Thursday, 4 November 2010

5. Kathmandu - Monkeys, Cremations and Tequila ... Oh my

Feeling the panic of people who have realized they don't have much time left in the country, today was all about ticking boxes.

Breakfast at OR2K again was scrumptious. I had eggs cooked in a spicy and rather salty tomato sauce, Israeli salad and herbed potatoes. It also came with a large baguette, cream cheese, jam and a coffee. It cost around $3.20 and there was so much food I was stuffed and couldn't finish. One of the things that makes this place so special is how safe it feels to eat here. They soak all their food in iodine water and then rinse in mineral water to try and eliminate the risk of water born bugs. I often find myself ordering something fresh, knowing this could be the last salad and fruit I eat for a while. I wrapped my jam and cream cheese baguette in a napkin for later.

We then jumped a taxi to Bodhnath. This majestic stupa (the largest in the world) is about 20 minutes away from central Thamel. And our taxi driver was the most crazy yet. Not only did he keep stalling the car, coming extremely close to hitting the cars behind us as her tried to re-start it. But he kept making wrong turns and at one point did a u-turn in this crazy three way intersection. By the time we reached the stupa we were glad to have our feet back on solid ground.

Bodhnath is like the wealthy grandmother of Swayambhunath. Sitting in the middle of a square surrounded by shops, stalls and cafes, it's presence is omnipotent. You climb a small set of stairs to walk around the upper level of the stupa getting a view of the crowded square below. Walking in a clockwise direction, we wandered and photoed the stupa, young monks playing and the beautiful building surrounding it.

As we left we decided to head to our last Nepali stupa. Pashupatinath. This is Nepals most holy Hindu temple. If Bodhnath is Swayambhunath's rich grandmother. Then Pashupatinath is Bodhnaths decrepit, yet wise great aunt.

It's many icons and shrines cover a large area on both sides of the river. It is said to be Nepal's version of he Ganges and it's Ghats as they hold Cremations on the bank. It was the roughest of the stupas we have seen. The monkeys, lacked the healthy vitality of the ones at Swayambhunath. We saw our first injured monkeys. Apparently because of the old and exposed power lines they get electrocuted often. We saw one that had a gaping hole in it's leg with both ends of bone poking out. It was distressing to watch but a few locals tried help by keeping flies off it.

As I was watching it, one of the local men who approach you to try and be your guide mentioned that it was ok to take photos. I thought it was a strange thing to say until I realized that we were standing right in front of a funeral ghat. I quickly put my camera away but looked up to see many other westerners taking photos, some with massive zoom lens. I know that their guides, like the man I spoke to was probably telling them it was ok. But I was surprised at the lack of consideration they were showing at such a somber time in these peoples lives. After sitting and watching for a while we wandered off around the rest of the stupa.
We saw some Sadhu's. These men are dressed in yellow with their faces painted and dredlocked hair. For money you can take photos of them. We decided to do the tourist thing and took some snaps of them all lined up and posing. This seems to be a theme here, paying for the right to photograph and as much as it seems weird, it feels right.

As we walked down to leave we saw a tiny puppy who looked starving. I still had my roll from breakfast in my bag and couldn't help but give him a little bit. Then I decided to give the rest to a monkey. Normally I am against feeding animals in these situations but after talking it through I realised that this is how these monkeys survive. Over he last few days we have seen many locals feeding both the monkeys and the stray dogs. I pulled out my roll and broke a bit off to give to the nearest monkey. Ok I admit it was silly, because as I tried to get the band that was holding he napkin off he monkey jumped up grabbed it and pushed off me. Lesson learnt. DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS. I was lucky not to have been scratched or bitten and the monkey stalked us for a good 15 minutes afterwards.

We spent about 3 hours there. Watching amongst the locals, the cremations and pondering the process and the different ways cultures process the dead and their grief.

On the way home we decided to walk on a road within central Thamel that we hadn't been along yet. Slightly off the beaten track it took as down to the locals part of town. Full of hairdressers and butchers and other stores not setup for tourists. It got dark while we were down there and we talked about the fact that on night one, and even two we wouldnt have felt comfortable here during the day let alone the night. But although the locals can be in your face they are generally very friendly. In fact twice yesterday Trish accidentally overpaid a stall holder and both times they told her and gave the money back.

- Noticing how far we have come. On the first day there was this intersection that totally freaked me out. It seemed crazy busy. On the second day that same intersection was no problem at all but the one further round the corner seemed terrifying. On the third day that same intersection seems like a piece of cake. And on the fourth day I feel like I could cross the road anywhere in Kathmandu. It seems like a simple thing but if you had experienced the traffic and chaos on the roads here you would understand how far I've come.
- Eating dinner at OR2K (Or = light, 2, K = Kathmandu). As always divine food, a good bottle of wine, some laughs and to top it off we got sent two shots of tequila from the table across the room. With a quick Dhanubhad? (thank you) we had our one and only lick, sip, suck in Nepal and off we skipped home to bed.

Now it's back to our room, after one last run around to make sure we've grabbed the bargains we have seen over the last few days, to pack for India ... Oh my :)

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