Wednesday, 9 December 2009
Day 27 - Kathmandu, Nepal
How different Kathmandu looks in the cold light of day. Don't get me wrong, it's still claustrophobic and a little bit intimidating, but the city is now alive with honking cars, cows in the road and stall after stall selling any Buddhist or Hindu items you could ever possibly need.
The breakfast choice was English-style fayre – sausage, eggs and toast - or a "nepali breakfast.” After my recent mild illness I decided to save the Nepali meal for another day and chomped down on some familiar grub.
Unsure of my bearings, I checked with the hotel how much it would cost to get to the National Museum of Nepal. 150 Rupees. £1.50. Perfect. So I waited for the first taxi driver to accost me and asked for the museum. Driving in Kathmandu is a law unto itself; it's even more crazy than in Santo Domingo. I would say that the general standard of driving is about the same, but the fact that Nepalis share the (much thinner) roads with rickshaws, (many many) motorbikes, pedestrians and livestock makes the journey one not for the light-hearted. What was worse about this journey was that once I had been dropped off, and the taxi sped away, I realised that he had dropped me at the wrong museum, and worse still, this museum was closed on Tuedays. *fume*
Ah well. The weather was bright, and I had a tourist map, so I decided to join the throng of pedestrians and walk to the main Durbar Square - it was quite a trek, but it gave me chance to enjoy the atmosphere of the city a little more. The Square is home to the palaces of the former kings of Nepal, as well as a number of temples and, of course, the museum. As I was catching my breath, I was accosted by a “guide” - who persuaded me to part with some of my cash for a tour of the area. As it happens he was great, explaining the significance of the temples, the history of the square and showing me where the hippies used to hang out as well as a glimpse of the living goddess and the huge gurning mask of Swet Bhairadya which once a year spits out a steady stream of rice wine enthusiastically fought-over by the locals.
Having had my fill of information, I decided to head back to my hostel – saving the museum for another day. I began to walk in the general direction of home, but soon realised that I had absolutely no clue where I was going. It took a good 30 minutes of aimless wandering before I decided to swallow my pride and agreed to allow one of the many rickshaws to take me home. The rickshaws are powered by young lads on bicycles, but it turned out that the hostel was up a fairly long (if not too steep) hill. The youngster was clearly beginning to struggle, and I felt like offering to have a go on the pedals when he got out and started to push. How embarrassing. I just felt like hiding my head in shame as this poor guy huffed and puffed to get me up to the top of the hill. I gave him a hefty tip anyway, and headed back to my room to sort out a bit of admin.
After sorting my receipts and a late lunch, I decided to investigate the hostel's immediate vicinity. The sun was getting low in the sky, and it seemed that this was the signal for the city's drug pushers to come out. These are not your typical inner-city drug dealers, you understand, just people who were trying to sell maps and jewelery a few hours earlier, but now saw more of a market for marijuana. They are brazen as well, quite happy to ask you within a couple of yards of a police officer with a rather large gun. Apparently the state turn a blind eye to personal smoking – which was one of the reasons for the influx of hippies in the 60s and 70s – but if you're reading this and don't know me, then you wont know that it's not really my scene: I politely declined, as I did to the guy who approached seconds later trying to sell a rather large knife.
As I was walking back to the hostel, I noticed that one of the bars was holding a charity pub quiz. What a treat – this is much more my scene! A chance to pit my wits against the brains of Nepal. In fact, I didn't even have to wait for the quiz to start: as I walked along the road a teenager walked alongside me asking where I was from. “England” I replied. “England, capital London” was the fairly standard response, but as we continued to talk, he gave the audacious claim that he knew every single capital city in the world. Well. So do I. So we had a capital-city-off in the middle of the street with honking cars passing perilously close on either side. “Belgium” I asked, not wishing to embarrass the lad: “Brussels. Guatemala” he retorted: “Guatemala City. Canada:” “Ottawa. Cambodia”- Damn, he definitely knew the easy ones. I tried him with Laos and Swaziland which he answered correctly while gesturing to a couple of young beggar children to join him. I was impressed, but could see that I was about to be tapped for money. It sounds harsh, but I made my excuses and left; sadly you just cannot give cash to kids on the street, it encourages them to beg and keeps them out of school. Moreover, they don't keep the money, it invariably goes straight to an adult nearby who runs a gang of street-kids. It's a shame, because I reckon he'd earned a couple of rupees.
I made it to the quiz and joined a team of volunteers from a local children's charity and we came second. Hmmmm. My team-mates claimed that the team who had won “wrote the questions” but it was still a disappointment. I also got a question about the number of hearts that an octopus has incorrect, which is embarrassing as I'm pretty sure it has been on QI. Anyway, we won 2000 rupees which we donated back to the charity and a good night was had by all.
Tomorrow, all being well, I will see more of the town, but for the time being it's goodnight from Kathmandu.