Special thanks go out to Larry (SEA_OTTERxxxnospamx@delphi.com) and John McLaughlin (email@example.com) for all their pretrip information on Nepal and Tibet before I left.
Following is summary and anecdotes about my recent trip to Nepal. I include the main points in the first part. The second part (if I get around to writing it!) is longer, detailed information about various aspects of the trip which I dont want to bore people who may be just interested in the main summary (which has turned out to be rather long anyway).
This is meant only to relate my personal experiences. For more information see the Lonely Planet or Rough Guide on Nepal. Pardon spelling or grammer mistakes as my time to get this done was limited. :)
PIA, though nobody could tell me anything about them other than one of the KTM flights crashed in 1991, is actually a decent airline and I'd fly them again. Their security is tight, the food wasn't bad and they fed us plenty. I liked the Muslim prayer they played on the PA before every take off. Whatever works; we made it back in one piece! On the way over the plane stopped in Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Lahore, and finally Karachi where I changed for the Kathmandu (KTM) flight. On the way back there was an overnight stay in Karachi but PIA put everyone up in a seedy hotel. There was one stop in Paris before continuing on to NYC.
I went to Greenhill Travel in Thamel (next to Kathmandu Guest House (KGH)) and they were running 8 day tours every week in October no problem. They said the Chinese would probably close the border for the winter in November, and that currently they were only letting in groups and not individuals at the Nepal border.
At the end of October I met a couple from Baltimore who were in China and had no problem crossing the border into or moving about in Tibet. Then they went from Tibet into Nepal.
There are various options for traveling into Tibet from Nepal. If you do the 8 day trip (bus in overland, fly out) and stay at the Holiday Inn in Lhasa it will cost you $1100. If you take the budget hotels it will only cost $560. The basic cost is $395 without the airfare back. The visa you get is from 15 to 30 days at your discretion so once you go in with the group, you can be on your own for the rest of the time. I will discuss the itinerary in Part 2. The travel agents will tell you they need a week to get you a chinese visa but if you go in up till 8am Weds morning for a Sat departure they can still get you one.
Check the bulletin boards around Thamel and you'll see various travel agencies and independant people giving slide shows and talks on trips to Tibet and rafting and trekking in Nepal.
I got up one morning at 6am to see the sunrise from a rooftop and it was completely overcast. On Oct 12 I went to Pokhara where for the first couple days you could see the mountains between wisps of clouds from about 6am to 8:30am before they got clouded over. On the third day there it was crisp, clear, with blue skies, and on that day I made my ascent to Sarangkot where the views on the way and at the top were incredible. A couple days later I flew back to KTM where the skies had also also clear up.
The first couple weeks it was very hot and humid in the 80s and 90s. By midoctober onwards it got much cooler at night and was more pleasant during the day.
A few times I paid my hotel bill with a TC at varying rates. You can also change cash at resturants, carpet shops, or from street hoods. Merchants will often take US$ in lieu of rupees so bring plenty of small bills like 5, 10, 20. Kids will take 1$ bills or coins as tips for luggage carrying at the airport or hotel.
I was in India in 1992, and while I found the culture and sites interesting, I feel that with its mix of HInduism and Buddhism, and the differing architecture of holy sites and temples, Nepal's cultural antiquities are richer and quite fascinating. In the main cities like KTM and Bhaktapur, in addition to the larger temples, every block has little temples, shrines, or stupas where people perform pujas or aratis at all hours.
My visit coincided with the festival of Dasain (pron. Dohs-eye) which is their equivalent of Xmas and New Years and lasts about 15 days. Thus one had to be cognizant of holiday days where banks and other things were closed. This was also a good opportunity to witness many more religious rites at the major temples. However, I missed the big bull slaying bonanza that occured on Durga Puja day in KTM. I won't gore you with the details!
My $6 keychain compass was indespensible in helping to direct me in this foreign city and elsewhere. Take one with you. Unfortunately I lost mine in a very crowded local bus. After that I had to ask directions more often!
