Wednesday, March 30, 2016


I took a taxi from Bhaktapur to Nagarkot, a small village on a mountain in the Kathmandu valley. The only reasons to visit Nagartkot are for hiking and views of the mountains, the latter of which are dependant on the clouds. I could have taken the bus from Bhaktapur for pennies, but seeing the bus from the taxi made me glad that i splurged for the private transportation.
The drive up the mountain seemed to take forever. I kept thinking that we could not possibly go any higher, but we did, up past little shacks and rough looking hotels, higher into the trees.

The village of Nagarkot has a some places selling food and bottled beverages, but other than that it is just accommodations. My plan for spending two nights here was simply to do nothing but hike and read and rest, which is all there is to do.

I am staying at The Hotel At The End of the Universe, which is quite delightful. It has a nice main building with a restaurant and pleasant in and outdoor seating and then the accommodations are set out throughout a variety of cabins and tents. I had a cozy little cabin with a balcony overlooking the trees. 

At night and in the mornings here it is quite cold, but it is warm and lovely during the day. I have been on a couple of good hikes. The first day, as i set off on a trail into the forest it did occur to me that no one knew where i was or where i was going and i didn't have a cell phone, so if i were to, say, fall into a ravine and break my leg (a mishap for me which is well within the realm of possibility) no one would know where i was. I had at least brought water and an extra cigar. The hikes were lovely. Through dry forests and fields of wildflowers, overlooking valleys of tiered farmland. 

I saw no one except for three women carrying bundles of sticks along the path. 
Of course i cursed the steep hikes up the mountain which ultimately led me back to the main road, which itself was steep and had to be climbed to get back to my hotel, which sits atop a million stairs. Aside from all of this hiking and climbing, i have just been sitting around, reading, and drinking tea. 

Last night there was a torrential rain storm, which turned to hail of apocalyptic proportions. There was no electricity so i, one of the employees, and a girl from the UK  but living in Bangkok, sat in the main building, chatting by candlelight, and waiting for the weather to let up.  During this, there was also an earthquake, though not enough to cause any disruption.

My time in Nagarkot has been thoroughly relaxing and pleasant, as i had hoped for. The views of the mountains have been obscured by haze and cloud, but it has been lovely all the same. This was the best view of the Himalayas that i got...
Today, back to Kathmandu.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Prayers and Squares in Bhaktapur

One doesn't really need two days in Bhaktapur, but i had given myself two days for a more relaxing pace. This proved to be just fine. On my second day i was able to be leisurely in a way that i could not if i had to cram in sightseeing. I awoke at about 5am and shortly thereafter the square awakened. The large temple right outside my window had its door unlocked and then the bell ringing began. People began to enter the temple and each person that entered rang the bell at the threshold several times before entering. The men arrived empty handed but the women all arrived carrying brass trays on which (as best as i could tell) was a few smaller vessels filled with oil and some sort of power, as well as lots of flower petals, and in some cases bananas. I could see through the latticework on the windows that candles were lit. (Non-Hindus may not enter the temple so whatever else happened inside is a mystery.) this carried on for several hours. I also saw women climbing the stairs at the ruined temples and scattering flower petals and something else. When people left the temples they had flower petals on their heads.

I enjoyed my morning coffee at a decidedly western looking cafe called Beans, which had comfy sofas, excellent coffee, and a broad view of the square.

After breakfast i set out wandering. I wanted to find "potters square" (a square where pottery is made, dried, and decorated) and another more far flung square with more temples and whatnot. Of course it is really more about the walk than anything. For example, i came across a group of men pulling by a latge rope a massive wheeled cart, for what purpose i do not know, but it was squarely medieval in appearance.
I took a wrong turn heading for potters square and ended up walking through a residential area by the river, where the unpaved roads and brick buildings were in poor repair but it was interesting to see the goings on. A family of pigs picking through trash at the river bank, women sorting sticks for sale for what i do not know, people selling produce, women doing laundry. And of course, the requisite temples.

Turning back i came across potters square, which was tiny, but nice, with men creating the pots on wheels, women laying pottery in the sun to dry and glazing it, and people tending to straw covered kilns. And of course there were various vendors of the finished products.

I then set off for Tachupal Tole, which proved to be a lovely walk and a pretty square, marred only by some peripheral construction. Goats wandered about and men stood in groups watching the construction efforts. Tourists passed through in groups snapping pictures.

There was a large well in the square and women ceaselessly lowered jugs on ropes to the bottom, filling them with water, hoisting them out, emptying them into a large vessel, and repeated. It is amazing to think how luck those of us are who need only turn on a tap.

I sat in the square and had water and a lassi before strolling on, pausing just long enough to enjoy some of the erotic carvings on the main temple. (You'll notice that in the picture below the woman is washing her hair while getting rogered. I found that funny.)
And that was pretty much it for me for the day. Aimless wanderings, beverages, and not much else. I had plans for the evening, but they were cut short when a huge windstorm came up, shaking the windows and ringing all of the bells violently. I a city it would have still been fine to walk around, but here, with unpaved roads and so much broken brick and piles of dry dirt from the reconstruction, one would have been blinded by all of the dust swirling about. So i stayed put, reading my book by flashlight, and going to bed very early, which was fine.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Bhaktapur: The King of Curds

Leaving Kathmandu my next stop was Bhaktapur. It is a medieval city which is easily visited as a day trip from Kathmandu, but it sounded nice and small and pretty and i thought would be pleasant to spend a couple of nights there.

I arrived at the Shiva Guest house, which is right on the main square. A perfect location. 

