Tuesday, Sept 10, 2013
Another early morning, as I am unable to sleep a whole night. I feel bad for my roommate as I’ve been coughing due to the high dust/pollution content in the air. To visit some other sites further out in the Kathmandu Valley, a few of us are going out to a nearby city to visit the UNESCO temples there, then 4 of us will continue on to Nagarkot where if it’s clear enough tonight or tomorrow morning, we will be able to see sunset or sunrise against Mount Everest. We will then hike half way back to Kathmandu to get some fresh air and hiking in the countryside.
So, again I sit on the rooftop terrace for sunrise as the same huge bird migration tends to happen each morning. 1000’s of birds fly overhead – so close I can hear their wings flapping.
5 of us met for an early breakfast at 7:00 and then we set off for a two day trip that I had planned. We took the hotel van to Bhaktapur, a suburb that is about 9 miles east of Kathmandu city. The Durbar square and temples here are also part of the UNESCO sites of the Kathmandu valley. We spent most of the day walking around this fascinating old city, down it’s cobblestone alleys and popping into Hindu and Buddists temples.
We stopped at potter’s square where there were 1000’s of pieces of pottery laying out to dry.
None of us bought any pottery as we figured it would last about 2 seconds in our bags before breaking.
After seeing the main sites of the Durbar Square and the tallest temple in Kathmandu, we were following a walking tour map and it zig-zagged us all around the city. One stop was a small temple along the river where we soon realized a goat had been sacrificed just minutes before. It was a gruesome, bloody scene that involved a beheading. We continued on to what was described as a modern Buddhist temple. One of our traveling companions who grew up in Thailand noticed some Thai script that said this particular temple had been financed by the King of Thailand. We were shown the 3rd floor altar and they offered us lunch, but we declined.
We continued on to a smaller, older square to admire the intricate wood carvings. We stopped at a bakery and had goodies, then we walked one of our group to the bus station to head to Kathmandu, as she was not planning on staying in the country tonight. On the way to the station, we stopped to admire the erotic carvings on a small temple and had some great chilled yogurt in little clay pots that’s a specialty of the region.
We walked to the bus station to Nagarkot. A bus was leaving as we arrived, but to ride we’d need to ride on the roof. It was just a little too sunny to do that, so we waited for the next bus. There were 6 other backpackers on our bus. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many on one bus anywhere I’ve been traveling before.
After an hour of uphill climbing, we arrived to Nagarkot. Since we were the only tourists with overnight packs, as opposed to large backpacks, we hightailed it to one of the better budget choices – the Hotel at the End of the Universe. They only had a few available rooms, and one of them they showed us was the penthouse suite. We negotiated a price of $50 for this awesome suite – including breakfast for the four of us.
The room was a small room with a king size bed and a large room with beds in 3 of the corners + a table in the middle with cushion seats. We had an old TV, VCR, and DVD player and a foos ball table! But the best part of the room was it’s balcony with a table and 4 chairs. The receptionist showed us where we’d see the Himalayas if the skies were clear in the morning. We didn’t have our hopes up too high because the guidebooks warned that September isn’t a very clear month.
We relaxed on our deck to watch the sunset. Our western view was of the Kathmandu Valley itself and we were on a ridge on the eastern side. We were rewarded with a spectacular sunset due to the high smog level in the air. But even better, we saw our first glimpses of the snow covered Himalayas. First, a small opening in the clouds gave us a look at a very interesting peak. Then, another opening, and we could see a pyramid shaped peak. This one started to look pink as the sun set even further.
We were all hungry from a long day of touring, so we headed out to dinner. We wanted to find some more local type diner rather than the typical hotel restaurant fare and we had seen a number of restaurants down near the bus station. We stopped at a few, not satisfied with the choices but then we came upon the “Chill Out Restaurant” Inside was the woman who ran the restaurant, her 2 daughters, and 2 grandparents all watching TV. There was just one table but she had another table on a deck so we sat there since it was smoky inside (it seems that many of the elderly here are cigarette smokers). 3 of us wanted the Nepali Veg Set (rice, daal baht, veg curry, and pickle) and the other wanted something else.
