Hello there and Namaste.
Money problems aside, there we were in Nepal. Kathmandu. Not really sure what to expect. I’d heard stories about the country in advance from friends who had been there – some very positive, some very negative. One co-worker, who had spent considerable time in Nepal, was flying out from Singapore the very same day to join her Nepalese boyfriend in Goa. She liked Nepal better than India, though, and said she wished she were flying to Kathmandu rather than Goa. Another friend told me that the place (Kathmandu), was like Old Delhi, except dirtier and more crowded. So I had no idea what to expect. My former experience in Old Delhi had been indeed dirty and crowded, but at least at the time that hadn’t meant “bad.” It had meant “interesting and worth a closer look.”
The familiar scene at the airport – a swarm of taxi drivers and porters asking if they could help, where you were from (“Guten Tag!”), if you had your sightseeing tours already fixed because they could give it to you cheaper (“no thank you,” they mimicked us…). The weather was a bit cooler than Singapore, but only by a whisker. Without further ado (after our failed search for David), we were off to the hotel. We made arrangements with our travel company (yeah, we had help planning and executing the vacation…we were out of time and needed to get it done one way or another), for a pick-up from our guide at 4 pm for some sightseeing. The first day would be low-key after the long flight: a couple hours of sights, then back to the hotel for dinner and sleep.
Our guide in Nepal – a very nice older man and a native of Kathmandu, had prepared a 3-day itinerary for us that was heavy on temples and palaces and a bit light on walking/trekking. (Nepal was supposed to be our “active and nature” location) But to be fair, with only 3 full days there and the fact that I didn’t want to spend the whole of that time doing a trek, there wasn’t much he could have done. We convinced him to plan in at least one longer walk if not more.
“Namaskar” he greeted us with the traditional hands-in-prayer gesture and I asked what the difference between Namaste and Namaskar was. He explained that Namaskar was more commonly used in India (where he had studied), while Namaste was used more in Nepal. That may be, but further checking revealed that in addition Namaskar is the more formal version of the greeting. In more formal translations, the literal meaning is something like: “The spirit in me respects the spirit in you,” or “the divinity in me bows to the divinity in you,” but is more commonly equivalent to “greetings” or “good day in modern day translations.
And we were off to our first temple. The monkey temple, our guide called it, although that is not its formal name, and it was not far from the main city of Katmandu.
We got a a second taste of the traffic in Katmandu, which I have to admit, was simply hellish. While I’d been cognizant of it on the way from the airport, I was still a bit shell-shocked from the experience with the visas and hadn’t paid that much attention. Every meter we drove was punctuated by honking horns – both from other drivers and our own, the jumps and side swerves to make it through huge potholes or get around them, and the cows and animals wandering freely in the street, helping to create their own traffic jams.
But eventually we arrived and began a short climb up the stairs to the temple. Tibetan prayer flags were strung through the whole area, monkeys scampered around stealing fruit, vendors sold the standard souvenirs, and trinkets, and for the locals (since usually tourists don’t buy such things), you could snack on cool cucumbers with chili or chucks of coconut.
We wandered around a bit, and then made the (CLOCKWISE! ONLY CLOCKWISE!) circle around the main temple area, pausing to look at the view from here or from there. Dogs were stretched out enjoying the breeze that came through at that height. Dark rooms within the various temples were lit with the tiny oil lamps that one could find everywhere that were offered in devotion and prayer to the various Hindu and Buddhist entities. These lamps used to burn ghee in them, but when I called them ghee lamps, the guide corrected me, telling me that ghee was too expensive these days and now they simply held oil.
At one point, we came across a Buddha with the star of David on his chest and I had to wonder at that. We learned later that it is a symbol for knowledge as well.
The guide’s phone rang at that point, and our search for David came to an end as the guide learned where he was staying. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped to find him and give him back what we owed him. At the hotel later, I ordered a Nepalese Thali (small portions of different dishes – daal, chicken, raita, etc.), all very nice. The next morning, we would see Kathmandu proper and then head up the hill to Nagarkot for three nights – a beautiful area about an hour outside Kathmandu with views of the mountains, even Everest if we were lucky.