I got to do a little bit of sightseeing while I was in Nepal, and what I did get to see was incredible. The first full day that I was in Nepal, I spent in Kathmandu. The driver, Shayam, dropped my friend Arun, the groom from the last post, off at the bus station and took me to Swayambhunath, the monkey temple and Durbar Square. We took the easy way to the temple, rather than the pilgrim’s path of 300 steps, which my knees much appreciated. It is referred to as the monkey temple because it swarms with rhesus macaques.
After Swayambhunath, we drove over to Patan Durbar Square. I did not speak any Nepali when I arrived, I picked up a few words and began to better read the gestures as the days went on, Shayam did not speak very much English, and I had forgotten my guide book. Give me a break, it was the first day and I seriously discombobulated. So we walked around for a bit, but I had some difficulty understanding what exactly it was I was looking at or understanding why it was important.
I did begin to notice the buildings; as we were in an older part of the city and the walls of the buildings were being held up with 4×4 planks of wood or metal rods. I came to understand that this was the beginning of the repairs from the earthquake in 2015. Shayam pointed out a sign next to a ruin that showed what the ancient temple looked like last year before the earthquake. It was heartbreaking to be able to see the before and after photos.
I am inspired by the rebuilding efforts being made throughout the country after the earthquake last year. I was told repeatedly that there were not many tourists around, even though to me it seemed like there were quite a few. So, on the Nepali’s behalf, I would like to let people know that Nepal is open and ready for your tourist business. The hotels, hospitals, restaurants, and airport are all open.
It is tragic that some of the ancient temples and structures were badly damaged by the earthquake, but tourist presence and the money we bring with us can greatly aid in the rebuilding efforts either directly by fees imposed to visit sites or indirectly by spending money in the community. So, if you needed that last push to make your decision to visit Nepal, consider this it. And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Later that day Anup, my friend Ashim’s cousin, took me around Kathmandu. He was really excited that I am a bit of a foodie, so we headed to the tourist area of Thamel for a food tour. We got plain lassi, a soda with salt in it, and a masala dosa. (The family was concerned that I didn’t like the food because I wasn’t able to eat two or more plates at the 9:30am meal, so Anup had been instructed to make sure I eat and he fulfilled his mission.) I got through only half of the dosa and made him eat the other half. (Anup saw me a few days later in Pokhara for the wedding and commented that even though I eat very little, compared to them, that they must be feeding enough because I had gained weight in the few days since he had seen me last. I took it as a compliment.)
While out on our food tour, we went to Pashupatinath Temple to watch a body being cremated along the riverbank. It was really an incredible sight to be able to see. Here in the U.S. we are so removed from death and mortality, but there it is more in the open and a regular fact of life. I like thinking of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” and as of right now consider cremation the path when I die.
The next day I took a bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu. The Nepali New Year was coming up and instead of the regular 40-ish buses going to Pokhara there were 80-ish buses and I still managed to get one of the very last seats at 7:15am. The regular bus seats were the nice tour bus buckets seats. My seat was on a metal bench, squished between two other ladies in the cab with the driver. Despite being cramped, I enjoyed the seat because I got the full view as we drove; the other vehicles, the hand signals they give to each other when it is safe to pass, the cliff face on the left side of the road, and the river valley far below to the right. I loved getting to learn more about how people interact even while sitting in a bus.
(We will pick up the Pokhara adventures, the middle of the trip, in a few weeks.)
I had one day back in Kathmandu before I left for home. Finally, the smog had cleared, for the first time I was in Nepal, we had the opportunity to glimpse the Himalayan Mountains. Off drove Shayam, Anup, and I to Nagarkot where we went to one of Anup’s favorite places to glimpse the Himalayas. The drive was lovely and smelled faintly of New Mexico -fresh air and whiffs of pine trees, but the arrival at the top was majestic took the cake. It is so hard to describe, so I won’t, just look at that picture.
On the way back from Nagarkot, we went to Bhaktapur, which is what had been scheduled for the day. Bhaktapur was fantastic. I began to understand more of the differences between my friend Ashim’s culture and his wife Manisha’s culture throughout the trip and visiting the Newari community of Bhaktapur helped me to begin to understand even further. While wandering in Bahktapur, we came across the Thangka School where students are taught to paint the Buddhist mandalas. It was absolutely incredible watching the students paint and I couldn’t bring myself to leave without one. It was a lovely end to an incredible trip.