Kathmandu Valley, Nepal

October 27 - November 5, 2006

 

 

 

 

 
The 13th century Swayambhunath "monkey temple" on a hill overlooking Kathmandu.
 

 

 

After spending three weeks on the cold, high and dry Tibetan plateau, it was a relief to descend into the lush oxygenated lowlands of the Kathmandu valley (trees!). But we soon tired of dodging cars, motorbikes and rickshaws on the packed roads, and the dense pollution wreaked havoc on our parched lungs. We escaped for a few days to the nearby vibrant town of Bhaktapur with its (mostly) traffic free cobbled streets and medieval architecture.

 

 

 

 

We spent several days wandering through Bhaktapur's inter-connected courtyards, past intricately carved temples, and stone water wells and pools (for recharging the local aquifer), amazed to see all aspects of Newari life and culture so visible, so immediate. At potter's square we watched a man knead dark gray clay, then throw one perfect pot after another. Down another alleyway, men hammered copper urns, pounding the metal thinner and thinner in a slow spiral, and down another lane, a lone man carved small wooden toys. Mothers washed their daughter's long black hair, while laundry dried in the afternoon sun. It's the fall harvest time and women (always women...) threshed rice -- pouring it from flat baskets held high above them, the chaff blowing off in the breeze -- in courtyards and on rooftops. We carefully stepped over rocks embedded in the cobbled streets, strange shrines covered with offerings of rice, marigolds and smeared red paste. One evening, a funeral procession passed us; first were men carrying flaming torches, then pairs of weeping mourners, surrounding the body wrapped in red cloth held high above their heads, and finally, men bearing large bundles of wood for the funeral pyre.

We were woken at 4 am to the sound of bells and conch shell horns. From the rooftop of our small hotel, we watched a long line of women, each carrying a copper tray filled with an assortment of offerings, walking clockwise around the Shiva temple below us, sprinkling offerings, lighting candles, ringing bells, completing their daily puja. At 6 am, merchants set out small tarps on the main street, then sat cross legged while selling fresh fruits and vegetables (potatoes, ginger, turnips, melons, apples, oranges, lettuce, chilies, bananas) which had been carefully arranged in fixed price groupings --10 rupees for a small pile. A few hours later these markets disappeared, replaced by metal prayer bowls, beautiful shawls, pottery, and wood carvings for the swarms of day-tripping tourists from Kathmandu. But by late afternoon, most of the tourists departed, and the street transformed once again as the evening merchants set out their wares. The streets filled with women in brilliantly colored sari's buying cheap western clothing, teenagers rummaging through pirated DVD's, and housewives buying their evening spices and vegetables. As night fell, a group of Newari men in topi hats chanted as they sat at the base of Dattatreya Temple, accompanied by cymbals and drums, and another turn of the vibrant cycle of life in Bhaktapur was completed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

Sound Recording: Taumadhi Square Singing (3:56).

 

 

 

 

 

Maoists rally in the streets of Bhaktapur.

 

 

 

 
 

Kathmandu (taxi) ► Bhaktapur