Thursday, April 26, 2012

Day Two: Thamel

Saturday, March 31.


The house.

My bedroom.
I am currently sitting in bed writing this with my headlamp because there is no power and I'm trying to hurry because in the last three days I've slept about eight hours - half of which were awful hours on the plane. But what a day! The first thing I noticed when we landed was the amazing smell. Earthy, spicy and a little bit hot and smokey.

"Show me your hockey faces!"
Jackie, teaching the boys to play hockey.
We were picked up at the airport and Maheswor's (from now on referred to affectionately as "M") youngest son, Soogum (almost four years old), was having a tantrum. But he still wanted to sit on my lap in the front seat and beat his small fists on my palms. M also drives a Toyota Corolla - same as us! Driving around the city is utter chaos. There are no lanes, signs or signals. Incessant honking, cars, motorbikes and pedestrians all vie for a spot on the road. That's not including stray dogs, chickens and cows who wander all over the city freely. Even with all that madness, seatbelts don't seem to be a all. Mine didn't even work, but that didn't stop me from habitually trying to click it together every time I got in the car. It's not against the law not to wear it and it seems acceptable to pile in as many people as possible into one vehicle.

Shanta on Kathmandu roads:

Guard dog, Jack.
Marble staircase.
Their home is very grand. It is gated with a lovely, stone courtyard, large columns out front and an incredible marble staircase that curls up three storeys. My bedroom is spacious and four large windows ensures plenty of light. To use my bathroom, I have to go outside onto the third floor balcony and then into a separate room. The washroom is typically Western, although there is no shower curtain across the tub - the water just goes wherever. Jackie is staying at the offices next door in a huge room that looks like the nicest hotel room you've ever seen. Her washroom is also modern, although there is no tub. There is just a shower head in the wall and you freely let the water spray all over the spacious bathroom.

The guesthouse.
Outside the house, in the courtyard, an elderly woman was working to build a guesthouse. The brick building rose out of pure dirt and rubble (which makes up most of the city). Jackie and I watched in horror as the frail woman carried baskets of bricks up an equally frail ladder made of bamboo, supporting the basket on her back with a strap around her forehead. Yep. We're not in Canada anymore, Toto.  

Bamboo ladder.
View from the offices.
After a light lunch of fruit, bread and juice, we headed to Thamel, a tourist district with lots of small shops. First, we picked up two of Jackie's friends who are about to leave on a trek and just happen to be in town at the same time. They laughed that they never seem to get together at home and here they were meeting in Nepal of all places! Saturday is the holy day in Nepal (instead of Sunday, like at home), so a lot of businesses were closed, but there were plenty open to satisfy us. Many of the people who run small shops here work all day, every day.

A typical Thamel side street.
I cannot describe Thamel. The stimulation is overwhelming. I shopped all afternoon, getting bargains and gifts for friends: prayer flags and strings of sandalwood prayer beads, singing bowls, postcards, a marble chess set and a topi (traditional Nepalese hat for older gentlemen) for Kevin, and a few trinkets for myself like a gorgeous embroidered tea cozy and soft fleece jacket (a very smart purchase as it turns out). I was told ahead of time that you are expected to bargain with the shopkeeps and that there are no advertised or set prices. If you don't haggle, they think they can take complete advantage of you and will triple their prices. It is also insulting to them if you don't bargain. We learned to offer half the price they named and went from there. Bargaining goes way out of my comfort zone, but I did my best and learned (to no surprise) that I am really terrible at it.

A backroom in Thamel.
Fabrics in Thamel.
We ate a small dinner in a cafe-like restaurant called the Yak Restaurant. Feeling grimy from exploring the district, I went to the washroom in the back to wash my hands and was grateful I didn't need to do was one of the infamous squat toilets I had heard so much about. A hole in the ground with a grimy looking plastic seat and some other foreign apparatuses nearby. Don't misjudge - I am not a princess when it comes to bodily functions...I will go anywhere and everywhere when I need to, preferably in nature somewhere. But there was no way in cold hell that I was squatting my naked butt over that hole. I used the also questionable bar soap at the dirty sink and tried to push away thoughts of disease and infection. I slunk back to the booth, tired and not even very hungry (we had already had three meals that day anyway, but felt we should eat at the proper, local time to get on schedule).

The Yak Restaurant.
Before our food even arrived, the power went out. There is an intentional mass outage over the whole city at least once a day to conserve energy, this being a poor country. This wouldn't be so bad, except you never really know when it's going to occur - could be 6 in the evening or it could be 2 in the morning. Many businesses use back-up generators. We shared our meals: korma, soup, tea and momos. Delicious!

All in all, a lovely day.

Need a ride?
  The taxi ride back from Thamel:

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