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Bhaktapur

sunny 24 °C
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We have seen a lot of airports already in the last year. But out of the 23 airports, Kathmandu easily wins the price for being most chaotic. There were long queues to pay for the visa – 40 USD pp. While Sam stood in line, I tried to complete the online process for the visa application. Only once I was done for me and Max, I was told that I did not have to do this, as I had already completed the paperwork in the plane.
At immigration, there were long queues once more. Suddenly realizing that the very left counter was not only to be used by crew members and seniors, but also by children, we were hopeful to skip the queues. Unfortunately, that counter was able to only process Max’ free visa. Sam and I had to go through the regular counters where the lines were.
Even though it seemed that we had spent over an hour getting to the baggage claim area, our belt had not even been announced yet. It was unbelievable hot, crowded and noisy. Eventually, the baggage from our flight arrived. The car seat arrived last – probably 15 minutes after everything else had arrived.

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Everything was labelled ‘KTM’. While most people simply interpret that as Kathmandu, Sam and Max felt like they had arrived in KTM heaven. They were reminded of KTM motorbikes, their favorite brand.
We were relieved to be able to finally leave the building and despite the many people waving signs, we quickly identified the logo ‚Weltweitwandern‘ and headed there.
When planning for the Nepal bit of our travels we knew that we wanted to do some trekking. And we did not want to go on our own, but have the support of a guide and porters. When researching the options, I quickly decided to get a full package with Weltweitwandern. Sam and I had been hiking with them through the Moroccan desert almost ten years ago. We like their concept, combining hiking with cultural experiences while leaving a positive footprint in the respective communities.
Our guide Prakash greeted us with necklaces of marigold and then we headed to Bhaktapur, the smallest of the three former royal cities of the Kathmandu Valley. By the time, we reached our hotel, we were starving. After spending just enough time in our room to drop our bags, we headed up to the rooftop terrace to get some food. Once we were well fed, we had the leisure to fully take in the beautiful view. We were just a two-minute walk from the main Durbar Square and could not only see parts of the royal palace from above, but also many of the temples raising above the other buildings.

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Back in our room, we started realizing that there was a very strange stench. A bit of exploration revealed a couple of mothballs in the closet. From that moment on, the closet was not opened again and we figured that we could easily live out of our suitcases for the time we’d be staying there.
We used the afternoon to relax and play. Even though it was tempting, exploring could wait for the next couple of days.
That evening we were treated to a big typical Nepali welcome dinner. After several starters (pakoda, Tibetan mo-mos, spicy potatoes and bamboo soup), we were served dal bhat – a lentil soup with steamed rice. It is the Nepali standard meal that is eaten by locals twice a day. We liked it a lot and are sure to have more of it in the coming days.

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We started our next day on the roof top terrace with breakfast, constantly observed by about 10 dun crows which hoped to get whatever was left over.

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Then it was time to explore the town with Asook giving us lots of background information about the main sights. All of Bhaktapur's old town is considered a World Heritage Site and there are significant efforts going on to preserve and restore the historic buildings. We started at the Durbar Square, just next door to our hotel. Our first stop was the royal palace with its famous courtyards. We liked the architecture and the features very much.

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But it was even more fun to observe the locals. With their colorful dresses and mesmerizing faces, we could not help being amazed at the whole new world we had suddenly entered.

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We also learned that Bhaktapur is famous for its arts and crafts, mainly in regards to pottery. While we marveled at the incredible amounts of piggy banks in the form of vases drying in the square, Max had a go with doing a bit of pottery of his own.

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It was obvious that the earthquake two years ago had destroyed many buildings and temples. Reconstruction works were going on all over the place with various stages of completeness. There had been a devastating earthquake already in 1934 which caused many buildings to collapse.

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Knowing that Nepal is a very poor country – among the bottom 10%, damages like that take time to be repaired. Specifically, for the not so fortunate inhabitants of town, it will take long to fully recover. Building materials are transported in large baskets supported by a sling around the forehead. Surprisingly, most this back breaking work is performed by colorfully dressed women. And in general, most construction work is done absolutely manually without the use of any machinery.

