Friday, 25 April 2008

Anzac Day in Kathmandu

Arrived back in Kathmandu at 12:30pm yesterday (Thursday) after a four hour bus ride from Gorkha. Was quicker than I expected, though no less squashed - there were 16 of us in an old minibus, with five in my row: a woman and young son (who vomited during the ride), Kamal (my guide) & me, and another bloke. We were well air-conditioned, with all windows wide open, allowing the dust and the constant black exhaust fumes from the trucks and buses we overtook to flow through freely. We stopped for a brief toilet and Coke (30R for Kamal & me) stop. Before we reached the bus station in Kathmandu I rang my taxi driver friend, Prayas, and arranged for him to meet us and take us to the hotel (100R). As I alighted from the taxi the staff at the hotel greeted me with:

"Mr Robert, good to see you back! How was your trip?"

I'm back in room 409 (my preference, at US$22 including breakfast) for three nights. Gave Kamal a 1,000R tip, and have arranged directly with him to take me trekking tomorrow (Saturday) in the hills on the edge of Kathmandu Valley.

Apart from my hotel booking, my only firm arrangement is on Sunday to fly west to Pokhara, stay for three nights, returning Wednesday to the Shangri-La Hotel. Gopal, the principal of the travel agency that arranged my recent excursions, has organised return flights to Pokhara (30min each way) for US$170, with 3 nights in a 2 star hotel (similar to the Hotel Thamel) and breakfast for US$69.

Today was another contrast to the past few. Taxi driver Prayas took me at 6am to the Australian Embassy for the Anzac Day service at 7am (rather later than dawn, but practical in Kathmandu). It was better than I expected with 70-80 people all up, mainly diplomatic types. The Gurkhas (the famous British army unit comprised of tough Nepalese soldiers) and Neplaese army were well represented. There were several other Australians, and we chatted together before and after the service during the breakfast (including Anzac bikies and a tot of rum). It was very interesting listening to Aussies who've lived in Kathmandu for between 8 months and 3years talk about the country.

On returning to my hotel Kamal met me to take me to show me his one room flat that he shares with a cousin. Apart from the two beds, there was a tiny kitchen and several bookshelves: Kamal is in the first year of a humanities Masters degree. I left there to explore parts of the city I'd so far missed, following my guide book's recommendations, including the Durbar - the royal palace square dating from the 14th century.

The undoubted highlight was seeing the Kumari Devi, Nepal's living Goddess. I'd read about her before leaving Oz, and since arriving in the country, so was looking forward to it. She is a pre-pubescent girl in whom the goddess in reincarnated. The goddess leaves the girl's body when she reaches puberty, and a committee of holy people selects the young girl in whom the goddess is reincarnated through an examination of "36 perfections". It's a wonderful religious tradition that has become significant for Nepal. The Kumari Devi lives in the the most beautiful wood-carved building in Kathmandu, dating from the 17th century. It has a small courtyard, and the Kumari Devi gives her audience, usually daily, by appearing at a high window, smiling and throwing petals on the crowd below.


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