My comfortable, albeit a bit shabby, 2nd floor room looks directly onto the square with a large temple so close i could hit it with a satsuma if i wished. (I do not.) i picked this place because it is well located but specifically because i wanted to enjoy the square at night, after the day trippers had left. I was not disappointed. My first night was so peaceful. I strolled around and then sat in the square with a cup of lemon ginger honey tea and a cigar and watched the area quieten to pigeons and dogs.

It's great here. Very quiet and chill. Still overly friendly guides and vendors of things, but there are fewer of them. Also far fewer cars. Sadly the earthquake damage here was quite bad. Some temples ruined but also blocks of traditional brick and intricately carved wood houses gone or lying in ruin. People here seem to think that more reconstruction could have been done since the disaster (a year ago next month), but the work is done so slowly and by hand, without the use of much equipment from what i could see.

Earthquakes aside, there is so much to see here. I explored on my first day. Maps really are of little help. Occasionally i can pull mine out and figure out where i am, but i have no idea how i got there. No matter though, wandering brings its own rewards.

I had a lunch of mo mos and yak cheese and looked out on the square, then walked more, until i had had my fill and returned to my room for some downtime before enjoyed the aforementioned evening on the square.

Food wise, Bhaktapur is famous for one thing - yogurt. Their yogurt is considered to be the best in the land and is referred to as "The King of Curds". You can get it just about anywhere, but there are a number of dingy hole in the wall joints that sell nothing but the creamy stuff from earthenware pots. 
Of course i had to try some. It is pretty great. Super creamy but not overly smooth, just a bit lumpy. It is plain and each bite had me wavering between whether it is sweetened or not. It is made from buffalo milk. One bite tasted tangy, the next sweet. The crown is well deserved.

I also got to see people cooking up mo mos, which i had not previously seen. Steaming them in large flat vessels. Mo mos in Nepal generally come in three varieties: veg, chicken, and "buff" (buffalo). 

The animals here are pretty standard - dogs, pigeons, and crows - but i did see this creature walking around the square and then napping in an archway. I have no idea what it is. A really big goat? A small, female yak? An undefinable, demonic, horned beast? Either way, it was not attractive and clearly wanted to be left alone.


On my last day in Kathmandu before going out of the city i decided to visit Patan. Patan is a separate city from Kathmandu, known as the city of arts, but with Kathmandu's sprawl, it now feels simply like a suburb. The drive never left the city, though it was as interesting drive as Kathmandu away from the tourist sights is quite different. More graffiti, a few sad looking malls, a couple of movie theatre. All very poor looking, but organized and functional. The traffic stuck to its proper sides of the street (unlike in Thamel).

Patan's main sight is its Durbar Square, which is similar to that in Kathmandu but with a bit more variety in the buildings that survived the earthquake. 

All around the square were winding streets with shops selling masks, paintings, and jewelry. And of course there were temples and shrines. It seems that every block has one, and judging by the spilled wax and scattered flower petals, they are in use. 

I really enjoyed Patan. There were the same amount of guides hassling for business, but it seemed quieter and more peaceful than Kathmandu. Nothing particularly exciting happened, but i had a lovely time, wandering mapless, and stopping for coffee or tea when i found just the right spot. 

A word about coffee. They have their own coffee beans here and when they are well prepared in a nice pourover or espresso, they are excellent, but most places serve Nescafe or something equally unpalatable. When you find a good place though the coffee here is excellent.

The rest the day was spent hanging out in Thamel, cigar smoking, reading, eating dinner. Nothing interesting but all pleasant. I was, however, ready to move on.

Friday, March 25, 2016


This morning i went for coffee and a lassi and then haggled my way into a taxi to Pashupatinath, an important Hindu temple and surrounding area on the banks of the Bagmati River. The temple itself though was not the draw. What makes the site so interesting is that on the banks of the river dead bodies are ritually cremated and then their ashes scattered in the river. 
The site itself is interesting to explore, as the river banks are dotted with temples and shrines, with sadhus (elaborated decorated Hindu holy men) lounging about, Hare Krishnas speaking with spiritual gurus, and monkeys scampering. And then there are visitors, like me.

I felt like kind of a dick when i entered through a side entrance and found myself shoulder to shoulder with grieving families right at the side of the pyres. I watched as two bodies were carried out, covered in golden cloth and marigolds and laid on the pyres and as they were then covered with straw and set alight. I didn't stay too long in the particular spot and i felt so conspicuous - plus, i wanted to take photos but would dare doing so in the thick of things, so i moved up above the activities and then stood on a bridge over the river.

You can see in the picture above the blackened feet and head sticking out. It didn't smell bad but was so smokey that it was difficult to breathe in some places.

I saw it all a bit out of sequence, but before the bodies are laid on the pyres, they are carried to another part of the river and their feet are dipped in the water, to make sure they are really dead, i was told.
The reason they do all of this and ultimately scatter the ashes in the river is so that the deceased can reach nirvana. A sort of short cut to eternal peace. It was all fascinating.

Surrounding the site is some earthquake damage and stalls selling religious items, cows wandering about, and numerous palm readers. Oh and there are ice cream vendors, because who doesn't like a bit of a treat with their ritual cremation? 

Leaving Pashupatinath i went to Bodhnath, which is the largest stupa in Asia and is a centre of Tibetan Buddhism, sadly the spire on top of the dome was damaged in the earthquake and had to be taken down. Reconstruction in underway. While this did diminish the beauty of the monument, the area was still a delight with Buddhist temples and monasteries and inviting shops selling handicrafts, incense, and tea. Incense burns everywhere as do tiny butter lamps.

I had lunch at a vegetarian restaurant that provides free meals to monks (lentils, vegetables, rice, and yogurt).
At this point, i got sick again. I felt exhausted and achy and run down, so i took a taxi back to Thamel and spent the rest of the day laying about. I have more than enough time in Kathmandu to see all i want to see, so i can afford some much needed resting.