Monday 5 January 2015

Day 202: Bhodinath and Bhaktapur - The former Kathmandu?

With a day to spare before our friend Chris headed home, it was time for some sightseeing in the Kathmandu Valley.  First we headed to Bodhinath, a giant stupa encircled by gift shops and a few temples.  Synaesthesia returned.  White and gold and the cry of gift sellers and Buddhist chanting.  Bare feet on floorboards inside the temples.  Saffron robes.

After circling the stupa (clockwise, of course) we bought momos in a rooftop restaurant and watched the Bodhinath stupa being cleaned.  At first I was disappointed; the cleaners merely climbed the steps to a lofty vantage point then chucked buckets of whitewash over the stupa below.

Decorating the stupa
"They'll never get an even finish that way," I criticised, as though I knew anything about cleaning twenty-five metre high stupas.  "They need to get some ropes out and abseil down to paint it by hand."  We thought about the ropes we would be taking on our next trek to safeguard glacier travel and fantasised about our fitness to abseil Bodhinath stupa.  But of course our come-uppance was on its way.  The stupa was not simply having its face cleaned; it was being decorated for a festival.  The deplorably uneven whitewash was designed to create a pattern on its surface, while additional prayer flags were hung all around it.  This dawned on us gradually.  When the knowledge became a certainty, it was time to be on our sheepish way.

Next we drove to Bhaktapur, a city thirteen kilometres outside Kathmandu.  Its wooden roofs and glut of temples resembled those in Kathmandu's Durbar Square and we wandered around, wondering which way to point our cameras.  But we enjoyed ourselves the most outside the main temple-zone.

Temples and statues of Bhaktapur
Statues in Bhaktapur
To the south lay the pottery square, where lines of earthenware bowls competed for space with piles of grain.  As in Dolpo and Tibet, the threshing season displaces all else.  Women lifted straw bowls full of grains and shook them, to separate the wheat from the chaff, while we looked on.  Then we browsed pottery stalls where a friendly potter demonstrated his ability to make an egg cup on his wheel in less then twenty seconds with his eyes closed.  He invited Guy to have a go.  Despite having his eyes open, and taking a great deal longer than twenty seconds, Guy's first effort was not a success, but he persevered and made a passable second egg cup.  We parted from the potter with cheery words (it is good to shop from a Nepali who can stray into English humour) and with gifts of clay tortoises in our pockets.

Sleepy Bhaktapur
From here we wandered through street after street of brick houses, wooden roofs and wooden window frames, marvelling at the difference from Kathmandu.  Only a dozen kilometres down the road, we had entered a much more relaxed world.  There were shops but no hassle, photogenic buildings but no touts.  It was a wonderful place for photographing portraits.  Elderly couples sat in doorways reading the paper; groups of men played cards in the street; Guy sat down to watch and learn the rules, and nobody objected.  A couple of children adopted us and walked us well on our way to the car park after an enjoyable stroll around the town.  Perhaps Bhaktapur resembles Kathmandu as it once was, before it gave birth to the tourist hub of Thamel?  It is a whole city full of traditional architecture, of Durbar squares; it is also a place of equanimity, a more placid Kathmandu.  Never has Thamel felt noisier than when we returned for a farewell meal.

Tibetan horn in use at Bodhinath
Pilgrim at Bodhinath 
Dynamic prayer wheel
Potter square, Bhaktapur
I could make one with my eye's closed! 
Goats exuding the generally relaxed atmosphere of Bhaktapur 
The streets of Bhaktapur
Bronze statue guarding a house in Bhaktapur 
Time for Badminton
Small shrine in a back garden
Beautiful carvings exist on many of the buildings
Sleepy rural Bhaktapur 
It's harvest time in Bhaktapur

No comments:

Post a Comment