06 Nov - 16 Nov 2014 Bhaktapur

From Royal Past to Maoist Future…
Matt: Wandering around aimlessly and soaking up the unique atmosphere of the living museum that is Bhaktapur aka Khwopa which is peppered with temples, shrines, courtyards ... and plenty of junk and curio shops.

“The present changes the past.
Looking back, you do not find what you left behind.” 

Matt: Arriving during a full moon night at fascinating Bhaktapur aka Bhadgaon, another UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Kathmandu Valley, and witnessing the ongoing Newari Saki Mana Punhi festival where groups of chanting and singing Newari men create painstakingly elaborate grain mandalas from rice, soya and wheat (with some popcorn and a few roti thrown in for good measure) in-front of their temples and shrines, all this illuminated by countless candles and with the smell of incense and butter lamps hanging heavy in the night air.

Matt: Paying the steep entrance fee of  NPR 1,500.- or US$ 15.- for a two-week visitor pass for the well-preserved and rebuilt medieval town centre of Bhaktapur and exploring the city's three major squares full of towering temples with the most elaborate and artistic wood carvings that comprise some of the finest religious architecture of the Kathmandu Valley and the entire country: (i) Durbar Square where blood flows on Saturdays with animal sacrifices, (ii) Taumadhi Tole with the tallest temple in all of Nepal, and (iii) Tachupal Tole which formed the official seat of Bhaktapur royalty until the late 16th century CE.

“Walkers are 'practitioners of the city,' for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go.”

Matt: Diving into the backstreets of Bhaktapur and improving my knowledge of the languages of Nepal in the city's friendly and tourist-free shebeens thus learning very quickly the local words for Nepal's traditional home-brews: (i) for the mildly alcoholic, milky white concoction made from fermented rice, barley or millet (Nepali: chhaang, Newar: thwon) and (ii) for the distilled potent rice spirit that "…runs the gamut from smooth-sipping schnapps to headache-inducing paint stripper..." (Nepali: raksi, Newar: aylā); Cheers and Happy Bowel Movement!

Matt: Sharing the table with all kind of friendly folks and becoming a regular at two strictly pure-vegetarian and decidedly pure-local eateries aka bhojanalayas in Bhaktapur thus practising on a daily basis the Nepalese custom of eating with my clean right hand: (i) in the Garden Restaurant, a real garden restaurant which serves excellent daal bhaat tarkari (rice with curried vegetables, lentil soup, pickles aka achar and chapatti), Nepal's staple meal, for NPR 150.- or US$ 1.50 per bottomless plate, and (ii) in the Lumbini Tandoori Vojayanalaya which outdoes itself with filling meals of spicy vegetable curries plus three crisp roti from the tandoori oven for altogether NPR 80.- or US$ 0.80, and (iii) having thereafter lekker local bananas for desert for exactly and non-negotiable NPR 2.- per piece from my friendly banana lady right opposite the hotel.

Matt: Wandering around Potters' Square, a huge public square and the centre of Bhaktapur's ceramic industry, lined with mud-covered straw kilns, filled with treadle-power potters' wheels and rows of clay pots drying in the sun (…and during the harvest in November, everywhere that is not covered by pots is covered by drying rice).

Matt: Spotting troops of shouting, spitting and burping Chinese package tourists, armed with expensive cameras and powerful telephoto lenses, who shy away from establishing any rapport with local people and who behave in Bhaktapur, driven by curiosity and fear, as if they are visiting a human zoo, or as if they are on safari in an alien culture deemed very primitive and dangerous...
“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder...”

Matt: Meeting Nepal's young Maoist revolutionaries, listening to their surreal dreams and communist ideas and telling them about the only real revolution in which I ever took part, in Europe's wonderful sex revolution, unfortunately already almost 50 years ago, agh.

"If you are not a revolutionary at sixteen, you have no heart, and if you are still a revolutionary at sixty-one, you have no head."

Matt: Taking a local bus from Bhaktapur's Kamalvinayak bus stand to Kathmandu's crowded Gongabu bus terminal (c. 25 km, 1 hour, NPR 35.- per person) and thereafter a local bus of the West Nepal Bus Entrepreneurs Association from Kathmandu's Gongabu bus terminal straight to my close friend Jupiter's recommendable Lumbini Village Lodge +97771580432 at Lumbini (c. 290 km, 11 ¼ hours, NPR 600.- or US$ 6.- per person), the sacred site of the birth of one Sakyamuni Buddha and a flat, dusty and mosquito-infested place amidst the marshes and swamps of the Western Tarai.

For Raoni, Tien and Ronja:
Hier in Bhaktapur, einem gemuetlichen mittelalterlichen Staedtchen im Kathmandu Valley, essen die Nepalesen, wenn sie nicht gerade einmal wieder die allseits beliebten Momos in sich hineinstopfen, meistens Daal Bhaat Tarkari. Das ist Nepalesisch und bedeutet so viel wie "Reis mit Linsensuppe und gekochtem Gemuese", wobei manchmal noch etwas wuerzig eingelegtes Sauergemuese (curried pickles aka achar) und einige Fladenbrote (chapati) dazugegeben werden. Ausserdem gibt es stets einen reichlichen Nachschlag, der im Preis von ca. anderthalb Dollar pro Mahlzeit enthalten ist. Preisguenstiges veganes Sattessen bis zum Abwinken!
Gegessen wird mit der Hand, natuerlich nur mit den Fingerspitzen der rechten, denn die linke Hand dient ganz anderen Zwecken... Trotz dieser strengen Funktionsteilung von rechts (fuer den Eingang) und links (fuer den Ausgang) macht es Sinn und einen guten Eindruck, sich vor dem Essen die rechte Hand doch noch schnell etwas abzuspuelen. Dazu nimmt man einen der Kruege mit frischem Trinkwasser, die auf jedem Tisch stehen.
Daal Bhaat Tarkari schmeckt am besten, wenn man zuerst etwas Linsensuppe ueber den Reis giesst, die Masse danach mit den Fingern der rechten Hand zu kleinen Klumpen formt, dann etwas Gemuese und/oder pickles dazugibt, und das alles zusammen in den Mund steckt, entweder mit der Hand oder mit einem Stueckchen Fladenbrot. Ihr koennt Euch bestimmt gut vorstellen wieviel Spass es macht, mit der rechten Hand auf dem Teller herumzukneten. Beim Essen spielt man! - Was esst Ihr naechstens mit den Fingern (aber bitte nur mit denen der rechten Hand)? 
From Nepal, with Love!

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