October 10, 2009: The Road to Durbar Square

The charm of Nepal has begun to reveal itself. After a great night of rest, I awoke with a smile in my heart. I meditate for a while and then emerge into the ever-bustling mayhem of Thamel looking for a breakfast joint. A handsome Nepali greaser quickly approaches me, “Namaste, how are you, I am fine, where do you come from?” I hesitate to respond, but he’s so damn cute and seems sincere, and beside — what could he possibly want? I think to myself, how do all these people make money and why do they waste so much time with me? Most of the time I am fearing for my life and dodging obstacles, hardly listening to a word they are saying. But they remain persistent and follow me around like a puppy dog thinking perhaps they’ll change my mind and I’ll say, “Ok , actually I am ready to book a trek to Everest, take me to your office and let’s do some business.”

These questionable characters, however, are usually very kind and helpful. He asks me what I am looking for, and when I say breakfast, he leads me down the road to a great little cafe named Pumpernickel Bakery. This place is nice. Catering to foreigners, it’s civilized, clean, they offer bakery products, eggs, and coffee– very nice. 

Seated beside the garden, I am enjoying my delicious cappucino, watching the rotating clientele of internationals that come and go. So many pretty women…Israelis, Dutch, Swedish, Poles, Canadians…I admire their beauty and for a moment feel a bit lonely. Especially when I see a pretty woman lean over and giver her boyfriend the most beautiful ‘I love you’ kiss.

I’m busy planning my strategy for the day. The sunlight is painting the walls of this peaceful bakery and along comes a kind-looking older woman. Her name is Susan. I invite her to join me and she pulls up a chair. I explain that I’m a bit overwhelmed and wondering how to spend my time. With a big smile and heart full of compassion she responds to each statement in a thick Australian accent “yeaasss”. I like her instantly. She pulls out a business card, hands it to me, and tells me to contact her. She’s lived and worked here for 13 years and knows a great pianist who can connect me to musicians. When I express my concerns about my safety she offers a nugget of wisdom and says, “You shouldn’t think like that, because then it will happen to you.” I’d love to talk longer with her, but she is meeting two “volunteers”, and they have just arrived.

I set out on a walking tour south of Thamel to Durbar Square, the Old Town. Every step along the way is a photo opportunity. Sights and sounds I could never imagine. I’m snapping away. Everywhere I look there are Buddhist temples and Hindu shrines that are hundreds of years old, architecture so ancient I feel like I’m in a time warp. Along the way I see a man shaving the scales off a a pile of fish with blood and guts scattered around him. Another man is hauling a massive block of stuff upon his back aided by a strap around his forehead . A yellow-robed sadhu (wondering holy man) sitting on the side of the road  appears to be about a thousand years old. Meanwhile, there is the persistent introduction of smiling gentlemen who want to be my guide and ask me the same questions. Several sad-looking women carrying their forlorn babies approach me with an empty bottle asking for milk money.

Where I go really doesn’t matter. Any which road I travel is lined with historic architecture and incredibly crowded streets packed with vendors, all selling the exact same products. Astonishingly though, they all have clientele sifting over their goods and exchanging money. 

Eventually guided by a compass and the Lonely Planet guide I arrive at Durbar Square. It is totally amazing! 15th century stupas, temples, shrines, and holy structures surround me. It’s a living museum here at Durbar Square and it’s also a lively social scene. Thousands of people are gathered all around and up on the platforms elevated high above the square. You see guys huddled together like lovers enjoying each other’s company, like best of friends. (Mind you, they are not gay, this is just a common Nepali expression of love and friendship). Many are paying respects to Hindu gods. A pack of giggly young school girls in uniform are walking down the road with linked arms. All these people seem so genuinely happy and their smiles reveal a disregard for the chaotic reality of over-population.  It strikes me that this scene has probably been occurring at this square for the past several centuries. The only difference is the automobiles which are honking incessantly and edging persistently through the mad throngs of pedestrians all around the square.

Tonight, I am sitting in a bar called “New Orleans”, writing in my journal by candlelight. I’ve been loitering for a while, taking advantage of the free wifi. But now my computer battery has died, my beer is empty, and I will go. Goodnight.

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