Durbar Square

Kathmandu Travel Blog

 › entry 5 of 17 › view all entries

Once again I'm up at 7am the next day; fuck knows why. I leave the others sleeping and go off for another coffee/smoking/internet session. At 11, Alison and Ste are still asleep, so I go for breakfast with Kishan and Grant, an Irish guy I know from last time in Thamel. And somehow, Kishan actually manages to sell him a sauringi, which is nothing short of a miracle given that Kishan's sales pitch reads something like: "Are you a fucking stupid person? Will you buy my fucking sauringi so I can get some shit to fucking smoke??"

Kishan has to work after that (if you can call wondering round Thamel smoking joints and hassling tourists 'work') but Alison and Ste are now up, so I go with them for breakfast number 2. (A lemon soda. I'm not that greedy.) Afterwards, we wander down to Durbar Square which, despite being one of the main sites of Kathmandu, I still haven't been to yet. There are actually three Durbar squares, loosely linked to each other, which all consist of a collection of beautifully carved, almost Oriental style wooden temples and buildings. We sit down by one and spend an hour or so just chilling out, reading and people-watching. There's a strike on, which makes it a perfect day to spend here as there is hardly any motorised traffic on the streets. I watch the people making puja at a little golden temple, old men playing cards under the awnings of the old buildings, women selling vegetables off sheets spread on the ground under the statue of Vishnu - all the little details of daily life that make these places so special. In the west our historic buildings are all roped off, protected, restored, and obviously I can see the good side of that, but at the same time it leaves them so characterless, so dead. Here these places are as alive as ever, and past and present live side by side - the present giving life to the past, the past giving beauty and meaning to the present. It seems beautiful to me to see the ordinary, mundane rituals of peoples' daily lives played out against this incredible backdrop of history, art and culture.

After a while we get up and wander round Durbar Square, examining the carvings more closely. I never cease to be amazed at the level of detail. The more you look, the more you see. What seems at first to be just a recurring pattern can turn out to be, on closer inspection, a series of tiny faces, every face different from all the others. I dedicate a good 15 minutes to studying every single building. The biggest shock comes when I am staring up at the carved beams supporting a roof, and realise I am looking at two men fucking. And two horses fucking. And a man fucking a woman, while another woman massages his back. And a woman with two men stroking her breasts. What the fuck?!? I'm assuming this must be tantric era stuff - I know there are similar carvings on some temples in India, but I had no idea I'd see them here. It seems so bizarre that in such a sexually repressed culture there are almost obscenely erotic images in full public view. And in a religious site as well! Possibly we'd see more people in church in the west if we put porn above the altar. Maybe I should suggest it to the pope.

As Alison and I are examining a bizarre banyan tree, half of which seems to grow from nowhere, the other half from what looks like a small white shrine with a pair of carved feet inside, (what??? why???) we are approaching by a Bangladeshi guy asking for a photo with us. We are used to this by now, and say no. Then he says that it's a bet, and he gets 500 rupees if we pose for the picture. I say ok, if he gives us 100 rupees each of his winnings. He agrees. I pull a "what the fuck?!?" type face for the picture and collect the money. Easiest 100 rupees I ever made!

As we are now feeling fairly rich, we decide to go for a meal at one of the expensive rooftop restaurants overlooking Durbar Square. Here we are in a wonderful position for people-watching - we can see them, but they can't see us. No-one ever looks up. The square looks even more beautiful from up here. We can also see the exquisitely carved wooden building that is the house of the Kumari - the living goddess of Kathmandu. This really is bizarre. The Kumari is a little girl who is treated throughout her childhood as a goddess on earth. She lives in a palace on Durbar Square, is dressed in elaborate costumes and paraded through the streets of Kathmandu once a year to bless everyone. Until her first period, when immediately she becomes just an ordinary mortal human again. Surely that has to be the most difficult puberty on earth.

We spend a good couple of hours on the rooftop, watching everything that's going on. Then we wander slowly back towards Thamel. Up on the rooftop, the Tree of Sound is out again, and Charlie's playing psytrance. Kishan comes up when he finishes work and we send him on a mission to buy roxy, then sit around drinking, smoking and telling stories in Charlie's room. Charlie tells about the last time he had a full medical check-up, including an HIV test.

"I had to wait two weeks for the results, and I'm shitting it of course, wondering if I've got AIDS. Finally the doctor calls me and says - "we've got your test results back, but I'm afraid we can't discuss the results on the phone. Could you come in right now please? It's urgent." Fucking hell! I start sweating all over, I'm sure I must have AIDS. I get in a taxi and it's the longest fucking ride of my life, all the time I'm nearly crying, wondering how I'm gonna tell people, what they're gonna say. Finally I get to the hospital and the doctor calls me into a room and tells me - "I'm very sorry to tell you this, but you have a serious problem with your liver." My liver? My LIVER?!? So of course I scream at her "JESUS CHRIST, YOU DRAG ME ALL THE WAY IN HERE TO TELL ME THIS?!? I'M A FUCKING DRUG ADDICT, OF COURSE I'VE GOT A SERIOUS PROBLEM WITH MY FUCKING LIVER! YOU SCARED THE SHIT OUT OF ME YOU BITCH, I THOUGHT I HAD AIDS!!!""

You gotta laugh really. I love Charlie.

Ste goes out to watch the Champions League Final (it's incredible how many people here actually give a shit) and Alison wants a night in, so me and Kishan just head down De La Soul and sit by ourselves, drinking, smoking and laughing at each other as usual. I carry on with my mission to teach him to roll an English joint, and smoke what he produces just to encourage him, despite it looking suspiciously like a tampon. That's dedication for you. Kishan wants me to come back to his, but I am exhausted and in no mood to deal with a house full of Nepali men who will probably look at me like a fucking prostitute, so I head back to Thirdpole and crash.

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photo by: sharonburgher