“Alright, 4 Nepali Veg Sets”
We waited over an hour for our food but it was worth it for probably my favorite meal in Nepal so far. A giant mound of rice, with a small side of delicious curry and pickle. Then a huge bowl of daal baht for the table to share and a plate of cucumbers. The cucumbers here are very different. Much shorter, fatter, tastier. No one else at the table is eating raw vegetables (it’s a way to get food sick) but I haven’t been having any issues so I eat the whole plate. After eating so much food, she came around with more rice, curry, and daal baht. All you can eat for $2! The grandmas were encouraging the little girls to dance for us as we left – they were so cute.
As we ate, and later as we walked back to the hotel, there was an electrical storm brewing in the night sky.
Apparently, it rained quite hard that night but I slept thru it.
Despite weather forecasts that show thunderstorms and 40-60% chance of rain every day I’ve been here plus the next 10 days, this is the first time it has rained since I’ve been here. Our days have all been warm and partly cloudy.
Wed, Sept 11
I woke up at 3 am – I seem to be waking a little earlier everyday. Unfortunately, it seems my body is trying to revert back to Seattle time. Or maybe it’s the altitude? Nagarkot is at 2,175 meters altitude. At 3 am the skies are totally, clear – stars at 360 degrees – from the Himalayas to the valley. I start to get excited that we might have a really good sunrise against the mountains. So excited, that I can’t sleep anymore. Well, I continued to watch the stars, but as 4:00 rolled around, some fog started to form. By 4:30, it was completely clouded over. At 5:15 sunrise time, there wasn’t a sunrise nor any view of the mountains. But then later, a few peaks started to clear and we saw peek-a-boos, similar to the night before.
We had a nice breakfast of omelet and toast, and then set off for the day
We stocked up on water and snacks in Nagarkot for what we thought would be a 3 hour mostly downhike hike to Changu Narayan temple. Luckily as we left town, we saw a nice map of the hike we were planning to do so we took pictures of it as this would be our map for our descent.
Just out of town, we left the road and were on dirt tracks. Lots of kids were on their way to school. Some of them were asking for chocolate, but some of them just wanted to say “Namaste”. The trail took us through some charming little settlements of several farm housed and terraced corn and rice fields.
We saw the locals doing their daily work, such as laying out corn and hot red peppers in the sun to dry. Some of these women carry the heaviest, largest containers of all kinds of things, only with a strap around their forehead to hold the weight. The map was fairly straightforward but occasionally, we would ask “Changu Narayan?” to a local and they would point the way. Besides the beautiful farmland, there were amazing flying creatures – huge butterflies, golden brown dragonflies, and lots of birds. We stopped at one beautiful local Hindu temple on the way and had some snacks before the only uphill climb of about 25 minutes. This took us to the top of a ridge, where we would follow the ridge all the way down to the temple. The total hike took us just over 4 hours, with lots of photo stops.
It was great to breath the fresh air – free of the dust and pollution of Kathmandu city.
The other 3 wanted lunch, so they went to a little local cafe as I headed up to the temple to relax. I sat in the shade and listened to the chanting of a Hindu service as I read info in my guidebook, looked at the carvings, and people watched. At one point, a couple dozen kids came into the temple on what appeared to be a scavenger hunt. It must have been an english based Nepali school as many of the children were speaking in english. I didn’t see another tourist enter the temple as I sat there, but lots of locals would go thru, some of them ringing the bell 3 times.
Changu Narayan is the smallest of the 7 UNESCO sites in the Kathmandu Valley. It has some of the oldest and most intricate carvings, including many of the carnations of Vishnu.
After a quick self guided tour, we headed down to the bus stop and caught the bus back to Kathmandu for a much needed shower.
I met much of the group at the New Orleans wine bar, and then a few of us went to Yeti Cafe to have Momos – traditional dumplings. I ordered the “Chili Veg Momos” which was 10 spicy vegetable momos in a bowl covered in a thick sweet chili and vegetable sauce. Very yummy.