The medieval town of Bhaktapur, Kathmandu Valley
Before leaving for the Kathmandu Valley, I deposited a part of my luggage at Durbar Guesthouse in Patan and planned a one-week trip through the towns and villages in the eastern part of Kathmandu. Out in the street, I bargained with a taxi driver to give me a ride to the bus station and, once I arrived there, I asked a few people which bus went to Bhaktapur. In less than five minutes, I got in a minibus waiting to leave (or at least they told me so – ‘Five minutes, five minutes’). We waited for the minibus to fill up for half an hour, though, and then we finally left.
On the way to Bhaktapur, the minibus filled up even more. It stopped every time someone had to get on or off the bus. Therefore, a bus trip of fifteen kilometers lasted more than one hour. The bus helper told me to get off the bus in a dusty suburb of Bhaktapur, from where I had to cross the old town and pay the visiting fee in the historic center just to reach my guesthouse.
At Nyatopola Guest House, Manika welcomed me with tea and biscuits. I asked her to cook me a portion of chowimen (Nepali spaghetti) for lunch, which was very spicy, though. The rest of the day, I walked through the historic center of Bhaktapur. Listed as a UNESCO heritage site, Bhaktapur was an old outpost on the route from India to Tibet. The town dated back to the 12th-18th centuries and had no less than three squares with numerous temples. Durbar Square was the main square with the royal palace standing on one side of it. A couple of temples collapsed there during the 2015 earthquake, and the image of the square seemed quite affected. I entered the patios of the Royal Palace, but a gendarme didn’t allow me to enter the Hindu temple of the palace.
With no less than five pagoda stories, Nyatapola Temple dominated the small Taumadhi Tole. It was the tallest temple in the Kathmandu Valley and Nepal, and it seemed well preserved after the 2015 earthquake.
Tachupal Tole was the oldest square in town and it stood at an end of the historic center. In the evening, I searched for something not spicy to eat, but I ended up with a new spicy portion of chicken momos at a terrace in Durbar Square.
The following day in Bhaktapur, I had breakfast on the sunny rooftop terrace of my guesthouse (omelet, toasted bread, milk-coffee, and I asked for the local yogurt, called curt). I chatted with a Dutch young woman, Melina, who graduated engineering and wanted to focus on pharmaceutics. She had been in Nepal for three weeks and she was heading to Malaysia the following week.
The Potters’ Square was located near my guesthouse, but it had more rice laid for drying than ceramics. A few potteries stood crammed in a corner of the square and an old man modeled a bowl right in the middle of the street.
The rest of the day, I walked on Bhaktapur’s streets and guided myself after the small map in my guide. The streets were very dusty, women dried and winnowed rice everywhere, and other women who were spinning asked me for money because I took a photo of them. I got angry each time I had to show my ticket for visiting the town at one of the gates. In the evening, I eventually found a restaurant with continental food in Taumadhi Tole, where I could finally eat fried chicken with potatoes, something not spicy after all.
Changu Narayan, Kathmandu Valley
In the morning, I went to the crossroads from where buses went from Bhaktapur to Changu Narayan. I jumped in a minibus where a bus helper charged me more than normal but I wasn’t in a mood for a quarrel. Nevertheless, I got angrier when I had to pay another visiting fee at the entrance to Changu Narayan village. They didn’t give any discount on my ICOMOS membership card. However, I paid and went up to the temple compound, listed as a UNESCO heritage site. There, I discovered a courtyard full of deity statues, altars, and the main temple in a pagoda-style – all of them elegantly carved with countless deities.
While I was walking on the streets in the village, I heard children singing in the courtyard of a school. I approached quietly and watched the spectacle. When the teachers saw me, they invited me to take a sit in front of the stage and take part in their festivity. On the road back to Bhaktapur, the bus helper tried not to give me back the change after I paid for my ticket. I scolded him, and he gave me the rest of the money right away.
