Jesse’s Blog

Friday, June 27, 2008

Kathmandu – Day 2 (5/10/2008)

Kathmandu-222

Kathmandu-199 We planned for day two the night before. A rooftop cafe breakfast fueled us for our trek to Swayambhunath, or Monkey Temple as it’s commonly called by tourists. The walk took us at least an hour and I got some great shots as we passed through the city. Soon we could see our destination high on a hill in the distance, and I remembered the temple being lit up the previous night. It was exciting to know we were closing in! At the base of the temple we were engulfed by kids trying to get money or food out of us. They were smart little guys; I quizzed them on the capital cities of the world and they got a lot of them right! I don’t think we gave them anything (it’s generally my policy not to), and by the time we reached the really steep steps they had given up on us. We finished our climb and were rewarded with an awesome view of the valley.

Swayambhunath

Swayambhunath Stupa

One of the stark differences between Buddhist and Hindu temples is the way they handle commercial enterprise.Kathmandu-351 Hindu temples seem to shun business in areas of worship, whereas the Buddhist temples fully embrace it. I felt a bit like I was at a theme park instead of a holy shrine. This didn’t seem to affect the locals. They continued worshiping even while the nosy tourists buzzed around them with cameras and guidebooks. At the time I didn’t think twice about how odd that was; later I pondered how much of the worship was genuine versus just-for-show. Do they pay people to worship all day long? Like dressing up as Mickey Mouse at Disney World?? I wonder…

Kathmandu-460 We enjoyed the architecture and atmosphere, but ended up spending a lot of our time monkey watching. There were whole groups (families??) of monkeys all over the temple, interacting with people and just hanging out. We saw everything from little infant monkeys nursing in mama’s arms to old grandpa monkeys lounging lazily in the shade.

We still had a full day ahead of us and needed a break from walking in the sun, so we grabbed a taxi and headed off towards our next destination.

Pashupatinath

Kathmandu-526Nepal’s most important Hindu temple reminded me a lot of my trip to Varanasi. Cremations are performed there daily on the banks of the holy Bagmati River. Non-Hindus are not allowed inside the temple, but there is plenty to see outside the towering walls. We explored the rugged terrain as high as we could go before turning back down and finding some more steps up to Gorakhnath and Vishwarup temples. Kathmandu-546 There is a lot of beautiful architecture packed tightly together up there, and we weren’t quite sure what was what, but we paused to enjoy the cool breeze coming through the trees and flip through the descriptions in our guide book.

Bodhnath

Bodhnath Stupa

We were up for some more walking and made our way around the hill and through the streets to Bodhnath – one of the largest Stupas in the world. Kathmandu-584I was again amazed at how the Buddhist Stupas have such a close tie-in with the surrounding businesses. As with all the sites we visited we had to pay an entry fee of several hundred Nepalese rupees, and past this point there were scores of restaurants and shops catering to tourists. We found a rooftop cafe and indulged in some buffalo momos. They were more expensive and not as good as the street momos from the previous day, but the view was nice and the weather just playful enough to make us want to sit and take it all in. They were also really slow with giving us our check.

The day was growing long and we still had a very important stop to make, so we continued our clockwise walk around the Stupa and headed back out to the street to hail a cab.

Indra Jatra (The Chariot Festival)

Kathmandu-644 We heard about this from the British woman we met at our guest house on the first day. It sounded extremely interesting and we couldn’t pass it up seeing as we just happened to be at the right place at the right time. We headed a short distance outside of Kathmandu to another city (the name escapes me at the moment) and quickly found the chariots. Topped with what looked like Christmas trees standing several stories tall, they were hard to miss. Kathmandu-621 People were mulling around and a crowd was starting to gather, but it seemed nothing was going on just yet. We asked around for some chai and ducked (literally) off the street into a private domicile to be served.

Kathmandu-687 Soon the festivities started and we re-emerged onto the street to watch scores of children and volunteer adults as they pried the immobilized chariots from their night-long slumber. It reminded me of a scene from Lord of the Rings, with huge armies pulling war chariots in to battle. The energy of the festivities was electric, and we wanted to get up on the rooftop to get a better view. As we stepped into the corridor of a building along the street I felt for my wallet. It was gone. I had been so engrossed taking pictures that I absent-mindedly put my wallet in my back pocket after giving Cait a few rupees to pay for the chai. Someone – probably a little street kid – skillfully snagged it from me. Kathmandu-707It only had the equivalent of about $35 in it, but I had to cancel all my U.S. credit cards and apply for a new Indian income tax card.

At the end of the festival we got a rare chance to see Kumari up close! You’re really not allowed to take pictures of her, but I did anyway. They shewed us away and we headed back to Kathmandu to head out for a nice Italian dinner and some crazy local singing and dancing into the wee hours of the morning.

Chariot Festival Video

Right-click and “Save As…” (about 14MB)

posted by Jesse at 1:02 am  

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