Thursday, 14 November 2013

But it's not a Welsh Valley

The Kathmandu Valley. This is why I needed more days here. There's a lot of places I could visit, and actually I barely scratched the surface. Oh, I'll have to come back. What a shame.

Day 4 and for some stupid reason I'd decided to set my alarm for 8am so I could get to a couple of places, one of which I definitely couldn't pronounce the name of. Budhanilkantha. Yes, your turn.

No chance.

Lazy morning for me.

OK, let's have lunch at the Western Tandoori. And I finally found where it was!

I'd walked straight past it the first time. Or possibly I'd only walked halfway down the street before deciding it was too dodgy to have anything else on.

No Anselm, you're not in Newport any more, it's not how it works.

So at about 2pm I finally got going, only 5 hours later than planned. Patan was first, the sister city of Kathmandu. As in the bit south of the river, because they've basically merged now. But don't say that too loud, because they were competing city-states for centuries. They're all friends now though. Except at election time, that is.

Trying to find a bus to Patan in the bus "station" was interesting enough. Go to the far side. No, you've walked too far. No, take this one that is currently bouncing over potholes a bit too fast for comfort.

Dear Nepal: please don't install speed bumps on the bridge over the river. It smells badly enough as it is, without you prolonging my exposure to it.

Got in and what else to do but go for a wander? And get lost going for a wander?

I was looking for the Golden Temple, which seemed like it would be quite impressive.

I never found it. But I walked straight past the entrance to it.


And I got incredibly lost on the way. You know you're lost when the stares and hellos start. And when there are no more souvenir shops.

Eventually I found the Durbar Square, which was actually more impressive than Kathmandu's. It's fairly open and I nearly got away with getting in for free, because the ticket office is at the far end and it's fairly easy to "accidentally" wander in.

But climbing the steps of a temple to get another photo and you can't really use that excuse.
Expensive photo, and I couldn't even get it central.
Even when you claim you don't know there's an entrance fee (of course there's a fee, this is Nepal) or try to lose the guy that's trying to lead you to the ticket office.

Or try to run away when you get to the ticket office.

And get shouted at by the police.

OK, I'll pay you 500 rupees, if anything to avoid getting arrested.

I was wondering how he worked out that I didn't have a ticket, but quickly realised. The ticket is in the form of a lanyard. You wear your ticket round your neck. It's a giant piece of card that pretty much says TOURIST on it. Yes, just tag me and categorise me then. Just give me another opportunity to rant about tour groups why don't you?

Thanks Mr. Tour Guide for telling me that this was a good view, because I couldn't see that for myself.
I thought I'd make the most of it though, and spent long enough there that actually going to Boudhanilkantha was out of the question by the time I was done. Not that starting at 2pm helped at all.

Also, the ATMs here really don't want to give me cash. Genuinely took seven ATMs before I could actually withdraw any. Gave me a good retort to the various people who wanted my cash though!

On that note. Dear beggars: sitting outside the ATM is not fair game. Also, ATMs do not dispense the quantities of money that people might consider giving to you.

Day 5 and it was time to head up to Bhaktapur, which was a bit of a journey. Well, it's an hour away. And that journey would probably take 10 minutes anywhere else in the world. But wait, breakfast must take Nepali time to get to you, and even befriending the chef hasn't helped me. What a shame.

Eventually I made it out and I attempted to find the "Bhaktapur bus station". Why it needs its own station is beyond me, but this is Nepal and as I have discovered, I shouldn't try to explain anything here. But I couldn't find it for the life of me.

Thankfully a bus crawled round the corner with a conductor shouting "BHAKTAPUR-BHAKTAPUR-BHAKTAPUR" far too quickly. I shouted "Bhaktapur?" back, then confirmed with someone else on the bus that this was indeed the bus for Bhaktapur. Just in case I hadn't got the picture the first time.

Then I realised why the bus took an hour. We got on to what counts as a dual carriageway here, but the bus had to crawl along in search of ONE MORE PASSENGER. Despite the fact that there were BUS STOPS.

No, we must put many crates and bags of agricultural material in this passenger vehicle. OK then.

We got there eventually, and then the white man had to pay 1100 rupees to get in. To be fair, it covered a whole town, and the place did need restoration. It was orange enough to supply TOWIE with an alternative supply of fake tan, and being Nepal it would probably be fairly cheap. Cheap enough that I hope they don't get the idea.
Worth the steep price though
Costa Del Bhaktapur? No thanks.

And to the guy who tried to sell me a Gurkha knife. One, no I don't want it. Two, demonstrating it by damaging the paving stones of a UNESCO world heritage site is not going to convince me. Because I would never damage a world heritage site.
Move over, Dubai
I'm always interested in religious sites too, and indeed the various religions across the world. Many of us are on a quest to connect with the supernatural, to find something outside of ourselves, to discover our spirituality. And if you aren't already, you will be at some point. No, material things have their limits. Anyway, travel blog. Travel blog. Travel blog.

