Patan (Kathmandu) : The river runs though it.
Patan Travel Blog› entry 83 of 268 › view all entries
The dying of the sacred waters?
I begin the day with some formalities. Checking the amount of the 'exit fee' at the Tourist Centre for when I depart Nepal (1,695 NPR!!!). I soon head for areas clearly less trodden by tourist types. Beginning in the car horn honking, dusty, fume-laden melee of the Bag Bazaar area with its bus station and great confluence of students, beggars, street stall vendors and transport touts. Early morning eddies and currents of humanity trying to find it's flow through this - on the surface of things - chaotic city. I recall that the girls from the Chitwan National Park go to college somewhere in the area.
My main aim today is to visit Patan, the 'Old City'.
Although it's meant to be a fair old stroll I'm always happiest on my heels in these adventures. It keeps you slow. Guarantees you might get usefully and enlighteningly lost whilst on route to the Destination.
I stroll past a bustling little beehive of a local school down a dirty passageway and turn west, parallel to where I believe the river to be heading.
It's hard to know where the crematorial ghats begin although I'm certain from my map that I must be in the right area. Hindu statuary and the occasional shrine start to appear. But a lot of what's surviving here - culturally speaking - seems to be in an advanced state of neglect rather than reverance. In fact, some of the larger shrines have been occupied now as bunk rooms or storage spaces by those who are presumable otherwise homeless here. I suppose religion is sanctuary amongst its other functions? This too seems true of the interiors of certain temple courtyards accessible along the river bank.
The ghats, or what I assume must be the ghats are in a sorry, sorry state of disrepair. Only a large pile of wood blocks, planks and kindling besides one of them testifies to their continued use at all. My six year old 'Rough Guide to Nepal' hints at long term plans for the areas regeneration but this clearly hasn't commenced at all. At one point I pass by a forlorn looking iron-gated complex, chained closed with a large, rusty padlock that looks as if it hasn't been troubled by a key for sometime.
It's a common obvious point for 'outside' observers to look and to pass comment on the glaring contradiction of the near unimaginable filth and deep-seated concepts of spiritual purity and cleanliness that often co-exist in the existence of such great 'holy rivers' as the Bagmati, and its notable bigger sister, the Ganges. The practical, environmental realities slowly imposing themselves on centuries old traditions of water-borne reverance. Filth 'n' faith 'n' pride. A difficult relationship to reconcile.
A none too pretty, muddy, marigold-spangled slick at Pashuputinath itself, the waters of the Bagmati struggle on south-westerly with its heady cargo of burnt body and ash, wood, general waste and flood of animal faecal matter to this point. And here it seems the river is practically dying. Its waters have receded far, far from their original grand breadth. This has left the ghats stranded. Beached and belleaguered many, many tens of metres from the banks of the broken-souled, the soiled Bagmati. Cracked stone steps, once used to descend for bathing to the waters edge now peter out into dry grass field lands.
Rows of stone alcoves which probably once contained carved statuary of the many avatars of Vishnu and other members of the large pantheon of Hindu/ Buddhist gods, or Shiva-linga stones, now are feeding troughs for scrawny homestead cattle.
Patan : Durbar Square and its surrounds
As stated, Patan, the old Nepalese capital and administrative centre retains a lot of its own identity. This exetends to some extent to architectural form as well as civic laws and traditions. For example, they have their own Kumari (Living Goddess) whose traditions and treatment again differ from those of her more restricted Kathmandu counterpart. As in Kathmandu it's 200 NPR entry and a sticker upon your breast for right of access to the Old City area and Durbar Square. The sticker making 'spot the tourist' an even easier game than usual. This time of year, 'we' seem increasingly thin on the ground anyways. Once at Patan Durbar Square this unfortunately means that attentions from woulbe guides and kids requesting sweets/ Ruppee or dollars are even more intense than usual.
Patan is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and is indeed rich in very old (15th & 16th Century) temples, shrines, pagodas and stupas. It's rare you'll find yourself on any street for long before spotting a temple entrance hunkered down amidst the shops and homes. A roadside Shiva-linga or other devotional statue. A square hidden in a residential area containing stupas, prayer wheels and bells. It's qute a fine art, interpreting your map succesfully (and often unsuccessfully) whilst trying to keep an eye out for the particular entrance you're looking for.
There is the Grand Palace spread along the south of Durbar Square. The stone-carved Krishna Mandir pagoda and its brother structures by its side. In the surrounding area; Kumbeshwor, one of only two freestanding 5 tiered pagoda temples in the Kathmandu Valley; the Mahabouddha or 'Temple of 1,000 Buddhas', the only entirely terracota constructed temple in Nepal and the incongruous and fabulous statuary collection of the Rudra Barna Mahavihar temple.
Time to stroll back towards the river and across it now, and back towards the northern end of Greater Kathmandu for I'm weary and the day is growing long. As I cross a different bridge, time for one last sobering glance into the dreary waters of the Bagmati. The waters here a blackened, constant stream of animal (and presumably human) waste matter. Plastic bags, bottles, metal cans and motorcycle helmets congregate upon the waters surface. Maybe the rivers waters and soul will be reinvigorated by the rains that are yet to come, and maybe, just maybe by a growing sense of environmental awareness and responsibility within humankind which, like the rains, is also yet to arrive whilst being much needed.