Kathmandu – a gateway to…

I landed at Kathmandu’s airport expecting a lift as arranged with my pre-booked hotel. It never came. I tried calling the Parawar Hotel via the phone number provided on the Booking.com website.  o joy. Swarmed by taxi-drivers expecting an easy fare, I eventually fell under the waves of the sharks and opted to get a taxi myself. 700NPR to the centre of Thamel, Kathmandu later and we could not find the address or Parawar Hotel. After 20 minutes of walking around aimlessly I stumbled on Horizon Hotel, as recommended by John and Will. I immediately bumped into them, like an awkward unintended stalker. I checked in. The staff of Horizon Hotel were supremely friendly, helpful and bowed to my every need without question. They went out of ther way. The showers were lovely and warm. The rooms cosy and a balcony felt most luxorious. The garden was green and warming. I enjoyed a bowl of cornflakes outside and many cups of tea. A large bag of laundry was done for 210NPR. I had a lift to the airport arranged and used the hotel’s computers to print my flight tickets. If I return to Nepal, I will book this place in advance.

That evening we went for food at the Kathmandu Steak House Restaurant. It was good, the cocktails aren’t perfect but the Everest beer wasn’t bad. I recommend the steak selections, there are many to choose from.   Later that evening I grabbed some water on the way back. During the night I was sat on the toilet, almost every five minutes for hours on end. Time and time again. I drank more water, discarding the bottle purchased the night before. It looked like a re-sealed bottle with bits in the water. I hadn’t noticed. Tuesday the 24th of January was written off. Two small pieces of banana cake and a litre of pure orange juice made up my evening’s dinner.

The afternoon and morning of the 25th involved wandering on a private tour of inner-city Kathmandu, shown by Surnesh, paying only in food and provisions for his young family. It was most friendly and cooperative. I ate a Mexican breakfast at Northfield Cafe and even at dinner struggled to tackle the aubergine dish, as Will ate is Burger blend and John a delightful looking Thai curry at Frens.

Frens has an outside location that is quaint, warm and the staff are friendly. The food is good. The starters, mains of aubergine went down well. The Gurkha beer wasn’t bad.

My second breakfast in the city was at Northfield Cafe because quite-frankly the food was good. On entering Northfield Cafe, I was tended to, given a good seat and told to relax. I was guided to a seat beneath a patio window, I was told it was warm. It was. The sun shone above but not in my eyes. I was presented the menu and shocked to see such variety, many Mexican style breakfasts and simpler choices sat there. I ordered. In fact, I returned for two more breakfasts and one evening meal with live music from a band called Samundra, playing the wonderful Sarangi (think Erhu meets violin).

I visited three temples: Swayambhunath, Pashupatinath Temple (Lord Shiva), and Boudhanath.

I visited Swayambhunath, having strolled from Thamel on foot. After exiting the dusty streets beneath, the climb between giant Buddha statues was wonderful. A step for every day of the year led past the 200NPR entrance fee booth. I paid as a Rhesus macaque pair dashed over my feet, keen to get up the top few steps before me, no doubt. At the top of the steps, I turned left, through the stalls of shiny and plasticy things for sale. From this I met a man, who I figured worked in a store, but expected nothing and he shown me each point one by one. I explained I did not want nor did I need a guide. I had read much on the temple in advance. That said, he was blooming informative, very much like the Vajra thunderbolt scepter, he stood out. His crooked few teeth and big bold eyes, friendly and inviting. He explained how the valley was once a huge lake and Swayambhunath self-created into a central lotus. He was impressed by my knowledge and thanked me for not just calling it the “monkey temple.” I did comment how wonderful it was to see monkeys and man co-existing. He introduced me to a pair of friendly monkeys, from the 1500 that occupy the area. He said these particular two monkeys were young and kept coming to him to look at him. I said, with no disrespect, that they liely saw comfort in his facial shape. He had a monkey-shaped face. I said I think this is a kind and caring blessing by nature. He laughed. I don’t think he took offence. We carried on our tour, the tour I hadn’t booked.

