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Durbar Square Kathmandu


Tuesday, November 11

What to say about Kathmandu? A hectic place, with wandering cows and jostling traffic, where the most important piece of equipment on your taxi is the horn. Many of the streets so narrow and crowded with pedestrians that they should be walking streets only, but cars and motorcycles and bicycle rickshaws jam down the streets too, horns beeping a warning. At first it felt very close, pressing in on me, claustrophobic. And it is loud late into the night, with bars and such. Dirty air (blow your nose after a day walking there and you will see the evidence), partly due to seemingly unregulated vehicle emissions, partly smoke from cooking fires morning and evening, partly it is dust. Everywhere shopkeepers sweep and wash the street in front of their shops. There are a lot of old buildings, old neighborhoods, old streets that are not straight but are narrow and seem to have no names, certainly no name logic that is easily understood by novice travelers such as me. In the tourist section (Thamel), street vendors and shop keepers approach you everywhere. You don't want to be rude, but you quickly learn to pay them no attention at all. You want to take your time and take it all in, but the pressure of the place seems to keep you moving. Not that the sell is that hard, it's just constant.

But even so, there are so many sights that do register. Right in the narrow street outside a restaurant, two guys crouched on the street with an ancient relic of a stone wheel in a wooden frame that they were using to sharpen knives. On one end of it crouched a guy with a leather strap wrapped around one end of the axle, pulling it with one hand and then the other, making the wheel spin one way and then the other. On the other side crouched (seems to be a natural position there, you see people of all ages doing it) a guy sharpening knives. Just a sight on the street in passing, and there were thousands of others. At an intersection with a towering stupa in the middle, women with cloth or tarps spread on the street, piled with fruit or vegetables, selling. Some really sad old beggars. So many faces and forms and colors and smells and sounds, an assault on the senses, potential overload.

That first night we had curry and beer for dinner. There was loud rock music booming from a bar near the hotel, but I didn't pay much attention. The next morning I went to Rob & Andy's room, which had a balcony over the street, and knocked to see if they were ready to have breakfast. Are you awake, I asked when Rob answered the door. That would presume that I slept, Rob said. First it was the rock music in the bar practically next door, with the bass guitar rattling the fixtures in the room. Then it was Andy snoring.

We spent a day exploring and visiting one of the historical sites, a collection of old temples at Durbar Square. They are made of wood and stone and seem in need of preservation. One was a Shiva temple, within which were four Ganesha shrines.

Another had roof beams that were carved with erotic figures. It was overwhelming, really, there was so much history and artistry in this one place. We hired a guide to explain it to us, but his English was hard to follow. And you couldn't get a few minutes of peace to read the guidebook. We had lunch at Freak Street, now quiet but once the center for the hippie wanderers. Back at the hotel, we arranged a new room for Andy and Rob, one in the back where it was quieter.

- - - -

We went to buy tickets for the Everest flight for the following morning, just for Andy and me as Rob had taken it on his previous visit. We went to the Buddha Air office. Lots of business names there are amusing, like the Trust Me Shopping Center. But I really liked the names Buddha Air and Cosmic Air. Anyway, the scene in the Buddha Air office was a delightful contrast to the office I work in, where we all sit quietly in our cubicles working on our computers. There was a counter with three people, and there was a division of labor, but I couldn't quite figure out the roles. One guy did the talking, and as he talked with us he simultaneously helped people on two different telephones (one in each hand) and a number of people who came in and leaned across the counter in front of him. There was a bewildering array of procedures involving the other two staff, including completing forms, writing out the tickets by hand, stamping things, and other paperwork and authorizations, which resulted in our purchasing our tickets. And not a computer in sight. It made me realize I hadn't seen a cell phone in Nepal either.

The next day

this travelogue is part of the subside travelzine
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