Bashgari-Kuttal, Kathmandu Valley
In the morning, I talked a bit with Manika, the landlady of Nyatapola Guesthouse. She was surprised when I told her that I had just ended a dysfunctional relationship via the internet. In Nepal’s tradition, you didn’t choose whom to marry, and breaking up or divorce was very rare. You just stayed in a relationship no matter what.
When I left the guesthouse, Manika’s husband gave me a ride to the main road on his motorbike. He advised me which minibus to take going directly to Dhulikel. The minibus stopped for good in Banepa, though, and from there I had to take another bus to Dhulikel. I got off in Bashgari and searched and rang desperately at Tamang Homestay, where I had a booking. The owner had a ceremony for his father who had died two weeks before, and I had to wait for him in front of the guesthouse for at least one hour. When he finally showed up, he invited me for tea and biscuits at a small shop near his house. He had to go back to his father’s ceremony in Kuttal village and said that I could come with him.
We reached a household in Kuttal village, where food was cooked in big cauldrons. I sat on a chair in the corner of a room, and a woman brought me a portion of dhal bhat to eat. Outside, in the courtyard, the members of the dead’s family were putting up for auction grandpa’s belongings. A woman had a list and shouted the auctioned item. People gathered around them, put a bid, gave the money, and then each one went to take charge of their new possession. In a room, small plates with bananas, rice, and money were ready for the monks who had helped to organize grandpa’s ceremony. All grandpa’s sons had shaved their heads and, according to the Hindu tradition, they had only a short tuft at the back of their head.
One of grandpa’s sons, dr. Dil, offered to show me around the village. Kuttal was a Tamang village with 400 inhabitants and 40 households. Dil studied at the school in the village, then in Dhulikel, and after that he studied medicine in China for six years (he even showed me his photos on the graduation day). Eventually, he invited me to his house.
They were six members in the family, equally Buddhist and Hindus. His sister was a dentist and his other sister a pharmacist. They took care of two orphans, for whom they paid for school and food. Their mother had died six months ago hit by a motorbike. They lived in a metal cottage after the 2015 earthquake when their house had collapsed. Dr. Dil offered me a glass of Coke, the only thing they had in their fridge, and insisted on offering me a banana, too. When I accidentally spilled the Coke, he refilled it right away. He said that it wasn’t a problem to give me more Coke because they had enough.
The Festival of Lights (Tihar or Deepawali) lasted five days each year and it was the second-largest Hindu festival after Dashain. Animals were worshiped too, next to deities and humans, showing the respect of mankind for animals. On the first day, it was the day of the crow or the raven, symbolizing sadness and grief. People gave food to birds. On the second day, it was the dog’s day, symbolizing the special relationship between humans and dogs. People gave food, put red tikkas, and flower garlands around dogs’ necks.
On the third day, it was cow’s day, symbolizing wealth and prosperity. People gave food and put flower garland around cows’ necks. They cleaned the house in the evening, put flower garlands and candles inside and outside the house, and prayed to Laxmi, the goddess of money. After that, girls went out in the village, sang and danced bhailo, and people gave them money, rice, and fruit. On the fourth day, it was the ox’s day. Boys went into the village, sang and danced deusi, and people gave them money, rice, and fruit. This was also the first day of the Nepalese Calendar.
On the fifth day, it was the brother’s day. Sisters thanked their brothers for their protection, put tikka on their foreheads, cooked special dishes, offered flower garlands to them, and prayed for them. At their turn, the brothers put tikkas on their sisters’ foreheads and gave them money.
Panauti-Bashgari, Kathmandu Valley
In the morning, I had to insist on having the breakfast included in my reservation at Tamang Homestay (tea, eggs, lots of bread, and a banana for consolation). After that, I went to Banepa, where I had to change the minibus to go to Panauti. Along the Roshi River, I went to a temple compound with deities carved on each small piece of wood and frescoes on the walls of the buildings. In the town center, Indreshwar Mahadev Temple had also an intriguing museum of contemporary architecture.
