Due to visa wrangling for Tibet, I only was able to get to Kathmandu in Nepal even though I was there for four days. After a hearty nap, I met up with Kong, my Bangladeshi travel buddy for Tibet. We spent the days in paperwork, low-key sightseeing, and the nights eating well, drinking better, and sampling the majority of the casinos in the country (that’s not as hard as it sounds, being as it’s illegal for Nepali citizens to gamble, they’re all in Kathmandu where the predominantly Indian and Chinese tourists can get at them).
As for that last pursuit, in the end three nights yielded plenty of free food and drink and entertainment int the form of small-scale dance shows pantomiming Indian pop favorites. I owned blackjack, and Kong’s game was kitty, a game so even in odds that no U.S. casinos have it, and in Nepal you must pay a 20% commission on each bet. It’s a nine card game in which you form your three best hands and play the dealer, and Kong eventually made enough off it to pay for transport to the Tibet border. Not too bad, all told.
The first night, though, before the casinos, we went to a local nightclub, with a live band and dancers in traditional garb. This was no tourist show, though, as the clientele was all Nepali until a random Japanese tourist also wandered in off the street. The music reminded me of drum-heavy Peruvian huayno, overlaid with quavering, shrill, and strangely beautiful voices.
The next day we headed to Narayanhiti, the old Nepali royal palace, now converted to a museum after the tragic 2001 massacre of the royal family by crown prince Dipendra in an allegedly drug-fueled spree over his parents disapproving of his desired wife, before turning the gun on himself. He survived in a coma for two days, making him the de facto King of Nepal, and strangely I saw two places where his picture was included in the royal lineage. The buildings in which this took place were immediately torn down, with only their foundations and a graphic explaining how it happened remaining.
However, the main hall still survives, and makes up the museum. It was used for ceremonies and official receptions, and has pictures of all of the heads of state that have slept there, including Queen Elizabeth herself. The building was built in the 1960s, and very much retains that feel. It’s full of beautiful furniture and furnishings, but as a whole is very modest for a royal residence. Only the throne room feels suitably epic, with its two-story arched ceiling, massive columns adorned with bright, bloody pictures of Hindu deities, and an ancient, gorgeously adorned silver throne.
That evening, we headed to the 5th century Boudha stupa outside of town, the largest in Nepal. In typical Theravada fashion, it’s a white, pinnacled mound with colorful prayer flags trailing off of it and the iconic eyes of Buddha painted on. It was very beautiful in the failing evening light, and despite the crowds, very peaceful, with people walking around the stupa, spinning the prayer wheels lining it, and doing cycles of prostrating themselves, praying on wooden boards, and springing to their feet again before starting all over again, almost like the football training exercises I did in high school.
Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion to the Nepal saga, perhaps tomorrow