Nepal Part Two: Full Day Kathmandu
My first day in any destination I like to take a full day tour of the city to see the most popular sites. From there, I ask the guide questions about tourist traps vs. best places to visit. My tour guide on this day was NM (He asked to be named only by his initials, as he could get in trouble with his affiliated tour company for talking with me outside of the tour). Of all the tour guides I have had, NM is one of my favorites. He was very knowledgeable and articulate. He was also very blunt in his recommendations. I liked him so much I booked him for the second day.
The day tour of Kathmandu started at Durbar Square. Durbar means palace. This is one of the many Unesco world heritage sites in Nepal. It was significantly damaged by the earthquake that hit Nepal in 2015. Rebuilding is currently in process, and it is still fantastic. Durbar Square is an excellent cultural introduction to Kathmandu. I was surrounded by polite locals selling handicrafts and Hindu shrines. NM explained the diversity of Nepal to me during our tour. He told me that the majority of the people are Hindu while there is also a strong Buddhist population. He proudly pointed out to me that some sites are sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists. Instead of fighting over who gets the claim the site the two religions share and worship their respective ways side by side.
As we walked through Durbar square, NM brought me to the home of the Kumari. The Kumari is believed by Hindus to be a living manifestation of one of the female Goddesses. At the time of my visit, the Kumari was three years old. We came to her home, and there stood a group of people hoping to see her. She is sometimes brought to the window to wave at the onlookers. It is considered lucky to see the Kumari. We waited outside the window, and she was eventually brought out by her caretaker and waved to us. Pictures of the Kumari are strictly forbidden. I am a firm believer, if you want to visit another culture you need to be respectful. The Kumari was quickly rushed back in as disrespectful tourists (ignoring the many signs) busted out their cameras to snap a picture. (I took photos of the outside of her home, which is allowed.)
After Durbar Square we went on to Swayambhunath temple, also called the Monkey Temple. This is a Buddhist stupa which was built around 500 AD and is considered one of the oldest religious sites in Nepal. As the name implies, monkeys run free throughout this area. We were told to keep our packages zipped in our backpacks as the monkeys are sneaky and will steal them out of our hands.
On-site is an art school where many local artists learn traditional and modern art alike. Here I picked up my painting from Nepal. Every country I try to find a local artist and a painting to take home.
After the Monkey Temple, we went to Boudhanath, one of the largest stupas in Nepal. It was stunning. I kept looking at the building faces and quickly figured out this is where Disneyworld modeled its Animal Kingdom. We ate at a restaurant called Golden Eyes. I got the Thali meal. It was a whopping $8.40. Which is an expensive meal by Nepal standards. It was good, but I felt like I was in a tourist trap restaurant. The plus side of the restaurant was, it is rooftop, and the view is stunning! Both stupas were fantastic sites. This stupa does have better shopping and in my opinion is more beautiful. The stupa at monkey temple is cooler because it has the monkeys.
On our way from Boudhanath, we stopped at a sacred Hindu site called Pashupatinath Temple located on the Bagmati river. NM told me he felt blessed to be born in Nepal because one day he would be cremated and his remains put into this sacred river. He went on to tell me more about his beliefs and told me about astrology. A primary reason I travel is to learn. I love learning about other cultures, religions, and beliefs. I know what I believe, and I am comfortable in my belief system. NM looked at me and asked point blank, “Do you believe in astrology.” I smiled and told him, “I don’t believe in astrology, but I respect your beliefs and would like to learn more.” He told me before he was married he saw a well-respected astrologer named Thaman Singh Tamang. I told him I would indulge my curiosity.
We dropped off the other man who joined in the tour and NM walked with me to see Thaman. Coincidentally Thaman was only a few blocks from my hotel. Thaman greeted me cheerfully. I noticed pictures of various communist leaders on his wall. He told me that he supported Nepal’s Communist party while NM supported their Democratic party. I listened as they told me about the upcoming presidential election and their different stances. The two men with such different viewpoints respected one another and maintained a calm, rational discussion.
Thaman asked me my birth location, birthdate and the exact time of my birth. I was prepped for general questions (I was even prepped in case perhaps NM told Thaman about me for Thaman to pretend to know things I hadn’t told him. I do not believe this occurred). I was quiet, he instantly looked at my chart, and I will never forget his first words, “You are close to your daughter but not your mother.” I smiled. He was correct. I had not mentioned anything about my distance from my mother to NM. Thaman went on to say, “I am confused. You are clearly meant to be a writer (I told NM I was a blogger working on my first novel), but you have so much science in your background (I had not told NM that I studied Chemical Engineering for three years before switching to Biochemistry and previously worked in Pharmaceutical Consulting.) He went on to say many other things that were eerily accurate. He told me I had a strong personality and a strong character.
He then went on to read my daughters chart, “She is very strong.”
“As strong as me?”
“Stronger,” He said with a smile.
He asked me if I was a believer in astrology after our encounter. I told him, I was still not a believer in the traditional sense, but I did have a greater respect for the practice. I stayed for several hours and talked to Thaman about his background and life in Nepal. He is an amazing man, and I still follow him on Facebook. If you are interested in having him read your astrological chart his English is great, he is a respected astrologer who learned from his father. firstname.lastname@example.org (he takes PayPal).
My first day in Nepal was an awesome day in which I met two people I will hopefully keep in contact with for the rest of my life. I collected memories and friendships that day.