Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by warpus, May 18, 2020.
Did you take any note of how many local people tended to wear traditional versus western clothing?
From what I remember most clothing we saw was western, but you'd see a decent amount of more traditional clothing as well, especially closer to religious sites and further away from touristy parts of town. Younger people seemed to almost exclusively wear western clothing.
After exploring Kathmandu Durbar Square I convinced Steve to continue walking south, so that we'd eventually get to Bagmati River, which is the main river that flows through Kathmandu. According to (out of date!) research there should have been a decent amount of wonderful sights right by the river.
We made our way south through more and more crazy streets eventually having to cross the craziest street of them all.. Kalimati Road, a major artery that runs east-west through the city and actually a large part of the country as well. Kathmandu does not have any traffic lights anywhere, so as a pedestrian you basically have to.. well.. go for it when you see an opening, just like in frogger. On this super busy road it didn't seem like this would be possible, but all you do is you wait until a local needs to cross the road and you wait behind them. When they go, you go. It took us about 10 minutes, but eventually we made it to the other side. "This river better be good!" I could almost hear Steve thinking.
We get to the river.. And... There's nothing there. We find ruins of buildings, garbage, construction, and almost no people at all. The river itself wasn't even worthy of a photogrpah.
According to my notes there should have been a nice walkway right by the river with merchants here and there and lots of activity. But.. There was nothing like that at all. A construction worker looked in our direction a bit confused. Children playing in the distance eventually ran past us and eyed us up and down curiously.
That 2015 earthquake sure did a number on the city.. I didn't even feel bad that we spent all that time making our way here only to find nothing.. I mean, I did a bit, as our time could have been spent differently, but I felt a lot worse for the inhabitants of Kathmandu and how much this affected them.
It didn't feel unsafe for us to be here, but I got the sense that we shouldn't really stick around too long. I found the people of Nepal to be some of the kindest and most welcoming people I've ever met anywhere, but if you're a western tourist (with electronics and a wallet on you), being in a very poor part of the world with nobody around just makes you feel like you're a target. If somebody got the idea to rob us, it would have been easy, since there was nobody around. We explored a bit to see if these merchants I read about were maybe nearby somewhere, but didn't stick around too long.
Eventually we had to walk all the way back to Thamel, on the way there crossing that insane Kalimati road. Unfortunately I do not have any photos from our walk, as this was truly a chaotic part of the city. My camera was in my backpack.
After stopping for dinner at a German-themed restaurant we eventually returned to Thamel, the backpacker mecca part of town.
Our hotel was a 15 minute walk from here, traffic permitting. On the very first day in the country this walk took us over a half an hour.
Returning to the hotel we felt like we made very good use of this day, exploring some very interesting parts of the city. Before dozing off I looked through my notes to figure out what we would be exploring the next day.
Your excellent description of your walk through the city made me open up google earth and explore Kathmandu!
Home Sweet Home
No, we weren't about to return to Canada, this post is more about how you develop that sense of "this is home" after you stay somewhere for a number of days. We were using our hotel as a HQ - we'd wake up, get out on an excursion around town and return in the evening or late afternoon. As such certain landmarks at and near the hotel began to feel like home and seeing them would often fill me with a sense of "home sweet home", i.e. I was returning to a place that has a comfortable bed waiting for me.
There was one landmark in particular that always caught our eye when we departed in the mornings and returned in the evenings. It wasn't right by the hotel, but we'd always pass right by it as we were walking to and from. It quickly became a bit of a marker or beacon of "Home Sweet Home"
At this point I was feeling quite at ease making my way through Nepali streets and navigating the customs and culture. The Nepali people make that quite a bit easier by being so friendly and hospitable. So I quite enjoyed all these walks we went on in the city even though it was often dusty, loud, packed with people, and a bit chaotic. I felt like I was at home, even though that didn't really make sense since I come from quite a different culture than this and I usually hate noisy crowds..
Depending on the time of day and exact location you could get away from the chaos as well
Thanks, I'm glad I was able to inspire you to do that! It is a fascinating city. I felt so at home here and I can't really explain it. Like I had some connection with this place and these people and I had returned home. Yet nothing about this place reminds me of home and if you had described Kathmandu to me I would have probably said that it doesn't sound great.
