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Friday, 20 July 2018

A blast from the past - 9 October 2014 in Kathmandu

I started this blog as a place to write and record places visited. Since then, it's become a hotch-potch record of life.  Eventually, I'll even try and group things. For now, a random post.

This story was written a while ago and begins not on the day that The List was started, but on the 9th of October 2014 – my 49th birthday.  We were in a hotel room in Kathmandu, Nepal where we had spent the last four days exploring this mad, dusty, busy, colourful city.  The night before we had met our travel companions, eleven people of all ages and walks of life that we would be spending the next two weeks with and our guides. 

Opening the curtains and flicking on the kettle, the sun was just rising and the city awakening.  When Emi wished me a happy birthday, one of my first thoughts was "holy fuck, the next birthday would be the big five zero.  I’ve never really given much thought to my age, I certainly don’t feel “old” and I don’t act my age.  Is that a good or a bad thing? 

A yoga session was the first “activity” on the agenda and I joined some of the others in our group for a bit of breathing and stretching.  Balance has never been my forte, hence I’m crap at yoga and there was no way my stomach was ever going to be able to do the “rolling” that our instructor seemed to be effortlessly doing.  My attempt was rather more like a spare tyre bouncing around between fits of the giggles.  But never mind, may as well, limber up for the trek ahead and a bit of mindfulness never goes astray! 

After breakfast, we set off for our tour of Kathmandu.  Starting thirty minutes late was possibly a sign of the day ahead. Of the four places we were visiting, we’d already been to two, so we were looking forward to our first stop, Pashupatinath Temple, one place we hadn’t visited. 

Our tour guide for the day was a smiling man (we think he may have been sipping something slightly stronger than chai), who told endless bad jokes and only stopped mid-sentence to answer his constantly ringing mobile phone.

The Pashupatinath Temple is a large sacred Hindu temple complex on the banks of the Bagmati River.  It’s also a crematorium where the dead are burned and their ashes pushed into the water.  It may seem a strange place to visit as we would be witnessing some of the cremations taking place, but the complex is open to tourists and charges an entrance fee, so I guess they must be OK with it.

After a short walk around, we were asked to wait at a spot across the river where we could see several bodies in various stages of the “burning” process.  There had been a mix up and we were waiting for another group to join us, hence all the phone calls.  When the second group arrived, we walked around some more, our guide providing some information between awful jokes. 

Standing on the bridge with the body of an old lady being prepared by her family and the lighting of the torch that was then used to light her mouth was morbidly fascinating.  Felt slightly uncomfortable witnessing these peoples grief, rather like intruders, but couldn’t look away.  Like slowing down at a car accident scene.  

Other areas around the complex were made up of some interesting temples and structures and after what seemed like a long time in the one place, we headed back to our bus. 

From here we headed to the Great Stupa, known as Boudhanath.  Now this was one of the places we had already visited so were quiet happy to head back to the lovely Spanish restaurant “Casita de Boudhanath” that we had found on our previous visit and watch the colourful crowds with a couple of local beers. 

We had arranged to meet back at the main entrance after an hour and at the appointed time, we dutifully returned and waited. And waited and waited.  One of the drawbacks I guess of organised group tours, but waiting for over an hour in the hot afternoon sun was not really the way I had wanted to spend my birthday. 

Just as we were about to jump in a taxi and leave, we finally spotted someone from our group.  They hadn’t left us, we weren’t standing at the wrong gate - they just had their own delays at the place they’d stopped for lunch.  After another 20 minutes rounding everyone up, we were on our way.

Next stop was Patan, across the Bagmati River and not too far from Kathmandu. And like Kathmandu, Patan also has a gorgeous Durbar Square full of temples, palaces and statues. A very quick visit to the Patan Museum and the Golden Temple, but sadly we just didn’t spend enough time here to discover and look around. A place to one day return to. 

Rushed back on to the bus, our last stop was Swayambhunath, commonly called Monkey Temple. The complex consists of a large stupa at the top of a hill surrounded by various shrines and temples. Luckily we had visited a few days earlier and had time to wander and explore after climbing up the steep front steps before realising that there was an easier way up at the back.  But good practice for the many steps that lay ahead.  Sadly the cute monkeys that we had spent an hour watching diving into the monkey swimming pool, had decided that the pool was closed for the day.  It is a beautiful place and the view over the city of Kathmandu as the sun went down was well worth the repeat visit.

On the bus on the way back to the hotel, we were at least two hours behind schedule.  Everyone was tired and hungry, lunch not having been a success.  Finally headed out for a late birthday dinner.  Third Eye was a fabulous Indian restaurant where we had a corner table sitting on cushions.  Great food and a lovely dessert with a candle bought out by the friendly waiters made for an enjoyable evening. 

Feeling full and somewhat apprehensive about how the rest of the tour would go, we waddled back to the hotel and went to bed.  Happy birthday to me!  Certainly an eventful and unique day and not too many people would be able to say they had spent part of their day watching bodies being cremated.

One day, I'll get around to including some of the stunning pictures that Emilio took.
Happy 49th Birthday to me!

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