Well, that was a lot longer break than I was anticipating. My U.S. vacation (and Guam sojourn) are over, I’m all married up, and heading to Russia in two weeks. Quite a catch-up, I know. For this blog, though, let’s go all the way back to Kathmandu, and wrap up my thoughts there.
After visiting the Boudha stupa and doing another casino run, the next day found us at possibly Kathmandu’s most famous tourist site, the Kathmandu Durbar Square. This is a complex of medieval buildings and Hindu temples, including the Kumari Palace, where the 8 year old “living goddess” Kumari lives and learns, never to leave until her 16th birthday, when the mantle is passed to another little girl. She’s revered by Hindus and Buddhists alike since Sakha bloodline goes back to Buddha. We saw inside the square because we lucked into a once a year holy day during the Holy Week of Dasain when it was open. Later the faithful would amass for a chance to glimpse their goddess. If you can’t fit into that small, fairly nondescript courtyard underneath her window, well, good luck next year.
Our next stop was the Hanuman Dhoka palace- a nine storey wooden palace surrounded by multiple squares and an imposing three-roofed temple. After the third storey, the palace is just a tower with narrow stairs ascending to the top, which has a wooden-shuttered 360 degree view of the square and Kathmandu beyond it. Below is a museum devoted to the royal family, particularly the two generations before the last, ill-fated one.
That evening we visited with a college buddy of Kong’s. He has a very nice family with three generations living in the same house. They insisted on dinner, which was an utterly delicious spread of fried chicken in a dark sweet & salty sauce, rice, daal, savory pumpkin, and a ground hot pepper chutney that reminded me of my old favorite Arequipa rocoto molido. We spent the evening, rolling power outages or no, in conversation about the politics and culture of three very different nations, and as is usually the case, I learned more talking to local in one night about Nepali life than I did in all of the guidebooks and websites I read before coming.
The next day I went to the Swayambhu Buddhist stupa, set atop a hill with sweeping views of Kathmandu Valley. It’s crowded with temples, statues, and a smaller version of the Boudha stupa, all gorgeous in the early evening light, with plenty of monkeys to watch amble about begging for food.
The last day, we drove to the border with Tibet through a low, green valley (for Nepal- still over 3,000 feet of course).
The border was not as intimidating or busy as we’d expected, although the Chinese soldiers did give off a North Korean vibe, especially the haughty officials. However, outside of Kong losing his Tibet guidebook due to it mentioning the Dalai Llama (why Lonely Planet would print a guidebook illegal in its place of use is beyond me) we passed without incident. The Chinese border town of Zhangmu is just that- a border town/tourist ghetto with way overpriced and dirty facilities, but I can honestly say that the view from our hotel room overlooking the verdant valley and mountains below was the best I’d seen barring perhaps the night I spent in a tent in a remote Peruvian Ancash valley. Watching the sunrise pinken the clouds and illuminate the valley was gorgeous and beat the hell out of Jaisalmer’s desert rip-off.
A bit about Nepali food: it struck me as very similar to northern Indian food, with plenty of curries and especially daals and tandoori-style meat on the menu. One popular specialty were momos, steamed or fried dumplings filled with vegetables, buffalo and other meats, or Indian spiced paneer fillings.
I also had a side dish of mutton sweetmeats & intestines fried with onion and a pork dish in a heavy sweet and spicy BBQ-like sauce that were excellent. The beer was primarily Everest and Ghorka or for some reason uber-popular imports Tuborg and San Miguel. The Tibetan brands are good-not-great lagers providing a nice counterpoint to spicier dishes.