When someone says “Katmandu,” an exotic chime resonates in my mind—right up there with Timbuktu, Abu Dhabi, Tasmania. I would like to be as positive as I can when writing about traveling the world, and there are many great words you can write to describe Katmandu. These are not two of those words: “clean air.” Perhaps the most-used series of words are “wear a mask over your mouth and nose” and “pollution.” Because Katmandu lies in a valley surrounded by very high mountains—the highest in the world—the smog has nowhere to go, so it simply hovers over the city as a thick brew of toxic soup.
If we glide toward the more positive side of things, I can say this: the traffic is marvelously animated and robust. Exhaust fumes syphon into the sky and create stunning red sunsets in your photographs, no Photoshop required. Those high-quality, antique singing bowls used in Buddhist meditation, which you hear on YouTube or in your yoga classes, are available at a fraction of the cost you would pay in your home town (discounting the cost of airfare and hotels). You can purchase inexpensive knock-offs of all your favorite brands of camping gear and clothing (wait…is that positive or negative? Everything is relative, I guess). And the streets are bustling with sights you may see nowhere else.
“Pokhara” is another word evoking an exotic ring, and any number of positive aspects to remark about. Pokhara is a small village nestling against the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains and offers great views of several of the high peaks in the Annapurna Range. The air is cleaner in Pokhara. You can swim (if you’re a polar bear) or paddle around in a boat (if you’re a sane human) in the Phewa Tal and snap photos of the snow-capped mountain peaks, using your boat and the lake as your foreground. Guidebooks say Pokhara is the second-most-popular destination after Katmandu. Still, you can wander off and find solitude.
After spending a month in Pokhara, and doing nothing but breathing the crisp air, and standing on my head or sitting in half-lotus position while contemplating the world at an elevation of 884 meters (almost 3000 feet), I was running out of time, so I bought a plane ticket from Pokhara back to Katmandu on—get this—Buddha Air. They fly small, 19-seater, Beechcraft airplanes, supposedly very safe for high altitude landing and take-off.
Earlier in the trip, I had stayed in Katmandu at the very popular, and centrally located, Katmandu Guest House, but decided to stay this time in a less congested, less hectic, perhaps cleaner part of town. Bhaktapur is a traffic-free area of Katmandu and is a traditionally-intact World Heritage Site, with cobblestone streets heavily peppered with temples, shrines, and monasteries around every corner. Many of the hand-crafted, hand-carved wooden buildings date back to the mid-1600’s. Since no cars are allowed inside this area of town, you don’t need a mask over your nose here. However, because we live in the real world of human beings, not everything can be positive—the locals charge foreigners a fairly hefty fee merely to walk into Bhaktapur (1100 rupees, or 11 bucks American). The finely-tuned mechanism of capitalism and globalization at work here. But if cultural ambiance and a paradigm shift on a time machine is what you’re looking for, you might find it difficult to spend your money on anything much better. If you’re looking for beer, tapas and discos, you might want to try Amsterdam.
I was running low on travel funds, so I opted for a more “humble” hotel, the Sunny Guest House, located off Durbar Square, and with a not-quite-exquisite partial view of Bhairabnath Temple, and a rather nice roof-top view of other houses, rooftops and the Himalaya peaks far off at the horizon.
On my last day in Nepal, I wandered into the streets to search for the Shiva Temple, also called the “Erotic Elephants” temple. I wanted to photograph it because I’d heard there were statues of various animals copulating, including two elephants utilizing the missionary position. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but perhaps this desire was caused by staying at that elevation for so long, or too many temple visits, or spinning too many prayer wheels. I have no excuse beyond what George Mallory once said when asked why he wanted to climb Everest: “Because it’s there.” Along with my innate curiosity. And wouldn’t any respectable traveler try to see as much of another culture as he could, no matter his personal preference in art, and decency, and taste?
I took a rather circuitous route around town taking photographs, then wandered into Durbar Square. In one of the atavistic buildings just opposite from the Dattatraya Temple, I noticed a young woman sitting in a window with no glass in it, and the adjoining window decorated with lights, apparently for Dewali, Hinduism’s important and colorful Festival of Lights. The girl, apparently lost in thought, was resting her head on one arm that lay along a protective wooden bar in the window. She did not move the whole time I watched and photographed her. She did not appear to see me, or if she did, she did not care to bother about me or acknowledge me. I felt a desire to ask her a couple of questions. But that was out of the question. So I photographed her and wandered on toward the cultural oddity of two promiscuous elephants.
The photograph of the girl in the window is part of this week’s Monochrome Madness hosted by Leanne Cole’s marvelous site. You can join in or check out other photographers here.
Check out the Word a Week Photo challenge. This week’s theme is “frame.” See photos of others at this wonderful and interesting site: A Word in your ear