The change from tea houses on the Everest Base Camp trek to the Yak’nYeti Hotel in Kathmandu was like the proverbial night and day. Hot water. Toilets that actually flushed and had attached seats.
We arrived in Kathmandu at the airport with the monkeys (see Leaving for Lukla or Monkeys in the Airport) in mid morning and headed to our hotel. The Yak’nYeti is a former palace and offered a breakfast buffet that ranged from American style scrambled eggs to Chinese food to Indian food to plenty of yak cheese. And who knew from what fruits the juices came. The clientele were as international as the food.
After 12 days in the middle of nowhere, J and I felt shopping should be our first urban trek. I found that Indian style Nepalese clothes fit me quite nicely and were a steal. Silk rugs from Kashmir also seemed like something that should migrate to Orlando. We were struck by how much more Indian Kathmandu’s culture was than what we’d encountered in the Himalayas.
Street crossing is an art in Kathmandu. There are no stop signs or traffic lights. Occasionally a traffic cop makes ineffectual arm gestures in an attempt to curb the cavalcade of scooters, cars and motorcycles. The crossing technique involves identifying someone who looks like they know what they are doing, and edging your way close to him or her. Eventually a mass of people all apparently doing the same thing congregates at the edge of the street. At one coordinated – but unspoken – moment the whole group moves with one accord across the street, hoping that the sheer mass will provide some protection.
The gardens at the hotel were lovely and we took full advantage of sitting outside in the sunshine and simply recovering. It was the first time in 12 days that we hadn’t awakened to hours of trekking. M and S bought a gherka knife for their son. Not sure what that says.
The next day was our arranged full day of sightseeing. M was still under the weather, so J, S and I, together with our guide, took off in a ridiculously large van to see the sights of Kathmandu. Actually we started off on foot and the van caught up with us later.
First stop -Durban Square. Very dusty; many unpaved roads, some due to roadwork going on in connection with the really staggering earthquake damage from 2015. Bins of juniper and burning incense helped counter some of the other smells.
There was an election going on and political party banners flew everywhere, as numerous as prayer flags in some locations. There appeared to be the Maoist Communists, the Soviet Communists (their flags still bore the old hammer and sickle), and some other party that I never did figure out but the flags were green.
Apparently until the introduction of cast concrete Kathmandu was considered a dream city – occupied by intricately carved wooden gods and goddesses, and elaborate residences. Much of the cast concrete collapsed in the earthquake, and the remaining palaces are slowly being rebuilt, but many are still propped up by ladders and metal poles, and you can see long cracks running down the facades.
We saw the monkey statue and the Shiva statue – many people making their devotions as a daily part of life.
I was most struck by the palace of the Kumari – the living goddess. She is selected at about age 5 or 6 and spends the next seven or so years living in a small palace that she is forbidden to leave. She’s tutored and cared for by the palace ladies. There’s a small tree in the courtyard that she can see. At age 12 or 13 she returns to regular life and the process starts all over. Apparently some times you can see her in the window – we didn’t, but could see shadows of the palace ladies and hear the murmur of voices.
We walked around the Thamal, had a soft drink, and waited for our van. We were off to the Swayambhunath, also known as the Monkey Temple, in honor of the number of simians that inhabit the grounds. It’s on a high hill with a spectacular view of Kathmandu.
A series of stupas, large and small, hearths where incense was burning, smell of butter lamps – all interspersed with small shops every which way. And lots of prayer flags.
I especially liked the black ebony seventh century Buddha. Simple and elegant, it cast a serene shadow over the hustle and color of the rest of the temple.
By then we’d been sight seeing for several hours and headed back to the hotel. That night we were treated to a farewell dinner at a restaurant that served Nepalese food (most of which we’d tried before in more genuine circumstances) and featured folk dances from different regions of Nepal.
Saturday was our last day, and we had a 7:20 pm flight to Dubai, followed by a straight through flight to Orlando. Our last excursion was to the Great Stupa and the surrounding monasteries and squares. The Great Stupa is fully restored and at 167 feet towers over the area. There were many devotees chanting, and there were special places where they could rest and fast. Just before we left I ventured into one of the monasteries. I wanted one last experience of those incredibly overwrought colors, oranges and reds, the scent of the juniper, and within the midst of it all, the serenity of the crimson robed chanting monks.