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Kathmandu - 2

The next day I met Nihoj and his driver again. We had three objectives to visit - Patan Durbar Square, Nagarkot, and Bhaktapur. The first of these was to the south of Kathmandu city. Before Nepal was unified in the 1700s, Patan was a city state and had its own King and his temples. It is now part of the same conurbation as KTM, and is across the river from the main city. Think Buda and Pest as a closer example.  Its Durbar square is far more impressive than KTM's and hasn't suffered the same earthquake damage. There are some truly stunning buildings there, including the Golden Temple which sits in its own inner courtyard. It is another Hindu shrine and the full pantheon of its gods are there in stone, wood and metal carvings. I have so many pictures, I'd love to show them but it was one of these places that you have to visit to appreciate.


Golden Temple

A highlight for me was finding a relic shop that sold temple antiquities and there were four Tibetan dungs on sale. On the off chance that you don't know what one is, its a musical instrument used by Bhuddist monks, and is (musically) a wooden bass straight bugle. It stands about three feet high, and then telescopes out in segments to be over ten feet long, and sounds a bit like an alpenhorn. I was introduced to one last year at Biggar Little Festival when a touring act called "Travelling by Tuba" performed and the guys had a variety of bass air instruments including a dung. I never thought I'd see, let alone get a chance to play one again.  [Advert break - Biggar Little Festival is on in mid-October - so if you are looking for something interesting to do, visit the historic burgh and catch some culture. Always something for everyone!].


Then we hit the road east out of Kathmandu to go 30 odd miles to Nagarkot. The attraction  here was to have a drive in the country, see a bit of how the locals live and work, and to end up at a hilltop viewpoint where the high Himalayan peaks can be seen - on a good day. Being the rainy season, I had no expectation of a great view, so this part of the plan was always under review with an alternative destination if the weather closed in. I was keen to get some clean mountain air as although KTM is situated at about 5,000 feet above sea level, it is so far south and inland that it was quite hot and humid. Not as hot as Saudi mind you, but I had hoped it would be cooler. We got to Nagarkot via a pleasant country road, although the state of the pavoir was such that it was a minor miracle that the springs, shock absorbers and tyres were all intact. It was even worse than South Lanarkshire's country roads in the months following the big freezes of 2010, and that's saying something. But Nepal isn't an affluent country and you have to  take things as you find them. We arrived at Nagarkot about 13.00 and there was a car park about 200 feet below the hilltop viewpoint. The final climb on foot was via an easy path, but I could feel that the air was thinner and I my breathing quickened. From the top there was a lovely view, but with cloud cover the top peaks were not visible. Mount Everest was to the north east, and invisible. Next time.......  But I was satisfied with the cool air and we had lunch in a cafe that existed to serve visitors like myself. Hot spicy aloo potatos and ham (ham! - long time no see) with greenery tasted so good, along with fresh mountain leaf tea. Sometimes I am so easy to please.


The drive onto Bhaktapur took us through paddyfields and other terraced crop fields, and there were people working by hand in  them. Nihoj explained over 70% of Nepalese are subsistence farmers. It makes me feel that we are so lucky and privileged in the west. But the Nepalese seem to be an open, happy people, so should we measure wealth by what we have? I think not. Bhaktapur is another former city-state with royal palace and temples. I was half expecting to get temple-fatigue, but again there were so many different sights and sounds to see here. This town was also a centre for ceramics, and there were all sorts of  pottery goods on sale. One potter was at his wheel, and challenged me to name anything that was circular and he could make it. I believed him, but didn't insist on a curling stone. Incidentally despite its height and cool winter climate Nepal isn't a curling nation, and there aren't even any ice rinks for skaters. I could not have bought pottery anyway as I was running low on money at this point, having stupidly neglected to tell my UK bank that I was going to Nepal, and they stopped my cards. Lesson learned.



Back in Kathmandu I had a quiet evening near the hotel and found a pizzeria and had a comforting meal there, before an early night as I was up early on Saturday to return to Saudi. Next morning it was off the the airport for the flight back via Oman. The airport at KTM is in keeping with the city - basic but friendly and efficient. The take off was back the same way as the incoming flight had arrived; due to the mountains it's a one road in and out as far as flight paths go. This limits landing slots of course but there isn't the demand yet for more. Back in the compound at Riyadh I was speaking with some of the flight crews who are billeted here, and learned that KTM is one of the few airports where pilots need a special competency and simulator training before they are permitted to fly there. 

So, what did I think of Nepal? Firstly all the people I came in contact wth were all smiling and helpful and willing to give me time. The scenery is amazing, but the infrastructure is third world in parts. It has a long road to travel to recover from the earthquake and recent political issues. There is political pressure from China which is trying to extend its influence towards India. But this probably doesen't matter to the average man in the field, he will be happy as long as his crops and animals thrive. The country depends on tourism for its foreign exchange and relations, and numbers are down just now. I do hope that that it recovers quickly as it's a fascinating place. Would I go back? Yes, definitely, but I would want more time to see different areas of the country. And I would avoid the rainy season. 






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