali price from a local seller and got his for 250rs ($2), it was also bigger and better quality. We had a good chat with the seller and I ended up buying 2 more for 360rs each (foreign Nepali price…), but he did give me a free keychain!
Lunch – Tibetan Style
Buddha took me to a back alley (a place that normally I would most likely never go) and sat down with some locals for lunch. We ordered momos (similar to potstickers), tea and soup. After he had ordered, he told me we were having Tibetan tea which was salty. I thought I must have misheard him so disregarded the comment until I took a big swig of the tea and nearly spat it out exclaiming “It’s salty!!!!”, “told you so” was the reply. I found pretending it was soup made it easier to drink the tea.
It was getting late as we headed to the final temple, Swayambhunath also known as Monkey Temple for the hundreds of holy monkeys that live on the premises. The main entrance apparently has 365 steps leading up a very steep incline to the stupa with Buddha’s eye. But we took the motorbike entrance (and also missed the pay station) which consisted of about 10 steps.
We were too late to feed the monkeys but it was beautiful to walk around and admire the city as the sun set.
Back at the hotel I was swept along with Buddha, Yogi (Hotel Silver Home owner) and Raj to go have Tongba (Traditional alcoholic drink) and dinner. It was almost surreal how they just included me like an old friend and pretty soon we found ourselves in a local restaurant which felt more like a house with a large dinning room. We ordered our Tongbas that came in large tin mugs with lids and a metal straw. Tongba is essentially millet seed filled with hot water. The combination creates a mild alcohol and you simply drink the liquid and refill with hot water until the water no longer has a milky appearance, then you get a new one.
It was a great night with great new friends and a perfect ending to a fantastic first day in Kathmandu. It is so strange to think coming here was due to Sri Lanka not working out.
I rarely end up where I was intending to go, but often I end up somewhere I needed to be – Douglas Adams