 

Some of the temple looked rough, following lightning strikes in 2011 and the April 2015 earthquake. As I toured renovation work was under way at almost every quarter. The stories of a collapsed monastery on that site, were sad to hear and the rubble still visible.

 

Used by both Hindus and Buddhists, this site is truly wonderful. The domed peaked stupa is cubical in places, has Buddha’s eyes looking in four directions. Torans, shaped perhaps pentagonal, carry massive statues and engravings. Thirteen tiers stand behind these and a Gajur above that. The details on all are mind-blowing. Pure enlightenment in Buddhist symbolism and deep detail. All around the main stupa there are temples, such as the Ajima Temple, and more prayer wheels than I thought was possible to construct. For me this was a proud feature in the Kathmandu Valley World Heritage site. I’m not religious but I could feel the special and sacred connection of man with belief here. It didn’t carry any pressure, just like my impromptu tour guide. I visited his stall after my tour, on my own accord. I invested in two artworks as gifts for friends.

 

Dr. Strange was filmed in many locations all over Kathmandu such as these three temples. I was lucky enough to see a fan dressing up as the title figure of the movie, Graphic Novels, showing even Marvel movies etc can inspire the odd person to travel and see sights from flicks. This will be most beneficial to Nepal where tourism, especially ecotourism, can booster a country in need of the world’s support. Geek Pride!

I hated the tourist experience of Pashupatinath Temple. As much as I respect the religious aspect, 1000NPR for that experience (or should I say inexperience?) was steeper than the Himalayas. I saw little. Non-Hindus are not permitted in most parts. In fact even western-Hindus are not permitted in many parts. Without clear signage, expect to walk beyond the boundaries and get shouted at. It is embarrassing and shameful. If you open your doors to guests, be clear. I was massively curious and ultimately disappointed. I’m not religious and this was the equivalent of opening a Christmas present, only to lose the ability of eyes, hands and ears to know what the gift was. Also, for the whole of the paid experience, I was tailed by several beggars. I did not enjoy it.

For lunch that day, I opted for Fire and Ice Pizzeria. It was worth a try for lunch. Good portions, amazing homemade crisps and a good side salad with my panini. The gnocchi was also very good, but lacked flavour even though I opted for butter and herbs.

Having read good reviews about Blueberry Kitchen & Coffee Shop, I decided to treat John & Will from Australia. They were flying out that day and had been most hospitable and welcoming throughout my month’s trek in Nepal. We enjoyed the breakfasts, I opted for Eggs Benedict with a great Hollandaise Sauce. It was probably the best breakfast I have eaten in Asia, including Hong Kong and many good western restaurants. Full on two great cappucinos and the main breakfast, I bid farewell and promised to write a fine review on TripAdvisor.

If walking in Thamel, firstly, try to use landmarks based on say fish for sale, signs that are unique, names that stand out. Secondly, enjoy it, push away buskers and hawkers politely. You must be mindful of pickpockets and scams but relax as much as possible. The streets weave here and there and seem to lack roadsigns or names. There are shops, cafes, bars tour operators galore. Actually, almost every alleyway masks the odd tucked away temple, with doors far shorter than the people – ghosts cannot bend, so cannot enter.

With a rucksack, now almost empty, I went gift-shopping, opting for several pieces at a shop called Beni, a recycling cooperative that handcrafts items. Beni Ghale and her team collect rubbish from the streets, old rice bags, and bike inner tubes to create something fashionable. Mostly functional too. The money goes to providing work for women in need and raising environmental awareness. They even many sanitary pads from natural materials.

Throughout my journey I had learnt much. Scenery, history, culture, and adventure had formed one delightfully exquisite and awe-inspiring view of Nepal. There were days, I witnessed the underprivileged of the country, the fragilities of a country emerging from political instability and rising from the ashes of two tremendously devastating earthquakes, but the experience remained eye-opening in many ways. My batteries of inspiration are charged to full.

 

 

 

 

 

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