You can rent bikes everywhere but only fools will actually attempt to compete with the crazy traffic in KTM. I saw a woman cyclist get knocked over when she tried to change lanes on Kantipath. People often ride over to Bhaktapur which takes about an hour. I preferred to walk or take autorickshas or buses for longer distances. Cycling is much more pleasant and advantageous outside the main cities or in areas like Pohkara which is more spread out with much less traffic. A mountain bike costs about 80 to 100 Rs a day in KTM.
Excelsior was nice. I had a double room with bathroom and shower/hot water for $15. Hotels often quote prices in $ and have solar panels that give 24 hour hot water. They, like every building in KTM, had a roof deck with a wonderful view of the surrounding area. Its funny to see a city of eastern medieval architecture with satelite dishes and solar panels on the roofs.
After two nights I moved to the Thahity (pronounced Tity like Tidy. If you get off the plane and tell the taxi driver you want to go to the Tahiti guest house he won't know what you are talking about...) Guest House in Thahity east of Chhetrapati, about a 10 minute walk from KGH. It was rated highly in LP. The neighborhood is completely different, more authentic, and not many tourists.
The first night I stayed in a box for $5. I didnt like it so moved to a very nice and clean double room for $8. The doubles are usually $10 but the manager has a deal if its one person. They also have a two tier roof deck so you can get a bit higher than the surroundnig buildings for a look around. The manager was laid back and the assistants friendly. Namaste (Hello) is the daily mantra there as well as for the rest of Nepal.
The resturant downstairs is called Cafe De La Cabine. The LP quide said it was quirky whatever that means. The decor was thatch and wood with soft lighting which lent a more authentic and relaxing mood, and the food was very good, fresh, and well cooked. I ate there often. Like many resturants they play tapes of all sorts of music and will play your request or a tape you bring. If you go be sure to say Hi to Sambu, a waiter I befriended who took me to Dhulikhel on the Namobuddha trek. (See note at bottom.)
Although I liked Thahity, I felt it was still a bit noisy and after I came back to KTM a couple weeks later, I stayed at a place near Freak St called the Himalayan Guest House which was in a quieter area and only $4 for a double room with bath. If you go down Freak St from Basantapur Square, make your first right and go down a narrow street about two and a half blocks. Its too new to be in the books.
I would go to Thamel to talk to travel agents or to eat or buy books and postcards and thats it. I ate at the Third Eye a lot because it was good and I didnt get sick there! I only got sick once and it was at either Shivas or the Himalayan Coffee Bar which are both behind Basantapur Square where they sell all those knick- knacks near Durbar Square. I didnt eat at those places again and I was fine.
To tell a waiter you want your food cooked hot in Nepali say: Tahtoo Kanna Kansu. Tahtoo pronounced in the beginning with a sound somewhere between a T and a TH means hot temperature. To tell them you do not want cilantro or coriander in your food say: Dhaniya naraknoos. You may have to tell them a few times to make sure they understand your pronunciation. They will also be amused and delighted at your attempts to communicate in Nepalese!
Two great breakfast places were the ever popular and busy Pumpernickel Bakery, and Mike's Breakfast/Cantina. If you don't get to PB by 8am when they open during peak season you may not get a seat for a long time. Its great food, cheap, and fast. Mike's costs a bit more but the omlettes and scrambled egg concoctions are divine and all the food is good. There's an article about Mike's owner in the stairway leading to the roof. He's an ex- Minnasotan. PB also has a very good bulletin board for messages and upcoming events. KGH also has a big message board.
I tried KC's twice for breakfast and they were overpriced and not that good.
On Freak St I ate at Kumari's a lot which was very good and had breakfast at Meggies a few times which wasn't bad.
On the advice of an east German woman I met, I stayed in the Freak St area but checked out the very cheap Century lodge where she was staying. It and the Pagoda lodge next door were built in the early 70's to Nepali standards. This means low ceilings so if you are over about 5' 7", don't stay there unless you like constantly stooping and having to worry about banging your head on the overhead beams.
