It’s our last full day in Nepal and, indeed, of our journey. We’ve been looking forward to this morning to take a small plane along the Himalayas and see Mt Everest up close and personal. We’re up at dawn on what looks like a beautiful day for the flight….
…. So we head for the airport and wait for our 7:30 am flight. Five minutes before boarding time our Buddha Air pilot says Himalayas are covered with clouds and Everest is iffy. The group decides to wait until tomorrow (our departure for home day) to see if we get lucky. So, back to the hotel, breakfast, shower and a re-start of the day.
We realize how close we were to the Old City Square the other day as the bus drops us off where we had previously given up on our walk. The flea market on the bridge is a regular for the locals to buy clothing, household goods, etc. Really not far from our local flea markets in the US.
We get special passes to enable us to wander the grounds of the square(s) in the center of Kathmandu. The palace has been the residence of kings from ancient times. Although not a residence now, a rather bizarre kind of peculiar tradition remains in place.
There are some strange legends as to why it was started, but the selection of a living goddess who “reigns” in this location comes from a specific caste of Newari gold and silversmiths. She can be as young as four and must meet 32 physical requirements. Her horoscope must be appropriate, and she (along with a number of candidates) must endure noises and dances by men in horrific masks. The young girl who doesn’t get frightened is certainly the real Goddess. It’s similar to the selection of the Dalai Lama. The new Goddess moves into the palace with her family, gets a large stipend, and remains until puberty when a new “Goddess” is selected. She only comes out a few times during her reign.
The three loosely connected squares are beautifully laid out and maintained, but pigeons are reincarnations after all and are treated with respect and lots of food.
Inside there is a collection of items used by the Late King Tribhuwan, and some say it has one of only two staircases in Asia that support horseback riding; royal family members used to ride their horses to attend functions on the second floor.
Durbar Square is a great place to wander and rest and watch the (other) world go by. Here we took a listen to a group of widows who gather regularly to sing religious songs…for their own enjoyment and anyone who wants to listen.
Apparently these guys aren’t the real thing (real holy men, who we’ve seen, dress a bit more sparsely and don’t overtly beg), but like people who dress up as the Statue of Liberty in Battery Park, New York, are sometimes worth a few rupees.
The Square area is more controlled regarding its “salespeople”. They have area permits (see the B tags) and are not allowed to cross an imaginary line near the special sights. But once you cross into their territory you are fair game! We’re pretty used to it by now (not really), but know how far you can bargain (once you reach your bus you’ve pretty much gotten the best price – usually about a tenth of where it started). And, some of the stuff is not bad. We do realize they are only trying to make a living, and are not really adversaries (as I’ve tended to regard them).
Narsingha, the man-lion, was the fourth incarnation of the Hindu God, Vishnu. Buddha was the ninth incarnation and is the point where Buddhism took off from Hinduism.
As a very interesting aside, while discussing Vishnu’s incarnations with our Hindu guide, he said that many Indian Hindus believe that Barack Obama is the tenth incarnation of Vishnu! Perhaps a 2012 campaign slogan???
While wandering around the square these ladies emerged from a couple of trucks with vats full of delicious looking foods…enough for an army. They were bringing it into the palace area. We couldn’t find out why, but they agreed to line up for us to get some good photos.
A typical intersection near the Square reminds us again of the hardships the local people have to endure. Kathmandu is one of the only capitals in the world where electricity is unavailable for up to 16 hours a day! Rationing is shifted from district to district every eight hours or so. We hardly notice it as our luxury hotel has its own generators…still we’ve had periods of darkness every evening during dinner (kind of romantic?). And, even WiFi usage runs over $12 an hour to help defray power costs.
In the center of this square is a spring that’s been running for hundreds of years. People still gather water here, but the shortage is still terrible. Tank cars provide supply at central locations, and houses that can afford it have special storage tanks installed on rooftops or in yards. It is expensive. We can truly understand why many experts say the Third World War will be fought over water.
We move out to begin packing up for our return to the US, and to prepare for our “goodby” dinner; an authentic Nepalese feast with local entertainers. We’re also keeping our fingers crossed for good weather over the Himalayas tomorrow.