I was up at 4:00 a.m. for the 1 hour and 15 minute drive to Nagarkot, which is apparently the best place to view the Himalayan Mountain Range. Now I know what you’re thinking … why would you get up at such an ungodly hour to see the Himalayas when you were just at Everest Base Camp. Good question, without a good answer except to say that the view is different in Nepal.
Anyway, we were off by 4:30 a.m. driving the very bumpy, very windey road to the top of the hill. Unfortunately, there was a huge haze over the valley when we got to the top and while we were rewarded with a nice sunrise, the mountains were obscured. No matter, I got out of Kathmandu and into some cooler weather with lovely, clean air and a spectacular view of the valley.
By 6:30 a.m. we were back on the road to spend the morning at Baktapur, one of the medievel cities in the Kathmandu Valley dating to the 12th century. Now because Baktapur is the oldest settlement in the area, it sustained considerable damage during the 2015 earthquake so I was not really chomping at the bit to see the area, but I could not have been more wrong.
The old streets of Baktapur were chalk full of people celebrating the festival Dashain. Now so far, this festival had been a big nothing for me. No dancers, no celebrants. Nothing. That all changed in Baktapur.
First as we were passing by Baktapur on the way to Nagarkot, we passed a little parade in the dark with drums, bells, and symbols along with 50 or so people marching along singing. But the real action took place after sunrise when we stopped in Baktapur for the morning. The plan was to do a walking tour of the old town area through narrow alleys, past local temples and into the three main squares: Duttatraya, Taumadhi and Durber.
As we started our walk we encountered a man with a duck just walking along with the duck tucked under his arm while carrying a tall stalk of sugar cane. I soon learned that not only are goats sacrificed during Dashain, but all sorts of other creatures meet their fate during Dashain including ducks, roosters and water buffalo (more on that one later).
Anyway, we walked past the duck guy and through a ceremonial arch towards one of the small local temples. Outside, there was a line of women dressed in red, holding trays with, among other things, bits of flowers, eggs, pieces of banana, milk and leaves. The ladies were lined up to make offerings to the temple gods. I ended up standing there chatting with a couple of the ladies who spoke limited English and were gracious enough to explain their offerings to me.
We watched the procession of ladies for a bit, before turning down yet another dusty, narrow alley way with ever present motorbikes zipping by. Now R THIall along our route so far we passed ancient wooden houses with some dating to the 16th century. Because of the holiday, many of the doors were open and we frequently encountered a goat tied up on the doorstep awaiting its fate.
We also encountered what I can only describe as a roving craps game (or something similar to that). There was a group of men huddled around board with a fellow rolling dice. Men would throw down money onto a square and if the design on the square appeared when the dice was rolled you won. It was loud and racious and just more the ongoing festival. (I never did ask Arie why the women were the women were the ones doing the worshipping and the men were handing out on a street corner rolling dice and gambling away their money.)
Anyway, we continued walking until we reached Duttatraya Square, one of the three important squares in Baktapur. Now Duttatraya Square appeared to have only suffered minor damage in the earthquake and its main temple, Duttatraya Temple was all in one piece. We wandered around and took a look at the temple and the oldest wooden building in Baktapur complete with a peacock window.
We walked down an alley past a woman with yet another duck as well as a woman who was only too eager to show me her tattoos. Apparently elderly women used to tattoo the back of their shins as a way to attract me since the saris only fall to just before the calf. The lady was rather hilarious pulling up her sari every so slightly and then turning her ankle back and forth. I suspect she had done this on more than one occasion and probably fairly often when she was a tad younger.
As we wandered back from Duttatraya Temple, a man walked past me with two baskets slung from a pole, which he was carrying over his shoulders. I pulled out my camera for a picture and just as I snapped the photo, a duck jumped from one of the baskets and began to run in the opposite direction. The man immediately dropped the pole with the baskets and ran after the duck with outstretched arms. Now what ensued could have been made into a hilarious video. (It acually reminded me of Elmer Fudd when he was chasing the waskally wabbit.)
Anyway, as the man continued to run after the duck (all the while continuing with the outstretched arms) another man joined in the chase. The duck continued to evade both men, bobbing and weaving around the outstretched arms.
