Nepal Day 1

Durbar Square, Bhaktapur

Nagarkot, Nepal, March 23

I should have called that last post ‘How Badly Do I Want To Go To Kathmandu’, because apart from the horrors of airport processing, which happens everywhere, and the worst imaginable case of a mistaken early wake-up call, nothing reported actually happened in Kathmandu.  Except the photos!

But yesterday, Friday March 22nd, was full-on Kathmandu.  Just me and Azair, with driver Rai intermittently dropping us off and picking us up from various sightseeing hotspots. 

I should point out that this south Asian, or sub-continental, gallivant is a series of short guided tours of 5-6 days duration, conducted by Wendy Wu Tours and booked through my travel agent, or as I prefer to call her, my ‘travel angel’ BJ Direen, who does all the horrid boring work of booking and co-ordinating and visa-getting and all that stuff.   I know some folks insist on doing all that themselves but I am not one of them.  Nor am I one of those people who’s happy to land in a destination and take it from there, wandering hither and yon as fancy takes them, even to the extent of not knowing where they’ll sleep that night.  Such people may be described as…..young, most likely.  I’m far too old for that kind of caper.   I like someone waiting for me at the airport holding up a card with my name on it who’ll help with my bags and take me to a place where they are expecting me and will give me a nice clean room to shower and sleep in.  It doesn’t have to be fancy.  I slept in some pretty low-rent places in Cuba a year or so ago, God knows.  But it was still fun.

As for the itinerary, well, the tour companies have picked the best sites, haven’t they?  In terms of history and culture I mean.  History’s my thing, and I generally find there’s room for flexibility, as in the time we told our Iranian guide earlier this year that any number of mosques (we’d seen plenty already) and monuments could be dropped so we could visit the Den of Espionage Museum housed in the former US embassy in Tehran, scene of the 1979 hostage crisis and made thrilling for a politico/history buff like me in the movie Argo.  He obliged, and that was the highlight of Iran for me.   It will be the subject of a forthcoming post when I get back to where the photos are.

But I digress.  Back to Nepal. 

I finally fit into a disadvantaged minority category: the Non SAARC

This was our first stop yesterday – Changunarayan, site of ancient monuments and temples mostly dedicated to Lord Vishnu.  I’m not going to recite all the culture and history and religious symbology – there’s way too much of it.  But it is also the site of the oldest known writing in Nepal, a Sanskrit-based script shown here carved into a stone column and dating back to 464AD.

Guide Azair with oldest known writing in Nepal

Garuda, as in the Indonesian airline, is Vishnu’s form of aerial transport and here he is with food smeared over his mouth.  Someone has actually tried to feed him.

Well-fed Garuda

That’s been one of the striking things so far – the extent to which ancient rituals are still happening in a place otherwise trying to modernise and prosper like other nations. 

Chook blood, I suspect.

This was the most amazing one.  In Bhaktapur, the old central city, I came across this shrine where, Azair assured me, animal sacrifices still took place.  I was astonished.  But nobody objects, he says.  He himself, an educated man with the usual excellent knowledge of international affairs and his country’s culture and history, took part a few days earlier in the festival of Holi, where they throw red dye at each other.  I suppose it’s no sillier than mud-wrestling or cane toad racing, when you think about it. 

I didn’t dare ask what this was for.

But it IS ritual.  Nepal is 80% Hindu and 10% Buddhist, with some Muslims and Christians and Jews making up the rest in that order.  I read in a tourist brochure that they all happily perform one another’s rituals and celebrate one another’s festivals.  I was a bit sceptical about that until Azair, who was born Buddhist but is as much culturally Hindu, told me unprompted that he does it and loves it. And so did a chatty manager at my Nagarkot Hotel.

Many buildings are still being propped up

Everywhere we went there was evidence of the damage caused by the 2015 earthquake, and subsequent massive rebuilding effort. 

This one, being a holy site, was fixed early
This one was taking a bit longer. Note bamboo scaffolding
Rewiring too.

We had lunch at this fabulous spot. (below)

Here’s the obligatory food shot.

Obligatory food shot

Absolutely delish and wholesome mostly vegetarian meal, included in the tour and booked in advance.  That’s another good thing about going with a good tour company – you can eat what’s served up to you with total confidence.

The Nepalese people are friendly and warm and don’t seem to be sick of the sight of tourists yet.  This little girl – the littlest one – summoned me over for a handshake and a ‘namaste’ greeting.  Then her big sister rushed out to get some foreigner action.

And look – a Gurkha!  At least, he looks tough and gorgeous enough to be one but he admitted he wasn’t.  Wish I hadn’t asked now!  Did he know about Joanna Lumley and her campaign to help the Gurkhas? OF COURSE HE DID!  Azair too.  They both laughed, as if at my silly question.  I promised I’d put up a pic of his shop where, alas, there were no gurkha fridge magnets, only wicked-looking curved knives.

I’m pretty sure I’d choose cowardice over death.

Then it was up the hill to my night’s lodgings at the Mystic Mountain Hotel in Nagorkot.  It’s only 20 odd kms out of Kathmandu but it took over an hour to drive there what with the steep windy ascent and atrocious roads.  Of that more in the next post.

I’ll leave you with some rude statues.  Not intended to be pornographic, as Azair reminded me and as I’m sure we all know.  Once again it’s about solemn religious observance.