Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sightseeing in Kathmandu

Monday, Jan 17, 3;02 am

I’m in a travel time warp... My days and nights are still askew from the 50-some hour Cleveland-to-Kathmandu trip (complete with a 3 1/2 hr layover in Chicago and 16-hour layover/delayed flight in Abu Dhabi)

I’m in Kathmandu right now taking advantage of what may well be the last access to wireless internet for awhile. I leave at 7 am this morning for Bhairahawa (near the Indian border; where I volunteered with the deaf/abused artists last year) which tends to be lacking in electricity (not to mention internet)

I’m staying at the Esther Benjamin’s Trust office in Kathmandu with Megan (a staffer) and Naomi (a volunteer). Arrived Saturday evening and spent Sunday hoofing for miles around the city with Megan, climbing an historic tower, visiting a retro palace and eating delicious Israeli food.

Bhimsen Tower is a modern-day stairmaster that was built in 1825 AD by the then-queen to make important announcements to the citizenry. I’m not really clear how these messages were broadcast as the tower’s circular platform is nearly 200 feet (or 213 steps!) above ground zero (not to mention that the original tower was even higher than the current 1936 edition, which is a replacement built after an earthquake tumbled its predecessor).

I figured the 300 rs entry fee (about $4.50) was well worth the free workout. By the time I made it up the 213 steps, I had stripped my coat, sweater and scarf, was dripping sweat, and huffing and puffing... nice workout! From the circular platform, the city of Kathmandu’s cacophony of roofs and traffic-clogged roads crawled away until disappearing into the low-lying smog. The view was terrific and the trip DOWN the steps was heaven.

Next stop (following a miles-long trek through people packed streets... dodging careening cars and homicidal motorcycles at every crossing) was Nepal’s Palace Museum -- a retro wonder where the royal family was massacred in 2001.

The Crown Prince at the time got in a tiff with his family over their refusal to allow him to marry the princess of his dreams and ran amok, staging a Shakespearian palace massacre. In the palace with an automatic assault rifle, the enraged and drunken Prince gunned down his King and Queen parents, his brother and six other relatives and wounded five before committing suicide.

Of course, you’d never have known these facts from your visit to the Palace Museum. (google Nepal Palace Massacre for full gory accounts of the murderous rampage that many still think is a conspiracy) You’d most likely conclude that the Prince was simply a victim of bad decor.

The Palace is a retro kitsch wonderland. The ‘50s furnishings SHOULD be in a museum, but I don’t really think they’re getting the appreciation they are due in the
Palace display. The massacre happened in 2001, but much of the palace is frozen in Fifties. Knick-knack shelves straight out of every grandmother’s living room are jam packed with Precious Moment figurines and glitzy gifts from countries around the world. (A “crystal” paperweight from then-New York Mayor Koch is featured on one crowded shelf.) The bookshelves are stocked with Agatha Christy mysteries, the Encyclopedia Brittanica, and Book-of-the-Month Club specials. The low-slung chairs, formica-clad tables and tasseled lamps are retro gold. Truly a must-see for kitsch-loving tourists.

And then, mixed in with the kitsch, were mounted rhino heads, crocodile skins with red velvet trim, fantasmic plaster columns adorned with Hindi Gods and Goddesses, and gigantic paintings of Nepal’s dead kings (they’ve gone through A LOT of kings!) One of my favorite details were the numerous photos and paintings that adorned the wall -- hung at 8 feet or higher so it was impossible to see them in any detail!) I’d include some photos of my favorite Palace details, but you’re not allowed to take pictures in the Palace and they missed the boat by not having a gift shop featuring the goods -- and massacre -- in books and postcards.) Even so, the visit was well worth the 500 rs (about $7).

We worked up an appetite in the Palace, so hiked a couple miles to Thamel (the shopping/touristy/restaurant district) and the OR 2K Cafe, an Israeli vegetarian restaurant that Megan recommended. The zucchini pie was absolutely delicious! Zucchini, onion, mushrooms, cheese, spices and sauce that I can’t quite pinpoint...baked to perfection! A vegetable salad and ginger-lemon-honey tea rounded out my perfect meal. (I’m pigging out now in preparation for the twice-daily dal bhat that awaits me in Bhairahawa!)

An hour-long walk home capped off our aerobic day and I was in bed by 8 pm (and thus up now at 3 am). Going to go enjoy my maybe-last hot shower for awhile and get ready for the harrowing 8-hour microbus ride south.

Over and out of town ... for now.

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