One of the things I first noticed, especially when its hot out, is all the dogs just laying around sleeping all day. I saw one napping away in a busy rotary with traffic going all around it. So much for trying to get back at them and waking them up during the day! At dusk they get up and around and come to life.
Some of the dogs appear healthy but many do not. Whatever the case I never touched any of them and I wouldn't advise you to do so either. A medical researcher from America I met in KTM told me that many dogs have worms which when found to infect humans, secrete toxin sacs that attach themselves to internal organs, and if broken, cause death. For all their barking and fighting its mostly among themselves, they seldom bother with people. The few that do usually get kicked hard enough by a local to make them think twice the next time. I only saw one cat my entire trip.
After observation of their behavior on the street, I noticed that the main things the dogs bark about are when they are contesting territory and females in heat. The hotel I stayed at in Bhaktapur had an inner courtyard where some people kept a pet dog. One night he decided to go on a barking spree while everyone was trying to sleep. There was a dog barking in the distance and he would answer this other dogs bark. (So if you hear dogs seeming to bark at nothing this could could be another reason.) and I figured its one thing for the dogs to bark out in the street and another for him to keep people up so close to the hotel and the owners werent shutting him up. I thought about yelling at him to shut up but figured that would just be amusing. I then remembered the bucket of cold water I kept around for flushing the toilet. I took the bucket and stood out on the balcony, pinpointed his location from the bark (there was some foiliage covering the ground so I couldnt see him) and heaved! He yelped and ran away.
Stand in the traffic circle booth at Chetrpatti circle at around 9am and watch the world go by at a dizzying and frenetic pace. Parents walking their little kids to school, Newari merchants with the baskets on poles on their shoulders selling vegetables and eggs and all kinds of things to the local merchants or just passing through, affluent young women in colorful saris strolling by, tourists in incessantly honking taxis and rickshas scrambling through, beggers and Sadhus with snakes plying their trade.
Durbar Square, especially if you've never been to one, is jam packed with temples and quite confusing. LP guide explains it but it doesn't hurt to break down and employ one of the numberous young people begging to be your guide especially if they speak English well.
A very nice, well dressed and spoken young fellow of about 20 named Gokul Rana appraoched me while I was reading my book. After a short conversation and considering he spoke English very well and was quite pleasant, I decided to let him show me around. We agreed that I would pay him 200 to 300 Rs depending on how I liked his presentation. I liked his hour tour and he told me a bit about Nepal and its politics and people. If you want him to show you around just ask around there or go to the Himalayan Coffee Bar where he hangs out sometimes. He also speaks a bit of German and Japanese. By the way, when we walked into Kumari Chowk, the Kumari herself happened to be at the window looking out. Apprently when she appears is on her whim. For more info see LP.
Along the way I witnessed people spinning the prayer wheels found in so many tourist shops. Once you reach the steps to the temple and on the way up you will be accosted by many people wanting to sell you baubles or to be your guide. There are also beggars and Saddhus lining the steps up waiting for your donation.
Once you get to the top however, you will be rewarded with a stunning plethora of Buddhist and Hindu religious temples including the giant stupa, monastaries and objects, as well as more people wanting to sell you baubles. The view of the surrounding area if not overcast is wonderful. And true to its nicknames there are many monkees (primates) running around. They are used to people and are often fed by the natives but I gave them good breathing room just the same.
Go through a courtyard to some library and there is a roof you look out onto the temples. From the steep steps up to the stupa, to the right, is a Buddhist monastary. As you walk in there are many candles lit in front of a gigantic Buddha. Go down the corridor to the left and peek in on the Tibetan lamas and students chanting mantras. If you wait awhile you will be treated to that special cacophany they make with drums, horns, bells, and all kinds of other things. If you've ever listened to those Tibetan Monk chanting tapes you know what I mean. Its delightful to actually see and hear them do it in person! (The instruments not the chanting!)