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The owner of the pottery workshop, Sirjan, told us that he and his family had their house destroyed by the earthquake and moved in with their grandmother. And until their house will eventually be rebuilt (timing unknown), he and his brother will continue using their workshop as their bedroom. Still, he is putting aside all money earned with pottery classes to build a bigger studio.
Our next stop was the Nyatapola temple, a five-story pagoda that has such deep foundations such that neither the 1934 nor the 2015 earthquake damaged it.

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Heading on through the windy streets, we passed a wedding party on the way to the bride’s home – day one of several days of celebrations.

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By the time we reached Dattatreya Temple, we had already gotten so much background information on the various temples and buildings from Asook that we started getting everything mixed up. So we did not mind that our city tour concluded with seeing the famous peacock window – the most famous of all the exquisite carvings in Bhaktapur.

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On the balcony of the nearby Peacock Café, we enjoyed a great lunch. But even better than the food was the view of the square underneath. What a setting: The old men sitting in the shade of a temple, the goats fighting for food, groups of people walking by animatedly, scooters carrying families of four… We could have sat there for ages to observe, take pictures and just enjoy being where we are.

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Max had different perspectives: he wanted to go do pottery again. So that’s where we went. On our way, we passed a festival where the locals came to a tiny temple hidden in a side street. They offered all kinds of food to the gods while others were just looking on.

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This is what is so fascinating about Asia: the culture is just so different to our own that there's so much to be discovered. And with people looking distinctly different towards what we're used to, it is just so much more interesting. Sam was very happy to have his telephoto lens to take close up shots of people without them being offended by being photographed.

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Once we reached the pottery shop, Srijan was very patient once more. He was finding just the right balance between letting Max try out on his own while teaching him how make some basic forms. Eventually the fun was stopped by a typical event: the power was suddenly gone.
Back at the hotel we also faced some power outages. At least they did not come as a complete surprise this time: there were severe thunderstorms going on and we seemed to be just surrounded by lightning and thunder. Sam used the opportunity trying to take some pictures of lightning using his new tripod until it was time to have dinner.

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That evening Sam realized that he had taken over 250 photos in a single day - without even counting the many pictures of trying to catch lightning. Nepal is definitively a very special and fun place, so we'll be looking forward to the coming days!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 20:23 Archived in Nepal Tagged temple power carving earthquake thunder pottery hindu Comments (3)

Nepali culture

Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Changu Narayan

sunny 24 °C
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

After our tour of Bhaktapur the day before, today we had to get some shopping done. After all, we’d need sleeping bags for the rest of our trip. We took a taxi into Thamel, the tourist district of Kathmandu.
We had not thought that after our experience with Cambodian traffic that we’d be easily shocked. But Nepali traffic was even wilder and more chaotic than anything we had seen so far. Seemingly, most drivers fully trusted the attention of the other people on the road. Most people seem to just turn from a side street into a busy road without even a brief look. Or they fully trust their Hindu beliefs that the soul is immortal and will be reborn after death. That makes for an interesting traffic (and general safety) experience. Not even the times when we were simply stuck and not moving ourselves were a relief: just watching how motorbikes tried to squeeze through traffic were making my stomach twitch.

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After more than an hour we had successfully arrived in Thamel. Our first stop was at a ‘North Face’ store which turned out to be full of fake products. Well, either that or we were shown magic -10 °C sleeping bags with low weight, minimum pack dimensions and a reasonable price.
We preferred to head to Shona’s Alpine, a store that I had found recommended on the internet. They are producing their products in Nepal using imported Australian down at a great price. We were positively surprised about their sleeping bags and soon left the store as the proud owners of three of them.
After a great lunch at Gaia, we quickly headed back towards Bhaktapur and were happy to be back at the hotel. In the lobby, we found an article in a newspaper. A boy that is considered untouchable had been asked by his friend who belongs to a higher caste to fetch something from the kitchen. He did as he was told, only to be beaten up with a stick by his friend’s older brother – after all an untouchable is not allowed to touch anything. The good news is that since 2011 there is a law that forbids discrimination of lower castes. The newspaper reported that enforcement of this relatively new law still needs to be improved.

