Don’t stay too much at Kathmandu, a friend warned me. That stuck in me for a while. And as I wander around Kathmandu’s crazy alleys, I can’t help but disagree with what my friend expressed.
After wandering around the crazy streets of Kathmandu, me and my buddy decided to check out the shrines and temples within the city. First stop was Kathmandu Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square which should not be confused with the other Durbar Squares (royal palace) around town.
Armed with a map given by the hotel, we rambled through the very enchanting alleys going to our first stop which is located at the heart of downtown Kathmandu. We were stopped at the Tourist Information Center and were asked to pay the entrance fee of 750 Rupees (US$ 7.5) each for a Day Pass. We didn’t see this coming for me and my buddy are, well, the best travel researchers (I wish). With heavy hearts, we retraced our steps back to a bench somewhere outside the square and did what we do best, people watching.
We were really on a tight budget and as we were weighing things, eat lunch or pay the entrance fee, we saw some locals passing through this narrow access going somewhere. It was quite intriguing so we checked out what’s the fuss and let ourselves passed through the same access. And much to our surprise we found ourselves in the middle of the Kathmandu Durbar Square. We froze for a while knowing that this is no legit.
We remained where we were and gazed at each other’s eyes. And then we remembered what a dear friend informed us, You’ll pass as locals so just look for the back entrances to the squares and pretend that it’s just a normal day for you guys.
I opposed that statement few months back (call me a law-abiding freak) but obviously, when confronted with the fact that we cannot sustain a month’s worth of backpacking with the money we have I considered what my friend said and carried on with our stroll. You could just imagine our distress every time we saw some guards roving around. Breaking bad eh?
So there we were, standing in the middle of a courtyard with the palaces and temples around us. We were surrounded with great architectures by Newars (the indigenous people of Kathmandu Valley) and were just in pure admiration of their craftsmanship. I could just imagine how grand this place was when the Nepalese monarch still resides here.
What’s more fascinating is that the shrines and temples around are still frequented by locals. We also got to check out a presentation by young folks at one of the courtyards. Important ceremonies, such as royal events (coronation of monarchs), still takes place at the Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square.
Lounging on some steps in one of the temples seemed to be the next best thing after our quick stroll. And then people watching again; there’s an old man reading a newspaper, some kids playing tag, a couple cozying up and tourists trying to get that perfect selfie shot. The people are truly the heart that gives that vibrant vibe to the square, it will surely feel eerie sans the fascinating crowd.
The plan was (yes, we’re planning!) to get to Pashupatinath Temple by walking. My buddy was so confident that we could reach the temple in an hour or so (according to his clever GPS tracker). I agreed with the “plan” thinking that it would be an easy 5km. walk. But no, it wasn’t.
Plotting our walking directions through GPS was tough so we constantly asked some help from the locals which is equally challenging. We had to deliberate whether to move on or go back and whatever. The uphill and downhill terrain also posed another problem.
|Kings of the road|
We finally reached the temple in about an hour. We slumped into a park near the temple and regrouped. A troop of monkeys surrounded us and although they looked so cute I didn’t dare to make friends with them. I just don’t have that power to connect with animals. But they posed no harm and were seemed to be having some lull time around.
We were exhausted from walking. I was so tired that I all I wanna do is sit around and forget about the temple (and the stroll around it). But then, I pushed myself to go on and just forget about my exhaustion. So we moved forward.
Looking back, the decision to walk instead of riding a bus or cab was the best option for us (that saved our dinner right there), it was actually rewarding especially after catching a glimpse of the Nepalese way of life. I was trying to compare it to the Philippines and in some way there are similarities. The simplicity of their life and the tenacity to move forward in spite of insufficiencies are some of which. I wasn’t frightened during the course for everyone has a ready smile when we greet them, Namaste!
Pashupatinath Home for the Elderly
Clueless on where to go, we headed straight to what seemed to be the way going to the temple. We then saw the Social Welfare Center’s Home for the Elderly, the only government-sponsored elderly’s home in Nepal. Established in 1882, this center in Pashupatinath has a total capacity of 230 homeless Nepalese citizens that are 65 years of age and above.
We went inside and greeted everyone our standard Namaste greetings and they graciously welcomed us inside. At that moment we felt like we’re transported back in time. The stillness of the place is the total opposite to the fast-paced life outside. It seemed like everything resisted the change that’s happening from the other side of the thick walls.
|It was serene and really quiet|
A perfect square courtyard was surrounded with elderly quarters. Several elderly women basking under the afternoon sun can be seen on a shrine platform in the center. Others were hemming some clothes and having their naptime. While some were just, well, lounging. They seemed to be quiet and didn’t speak that much with their chummies. The time stood still in this place.
Some might feel sad about this fact but I felt good after seeing the looks of contentment on their faces. And why not, they are at the foot of the most sacred Hindu shrine in Nepal and just near the holy Bagmati River where the ashes of the cremated dead bodies are thrown away to flow downstream, eventually, into the sacred Ganges River (Hindus believe that to be cremated after death releases them from the repeated birth and death cycle).
Dhanybad (Thank you), I gladly expressed my gratitude to everyone as we leave them behind. They may not be the cheery-all-smiles-hi-everyone type of persons but I appreciated the little gestures they made to welcome us in their dwelling place.
Moving on, we went further to Pashupatinath Temple and were confronted, again, with the dreaded entrance fee. We needed to shell out 1,000 Rupees (US$ 10) each to get a glimpse of Nepal’s most sacred Hindu shrine and the seat of Lord Pashupatinath, the national deity; decisions, decisions.
Admitting the fact that we didn’t have enough money to pay for the entrance fee, we just sat under a tree and accepted the defeat. As we were about to leave, a Nepalese guy went to us and asked, What country are you from, and then a glimmer of hope followed.
It may seem that this guy is in for some scam or something but his friendly nature was legit. He was asking if we’ve already been inside the temple and we explained to him our situation. He quite understood our dilemma and he offered some ways for us to get inside the temple, he was asking no money from us, by the way. He offered to get us in after the open hours, which was two hours ahead, we politely declined the idea. He also offered to help us ask a discount from the tourism center, again, we declined. He looked really upset on us not getting inside so he pointed a back entrance that is usually open for locals. We thanked him and went ahead to that direction with the intentions of just checking out the temple from the hill.
|The view of the temple from the hill|
We did get to the top of the hill and saw the temple from that standpoint. We went further and saw a path leading inside. And then we got in. It was a busy day and different ceremonies were happening simultaneously. Cremations are also being done on the Bagmati River. All of that and more are happening in this most sacred Hindu shrine in Nepal, we didn’t get to see any of those for the temples are strictly for Hindus only.
We headed to the exit gates and went to the bus station to catch a ride back to Asan area (15 Rupees/US$0.15 each).
The bus ride was so convenient that in no time we were back again at downtown Kathmandu. Our day has been rewarding in spite of the challenges and feats of going around the temples and shrines. I am not proud of sneaking inside these holy places and will not justify it by constantly telling everyone that we don’t have the money to spare. But it is the fact and we resigned every time we’re confronted with that situation.
The essence of this temple tales is the people of Kathmandu. Our experiences wouldn’t be the same without the kindness and help they extended to us. I also love the life and meaning they give to the temples and shrines. They accentuate the existence of these structures and give this vibrant soul that you’ll never feel if those places are empty. Kathmandu is beautiful, and the people, they’re just so lovely.