Friday, October 3, 2008

Kathmandu: Swayambhunath, Durbar Palace; Bus to Pokhara 10/2 – 10/3

We’re sitting at the Pokhara airport. Our flight is delayed for a couple hours because of clouds. The last two days have been as exhausting as the first two. Thursday in Kathmandu we got up and had a very nice breakfast on the roof of Helena’s, then did a little shopping. I bought an aluminum water bottle (the one thing I forgot to bring was my Nalgene bottle), and Kirsten got a neat shoulder bag for toting stuff around town so we didn’t have to carry a backpack. At the end of the morning, we walked down to Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, where the city’s kings used to rule from (durbar means “palace”).

The walk through the streets of Kathmandu was madness because it was so crowded with people, but no one was trying to sell us anything, so in that sense it was a little more relaxing, and it was amazing to see the ancient Hindu and Buddhist shrines and stupas in various states of decay randomly located throughout the old neighborhoods. Durbar Square is very old and shows it. We weren’t compelled to stay long, a little turned off by the commercial sadhus (holy men) wandering around looking for tourists to charge for blessing them with tikas (a red paste spot marked on the forehead) or taking their picture. However, we did find a nice place to sit at a terraced temple where we watched life go by through the square and appreciated the Newari pagoda temple architecture. According to LP, it was a Nepali arcitecht who exported the pagoda design to Kublai Khan in the late 13th century that inspired the eastern Asian pagoda.

After Durbar Square we walked back to the hotel and inquired about a room for the night, but they are completely booked through October. They did make a reservation for us with their contact at Hotel Tradition, however. Suddenly keen to the problem of finding lodging when we return to Kathmandu in a couple weeks, we spent the next few hours going around to hotels. All of the really highly recommended ones in Lonely Planet (LP) were booked through October, but we got rooms for the 16th and 17th at Hotel Utse, which is a really nice Tibetan hotel a block or two down a side street in Thamel.

We also ran back and forth to the KGH to check on our permits etc about three or four times, stopping for a light lunch of nan and Sprite at Le Bistro’s rooftop cafe, where my watch thermometer read 95 degrees. Finally, around 3:30, the agency guy showed up with them. We had our permits and bus & plane tickets, so the path to Jomsom was all laid out for us. Now we just had to survive all the in-country travel with no equipment, logitistics, or weather problems. At 4 o’clock we had a little time left in the day so we grabbed a taxi and went to Swayambhunath, aka the Monkey Temple, one of two famous Buddhist temples in Kathmandu that we wanted to visit. We tried to negotiate a 200 Nepali Rupie (NR) fare with the driver, but he was stubbornly firm on 250. Then he “offered” to wait for us at the temple for an hour and drive us back for another NR 500. He tried to convince us that because of the festival it would be hard to get a taxi back. When we arrived at the temple, there were plenty of taxis there, so we declined the offer. After the long, steep stair climb, we spent about half an hour at the temple. We walked around the stupa and spun the prayer wheels. Took pictures of all the monkeys milling about, walked through a Buddhist shrine, and watched a monk scrape parasites off of a puppy. When we returned to the bottom of the temple, we instantly found a taxi fare back to Thamel for NR 200.

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