Thursday April 5
We had an "extra" day built-in to our schedule for "contingencies" -be it bad weather on summit night or difficulty getting out of Lukla. Fortunately for us, we didn't need the contingency day on the trail, and that enabled us to use today to see a bit more of Kathmandu.
After a fitful night- due to my cough becoming consolidated into a bronchitis- we had a later breakfast before setting out. We caught a cab to Bhaktapur- a nearby city, one of the three (Kathamandu, Patan, Bhaktapur) in this valley. Bhaktapur is known for its "old town"- narrow streets, limited motor access, multiple temples, and more authentic way of life.
Thanks to Linden, we knew to set a round trip price for our cab ride, and to ask the cabbie to wait while we were walking around. As soon as we opened our doors, we were accosted by young men who wanted to be our guide. They were so persistent, but we kept telling them we'd be fine with our book as a guide. It is uncomfortable, to say the least, to walk around marked as a tourist. I, of course, readily blended in, but Lucy??? Not a chance! (Okay, not a chance for me either, but at least I'm brunette!)
Durbar Square in Bhaktapur, like Durbar Square in Kathmandu, is a collection of temples and palace buildings. The temples look a bit disorderly, all jumbled up and plunked down in what seems to be a random fashion. Some are stone, some are red brick, but almost all have some form of intricate carving over the doors, on the door frames, and on the roof struts. Some of the carvings are reportedly "adult-themed" (at least in the US), and we spent a bit of time searching for "erotic elephants"... But alas, we couldn't find any.
As we walked along, we were still accosted by locals offering to be our guide. A young boy, who looked about ten, began tagging along with us, offering to show us certain sites. He spoke English pretty well, and repeatedly informed us that he didn't want any money. His name is Samir, and he is actually 12 years old, the same age as Colman, Christopher, and Thurston. He told us he had an exam at 2- and he had to study at 1.
He was articulate as he talked about how the differing religious communities worked/lived together. He showed us a temple to Shiva, Hindu God of destruction and creation, and explained part of the worship ritual- animal blood, food, money. In an alcove across the alley from the temple, there was a butcher-and a practice which, to us westerners, was abhorrent. Flies covered the ground, and the many carcasses of chicken and water buffalo were also black with flies.
We followed Samir to the funereal ghats by the river, where we also saw the footsteps of Krishna, Ganesha, and Vishna. I was politely, but promptly scolded when I attempted to match my footprints to theirs...silly me. As if my feet could fill those of a god...
These funereal ghats and worship areas were similar to those we'd seen at Pashuputinath during our first tour of Kathmandu. It's amazing how something/someplace so...almost revolting?...to us could be so holy and precious to others. What a different mentality it takes to appreciate...and, perhaps, how restrictive I am in my personal views. It does make me think.
Samir was very informative, and chatted with us about life, about the different religions, all the while taking care of us- "Please no talk to people. Not good." "You like the water? I don't." "Be careful...". Turns out he has two older brothers (of 7 other siblings) who are currently guides in Kathmandu. Seems Samir has a path to follow.
He showed us the Temple of Three Gods: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, and, in the same square, unabashedly showed us the Kama Sutra bas-reliefs on another temple wall. He's a cool one...
At this point, he asked if we would please buy him a book. Don't know how he pegged us, but peg us he did. ( Candy, drinks, money, no way. But books? Lead on! ) So I asked him to show us what he wanted, and then we'd decide. Privately, we whispered that we'd die if he pulled out a dictionary. We went up to a small bookseller, and he went right up to the seller, pointed to a book in an upper right corner bookcase, and she pulled it down. 3000 Rps...or $36. And, we were not so surprised to see, it was a Nepali-English hardback dictionary. He could have been scamming us, but he was clever. We really believed he wanted this book for himself. After agreeing to pay for it, of course, he seemed to treasure it, looking at it, before tucking it up under his shirt. We told him we'd like to sign the book, and so he un-shrink-wrapped it, and showed us a page in the back on which we could scribe. Don't know if he planned on tearing out the page and re-selling the book, but 3000 Rps was a lot for an 1.5 hr tour- even a great tour. We prefer to believe that we've helped him break free of some of the constraints of poverty- by helping with his English education and his path of Guide-dom.
At the same time, Dhan, our taxi driver who had been tagging along for the past hour, was well aware of the money we'd given over for the book, and for the tour. He and Samir had been like big/little brothers...walking in conversation, heads sometimes together...as if Samir was coaching Dhan on Bhaktapur. For us, our time with Samir was a highlight...a warm fuzzy feeling in the midst of the filth and need.
Dhan drove us back to our western oasis in the Hyatt, where we dined by the pool. A short while later, we were met by Tik Bahadur Magar- a minister whom our friends Laura Wright, Anne McElroy, Kit Bredrup, and Eva Clarke had met on their recent trip to Jerusalem. Tik took us by cab to his home, about a 40 minute ride to the south, to the city of Patan (which adjoins Kathmandu; and, with Kathmandu and Bhaktapur, is the third of the three cities in the Kathmandu valley). There we climbed three floors to his flat, and met his wife, Bina Tamang, and their children and their orphaned children. They have three children of their own, and they have "adopted" three children whom they've met as they've been out in the villages spreading the Gospel. Bina chatted with us more, telling about their missionary work, and about her family which, as I understand it, had been Ghorka, but then fought that role. People in her village survived the Ghorka "invasions" in their village because all the young people had already fled, so there were none to impress into the Ghorka army. So the villagers fed the Ghorkas each time they came through, and prayed for them to leave. They told us how difficult it had been, and still is, to be Christian in the small villages, and how they were treated cruelly. Bina went on to say that it is much better in Kathmandu. Tik now leads a church of about 120 people...on land which the government "allows" them to purchase, but then they cannot bury people on it. Christian burials are still problematic in this city- a government "catch-22" where they are "supported" by being allowed to purchase land, but not "supported" in being restricted re its use. So, many Christians are buried outside of Kathmandu, in the small villages. Tik and Bina were warm and lovely, offering us tea and fruit, and, I hope, glad that we came for a visit. It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, a beautiful glimpse at the world of this man and woman who forge their way, step by step and one by one, closer to God's heaven.
A life lesson for me, who has so much, and who does so little with what I do have.
And, after all that, Tik prepaid for our cab ride back as well.
The cab ride home was interminable, filled with back roads and quick turns as the driver attempted to avoid the rush hour traffic. It took us about an hour back, and the whole time it seemed I was hacking and coughing. The air of Kathmandu is far from lung-healthy. By the time we returned, I was foggy and beat. I put my head down for a nap, and was out. I tried to rally for dinner, but I was barely present...and instead tried to eat something while I watched Corell and Lucy consume their Indian feast. Wish I could have enjoyed it as well, but it was beyond me.
And so, it's bed-time, after popping more meds and some Phenergan cough syrup to, hopefully, help me sleep...