Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the tag “Thamel”

Nepal – in and around Kathmandu – Day 6

The holiday is over, and the people of Kathmandu have returned from their families and festivities to normal – and so has the pollution level in the city.   We steered through appalling traffic and dust and made our way outward and upward into the foothills.  The further away from the valley we got, the clearer the air, but the haze was still evident until we were well up the foothills.  It is hard to know how to fix this problem – like all cities in developing countries Kathmandu is a magnet for people looking for education, opportunity, excitement.

We headed for Dawainkali –  the temple dedicated to Kali, goddess of death and destruction.  “We are lucky you took a break day,” says Shaku, our guide.  “If we had come on Monday as planned, there would be little to see, but Tuesday is a day for sacrifices.”  We look at each other dubiously.

We arrive at the site, and walk up a cobbled street past blocks and blocks of people selling items for sacrifice, ranging from bouquets of roses and garlands of marigolds to chickens and baby goats. Not so many souvenir sellers – these stalls are for genuine Nepali worshippers, not just for tourist show.

At the site two long queues of people writhe around the shrine.  In addition, paths are set aside for non-Hindus and others excluded from the temple to observe the proceedings.  Shaku confided that she was very unhappy not to be able to participate, as she was  the wrong time of the month; women in menses cannot enter the temple.  However, she directs us to the best vantage point, and we are able to witness the decapitation of a goat as well as the axing of a number of chickens and coconuts.

Once the sacrifice is made, the blood is sprinkled on Kali’s image, and the devotee is free to reclaim the chicken, goat, or coconut.  Just outside the inner shrine is a shed where the animals are plucked, gutted, and dismembered for later barbequing.  The marble floor of the area was stippled with blood drippings and mud – the thought crosses my mind that if I slip and fall I will probably have to be air-lifted to Delhi for blood purification.
Next we climb up a steep hill of steps to a second, less blood-thirsty shrine overlooking the first, where the worship of Vishnu goes on inside  while at the same time at a corner of the plaza has been set up as  a small temporary Buddhist shrine , festooned with prayer flags, and a group of Buddhists are devoutly reciting scriptures under the tutelage of a white-garbed teacher.  A nice example of Nepali’s peaceful coexistence of religions. (Maybe it’s only the Muslims and Christians whose evangelical fervor makes trouble?)

On the way down we stop for tea and sai, a sort of Nepalese donut.  Since we eat with our guide, the entire set including a Coke came to 70NP (the going rate for a Coke alone in Thamel is 80NP). However, the Nepalese make no secret of their double standard in pricing;  all the museums and historic sites charge foreigners and tourists 3-5 times as much as ‘citizens of the SAARC” – which includes India, Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal, Bhutan, etc.  This seems fair for the historic sites, as the funds are used for maintenance and restoration, and even at restaurants the tourist rate is still very reasonable – we have not paid more than $6 / person for any dinner.

Next we visit a relatively new Buddhist stupa founded by Thai Airlines in memory of the crew members and passengers of a Thai Airways flight between Bangkok and Katmandu that crashed in 1992.  Golden buddhas, and a good view of smoggy Kathmandu below.

Our final stop is at a traditional Newari village, where  women in traditional costumes are threshing and winnowing rice using woven trays – tirelessly filling the trays and tossing the rice to the wind to allow the chaff to float away.  Where were the men?  Groups of them squat on street corners playing cards with dried beans for markers.  “It is a festival time for them,” explains Shaku – but evidently not for the women.

Back through the dust and pollution and traffic to our hotel – this time I use my neck scarf as a face mask and it was better.  We bid our escorts good by with generous tips (I am not the wife of an ex-tour guide for nothing.)

Our third friend has joined us, and we have been moved to the Holy Himalayan Hotel’s equivalent of a penthouse suite -two rooms, one with a king bed and bathroom with a tub, the other with twin beds, a balcony, and a small kitchen.   The cost is actually less per person.

For dinner we follow the recommendation of my sister’s colleague and hit  Fire and Ice Pizzeria.  Like other restaurants in Thamel it was founded by people who came to hike and stayed – the pizzas are as authentic as can be made with Nepalese ingredients, and the place is packed.

We sat at table with a charming young Belgian couple who had just completed much of the Annapurna circuit and had also gone to the Chitwan national wildlife park – another of the World heritage sites in Nepal where one can enjoy bathing with the elephants,  canoeing through the rain forest, spotting rhinos, and dodging crocodiles.  Maybe next time.

Note to travelers in Kathmandu:  If you want to get seated promptly at a restaurant, arrive at 6PM or shortly after – by 7PM the joint was jammed and jumping.

Second note to travellers in Kathmandu:  if you want to get your check in a hurry at a restaurant that is jammed and jumping, fugeddaboudit.

Third note: When you get the bill, be sure they return the credit card BEFORE you sign the chit.

Nepal – Day One

Annapurna Range from our plane window as we descend into Kathmandu

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.

Dewali decorations - Marigolds everywhere!

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.

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