Arriving in KTM I met with my travel agent, Satish about my credit card problem and then spent several hours trying to straighten out the mess, not at all enabled by Skype connections so bad that after 10 calls one woman suggested I call my personal bank manager.
I called S in New York, who as usual had no memory of me, but at least said she would get on it. It then turned out that I have been assigned a personal bank manager, someone I’ve never heard of and whom I suspect is a phone/internet entity, not someone from the office at 666 5th Ave. The American genius for depersonalizing relationships is spreading like a dangerous mold.
I gave up and went to bed to be awakened around midnight by a resounding thunder crash, followed, I’m sure, by heavy rain but I was back asleep too fast to be cognizant of it.
At breakfast I put my room key and TLS down to claim an empty table. When I returned from the buffet, I found a smiling, slightly chubby man had taken a seat across the table. He was from Lebanon, which explained his cheerful intrusion into my space. I learned years ago that the idea of privacy is not the same for Moslems as it is for us west of Suez. But he seemed nice.
We talked, or rather he talked; he had an enormous number of opinions on everything. I was interested to discover that he was in Kathmandu because he arranges for Nepalis to go to Lebanon to work. I do not know what the reputation of the Lebanese is toward imported workers but I could not help but think of the leading role the Arabs had in the slave trade until the US and England over took them in that market.
At 9:30, a bit before in truth, X my Barcelonan friend and her husband showed up. They had already hired a taxi to Pagan. Her husband is a photographer and like all good photographers lugs about a small but heavy backpack.
In Patan, after the usual misdirected wanderings, we bought a 1,000 Rupee, 10 US, ticket for the palace. There has been and is a lot of work going on to reconstruct and repair the quake damage. The palace looks largely finished, but the temples in the square are still being worked on. The palace is brick with wood carved ornamentation. Woodcarving is a Nepali specialty. Unfortunately many exceptional pieces deteriorated before local people recognized how unusual their art was. The exquisitely carved King’s bath, stone not wood, with its gold faucet is a bit more pond scummy than I remember.
There are three floors of museum, full of fabulous images. If I’d been alone I would have spent more time. They have organized the images according to the gods, which is a good and an entertaining way to do it. I hadn’t realized, until I had looked at eight Ganesh statues in a sequence, that he always has a bowl of sweets in one of his many hands. That is why he is a fatty.
We then, not knowing where to start, began looking for someone to supply me with replacement leaves for the bronze, hanging lamp I bought years ago in Patan that I have in my bedroom in Barcelona. We crossed Durbar Square and wandered into a dirt alley. Before us was an antique shop and it seemed to me I might as well start here. I went in and asked, showing him the leaf I had brought with me for someone to copy, explaining that I needed five such leaves.
The shopkeeper was an older, stout man with white hair. He immediately led me across the alley to where a cross-eyed man, with heavy silver earrings at the top of his ears, was selling bits of things from a small table. The man explained to the cross-eyed man what I wanted and urged him to accept the commission. Although I could not understand the words I could hear the encouraging tone. The commission was accepted. I agreed to the price, which was probably a little high. But I was so fascinated by this act of charity by the shopkeeper to the less able, poorer, probably illiterate street seller that I couldn’t help but contribute to it. It seemed to me that the shopkeeper would be in charge. I had him sign a receipt with the price and the date the leaves would be ready and left feeling fairly sure all would be well.
X’s husband was seduced on our way back to the car by a brass door handle in the shape of a mermaid and bought it. Patan is the town that has historically been the center for brass and bronze manufacture.
We taxied to Barbar Mahal Revisited, the stables of an old Rana palace that has been turned into a series of charming shops, restaurants and beauty salons to have lunch at Carolina’s, excellent but considering local prices, a bit high. Then we looked at the new hotel, which has been built onto Barbar Mahal by, I understand, the descendants of the Rana’s who once owned the palace. I saw it last year and it is an entrancing boutique hotel. However, on second glance it seems a bit tightly packed for privacy. If it were full I wonder if I wouldn’t feel as though I was living in someone’s lap.
X and her husband dropped me at Durbar Marg where I went to see Yasmine’s Studio. Yasmine is an old friend and a superb designer. But my friend S who is usually at the shop was very ill with influenza and not there. On the walk home to the Kathmandu Guesthouse I noted that the usual women beggars with their children were not there but had been replaced by a man with leprosy.
At the guesthouse I had a banana smoothie and watched the black and white resident cat performing her ritual blackmail mew among the dinners.
The above juxtaposition between the man with leprosy and the banana smoothie is a loud signal that I am writing about a third world journey. The sad truth is that it takes very little time to make that transition from leprosy to smoothie fairly effortlessly.
The next day I had coffee with my friend Abhi Subedi, professor, playwright, poet and lover of good coffee. We went to his favorite coffee house. The owner wants to name one of the rooms after Abhi. It is where he and his friends meet to discuss their lives and their nation.
It is always fun to go about with Abhi. He is not a short Nepali but a bit over six feet with wildly curly white hair, kind eyes and a superb smile. He is supercharged with energy and beaming with happy enthusiasm. He wears a floppy cotton hat which ties under his chin and for some reason, is it this hat, the women street sellers of little purses are convinced he’s a tourist and plague him with their wares.