In Panauti, I walked around the streets colorfully decorated for the Lights Festival. The Nepalis were getting ready for the Nepali New Year’s Eve. They washed their children in the street or bathed in the river. I tried to go to Namobuddha Monastery and even found the right bus going there. I waited for half an hour for the bus to fill up but when it was about to leave, the engine didn’t work. Consequently, I gave up my trip to Namobuddha because I wanted to return to Banepa in time to catch up the last bus to Dhulikhel.
On the bus going to Dhulikhel, a Nepalese girl sitting next to me, Leeza, asked me many questions. She insisted on paying for my bus ticket and went with me to eat a portion of noodles with eggs at a guesthouse in Dhulikel, where she insisted on paying for me, too. She invited me to come and stay at her house, since her parents were traveling through India and she was only with her sister, Epanzelina. We went to Tamang Homestay, where she talked with the landlady to cancel my booking for the next two days. Therefore, I paid only for the first night, packed my things, and moved to the 28Killo neighborhood in Bashgari.
When we reached Leeza’s home, we had to wait outside for an hour until her grandmother came home to open the house. Leeza put me up in her room, dark and very modest, though. There was a shower with cold water only at her neighbors, and a toilet outside the house. Leeza was very happy, though. She wanted very much to have me as a guest during the festival. In that period they must fulfill guests’ wishes, a reason to always ask me what I wanted to eat for the next meal.
In the evening, Leeza and Epanzelina dressed me in a traditional sari. They put beads on my ankle, around my neck, and braided into my hair, makeup, earrings. Once we dressed up, we went out in the village to sing and dance at people’s houses. On the third evening of the festival, girls sang and danced bhailo around the rangoli drawn in front of each house.
Rangoli represented a flower pattern drawn with colorful dust paint. Inside the petals, people lit candles, and the drawing symbolized a sacred zone welcoming Gods into people’s houses. All the evening, joyful people danced and sang. Eventually, the girls received fruit, rice, and money, and we went home.
Dhulikel, Kathmandu Valley
Early in the morning, I was woken up three times by noisy knocks on the door of the room. Each member of the family needed something left or forgotten inside the room I slept. At 7.30 a.m., I was woken up for good to have breakfast and I couldn’t get back to sleep anymore. I tried to adapt to their concept of having guests and by 10 a.m. I received lunch, sabai (porridge with noodles and coconut, a recipe brought afar from India).
For the rest of the day, I went to Dhulikhel and searched for a place from where to see the panoramic view of the Himalayas. Since I was in Nepal, I hadn’t taken photos of them. I stayed for two hours and admired the mountains from the rooftop terrace of Himalaya Mountain View Hotel. Up there, I finally could look in peace at the highest mountains in the world. The mountains I wanted to see so much, the Himalayas.
Later, I walked a bit through Dhulikel, a Newari town where Nepalis celebrated the Festival of Lights in the central square and decorated temples with tinsel. I returned to Leeza’s house, where I washed and dried clothes until dusk. Leeza stayed with me all evening. She asked a lot of questions, and I showed her the location of my home country, Romania, on the map. After that, she corrected the tests of her students in primary school, while she was just in high school.
The following day, Leeza knocked again at the door of my room early in the morning, then she left. I packed my luggage and waited for her to come back and say goodbye. It was the last day of the Festival of Lights and boys in the village were already singing for the brother’s day. I went to the main road, where a bus stopped right away. I reached Ratna Park in Kathmandu in about an hour. There, I walked around confused until I found the right bus going to Patan. I went to Durbar Guesthouse where I waited for Om to come back with his clients from the airport. He was smiling as always, accommodated me in a luxurious room, and handed me the ticket he bought for me to Chitwan Park for the following day.
Kathmandu Valley – exploring towns, villages, and local families (part II) is the continuation of the first travelogue about Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. You can find the version in Romanian at ‘Sate si orase din jurul Kathmandu-ului, Nepal II‘. And here are all the Travelogues from Nepal (x12).
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