Once back there, there is a small circular road that goes around the stupa and is surrounded by 2 or 3 story buildings that house merchants and resturants and some monastaries. On the day I went all of us tourists were treated to some excitement as a very important Lama was making an appearance. Tibetan monks were everywhere and lined up along the street with Tibetan flags waiting for the arrival. I waited too. Finally a caravan of cars along with tv cameras and what not goes by and everyone follows and its all over. Whats really funny and incongruous is to the see the monks in the yellow and purple robes taking videos of each other at the stupa. Where do they get the money people wonder?!?!?!
Patan Durbar Square is chock full of temples and very interesting. I was accosted by numerous kids who had the month off due to the Dasain holiday wanting to be my guide or practice their english. I dispensed with any guides but was happy to help practice English! Many of them will speak in awe of the Golden Temple and if you dont let them show it to you you'll never find it. LP has a map and description of the much heralded golden temple and I found it no problem. Its a Buddhist temple and quite fascinating inside. There are sacred turtles inside eating cucumbers.
Jawlakhel, about a 30 minute walk from Patan Durbar Sq, is a Tibetan carpet manufacturing center. Go to the end of a certain road to find the carpet factory and watch carpets being hand woven. Outside the factory on the street are many shops waiting to sell you carpets at lower prices than those in the factory. More on this later.
On the way back we took what seemed to be a converted truck with windows that has only one door on the back. It was a crazy mad dash to get on the bus since seats are limited. Some guy leaped onto the back bumper and hung on to the door handle while the bus was still moving just to be the first to get a seat. As usual :) the bus got packed so tight with goats, chickens and tons of people you could hardly breathe!
The town is small but there are a few places to stay or eat. We had breakfast before starting out. We decided to do the Namobuddha trek. LP said it was a 3 hour walk there and back through the hills to this little Buddhist Stupa. What LP doesnt tell you is that its a brutal walk with constant up and down little mountain after mountain to get there. We started out and got to the start of the trail which is a gulley straight up the mountain that seems to have been made from years of people walking. The local village people take this route even though it is harder than just taking the road that goes to the villages because it is shorter. Its about a one and a half hour walk up this path, down a steep ledge on the side of a big hill to the nearest village where the road can then be used.
I was taking it easy and local people with heavy packs on their backs supported by ropes around their foreheads and others passed us by. Two little girls with their father came alongside and the oldest girl began talking to me in quite good English. She was Subita, 12, and her sister was Kubita, 9. Subita asked me all the usual questions about where I was from and what I did. I asked about her and her family. It turns out she has an American sponsor which enables her to go to a boarding school (Hostel) in KTM most of the year. Which is how she learned English. The two girls were also carrying small wicker baskets on their backs supported by the rope around the forehead. Subita told me they have a two hour walk each way up and down the mountains to their village so they can get food and other supplies they dont have in the village.
We stopped at the Kali temple after an hour. Its on a landing where a lot of people rest. I walked up steep stone steps to get to the temple. There were a number of saddhus chanting and making music. The shrine outside was bloody from the chickens sacrificed earlier in the day. Sambu spoke to them and told me me something about 200 chickens that morning....
The girls waited and then we continued. Subita invited us to come to her village which was on the way. I figured I was up on all my inocolulations so what the heck! :-) At one point we were coming down a mountian side ledge path when we saw about 6 people coming the other way. They were carrying a sick person on a makeshift blanket stretcher to town. From there they would have to catch a bus or taxi to the nearest hospital. Oy!
The views of the surrounding mountains with their terraced rice and corn fields were very good. The drop over the edge of the path was a long way through underbrush and bushes. Sambu told me the other villagers were saying how some tourist went over the edge a year ago and was killed. Lovely!
We came to the main road and then climbed up a steep dirt bank that was used for farming, then walked along a narrow path behind small houses through dense foliage to Subita's home. I met her other sisters and brother. Her mother was away for the day at Banepa. After Subita put her "groceries" away, the three of us continued what was now mostly a road up the hills.
This walk gives one a good view into village life as you pass many little houses and farms on the way. People put out their grains and corn on wicker mats to dry and animals like chickens, goats, and a few water buffalo may be tied up or running around. Little kids wave and say "Hello!" as you pass.
