After seven weeks, I’m finally I’ll. Delhi-belly has landed (or whatever the Nepali equivalent is) and I feel rough. I hope it’s Delhi-belly anyway. I’ve still got two full days in Kathmandu before I fly for it to pass – and if not, I’ve got enough immodium to plug up a brown bear for the winter.
To be honest, I was running out of things to do in Kathmandu anyway. I’ve been here for nearly a week, barring the day and a half I spent in Bhaktapur. My hostel here – the Alobar1000 – is really fun and there are lots of people passing through, some of whom I already knew from Pokhara. It has a great social atmosphere.
On Tuesday, I met my friend Eve, who I hadn’t seen in around two and a half years. It was so nice wandering about the streets of a Thamel and catching up together. She was just finishing up on an all-in two week tour of northern India, and had a flight home early the next day.
I’ll ignore Wednesday. Nothing really happens on Wednesdays. Oh wait, that’s not true – I visited the Swayambhunath temple. It was another stupa. Pretty, but ultimately not that interesting.
On Thursday, I planned to go and visit the Boudha Stupa (the largest in the world! Ooh!) with a group from the hostel. But first I had to navigate the very Kafka-esque Nepali general post office as I tried to send some things home. On arrival at the counter, I was given a long form to fill out and a used card-board box. Filling the form took around half-an-hour, and required me to scan my passport at the conveniently placed shop nearby. Once I had completed the form, my box (now filled) was handed to a woman who promptly stitched a linen bag to its exact dimensions. She then sowed up my things inside and gave me a pen to write the addresses on it. Next, I was directed to a men squatting by a candle. He proceeded to drip sealing wax (think medieval royal seals) on all the joins in the sowing, before returning my box. After that, I gave my forms to a woman behind a desk – with some confusion as she hadn’t been given the correct corresponding papers. Finally, I took my thoroughly sealed box to the main counter, where it was weighed and I was charged cash for the postage. In total, the process took nearly an hour and a half. Still, it was half the price of FedEx.
So, in the afternoon we took a local mini-van to see the Boudha stupa. Sadly, after you get over the initial size, it gets a little boring – especially when you realise that every photo from any angle looks exactly the same. We had lassis (or teas) and left to try and get in to Pashupatinath.
Pashupatinath is Kathmandu’s equivalent of the Ganges at Varanasi – a series of temples constructed along a riverside where Hindus come to perform open air cremations. We’d heard it costed 1000 rupees to enter (and had already decided not to pay). Sure enough, when we tried to walk in, a guard apprehended us to ask for our tickets. We tried to give him the slip. We failed. Instead of going into the temple area, we agreed to walk around the outside to see if we could look in from the outside. Somehow, we managed to find a secret (or at least unused) entrance down into the gulley where the temples were. A man approached us to try and be our guide. We were in, for free.
Seeing bodies burnt in the open humbles you. They lay the dead out, wrapped in linen, with as many as four separate funerals happening at once. One body waits whilst another is set alight. There is a kind of cold silence; speaking feels like an act of disrespect. We passed through, trying to make as little eye contact as possible, tracing our way through mourning families. Apparently, if someone touches a mourner, they become part of the funeral and must wash themselves in the river. It isn’t a place you can spend a lot of time in.
The following day (Friday), I took a bus to Bhaktapur with the aid of a friendly student from Tribhuvan university who I met en route. The guidebooks will tell you that Bhaktapur is a city, but that is hardly correct – it is a town on the edge of Kathmandu, made into a World Heritage Site. The town itself is beautiful: full of old Nepali architecture and Newari temples, its alleys and brick lanes wind down a hillside towards a river, less damaged by the earthquake than Kathmandu’s Durbar Square. Whilst there, I ate what was apparently a traditional Newari set meal in a local-looking cafe just off the Durban Square (probably where I picked up this unnamed illness). The entrance fee to the town is expensive (1500 rupees), and it wasn’t worth staying the night as I did. But I’m glad to have seen it.