Back in Kathmandu

Returned to Kathmandu afternoon via the hotel shuttle (NR 1000) from Bakhtapur driven by the most reckless and laziest driver in Kathmandu who dropped me off a few blocks before Thamel.

Picked- up my laundry on the way to Avalon House which by now, has become a very welcoming place for me.  Actually, feels like coming home especially with the wide smile from the elderly security guard greeting me (gotta give him a good tip when I check-out for good) each time I arrive.  I got the same room (104) at the first floor.  

Just got settled a bit and then went off to Mandalay Book Point a block away from the Garden of Dreams.

Its reputation as the most well-stocked academic bookstore is well-deserved.  The store is crammed full with sgelves overflowing with books with titles in the humanities, social sciences, history,  religion, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and fiction.  Most of the  books are arranged topically.  I didn’t see any shelf marked “music” the shop keeper pulled out some books somewhere.  Spent about NR 5500 for 5 books, three  of which are ethnomusicological books on Newari music and musicians.  Jackpot!  Have chrcked out the bookshops at Thamel and none handed yielded any books on Nepali music.  Mpst have guide books, maps, and books on Buddhism and yoga.  

Had dinner at the ever reliable and ever delicious Gilingche Restaurant.  Tried the sizzling buff momo, a Westernized take on the dumplings which was topped with mushroom gravy and came with a siding of vegetables and fries all served on a hot iron plate.  It’s a good way to have momo differently from the usual steamed, panfried, or deep fried.  Downed a glass of lassi to help keep my acidity at bay which had been troubling me since the hike last New Year’ Day where I skipped lunch.

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The Streets of Bhaktapur

Being in the heritage area of Bhaktapur is like being in a time warp.  Brick-tiled streets, shop houses, old men chatting at rest places called phalcha, ancient temples, people making offerings,  bhajan singing outside temples, and many more.

Head to side streets, slip through passageways, enter courtyards, and it’s as if you’re in a different world.  Bhakatapur is truly magical.

One of the two lions standing guard at a platform at the durbar square

 

“Bhajan” singing at Taumadhi Tole in the evening

Nyatapola Temple

Taumadhi Tole in early morning

A “phalcha,” traditional Nepalese resting place

Pottery Square

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Good Morning, Bhaktapur

I wake-up past 5:30 in the morning to the sound of bells clanging.  I’m certainly going to miss this when I return to Kathmandu much more when I get back home to Manila. Bhaktapur is a lovely town to spend a few days in.  If only I did not have to tick-off some items in my shopping list, I would just have stayed here.  On the other hand, the craziness of Thamel will help transition me to the craziness of Bangkok before flying back home. 

It’s about 2 degrees and freezing.  I think I’m turning into a bowl of ice-cream.  Nevertheless, I take a stroll to Tamaudhi Toll for better pictures of the Nyatapola and Bhaighamari temples. The square is busy with vegetable vendors and people on their daily religious rituals.

I muster the courage to drop by one of two stalls  on a side street for an egg roll and two ring-shaped fried bread which I point out.  Cheap at NR 40 and comes wrapped in a newspaper.  Hahaha!

Down the road to Dattatreya Square.  The shops haven’t opened yet but the road is alive with a few vendors setting up their wares, army recruits jogging, and people heading to wherever their feet takes them this morning.  Dattatreya is busier as the two  temples are teeming with worshippers.  The bells are busy clanging.

The goats are their usual selves basking under the cold sunshine. This ram, on the other hand, is busy eating some grains thrown by worshippers.

Vendors spread out goods for offerings in the temples sometimes chasing away one of the goats who are attracted to the flowers.

 

I revisit some of the sites that fascinated me yesterday such as the peacock window.  With no pedestrians or pesky touts from the wood carving and thanka shops, I get a better view and picture of the window.  I also discover other windows with smaller peacocks.  

I head to Highland Beans Coffee and Travellers Cafe for some omelette, grilled cherry tomatoes, sliced fruits, toast, and cup of black tea; what the menu calls a “simple breakfast” and watch Bhaktapur go by.