The dirt on the road was very dry and whenever a truck or car went by we'd have to cover our faces at the amount of dust that was stirred up. The road was somewhat narrow and precarious so that if two trucks or cars met going the opposite way they'd have to do the impossible to let the other pass.
We passed only a few other westerners on the way. After another hour and a half we finally made it to the Stupa. Its at the end of a little road with a few little buildings and houses and is stuffed with prayer flags. There was no food but we had some sodas and rested. My feet were killing me and there were no taxis to be had so Sambu said we'd ride in the back of a big truck to get down.
After a few minutes walking we flagged a truck down and Sambu said for 40 Rs they'd take us to Subita's village. We loaded up into the back and hung on tight as the truck lurched forward. The ride was lurchy and bumpy and looking out over the edge below now seemed more dangerous than just watching them go by before. Shortly a car going the other way wanted to get by. The truck pulled over to the edge just barely and I signalled the car to go through. It looked like we'd go over the edge any second. After a few more minutes of harrowing downhill excitement I decided I trusted my feet more and signalled the driver to stop and let us off. By that time we were more than half way back to the village and it was only a half hour walk. We took Subita home and said goodbye. I promised to write to her at school and hoped to hear from her as well.
It was a long, arduous walk back to town. Then we had to take a local bus to Banepa and transfer to a box like truck bus which was stuffed with goats and people. We were hungry and tired when we got back but what an experience! My feet were blistered and I had to patch them up and rest for a couple days.
The Pokhara airport is a small bunch of one story buildings next to a gravel strip. The planes are old and most are prop driven. Its an experience but they work. I flew on Necon Air and they even have two attractive and well dressed Nepalese flight attendents serving drinks and a snack on a 30 minute flight. Security at the airport is somewhat odd. Each person has to pass from the waiting area to the "gate" area through a small corridor/room which is shut on both sides while you are alone in the room with a guard who looks over your stuff.
I decided to stay on the landside and not the lake side because I don't like touristy places. LP mentioned what sounded like a great place called the Hotel Pokhara View (20189) (a sign in front said: Formerly The Yak and Yuppie...). I had called from KTM to make a reservation and gave them my name and what bus I was arriving on. This turned out to be a good idea because the bus drops you off in a stone corral whose only exit is through a line of very agressive touts. The hotel sent a guy out for me with a sign so I was saved the hassle of dealing with those people. They didn't charge me for the ride but I gave the receptionist who got me a tip. Its a small two story hotel and they put me in the best double room #511 ($10) which had a partial mountain view and a view out the back into a field. The manager was a very nice, young guy named Amrit Gurung.
The view of the Annapurna range with Machupuchare was fantastic. Every morning I sat out on the patio with some American guy named Sam and had breakfast while admiring the view. Apparently the farther down the lakeside you go the less of this view you have.
Although lakeside is a 20 minute walk or 5 minute bike ride, down the street were plenty of resturants and bookstores. Next door was a guy who rented mountain bikes for 60 Rs a day and let me keep it overnight at the hotel if I wanted.
Down the street from the hotel was a very good resturant called the Rodee. You can sit on a terrace overlooking the lake. The chicken tikka was the best I've ever had and the chicken pulou (a fried rice dish) was very tasty. I ate there often. I also tried the Boomerang on Lakeside. It has a great outdoor seating area and a path to the lake where you can rent boats. I also tried the Snowland but the chicken tikka was nowhere near as good.
I rode my bike up to the Bindhe Basini Temple near the bazaar area. As you approach the temple on the road there is a little sign pointing to the path to Sarangkot. The road up to the bazaar area is a small but steady incline which makes the 2 or 3 mile ride somewhat ardurous going up, but a breeze coming down since you don't have to peddle. On the way you'll see some interesting sites like cows, water buffalos and herds of sheep roaming free in the streets.
The entrance to the steps to the temple is crowded with Tibetan merchants and the steps up are filled with sadhus and beggars. The day I went was another big festival day and it was quite busy with worshipers. It was also a big sacrifice day and I saw numerous people carrying around headless goat bodies and a man designated to decapitate chickens at work. After the decapitation he would throw the body into a corner where it flapped around for awhile.
