Thamel can only be summed up with one word, ‘overwhelming’! The tourist area is a series of streets lined with shops selling those kind of hemp-made clothes dread-locked hippies wear, knock off trekking gear (Nepali North Face, Mammot etc), music stores blaring variations of ‘om mani pad me om’, and pashmina/cashmere shops obviously run by Kashmiris. If you look up, its a mess of plastic flags, signs, electric wires and Christmas lights. The next day after arriving into Kathmandu, we knew we had to look for a place to stay that was more within our range. It took a good part of the day, but we found a great place in Thorong Peak Guest House. It was older, very simple, but clean and very accommodating. They also had great parking for the bike and even had a guard and gate (gate was locked after 10pm). Parking the bike is always a huge concern as people love to fiddle with it. We usually put the cover on no matter what when we park but our mind is definitely at ease if we know it’s parked safely. Every hotel also has it’s own travel agent to help with trekking information. In Pokhara we had decided on doing the Everest Base Camp trek if we were going to do any trekking because it would be too expensive to do the Annapurna Circuit too and honestly, we had never done any trekking before. But seeing Mt. Everest was a dream of ours and this seemed like an ideal chance. We’re not getting any younger and our knees aren’t getting any better! So the next day we negotiated with the agent at Thorong Peak and then set out to get our trekking gear together. I had a down jacket but Nick didn’t, so he had to rent his as well as trekking shoes. I ended up renting trekking shoes as well since we didn’t want to buy and lug all this junk around with us for the rest of the trip! We also had to rent the big backpack, waterproof cover, and trekking sticks. The next day we booked our flight for Lukla and there was no turning back!!!
Before we left we had a couple of days to take in some of the sights. First we had to take care of business and go to the local gurudwara to thank God for all he has given us and blessed us with in the past year and for 2012. The gurudwara is located in the Lalitpur area and according to a young 20-something sardar we met there, there are only about 50 Sikh families and majority of them hail from Jammu. After the mess with the royal family (the prince killed the entire family after the family refused to accept his marriage choice) there was a lot of rioting which caused shops to close, and since many Sikh families had shops or businesses some had gone back to India. After the gurudwara, we headed off to Patan Durbar Square. The architecture there is amazing! It’s a mash-up of Buddhist and Hindu dieties/ Bodhistavas with heavily carved wood and brass, really impressive…and very old! It’s one of the many UNESCO sites in Nepal. The square consists of many temples with only one of them being open for people…actually ‘Only Hindus’ as the sign put it. I checked myself for any leather products, because it seemed as if that was the reason they had put the sign, and found none so went up the stairs. It was a Ganesh Ji temple and there were huuuuge rats, real ones, in there eating the rice and daal etc that people had thrown. As soon as I saw the rats I had to bounce, I get squeamish around those things! Anyways, the temples are mostly in a ‘pagoda’ shape (don’t know the official architectural term for this type of architecture) with one odd temple in the Shikar (?) style which is more prevalent in India. What interested me so much about Nepal in general is the mash-up of an Indian and Tibetan culture which can only be strictly Nepali…very cool. Its very good to know that they’re doing a good job of restoring the square. Throughout the city you will see random mandirs, temples, houses, builidings in the same architecture just driving around Kathmandu and even the countryside…it’s a pleasant surprise when you turn a corner!
After the Durbar Square we went to the Pashupatinath Temple which is a very important Hindu pilgrimage site. This too has architecture similar to the square but unfortunately we missed the opening of the central, most important temple. It only opens at certain times during the day for a few minutes. Also—you can’t take any pictures inside the actual temple…sorry! It was really amazing the amount of small charcoal gray stone mandirs scattered around the temple. Again, beautiful architecture. Any stone image of a god or cow are covered with bright red, pink, or orange color and littered with rice, really no image has been left untouched. One thing I didn’t like were the number of ‘pandits’ with all the puja supplies laid out and ready to do a quickie puja for you, seemed too commercialized and scammy to me. God’s blessings can’t be hawked about like a cheap souvenir. Before we headed into the temple, there was a bright orange Tempo carrying a cow with the loud speaker blaring bhajans and announcements. People were rushing to touch the cow, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the creature. Having that loudspeaker in your ear has to be some form of torture, I’m sure the cow was dreaming of happier days on the Nepali countryside. When we took our shoes off to enter the temple, there was a sardar ji with two other men. We were sitting next to each other so Nick asked him where they were from, and they said ‘Sangrur!’ Nick and I exclaimed in amazement, another person from Sangrur that we’ve met on this trip…world watch out Sangrurians are comin out! A little bit outside of the temple is the ghat where they do cremations. We kind of wandered over there and saw huge crowds of people watching either side. To the left was the ghat where people who have more money were cremating and on the other side was the less wealthy. There was smoke and ash in the air, this was something new for me as in America we have a different way of cremating. It was solemn even though all the Indian and Nepali tourists made it feel like a mela! After exiting that area Nick said we should wash our hands, he washed his face, and I sprinkled some water on my face and head. He said this is what we do when we leave a cremation site, this was all new to me.
Since we were on a roll we decided to go see the Boudha Temple, which is also a UNESCO site and one of the most popular Buddhist pilgrimages. The stupa is in the Nepali style with the white globe representing the world, Buddha’s eyes in all four directions and the Nepali symbol of unity in between the eyes. You see many Nepalis and Tibetans that have travelled from afar to pay homage to the site, making their rounds around the stupa and stopping to meditate. It was getting to be sunset so the sky was beautiful and prayer flags were fluttering in the wind (will never get tired of this sight). In the distance one could hear prayers going on followed by the crashing sound of cymbals and drums. After a serene hour, we returned to the chaotic Kathmandu traffic to head back to Thamel. Had to get some rest, base camp was waiting for us!