Friday, October 31, 2008


Thursday 30.10.08
I've been doing a little cycling over the past 2 days. The day before yesterday I rode out to Swayambhunath, a Buddhist temple about 2 kms to the west of Kathmandu. This place is also known as the Monkey Temple due to the many monkeys there, some of them extremely unpleasant & aggressive, exemplified by one who tried, in a sudden startling swoop, to try & snatch my water bottle. I'm sure it was only due to my years of martial arts training that the attack was unsuccessful. Otherwise, it was an interesting enough place to visit, seemingly comprising of both Buddhist & Hindu imagery & architecture.

My plans for yesterday were to cycle to a place called Pashupatinath and then onwards to Bodhnath (or Boudha). The streets in Thamel, the area where I'm staying, are all unnamed, roads further afield are poorly signposted and there are no signs to the obvious tourist sites around the KTM valley. So, despite having both a map & a compass I became hopelessly lost quite soon after leaving Thamel. I eventually reached where I was heading by asking directions of passers-by (being met by utterly blank stares on occasion suggested that my pronunciation skills are perhaps on a par with my navigational skills). But it was when I hit the open roads, away from the traffic & pesky touts & tourists, that I was reminded of the joys of cycling & why I've come on holidays with my bicycle. Ahh, such liberation! ... the open space, the fresh air, the scenery ... (well, for a few minutes, until realising I didn't have the faintest clue where I was...)

Pashupatinath, to paraphrase the Lonely Planet guide, is Nepal's most important Hindu temple & is also a very important Shiva temple which draws in devotees and sadhus from all over India. I am sure that a good number of the flamboyant & extraordinarily decorated 'sadhus' lining up to be photographed by tourists are really just very entrepreneurial beggars.

I eventually found my way to Pashupatinath by trailing behind a slow moving convoy of cars & motorbikes that, I was told when I enquired, was apparently heading there. Some while later I realised that it was actually a funeral procession on its way to a cremation on the banks of the Bagmati River at Pashupatinath. It also turned out that the deceased was a member of the recently-defunct royal family (the new government here abolished the monarchy shortly after coming to power) and so the cremation was a pretty big deal. There are two main cremation areas at Pashupatinath - one section for the common people and another for royalty (who still apparently retain high status despite the fact of their apparent abolition). After a few hours there, wandering about & watching the various stages of the cremation, I managed with some difficulty, and via an unusually long, convoluted & rather bumpy route, to then cycle to Bodhnath (aka Boudha), the site of a huge Buddhist stupa. It was reasonably interesting, with scores of Tibetans circumambulating (clockwise) the stupa while counting beads & mumbling to themselves. The return route to KTM was rather more complicated than I'd have preferred, but I did get to see some parts of the city that I hadn't planned to.

The big thing in KTM at present is the Tihar (or Diwala) festival. It's supposedly the Festival of Lights but could be more aptly renamed the Festival of Interminable Explosions. The last 3 evenings here have been punctuated by incessant explosions, and during the day there have been sporadic blasts, much like I imagine a war zone would sound like. People are setting off these firecrackers presumably to mark the fact that it's Tihar. Not fireworks (eg skyrockets, colourful displays, etc) but just bangs - sounding like machine gun fire, mortar rounds or hand grenades. Unbelievable!

In stark contrast however, it is astonishingly quiet after midnight until about 6am when a hotel generator starts up, followed by the occasional dog bark, then the birds, and finally people & traffic noise. I've been sleeping extremely soundly.

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