Kathmandu part 2

With much blog catching up done we decided it was time to do some proper sightseeing. The first thing on our list was Swayambhunath (the Monkey Temple), the infamous Buddhist temple that sits atop a hill. We can see it from our balcony. It was only about 3km away so we decided to walk. After studying the map we figured it looked easy enough, turn right out of our road carry on until we hit a junction of several roads, take the second right and we should hit the river. From there we should be able to see the temple so navigation would be easy.

IMG_8524All went well until we discovered we must have taken the wrong road at the junction. We ended up in Durbar Square. No matter, it was also on our list. There was something going on in the square, they had a stage set up and lots of official looking people were around. Since it was packed we just had a quick look around and carried on, picking a street we though might lead to the river.

We loved walking the streets. Narrow, busy (but manageable), dusty and polluted, you also come across shrines and temples, and random cows. We didn’t get a single bit of harassment. We passed a watch repair shop which was handy as Emma needed a new battery, it was an easy 2 minute stop. as we passed one of the many telephone stands we also called the local Silkair office to reconfirm our flights back to Auckland. Usually we don’t bother, we just check the flight schedule hasn’t changed online but according to the lonely mis-guidebook it’s essential to do it in Kathmandu and since these are long and important flights we figured for a cheap 2 minute local call from one of the phone shops, we may as well. Another job done.

We stopped at one of the roadside shrines and decided to check with a local that we were on the right track to the river. We were and in 2 minutes we found it. We followed the river back up to a main junction and from there could see the temple up on the hill so it was easy. We arrived at the east side and took the Pilgrims staircase up (Pilgrim’s stairways always equal lots of steep steps). There were plenty of tourists around. The temple compound is centred around a big stupa painted with the all seeing eyes of Buddha, it is one of the most iconic sights of Kathmandu. We took our time exploring, ignoring all the souvenir shops that line the walls, before finding a rooftop cafe for a black tea and a light lunch of momos.

img_8452.jpgWe could see our guesthouse from the rooftop cafe (it’s called the Yellow House for a reason) so took a good look at where it was and the other tall buildings nearby before we headed back, and this resulted in us taking a much more direct route. The streets on leaving the temple weaved around and had branches off them, we just kept guessing, figuring that once we hit the river we’d have no problems finding a main bridge and be able to figure out where we were. Surprisingly, we came out at the bridge. Two Sadhus were walking in front of us. One of the best known Kathmandu ‘scams’ is that these ‘holy men’ place a red tika on your forehead and then demand a big payment. We kept one eye on them and Emma noticed one dip his finger in his red paste (even though they had their backs to us) and had called the warning before they’d even stopped and turned around. We got through unscathed.

Over the bridge we took a road in roughly the right direction and followed it for a while until we figured it was about time to turn off it. Amazingly the road led us to one we know so it was an easy run back to the guesthouse.

The second to last day and we decided to head out of Kathmandu to Patan, a Unesco World Heritage listed town. It’s so close to Kathmandu it’s basically a suburb. We’d asked at the hotel and while we could take a bus they said its not worth the hassle as you have to get to the bus station, find the bus and then it takes a long time etc Instead they said take a taxi and told us what it should cost.

IMG_8556There’s usually at least 1 or 2 if not several taxis waiting on the main road at the bottom of our street, which makes sense since there are several guesthouses on our lane full of tourists/travellers and only one way out. Sure enough we hadn’t even got to the end before we were approached. It was a quick, simple negotiation. He said he wanted 33% more than the price we had been told, we said no this is the price we have been told is fair and that’s all we are going to pay, he said his bottom price was 50 rupees higher and we said fine we’ll find someone else as we would only pay a fair price and went to walk off. He said, then said ok he’d do it for that. Easy.

We enjoyed driving through the busy chaotic streets as we knew it would be one of the last times we’d be doing it for a long time.

We got dropped off at Durbar Suare (the main square where most of the sights are) agreeing with the driver that if he was there 9am on Sunday morning and would give us a fair price we’d go with him to the airport. We paid the entrance fee and got our tourist lanyards and joined the other tourists looking at the various buildings and temples. After seeing the square we spent a leisurely couple of hours exploring the backstreets all around it. We didn’t use the map, just wandered, finding temples, stupas and ponds. We’d lost the hordes of tourists surprisingly easily.

It was a nice, relaxed and friendly place. We stopped for tea near to the square and watched a tour group get absolutely mobbed by women selling bangles and necklaces. They were persistent and following them everywhere. We got approached by sellers once or twice but that was it, they’d got better off fish to fry.

IMG_8645By late afternoon we’d had enough, as we came to leave the first taxi driver tried asking for double what we had paid to get there (he was asking for the tourist price and we had paid the local price) we said no way and he rapidly dropped it but was adamant he couldn’t go less than 100 rupees more than we’d paid earlier so we said no and headed across the road to a driver that had signaled to Marie while we were negotiating with the first guy, ignoring the other drivers trying to tout us as we went. He offered us a fair price as his first price so it was deal done. It had been a hot day for the second day running  but on our journey back the sun had vanished behind a cloud so it was really pleasant. We got some afternoon snacks to tide us over until dinner and headed back to the guesthouse for a quick bit of respite.

Emma had decided that while her hair was a nice length it had no growing room and for the cost of NZ$1 she may as well get it cut again a bit shorter. We went out and asked a couple of places but of course the electricity was off so they could only do it with scissors. Emma opted to wait until the power came back on later, and instead we went to the internet and got the rest of our list of things to do done, so all we had left was to write about our last day and hit publish on the final entry. Emma got her haircut, it looks much better and we had dinner at a little restaurant that was within easy striking distance of the guesthouse.

IMG_8625The last day. We ditched the map and headed out to just walk the streets. Somewhere through Thamel we found the local market streets which were very busy. We found hidden temples and roadside shrines. Spun prayer wheels for the last time and topped up on important provisions like toilet roll. We ate things like momos for the last time and of course drank lots of black tea. All that is left to do is pack, enjoy one last sunset and get ourselves home safely. We’ll find out tomorrow if the 55 minutes Silkair have given us to change flights in Singapore actually is enough to get us and our bags to Auckland.

Observation:

  • They have the same lovely saying here that they do in India ‘Anything is possible’. What a great way to think about your own country.

Click on any image to enlarge and scroll through

 


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