It’s our first, and only, full day in Kathmandu! And it’s an early one, up at 3am. 3AM??!?! The going theory is most people are so discombobulated by the time they reach Nepal that 3am shouldn’t be a problem. It’s a problem for me, though. I’m doing quite well adjusting to the whole ‘dark out=sleep’ thing. And while my bed is not the most comfortable one in the world, I’m enjoying ample sleep. But alas I must follow the masses and we amble out of our room and head to Swayambhunath Temple, otherwise known as the Monkey Temple due to the large infestation of rhesus monkeys living there.
Will it be safe wandering the streets of such a large city at 4:45 in the morning, more than an hour before sunrise? Yeah, it’s not a problem at all and a great way to see a city. The streets are uncrowded and I very few cars are about. There is even some courtesy from the drivers who refrain from using their horn until more people are awake. The trash has been pushed into piles most likely because of the Dashain festival while the odor still lingers, long embedded in the stones of the street and walls of the buildings.
Our intent with such an early start is to witness the morning ceremony performed by the Buddhist monks at the temple. After climbing a LOT of steps and circling part of the temple we get our chance to witness the ritualistic chanting, playing of instruments and reading of prayers. A kind monk leaves his place at the ceremony when he notices some in our group sitting on the floor and proceeds to obtain and roll out a rug for us to be more comfortable. No thanks needed. That’s a common theme in this area and especially with the Sherpa people we will meet later, gratitude is not usually expressed. Until the past 50 years, there was no direct translation for Thank You in Nepali, at least not one used by folks in the street. Things that need to be done are simply done because, well, they need to be. It’s way different from American culture, obviously. There’s no need to thank someone for doing what obviously had to be done.
After the ceremony we wander around the grounds of the Temple and take pictures, pet cute puppies and watch as Kim nearly gets attacked by a monkey (never lock eyes with a monkey as Kim is doing at left…..she escaped just in time as a clawed pay whisked through her hair upon her retreat). More photos, more photos and more photos! We like photos! I have way too many to fit in this post and will make a slideshow at some point.
By the time we made our way down the backside of the Temple a market had sprung up at its entrance. Selling mainly bananas, fruits, vegetables and flowers, merchants simply lined up along side the road and in a small plaza laying out their wares on tarps or the ground. There are nuns, brightly dressed and holding their bowls, accepting alms so they may eat breakfast. Children gather around Diane as she’s also a kid magnet, showing them pictures of themselves as they try in vain to demand money for everything. Or pens or bon bons.
We walk back to the hotel to a city fully alive. The dogs are sniffing through the garbage. Chicken, squawking in protest, are being delivered to the slaughter house by the pickup truckful. Two old men and a younger man laugh and smile as they pass by on their way deeper into the city. Namaste is heard from we foreigners and almost always answered with the same. The response tells a story of how each person’s day is starting with just one word. Some voices smile and some are wishing you’d just move on, please?
After breakfast high atop a 6 story roof in the Thamel district, complete with the normal whacky stories people swap as they get to know each other, I head back to the hotel to take a snooze. I am decidedly NOT on the same clock as everyone else. Kim had headed out shopping and after my nap I decide to wander in search of another internet cafe. Remember, I’m not addicted. I’m also curious if any of the ATMs around work. I try two only to get my card spit back at me after I enter my PIN, leaving me wondering if someone just stole my info.
Lunch is at Fire and Ice, a pizza and pasta joint on the outskirts of Thamel. If you want to use the bathroom you have to ask the guard. He’s outside chatting with the guards from the bank who lazily swing their 12gauge shotguns in what appears to be boredom. Or indifference. Either way, I hope the guns aren’t loaded. I managed to retrieve 10,000 ruppies from the cash machine there as we head out to try to find a green Tara tanka for Kim. Many many shops later, no luck. But not for trying and not because we didn’t get any help…..everyone is very helpful and including one gentleman who takes us up to his personal studio looking for just the right one. He had some amazing works in progress and completed. It’s about now that Kim notices something isn’t sitting right with lunch. Luckily this is the only upset for her the entire trip and is linked to the pasta she had.
Kim and I peel off for dinner at Lhakpa’s house to meet his wife, kids, aunt and friend. The cab ride is insane and I have a video I will post at some point. I got used to the chaos of it by the end of the trip to Nepal, but the first couple of times in a cab at night are insane. Freaky insane. Zip zoom, honk! Fitting down streets and in between pedestrians with seemingly impossible margins for error. But I did grow to like it. For one thing, it’s really simple and organic; you just go and avoid. You don’t upset at what to most Americans seem like slights because if you did, your head would explode before you drove 3 miles.
Another crazy cab ride back to the hotel after a very hearty dinner. We spend some time repacking our bags for tomorrow we board a plane for Lhukla…..but not before the pandemonium of getting on a flight.
Day 4 coming soon!