Day 4 – Kathmandu by Foot
So much to see, so much to try to take in. Just walking here is a challenge, as the streets are about 10 feet wide with no sidewalks – so pedestrians compete for space with each other, sellers whose wares have spilled onto the street, fleets of honking motorbikes, taxis, and truck of all sizes. Somehow everyone seems to get where they are going, no raised voices, no fender benders, and we have seen only one scooter wipeout with no injury.
Our tour took us back to the Durbar Square, where we retraced a number of steps which we had hurried through yesterday, and also spent a good amount of time in the musty, dusty Royal history Museum which used to be a royal palace. It is hard to imagine royalty in these small, low-ceilinged rooms with dark wood timerbering and exposed brick. We burned out on reign after reign of pictures of royal tours and certificates of honorary degrees. So we found a rooftop restaurant at the Royal Park Guest House at which to have lunch and watch the passing parade four floors below – delicious, simple, and fun. On the wall of the entry were framed newspaper articles about the owner’s daughter who had been the first Nepalese woman to summit Mt. Everest, and later did it again with her fiancé to get married at the top.
South of Durbar Square is a succession of older neighborhoods with shrines every 20 yards, little hidden plazas and squares, cute children asking to have their photos taken, and mercifully less traffic.
An glimpse of international politics: we had just been wondering what was done about garbage in these narrow, clutered streets and courtyards when we saw our first garbage truck – decked with the flag of China – a good will gift from Nepal’s resource-hungry next door neighbor. As we spent more time in Nepal, we noticed more and more of such “gifts” – schools, medical laboratories, museum sponsorships – from Korea, Germany, China, India. There is a string attached – in return these countries seek permission to build hydro-electric power plants in Nepal’s pristine mountain areas – and route the electricity to factories outside of Nepal.
Every neighborhood has its own shrine and stupa, tucked away in coutyards accessible through low archways or narrow alleys. We saw all sorts of shops, ranging from the tourist knock-off centers (we snagged a reversible fleece branded “Patagonia” on one side and “North Face” on the other.) to stores that seemed to sell exclusively locks and keys, or exclusively thong sandals, or exclusively pots. No supermarkets, no Wal-Marts – I wondered what the Nepalese would make of our emporiums.
For dinner we ranged out to the Krua Thai restaurant in Thamel – another winner, on a rooftop overlooking the Thamel street circus but relatively quiet, and with excellent food. On a balmy night, with festival lights everywhere, a second-floor rooftop restaurant is easy to love.