Today's goal was exploring Kathmandu Durbar Square with Molly. Being nervous of stepping too far outside of my Kathmandu comfort zone, this was a small step up from yesterdays Garden of Dreams. All five minutes further down the road! I woke up feeling relaxed after standing up for myself the night before and getting my room changed because it was too noisy (a theme that would follow me for the next two weeks). I wolfed down the buffet and tried cheese nuggets and curried potatoes for breakfast. This was a strange and bad decision and one I won't be making again! Feeling avoidance to leave the hotel, I took a deep breath and stepped back out into the intense and dusty streets of Kathmandu.
The first part was easy. Walk ten minutes back towards the Kathmandu Guest House to pick up some cash and my adventure buddy Molly. I hadn't heard from her all morning and when I found her relaxing on a lounger, I quickly got the message she wasn't coming to explore quite yet. Uhoh. Guess the universe wants me to face Durbar Square on my own!
All I had to do was walk in the straight line and hope for the best!
Saying goodbye to one of the Everest Base Camp trek guides, it was time to crack on. Weaving motorbikes and running across crowded streets, hoping I wouldn't get run over. I got stopped by a guy dressed as a monk and given a blessing/red dot thingy. (I really should learn what they're all about) He tried to charge me 1000 rupees which I was having none of! I gave him 20 that I found knocking around my wallet which is like... 15p!? Better than nothing for tricking me into something I didn't even know would cost me.
Marching quite quickly towards the temple complex now, to dodge any more "pouncing on a tourist" interactions, I was shouted at by several men in a ticket booth. A previous temple had introduced me to the concept of fake tourist offices trying to sting unsuspecting tourists for their money so I wasn't falling for it! I responded "nooooope! I don't believe you!" and continued to march right past them. Except I hadn't realised I'd arrived at Durbar Square, which I later found out was a government-run World Heritage site. In an effort to dodge being taken advantage of, I'd accidentally been a total rebel and tried dodging the entrance fee! In front of the police! I was so embarrassed. Several apologies later and I'd bought myself a ticket like a well behaved tourist.
Durbar Square was super impressive! Albeit rather stressful. The temples are their bright red trims towered above me in all directions but it was also full of local guides trying to convince you that they were the best thing since sliced bread and it would impossible to have a good time without them. I had one guy get borderline angry with me as I shunned him away so I engaged in a proper chat just to see where it went. He made a fair point in that he just wants to do his job and tell people the heritage of the site and tourists literally run away from him all day. I quite quickly learnt that "I'm an artist, I'm just here to paint" seems to shut down most attempts at selling me things. There was a funny interaction with a guy selling necklaces as I claimed my luggage was too heavy. "Yes but you can buy one and wear it around your neck on the plane!". Touché. Laughs were had. One woman was annoyingly persistent with her hand made bags, which were identical to everyone else's. Being someone who's adverse to conflict, having to develop my "friendly yet firm voice" was a challenge.
Considering the spiritual significance of site, the constant pitching for guiding actually really took the edge of any chance of enjoying the place. I scouted a quick lap around the block, took a load of photos and settled on what I thought would be a quick sketch of the huge Kal Bhairav shrine. The destructive form of Shiva that was historically used to sentence people to death before the invention of courts. I ended up getting so engrossed in sketching the details it took ninety minutes; during which I had a nice chat with a man who lived in London for a bit. He recommended Phatan Durbar Square as another day out. Another guy found it crazy that I was 36 because I looked 20-21, surprise surprise. I really shouldn't have shaved my beard before I left! Then Bridget the German who was really lovely and it turns out she was in Machermo at 4470m, watching me get helicoptered off the mountain with my altitude sickness! The odds of that coincidence are pretty huge! There was a SUPER cringey moment when a really old local bloke asked her about HITLER of all people and proclaimed he was really good for the country!? What the actual!? I asked Bridget if moments like that happened often and thankfully it was the first time ever. He also claimed that if you had any enemies, you could pray in front of Kal Bhairav and they would die... within the next 100 years!? Wow big deal, I think that's called age! hahaha.
Kal Bhairav - Kathmandu Durbar Square - Prints Available
Artwork and intense local interactions done, I was starving so went and found a restaurant on the tallest building I could find. Similar to yesterday I noticed a bit of anxiety approaching a new place but I was immediately relaxed as soon as I was settled in front of a menu. The fear came from the prices perhaps being too expensive and feeling too embarrassed to turn away but it was actually cheaper than my hotel. Winner! The Chicken Butter Masala was so. darn. good. The view over the square was also pretty decent so I relaxed and waited for Molly to join me.
By the time we had eaten we had an hour left before things started closing. We accidentally ended up in the driest, wordiest military museum ever, chronicling the history of the unification of Nepal. No doubt fascinating to some but I was expecting a heap more temples and pretty things to stare at.
Eventually we ended up in the right place and found some truly impressive architecture. It was the old royal palace and the level of detail in all the wooden carvings was bonkers (Oh and plenty of fantastically adult karma sutra!) We wandered around it's museum, which had the odd interesting little bit of jewellery but it was mostly a load of gold and silver that didn't really interest me. The technical achievement of the palace itself was much more impressive to me.
Having seen what we could see at Durbar Square (I probably needed to come back for more painting!) we went on a bit of an impromptu wander down the streets. We ended up walking quite a large loop and found ourselves walking through much less touristy areas, sharing the streets with the school kids as they finished their day. One girl wanted to show off in front of her friends so sassily said hello and asked what my name was. "Nice to meet you Tom!". Nothing like being put on the spot by the locals. I tried to take some sneaky street photography but it all came out blurry. I don't like feeling like I'm spectating every day life, especially when the level of poverty makes it look TOUGH AS SIN and I'm stood their all comfy and western with my expensive camera. I'd hate it the other way around.
Our way back to Molly's hotel took us through Asan Bazaar which was totally bonkers. Yes I know I describe a lot of Kathmandu as bonkers but this was next level! Streets completely rammed with people and smalls shop fronts selling everything you could imagine. We passed through mini districts. Seemingly the area that sold nuts and jewellery!? Then the shiny white trainer district. Then the kitchen wear. It seemed so chaotic and quite strange that none of the stores reached any larger than just a single room, crammed into the side of a building. Making a living here, or just surviving seems super tough.
We made it made to the Mulberry hotel and the culture shock from what we'd just walked through was pretty extreme. Polished marble and gold entrance foyer. Sipping a virgin mojito next to the roof top pool and watching the sunset. One unexpected discovery on this trip is that although I'm more than happy to rough it on hiking trips, I also enjoy a bit of luxury here and there. I've spent years working on my self esteem and sometimes treating yourself like you're fancy is just the boost you need. Now I just need to give myself a kick up the arse and get enough clients to actually afford these hotels normally. Not just visiting my friends one!
Another fight through the streets (who knows when rush hour is. This time there were exclusively LOADs of bikes at 7pm?) and I'd made it back to my hotel. Not as shiny, but a perfectly comfy bed luring me into a thirteen hour sleep. Kathmandu has a way of really draining your energy! Or is it the altitude sickness? Or the Covid? Who knows at this point.
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