Changu Narayan is just up the road from Bhaktapur, and it's pretty much where you can trace the roots of Hinduism from.

It did have one drawback though: how on earth do you pronounce that name?

Oh right, they understand "Changu". I think I can manage that.

The bus up there really took "not leaving until full" to the extremes. Initially I was living the high life with a seat on the spare wheel, but then I had to stand up so we could fit MORE people in. No, this conductor's definition of full was "at least 3 people hanging out of the door".
This is a fairly empty Nepalese bus
Then just up the road we stopped to fit more people on. One of them was straddling the gearbox. No goats yet though. Various agricultural packages were on peoples' laps though, because this is Nepal.

I was accosted by a guy called Dhurba in the ticket office, who wanted to "go for tea" to "improve his English". I knew he was going to be a guide, and indeed he was fairly open about it - and he even paid for his own tea. But I was happy to have someone explain the basics of Hinduism to me, since it's something I've struggled to understand from what I've read, and given that I've got 5 weeks of it ahead of me, it made sense to understand it.

And the equivalent of £3.50 for a 40 minutes lesson is pretty good in the grand scheme of things.
The man himself
Yes, I took a guide. Don't get too excited.

We got about 2 minutes up the path and he started explaining some seemingly non-descript water tap to me. Yes, it didn't really matter. I was fairly worried that this was just some standard guided tour where they talk about absolute crap for a while to justify charging more for a longer tour.

No, no need to worry. He was just passing the time I think.

Once inside the actual temple, he did explain Hinduism as I'd asked, and answered some questions I had. Even put up with me confusing its beliefs with Buddhism a few times, which probably wasn't too clever of me, but there you go.
Shiny. Must be important.
So they have a trinity, and they make offerings. I see some parallels.

And I understand karma, reincarnation and the caste system now, and how they all link together.

No, no parallels there.

Lesson (no, I refuse to call it a tour) complete and back down to Bhaktapur.

On this bus the driver looked about 12, and the conductor didn't look a lot older. This could have been a fairly scary trip down the mountain road, given how Nepalese buses are generally driven, but he had his foot on the brake most of the way down, and we were just rolling fairly slowly.

Now THIS is Nepal
Then they changed drivers. Yes, they were swapping jobs for a bit. Which made me even more convinced that they were about 12.

The other guy was definitely a bus driver though - crazy enough to be. And on a mountain road, not so fun.

It was evening by the time we got back down there, but I had a wander of the back streets of Bhaktapur and got enough hellos, stares and giggles off the girls (yes, the white man's sheer presence is hilarious, isn't it?) to make me realise that yes, once again I was well off the general tourist trail.
20 Nepali kids with cameras is also interesting when a foreigner walks past.

Totally knackered and already dark, I headed back to Kathmandu. Except it's never dark here, because it's the start of Tihar, Nepal's biggest festival, and they always celebrate with large amounts of lights. Funny when the country has mass power cuts.

So I dragged myself back in the right general direction (genuinely thought about getting a rickshaw) and on the way I met a few girls I knew from the hostel. They were heading to Western Tandoori, and I was all too happy to be allowed to tag along.

The place was nearly full but the five of us squeezed on to a table that we definitely couldn't fit on to, which actually seemed quite cultured given that we were in Nepal. Two Belgian guys from Leuven said we could drag our table across next to theirs' though to give us more space, and they had some brilliant stories.

They were trekking in the Langtang Hills, when they came across a helicopter. They only had 6000 rupees with them, but the pilot was happy to take them back to Kathmandu for that. This is a story that they told as "we saw a helicopter, so we took it". As you do.

Then they realised they still had a few days left on their permit, and trekked from Kathmandu to their planned end point. Again, as you do.

They also bought "rooftop tickets" for the Pokhara-Kathmandu trip, which they thought were a joke. But no, this is Nepal, and the rooftop is serious business. Up they went. Apparently forgetting to duck for a power line will give you a nice cut on your neck, and the locals will laugh.

Oh, and there's only one farm in Belgium, or so we decided. But for that one, you definitely had to be there. And yes, I'm still going to put it on my blog, because I'm a nutter.

When I finally made it back to the hostel, they wanted a "serious conversation". I didn't know they were actually capable of such things, but there you go.

Because of Tihar you need to leave a day early for rafting.

OK, this is definitely part of your plan to get me to come back, but that's fine.

But you have to get up at 6:30am.

I'd much rather go to Dhulikel at a far more civilised hour and stare at the Himalayas for a bit, but this is pretty much my only option now.

This meant I had a bit of a mad rush to first find a box for my souvenirs, then to work out how I was going to get them back. In the end, I chose the cultured option of a Gorkha beer box, which will probably confuse the hell out of customs, but there you go.

And it was going to cost me 3500 rupees. £23.

Which is why you shouldn't buy stupid souvenirs.

I probably won't learn my lesson anyway.
Dear America: Chairman Mao has a message for you from his Nepalese grave

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