The next thing we see is the duck making a break for it around the corner and out of sight. Now at this point, I was rooting for the duck, but figured it was only a matter of time before someone nabbed him. I could not stop laughing the entire time, and as I was finally regaining my composure, here comes the man around the corner with duck in hand and a big smile on his face. I raised my arms in the arm (ala touchdown) and congratulated the guy (I was still with the duck, but come on it never had a real chance). The guy put the duck back into the basket, picked up the pole, hoisted it over his shoulders and off he went. Best 5 minutes of comedy ever!
After the duck episode, I told Arie we might as well pack it in because nothing was going to top that. Nevertheless, we continued our trek through Baktapur. We encountered me selling roosters and buyers holding up the roosters in a very informal weighing method. We saw vegetable sellers, women selling eggs and of course more goats.
We reached Taumadhi Square around 8:30 and by now I was famished. We walked to the top of Nyatapola Temple, which was at five storeys high is the tallest temple in all of Nepal. The staircase went straight up with very narrow steps (this place is not built for big people). As you climbed the staircase, it was flanked on both sides by (in ascending order) two men, two elegphans, two lions, to griffons and finally two goddesses. It as a striking temple, but the few from the top was spectacular. You could look to the left towards the Bhairabnath Temple and then straight down into the main square where the locals were buying and selling goats, produce, ducks, eggs and roosters. Apparently the square is normally free form sellers, but because of the festival.
Anyway, after the little climb, we walked over to a rooftop restaurant for some breakfast. The view down to the square was fantastic. I could have sat and watched the goings on all day.
Once we finished breakfast, we walked to pottery square where there are normally potters set up in the courtyard making pottery. However, the local neighborhood had purchased water buffalo and the sacrifice had taken place only a short time before we encountered the scene. I won’t go into the details, but suffice is to say that the temple was a little messy. In addition, men with hatchets were cutting up the meat and dividing it into piles for each person’s share. It was interesting, but I watched from a distance.
The other thing that was noticeable in this area was the number of residential buildings that had been flattened in the earthquake. Arie told me that dozens had died in this area where the old brick buildings simply could not withstand the shaking.
As we wandered away from Potters Square and up and another alley towards Durber Square we encountered a family sitting around a makeshift shrine with a goat. The goat had a flower garland around its neck and an elderly woman and man sat on the ground with various offerings and … a knife. Uh oh.
We sat and watched the ceremony and then another man untied the goat and brought over to the makeshift shrine. The elder man tossed flowers and water on the goat, which looked completely bewildered by what was going on. Finally, the last part of the ceremony was about to take place, but they had to wait for the goat to shake. I was told the shaking was a sign that it was acceptable to the goat to be offered. Uh … did anyone think the goat might just be trying to shake off all of the flowers and water.
Anyway, once the shaking took place, the goat was led back to the shrine and the sacrifice occurred (I will leave out the details). At this point, I moved backwards and once the sacrifice ceremony began, I turned and walked away. I had seen enough.
So with that experience behind me, we wandered into Durber Square, which had really been decimated by the 2015 earthquake. Apart from the 55 windows palace and the Golden Gate, it appeared that not much had escaped the wrath of the quake. Everywhere I looked there was destruction.
We wandered through the palace, which contained beautiful wooden carvings, a swimming pool and some small temples. We then walked out the Golden Gate, past what appeared to the the only unscathed temple, the Pashupatinath Temple (with some serious erotic carvings) and then out the city gate.
As we walked down the steps towards the car we encountered one last sacrificial scene and this was a big one … one water buffalo down and one to go. I will spare the details.
At this point I was done in. It took about 20 minutes to reach the hotel and by now, I had been up for 9 hours. I said goodbye to Arie and my wonderful driver and had the hotel make a reservation for me for a message (the one I was going to have yesterday until I fell asleep).
The massage was fantastic so score Nepal 1 and China 0. I stopped at Gai for another delicious bowl of pumpkin soup and then called it an afternoon. Time for a little rest before heading to Bhutan tomorrow afternoon.