Trevor and I booked a food tour to take in the city’s culinary treats. Our guide was an intelligent guy by the name of Abhishek–though he goes by his middle name, Singh, since many people have trouble pronouncing his first name. I can relate.
Abhishek was a great guide. He had a wealth of knowledge on Nepalese religious, cultural, architectural, and political history. He was also the first person I’d come across in a long time who had actually heard of Nicaragua! He had even received a job offer to work for an NGO in Nica a while back, but he had to turn it down because his father fell ill, and he had to stay home for the family.
Some things I learned about Nepal from Abhishek:
– The Nepalese flag was created by King Prithvi Narayan Shah, who unified the country in the 1700s.
– While nepotism is still very prevalent in Nepal, with people preferring to hire people of their own caste, there are small signs that this might be changing.
– Abhishek himself is proof that society is changing, as his parents are from different castes–something that would have been unheard of once upon a time.
– There are many wild theories revolving around the assassination of the king and his family. Spies, familial greed, heartbreak–it’s all so juicy!
– Nepal has a very long and confusing history with kings.
– Hindu, Buddha, it’s all same same, but a little different.
– Despite it being a relatively small country, there are over a hundred different languages spoken in Nepal. Bonkers, right?!
Anywho, on with the food tour.
Our first stop was this tiny little hole in the wall that no tourist could have ever found on their own. I’m pretty sure there was no sign to indicate that there was a restaurant on the second floor. We just walked down this alley and up a flight of stairs –watch your head–and found ourselves in what I’m pretty sure was this lady’s living room. She served us a couple of yummylicious items, including bara (pancake), yamari with khuwa (dumpling stuffed with a dried milk of sorts), and spiced potatoes.
Our second dish was Nepalese momos, which are actually dumplings. I had some awesome buffalo dumplings.
After the momos, I had a large Indian samosa at a place called Tip Top. Apparently the owner opened his original shop 50 years ago, and he now has a few locations around the city. The place was fairly packed, but the samosa was worth the wait.
The last two stops were my favourite. First up was dahi puri chaat. It is made by stuffing crispy puffed puris (Indian deep-fried bread) with mashed potatoes and topping it with a combination of sweet, sour, and spicy chutneys, sev (chopped up crispy noodles), and dahi (a sweet yogurt). Omnomnom.
And finally, we finished off with lassi, a yogurt-ish sweet drink.
This tour was also my first opportunity to walk around and explore Kathmandu. I initially arrived in the city at night on December 26th, before being whisked away to Pokhara the following day. Similarly, I’d arrived back in Kathmandu the previous day in the late afternoon, exhausted after a 9 hour bus ride, and so I relaxed in my room.
Kathmandu is an interesting city. Its narrow streets were built ages ago, and so it would be very difficult to modernize them today and make them wide enough to fit modern transport without taking down buildings. Instead, you have a mixture of motorbikes, cars, rickshaws, and pedestrians fighting for space on a sidewalk-less road. Pedestrians, enter at your own peril. You always have to be mindful of who or what is behind you.
And drivers, just pray there isn’t construction or some guy high up on a ladder cleaning windows or something blocking your lane, because you could be there a while if traffic is busy in the opposite direction.
The result is a cacophonous soundscape that batters your ears. Car horns honking, peddlars peddling, music blaring from somewhere, tourists shopping, you name it. But it’s all condensed into such an impressively small amount of space; and because of this, the city is always buzzing. Every possible square inch of Kathmandu’s streets is efficiently used for retail space. Restaurants, shops, and markets line every street and alleyway. It’s an endless line of one vendor after another looking for your money. The streets are for making money; upstairs is for sleeping. And though every person seemed to give me a different number for Kathmandu’s population, (the figures ranged from 5 million to 50 million), what is certain is that every person feels the daily grind. (Note: I just Googled it, and Kathmandu has a population of 1.5 million in the city, and 3 million in the Kathmandu Valley region. Fifty million…ha!)
Kathmandu has the hustle and busle of New York City compressed into an area a fraction of its size and with a fraction of its wealth and resources. For example, Abhishek explained that the reason the city looked particularly dirty as of late was that local politicians had mishandled the budget for installing new pipes underground and providing every home with clean running water. The money ran out, and now the project is on pause indefinitely.
Towards the end of the tour, Abhishek showed us this interesting looking landmark. The story goes that if you are having tooth pains, you come here and hammer a coin into this wooden statue. Don’t ask me why, that’s just what I was told. And apparently, several dental offices opened up in the area as a result of this peculiar statue.
After the tour, Abhishek drove us to the Monkey Temple, which sits up high on a hill with a great view of the city. We parted ways with Abhishek here and explored the temple on our own.
Much like some of the bigger temples in Thailand, I didn’t really feel too much spirituality coming from this place. It felt too much like a carnival. There were people trying to throw coins into the middle of this small pond; Bob Marley was playing in the background; people lined up to ring a bell or pose for photo ops; vendors were trying desperately to sell me their knick knacks. I felt one with my wallet rather than the universe. And yet, it is said to be the holiest place in all of Nepal. Maybe I was missing something. Maybe I came at the wrong time. I don’t know.
Nonetheless, it was a beautiful sight to visit. The stupas are beautiful; the view is rather nice; and of course, the monkeys will melt your heart. I could have watched them for hours.
At one point, as I was climbing the stairs to the view atop the hill, I caught this adorable little guy lapping up the last of somebody’s spilled drink. When he was finished, though, he looked up and realized that his mom was gone. He then spent the next few minutes running around in a panic and letting out this heartbreaking adorable little yelp. I hope he found his mommy.
Then there was another dude who managed to get his hands on a Fanta bottle. I didn’t manage to get a shot of him, because every time he went to take a sip, his buddies would come after him and he’d run away to try and enjoy the bottle all to himself.
On my way down the other end of the Monkey Temple, there were hordes of the furry little guys.
I found what is one of the saddest/most beautiful things I’ve ever seen down on this end. I don’t know what happened to this family, but they honestly stood like this for SEVERAL minutes. I eventually just left them in peace and gave them their privacy, but even when I left, they were still standing like that.
Man, I love monkeys.