Behind the main temple area there was another temple with a roomy interior that people would go into to visit the local sadhus. One was seated in a corner reciting verses from a holy book into a microphone that was broadcasting throughout the area.
On the first clear day I rode my bike back to the temple to take that path to Sarangkot. LP said the better mountain views were on this path and not the lakeside path. I parked and locked my bike in the Temple lot, and no sooner did I start my way down and up the path when I was accosted by numerous people inquiring about my destination, nationality, profession, and did I need a guide? One doesnt need a guide since the path is simple and many other westerners are going in the same direction. At one point up the path kids as young as 3 or 5 ask where I'm from and announce that "I am guide!". Very cute.
I brought water with me but it was a hot day and a hard climb so I had to buy more. I also added a rehydration packet to one liter I drank since I was sweating profusely and had had semi- dehydration problems earlier. Soda and water are available at various points on the way up.
About a 1/4 way up the path I stopped to admire the view of the valley and the mountains. There was an older western couple with some kids and a guide stopped to look also. I began talking to the man and it turned out they were Americans "associated with the embassy." More to the point, the US ambassador and her family on holiday! I continued on ahead of them. In fact, after I had gotten to the top and then come down a bit and stopped for a snack, I saw them just getting there.
The climb to the top was brutal and took me 2 1/2 hours but I was taking it slow especially towards the end where it was mostly steps and very steep. Towards the end the path goes by many little villages and farms. One villager began talking to me and asking me some questions. Being a friendly sort I engaged in conversation with him and had what I thought was a nice exchange. I continued up and he followed. As I turned onto the final path he told me in very poor english that since he had told me something about his country and life and since he was very poor, I should give him money. This is something that I found happens occasionally where the guide will appear after the fact. I find it reprehensible and dishonest and I wanted to ask the guy if he was a farmer or a beggar. I told him nicely no thankyou but I was fine and said goodbye and continued on my way. He followed me and stayed up on the top the whole time I was there eyeing me, even trying to talk to me again. I was inscensed and ignored him and would be damned to give him any money thereby condoning his behavior especially for future tourists.
Aside from that the view was enjoyable although some clouds had started to move in and obscure the peaks. After a bit I walked down a couple hundred feet to a resturant with a great view overlooking Pohkara. I didn't see Mr. Farm Beggar again. I had a few chappatis and a British guy came up to me and we discussed Nepal and our travels and his trekking plans. He and his two friends were looking for another trekking partner if I was interested but at the time that was not possible for me.
The walk back was easier and took one and one half hours. My feet were in better shape than they had been after the Dhulikhel hike cause I put moleskin on my toes and wore tennis shoes which were better.
The staff there gave me the top floor room (#11 or 110?) which was a double with bath and a toilet on the balcony for $10. It was a big sunny room with windows and a great view. The roof deck also had good views. The plumbing was not so good though as often there was not enough cold water to balance the hot water and it was difficult to shower.
Since there was no access to the balcony from outside, I left the windows and doors open for ventilation. One morning with my back to the balcony I heard someone outside in the window. I whirled around wondering what the heck was going on and there was a big monkey sitting in the window! I got up and watched him as I walked over to the door in case he decided to come in further. He sat there watching me (with a guilty look on its face!) while he/she reached in behind the curtains and took the bananas I had sitting on a shelf next to the window. He then went back out onto the balcony to eat them and I can only guess he smelled them since they were not visible behind the curtains. I kept the big windows and doors shut after that!
I love Bhaktapur, its a wonderful little town. You cannot do it justice with a day trip from KTM. You really need to spend a few days and nights there like I did soaking in the ambiance, walking the little, winding streets, observing the people at work, play, and worship, and interacting with the people and kids. A native friend in KTM told me that Bhaktapur is the way KTM used to be 15 years ago, clean, unpolluted, and less crowded.
