I’m sitting on the mezzanine balcony of the Holy Himalaya hotel where three Internet computers are located, listening to the cheerful interchanges in incomprehensibel Nepali coming up from the lobby below where the staff is cleaning up from last nights festival. I t is about 6AM Nepalese time (which is about 13 hours and 45 minutes ahead of PDT - the odd 15 minutes is said to be the exact time at the summit of Gauri Shankar – one of Nepal’s sacred mountains.)
The Dewali festival seems to combine Christmas (lights everywhere) Easter (flowers everywhere – mostly marigolds in long chains but also orchids and asters and etc.) Halloween (the kids go from door to door with their singing and drumming and stay until someone buys their silence with a coin), Thanksgiving (everyone tries to reunite with famlly) plus some Nepalese wrinkles (it goes on for several days; on the third day is the lights and dancing, on the fourth day siblings mark each other with a red spot on the forehead and exchange gifts). Nothing too rowdy at our hotel, just a Nepali band, men dancing, firecrackers, kids beating drums and tambourines and singing in time.
Dory and I got into our hotel about two, having consumed four airline meals plus treats in two airline lounges over the 28-hour travel period (counting layovers and delays) it took to get here. So we were not starving, and decided to go out and cruise the town. Our hotel is in Thamel, which is the heart of the trekkers and tourist section – lots of stores selling pashmina shawls and gold-plated jewelry as well as T-shirts and back-packing gear.Due to the holiday the streets were full of peope as well as cars, and we had to master the art of darting across busy streets with nary a stoplight in sight (we did spot one in the course of the walk but it was not working). The busiest streets have pedestrian overcrossings a la Hong Kong, great for climbing up to get an idea of where we might be.We managed to walk past the National Museum (closed for the festival), along what seemed to a fairly posh street (sidewalks and The United Colors of Benetton), made a right turn and found ourselved in the Old Town, walking past the Queens Pond (lovely white pavilion in the center of the pond, big marble elephants and other beasts looking on from the shore.) and detouring here and there to look at towers and temples and other bits of architecture for which we as yet have not learned the names.Every business and home had drawn a mandala design using colored powders at the door, surrounding a small basin containing oil and a candle wick, in turn surrounded by marigolds and other flowers. Many of these had been worn away by passing feet, so they seem not to be so sacred that you can’t step on them. At one temple we saw a couple of men carrying what looked like giant brown flower tassels; they turned out to be flute vendors; the “tassels” were made up of clusters of brown polished bamboo flutes. Lots of women in beautiful colorful saris and tunics, lots of men in drab western clothing – too bad for them! But they got to dance later, and the women not, it seemed.
We never made it to the official center of the old town, the Durbar Square, as we began to feel weary and think about dinner. We managed to relocate our hotel thanks to the business cards we had carefully picked up before we left – I was proud that I as chief navigator had gotten us to within a couple of blocks of the hotel (which is located on a side street) before we made our first inqury.
Dinner in Thamel offers every variety of cuisine to cater to the tourist taste. The food at the outdoor restaurant down the street was “fusion cuisine” a la Denny’s – you could have Pad Thai, Grilled Tofu with rice and steamed vegetables, or Beef Fajitas. It was served fresh, hot, and salty, and cost about $3 for a full plate and tea. We were not in the mood for adventure, and the location was lovely – we ate in the enclosed patio under an arcade, with little oil lamps set all along the arcade posts plus candles on the table and lights flickering around the door and staircase.
All well so far – this place reminds me a lot of rural Taiwan.