On our November 2010, “buying” trip to South Asia, we spent our first week in Kathmandu, Nepal. Fred had last been in Nepal in 1990, and the intervening years had not been kind to the country nor to its wonderful, hospitable people. The murder of the King and Royal Family by a disturbed Prince in 2001…and a nasty Maoist insurgency in the countryside…had led to a crash in the tourism industry and unhappiness (or worse) to many people, including both the Nepalese and the Tibetan refugee minority.
Now the monarchy is abolished, and the Maoists are inside the government causing trouble–rather than outside the government causing trouble. Although political stability remains illusive, tourism has bounced back big time. November is always the height of the tourist season (and mountain climbing/trekking season), and there was nary a free room in all of Kathmandu.
Kathmandu, unlike new Delhi, did not seem vastly changed from what we remembered 20 years ago, except that numerous housing developments had been built on the outskirts of town; this was a result of the large numbers of people who had fled from the countryside to the city to escape the Maoist insurgency.
We were in Kathmandu during the Hindu festival of Diwali, the festival of lights. The tourist district of Thamel, where our Tibetan-run Potala Guest House was located, was crowded with tourists and celebrating locals. Nepal has Hindus and Buddhists, and both religions have so many special holidays together that the government had long ago decreed that the official work week would be six rather than five days long.
Among the events of the Diwali isthe Lakshmi Puja day when people prayto Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, for good fortune. In Nepal there are special days to honor a wide assortment of things.
On our arrival, we noticed many of the street dogs oddly seemed to have marigold flower necklaces around their necks. It turned out that the day before we arrived had been “Dog Puja” day when people honored and fed both pet dogs and stray dogs.
We also noticed that many vehicles, and even wheelbarrows, seemed to have a red ribbon or red string tied around some part. This was left over from the special Puja day for mechanical things, when you pray that your mechanical things do not break down. All of this praying and honoring is done with great energy and good humor by the Nepalese.
We toured all the usual sights, including Durbar Square and the Royal city of Bhaktapur, where dozens of wooden pagoda roofs on temples and palaces reminded us that it was a Nepalese architect who taught the Chinese the skill of making pagodas in the middle ages. It was especially wonderful to see the Great Buddhist Stupas of Swayambhunath and Boudhanath–the latter, especially, filled with Tibetan pilgrims circulambulating and spinning hundreds of prayer wheels.
There were a couple of interesting new sights that had been built since we had last been in Kathmandu, besides the new luxury Hyatt hotel built within sight of the big Stupa at Boudhanath. One was a new boutique “mall” of shops and restaurants built in a remodeled old Royal stables called the Baba Mahal.
Even neater was the newly renovated Kaiser Mahal “Garden of Dreams”, a tranquil and elegant garden and palace complex adjacent to the bustle of the Thamel tourist district. When we had last been in Kathmandu, this little Palace/Garden complex in a corner of downtown had been a derelict shambles. Now, with a grant from the Austrian government, it has been restored to its former grandeur. It houses both government offices and the wonderful “Garden of Dreams” restaurant. It was a great place to escape from the noisy and crowded downtown scene.
Next blog will start to talk about some of our shopping…and finding things for our store!