Day 69 – Location: Kiritipur, Nepal
Whilst I was having breakfast at the guest house Camille appeared. I met her and her sister Gersende afterwards. They’d been to Nargakot for the sunrise and sunset, near Bhaktapur. Although I’d been advised it’s one of the best views in Nepal, Camille wasn’t too impressed and said the visibility was poor. They’d had a good time walking around the area though.
They were off to Kirtipur today, a recommended town close to Kathmandu, and invited me to join them. I agreed and we caught a local mini bus from the bus station nearby. It was pretty big and comfy by Nepali standards. We drove through the sprawl of Kathmandu for about half an hour and wound our way through a short bit of countryside up a hill to Kirtipur. I was expecting some charming village but it was a typical, although very colourful town of stacked houses on the hillside. We were dropped off just outside town, where kids were playing football and a team of guys were stuffing blankets on the grass, beating the blankets with sticks to make the down more fluffy.
We walked uphill from the bus stop along the tall streets and came upon a big Thai-style Wat (temple) which we’d seen from the bus stop, decorated in red and gold with a large large golden stupa next to the main building. There was a memorial stone for a Thai airlines plane crash which had happened nearby. We saw two tourists inside, and for the rest of the day we didn’t see any more, which made a nice change!
We climbed up a steep path from the main road where the houses became more old and traditional, reminding me of Bhaktapur and Patan. We followed the sound of music to find a procession of people in black dress playing flutes and drums. We later learned they were promoting the opening of a new museum in the town.
As it was Saturday there was lots of activity as we wandered around the charming backstreets. The people here were really friendly and quite happy for us to take photos of them at work and play. Lots of women were drying rice on mats in the baking heat of the streets.
After a nice little stone temple we found a group of guys clustered around a piece of paper on which symbols were drawn. It was a dice gambling game. The participants dropped paper money from above to land randomly on one of the symbols. Then 6 dice were rolled, and you got a payout if your money was on the symbols which came up on the dice. The guy running it asked if we wanted to try. I gave it a go and got lucky – double my money back!
Shortly afterwards we passed a cute kid wearing a tiny bike helmet which was really funny, his mum let us take a photo.
Soon we found a collection of stupas at the top of the hill, with prayer flags fanning out like webs from each one. The central stupa was unusually painted blue around the top where the eyes were.
Down the other side of the hill we came to a small temple next to one of the big communal ponds that you can find in the old cities, which was covered in algae and had rubbish floating around in it. Cam had been chatting to a local guy who introduced himself. We’ll call him Kamal as I can’t remember his name, it was something like that! Kamal spoke good English and told us some history of the area, this was one of the five big city states of Nepal back in the day, and we were in the main square. I suspected that Kamal was a guide and was proved right later, but he wasn’t offering his services for money, just curious to get to know us and tell us a bit about the area. He explained that the green pond gets cleaned and filled with fresh water at certain times of the year for festivals.
Next to the pond was a very old and ornate wooden building with sloping windows. He said it was the old house for the king and queen of Kirtipur, back when it was a separate city-state. He offered to show us inside, it’s just a normal house now. The interior was quite dark and had low ceilings, with steep and simple wooden steps separating the floors – I had to bend on them to avoid bumping my head. We went into a simple bedroom where an old lady was sitting. After greeting her, Kamal insisted we sit in the windowsill seats overlooking the square, in the same spot that the king and the queen used to sit to watch their subjects.
We chatted about ourselves and found out about our guide. It turned out he is transgender, a devout Buddhist and does a variety of jobs including an unofficial tour guide. He was enlightened about his sexuality some years ago when a German couple was visiting him, they talked with him about his feelings and ultimately encouraged him to try women’s clothes and makeup! From that point he became open about his sexuality – not something to be sniffed at in this conservative country. He was already in an arranged marriage and actually sent his wife away, telling her he liked men, but romantically she kept coming back telling him she accepted him as he was. Eventually he took her back, and now they have a son and have been together for ten years. Luckily for him the locals are now very accepting of him and his sexuality. He’s now a gay and lesbian ambassador for Nepalese people, and goes to Kathmandu to meet other transgenders. It was pretty random to run into one of Nepal’s very few openly gay guys!
