Today is was time to play tourist properly and escape the busy streets of Kathmandu to see more of the area. B, C and myself hired a driver for the day, which cost about $AUD5 each and were escorted out of the city. We left at 8am and it was still ridiculously hot. Thankfully our car had air-conditioning so at least we could escape the heat there.
Our first stop was Patan, the third largest city in Nepal. Just a twenty minute drive from Thamel and we’d crossed the bridge into Patan. While it was only a short journey to Patan, the environment changes quite dramatically. Also known as the ‘City of Beauty’, Patan’s architecture was dedicated to the philosophy of the Buddhist Dharma-Chakra, which moulds the UNESCO listed Patan as a glorious city of religion, culture, art and heritage. While still as hot and dusty as Kathmandu, with people milling about everywhere, there was a certain charm to the place. The residue of the earthquake is still very present. Many of the temples listed on our maps were either badly destroyed or just a pile of rubble. We wandered through the Patan Museum, where many of Nepal’s cultural history and traditional sacred arts are displayed.
We stayed in Patan for about two hours before locating our driver and heading on to the next destination – Bhaktapur. A half an hour drive through the Kathmandu Valley and we arrived at Bhaktapur. It was an interesting drive. It still felt like we were on the outskirts of Kathmandu but we were actually in a totally different town. Driving along I watched as the locals went about their daily lives. It was amazing to see how these people in such a place. Buildings were plonked haphazardly beside roads, homemade signs splashed across their mould-stained walls and makeshift doors creating an entrance. Everything was half-finished and messy. Rubbish lined the roads and there were just as many people walking along the road as there was cars and motorbikes. There seemed to be so many people coming and going, with vans and tuk-tucks jampacked full of people, but where were they going? No-one seemed to be working, children ran around in the dust and men were sprawled out in chairs outside their homes. Occasionally a brown-skinned figure could be seen passed out on the roadside, oblivious to the roaring traffic. It was sad to see, all these humans just existing in this dust bowl. I’m sure they were happy, but it wasn’t a life that looked enticing.
Bhaktapur was similar to Patan, with a main square, well preserved courtyards and temples. Again, the earthquake had badly damaged the city and most landmarks were damaged in one way or another. It was stifling hot so we stopped into a small cafe for an iced coffee and snack before exploring on. It was here that we discovered the three of us aren’t that good at sightseeing, it was tiring work! We pushed on and wandered through the town before heading back to the car for the next destination.
The next stop was Pashupatinath Temple. I’d been wanting to visit this temple for while to witness its cremation ceremonies and sacred rituals. Pashupatinath Temple is one of the most scared Hindi temples in Nepal and is the most important temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. This draws in hundreds of Hindu followers every year, particularly the elderly who come from every corner of Nepal and India to meet death and be cremated on the banks of the river. This is so they travel their last journey with the waters of the sacred river Bagmati, which eventually meets the holy river waters of the Ganges.
As we weren’t Hindu, we weren’t allowed in the main temple but could still explore the outer areas, including see the cremation ceremonies from the banks of the river. It was a sobering moment, to see an actual human body being cremated out in the open. I’d never seen a dead body before so it wasn’t only confronting but also hard to revert your eyes. However as hard as it was to watch for us, for locals it was a way of life. They don’t see death as the end of the road but as a new beginning so as sad as it was, they were letting their loved ones go to start a new journey. We watched for about twenty minutes, completely drawn in by the proceedings before exploring the temple domain a bit more.
After seeing most of what we could we headed back to our driver for our last stop of the day – Boudhanath, home to Nepal’s largest stupa. It wasn’t a very long drive but a crazy one to Boudha, where the busy streets had people spilling out onto the roads and daredevils on scooters dodging traffic without a care for themselves. If there’s one thing I’ll remember about the people of Nepal is their lack of self-preservation skills. They launch into incoming traffic without looking and cross the road like the cars buzzing past will just stop for them. I guess that’s their Hindu and Buddhist belief, if this life ends, another one will begin elsewhere.
We were dropped in a back street and had to navigate our own way across the busy streets to get to the entrance of Bouda. I’ve not yet been to India, but I have a strong feeling these streets would look pretty similar. Low hanging tangles of powerlines, buildings shoved together with no actually thought, dirty windows and people, so many people. It was insane how many people there were. We made our way through the crowds to the entrance of Bouda where the sheer mass of the stupa was enough to make you take a step back.
We walked clockwise around the stupa, enthralled by the massive size of it and looking at all the little souvenir shops surrounding it. Apparently the stupa was the result of a guilty son who murdered his father, the King at the time. I’m not sure how accurate that story is but it’s a good scandal! We stopped in for a late lunch at a rooftop restaurant that gave us a good birdseye view of the stupa. We were pretty knackered from the day of sightseeing so took a few more photos before heading back to our driver to be taken back to Kathmandu.
It had been an interesting day and gave us more of an insight into the history of Nepal and their beliefs. It was late afternoon when we got back to Thamel so we split up to refresh before meeting again for dinner at OR2K. It was B’s last night so we celebrated with more espresso martinis and chocolate pudding! Tomorrow C and I myself are heading to Pokhara to escape the city!