Tuesday 24th October
The British Embassy was the first port of call. Details of my planned itinerary were left here in case of an emergency. Then a taxi took me to Bodhnath, the largest stupa in Nepal and among the largest in the world. It is the religious centre for Nepal’s considerable population of Tibetans. There are several thriving monasteries and many small shops selling Tibetan artefacts. Prayer wheels line the mandala-shaped stupa base. These must be turned clockwise, the direction in which you should walk round the stupa. There were lots of souvenir shops, Tibetan restaurants and a few guest houses. The eyes, symbolic of Nepal, are the most striking feature of the stupa.
Next on the agenda, just a short walk away, was Pashupatinath. Beside the sacred Bagmati River, this is one of the most revered Hindu temples on the Indian subcontinent. Entry to the main temple is barred to non-Hindus. I saw a few sadhus, saffron-robed holy men, and snake charmers whose snakes looked half dead. The Bagmati is a holy river and Pashupatinath is a popular place to be cremated. Immediately in front of the temple, north of the footbridges, are some burning ghats. They are reserved for the cremation of royalty although you will see ritual bathing taking place in the river here. The four square burning ghats, just south of the bridges, are for the common people.
It was about midday when the local bus drove back into Kathmandu. I stopped at a chemist on the way back to KGH and bought some ciproflaxin tablets and Jeevan Jal rehydration sachets, as a precaution in case I get diarrhoea.
Part of the afternoon was spent at the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) office where other trekkers’ accounts of their treks in the Khumbu region made fascinating reading. The HRA was founded in 1973 and acts as a mountain rescue service. It was also set up to alert trekkers to the dangers of altitude sickness. A few tips were picked up about which teahouses to stay at and which ones to avoid. It was very interesting and I could have stayed longer had it not closed at 4 p.m.
Back at KGH I decided that my rucksack was too heavy and that I could do without a few items of clothing, my camera bag and other non-essentials. The excess baggage was stored away in a locker in the storeroom. There is a daily charge of 2 rupees so it will cost 38 rupees for the duration of the trek. Currently the exchange rate is approximately 85 rupees to the pound. This means that the total cost will be less than 50p, which is ridiculously cheap. A quick look at the International Herald Tribune revealed some good news. Manchester United had won 4-1 away at Chelsea.
There were several hours to kill before darkness fell so a foray was made to Swayambhunath on the other side of the river. I took the wrong path to the temple and ended up walking across fields used for farming. A Nepalese family invited me over to join them for a drink. They offered me their local brew. I declined because I have heard about tourists getting robbed after drinking drugged concoctions. A bottle of coke was accepted instead. Before long I was on my way again after being pointed in the right direction to the temple.
The Buddhist temple of Swayambhunath, situated on the top of a hill west of the city, is among the most popular and instantly recognisable symbols of Nepal. It is also known as the ‘monkey temple’ after the large tribe of monkeys that guard the hill and amuse visitors. At the foot of the steep stairway are several yellow and red seated Buddha figures. On top of the hill is a soaring central stupa. It is topped by a gold-coloured square block from which the watchful eyes of the Buddha gaze across the valley in each direction.
From the top of the stupa there are superb panoramic views across Kathmandu. Unfortunately darkness had set in so there wasn’t an opportunity to take any photos. Back in Thamel I had dinner at the Rum Doodle Doo again. Afterwards I looked round Pilgrims Bookshop for a book to take on my trek, and settled for ‘Trekking in the Everest Region‘ by Jamie McGuiness. This had been recommended by many trekkers in the HRA advice books.
The streets outside were decked with flags and aglow with light. Groups of children could be seen going from house to house singing and dancing. Outside each house was a whole array of lit candles to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. At KGH reception there was some sort of sweet cake that was available to everyone. Fireworks could be heard going off outside. It certainly is a very colourful occasion.
The receptionist, Dhana, told me that an English woman had phoned for me earlier but didn’t know who. Thinking that Mum might have phoned I asked someone to phone home for me. My message was that I was OK and having a good time in Nepal. Mum and Dad were rather surprised to hear from me and had no messages other than to send me their love. It must have been Marysia who phoned. Before tucking in for the night I packed my rucksack and made sure that I had everything for my trek to Everest.