Thursday, November 12, 2015

Kathmandu, Nepal: What To Do, Kathmandu

Nepal conjures up pictures of Everest, mountain views, trekking, the wilderness.  None of which I will be bestowing upon you all, given I arrived with 10 tank tops and shorts and one pair of (hopefully real but doubtful) Nikes - I wasn't about to become the most ill-prepared trekker of all time.

That is to say, being in Nepal is inspiring. It makes me want to do one of the famous treks one day (Everest base camp, or the Annapurna circuit) - all the hikers you see around, the stores crammed to the brim with (hopefully real but definitely not) North Face jackets and backpacks and boots and trekking poles.  I definitely want to do one of these treks in my lifetime. Maybe with more than just tank tops.

Prayer flags galore

It is also crazy because the earthquake in Nepal was only 6 months ago - the impact is still incredibly real today; everywhere you look. So many temples and buildings just crumbled to the ground, huge cracks in buildings, and pile of bricks everywhere. It's very sad but Nepal is slowly rebuilding (and they need the tourist dollars more than ever!), which is beautiful to see.

Piles of bricks everywhere from the earthquake

The Fuel Shortage:
To throw a final wrench in the equation, there is currently a fuel crisis going on. It's been a little over a month, and I'm a little murky on the finer details - but big picture,  India and Nepal are in a fight (with India wanting a cut of Nepal's resources or a say in their politics or something like that, and Nepal refusing) - as retaliation, India has closed its border with Nepal. Which has caused a huge fuel shortage. And it is crazy.

There are 3-day-long queues currently for gas - you just see cars lined up for blocks and blocks and blocks, with most of the drivers absent (since they can't be expected to sit in their cars to wait for days!). Taxis are a ton more expensive than they are normally. Buses and planes have been cut dramatically - when you do see a bus, it is usually crammed to the brim with people (and tons more riding up top), and flights are often cancelled and re-routed. Most restaurants can't afford the extra money for cooking oil, so restaurant menus are scaled way back (usually they just offer what they can cook with wood fires), and my hotel in Kathmandu had zero hot water. And this is a pretty cold climate, so imagine freezing cold water in a freezing environment. I forgive all the stinky people in my hostel.

Mass chaos waiting for buses and lines everywhere

And people riding on top of buses everywhere!

What It's All About:
But about Kathmandu!  As the capital city of Nepal, Kathmandu is chaos. The streets are jammed with people and cars and scooters and noise and dust. As this city is where most trekkers begin their adventure, there's a ton of touristy parts filled with stores crammed with fake North Face/Mammuth jackets and gear. These stores sit alongside religious Hindu/Buddhist temples and stupas that are centuries old - it's such an interesting mix. Tourists mingle with locals, who you can often see carrying these huge, HUGE heavy loads on their heads.

Kathmandu's Durbar Square

Busy streets of Kathmandu
As a side note, my Lonely Planet did warn that you should either invest in a face mask or risk a throat/sinus infection from all the dust in the air (most roads are very shoddily paved/unpaved), and I thought my book was being ridiculous. And after a couple days, oh man were they right. I felt like my lungs were totally clogged.

Cliffnotes of the Day:

  • I spent a couple of very low-key days in Kathmandu - wandering the streets, browsing the shops, visiting some sites.

The streets of the uber-touristy neighborhood of Thamel in Kathmandu

Power, anyone?

  •  I visited Durbar Square, or the main square. This square used to be filled with tons of temples. And only a few remain standing after the earthquake, with the others reduced to piles of rubble. Most sites are now just a base of bricks with nothing on top - but there are signs that show you what used to be there. It was so, so sad to see. But you can also see ongoing construction everywhere as people rebuild = promising.

Narayan Temple photos, before vs. after earthquake

Another main temple - now just bricks
Temple propped up by poles
I'm in Durbar Square!
One of the Hindu gods
Another god - red and yellow are the most sacred colors, so they cover their deities in colored powder 

This is the courtyard of the palace of the Kumari. The Kumari is a living goddess that Nepalese believe in - they choose young prepubescent girls through a process that determines one is a goddess of divine female energy - then the girl is chosen as the Kumari, she lives in the palace, and comes out only for special ceremonies. Her reign ends when she hits puberty, which is when a new Kumari is chosen.

Some of the still-standing temples

Some of the temples have...very interesting karma sutra scenes carved all into the pillars. Some are definitely pretty graphic - see the bottom of all the pillars in the photo 

Even with all the construction and temples closed, people still find a way to honor their religions

A pretty common scene - a man carrying a HUGE load on his head

Selling the colored powder

  • Took a tour out to the famous Boudhanath Stupa - one of the most sacred places for Buddhists. It's one of the largest stupas in Nepal.  Also, my hostel had an organized tour out to the Stupa - but I ended up being the only one on it, so it was like a private tour!  My tour guide was a local named Om, and it was the best. Because it was the two of us, we went to take a local bus and do all these things that normally wouldn't have been possible in a group.

Huge groups of Tibetans come down to Nepal to worship during their cold season

Boudhanath Stupa at sunset. It's beautiful because all the Buddhists walk in circles around the Stupa (only clockwise) - you circle the stupa an auspicious number of times, i.e. an odd number (3, 5 or 7). 

Overlooking the stupa from a nearby temple. The top of the stupa (which was a long brick pillar on top of the stupa with eyes) crumbled during the earthquake, so only the base of the stupa is left. But as you can see, they're rebuilding!

  • We were only supposed to go to the Boudhanath stupa, but Om asked if I wanted to head to a famous nearby Hindu temple called Pashupatinath for sunset. Apparently there's a ceremony that goes on every morning and every evening - to give thanks for the day.
First off, Pashupatinath has monkeys everywhere!! 

And here we got to see the ceremony!  IF you see the orange sheet on the steps - that's a body, which they typically light on fire and send floating down the river (it's a holy river, and eventually leads to the Ganges River in India, which is the holiest river)

The ceremony involved a lot of fire-waving and singing and dancing

The temple and river at night - it was such a cool experience to get to be a part of.

Moment of the Day:
The morning I arrived in Kathmandu, there was a big to-do because David Beckham had arrived into town that day (he works with some children's organization in Nepal, because OF COURSE he does).  My driver was telling me about it as he was driving me from the airport. Suddenly, we reached a complete standstill, and all the cars were backed up. My driver was trying to pass, when a police vehicle drove up and stopped us - we watched as a car navigated its way through the streets and the car passed right next to our car. And there, inches away, was DAVID BECKHAM. His hand was out the window and it was literally so, so close to my window that I could have reached out my hand and touched his (and consequently gotten my arm shot off by the four machine gun-toting policeman protecting him). I didn't fully realize it, I thought it was just a fly-looking white man in sunglasses in a suit passing by, but my driver briefly asked the police vehicle and then turned around and told me. Eeeeeeeee.

Meal of the Day:
A very common Nepalese dish (and one I've been eating every day due to the fact it's one of the only things you can cook easily with a wood fire from the fuel crisis) are these little delicious dumplings called momos.  They typically can be stuffed with veggies or chicken, and they are dunked in a chili sauce or chutney. And they are delishhhhh.

Momos! (Sorry for the poor lighting)

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