Tuesday, April 17, 2018

UNESCO Sites and Money Temples

Nepal, and particularly Kathmandu were devastated by a massive earthquake in April of 2015.  The Thamel district was either not as damaged or was a priority for repair. It is when you start wandering the winding streets outside of the tourist district that you see hard evidence of the destruction plus the attempts at saving buildings. No more so than the UNESCO World Heritage site of Durbar Square where globally supported restoration projects are everywhere.

Durbar square is filled with temples surrounding the royal palace. There are spacious courtyards and out buildings that you can visit. Oddly the doors on these buildings would make a hobbit duck so as to not bump his head. Once inside there are small courtyards with colorful intricate stone work. However so many of these buildings are now being propped up by 4 x 4 x I have no idea what length pieces of wood to prevent them from crashing down. Yes, it is historically beautiful but the danger of crushing you in a collapse is right in your face. It is mostly being ignored by camera toting tourists and souvenir vendors.

It costs 1500 Rupees to enter the square and the money is worth it. First to experience the historical wonder that it is and secondly the money goes directly into restoration projects.  The Nepalese are a resilient people based on what I experienced in my short time here. There is mad chaos in their daily life plus they are three years removed from a massive earthquake that killed 9000. Yet, here they are with smiles and "namastes" hoping you have a great time in Kathmandu.

During lunch near Durbar Square we read about a Monkey Temple on the other side of town. Caitlyn freaked as she has an acute fear of any small furry animal. Walking around a temple filled with monkeys was going to be Caitlyn's first Nepal challenge.

The walk to the monkey temple took about 30 minutes. It was easy to spot high on a hill so we just heading in that direction. We wandered through old Kathmandu down winding narrow streets which gave me a new feel for this city. Kids were playing in the streets, vendors not selling trekking gear but food and multiple colored cloth. I devoured a few street samosas which could have been dangerous to my belly but thankfully all was good. I will need better habits when I go to India.

As we walked we came to an old metal bridge that crossed the Bagmati river what was probably a pristine river in days gone by. Now it was a smelly garbage dump with miles upon miles of garbage rotting on its banks and fouling up the air. A third world solution to an immediate problem, dump it in the river. At the river I talked with a local for a few minutes because he saw me wince at the sight of the river. He said that he was very proud of the "cleanup efforts"  but that these efforts were hampered by government corruption with the clean up money. He then proceeded to toss his plastic bag onto the mounds of garbage lining the riverbank. First world dreams in a third world country.

The temple is called the Swayambhunath Temple and now it was time to climb. There were many steps and they were steep. We paid our 1500 rupees and figured we would hang around the bottom for a while. We could chase the little brown monkeys with our cameras. There were plenty of them and they were not afraid of us. Also they were also not dangerous if you did not do anything stupid such as eat a piece of fruit in front of them. There were a few interesting monkey vs. stray dog fights for the scraps and food debris discarded by people. The main event being a turned over garbage can. Dana White would have been proud of the moves the monkeys made on the very confused and out witted  dogs.

Caitlyn held her composure. She would be taking photos nervously telling me there were monkeys walking near me. I acted all calm and cool but if one of those rowdy simians jumped on my shoulder or even caressed my back I would have screamed like a 16 year old girl on her birthday. Ultimately we never came close enough to worry. We were not the first humans these tame but wild (if that is possible) monkeys had encountered. 

We had enough time monkeying around (yes you saw that coming) and it was time to climb. There were no expectations for the top as neither of us read anything about this temple before we arrived. So off we went. Surrounded by monks clad in purple robes, families, tourists and yes, monkeys up we went. One painful step at a time.

Convincing ourselves this would be good training for the upcoming Everest Base Camp Trek, We put some effort into it and reached the first of two levels quick enough. Stopping and turning I realized how steep the steps really were and turned back around just as fast. Sidewalk vendors and hawkers were selling what ever they could but most people were to busy trying to breathe let alone think about buying some trinket made in China.

The top brought a view that was stunning and giving me a great appreciation at how massive a town Kathmandu really was. The Stupa at the top was surrounded by worshipers as this is the primary reason for their visit. This was after all a temple. Burning incense was everywhere as were the mandatory street vendors and camera toting tourists, myself included. What was not at the top was chaos. Even with so many people everyone took their time, let people in to see the views, waited to take photos just respected each others space. An odd experience really. At the top of a tourist site but because of the religious aspects, people respected that first and it remained calm. 

We don't need no stinking badges! yet here they are in all their glory. Walking down the temple steps heading back to Thamel what started as a travel conversation suddenly turned into a pissing match about countries visited. That quickly turned into an all out slug fest in the bins of back alley shops of Thamel. The race was on to collect the patches of places we have visited. The pictures only tell half the story really. Now, not only do I have these stinking badges I have to carry them around for the next who knows how long.

Oddly enough the badges took on a currency value of their own. When I asked a street vendor for the price of a T-shirt Caitlyn quickly blurted out "wait, this is 10 badges". I never bought the T-shirt.

World heritage sites, monkey temples, country badges, memories of an earthquake and a polluted river. All of this surrounded by smiling and helpful people who look at you with trust in their eyes but in Thamel those eyes are on your wallet.

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