Before Nim left us to go back to the UK, we made sure we had a second trip to Patan for her to spend some more time with friends there, and for the us all to explore the historical area of the Kathmandu Valley’s other city.
We followed the Lonely Planet’s ‘backstreets of Patan’ tour, from the city gate to Durbar Square. These winding streets were different again the the hubbub of Kathmandu, and the touristy feel of Bhaktaphur. These streets were where regular Nepali life was taking place. These were the streets where mini-Rob had cycled around when he used to live here.
A highlight was the self-explanatory Golden Temple, where slightly creepy brass monkeys watched us walk around the central shrine and investigate hidden courtyards and balconies.
A little further, we got chatting to a sixth generation Thangka artist, who took some time to explain the meaning of some of the mandalas we had admired.
Finally, after a lunch break we split up; Nim and Rob went to visit the Didis, while Sarah and I continued the sightseeing by exploring the maze of backstreets and alleyways.
One of the last tips in the Lonely Planet tour was to visit the temple in honour of the Kumari, the living goddess. After all, the book said, it’s not often you get to take a photo of a sign pointing to a living goddess.Well we got a bit more than that! The central courtyard was deserted; we took a few photos of the sign and were about to go when a man came out and said we were free to go inside as long as we took our shoes off and left a donation. We figured there must be more to take photos of inside so headed in, only to be given a private audience with the Kumari herself. Well, she is actually one of many Kumari. Every city in Nepal seems to have one, but wikipedia assures me that she is the second most holy, and that they only meet with important guests. It is strictly forbidden to take photos of her, but both received a tika blessing, and sat for a moment with her.
It was an amazing but strange experience. Although it seems she lives a very privileged life in Nepali standards, she was very young and it seemed a very lonely place for such a young girl. She will live there though, her feet never touching the floor, until she reaches puberty; paraded and presented for ceremonies. I couldn’t help but feel sad for her.
Sarah and I reunited with Rob and Nim at Durbar Square, for some final sightseeing. By this stage though it was ridiculously hot and a massive storm was clearly rolling in over the hills. Also we had to
escape say goodbye to Sarah’s new best friend, a singing bowl seller who had fallen in love at first sight. He showed off his knowledge of languages (how to say singing bowls in German, Spanish, French and not really Italian), and then listened adoringly as she explained all the reasons she did not need a singing bowl, or a tour guide.
It was a great last day with Nim, and Rob and I will definitely be back after trekking to spend what’s left of our budget.
Nic & Rob
Ever since a doctor recommended I try meditation to reduce stress, after a rubbish year of health, I’ve been practising meditation, following the Tibetan teachings at my local FPMT school. It worked: that was over six years ago and my health has been pretty amazing, largely due to the fact that I just don’t allow myself to get as stressed or anxious any more. That and my amazing husband, who may have asked me to add that.
The home of the FPMT is here in the Kathmandu Valley. Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Lama Yeshe founded the school and Kopan Monastery to introduce the Tibetan mediation practises to the influx of westerners to Nepal from the 1970s onwards. It is the birthplace of my calm and I was determined that we would get to visit during this stay in Kathmandu.
The monastery itself is stunning, standing high on a hill above the city. It is like another world; a world without beeping car horns, and pollution and dust. I wasn’t sure what the others would make of it, but I think we all found our calm there.
Although the daily Dharma talks had not yet started up, I was welcomed into Morning Puja with the monks and nuns, which was amazing experience. Outside the gompa, the others were enjoying the monks’ hospitality, and each received a bag stuffed full of edible goodies.
After enjoying the beautiful gardens and views from the cafe, we walked down the valley, towards one of my other favourite places in Kathmandu: Boudhanath. One of the largest Stupas in the world, it is one of the most interesting places (particularly for people watching) on the tourist trail.
Nic & Rob
The adventure continues and Sarah has arrived to join in with the touristing (and eating and sweating). So far we have attended two yoga classes (one of which was not actual yoga, but just some bloke telling us to relax while he made up the next position, air-cycling), two meditations sessions, eaten approximately 400 momos between us, and confused at least eight locals with our attempts at bartering. It is fun.
We got some culture done by heading out of Kathmandu to the ancient city of Bhaktapur, where to our delight, cars are pretty much banned. It’s not so much the constant dodging of vehicles that has got old fast, but the incessant beeping of horns. It was instant calm within the city walls, despite the intense heat.
The city was full of beautiful old temples and palaces, with some stunning viewpoints. We were also lucky again to see yet more noisy dancing in red, courtesy of the Teej celebrations.
As Nim has not that much time left in Nepal, we headed out to Patan to meet up with the Didis and Aama for some Dal Bhat and catch-up. It was lovely to see them again, and they were laughing lots as they reminisced about the mischief Nim and Rob used to get up to as mini-people.
We are also working our way through the restaurants of Thamel – a favourite being New Orleans Cafe on a Wednesday and Saturday when they have life music from Nepali bands. Sarah has a lovely photo of her unwanted cake getting smooshed into my face on her blog.
Nic & Rob
We took Nim to Syambhunath to see the monkeys and the views over the Kathmandu Valley, which were just as impressive as we remembered.
The walk was hot and tiring but the monkeys were entertaining, and at the top we were treated to a very loud musical procession, as part of the Teej celebrations.
We found the Stupa View Cafe and avoided melting completely, whilst enjoying the views some more. It’s just amazing how far you can see across the valley, even on a misty, end-of-monsoon day.
On the final steps back down towards the dusty ground level of Kathmandu, as we paused to take in the view one last time, a monkey crept up and touched Rob’s leg. It was a little bit intimate, and a little bit hilarious.
Nic & Rob
Last time we arrived in Kathmandu, almost four years ago, we were fresh from the slightly stressful New Delhi. Thamel, in comparison, was a peaceful haven. We were both a little nervous that culture shock might not be so kind to us this time around.
Well, despite being very noisy and very hot, we seemed to have done okay so far. We started slowly just relaxing and getting our bearings, getting over jet-lag and it’s taken a couple of days to emerge from the stupor of travel. Now we are finding our feet in our new routine; breakfast on the terrace, coffee in Himalayan Java, meandering around the shops. We read, write postcards and journals on the rooftop and listen to the clanging and clattering of Thamel life. Everything here is punctuated with horns and whistles.
I’m not sure yet whether it’s changed much, or just my perspective but it does seem louder than it was four years ago. We are sandwiched between a Rock bar and a cheesy disco; I am just glad that I brought a month’s supply of earplugs with me.
Rob’s sister, Nim, has joined us – the first time she’s been back to her childhood home since they left fourteenish years ago.
While the sun shone we have wandered further, down to Kathmandu’s Old Town. Away from the leafy tourist cafes and breezy terraces, the heat really hits you.
It is Teej, the festival of women , who are all now wearing red to celebrate. The streets are heaving with people, but not that many tourists yet. It’s still a few weeks before the rains stop and the trekking season begins. And it’ll get hotter and wetter before then!
The rains seem to arrive every afternoon, rolling in over the Kathmandu hills (not mountains, although they seem big enough from here), the skies darken for an hour or so. It’s both calming and dramatic, and I’m loving it so far. Just a few more days until Sarah arrives and we can begin the real touristy business of seeing our favourite parts of Kathmandu, and all the parts I didn’t get a chance to visit last time.
Nic and Rob x