21 Oct - 28 Oct 2014 Kathmandu

The Double Bipolar City (I) …
Matt: Joining both Buddhist pilgrims and Hindu devotees, meeting innocent travellers in Thamel's backpacker Disneyland and clever locals in Kathmandu's dusty suburbs and preparing for an independent multi-day trek through the mighty Himalayas.

"Get busy living or get busy dying." 

Matt: Exploring the warren-like old town of Kathmandu, the largest city and capital of Nepal, which is stuffed with ancient stupas and sculptures at every crossroad, taking many walks through her labyrinthine backstreets and discovering half-hidden temples overflowing with marigolds, courtyards full of museumlike wood carvings and busy traditional markets where friendly Nepali people sell and buy everything imaginable; namaste!
"Kathmandu was a place of mystery and magic, almost unimaginably exotic. Palaces shaped like elaborate wedding cakes lined the maze of narrow alleys. Ornate Hindu and Buddhist temples were at every turn. There were religious sculptures everywhere - goddesses with many arms, buddhas in many guises, amazing erotic carvings on the corners of buildings, prayer flags strung like festive telephone wires from house to house. Open-air bazaars with color, in sharp contrast to the stone gray, two-storey and four-storey buildings that squeezed into every available space."

Matt: Celebrating the five-day-long Hindu Festival of Lights, Deepavali aka Tihar aka Swanti, in my new neighbourhood in Thamel where homes, shops and guest houses are brightly lit with candles and oil lamps in order to welcome Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity. 

Matt: Hanging out at Kathmandu's atmospheric Durbar Square (admission: 30-day visitor pass for both square and palace museum for NPR 750.- or US$ 7.70 per tourist), the most popular UNESCO World Heritage Site in Nepal and an open-air architectural museum of magnificent medieval temples, multi-tiered pagodas and ornate shrines where the city's kings were once crowned and legitimised, studying the historical exhibits of the 17th-century CE Palace Museum aka Hanuman Dhoka, guarded by fearless Ghurka soldiers with their traditional curved khukuri knives, and marvelling at the eye-catching hard-core woodcarvings which decorate the erotic roof struts of the 16th-century CE Jagannath Temple, the oldest structure of the square.

“I don't know the question, but sex is definitely the answer.” 

Matt: Visiting the Tibetan-Buddhist main sights of Kathmandu thus (i) climbing up to the touristy UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Swayambhunath Temple aka Monkey Temple (admission: NPR 200.- or US$ 2.- per foreign non-believer), making a ritual circumnavigation of the gleaming white stupa under the watchful eyes of the Buddha, spinning the poorly lubricated prayer wheels set into its base, ignoring the hordes of shop owners who sell both worldly kitschy souvenirs and Tibetan-style religious paraphernalia and enjoying great views over the heavily air-polluted, dusty sprawl of Kathmandu, and (ii) taking a cheap local bus (5 km, ½ hour, NPR 25.- or US$ 0.25 per person) from the Old City Bus Park to Asia's largest stupa at Bodhnath aka Boudha, another UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to Tibetan exiles, where monks in maroon robes and with shaven heads wander the prayer-flag decked streets and international pilgrims stock up on yak-butter lamps, ceremonial horns and Tibetan drums.

“We need the courage to learn from our past and not live in it.”

Matt: Enjoying in Kathmandu's backstreet kitchens and traditional restaurants the quintessential taste of the Himalayas: (i) vegetable-filled and deceptively simple dumplings aka momos, Nepal's unofficial national dish, 10 pieces between NPR 40.- and NPR 80.- per plate, served either with home-made hot chili sauce (yum!) or with factory-made bland tomato slime (yuck!), and (ii) the Tibetan version of stir-fried handmade noodles, cooked with a variety of local veggies and onions, aka vegetable chow mein, usually between NPR 50.- and NPR 80.- per plate.

