Today I wanted to do some serious tramping about Kathmandu. There is only so much you can experience from the back of a motorcycle. Not that it’s a bad way to travel, just I felt a little removed from the actual ability to experience what I was observing.
The boys ate breakfast before Arjun and I, as they had school today. Nepali students go to school six days a week, Sunday to Friday, from 10am to 4pm. They take eight courses a day of 45 mins each, and there is no break for lunch. Lunch is not commonly eaten by Nepali regardless of age, school or work schedule. Assis and Asim take a bus to school and it takes them an hour each way. Assis is second in his class and Asim is tenth in his.
This led Arjun and I to a discussion about education. The public schools teach to Grade 10. From there you can complete the +2 years at a College, and then proceed onto to College courses. Private schools teach the +2 years independent of the Colleges. It is not necessary to complete the +2 years and they can be compared to the previous Ontario system that if you planned on continuing on to University or College you would complete an extra year of high school, but it wasn’t required to graduate. There is a huge push to study abroad and there are adverts literally everywhere promoting continuing your studies in almost any western developed country you could possibly imagine. Even some non-western countries are also promoted.
Arjun had grown-up on a farm about 2.5hrs (?) outside of Pokhara. His father had sent him to Pokhara to complete his high school and +2 years at a boarding school. This was an incredible financial hardship on his parents, and so when he failed his +2 exams decided he could not face his father. He felt he had no choice and struck out on his own to Kathmandu. It was in Kathmandi that he found a vocation, trekking, completed his +2 years, improved his English, learned Japanese, started a family and started a company. He has since been back many times, at least once a year, to visit his father and was overjoyed to be able to tell him, that he had completed his schooling.
Ultimately he would like to move his family closer to his father’s lands. The education of his boys is what is currently holding him back. He feels the education that would be available around Pokhara has not improved since he was a boy, and it would cause them future hardships. Which could be avoided if they completed their schooling in Kathmandu. Ideally, he would like to wait until the boys are at least 17yrs old, and give them the choice as to whether or not they wanted to move to the Pokhara region with him and their mother. This may be longer than Arjun is letting on as from Laxmi’s body language I suspect she is expecting another child before summer. Possibly even before the start of the next rainy season.
After sending the boys off to school and breakfast, we started on our walk to Patan. I did not realize that Arjun was going into the office, otherwise I would have just caught a ride with him into Thamel and then walked from there. Regardless, I was glad to be walking from Bamiyatar to Patan.
The route we took was not along the roadways that I had been becoming accustomed to, but rather the back way along fields and over a creek with a makeshift crossing. Crossing the creek was a little rickety and I think that was more from my inability to quickly find my balance across the two poles more so than because I was walking across two poles with no support and weren’t even strapped to each other.
We stopped off at the office for a bit. I checked my emails and Arjun checked in with one of his partners before continuing toward Patan. Before heading off, we reviewed the map again to ensure that I had a fair idea of how to get back, that wasn’t too convoluted. What I haven’t mentioned until now is that no map of Kathmandu is accurate. Not for lack of trying mind you, but simply because it is a maze of streets that have sprung up without rhyme or reason. Then there’s the errors in the maps that really and truly are errors. Where they’ve placed major landmarks at incorrect locations in relation to the major roadways that are not in question. In short, Kathmandu streets are like a rabbit warren and you’re best to keep to the major roadways when going longer distances, until you become familiar with all the backways that make it quicker to get around.
Arjun walked me to the bridge leading to Patan, or Lalitapur as it’s historically been known. He always looks like he’s afraid that I’m going to get lost in the hinterlands if he lets me off on my own somewhere greater than a two block radius from wherever he’s situated. Honestly, do I really look like I am that helpless that I can’t figure out a map or ask for directions?? Seriously people, I am female not brainless and helpless on my own. I would say that maybe it’s a cultural thing but I run into this frequently as I apparently don’t look like I have more than two brain cells to rub together. That and sounding like a 12 year-old probably doesn’t help much either.