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A “Bhajan” Evening at Bhaktapur

The sun sets and the day visitors from Kathmandu lrave. Bhaktapur reverts back to whst it really is, a living ancient Newari town still steeped in its ways.

I follow the sound of drumming and end up in Tamaudhi Tole.  A group of elderly  musicians playing drums and cymbals are gathered in a circle on the dance platform on the front right of Bhairabnath Temple.  

An old man leads the singing of bhajan, devotional songs, from an open book while the rest follows.  It sounds almost chant-like.  More men join the circle sitting cross-legged on simple mats laid on the floor.

On the front right porch of the Bhairabnath Temple, a much smaller group of men are gathered. The music of the two groups create a mesmerizing cacophony of sounds.

Three young men and an older man arrive and join the group in a circle.  Out of some long cloth bags lying on the floor come  long thin oboe-like instruments.  The instruments add a little fanfare to the music.

The surprise doesn’t end there.  The two gentlemen and young lady seated together behind the circle bring out shawms!  All along, I thought they were just spectators.  Their sound dominate the ensemble.  I notice that the the two groups of aerophones don’t play together. 

In the meantime, another group has assembled at the front left porch of the temple singing and playing music instruments.  

The entire square is filled with music.  The temple bell  on the right side of the temple soon joins in played by a teen-aged boy in the small group.  Close to 7pm, the three groups stop.  The smaller group that was first to arrive, clasp their hands in namaste, pack-up their instruments and leave.  One of them, a bespectacled youn man smiles at me and nods.  For a few minutes, the square is silent.  

The two remaining groups resume their music.  Once again, the shawms dominate.  A few minutes later, the group in a circle ceases to play. Finally, the other group dominates the square with their  chanting punctuated by a single double-headed drum and a few pairs of cymbals.  The square is nearly empty now except for a few vegetable vendors and a couple of Nepali police patrolling the streets.

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Bhaktapur Walking Tour 3: Dattatreya Square

From Taumadhi Tole, I take the road by the left side of Bhairabnath Temple  and follow its winding routh past shop houses rest places, and small squares.

It is an interesting walk as you realize you’re not merely ambling down a touristy road but one that’s actually trodded on by locals going about their day to day business.

The road narrows and I turn left to a hiti.  I walk down a few steps to get closer.  It’s so peaceful like I’m in another world so far removed from the busy lane I had just veered away from

I retrace my steps and the narrow lane opens up to the square with Dattatreya Temple looming over it.

The two wrestlers, Jayamel and Phattu guard the entrance.

Fronting the temple is a stone pillar topped by a garuda.

On the opposite side of the square is Bhimsen Temple whose open ground floor gives me a chance to rest my feet.

The square is alive with tourists and local people going about their everyday business.

I take the small lane to the side of the temple  and see a small colorful shrine to  Bhimsen.  

Nearby is a large water reservoir.  

Beautiful brick buildings overlook the reservoir.

I am particularly taken in by this building with beautiful wood work.  I see two people enter and I wonder what it is.  A house?

I take a small lane on the side of the reservoir to Salayan Ganesh temple whose three-tiered roof is visible from it.  

Dedicated to Ganesh, the deity with a head of an elephant, inside is a stone revered for resembling the his likeness, albeit vaguely.

A row of stupas sit quietly near the temple.

I walk back to the  square and head behind Dattatreya Temple to a smaller square to gaze at the Wood Carving Museum where a puppet looks out of a window.

The museum facade is beautiful.  

Opposite it is the Brass and Bronze Museum.

I follow the sign to the Peacock Window which is on this wall.

It’s easy to miss.  In fact, I take the photo of a window with a smaller, no less impressive peacock.

The real one or at least what all the guide books talk about is a few meters further down.  Touts at the Oriental Woodcraft store tell tourists admiring the window that it’s free to head to the store’s 2nd floor to get a better view or photo.

Back to the square behind Dattatreya Temple, I take the lane to the left.  Beautiful old buildings line the street but the best is this one with fantastic woodwork.

Across is a shop selling king curd, yogurt with honey, a Bhakatapur specialty. It’s thicker than the usual curd and a little sweet.  A cup costs NR 35.

Large servings are placed in clay bowls.