From my understanding Kathmandu valley used to be more like a collection of smaller towns, but since the 1970s the areas in between towns have been filled in and now it's a lot more connected. For instance, one day we went to Patan, which would have been maybe a half an hour walk south from that spot by the river. Patan (historical name, not current name) is the 3rd largest city in all of Nepal, and yet you can basically walk there from central Kathmandu. We were also technically in other cities when we went further out east to visit some Hindu temples (but that's a bit further out and we took a cab). When you see any sort of central hub on the map, that might very well be its own town that used to not be connected to Kathmandu but is now part of the connected urban area of greater Kathmandu.
Another interesting aspect of walking through the streets of this city.. You get an incredible variety of the age of buildings around you, especially when you get to these historic intersections/plazas like the Durbar squares. There is an incredible amount of history there and parts of each era might be represented in the buildings around you. Add in modern twists like all those cables and you get a unique urban landscape and feel
Previous life. Obviously.
This is one of the largest spherical stupas in the world. The site is about 11km north-east of the centre of town, on the outskirts of Kathmandu - so instead of walking we took a cab. The cab ride was rather eventful, as our driver swerved in and out of traffic to get us to our destination.. in the process getting swiped by a motorcycle. We had to stop for about 10 minutes while a nearby policeman took charge of the situation. The accident wasn't that bad, but the hit was noticable enough for the cab and motorcycle to pull over right away. The situation seemed to have been resolved to everyone's satisfaction (except perhaps the motorcyclist) and we were able to continue our journey.
This Stupa was built here in the 500s or so, although the exact first date of construction is unclear. This location is important because it is right on an ancient trade route running here from Tibet, from the north-east, which predates Kathmandu itself. When Tibetan refugees arrived in Nepal in the 1950s, many decided to set up their new life near this Stupa. Now there are over 50 gompas in existence surrounding the Stupa - they are Tibetan Buddhist centres of learning.
As you might already have guessed, it is considered impolite to walk around the stupa in the wrong direction.
This landmark was severely damaged by the 2015 earthquake and the spire on top of the dome had to be taken down for repair. It cost about $2 million to repair it and put it back up. Reconstruction materials included about 30kg of gold.
It's possible to walk around on some of the platforms closer to the dome and the spire, but first you have to find the stairs leading up.
The above are actually not the stairs leading up, or at least not the stairs you were supposed to take. There is a large "No trespassing" sign just out of view to the left, which disappointed us when we first saw it.. but we kept walking and eventually found the stairs that were open to tourists.
Those ladders you might have seen in previous photos aren't for tourists either, they're for maintenance staff.
More on the Bells
There are bells of all shapes and sizes around the stupa and this was the most interesting looking one. Buddhists will occasionally ring some of these bells as they circumambulate the stupa and the religious relics contained within.
I'm not sure if it's really clear how big this place. The stupa itself is quite large, the platforms it sits on are quite spread out, and it's all surrounded by a decent amount of open space, enclosed by buildings on all sides.
We checked out some of the stores, hoping to maybe come across a worthy souvenir.. but unfortunately this is a pretty touristy part of the city, even though it's nowhere near the city centre (where most tourists are). All the stores here sell the same stuff - overpriced wares targeted at tourists. Many of the stores sell mandala art, much of it beautiful.. but it's so expensive, and it would be so frustrating to hope to get it back home in good shape.. we didn't bother shopping here at all.
The rooftops of these buildings all have bars and cafes as well, which adds to the ambiance. You can see some of them in the above photo and in my next post you'll see the view from up top.
The View from up top
I thought I took more photos from the restaurant we ate lunch at, but it seems I didn't. But I said I would post a photo, so here's the view from the top:
There were a lot of competing options for a rooftop lunch here. We were mainly interested in a beer or two and some sort of a light lunch to tie us over until dinner. This particular establishment had pizza ovens and got good reviews and best of all was close to where we happened to be at the time, so we ended up getting pizza.
Ghyoilisanga Peace Garden
In an alleyway just north of the Boudhanath Stupa you can find this interesting garden/sanctuary that's nestled in between what appears to be residential bulidings. I haven't been able to find much information on this place, but from what I've been able to gather the soil from this location was used in the construction of the giant stupa. When it was all said and done water filled in the hole where the soil was dug out, which was then converted to a permanent pond. Some information I found suggests that this garden pays respects to the victims of the 2015 earthquake, although I'm not sure how accurate that is. The plaque in the first photo also mentions Tibetan - Chinese friendship. It is not easy to read though and appears to be a bit older.
