Leaving Tibet was more of a chore than expected. We waited in line for the Chinese immigration office to open at which point we endured a bag search. What were they looking for you may ask. Books and maps. The guard looked at our Lonely Planet China book at length and even studied the map inside. Our guide, who stayed with us to the very end, told us they were looking for any books about Tibet. After receiving our exit stamp we walked across the very short Friendship Bridge and suddenly we found ourselves in Nepal and everything changed – the language, clothing, food, even the weather.
We quickly found the visa office, got our visas and haggled our way down to the local price of 500 rupees for transport to Kathmandu. The five hour drive took us through valleys with palm trees and other lush green plants. The cold high plateau of Tibet suddenly felt so far away.
After enjoying the leisurely tour of the Tibetan nature, arriving in the tourist-ridden Thamel district of Kathmandu came as a shocking slap across the face. Signs all in English hung from every possible section of each building face or from the many wires hanging over the street, agents and business owners all calling “Madam, come into my shop” (except for Mindy who got “Sir” on several occasions, and obvious tourists outnumbering the locals two to one. Prices were also quoted in US dollars. We knew very quickly that this place was not for us.
After overpaying for a tasty Nepalese meal we checked into a hotel and tried to make the most of it. We set out to have a look around. Ligeia started asking women on the street where they got such beautiful clothing and they all pointed and said “Asan Market” so we keep walking, set on finding Asan.
We found a women’s clothing store so we went in and sat down. There was much hesitation and discussion amongst the ladies working there as to who would come and wait on us. Finally a young woman came and Ligeia pointed to various beautifully-colored kurtas to see. She settled on a purplish-pink top and green pants with a scarf of both these colors and then she of course had to try it on and get measured for it to be altered.
One hour and 3000 rupees later Ligeia had a beautiful Nepalese outfit which she wore for the next two days.
Walking down the narrow streets of Kathmandu proved challenging at times, especially at intersections. Anything and everything was on the road. Walking meant sharing the street with cars, motorcycles (with anywhere from 1 to 4 people on them), rickshaws (often carrying heavy and wide loads), bicycles and of course fellow pedestrians.
The challenge also included potholes, speed bumps and in some areas piles of trash waiting to be burned. Smells included wonderful spices, incense and what we perceived as rotting meat. (We saw brains for sale one day and as vegetarians we were at least happy to see the whole animal being used.) The sounds of Thamel consisted of incessant honking, “Madam, Madam” and loud Western music.
Nepal is exactly 2 1/4 hours behind China, all of which follows Beijing time (12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time). Due to the time change we were ready to go to bed earlier than we had previously. It was then that we made the unfortunate discovery of our hotel being located directly adjacent to a bar with extremely loud cover bands and woohoo-ing drunk people. To give you an idea of just how loud this was, we could not even hear ourselves talk within the same hotel room. We actually had to shout to be understood right next to each other. It made watching a movie on our tablet, checking out Nepalese TV or sleeping an impossibility.
The next morning we learned of the Swayambhunath Temple nicknamed by Westerners as the “Monkey Temple” because of the many monkeys that live in the trees in the area. Knowing there was a possibility of seeing monkeys we wasted no time and walked the 30 minutes to reach the temple. The promise of monkeys did not disappoint. They made the 300 steps to the top much more bearable giving us good reason to stop and take a break.
At the top there was more tourist crap for sale and we found ourselves disappointed…that is until we heard monks praying. We followed the sound and unlike in Tibet we were delighted to be allowed in, after removing our shoes of course. We were also allowed to take pictures inside. A highlight for Ligeia was when after seeing her sitting on the hard floor for awhile through several waves of tourists, a monk invited her to move to a carpeted area where locals were sitting.
It turns out that monks praying is much more bombastic practice than we had previously thought. There was a big drum, cymbals, conches, horns and bells each having their place in the ritual. We were also honored to have the opportunity to observe Buddhists giving offerings of rice, money or fruit.
After enduring another awful night of bad renditions of “Billie Jean” and “My Sharona”, we walked to Durbar Square, where the past Nepalese kings used to live and is now a large areas of various religious pagodas and temples.
We found the music coming from the Hindu temple nice to listen to and again enjoyed watching people give offerings and then ring one of several bells hanging from the ceiling. We also liked watching people, mostly the elderly and children, feeding vast numbers of pigeons. I still don’t know how we managed not to get pooped on. Most interesting for us were the Sufis, who dress in orange and white, paint their faces in white, yellow and orange and smoke marijuana. As well the men grow their beards long which always seemed to be white for some reason.
These people are meant to take on the burdens of society. We watched as people gave them either rice or money to take away their burdens. The Sufis also approached tourists, asked to take a picture with them and then demanded money.
We spent the better part of that afternoon sorting out plane tickets to Guilin, China. Not being able to stand another night of deafening music, we grabbed a taxi to Kopan Monastery, where we heard there was lodging as well as vegetarian meals.
As we walked around the grounds we realized this is where we wished we had been for our whole three day stay in Nepal. The views of the city were spectacular, the gardens were lovely and the tranquility was exactly what we needed after having spent two days in Thamel, which we now refer to as a large outdoor shopping mall.
The temple within the monastery reminded us of our tour to throughout Tibet. One glaring difference however was the prominent display of a picture of His Holiness, the 14th and current Dalai Lama.
Waking up to the sounds of birds was a nice way to complete our very short journey to Nepal.
And it didn’t hurt that me learned the “True Meaning of Life”:
Here are some pleasant things we will remember from Nepal:
2) a woman lovingly petting a cow on the street
3) having separate security lines at the Kathmandu airport for males and females. This was particularly wonderful because the female line was considerably shorter than the male line. What made this even better for us is that so many women had to wait for their male counterparts on the other side of security and we just sailed right through. Thank you Nepal for showing us yet another benefit of being gay.
After two flights we are now in Guilin, China. We’ll write again soon and as always thanks for following us on our adventure.
Ligeia and Mindy :):)