HappyCow's Compassionate Healthy Eating Guide

Matt: Deciding to skip the dangerous Annapurna Circuit Trek where a sudden and unexpected blizzard with following avalanches killed at least 43 trekkers, guides and porters only a few days ago (caused by the tail end of a dying cyclone which had ravaged the eastern coast of India), and gearing up for the alternative Langtang Trek where guides and porters are as useful as a hole in the head: (i) purchasing for NPR 300.- or US$ 3.- the 1:150,000 trekking map on Langtang from the Himalayan Map House Kathmandu, (ii) registering my independent trek at Kathmandu's well-organised Tourist Service Centre by obtaining a compulsory Green Trekking Information Management System (T.I.M.S.) Card for the stiff rip-off of NPR 2,000.- or US$ 20.- (requirements: application form, copy of passport, two photos), and (iii) paying the compulsory national-park fee of NPR 3,000.- or US$ 30.- for the Langtang National Park also at Kathmandu's Tourist Service Centre.

"I finally got my orders.
I’ll be marching through the morning,
Marching through the night,
Moving 'cross the borders
Of my secret life." 
(Leonard Cohen)

Matt: Taking a rugged local bus ("Slow Drive, Long Life") from Kathmandu's Macha Pokhori bus stop to the trailhead for the Langtang Trek, Syabrubesi (145 gruelling km with many police roadblocks and road construction zones, 9 ¾ hours of deafening noise from the bus' powerful sound system, NPR 340.- or US$ 3.40 per person - incredibly cheap and also incredibly uncomfortable), and sharing the jam-packed vintage bus with vomiting little children, foul-smelling old people and incessantly crowing roosters.

For Raoni, Tien and Ronja:
Von Kathmandu bis an den Fuss der Himalaja-Berge nach Syabrubesi bin ich mit einem Bus gefahren, aber mit was fuer einem!
Die Fahrt ueber 150 km dauerte nahezu einen ganzen Tag und kostete genauso viel bzw. genauso wenig wie eine Fahrt um drei Ecken mit dem Stadtbus in Toronto. Dafuer war mein Bus in Nepal mindestens halb so alt wie ich, sah aber bereits doppelt so alt aus! Das mit Abstand modernste Bauteil war eine lautstarke Digitalhupe ("Made in China"), die der Fahrer vor allem in den Bergen und vor engen Kurven viel lieber als die Bremsen benutzte. Ich vermute deshalb, weil die chinesische Hupe viel zuverlaessiger funktionierte als die indischen Bremsen und ihm auch viel mehr Freude bereitete.
Da es weder Sicherheitsgurte noch einen air bag gab, hat der Fahrer sicherheitshalber zu Beginn der Fahrt schnell noch ein paar Raeucherstaebchen ("Made in Nepal") angezuendet und mit dem Rauch die unfallverursachenden boesen Geister im Bus vertrieben. Ob sich nun die vielen Mitreisenden wegen dieses Rauches, wegen ihres eigenen Koerpergeruchs oder wegen der steilen Abhaenge am Strassenrand staendig erbrechen mussten, ist im Nachhinein nur noch schwer zu entscheiden. Den vielen lebenden Huehnern im Bus hat die Kotzerei jedenfalls nicht geschadet; sie haben bis zum Schluss gegackert. Ebenso wie dem Dutzend junger Maenner, die es sich zwischen dem Gepaeck oben auf dem Dach mehr oder weniger gemuetlich gemacht hatten, da alle Stehplaetze im Inneren des Busses bereits besetzt waren. Ihr haettet sehen sollen, wie der Schaffner waehrend der Fahrt vom Businneren aus die Fahrscheine auf dem Dach kontrolliert hat; Ordnung muss sein.
Um die Fahrt unterwegs etwas unterhaltsamer zu machen, hatte sich die Busgesellschaft trotz des niedrigen Fahrpreises sehr viel einfallen lassen. Neben der andauernden Bedroehnung und Bedudelung mit Nepalesischer Volksmusik und Indischer Filmmusik (filmi music) waren auch die vielen Polizeikontrollen sehr kurzweilig. Den Hoehepunkt bildete ein kurzer Stopp genau in jener steilen Kurve, wo einige Tage zuvor ein Bus in eine tiefe Schlucht gestuerzt war. Alle durften hinunterschauen. Zum Glueck gibt es in Nepal nur gute Busfahrer, die schlechten werden nicht alt. - Welche Busse benutzt Ihr in Ontario?
From Nepal, with Love!

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