Day 70 – Location: Kathmandu; Nepal.
First order of the day was to head to the travel clinic for a rabies booster injection. I walked through the Durbar Square and north amongst the little streets. Today they were looking even better than usual, with coloured metallic ribbons strung between the buildings, and the place was buzzing with people. It seemed today was a big market day and the squares and streets were packed with fruit and vegetable sellers, colourful produce stacked everywhere. There were lots of flowers and tikka powder sellers too, presumably there to sell wares for the upcoming Tihar festival. The area was a riot of colour and noise, it was pretty fantastic to walk through.
After half an hour I reached the clinic and received a quick and painless injection. I then contacted Ashman, the waiter from my hotel restaurant, as he had the day off and had suggested taking me to see Dhulikhel, a nice town south of Kathmandu. We met back at the hotel and walked to the bus station where we took a big, comfy local bus. I learned a bit more about Ashman on the hour-long journey. He was 22, had been working at the hotel for 6 months and was from a village a few hours from Kathmandu. He lived with his uncle in the city, who also worked at a hotel. He was from a Buddhist family and returned to see them about 4 times a year, giving money to his parents who can’t get work in their village.
We passed through the suburbs of Bhaktapur and went further out into the countryside passing through a big, dusty place called Banepa. We passed a huge standing, bronze-coloured statue on a hillside complete with trident, visible from miles away, and soon climbed up a hill into the town of Dhulikhel. It wasn’t anything remarkable to look at initially, but the views were already nice over the terraced hills below. It was a really hazy day and you couldn’t see far.
We walked uphill into the maze of old backstreets which were reminiscent of Kirtipur where I’d been yesterday. It was really nice, and the streets only had the occasional motorbike puttering past. Everywhere the strong sun was falling, women had rice out on mats to dry, and were raking and filtering it. We came to some nice little temples in a square and went down some alleys, coming out at a school where they were having a sports tournament. It looked a bit like the handball I’d seen in Thailand, with a volleyball net, but with a ball the size of a tennis ball, which the boys were keeping off the ground using their feet.
Ashman asked an old lady for directions and we climbed up some steps to a tiered temple on the hilltop. We had a good view in all directions and could see for miles. All around the temple, rice was laid out in swirling patterns where it had been raked. Ashman chatted to a woman up there as I took photos.
We could see a really big golden Buddah statue rising out of the forest on a hillside some distance away, and he asked her about it. We decided we’d head there after lunch, walked back to the main road and ducked into a little local restaurant where we ate some tasty chow mein and tried some Choyla, a local snack – fried buffalo pieces covered in chili sauce – and Sandeko – fried meat with onions – which was much nicer. Ashman insisted on paying, saying I was his guest, despite my protests!
I needed the loo and he warned me they weren’t good at this place. I didn’t really care, I’ve seen some nasty toilets on my travels. He led me around the back and there was a little shack. The squatter inside was standard but the stench was overwhelming, I’m not going to rose-coat this; a massive stinking poo was just sitting right there in the flat bit, mocking me. There was no water in the bucket to wash it away and no tap. I held my breath, did my business and got out as fast as I could, choking a bit and laughed with Ashman when he saw my face. He *had* warned me!
We set off to find the big Buddah and climb to the viewpoint above it. We followed a road through the town, past a football field where the kids were playing with full team kits.
The road led to an ornate gateway where a long flight of stone steps led up the hill into the woods. It was a steep climb and hard work. We walked for about half an hour passing little shrines along the way, and schoolkids running down, part of a school trip. We reached the Buddah sooner than I expected and walked around it. It offered good views of the valleys around us. It was really peaceful here too, we could only hear the birds and the breeze. Ashman chatted to an old man who maintained the site, who told him that it was 5 years old and built by the people of the Newari caste.
A few minutes further up the steps we reached the hill’s summit, where a small army camp surrounds the temple. Nepal still has camps like this as the political situation is volatile and the people in charge fear a return to civil war. Razor wire was pulled back to allow access up the steps to the temple, and guard posts with armed soldiers were dotted around the perimeter. They even had trenches dug here. I wondered if there’d been fighting here during the Maoist insurgency.
We soon saw why it was such a good spot for the army – the views up here were awesome, offering a 360 degree view of the hills and valleys stretching into the distance. The temple was only small and just a small hut-like building, with an ugly concrete viewing tower alongside. We climbed up and admired the views for a while. You could see Dhulikhel stretching out below and Banepa, the big town we’d driven through in the distance. It was quiet up here, a nice place – it’s known for its sunsets and sunrises, but unfortunately it was cloudy and hazy and we could only see a glimpse of the Himalayas through the clouds.
We descended the long flight of steps quickly and walked in the lowering sun back to the bus park, where we caught a bus back to Kathmandu. The views on the way back were nice with the setting sun, passing harvested rice fields and towns. It was a great sunset with the sun a big glowing orange dipping behind the clouds, casting golden light on the surroundings. The bus conductors are often young and one of them on this bus must have only been about 8 years old – clearly his education was being sacrificed for work. He was just as loud and energetic as his colleagues though. Bus conductors in Nepal have a chaotic job, they yell out the destinations as the bus cruises past bus stops, they hop off and take money, load people onto the bus and usually have to run and grab the rails as the bus speeds off – slapping the side or whistling if it’s taking off without them. I wonder how often buses leave their conductors behind in the dust by accident?
We hit major traffic entering Kathmandu in rush hour and the trip took an hour longer in this direction. We hopped off at Ratna park and walked through the post-work crowds back to the hotel. Ashman asked if he could use my shower as he doesn’t have one at home (that sucks) and it was the least I could do. I chilled out down in the restaurant, and he emerged happy from a hot shower, a treat for him. I spent the rest of the evening chilling out in a bar across the street with low tables and a decent wi-fi connection, actually managing to almost do a full photo blog post, and bought a bunch of Kindle books online which were downloaded onto it in minutes. Very handy!