Yay, I’m officially on my own to enjoy the day as I see fit. And, I have to pee like a mother. Seriously, if I sneeze I could probably put out a small fire. So I really wanted to find this café where they may still have copies of the Patan Walkabout guidebook. Photocopies mind you but at least it’s something more comprehensive than the little blurb given in Lonely Planet.
My first experience of trying to find a particular place in Nepal. Let me interrupt here to elucidate that Nepal in general, and Kathmandu in particular, does not have addresses like what were used to in most Western countries. If it is along a major throughfare than perhaps it may have a address that we would recognize and be able to decipher, otherwise not a chance. For example, Thamel is a district within Kathmandu. Within Thamel as sections such as Bhagwanbahal, which I happen to know is at the northern end of Thamel. Then there are also street names, such as Z Street. All sounds neat and tidy doesn’t it. The problem is that none of these sections or streets are listed on any map I’ve seen, nor are they identified at street level. Hell not even the various districts are identified at street level. Frequently I would would just guess as to approximately where I was in relation to the map and then ask someone to if I was even close.
What all this boils down to, is that unless the person you’re speaking with is familiar with the place you’re looking for, or you’re within a few blocks of it, it’s useless to ask for directions to a particular place. What you need to do is ask directions to the nearest major road to where you want to go. Once you’re in the neighbourhood you can start asking for directions to a particular place. Don’t ask before then because then the person you’re speaking with just gets confused and they want to help but don’t know in which direction they should send you. This was fun figuring this out, and I mean that sincerely, not in any kind of sarcastic manner.
Finally made my way to Patan Dhoka, after a wrong turn along the way, and found the café. I hadn’t planned on stopping for a tea or a bite to eat, but changed my mind once I got there as it was an oasis of calm compared to the loud, busy, crowded streets I had been on for at least the last hour, possibly even two. I had a black tea, some steamed veggie momos, went to the toilet and picked up a copy of Patan Walkabout. Wonder if it was named by an Aussie, by any chance. Then again, given the push to educate yourself abroad, perhaps the main person behind planning and producing the guidebook had received their post-secondary education in Australia.
I then proceeded to spend the next few hours wandering through the back and side streets of Patan. A little girl and her sister/friend walked by me. She stuck out her hand and said give me 5 Rs, without even so much and making eye contact with me. It was almost as if it was a knee jerk reaction rather than anything she was consciously aware of doing. It was somewhat disturbing as it came out as a command rather than a request or plea, as I had previously been subjected. This adorable old man allowed me to take his picture as he was relaxing in the shade by Pimbaha Pokhari. I took a wrong turn a one point and stumbled upon some free ducks conspiring with their comrades across the red curtain. I think a run of the border was in the offing.
Returning from my encounter with the conspiring ducks I encountered a situation that made me embarassed to be a tourist. Outside of Kumbheswar Square, by the Ganesh Temple, which was the landmark I was supposed to use but got confused as to which direction was East and initially made a wrong turn, I gobsmacked. There were two men, obvious to me they were a couple, that had locked there bicycles to the Ganesh Shrine. There was a woman there that was obviously giving them hell for it, but she didn’t speak English and I think they had been ignoring her because of that. I don’t know for certain because I didn’t see the start of the situation, so I don’t know if their bikes had been there for awhile or if they’d just locked them to the shrine and immediately been set upon. Regardless, there was now also a man on a motorbike that had stopped and spoke excellent English, that was telling them they couldn’t lock the bikes there.
This is where I was completely embarassed to be a tourist. These buffons completely disregarded the significance that the symbols of faith have for people. I don’t know if it was because it was non-Christian or if they are blinded to all forms of religious symbolism. I really wanted to ask them if they would have locked there bikes to the Vatican gate (I don’t know it there’s a gate, I’ve never been there), or if they would have accorded that religious symbol more respect than they were according here? If it was shocking and hurtful to me I can only imagine how deeply it must have cut the Hindus present, that witnessed the ordeal. Shameful is all I can say.
From there I made my way to Durbar Square and looked around a bit. I didn’t end up staying long as it was getting late and the sun would be setting soon. I checked with one of the vistor entry booths and confirmed my pass was good for 7 days, so I could come back again later in the week to finish eploring Patan Durbar Square.