There are several main squares. First is Durbar Sq where they filmed Bertolucci's Little Bhudda although you cant really tell to look at it. A short walk from there is another big square called Taumadhi Tole which contains the enchanting and exotic Nyatapola Temple which is the largest Pagoda temple in Nepal. The steps to the temple are bordered on either side by wonderful stone sculptures of elephants and other beasts and gods. Its a local hangout in addition to tourist site and often many young people are sitting high up on the steps at all hours. This square is where many of the merchants sell baubles and trinkets and a lot of foot traffic passes through. The other big square is a ten minute walk away and is called Tachupal Tole. This is the woodcarving center where you will find many shops selling and making wood carvings of all sorts and there is also a woodcarving museum (with very low ceilings!).
I tried to follow the walking tour in LP but its hard to given the terrain. Even so to walk anywhere around the vicinity brings one to all sorts of fascinating sights whether its temples and stupas or people working and going about their daily chores. Everywhere you go in the town much of the open space is used for rice processing. Women rake through nice circular or square piles of the grains or hold up round sieves which they shake to sort out the grains from unedible material.
I met one kid named Bishwa who had a scam for extorting money from tourists. He spent a lot of time going around telling tourists that he was a student and wanted to become a doctor. Then he'd ask if you would go with him to a store to buy him a school book. He'd take them there and try to get them to buy an expensive Oxford English Dictionary for 337 Rs ($7) for him. I was told by the other kids that he then goes and sells the book back to the storekeeper and gets a cut. He hung out with me at times when I would hang out in the squares. After the book thing he started asking if he could stay at my hotel with me or would I give him money for school fees.
The other kids were all very nice some offering to take me around, others being more official guides but talkative even if you didnt have them show you around. One evening I walked up the Nyapatola and there was a big westerner clowning with the kids. After he left they told me he was a Frenchman who lived in a house 5 months of the year and helped out at the school sometimes.
In the large cities they turn off the electricity two nights a week in different areas from 5:30 to 7:30pm. This happened my first night in Bhaktapur. At around 6:30 I heard bells and drums outside and decided to investigate. I stepped out of the hotel courtyard to the small street into another world. It was some sort of celebration with men in white turbaned costumes and women flitting about over masks and statue dieties doing arati and puja. They were using gas lanterns for some light but other than that it was dark and moonlit which created a mysterious, errie aura over the proceedings. I hovered over their shoulders to watch their rituals and played with the kids who asked for one rupee.
I walked down the street into Taumadhi Tole and it was magic. By only the soft but bright white glow of the full moon I saw people milling about, old men performing rituals and playing instruments next to the Bhairbnath Temple and amidst the temples and medieval buildings it was like being back in time hundreds of years. I walked into the main Durbar Square and marvelled at it all the temples, shrines and statues silhoueted in the moonlight.
The food in the resturants was basic but good and only a few stay open late enough for dinner. I mostly ate in the Marco Polo which is in Taumadhi Tole. The Nyapotola Cafe has a fantastic view on life in the square but aside from a very good breakfast, the food is pricey and only fair.
I later went to a show at the Hotel Vajra in KTM and it was the best exposition of Nepalese/Indian Dancing I have ever seen. The dancers were part of the Nepali Center for Performing Arts and had been dancing since a very young age. It showed in their movements which were perfect and sublime in conjunction to the music. The movements as part of the dances depicting gods and dieties really brought to life everything you see on temples, shrines, and paintings.
The shops in Thamel are also expensive for prayer wheels, carpets, and statues of all kinds. However, you can get good deals in Thamel or in the streets on the way to Durbar Square on T-shirts and pants if you shop around. The average price before bargaining for a t-shirt with just a Swayambunath face is 150-180 Rs depending on size. The price also depends on how much stuff/embroidery is on the shirt. Some of the shops will customize whats on the front of a t-shirt but then they dont bargain. For example the largest size I could find for eyes t-shirts was 46 and I needed a few 48's for an X-Large. I found a place next to the Clay Oven Resturant and Globe Books called S. Devkota's Store (but there is no sign) which did a great job making custom t-shirts.
