Thanks to a visit from Santiago (my cousin’s friend from Spain), I finally organised a trip out of the KTM valley.
The adventure kicked off from the old bus station at Ratna Park, with a 2hr bus ride to Panauti, at a meagre cost of
Massive Shiva sculpture just outside of KTM valley – an Angel of the North?
50NRP. The air and ground got noticeably cleaner as you exited the valley. Lots of the passengers were getting off to visit a big Shiva sculpture.
We were alighting at Panauti for another 45min bus ride to Sankhu but decided to spend a couple of hours in the old medieval town of Panauti. The town sits on the confluence of two rivers and has several ancient temples. On asking directions to the temples, three young boys offered to show us the first one, which was up a hill. They were very proud of their town and diligently explained all the Hindu god sculptures, whilst telling us about their career ambitions. The football conversations with Santiago were probably equally as fascinating to them, so they stayed with us throughout.
With our proud Panauti guides, crossing the very wobbly footbridge.
The town seemed very peaceful and welcoming, with a population of under 10,000, everyone seemed to be relaxed in their day to day activities on a Saturday.
The river also had distinct areas for cremations, for each ethnic group, as described by the boys. Having purchased a carry out of somasas, pakhoras and cold drinks, sharing them with the boys who finally, reluctantly only accepted a bottle of Mountain Dew shared amongst the three of them.
Panauti hill top views.
At least this temple has stairs.
Lazy Saturday afternoon
We then got on our second smaller local bus. Now that was an experience indeed, the bus was packed, with any spare seats supposedly reserved with bags placed on the seat. There was a large tyre and rice bags on the bus floor behind the driver, which provided comfortable seating for the two of us and as it turns out to great amusement, to the all the passengers, including the children that congregated to us. The wonderful journey included lots of attempted Nepali conversations and laughter with the passengers; being handed babies to hold; bags of shopping from eggs to boxes of cigarettes being placed on us to name just a few.
At the end of the journey, we were given directions for a short cut to the monastery in Namobuddha, which could be viewed, majestically on top of a hill. The hill turned out to be a mountain, as far as I was concerned. On a very hot day and having had a boozy night out before, it was not conducive to my first ever Nepal hike.
The Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery was indeed magnificent, a vast complex of Tibetan Buddhist temples and gleaming golden arched roofs located on the historic grounds. Legend has it that Buddha, in a previous life as a prince, offered his body to a hungry tigress and her cubs. The place felt very holy and peaceful. We were ushered to eat with the monks, promptly at 6pm. A large plate of Dhaal Bhaat was served to each person by the monks, from massive steel buckets. As we sat in the guest area of the large dinning room, you could not help but look with fascination at the entire hall filled with monks of all ages, in their regal red gowns. The very young boys were each tended by an older boy and the women monks, mainly foreigners, were seated at a separate area. (Sadly, cameras were not allowed)
Meal time was very quick, with a gong of the bell to eat up and all the monks then disappeared to various buildings in the complex. Our guest house building had an excellent terraced area, which the other guests retired to as well. We met Isreal and Madge, two Israeli trekkers and Adam, from Nottingham and Guilherme from Paris. We all exchanged Nepal travelling tips just as we were seasoned back packers. We all relaxed on the terrace and saw amazing birds – wish I knew their names, aside from the Drongas, we saw aquamarine ones; black crested and bright red bottomed as well large butterflies and as the night drew in small bats. The peaceful sounds from the birds and crickets and flickers of dim light from the hills afar was magical and a far cry to the dust; beeping horns and noises of Kathmandu Valley.
A 5.30am rise to see the sun rise and then attend the monks’ morning session in the large prayer hall was next on the itinerary for us all after such an early rise. A hour long, cacophony of chanting, trumpets, snares and large drums, praying, finger clicking, ceremonial offerings to the large Buddha statue and the awe inspiring brightly coloured room left us all feeling somewhat mesmerised as we moved on to the canteen again for a breakfast this time consisting of dough ball, sweet red bean broth and a milky green tea, finally taking a group picture before we departed our separate ways.