This is one of the things I liked about Kathmandu. You'd find these interesting public spaces right in the middle of residential neighbourhoods.
To walk back to our hotel from here would take about an hour and a half. We were about the same distance away from our home base as the previous day when we ventured south to the Bagmati river. However, since we took a cab to get here it felt like we were further out than that. As such we decided to stick around the area and explore. I took out my map and research while we ate lunch and figured out a couple places nearby that we could explore. This peace garden was our first stop.
About a half an hour walk away from the giant stupa is a site important to Hindus. According to Hindu scriptures Lord Shiva is said to have lived in the area, which he also used for meditation. The site is right by same Bagmati river which we visited the previous day, just in a completely different part of the city (close to the airport).
I planned out a walking route to the site, which also includes a deer park and is decently large.. and hoped that there would be an entrance somewhere near. When we finally arrived it wasn't quite clear which way to go.. Eventually we found ourselves on a hill named Kailash Danda. From here you can see a slightly elevated view of the city, with the mountains surrounding the Kathmandu valley in the backdrop.
This hill is popular with locals, who come here to get away from the noisy city. It also seems to be a good spot for a picnic.
The river and sacred Hindu sites were just to the south-east of here. In the above photo I am facing north or west.
Entrance to Sacred Hindu site found!
We walked around the top of the hill and didn't really see a way to the river and the complex of sacred Hindu temples, as there was a fence blocking our path. We followed the fence to see where it leads, although we were beginning to feel like it was perhaps time to head back to more familiar parts of town, a bit discouraged by the previou's days walk that lead to nowhere.
I didn't want to give up though! We followed the fence and ended up getting to a sort of gate. A man approached us and asked for a passage fee to pass through the gate and said that he would lead us to the temples. We were a bit sketched out, as at the time we didn't really know much about where we were. We did not know that this hill was somewhat popular, even with tourists. We did not see any tourists around at the time at all so we figured we were in some part of town that only locals frequented. As such, how would it make sense for there to be a gate where you have to pay to see a local site? It seemed like it could be a scam.
I might have mentioned before how pleasant and welcoming the Nepali people are. This was my experience with every single interaction with the locals up to this point, which gave me a bit of hope that this guy was legit. Steve was ready to head back north towards the major artery road from where we could hail a cab. But I insisted. We paid the entrance fee and followed the man. The fee wasn't a lot, but to locals it would have been a decent amount, probably covering lunch, dinner, and a couple beers.
My camera was in my daypack throughout all of this, since I wanted to minimize the potential of the scammers being successful if this was indeed a scam. So I did not take any pictures at all as we made our way through some bush and then descended down a hill towards the river. We could see the Hindu temples in the distance, so it seemed like the man was leading us in the right direction. At this point it was clear which way to go - just follow the path right by the river and that seemed to lead right to the temples.
We thanked the man for leading us, but it took a bit of doing to shake him off. He was eager to become our guide as we walk through the temples, which we were not interested in at the time. He wasn't overly pushy, but pitched his idea to us and we had to tell him several times that we were not interested. Resigned, he eventually admitted defeat, told us to enjoy the temples, turned around and began to walk back from where we came.
At this point we were in a curious part of the city. There were no humans around, so we were still a bit sketched out and eager to get to the busy temple complex. For all we knew the man who lead us down here was now gathering friends. Probably not, but it was one of those "This is probably fine, but there are some red flags here" moments.
This place was also curious because there were all sorts of different species of birds hanging out nearby. Three of them came up to us and posed, so I couldn't resist taking my camera out of my backpack.
Continuing our walk, we could breathe a sigh of relief as we got closer and closer to the temple complex.
Pashupatinath Temple is the largest temple complex in all of Nepal and one of the four most important religious sites in Asia dedicated to Shiva. We arrived in the middle of a religious ceremony.
Human bodies were being cremated right by the holy to Hindus Bagmati river. Walking towards the temple we did not know what the smoke was, but eventually we figured out that it was human bodies that were being cremated. From my further research I was able to determine that this is a coveted spot to cremate relatives who have passed away, as it's supposed to help in the afterlife. Hindus prefer to cremate their dead, as it is believed that burning the body speeds up the soul's release from the body.
