A Stroll through Kathmandu
There must have been something in the air this morning because suddenly I found myself back in the middle of Kathmandu, Nepal, on my way to one of the monasteries I had been assigned to as a volunteer to teach English.
The sun was high in the sky when I left the big and cool stone building of the Student Guest House and the streets were already filled with locals rearing to welcome tourists and friends alike. I admired the young mother who swept the three small steps to her shop so devotedly as if she was caring for her own child. The air was still relatively free from dust, washed down by last night’s rain and a mild wind ruffled timidly on my light cotton clothes. As I walked on towards the centre of Thamel (according to the local sign it stands for “To Homely Atmosphere & More Enjoyable Living”) I see more and more proud shop owners offering their goods. Yes, it did struck me how proud these people are of their achievements and yet how little they actually have.
Ignoring the usual offers by sellers and taxi and rickshaw drivers, I turn right at the butcher’s hatch with mixed feelings towards the bleating goat which has been tethered right next to the already skinned and ready to be sold goat. In the absence of fridges, life stock is the best preserve. Shortly after I pass the local laundry, a mere stone basin of plain water around which the local women have hung all their whites (spotless, I have to remark) whilst the children played around and underneath. Further on, a holy cow (no offense) duly ruminates amidst a massive pile of rubbish on the side of the road.
The road widens as I approach the bridge which leads to Swayambhu and crosses over the Bishnumati River which is lined with bags and bags of rubbish and has the most extraordinary smell about itself. I arrive at a flight of stone steps leading to a small temple or school where I greet the old local man who appears to be sitting on the top of the stairs all day every day offering the traditional “Namaste” unconditionally to anyone passing by. It is from him that I learned that it doesn’t have to be the prim and proper both hands clasped together and raised to the forehead. It can be as fleeting as just bowing the head down a little and raising one hand. It is the gist of the gesture that counts, not a fully choreographed play.
After passing yet another pile of rubbish, this time with chickens picking away, I pass a few garages filled with beads. Local women are busily threading mala beads while the local lads chat among themselves, leaning on their motorbikes. The roads up here are mere dust tracks compared to the tarmaced road down in town. Uneven and full of holes filled with the aftermath of the latest gush of monsoon, creating muddy pools that splash everywhere when a car passes by. I notice some children flying small square kites on a slope overlooking the City of Kathmandu until my attention is caught by a bowl maker. I acquired a healing bowl myself a few days ago and was intrigued to see the skilled man hammering away on a flat piece of metal, slowly shaping it into a bowl shape.
A beeping taxi ushers me out of the way and I carry on the last bit of road until I reach the foot of the Monkey Temple, named after the holy monkeys resident there. The Swayambhunath Stupa is said to be the oldest religious site in Nepal and at the bottom of the entrance steps that I am currently standing is also a pair of feet engraved. These feet can be found in places that Buddha has set foot on.
Well, I’m on my way to “work”, so I can’t linger long and instead follow the road to the left, past the police station. While the resident officers are getting ready for the day, a local man has set up his fruit shop on a bicycle right next to the entrance.
A snake slithered past me in the drain on the side of the road making me jump and squeak embarrassingly. After a couple of shops which are blaring out a mix of the latest Bollywood hits and traditional prayer music, I reach another set of small shops which sell prayer flags and incents. The heavy scent floats in the air. There are a line of prayer wheels on the wall running along the bottom of the hillside of the Monkey Temple and I decide to set them into a spin to release prayers and mantras to heaven.
Finally I reach the big road and that’s when all the town’s hustle and bustle catches up with me again. There are mini buses, taxis, motorcycles, bicycles, rickshaws, dogs, cows and people of all ages, genders and professions on the road, swerving and veering around each other in a beautiful harmonious chaos all under the watchful eyes of a giant golden Buddha statue. The challenge is to cross this road myself. The idea is to just go and everything will just swirl around you. Just don’t stop. A wonderfully exhilarating experience. I disappear in a small road leading up into nowhere, literally turning into a steep, dried up river bed. There are a few houses before the road disappears and half way along the road lies the Karma Samten Ling Monastery where I will be teaching the little monks English for a few days.
This was exactly two years ago but the memory is still as visibly clear in my head as if I was actually there. It was a fantastic opportunity of an eye opener to see the world from a different angle. Namely from one of the poorest countries of the world. Yet I was fascinated by the easy-going attitude of the locals and how they just carried on regardless. No power cut, no landslide nor monsoon could stop them. And to see the pride in their work shining in their eyes, from the sweeping shop owner over the window display creator to the wood-carver, who proudly runs his hand along the finished piece after putting it up on the wall outside. I found this very inspiring.
But the very best was watching the sun rise over the Annapurna mountain range in Pokhara. Unforgettable!