Fifteen years ago Rand visited Kathmandu and fell in love with the city. I was worried that I wouldn’t be as excited and he would be disappointed.
Our bus from Pohkara dropped us off a few blocks from the backpacker ghetto, Thamel. We walked up the hill and were suddenly surrounded by shops selling everything from pashmina scarves to down jackets to prayer wheels. Restaurants serving cuisine from all over the world lined the streets.
There is something appealing about being surrounded by other travelers and familiar comfort food. Especially after being on the road for more than 10 months.
That night we stuffed our faces at LaBelle Dolche, eating the most delicious pasta we have had since beginning our travels in Asia.
The next day we left the traveler’s hub to explore the “real” Kathmandu. Taking the Lonely Planet walking tour of the area north of Durbar Square, we found ourselves ducking into small squares surrounded by several story high apartment buildings. In each square stood a stupa or other sculptures, many from medieval times.
The carvings were covered in red, orange, and yellow Hindu powders.
Laundry hung in these square right next to sculptures that anywhere else you would find in a museum.
Friendly locals hung out in squares, grandpas and little boys, groups of girls. Everyone greeting us as we walked through.
From one square you could often duck through a passageway to another square. We tried not to think about the earthquake that occurred here just a year before as we bent down and walked under the crumbling stone passageways.
Evidence of the earthquake could be seen in vacant lots with piles of stone and bricks and 2×4’s bracing weak buildings. Still for the most part life seemed back to normal in Nepal’s capital city.
In Durbar Square, some of the temples had been completely destroyed. Square platforms were all that remained.
Other temples that still stood were labeled according to whether they were safe to enter.
Rand found himself feeling emotional when comparing the differences in the square from 15 years ago.
Another difference that disappointed Rand was that the once free town square now had a 1500 rupee (15 USD) entry fee. We considered visiting after 6pm to avoid the fee, but the (falsely) thought the fee would go to help earthquake recovery efforts. It turned out that it probably just lined some politicians’ pockets.
By visiting during the day, however, we were able to see the Kumari, Kathmadu’s living goddess. A little girl is chosen to represent divinity. She lives in Durbar Square and appears in her window periodically.
We happened upon her palace as we wandered around the square. Visitors milled around the courtyard hoping the little goddess would show her face. One tour guide called to her. A minute later a little girl about 8 years old in a red gown and headpiece with eyes lined in black appeared at the window.
She stood there for a minute and then retreated. Then two other children came to the window. Perhaps the Kumari’s older sister and younger brother. I was struck by the contrast of the bejeweled goddess and the little boy in the cartooned t-shirt. You can’t take photos of the Kumari, but there is no rule about the other children.
I couldn’t help but wonder whether the Kumari enjoyed her time as a goddess (a new one is chosen when the current one reaches puberty) or whether she wishes she could play with her siblings instead of being on display all of the time.
In the shadow of one temple in Durbar Square, women sat selling bird food for the flocks of pigeons. Mary Poppins’ “Feed the Birds” kept going through my head as we watched the women and the birds.
The birds covered the ground under the temple and would flutter away when someone walked through, then return to the continue eating the bird seed.
Also called the Monkey Temple, Swayambunath is a 30 minute walk from Thamel. Getting to the stupa involves walking up 300 steps and dodging the monkeys that line the entryway.
I was carrying a water bottle and one monkey tried to grab it right out of my hand. I kept a tight grip and shouted, “No!” and the monkey ran off.
At the top a giant stupa rises into the sky.
Kopan Monestary and Boudinath
Also in the Kathmandu valley are Kopan monastery and the Boudinath temple. We took a taxi to the monastery and explored the colorful stupa and temples with the traveling family we met Goa.
Then we walked to Boudinath. Rand remembered fields and villages, but the walk was mostly through little towns.
At Boudinath, we found the top of stupa covered in scaffolding. It has apparently been ruined by the earthquake. Still hundreds of devotees circled the stupa clockwise, spinning the prayer wheels.
I needn’t worry about not liking Kathmandu. It is an amazing place. Grand stupas, colorful prayer flags, interesting shops, intriguing squares. It is easy to fall in love with Kathmandu.