I bought a couple wonderful Thankgas from a shop called Kumari Thangka, Shop No. 11, in Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Sq in KTM across from the big bell. This is near but not in the main area where all the other Thangka shops are. If you go there and ask around for him no one will seem to know where or who he is cause they are all jealous of him and his reputation. The shops proprietor is named Ratna Kazi Shakya.
He is a very nice, cool, young guy of about 32 who used to be a Nepalese hippy back in KTM's hippy days, and knows how to deal with westerners and what they want. (He's so western he's the only Nepali who told me to have a nice day. I told Sambu he should say that to people in the resturant! :) If you tell him you were referred (by me for example) he will see you as a special case and not a regular tourist off the street and give you his best price. Now you could say oh this is just marketing hooey. So before you go to him shop around and learn what prices, types and quality of Thangkas there are and then go see him and you will see what I'm talking about. I bought a Wheel of Life for myself and a Buddha of Compassion (Avilokita Ishvara) for a friend who requested one.
I wanted Tibetan carpets so I went to Jawlakhel where there is a Tibetan carpet factory and many shops surrounding it. Its neat to see the carpets being made but the prices in the factory shop are more than the shops outside. A lot of the Tibetan carpets are not made in Tibet. Given this if you go into a Nepali carpet shop they'll tall you their carpets are the same since the so called Tibetan carpets are really Nepalese carpets. Whatever. Carpets are made from yak, sheep, or lambs wool and may have 60, 80, 100, or 150 knots per square inch. The more knots the better the quality and the higher the price. Yak wool is rougher than sheeps wool with lambs wool being the softest.
When you leave the factory, check out the first shop to your right up the street. Its called Buche Carpet (no sign) and they have some very nice 150 knot sheepswool carpets. Further up on the right I bought two old tibetan design (dragons, phoenixs, lotus flowers) 80 knot yak wool carpets from a Tibetan named Gedun Gyatso at Unique Carpet (no sign). He's a nice guy and his sister has a carpet shop in Sante Fe, New Mexico which I hope to visit at some point. Gedun has a fax which you can order over from the states and he will ship it to you COD.
For woodcarvings you will find many unique and interesting (and cheap) kinds on Pujari Math (the street where the Peacock window is) in Bhaktapur. As you approach the street from the Square, check outthe first shop on the left. Its called Puppet Work Shop and run by a very nice guy named Puspa Raj Pradhan. His prices are so reasonable I didnt even bargain. He does his own work and had some cute little temple carvings. Down the steet on the right is a shop called The Peacock Shop run by Ram Narayan Prajapati with many interesting wood and stone carvings.
There's what is supposed to be a very funny book called Shopping For Buddhas which I have yet to read but its probably what I went through looking for the perfect copper and gold buddha! You can find them all over but the main factories are in Patan so that's where I spent a lot of time looking in numerous shops. The statues differ in size, colors, quality, and price. I found a shop called Shakya Ary Gallery run by Y. R. Shakya (no sign) which had for me the right buddhas at the right price. The shop has blue shutters (as do a few) and can be found on a street next to Patan Durbar Square, directly across and up the street from the Cafe Pagoda View and the Bhimsen Temple.
I bought a bunch of 5 inch buddhas which were copper with gold paint and gold dust painted faces. The faces are wonderful and the detail and precision of painting is excellent. Since the statues are made from molds and each mold is slightly different, the painted expressions on the faces are also different so each statue is unique.
Shakya was a very nice, humble man, who has a son taking computer classes at a college in LA. He told me his prices, would only come down a couple hundred Rs, and told me exactly how much he paid for them and what his profit was. He was remarkably open and honest but very firm about his final price. He's the type of merchant who only takes a modest markup but does not bargain unlike those who have huge markups expecting to bargain a lot. He also sells very nice prayer wheels at reasonable prices.
And thats all folks! Anything below is detail about what was discussed above but not vital if you're in a hurry to read now. Have a nice trip!
Note: Jan '97, If you want to say Hi to Sambu, he now works as a waiter at the Les Yeux Resturant in Thamel. He also now has a small tea shop somewhere in Thamel.