Parts of this temple were closed off to non-Hindus, although we were able to walk right by those burning pyres on our way out. We could have also hiked uphill and checked out some of the other temples in the complex, but it was almost dinner-time and the dusty nature of Kathmandu does get to you over time.. You can't really see it in the photos, but many people wear masks here because it is so dusty. All this burning human body smoke in the air added to our decision to navigate our way out of this temple complex towards the west, from where we were hoping to catch a cab.
On Tuesday November 14th, 2017
The modern name of Patan is Lalitpur, although on many maps it will still be marked as Patan. Confusingly enough it is also known as Manigal.
Patan is the oldest city in all of Nepal, believed to have been founded in the third century BC. It lies just south of Kathmandu and is the 3rd largest city in Nepal as well. I am including a map of the Kathmandu metro area so that you can better orient yourself in these posts:
The black outline you see is Thamel, the touristy backpacker part of town. The Garden of Dreams is the tourquoise dot on its eastern periphery. The green dot is where the palace hotel is and the red dot is where we were staying after we returned from the mountains. I've also marked certain parts of the map with a black dot, which signifies parts of the city we visited. Kathmandu Durbar Square is just south of Thamel and that black dot south-east of there, by the river, is where we ended up that one day when we were hoping to find a boardwalk with shops and temples but found nothing. Closer to the airport, in the north-eastern part of Kathmandu you can see Bodnath, the large stupa lying right on a road that runs to the north-east. That is the ancient trade route running to Tibet. Pashupatinath, The Hindu temple complex we visited the previous day is just south-west of there.
On this map it doesn't look like Patan and Kathmandu are fully connected, but this map undersells how built up the city is these days. I am not sure if it i's just out of date, but I couldn't find a better map. For instance, whenever we were being driven from or to the airport, it was always an urban jungle all the way there, with not too many open spaces. And Bodnath on the map, where that large stupa is.. There are buildings in all directions in that part of town.. yet looking at this map you'd think it is in the middle of nowhere.
With that out of the way, here's a shot of central Patan:
It's also easy to confuse this city with the Patan that you can find in India, which I believe is more popular with tourists. There are also other cities going by the same name in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
To add to the confusion the central part of town is Durbar Square, going by the same name as the Durbar Square north of the river. These were often differentiated by including the name of the city in front of the square name.. but not always.
Did you see any religious buildings other than budhist?
Hinduism is actually the main religion in Nepal, with about 80% of the population following that religion. There is a very strong cultural influence coming from India, you can see it in the cuisine and the music people listen to. For instance, when our guide was listening to music a decent amount of it was in Hindi. Many of the landmarks, cities, and other points of reference also have multiple names, often one in Hindi and the other Nepali.
On the trail we ran into mainly Buddhist temples because the Sherpa people are descendent from Tibetan migrants. As such, the Sherpa language is a Sino-Tibetan language and the Sherpa people are overwhelmingly Buddhist, due to these historical roots. (in contrast to the Indo-Aryan roots of the Hindi language)
Buddhists actually only make up about 9% of the population of the country. Islam is third with about 4%. Kirat, a shaman-based religion makes up 3% of the country and about 1.1% of the population are Christian. These demographics are about 10 years old so some of this information could be out of date (but you get the idea)
I only ever remember seeing Hindu and Buddhist religious buildings, but it's very possible we walked right past a mosque or something. All those historical intersections in Kathmandu (the Durbar squares and so on) are basically a mish-mash of religious buildings from all sorts of different eras. As such you get both Hindu and Buddhist buildings and in many cases Buddhist temples will have statues of Hindu deities as well. I experienced the same thing in Cambodia when exploring the temple complexes there back in 2013, and to a lesser extent in Vietnam as well.
This museum is a UNESCO World Heritage site, but was unfortunately quite affected by the 2015 earthquake. I am not really sure about the details but not everything was open.
Rescued Manimandapam Struts
A manimandapam is a sort of pavillion, almost like a fancy wooden gazebo. The 2015 earthquake hit Patan especially hard and destroyed several of these ancient manimandapams. Fortunately many of the pieces were rescued; we found them being stored in one of the wings of the museum, awaiting reassembly.
My apologies for the poor photography on display here. It was darker here and I didn't want to get too close. Couldn't use my flash either
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