Sunday 30th August: Cycling
Raining! But we hired the bicycles again and set out for the Budhanilkantha temple which is about 5 or 6 miles North of the city and the foot of the Shivapuri mountains. Our route took us past the Royal Palace, on the same road I had taken yesterday, but all we could see were the walls.
The cycle ride was pleasant although a constant and gradual up hill. The country side was very green, and the terraced hillsides dotted here and there with people working. Their tools appeared to be little other than scythes and baskets.
Working the fields
En route and as we steadily climbed, we passed through a few small villages. Each had a school of sorts, a shack selling snacks and one or two workshops with small dark rooms, raised floors, open to the road. Some craftsmen sat at sewing machines others crouched or sat cross-legged on the floor leaning over their tools and material. Everywhere there is workshop industry: potters, millers, tailors, foundries, wood yards, bakers. All the goods on sale appear to be made on or near to the place of sale. We found it was common for the salesman to offer to make a coat or pullover for us ready to collect the following day and to our style and fit; just chose!
Oxen walking through village
Village near Budhanilkanthu
We arrived at the place of the temple and were immediately surrounded by children asking to mind our bicycles. We refused. Was that mean? Should we have contributed to the local economy through the children? I think we were more confused. We didn't really know what to do for the best. I had noticed many children dressed in extremely smart school uniforms and carrying bags and books (even today, Sunday - but then why not Sunday is a Christian holiday and the people here are mainly Hindu) and other children who looked as though they had never been to school in their lives. Did they have to attend school? Was it the law? I didn't know; my guide book didn't say. Next time I travel, I'll find out more first - but then I only decided to come here a week ago, this was supposed to be a tour of India. We donated to the local economy by purchasing cold drinks and a selection of Nepalese cakes from a small shop.
I didn't understand the significance of the temple or the 5th century Vishnu, lying on a bed of snakes, carved from a huge piece of black stone, in his pool. To me it was dull and drab, no festivals, no golden roof, no flowers, nothing but a dull reclining statue and a bleak, grey pool. Maybe today was not a good time to come. Still we were here and I approached to take a photograph, making the mistake of stepping through the archway. But only for a second. There was uproar from the few worshipers present. Only Hindus are allowed entry and then only to Lord Vishnu's feet.
Statue of Vishnu at Budhanilkantha
We left the temple and walked further up the mountain path to admire the view. A group of people we saw heading up into the hills wanted to pose for photographs. The women were similarly and colourful dressed and they were all carrying what looked like heavy back packs.
Group locals posing for photo
We started to take photographs and we expected them to ask for a tip, as had been usual. But they did not. They even tried to offer us their money and dress themselves up more with clothes they have obviously removed as they had warmed with their hike.
We refused their money but worried in case they thought we could hand over the photographs immediately. We asked if they wanted a copy of the pictures and tried that we would have to post them to later. Could we have their names and addresses and we would send them a copy. But we could not make ourselves understood. Eventually, waving to them and expressing our thanks we left and they continued on up into the hills.
We returned to Kathmandu. Cycling back was much easier.
I spent the afternoon wandering the city. Were there more sights and sounds to discover. The back streets are smelly and dirty, but still there are workshops, everyone appears to be working. Man, women and even children carrying large loads, sometimes appearing to be two or three times larger than themselves. The loads are carried on the back, the carrier stooped with a broad strap tight around the forehead. Many elderly people are hunched and almost doubled over, is this due to a life time carrying heavy loads?
I saw several butchers' shops. Enough to turn me vegetarian. Some keep their meat covered, but not all. I could see partially butchered animals; bellys spit open, guts spilling out; heads and hooves lying around. Plenty of flies. Orange goats! What makes them orange? I don't know but they look awful to my western eyes. But have I already eaten them. More than likely. I've been eating the local food.
Children, everywhere, noisy, quiet, playing. Many half dressed with just a shirt or even naked. It is not uncommon to see them stoop and shit, just where they are: the middle of the road, the gutter, a muddy ally way. Quite unabashed. And men are always pissing. What do the women and the teenage girls do? I've not seen them relieving themselves. I wonder, are they just more discrete with their skirts or do they go elsewhere. I shudder at the infection risk; the kids are playing in this. Somewhere I read that the average life expectancy of a western student, "dropping out" in Nepal was six months. Could it be true?
Despite the surrounding grime and the apparent lack of sanitary facilities, washing and cleaning is evident everywhere. People washing themselves, their hair, their pots and pans, their clothes at communal taps, in rivers and streams.
For the evening I left the centre of Kathmandu and headed towards Thamel, to a Tibetan/Chinese restaurant to try the ethnic food. I ordered two dishes and had no idea what to expect. One, I forget its name, was a type of pasta shell filled with buffalo mince. It was plain and unspiced - rather disappointing. After leaving the restaurant I bought a Tibetan style pullover for my friend Tim and took a rickshaw back to Durbar Square. My feet ached.