Doing the Tourist Thing in Kathmandu

Our impressions of Kathmandu were slightly marred by its tourist ghetto: Thamel. Thamel is the centre of tourist activitiy, with hundreds of guest houses, German bakeries, internet cafes, rickshaw drivers, travel agents...The darker side of Thamel is a world of glue sniffing pre-teens, poverty and tourists spending more money in a week then many Nepalis earn in a year. Despite my extreme dislike of the neighborhoud, our hotel owners were extremely friendly and our room good value (especially if it weren't for the identical rock set that we heard from the nextdoor bar's Nepali cover band every night for 10 days). Every morning and evening we were greeted by two smiling young brothers sewing away at their machines, they embroidered t-shirts and the eldest at 22 years old had been doing so for 13 years. Even earlier in the morning the mother and son team of tea sellers started up their makeshift shop: a small cooking stove and a tea kettle. While his mother brewed a new batch, the small boy would run tea to store vendors through the neighborhood while collecting the empty glasses. Back at his stand he would clean the dirty glasses and start up with a new round. Each cup sells for about 6 rupees, that's 10 cents, and the pair wake up first and go to bed last. Our friend Megan, working in Kathmandu for the summer, was staying right in the heart of Thamel, at its biggest and most well known guest house. It was the centre of comings and goings of "important" people, including the Everest climbing team with oldest ever summiter (71 years old and didn't look it). Our evening routine in Thamel consisted of the three of us eating together at a restaurant that Megan had found, with the cheapest momo (dumpling) prices around. So we ate alot of momos then we hit the German bakeries for their late hour 50% off prices. During the week, while Megan worked hard all day, Yann and I hit Kathmandu's greatest hits:

A large Hindu temple complex on the banks of the Baghmati River, this is where Kathmandu-ites come to cremate their dead. Non Hindus aren't allowed in the temples, but they can cross the river and watch the cremations from the stairs on the opposite river bank. We searched for shade and found it in a row of white hollowed-out stupas, although most were already occupied by sleeping saddhus. One low key cremation ceremony was taking place and we sat and watched. Bodnath:
From Pashupatinath you can walk to the largest Buddhist stupa in the world, Bodnath. Tibetan buddhists have combined exercise and prayer in a lovely way. The more times you walk around the stupa, the more "prayer credit" you get. Throngs of faithful power walk around the stupa and you can't help but join in and get swept around yourself. Swayambunath:
This multi denominational shrine sits on top of a hillock with a spectacular view onto Kathmandu. Of course, at the height of the dry season, the haze prevented us from seeing much. Buddhist and Hindu faithfuls as well as lots of souvenir hawkers hang around the stupa conducting their various business. Butter lamps alters line the stairways up to the stupa and hundreds of monkeys too. Yann and I are becoming accustomed to Asia's temple monkeys, although I still don't trust them. Patan's Durbar Square:
Patan is a suburb of Kathmandu, and its town centre is quiet and beautifully preserved. The Durbar Square (meaning Royal Square) is packed with beautiful Newari buildings and temples. We visited on a week day and the square was mainly filled with elderly men in their pink and white Newari caps making their prayer rounds from shrine to shrine.
Kathmandu's Durbar Square:
On our first weekend in Nepal we strolled over to Kathmandu's Durbar Square, within walking distance from Thamel. The multi-storied Newari buildings and temples were filled with locals relaxing away from the sun. The main thing to do in the square is to walk around watching the locals haggle for merchandise and taking in the unique architecture. We even stumbled into the Kumari temple and got a glimpse of the Kumari Devi. She is Kathmandu's living goddess, who makes a brief appearance from her balcony in the temple every day. The living goddess is chosen after satisfying over 50 strict criteria ranging from eye colour to absense of moles. She then undergoes a series of tests to confirm her goddess stature. When she hits puberty, she returns to mere mortal status and a search begins for the new Kumari. Its hard for non-believers to see anything in Kumari other than a very made-up and costumed little girl. Just like it is hard to see Thamel as anything other than a very made-up and costumed piece of Nepal.


mom said...

Happy Canada Day to the sweeties!

paradiso(angry) said...

Émilie you must leqarn to trust the temple monkeys. Yann help her with this.
If you can fly inaugural flights on economy Indian airlines despite fear of flying , you can learn to trust temple monkeys. Nice piece of writing on the living goddess.