I retrace my steps and head to Cafe de Peacock overlooking the square for an uninspired and overpriced (NR 375) buff fried rice.

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Bhaktapur Walking Tour 2: Taumadhi Tole

Down a side street and I emerge into nearby Tamaudhi Tole where Nepal’s tallest temple stands.  Truly, the  Nyatapola Temple is breathtaking all of 30 meters high.

On its right side is the three-tiered Bhairabnath Temple.

A seek out a much smaller but no less important temple, the Til Mahdav Temple which is one of Nepal’s oldest.  I see the roof of Siddhi Laxmi Guest House and simply follow the lane that leads to it as the temple is right by it.


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Bhaktapur Walking Tour 1: Durbar Square

I wake -up to the sound of bells, something that has defined the Nepalese sonic landscape for me in the past week I have been here.  Everywhere, in both Buddhist and Hindu temples and shrines are iron bells of all sizes being rung by locals sounding out their faith.

I’m glad I chose to spend two nights here in Bhaktapur at a room with a view of the square.  It was magical having the square to myself with only the locals going about the temples making offerings, chanting, and sounding out the bells.  It is just a little past 7 in the morning and the tourists have yet to come.  I soak in the atmosphere.

Pashupatinath Temple is busy with worshippers swinging the damri and ringing the bells.  Nearby, the mighty Teluja Bell sends out its deep ringing sound filling the square.  

In counterpoint to the sacredness of what is going on inside the temple are the sculptured trusses that hold one of the tiers.  Figures in kama sutra that will make anyone blush.

The light is perfect for photographs and I take in the sights of the square.

The Palace of 55 windows.

The octagonal Chyasalin Mandap whose steel retrofitting allowed it to survive the 2015 earthquake.

I enter the Golden Gate past some Nepalese soldiers that guard the Royal Courtyards where photographs are strictly forbidden. 

 

The metalwork is astounding in its detail.

I am unable to enter the Taleju Temple as I am not Hindi.  I head to the Royal Bath instead, a magnificent sunken pool guarded by gilded Nagas. 

The tourists have come and the square becomes busy.  I move on to Taumadi Tole and Dattatreya Square.  I return to the Durbar Square later in the afternoon when there’s less people.
Only the staircase remains of the this temple to which my balcony and room windows open to.

In front of it are two stone lions that face the street that leads to the  Kumari House.  

Just follow the lions!

It is here that the first kumari of Nepal, the living goddess, was installed.

The entrance is easy to miss as it is crammed between souvenir shops.  

It is quiet and peaceful inside.

You know you’re in a Buddhist place when you see prayer wheels.

I  walk the side streets and come upon this beautiful stone shrine tucked in a hidden corner; its bas-reliefs seeming to leap out.


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From the Mountain to the Temple: Nagarkot to Changu Narayan 

I’m in lying in my big bed at Golden Gate Guesthouse at Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square.  After walking 3 1/2 hours from Nagarkot to Changu Narayan, the last thing I need is a room on the top floor but the male front desk staff insists.  “You pay so much.  You should stay room with best view.”  So I follow him up to the top floor and indeed, the room and its balcony has a view of the square.  He excitedly beckons up another flight of stairs to the rooftop where some laundry is hanging and points to the Himalayas.  So top floor, indeed.  No rest for my weary feet that had just trodden the 14k trail from Nagarkot to Changu Narayan.

The Road to Nagarkot

Upon arriving from Pokhara yesterday, I headed to the Mountain Trotters office at Thamel  to book and pay for my hike with the same guy from whom I booked my car to for a day trip to the Kathmandu Valley several days ago.

Me:  How many hours is the hike.

Him: Normal walking is 3 to 3 1/2 hours but because you’re a little fat, maybe 3 1/2 hours for you.

Me: . . .

We close the USD 60 deal.

So I meet my guide whose name sounds like “divirna” outside  the tour office at 8am.  The car arrives much later driven by a quiet man who looks more like car owner than car driver.  We set-off for Nagarkot close to 8:30 already.  There isn’t much traffic along the roads out of Kathmandu and soon we begin our ascent up a hill. I thought the road up to Sarangkot was bad but the road we are on is in an even much worse condition.  Not only is it much steeper but the asphalt has totally deteriorated leaving much of the road in dirt and rocks.  Fortunately, it is not as narrow.  

