Trekking in Nepal – Everest Trek Schedule 19

Sunday 12th November
This morning I was up at 6 a.m. and had breakfast at Le Bistro. It was 8.15 a.m. when I boarded a minibus at Rani Pokhri for Bhaktapur.

Bhaktapur is the third major town of the valley after Patan and Kathmandu, and in many ways is the most medieval. There is a distinctly timeless air to the place. Much of the town’s great architecture dates back to the 17th century. It is basically a pedestrian’s city and much better for it. Minibuses and taxis stop at the western edge of town. We arrived at the minibus drop off point at 8.45 a.m. From there it was a short walk, past an open field and the Siddha Pokhari tank, to Bhaktapur. For the next few hours I followed the walking tour that is illustrated in the Lonely Planet guide.

It cost 50 rupees to get into Bhaktapur. Entry is through a gate guarded by two large stone lions. This leads into the east end of Durbar Square. There are a number of less significant temples at the opposite end. One of the more impressive sights is King Bhupatindra Malla’s Column, where the king sits with folded arms studying the entrance gate to his palace. This is the magnificent Golden Gate, or Sun Dhoka, the entrance to the 55 Window Palace that adjoins the art gallery. The Golden Gate is generally agreed to be the single most important piece of art in the whole valley. It opens into the inner courtyard of the palace. A military guard ensures that you don’t try and enter the courtyard, but you are able to peer in from the doorway.

A short street, lined with tourist shops, leads downhill from Pashupatinath Temple in Durbar Square to the second great square of Bhaktapur, the Taumadhi Tole. This is home to the highest temple in the valley, Nyatapola Temple, and also Caf� Nyatapola whose balconies provide a great view over the square. At the latter I had a pot of tea and sat on the top balcony watching the world go by. It was very pleasant and peaceful.

The stairway leading up to Nyatapola Temple, five storeys high, is flanked by guardian figures at each plinth level. The bottom plinth has two legendary wrestlers said to have the strength of ten normal men. On the plinth above are 2 elephants, 2 lions, 2 griffins and finally 2 goddesses. Each figure is said to be ten times stronger than the figure on the level below. Presiding over all of them, but hidden away inside the temple, is the mysterious Tantric goddess, Siddhi Lakshmi, to whom the temple is dedicated.

A curving main road runs through Bhaktapur from Taumadhi Tole to Tachupal Tole, the old centre of town. The first stretch of the street is a busy shopping thoroughfare that constantly hums with activity. It sells everything from brass pots to video cassettes. Nearby, the Woodcarving Museum has some fine examples that Bhaktapur and the Kathmandu Valley are famous for. A wooden Buddha statue and a wooden owl were bought from one of the shops in the neighbourhood. Not long after making my purchases a Nepalese guy approached me. He had realised that I was deaf, and had some grasp of American Sign Language. We had an interesting conversation!

Bhaktapur is a fascinating town to wander in, and the lack of traffic makes walking a real pleasure. A circular walk takes you by a number of interesting temples and shrines. But in Bhaktapur, it’s simply observing the timeless and seemingly unchanging rituals of life that is most interesting. You see grain laid out to dry in the sun, people collecting water or washing under the communal taps, dyed yarns hung out to dry, children’s games, fascinating shops, potters at work or women pounding grain. There is plenty to see in its medieval atmosphere.

At 1 p.m. I returned to the main square and shopped around for a thangka. After some bartering, I got the thangka I wanted. It will make a good present for Mum and Dad. A good thangka is the product of many hours of painstaking work. It is like a very intricate and detailed painting all done by hand. A cotton canvas is first stretched across a frame, gessoed and burnished to a smooth surface that will take the finest detail. The desired design is next drawn or traced in pencil using a grid system and precise proportions. There is little room for deviation from the accepted style, for a thangka is an expression of religious truths.

There was time for a whirlwind tour of the art gallery before catching the minibus back to Kathmandu. The bus fare was a mere four rupees, about five pence! On my return I reconfirmed my flight home and checked that there was no change in schedule. Kailash Bookshop was in the vicinity but the prices of the books are steeper than those at Pilgrims.

On the way back to Thamel, a message was left at the British Embassy informing them of my safe return from the trek. It was time for lunch and where better to go than Pumpernickels. Kathmandu restaurants attempt an amazing variety of international cuisine – the choice of restaurants is so varied. After long weeks trekking in Nepal, most travellers find Kathmandu a culinary paradise. Along Thamel’s stretch of restaurants’ lies the Pumpernickel Bakery where you can buy freshly baked bread. The bakery counter offers brown bread, rolls, cinnamon rolls and other goodies. There were many tempting items on offer but a tuna salad roll and a jam doughnut were sufficient.

After lunch a bus ticket for Pokhara was purchased from Avi’s Tours across the road. The bus leaves tomorrow morning, with the return journey on Thursday. At Pilgrims I bought some stamps and a roll of camera film. Back at the Holy Lodge I showered and changed.

It was about 5 p.m. when I met up with the others at Helena’s. There is a great selection of cakes, and of course I had to have a piece of carrot cake! Paulo was almost unrecognisable without his beard, a complete contrast to his appearance on the trek. We looked at Paul’s photos of the trek that were taken with his automatic camera. They were quite good. Jill turned up and we hugged each other. Jill also looked different without her glasses and her hair down. It was funny seeing everyone all clean and spruced up.

After about an hour, we went over to the Acme Guest House and sat in the garden chatting away while supping beer. A bottle of Tuborg costs 60 rupees in Kathmandu, a third of the price in the Khumbu. Marci and Martin both turned up, which meant everybody except Peter, who is still in Namche, was here.

I learnt that Paulo and Marci had been fortunate enough to get on the last flight out of Lukla yesterday. Beth had not been so lucky. There had been no flights today as a result of the avalanches so she was still stuck in Lukla. Yesterday 13 Japanese trekkers out of a party of 26 were buried alive in an avalanche in the Gokyo Lakes region around 1 p.m. We had been in the area only a week ago, and you think there but for the grace of God it could have been us.

Dinner was eaten at Pizza Hut. It is no relation to the real one, but it serves large, crisp and tasty pizzas. A tasty cheese, mushroom and green pepper pizza was devoured within a matter of minutes.

The gang all exchanged addresses. Tomorrow everyone is meeting up again to look at Paulo’s photos. By that time I will be on my way to Pokhara. Paulo says that I can view them on my return.

The others have opted out of the rafting trip because the itinerary has been altered, and they needed a rest after the physical exertions of the trek. Jill, Martin and I went back to Martin’s room for a few more beers while he played the guitar. Apparently he is a natural from what the others tell me.

Then it was on to a restaurant for some more food. I had some chocolate cake. We reconvened with the others at Helena’s. It was getting late, and I have an early start tomorrow, so I said my goodbyes. Both Jill and Marci gave me a big hug, and said that if I am ever in the States to call in on them. They are now staying at the Deutsche House, not the Dumaru due to an incident with Jill and one of the staff. Jill had stormed out when she discovered, while she was getting changed, that the proprietor was a peeping tom. Apparently he had drilled a hole in the floor of his room through to the ceiling of the room below, for his own pleasure – the dirty old sod! Jill had a real go at him in front of his wife – I bet she gave him merry hell as well! I was dog tired when I got to bed at 11 p.m.