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Nepal is a very different world for us indeed!
On the next day, we explored Bhaktapur. On the main Durbar square, we had a closer look at the temples there. They were decorated with lots of wood carvings. The gods and goddesses had up to ten arms. The temples are not only home for the 330 million hindu gods and godesses (which are all incarnations of the three main gods), but also of many birds.

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While this was fun to see, we also laughed about the many representations of various sexual positions. A 16th century king wanted to promote married life vs. monastic life and thought it was a good idea to give his people some good ideas about the benefits of having a partner. Coming from a Catholic background ourselves, it seems just out of this world to go to a temple and to contemplate about pictures like that. How about a religion that helps couples being some variety into their love life?

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At one of the temples, we observed a group of girls taking hundreds of selfies of each other. Sam couldn’t resist to take a couple of pictures as well – which led to much laughter on both sides.

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We also loved the shopping options of Bhaktapur. There was a wild mix of regular stores with well-organized displays of the wares on offer. But even more fun were the many sellers along the sides of the road.

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Max was adamant to spend some more time at the pottery workshop. While he worked with lots of enthusiasm, Sam and I had time to just observe life in the square. Some of the houses around us had artistic facades of latticed windows – which looked even better when someone was looking through the window.

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We had lots of fun with a couple of kids. Despite being much smaller than Max, we learned that they are five and six years old and what their names were.

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What a great day this had been once more! We continued to be overwhelmed by the amount of sights and smells we experienced in the last couple of days.
But there was more to come. The next day we headed to Changu Narayan, one of the temple complexes part of the Kathmandu Valley UNESCO World Heritage listing. Along the way, we passed some of the many brick-works in the region who seem to make the business of their lifetime in the aftermath of the earthquake.
As we headed up towards the hilltop, we got to see the Kathmandu Valley from above. With the climate getting hotter in April, it was extremely hazy. Even though we had read in our guidebook that only between October and March there’s a good view, we doubted even that. Having seen the sheer amount of brick works and private households using wood fires, we assumed that much of the haze was also man made and present all around the year.

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Even though Changu Narayan is the oldest Hindu temple complex of Nepal, we must admit that we were not very impressed. Unfortunately, much of the temple had been damaged in the earthquake and there was a distinct feeling of being in the middle of a big construction site. And admittedly, we did not make a big effort to locate famous inscriptions from the fifth century AD.

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On our way down to the minibus, we had to pass through the many market stalls offering souvenirs and eventually got tired of repeating our mantra of ‘No, thank you. We’re not interested in T-shirts / singing bowls / paintings / food / carvings / pottery / etc’. The insights in village life were much more interesting than anything we could have bought for money.

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Later that day, we did invest in a souvenir. While Max got to try doing some painting on his own, we did buy a mandala. While we do not care too much about its philosophical meaning in religious interpretation, we liked the geometric forms and thought that it will be a nice memory that we can put up back at home.

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We had lunch with a nice view of the place in front of Nyatapola temple. Being up at a balcony, we benefited once more of being able to observe what was going on the square and taking pictures of the many interesting scenes we observed.

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Lunch was great. We really like Nepali food and especially the big choice of vegetarian options on the menus - once again a consequence of the respect of Hindus towards all higher life forms.
In preparation of the upcoming Nepali New Year festivities, a big chariot had been constructed and was being decorated. The local kids (and Max) used it as a climbing frame and substitute for a playground.

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We also headed up the big steps of the Nyatapola temple. We had a great view from up there. But Max loathed the fact that he was a popular photo motive for the locals and wanted to leave quickly again.

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Still trying to get our head around everything we had seen in the last days, we opted for a distinct contrast that afternoon: we went to an extremely comfortable café, had tea and cakes. While we were in a clear tourist establishment with not a single local stopping by, we did not mind having a well-known culture around us for an hour. While life floated by outside the big windows, we knew that by the end of the hour, we’d be in the middle of Nepali life again – excited about what to see next in this fascinating country!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:40 Archived in Nepal Tagged traffic temple painting god sex dust hindu Comments (1)

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