The views from the roadside are beautiful, though.

Where’s Everest?

Finally, we reach the top.  My guide and I climb the steps to the viewpoint and come face to face with the vast Himalayan mountain range.  While the views in Pokhara feature a couple of peaks, at Nagarkot, you are rewarded with an expansive view of the mountains.  

Travel guides boast of how Nagarkot hosts views of Everest.   Unfortunately, it’s a little foggy so the views aren’t very clear much more with Everest.

On a small clearing below the viewpoint are some Nepali enjoying themselves dancing to music.

We make our way down in one of the food stalls for some tea, a dhal-like soup and that yummy ring-shaped Nepalese bread. I would have eaten some more but I fear needing to go to the toilet in the middle of the hike. 

Back to the car and we make our way down the main town of Nagarkot using a different and better road.  We pass by Hotel Mountain View which I originally booked for an overnight stay and I feel relief cancelling my reservation  and just spending an hour at Nagarkot as there seems to be nothing to do but to stare at the mountains.

The car drops us off at a point just after the market.  We make our way down the side of the road to a wide dirt road that my guide tells me were made by a trekking guides association in Nepal.

We pass through Tamang villages that time seems to have forgotten. 

Houses made of mud, chickens clucking on the road, and goats and cows and the occassional pig grazing.

My guide speaks English quite well and we pass the time while walking talking about the caste system in Nepal.  After having read and taken up Andre Beteille’s work on the caste system of an Indian village in my PhD class in ethnography, I was elated that I was seeing a living example in Nepal. My guide is Chetri, the caste of warriors.  I ask him about the Damais and their being musicians.  He is a mine field of information and I learn much.  
We continue to walk through villages.  Nobody pays much attention to us.  They’re probably used to having hikers passing through and taking pictures.  It feels good to greet and be greeted with “namaste” as an ordinary everyday greeting and not a New Age or yoga thing.  Occassionally, we meet other hikers.  None of them have guides but there are at least two of them.  I’m solo and I’m bad with directions.

This is a colorfully painted learning center we pass by.

We reach a small temple with beautiful views of the valley. My guide says we are halfway through our hike.  Time check– 12:30, an hour and a half since starting at 11am.

We take a break.  I revel in the silence and in the views.

We descend the 400 steps to the junction road of Telcot.  

We cross the road and up a winding trail along the forest ridge. 
The first hour, the trail gradually ascends through a cool pine forest. It reminds me of Mt. Tapulao.

There is a rest stop  where 2 Chinese hikers are well.. resting.  

I’m not tired so we skip the stop and continue on.

 Just in case, there’s this nice little hotel in the middle of nowhere.

This little shack is a pub that opens in the evening and where people in the surrounding villages go to socialize and drink raksi, the local moonshine.

Up these stairs is a baba, a Hindu holy man that my guide says is frequently visited by teen-agers for some weed.  

We continue to hike along the ridge with wide views of the valleys.  My guide points out some smoke rising from the valley and says those are coming from ovens used to bake bricks.

Goats grazing.  It’s like a scene from the pages of a National Geographic magazine.

On the trail were these old women carrying firewood harvested from the forest on their backs.  Made me suddenly feel ashamed with my tiredness.

The trail gradually flattens and we pass through the Newari Changu village.

The trail continues to descend until we hit an asphalt road.  We cross and ascend the winding road for a few meters and we see the car waiting for us.  

We walk a few meters more and we are at the entrance of Changu Narayan Temple.  It’s 2:30.

Changu Narayan

I pay the NR 300 entrance fee and walk through Newari houses that have shops on the ground floor.  

Some artisans are busy creating thanka paintings or doing wood work.

Up some stone steps and we are at the UNESCO World Heritage listed temple which is the oldest in Nepal. 

Nobody knows when this temple, dedicated to Vishnu, was built but this stone sculpture with writing is dated at around 440 AD.

The temple is beautiful with intricate carvings and sculptures of animals guarding all four entrances.