We left the house and I asked to photograph an old women in the courtyard who agreed via Kamal, as long as I paid her a tip. After giving her one small note she kept motioning for more until she had 3 and I wouldn’t give her any more!
Kamal invited us for tea at his house a few minutes away. He lives on the middle floor of one of the old street buildings. We took off our shoes at the living area/bedroom where his young wife was, and his two year old son was sleeping in the bed, despite it being about 2pm. It was a simple house, classic Nepali. We sat on cushions and his wife brought us some tasty local sweet tea which I hadn’t tried before. Kamal told us about his wife and his problems making money now he had a son to support. Other foreigners have visited him before and the German couple he’d met had even donated 400 euros to pay for his son’s medical checkups. Because of his sexuality and marital situation he used to have problems getting work, and had to do menial work like cleaning. Now he sometimes works as a guide amongst other better quality jobs. He obviously makes a bit of money from people like us who he invites to his house and shows around – who then pay him for the hospitality.
We were offered food, Kamal’s wife produced plates of beaten dry rice, which is hard and chewy, served with soy beans and pickled spinach. Although it was a simple meal, the flavour combinations were very tasty. Kamal’s son woke up and smiled to see the visitors in his house. Then Kamal did some prayers for us, sitting cross-legged and lighting incense. He prayed for our good luck and health one by one, sometimes murmuring under his breath. At two points he whipped his head sideways, which he told us afterwards was throwing bad premonitions he’d had away, about me and Cam. He’d also forseen a problem with Gersende’s arm and had put a protection charm on it. After this nice gesture we went outside, and he mentioned maybe we could give him something, which is as I’d expected, but it’s not often you get invited into a local house and shown around for nothing!
As we walked up the hill to see a temple we came to a political event in the street, with a big audience and a stage, with a large riot police presence, some carrying huge rifles. There are upcoming elections in Nepal and due to the very troubled political history there’s always the danger of trouble. It was a Maoist event judging by the flags, the party currently in government. First on stage there was traditional dancing by a woman in full Newari dress, twirling, running and swinging her long ponytail around to music. Then a guy came on stage to sing. A band with cymbals and drums marched past the proceedings, we’d seen this setup before, leading political marches around Kathmandu, presumably it was from another party sent to disrupt the occasion, as they were shadowed closely by the police keen to avoid trouble.
Our guide led us uphill to the biggest tiered temple of the town, another really old one with worn wooden carvings on the beams. The stone elephants guarding the steps had big spikes to stop people sitting on them! Kamal told me this was a temple where if you are single you should pray there to get a girlfriend. Of course he made me do it! There was a great view over Kathmandu from up here.
Around the yard there were some Nepali mountain bikers milling around and pulling wheelies. We got chatting to one of them who told us he and his friends go out riding every Saturday exploring the area around Kathmandu. He gave us some recommendations for places to visit too.
We left the temple and said goodbye to Kamal, we figured the cost of a normal lunch each plus a bit more was a fair price to pay him. He thanked us and invited us to visit him for the upcoming Diwali festival. We walked down the hill, passing the political event where an man was shouting animatedly, I guess they got to the meat of the proceedings. A line of riot police had blockaded one end of the street but let us pass. Blacked-out jeeps were waiting nearby, presumably to ferry off the politicians in a hurry afterwards before any trouble could start. The audience were clapping and nodding to the energetic speech.
We twisted our way down the hill through the old streets until the main road, passing some nice views of the Kathmandu valley, until we reached the bus stop. We hopped on a mini bus back to Kathmandu and on arrival tucked into some momos from a street stall. As is quite common here they were served in bowls made from leaves, an eco-friendly way to do fast food! They were really tasty and covered in a tomato and chili sauce. The girls were heading off to a Nepali friend’s house so I said goodbye and went down to the restaurant to write this diary entry, and chatted to Ashman who I’ve got to know the past few days, before turning in early.