I woke up to a really mixed bag of emotions. I was tired and my head was busy with the failed Base Camp trek, past relationships and general nomadic stress. It didn't really make me want me to face the mad pace of Kathmandu for the day but it would have been a waste of both time and money to sit in the hotel so I give myself a kick up the ass and trotted for another adventure with trek buddy Molly.
It was worth getting out of bed just for the walk through the city. Living in London for a decade, you grow used to the same streets and slowly switch off to your surroundings. Kathmandu couldn't be more different if it tried. We navigated rows of goats heads in the meat district. Men slicing fish in half with a knife held between their feet. Mechanics fixing motorbikes with welders next to women neatly laying out chilis in a rainbow. At one point we found an ACTUAL SHOP WITH PRICE TAGS. After two weeks of being verbally told prices that were no doubt being adjusted for Westerners, it was a welcome oasis of normality. A shiny bar of Cadbury's has never felt so great!
Our goal was the Monkey Temple. Which was at the top of 360+ steps overlooking the city. At the entrance to the steps we had an encounter with a fairly aggressive guide touting his services. Telling us we were going the wrong way and that there was no point going to the temple if we didn't have knowledge of what we were going to see. A perfectly valid point but he didn't seem to accept the idea that maybe we just fancied a walk amongst some beautiful buildings.
The steps were surprisingly tough! Although I guess it shouldn't have been that surprising. I still hadn't drank any water that day, you could literally taste the pollution and I hadn't properly exercised in well over a week. Not to mention previously having altitude sickness and Covid the week before! We got to the ticket office twenty steps from the top and I needed to sit down else I'd I throw up!
The Monkey Temple itself was impressive. A gleaming white dome covered in multicolour prayer flags. Men with ladders were refreshing the decorations and painting a huge lotus flower around it's base. Sadly the whole experience got a little frustrating however, with the usual guides hounding us at every turn. Constant polite yet firm conversations of rejection. It's a shame because as soon as someone says "hello, where are you from?" your heart sinks, knowing that they'll eventually turn the conversation around to your lack of knowledge and why you're doomed without their business.
At first, the Monkey Temple seemed surprisingly devoid of said monkeys. This was a relief because it meant I would be able to sit and paint without having all my stuff being stolen. Wrong. We walked a little further around the corner and good lord! There were LOADS of the buggers, fighting and screeching over food scraps and heck knows what else was the drama of the day. I was surprised to see tiny baby ones, which were cute, but the chaos was surprisingly intimidating. We kept a wide birth and let them pass as they all decided to move onto their next patch.
The fresh discovery of monkeys made painting an entirely different ball game. It was hard enough as it was to find a good angle to paint from because they were all slap bang in the middle of the entrance ways (it's almost like they designed it that way on purpose). I would have cooked in the sun and then eventually swarmed by monkeys on their next lap of the place. Tricky.
Eventually I spotted a potential solution. A balcony at the top of some steps which formed the entrance and shoe area for a shrine building. I asked a a guy outside the entrance if I could paint there. "I don't know. I am already outside"... Something was lost in translation and he pointed to another man. The second man said it was OK but I'm still not 100% sure anyone had a clue what was going on!
It turned out to be a really lovely experience. I wasn't particularly happy with the painting itself but while we sat amongst peoples shoes, no doubt getting in the way, the local monks came to watch from inside the shrine and offered us sweet chai tea and Nepali doughnuts (I think they're friend polenta and resemble eating sand). A few of them made broken conversation and it was so refreshing to have people take an interest in who were were and NOT trying to be out guides or sell us stuff!
Monkey Temple, Kathmandu - Prints Available
Molly headed off for an afternoon of pampering and I stuck around for a while, just to sit with the discomfort of being on my own in a strange place. I knew the way back to the hotel so decided to experiment with walking a different way. If I got too nervous I could always fall back on the previous route. I watched the sunset with the local's taking their selfies then head down and around the back of the temple. It was a much longer path and would allow me to discover a heap more stuff. I took a deep breath and braced for all the polite "thanks but no thanks" conversations it would lead to.
Kathamandu from Monkey Temple: Prints
I'm sure it wasn't threatening at all, but I ended up in a large garden filled with teenagers. I seemed to have stumbled across a local sub culture of what felt like organised gangs. Travelling in small packs, the apparent leader carrying a MASSIVE camera, dressed like an anime punk. All seemingly trying to outdo each other in both lens size and fashion sense. Their... minions... lining up politely for posed photos in front of statues, temples and city views. I wouldn't have batted an eye lid at one group, but by the time I'd seen fifteen groups all doing the same thing, something was definitely afoot. What was it about this seemingly average looking garden!? Why hadn't I seen them anywhere else!? What were they doing with the photos!? Was this really all just for social media? Baffling and fascinating stuff haha.
I noticed that I was surprisingly relaxed for the rest of the walk back to the hotel. (apart from one point where I had to follow school kids across a highway because I was convinced I'd die if I tried it on my own). I was getting better at breathing through the anxiety (at the risk of lung cancer) and feeling less bothered by random interactions. Keeping my head down and walking with purpose seemed to draw less attention to me... or maybe it was the lack of a six foot friend keeping me company!
Thanks for reading!