20.11.2009 15 °C
Well it would have been nice to stay, being alternately pampered and adrenalinised, in the resort, but we decided we had to move on after a few days so, onwards to Kathmandu it was.
Kathmandu must be one of the most concentrated traveller motherlodes in the world. Thamel, the traveller ghetto, is a weary jumble of stupid traveller clothes shops, trekking supplies, crappy souvenirs, wi-fi cafes and whispering hashish dealers. Pretty horrendous to be honest, but at least you can get a good breakfast (french press and banana pancakes = happy boy!), check email and get sorted for leaving Thamel as soon as possible.
We spent a couple of days wandering around the old parts of town, which are much more interesting. Kathmandu is an old (verging on medieval) place, and it's evident that the new city has just been built in layers over the old ones. Every street corner contains a wee shrine or a small temple, with gods daubed in red kumkum powder and garlanded with burnt orange marigolds. Additionally many of the buildings have beautiful Newari wood carvings decorating doors, windows, and balconies – really stunning craftmanship, now sadly mistreated and left to fend for itself in a lot of decaying buildings.
Slightly out of town we visited the Hindu cremation ghats at Pashupatinath. The bodies are shrouded in fabric and then dashed with red powder; then the mouth is filled with camphor and lit. It takes about 2-3 hours for the body to burn up, and then the ashes are swept into the holy (if jet black and noisome) river. Very powerful to see, especially from quite close range as the people seem quite unconcerned to have tourists there - most of the mourning has already been done and female family members don't usually attend the ceremony.
We also saw a living goddess! The Newari people select several prepubescent girls from a particular caste of goldsmiths and silversmiths, apply a battery of tests, and the girl who passes all the tests is proclaimed the Kumari Devi & venerated as a goddess. She and her family gets put up in a fancy house by Durbar Square (Kathmandu's World Heritage if car-choked square) and given a generous stipend until such time as her menarche, when she becomes a mortal again. Her only duties seem to be to get ooh-ed and aah-ed over by tourists every 10 minutes and leave the house for the occasional parade – it does seem a bit of a limited life for a goddess, to be honest.
Otherwise, we checked out the Tibetan quarter (nice to see Tibetans being left to their own devices without Chinese rule), went to the sadly neglected National Botanical Gardens, and chartered an ex-Gurkha with Parkinson's as our driver for the day (no, really). Well, he claimed it wasn't really Parkinson's, and he did drive pretty well, but it was a bit of a disturbing head twitch anyway.
And... that's Nepal, folks!