The Prisoner of Kathmandu

My final two weeks in Nepal were probably the worst two weeks of entire my trip so far- so what happened?

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Fewa lake in Pokhara makes it a great place to relax for a while.

Well, after my time living in a Monastery I needed some much needed R&R, which I found in Pokhara. After that I headed back to Kathmandu with a view of sorting my Chinese visa out; this proved to be a major ball ache. Not only did I need to fly to China (I hate flying, but the roads through Tibet were still closed at this point), but I needed to book a month or so worth of hostels etc for the visa application; I barely know where I’ll be a week’s at a time never mind a month ahead! The application required that I book both my ticket into China and out of China, so I booked my ticket to Chengdu and managed to procure a fake ticket out (risky I know). The ticket was booked for 2 weeks’ time as I’d been told that the visa can take a week to sort out, and I wanted to have another week just in case there were any problems with the application. There were no problems but my visa was actually ready in 3 days; though happy with this result I then realised I was stuck in a city for nigh on two weeks with very little to do.

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Typical street outside the tourist area of Kathmandu.

Now, I’m aware that there’ll be many people out there thinking ‘there’s always something to do’ and they’re right: I can read, I can write, I can draw, I can walk around etc but in terms of actual things to do that keep me occupied for more than an hour or so, I really struggled. After all, whilst in Nepal I’d done what I came to do; I’d trekked the Himalayas, I’d volunteered teaching Monks, I’d seen the national parks, and I’d visited the major sites, and all in all my 3 months in the country had been well spent, until now. I was aware that there were a few things in Kathmandu that I’d not seen yet and of course they were on my list of things to do, and I had a couple of books in mind to read, but other than that, I was stuck. The first few days of my 12 remaining days was spent exploring parts of the city I’d previously not had time to see.

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The Pashupatinath complex is home to many Monkeys…

There’s the Pashupatinath Temple complex; this is an age old Hindu area made up of ashrams and temples, it is a sort of pilgrimage site for many Hindus and is highly regarded as one of the most important Hindu places in Nepal. The complex is about 3 miles to the north east of the centre of Kathmandu, towards the airport area, and is a nice enough walk on a clear day (I had to mention this because it rains nearly every day in Kathmandu). The temple is as peaceful as any I’ve seen during my travels and is home to many worshippers and Sadhus (though be careful as they’re not all genuine).

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Sadhus. Some are genuine, some not.

 

One thing that I found interesting, and frightening, about this place was the funeral pyres; anyone who’s read my earlier post on Varanasi will know that in some Hindu sites the bodies of deceased loved ones are, after various ceremonious dressings and washings, placed upon a pyre of sandalwood and set alight. In Varanasi this is performed by male members of the family only and seems to be a relatively peaceful and quiet process; here, however, the women are allowed to partake in proceedings: this created a highly emotional and distressing scene. The women’s screams as their husbands or sons are covered for the last time is harrowing. Their cries and, in some cases, failure to stay on two legs, is just horrible to watch. I had not expected this, I didn’t know that this temple had funeral pyres, and I thought that in India I’d seen enough people’s loved ones burning, but to see it again with the full show of despair and agony was a different experience entirely. Other than that, it was a nice day out.

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Funeral Pyres. I didn’t want to show a close up in case some readers found it disturbing…

If you’re into a slightly less emotional experience, you can always head to Patan (now known as Lalitpur) and, among other things, visit the Durbar Square there (yes, another Durbar square). Patan is another city in the Kathmandu valley and is far older and better preserved than Kathmandu itself. Patan is enclosed by a city wall and is accessible by various gates, though the cost isn’t worth mentioning, but is a wonderful side to the valley you could very easily miss if you don’t have a day to spare (if you decide to walk from Kathmandu then it’ll take around 90 minutes at a fair pace). The areas is made up of traditional buildings of Newa architecture (Newali being a caste in Nepal). Many of the buildings in the city were damaged during the earthquake and some are even held up by timber strutting and supports, but on the whole the area is pretty well looked after.

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The Durbar square was mainly built around the 1600’s and most of it is still standing; here you will find a royal palace, sculptures, scriptures, and, sadly of course, overly priced restaurants and hotels. No, it seems there is no escaping the grasp of commercialism anywhere anymore; it’s only a matter of time before we’ll find fast food restaurants nestled into areas of natural beauty or historical significance: it really is sad to see. But anyway, besides the presence of modernisation, you could spend a few hours wandering around Patan blissfully unaware of the age that we’re in (there are very few motorised vehicles, and most people get around by bicycle).

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A lot of buildings in Patan are held up like this…

So, after my couple of days exploring the Kathmandu valley and actually changing my opinion of Kathmandu (if you’ve read my first post on Kathmandu you’ll be aware of how I didn’t really think much of it), I felt a little better about my time I had left; I knew I had things to write about and think about but, ultimately, I was still at a bit of a loss: after a week I genuinely felt like a prisoner.

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The view from the roof of my prison…sorry, guesthouse.

At one point I almost felt like an alcoholic; I’d wake up and do a few things around town before then wondering where and at what time I’d have my first beer; this naturally led to a period of hedonism of which I’m not proud. Yes, sadly (though happily at the time) I was spending my nights with warm beer and cold women; no, not prostitutes, but other travellers who were in a similar boat to me. When travelling, people’s mindsets aren’t too different; you’re alone, far from home, and are open to new adventures and experiences: things considered taboo or perhaps frowned upon at home aren’t thought of in the same way out on ‘the backpacking trail’- there’s a certain ‘ah, fuck it’ kind of attitude. Travelling is something that at times really can’t be described to those who’ve never done it; you find yourself in situations that you couldn’t imagine you’d be in, and so inevitably you find yourself on a string of meaningless, though enjoyable, one night stands followed by horrible moments of striking realisations in the cold, cold, light of day.

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It rained like this every damn day; it pretty much summed up my mood…

So that was that. My last two weeks spent in an incredible country were topped off by a few days of alcohol fueled reckless abandon, which, having learned a few things, I’m sure will happen again at some point further down the road. Was I happy during my time in Kathmandu? For a few moments I most definitely was, but on the whole I’d say that if I was to return to Nepal in the future, Kathmandu would be at the bottom of the list of places to go back to…