He told me about his older sister who died recently at age 85. She had been living in his house. She was, apparently, a determined woman even when young. When she disapproved of her husband and his family, Abhi did not reveal over what, she moved out. I would love to know what it was that she disapproved of.
We talked about his new play on the theme of forgiveness, an important idea in Nepali life in the aftermath of the Mao civil conflict. I asked him why Patan’s Durbar Square has almost been completely renovated and Kathmandu’s remains in ruins. He replied memorably, “The one thing that unites Royalists and Communists is stealing public money.”
Having a cappuccino after breakfast the next morning I watched a monkey family—Mom, Pop and the twins gazing down speculatively from a low neighboring roof at the Kathmandu Guest House garden. They were obviously considering a visit but, I think, finally decided that there was an excessive human presence.
Sarosh picked me up; we took a cab and made the long, long drive to his house through the endless dusty chaos that is Kathmandu. I tried to concentrate on what was being sold shop by shop but it was such a muddle of things I lost track. Finally we got far enough out so that there were breaks between buildings; rice fields appeared at the edge of the road, the darker spears of the leaves rising protectively over the plumes of grains curled down into themselves.
Sarosh’s area, which used to be country, is sprouting houses. Sunil, his son, in a Bob Marley shirt, Sarosh is
partial to Marley having a backpack with his face on it, was watching endless Indian cartoons. Sarosh commented that these are slanted to make the Indian’s superior.
Nilam, Sarosh´s wife, made us lunch but did not eat with us. It was very good chicken with rice, potatoes, greens and dahl. When we left, the house, which is just the usual concrete block affair, but is charming
because it is covered with vines and surrounded by flowering plants, we walked down the road toward the temple by the river I have never taken a picture of. We came to the bus stop and I climbed into the one Sarosh indicated.
As we stopped and started along our way we picked up people, many women in holiday clothes of green and red or green and orange, with tikas on their foreheads in red but also in yellow and once or twice in gold. It will be Daisain soon.
The bus was so crammed that it was time to fit three people into a two-seat space. I offered to take a little boy to sit between me and the girl, very prettily dressed, next to me. He was about six and a little alarmed by the pale, pale foreigner, although he was all admiration for the bus boy in his Che Guevara tee shirt, calling out the stops and pounding on the bus’s side to let the driver know it was time to leave. His
mother, however, was all for this arrangement. I grabbed him around his substantial middle and heaved him up on my lap where he perched uneasily until with main force I settled him.
When he and his mother left, she in a sparkling green outfit with shimmering silver trim, she tried to get him to say goodbye. He did give me a nod, but was really concentrating on his exit through the mass of adults.
We squirmed out at Bodhnath, where I didn’t have to pay an entrance fee. The stupa has been magnificently restored after the quake which damaged its top but little else. I stopped by the window of a store that had an excellent painting in the window of a god I don’t know, fat, cheery with a rat in the crook of his arm. It was full of warmth and gaiety. I think he may be a version of the God of Wealth. None of the paintings inside the shop, while well done, came close to the spirit of this one. Around Bodhnath I saw this god several times.
In the shop was a Westerner in the dress of a Tibetan monk, lecturing the shopkeeper and his friends both Eastern and Western about the spiritual value of having a partner.
We climbed the stupa’s steps continuing our walk
around it. This is more Tibetan than Nepali as many
monasteries have their temples and monks’ cells
around the stupa. Coming around we found ourselves looking down on a film crew, the actors we could see mostly women in filmy deep blue or peachy orange outfits, very graceful. The color combination was striking.
From there we took a minibus on an awful rocky ride. I had to be careful because I had a monk in front of me and we are not supposed to touch. He had a big black satchel so he was on business. I love the perceived anachronism of monks with cell phones.
Once I saw some young monks on the terrace in front of their cells in Tibet with a toy machine gun thoroughly enjoying themselves. We alighted on one of the biggest of Kathmandu’s roads to take the lane down to Pashupatinath where I was allowed to look at Nandi’s brass or is it bronze bottom but not enter the temple.
I was saddened to see that the old folks home with its towers sporting Shiva tridents and winding bronze ribbons had not been renovated after the earthquake.
As we approached the Bagmati Riven it began to rain. We took shelter under the eaves of a shrine and
watched the rain river down the steps on the opposite shore. People were making puja in this area for departed parents. I love hanging out here and at the
ghats where, when the rain eased we went. Despite the rain the two bodies that were being cremated were burning cheerfully. As we walked monkeys romped around us but kept their distance. We stood and watched the cremations for a while, an activity I find imbues me with serenity.
Leaving Pashupatinath we took another bus that brought us close to Durbar Marg where the traffic was stopped, no one was allowed over the pedestrian bridges because someone important was coming. There was a lot of bantering with the young
policeman who kept us off the bridge, all of it on either side very good humored.
Once walking again, Sarosh lead me through a neighborhood in Tamil near the KTM Guesthouse but one I have never been in before. It is full of Chinese hotels and restaurants, all signs in Chinese, all advertising in Chinese exclusively. I presume this is for the Mainland tourist trade, which is enormous. Interesting but probably not good.
I spent the evening packing my backpack for Tibet and my last trip to Mount Kailash.