Friday, 18 April 2008

Baktapur, Kathmandu valley

The weather in Kathmandu has been pleasant, with a usual daily range 12-31 degrees. On Wednesday night a spectacular electrical storm lit the sky with sheet lightning, but there was little rain.

I've enjoyed my few days here, at a slower pace than the hectic Everest trek. Prayas, the taxi driver who took me from the Shangri-La Hotel to the Hotel Thamel was a nice young bloke, with good English and a most careful driver (in contrast to most in Kathmandu).

Yesterday I engaged him to take me to Bhaktapur, another former royal capital about 25km east in the Kathmandu valley. It's superbly preserved, with the "55 window" palace, and many temples. Amazingly, the Nepali New Year festival, Bisket Batra, which is celebrated only in Bhaktapur, was in full swing. The schools were closed and the narrow streets filled with school children, women of all ages, and the men who were not working. The main attraction was an attempt to drag a huge, ponderous wooden chariot, maybe 8 metres high, along on its wooden wheels, with many young men pulling on large ropes. It was great entertainment, particularly when it rolled back down a small hill, nearly collecting a few people in its wake! The other entertainments were primarily games of dice played on a dusty rag on the ground (I lost my single bet!). Many people used the opportunity to make sacrifices to the gods at small Hindu shrines everywhere. Chickens were in great demand: after a brief warm-up ceremony with food offerings the participants would grab their chook, slit its throat and spray its blood over the other offerings. I was assured that the chooks would all be eaten for the evening meal.

Last night was the first night I'd eaten by myself, as the last of my fellow Everest trekkers flew out during the day. I ate at a simple Nepalese restaurant, The Thakarli, in contrast to the rather fancier ones at which we'd been dining since returning from the trek.

This morning I went for a short (7km) run along the Bishnumati River, which looks and smells like an open sewer, with the carcasses of slaughtered animals tossed in for good measure. Prayas picked me up and we drove to two significant places in the Kathamndu valley: Swayambhunath Stupa on a hill behind the city, and Patan, another former royal capital a few miles away.

After cooling my heels in Kathmandu since Monday, I'm heading west tomorrow. I'll catch a 7:30am bus to Chitwan National Park, 6 hours south-west, on the border with India. It's at the lowest altitude in Nepal, so will be hot and humid. I will spend two nights there, going on a safari and paddling in a canoe along the river, among other activities. I expect it to be touristy, as the wild animals attract lots of foreigners. From there I will travel a short way north to Manakamana, a small village with a special Hindu temple. It is back at altitude, and there should be few tourists. After a night there I'll trek five hours to the small town of Gorkha, site of a famous fort and reputedly a beautiful place. It should also be free of tourists. I'll spend two nights there before returning by bus to Kathmandu on Thursday afternoon. I've accepted an invitation to attend the Anzac Day service at the Australian Embassy on Friday morning. Plan to stay 3 nights again at the Hotel Thamel.


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