I first came to Nepal 20 years ago with my Dad. The local newspaper where my Dad lived in Spain thought this was such an adventure it ran a series of articles under the title above. I had thought the heading strange and did not know where it came from until now.
There’s a one-eyed yellow idol
To the north of Kathmandu;
There’s a little marble cross below the town;
And a broken-hearted woman
Tends the grave of ‘Mad’ Carew,
While the yellow god for ever gazes down.
It’s a poem by J. Milton Hayes. Gilly had also been to Nepal several times before and we had both visited Kathmandu together on a trip to Bhutan about 15 years ago so returning to the tourist enclave of Thamel for a few nights in a hotel was like a trip down memory lane.
Thamel is full of guest houses, restaurants, souvenir shops as well as shops selling lots of trekking clothes and everywhere we turned it brought back wonderful memories of previous trips. As we had done on previous visits we thoroughly enjoyed our time in such a touristy area. After all it was quite some time since we had been anywhere with so many tourists. We also needed to do some shopping for clothes especially if we were going trekking and Thamel is ideal for that although some of the fake branded goods stood out a little too much with their spelling mistakes. We also enjoyed the restaurants. After three months without any red meat it was wonderful to have a steak even if it was buffalo meat.
But Kathmandu is far more than just Thamel. The city is full of life with temples on every corner. The narrow twisting lanes are full of people and motorbikes and overhanging the streets are some magnificent old buildings.
Unfortunately things had changed since we were last in Kathmandu. Yes there had been development but the biggest change was from the impact of the tragic earthquake which had struck Nepal in 2015. Everywhere we went there were damaged building or piles of rubble where buildings once stood. The Nepalis were working hard at rebuilding but there was a lot of work to do.
Entering Durbar Square, the medieval seat of royalty with palaces and temples, it was heart breaking to see that many of the magnificent temples had fallen to the ground and where they once stood there were just empty plinths. Whilst there was some rebuilding going on it will be many years before it is fully restored to its magnificent glory. We still had an enjoyable time showing the children around and admiring those temples that had withstood the tremendous force of the earthquake.
The children were particularly interested in the Kumari’s palace which although damaged still housed the Living Godess. The Living Godess is supposedly a young girl occupied by Durga ( a Hindu Godess). The child is specially chosen and lives in the palace until puberty when she returns to normal life. Whilst we were there the Godess made an appearance (no photos allowed) at one of the beautiful ornate windows that surround the palace courtyard.
Deciding we needed some trekking practice we hiked up to Swayambhunath (“The Monkey Temple”) perched on a hill overlooking the ever increasing sprawl of Kathmandu. It’s a beautiful temple with a resident troupe of monkeys looking to grab a snack from unsuspecting visitors. From here we could also see the pollution from which Kathmandu suffers. During our time in Kathmandu we couldn’t help but notice the amount of dust in the air. Some of this is a result of the earthquake and rebuilding but it also comes from new building works as well as the brickworks that surround the city.
Having seem one magnificent stupa it was only right that we went out to Bodnath to see the biggest stupa of them all. We were lucky in that we arrived on the last day of Tibetan New Year and whilst things were winding down there were still Tibetan monks giving a service and many pilgrims circling the stupa. Food and drink were been served to all, including us as they insisted we join them for some sweet milky tea. While looking at the amazing paintings of the Tibetan demons on the walls of one of the monasteries Lucy and Gilly were beckoned over to receive a blessing from one of the monks.
After a few days of culture, shopping and steaks we headed back to the truck to drive all of 12kms to another ancient Royal city, Bhaktapur. First we had to find somewhere to stay. There was no way we could take the truck into the town down the narrow cobbled lanes. Instead we parked next to a hotel on the main highway overlooking the brick works. We do get to enjoy some wonderful spots!
The upside was that it is always good to be back in the truck and it was only a short walk into the wonderful city. Although again damaged by the earthquake with some really important temples destroyed the remaining temples in each of the three Royal squares were magnificent. Throughout the town there were many ancient Newari buildings with ornately carved windows. The Peacock Window is the most famous but the intricate carvings could be found everywhere.
It was lovely to just sit on the steps of a temple and enjoy the view whilst watching the local towns people go about their daily routines. It was much more peaceful and less frantic than Kathmandu and although it was a lived in city it still retained its medieval feeling.
Bhaktapur is also famous for its King Curd, supposedly the richest creamiest yoghurt you will ever taste so we settled in at one of the hole in the wall shops to check this out. Whilst I don’t know if it really is the creamiest in the world, I can say it tasted fantastic so much so that we bought a large pot to take away with us.
Our time in Kathmandu has been slightly over shadowed by the growing problem of how we get back to Europe. The Nepal border with China is not opening any time soon and our planned route to China via India and Myanmar is now not looking possible due to conflict in the Shan State of Myanmar. I had got myself comfortable that I could drive the truck through Pakistan and we even visited the Pakistan Embassy in Kathmandu to enquire about visas, with the girls flying over with Gilly. However I can only get a visa in London and even then it could take from 2 to 8 weeks. So this does not look possible. Whilst our Nepali visas don’t expire until the end of May our Indian visas expire at the end of April so there is a real danger of us been trapped. Whilst Nepal is a wonderful place to be trapped we need to find a way out which may mean we need to ship out of India which will be such a disappointment as we had our hearts set on driving back across Asia and in particular across the Himalayas. Shipping from India will no doubt be a challenge in its own right!
We have been in Nepal nearly two weeks now and whilst we have seen the hills we have not yet seen the mighty mountains for which it is famous. When we have been in places where we could potentially see them they have either been shrouded in cloud or the haze has been so strong it was not possible to see them. So it’s time to leave the Kathmandu Valley and head to Pokhara where hopefully the clouds will part to reveal the beauty behind them.