Friday, March 25, 2016

Kathmandu - Durbar Square

After breakfast this morning i set off on foot in Kathmandu from Thamel to Durbar Square. This was no easy feat. My map was mostly useless, due to the tangle of signless streets, so i headed vaguely south. The air was wonderfully cool and the city was fairly peaceful. Several wrong turns and false starts later, the temples emerged in front of me, shrouded in pigeons. Success! The journey though was also terrific, taking me through less touristy neighbourhoods and past scenes of daily life.

Durbar Square is at the heart of Kathmandu and is home to numerous temples, shrines and palaces. It is also busy with locals, worshipping, selling wares, and lounging on the steps. Sadly much of the square was badly damaged in the earthquake last year. The largest temple was completely destroyed and many others damaged. There are piles of rubble and wooden supports holding up the remaining buildings, but it is still amazing to explore.

Many of the statues and much of the ground are still stained with the colors of the Holi festival early in the week. People selling singing bowls, prayers wheels, and religious bric-a-brac. People feeding the hoards of pigeons. Rickshaw drivers waiting for their next fare. Women selling nuts and marigold chains. 

It was delightful. The oddest moment was visiting the temple that is home to Kumari, the living goddess. I was told that in minutes she would be making her daily appearance so i decided to hang out and wait. How often can one see a goddess in the flesh? Worshipped by Nepali Buddhists and some Hindus, she is believed to be the reincarnation of a particular goddess. The Kumari is selected from a particular caste when she is very young, like 4, and is picked based on various physical characteristics (i.e. Eyelashes like a cow, neck like a conch, etc.) and following a series of trials (including spending the night in a room filled with severed animal heads without fear). Once selected she serves as the goddess until puberty, at which point she is replaced. No photos are allowed. She finally came to the window on the 2nd floor and sat for our viewing. She was dressed in what appeared to be fine robes and wore dramatic makeup (think Jon Benet Ramsay meets Amy Winehouse). She sat for a minute, if that, looking bored, and than disappeared. Weird and a little awkward. 

While waiting for Kumari, i met a nice English woman traveling the world. We hung out for bit and had coffee (the first truly good coffee i have had on this trip), wandered around and saw the rest of Durbar Square, and then went for lunch on "Freak Street" (so named because it was popular with the hippies who traveled to Kathmandu in the late '60s and early '70s). For lunch i had my first mo mos: delicious steamed dumplings served with spicy sauce, sold everywhere. 

Parting ways with my lovely lunch companion, i wandered around the streets just north of Durbar Square, taking in the sights and crowds. There are shrines everywhere. The streets were so busy that it wasn't always possible to get pictures, but i did ok.

I decided to take a rickshaw back to Thamel. My first rickshaw! It was very fun snaking through the streets, a bit above the chaos, on the bumpy wheels. 
Arriving back, i walked over to the Garden of Dreams, a small and elegantly landscaped green space on the edge of Thamel and sat until i was bored.

I didn't do much for the rest of the day. A walk, a delicious dinner of traditional Nepalese dal bhat, and a cigar in a pleasant courtyard decorated with flowering shrubberies, prayer flags, and twinkly lights.

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