Surrounding the 2-tiered temple are stone shrines with bas-relief of dieties.

I would have wanted to stay longer but my legs need their rest and I am aching for a warm bath after all the dusty trails so we head back down and into the car for the trip to Bhaktapur where I am spending two nights.

PRACTICALITIES

1.  I paid USD 60 inclusive of: car and driver for the drive to Nagarkot and the pick-up in Changu Narayan and the drive to Bhaktapur; English-speaking guide who did a fantastic job of pointing out and explaining things and answering my questions.

If you have plans to overnighting in Bhaktapur, it makes sense to combine this hike with Bhaktapur so you get a “free” ride rather than going back to Kathmandu and heading to Bhaktapur at another time.  

2.  It’s winter so it is still cold even on the trails.  I did take-off my jacket at one point to let the sweat on the back off my shirt evaporate.

3.  I didn’t feel the need to bring something to eat at the trail.  All I had was the snack we had at the Nagarkot viewpoint.  No food nor water could be bought alokng the trail so bring your own.

4.  The hike from Nagarkot to Changu Narayan is dowhill.  The only uphill portion was the first half of the forest trail from Telcot.  I could imagine doing the hike in reverse would be more difficult.  Generally, the hike is easy.  Good for first-timers but you have to be at least used to walking.


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Happy New Year, Kathmandu!

After close to 9 hours of travel, the bus finally drops us along a busy road at a little past 4pm.  We actually arrive at the city around 3 but traffic is so bad.   A taxi driver approaches me and quotes NR 500.  I bargain it down tok NR 400 to the hotel. Should have walked instead as it turned out to be less than a kilometer. At Google maps, it seemed like a long walk along the dusty horribly congested streets.  As always, the taxi overcharged.

Feels good to see the familiar faces of the owner and his son as I stepped into Avalon House.  Even the security guard seems happy to see me back when I see him a little later. As requested, they give me a first floor room (104).  Hooray!

I just fix some of my stuff, wash my face, and head to the ghetto that is Thamel Marg.  I drop-off 2kg of laundry at the bike and laundry shop and tell them I will be returning for ot on January 3.  “You will get your laundry next year, huh,”  the owner jokes.  Back at Mountain Trotters I book a Nagarkot-Chanu  Ngarayan hike with a drop-off at Bhaktapur for USD 60.  

Me: Changu Narayan is 3 hours walk?

Him: 3 hours but you’re a little fat so maybe 3 hours and a half.

Me: . . .

It was the same guy I previously booked my Kathmandu Valley day trip and who also said that the Nagarkot- Chanu Ngarayan hike was well-suited for my body type.

Back at Thamel House Restaurant for the non-vegetarian set.  Good filling food and excellent service as always.

Nothing seems out of the extra-ordinary for NYE in Thamel except for some food stalls outside advertising New Year specialties.  

  

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Bye Pokhara

Should have done a little research on where the Greenline bus loads passengers in Pokhara. I assumed it was at the bus park where we were dropped off on arrival.  It turns out that just like in Kathmandu it has its own  “depot” at the road fronting its office just across Bahanduri park.  Could have walked instead of hiring a taxi for NR 200.

Just like in Kathmandu, I check in and confirm my seat.  There are about 10 of us when the bus takes off a little past 7:30.   Picks up a few more passengers at its bus stops in Kurintar and Dumre. I’m the only foreigner as everyone else is Nepali.

We stop at the same stops as before and have the same buffet lunch at the same nice resort (except that it was chicken curry instead of pork with chili).

It’s less traffic returning to Kathmandu especially at the winding hilly portion just outside the city.  At this point, I could already feel the dust.  Fortunately, the driver has turned on the a/c.  I’m still in the bus as I write this.  The Greenline wifi is spotty but there’s an open connection named Sanjay I managed to connect to.  Whoever you are, Sanjay, may Buddha or Krishna bless you!

When I bought the ticket at the Kathmandu office, I was told the drop-off point would be somewhere nearby and not at the there where we departed from.

It’s 4 pm and I’m still in the bus somewhere along the ring road.  Traffic in Kathmandu is horrible coupled with the deplorable roads.   

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