Mind Your Head

Kathmandu, Nepal

My Wednesday game plan was going to be a light one … and good thing.  I woke up and could barely move.  My back was killing me and me feet felt like someone had hit them with a hammer. WTF?

I stood in the shower for eons trying to loosen up and then did some yoga stretches to see if that would help (it did), but I could not figure what I did to myself.  I wore really good walking shoes and I handn’t felt my back go out at any point yesterday.  I finally concluded that all the pounding on the cobblestones of the sights I had visited must have done me in.

I was feeling a little better when my guide showed up at 10:30, but certainly did not have a jump in my step.  (I actually think it was the devine omelette I had for breakfast …. ah welcome back to the land of real breakfasts …. that helped me get over the hump.  To be safe, I donned my incredibly sturdy hiking boats with a pair of thick wool socks and hoped the cushioning would help ease the pain.

So first up on the agenda was a trip to the Swayambhunath stupa which is a Unesco World Heritage site and sits high on a hilltop overlooking Kathmandu.  The temple is also known as the “Monkey Temple” not because of any Hindu god, but because the proliferation of monkies all over the place.

Water buffalo anyone?

We drove through the croweded streets (although not nearly as crowded as the day before given that today was a holiday) and passed vendors selling clothing and even some guys trying to sell water buffalo right there on the street  Seriously!

The drive to the side was up a windy road, and when we arrived at the site I realized it was going to be another of those climbing sites.  Ugh.  I was not really feeling it today, but I was already here so off we go.

Now the original site it believed to date to 460 BC and while it has undergone changes, there were many ancient statutes, including one that dated to the 7th century.  The site contains a myriad of both Buddhist and Hindu temples.

Coin tossing (checkout the monkey)

Shortly after we entered the site, we stopped at a lovely fountain overlooking Kathmandu where kids were throwing coins into the mouth of the statute, which turned out to be a lot harder than it looked.  I failed miserably.  As we walked towards the staircase, we encountered a myriad of monkeys jumping off a platform into a small pond below.  It was like watching flying monkeys.  There were even mommas with clinging babies flying through the air.  I could have stood there for a while, but it was soon time to take the staircase.

Now I didn’t count the stairs, but it easily had to be in excess of 200 steps up.  Certainly not as tough as some climbs I’ve encountered, but today it felt like 2,000 steps.

Swayambhunath Temple

Once we reached the top, we encountered a painted white dome leading to a gilded spires where, once again, those four faces of the Buddha stared out at you.  I still felt unnerved.  However, the overwhelming site I saw was a series of temples that had been “broken” during the 2015 earthquake and were in various states of repair.

I asked Arie about the 2015 8.1 magnitude quake and he said left him very helpless.  It occurred on a Saturday morning right before lunch.  Arie was at home with his family and he and his brother had just walked out onto the terrace of his apartment.  He said that he heard those very weird sound almost like a groaning sound.  Suddenly, everything started shaking.  He could hear buildings falling and the shaking seemed to last forever.  (Having been in Seattle’s 7.9 Nisqually quake in 2001, his comments sounded very familiar to my own experience.)

We wandered around the base of the stupa with the every present pilgrims spinning their prayer wheels and took in the spectacular views of Kathmandu below.  It was broiling and very humid so I did not spend a lot of time there and moved on to try and find some shade.

Dip Ankara

We wandered through a very small display of old relics before walking through the garden of statutes.  Here, I found the 7th century black statue of Dipankara, aka ‘Buddha of Light’,”

I also found a statute of Hanuman the Monkey God, which is ironic since the temple is called the Monkey Temple, but it has nothing to do with the Monkey God.

We wandered back down the staircase passed two women with white faces, who I learned are the equivalent of nuns.  Ran into a myriad of monkeys and then back into the cool confines of the car.  I was exhausted.

Monkey god

Our only other trip of the day was to Patan (pronounced Puh Ton)  which had a magnificent square (another Durber Square – Durber means something similar to the seat of power, which explains why so many downs have a “Durber Square”.  Patan is technically its own city across the Bagmatti River from Kathmandu, but in driving there, it felt like one big city.

Anyway, the driver let us out on a side street (uh alley) and we made our way through the holiday crowds.  First stop outside the square was the Golden Temple, which turned out to be my favourite site of the day.  There was no visible damage at the site and it was truly a work of ar.  The temple was apparently founded in the 12th century and has existed in its present condition since around 1409.

Entering the Golden Temple

We entered through a very low doorway with a sign reading “Mind Your Head”.  These people must have been tiny back in the day, although Arie claimed the design was intentional to keep invaders at bay.

The top of the temple was covered in magnificent golden metal.  We entered the temple courtyard through yet another narrow, low doorway surrounded in wooden carvings.  The main temple was incredibly ornate with four gargoyle like creations made of metal with incredibly sharp fin like design from wrist to elbow.  Now Arie has a bit of an annoying habit of always standing in the sun talk to me.  By this point, I was so hot and tired, I really just needed some shade, so I started backing up into the shade and “BAM” the top of my head smashed into the little pointing declarations on the arm of the gargoyle.   I literally thought I was going to pass out.  It hurt like hell and everything got blurry for a moment.

Yea so I ran into this

I recovered, but my head continued to hurt as we left the lovely little temple … and wouldn’t you know it …. bonk … I hit my head yet again on the low, narrow doorway right in front of the Mind Your Head sign.  What an idiot.  Now my head was hurting.

So with bells ringing, we wandered back up the street towards Durber Square.  Now I had read that Durber Square avoided some of the significant damage that Kathmandu sustained during the earthquake, but from my perspective, Durber Square as much harder hit.  The primary temples, the Jagannarayan Temple, the Hari Shankar Temple and theMani Mandap pavilions were all virtually destroyed in the quake, although the painstaking work of repair is ongoing.

Perhaps because the square was so much smaller, but it appeared to me it fared worse than Kathmandu.

Damage in Patan Durber Square

Anyway, we wandered around the ruins of the ruins and stopped at the Manga Hiti, one of the primary water sources used in ancient Patan.  At the base was a water pool and three carved dhara (water spouts) in the shape of makara, the mythical crocodile-elephants.  The site is still used today by locals and while standing there we saw a couple women fill up water bottles.

Entrance to the Royal Palace

We moved on to the Royal Palace, which was originally built in the 14th century where we wandered through the main courtyard and then through a doorway to the Tasha Haiti, which was a 1647 bath tub looking structure (Arie said the King would take baths in the structure) surrounded by a number of stone carvings.  It was pretty awesome.  We made our way through the incredible carved doorways (again very low doorways) where I, for good measure, hit my head a third time.

The Royal bathtub?

Our final stop was Bhandarkhal water tank, which looked more like a swimming pool.  Arie insisted it was a swimming pool.

At this point, we wandered out of the palace, I took a picture of the restored King Yoganarendra Malla statute with a tiny bird on his head as well as the ancient Taluja Bell that could be rung by locals to air their grievances and called it good.

Leaving the Palace

It was time for some needed some food and some rest.  With that, we found the driver and left Patan.  Once at the hotel, I ended up walking down the street to Gia (the place where I had dinner the night before), ordered the chicken choiyla (spicy barbecued chicken) with some chipati bread and ginger lemon honey tea and called it good.   It was only 4 in the afternoon, but I was going to bed.

Author: lawyerchick92

I am a lawyer by trade, but long to be a full time traveller. My life changed for the better when my brother donated a kidney to me on October 14, 2002.

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