Foraging monks – fruits they were collecting are supposed to cure insomnia.
A 2.5hr hike to our next stop, a farm guest house supposedly located just before Dhulikel, turned out to be almost 6hr (as we could not find the village) and the very short cuts recommended by locals, turned out to be steep hikes to the middle of nowhere. (A learning here, a short cut is not necessarily so, it is invariably a very steep complicated route). However, we were rewarded with panoramic views, many Buddhist stupas, fields famous for rice, mustard, millet and sweetcorn. We got to see interesting hillside terraced farms throughout the walk and I even managed to get invited into some of the Tamang settlement farm houses to see the rustic stoves and living quarters…and most of the journey, accompanied by two dogs, to Santiago’s delight.
Having given up finding the guest house, we decided to go direct to Dhulikel. However, the dark clouds obscured the town’s main attraction, which are the mountain views, so we stopped off at Nawaranga’s restaurant and guest house, highly recommended the night before by Adam & Guilherme.
Purna Man Shresta, the proprietor of Nawaranga’s, awoke from his slumber in his kitsch restaurant in order to greet us warmly, showering us with all the art that he exhibits and sells on behalf of local artists and telling amazing tales of the 40 years of offering accommodation to backpackers. One included getting a scrumptious pancake recipe from a French guest. Another guest for 2 years was a VSO volunteer. He showed me around his small but jam packed garden with herbs and colourful roses and then told me about his children. His son disappeared without a trace during the Maoist insurgence and his daughter then committed suicide. Regardless, he had such enthusiasm and hope for Nepal, I would like to go back and interview him properly for you all.
We then got a bus to Bhakatpur and as we entered the wall city, paying the entrance 1500NRP charge, we decided to find accommodation there and stay till the next day in order to see the place properly. Lonely planet researching uncovered a glorious and very reasonably priced guest house, bang in the centre of the Durbhar Square with a fantastic room with a view.
Santosh promised me he was going to school and indeed wished me the next morning in his uniform with his school friends
Bhaktapur, I think is one of the most impressive Durbhar or rather three squares that I have seen. It houses numerous temples, including Dattatrey, originally built on 1427, supposedly using the timber from a single tree. The way locals and tourists alike can interact with the UNESCO heritage buildings is probably the most impressive. The squares are filled with children that pester you to be your guide for payment. Probably, to their annoyance, I instead quizzed them about why they were not at school.
Sleeping in the square had both it’s ups and downs. No sleep what with louds bells chiming every hour and of course the barking dogs. However here are some of my observations looking through the window at early dawn:
– There is a cleaner for each little temple, mainly women sweeping every each, which leads to birds swooping down to pick up any scraps of foods.
– Early deliveries of Bhaktapur yoghurt in earthenware bowls balanced on precariously on shoulders via some form of weighing scale like carrier; fruit deliveries on bikes and water tanks on tractors.
– All bow their heads for a blessing at every temple they pass, as well as the rising sun.
– Predominantly boys and their grandfathers visiting the Pashupinath temple to pay homage to departed ones. Leaving with red tikka on their foreheads, whereas the women bring offerings of flowers; leaves; rice and tikka.
– Tourists with large cameras to capture the dawn light.
– Dogs within their patch, serenely follow behind any tourist or local that passes by.
The hidden alleyway attractions of Bhaktapur also include a pottery quarter and yoghurt factory. I especially enjoyed visiting the Peacock Shop handmade paper emporium and once the owner, Ram Narayan Prajaptha found out my name is Daphne, the botanical name for the indigenous Lokta plant, that is used to make the paper, we got talking. He then showed us his collection of Newari wood carvings and showed us the fantastical pillars that he has designed to depict the story of Buddha. Inspiration he says from his wife and family. I can’t wait to go back…..