I had never really toured Asia as an adult. There were short trips to Bangkok and Hongkong (before they were China) when I was around 10 or 11 and there was a failed trip to Malaysia but other than those, I have not been sightseeing to any countries neighbouring the Philippines where I paid for my own airfare. This trip to Nepal was a first for a lot of things and our second day in Kathmandu, even though it was not high on our priorities (we came for the mountains baby!), was looked forward to as a chance to be proper tourist-y. We had our city tour scheduled for Day 2. We were allotted a guide, a driver and a car and we were to spend the day going around some of the sights in the city.
Our first stop was a place called Pashupatina. It is a temple for the Hindu God Shiva that followers frequented on Mondays…and just our luck, it was Monday when we went there, so we could observe what people were doing. The temple itself was off limits to non Hindus, but we went around the vicinity and was a few meters short of actually entering the temple. The area around the temple was filled with smaller shrines and some of it also dedicated to Shiva — now I might be wrong in this, but the smaller shrines had a bull on the outside, and I know for certain that the bull is said to be Shiva’s vehicle and he stands guard outside Shiva’s shrine. This plus the fact that we had glimpsed a bull on the main Pashupatina temple tells me that I’m right.
Apart from the temple, what I had found interesting was that outside the temple was a river, and along the river banks (the Bagmati River based on research) were areas where the dead can be cremated. We were warned about this and were told that we can skip this if we didn’t feel up for it, but we thought we’d give it a go. At the time we were there, one family was preparing the body and had even started the fire. The body was wrapped in cloth and there really was nothing off putting by the ceremony, I think. At one point I had even stopped taking photos even though it was allowed — I figured the few photos I had were enough touristy shots and that I should keep my distance (across the river) and let the family get on with their ceremony.
Our guide told me that once the body has burned, the ashes are washed away in the river. As I looked upstream I saw women washing in the same river and she (our guide) tells me that they wash themselves before heading to the temple. So upstream is where the living are, preparing for worship and downstream is where the dead are in their final resting place. To add to that I had seen a man bathing himself on the river as well — making it a very well used river.
Our second destination for the day was the Swayambunath Stupa, a temple on top of a hill that, as I understood from our guide, was shared by both Hindus and Buddhists. There’s a story that goes with it (and I’m sure it can be googled) but at the time, what I understood was that there was a lotus flower where the Stupa now stands. There are steps leading to the Stupa, however, such lazy tourists that we were, they drove us to another entrance where you can skip the steps — not our idea really, but since they called this the Monkey Temple, I was glad. I had horrific images of aggressive monkeys near tourist areas (and I have my friends to thank for that).
The stupa itself was decorated with what I would then see quite often on this trip — the face of Buddha. Buddha eyes with the Nepali symbol for “1” as the nose. As with Pahupatina, there were smaller shrines around the main Stupa including a Tibetan monastery which we were able to enter. We had taken our shoes off and the marble floor was surprisingly warm and comfortable under bare feet. It was quiet and lit by dozens of candles — I found it a nice soothing reprieve from the busy area around the Stupa.
Our third and last stop for the day was Kathmandu’s Durbar Square. I say “Kathmandu’s” because there are other Durbar Squares in the other cities of Patan and Bhaktapur apparently. It seemed to be right smack in the middle of Kathmandu as going around meant dodging cars, bicycles, motorbikes and fellow pedestrians. Have we mentioned how small the roads are in Kathmandu? Well they are small. And this coming from someone from the Philippines. Traffic is crazy in Kathmandu…again, coming from someone from the Philippines. Plus, there are no sidewalks in Kathmandu (do I need to mention that I’m from the Philippines?) and if you’re not careful, it would be very easy to get hit by a car or cyclist — except that no one seemed to be in danger because cars, bikes and pedestrians seem to have a system that I cannot understand.
Anyway, Allan and I thoroughly enjoyed Durbar Square. The old, wooden building with the ornate carvings and crafted in what they referred to as “Pagoda style” were not something we’ve seen before. As with the other places we had visited, the square is dotted with shrines and temples, and unfortunately, at that point I had lost track of which Hindu God the temples were for. But my favorite at this site was hearing about the Royal Kumari and seeing where she lives. The Kumari is a pre adolescent young girl who they believe to be the human manifestation of a Hindu Goddess. We were able to enter the courtyard of her house, a structure made in the traditional style which I was quite surprised to learn is being used to live in. Other than the tourists who were there, I couldn’t see any sign of any occupants. We were told that she makes an appearance at the window everyday at 4pm and that no one can take her photo. It was too early in the day, so we didn’t catch a glimpse of her.
At the end of the tour we headed over to International Adventures Treks and Expeditions to meet with Henry and our guide for the trek. We went over the 16 -day Trek itinerary and we were warned about which parts of the trek would be harder and what to do when hit with AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). We also got to meet Henry’s wife, Emma who is Filipina and their daughter who was on a break from University — she happens to be attending my High School alma mater’s college, what a coincidence!
We found our way back to the hotel on foot without being hit or hitting any cars or cyclists and made sure all our stuff was ready. The following day would be the start of our trek…from that point onwards until we come back, we will be walking uphill, downhill and all levels in between.