It’s Sunday evening and we can’t believe that it has all come to an end – bar the reckoning! We’ve had a very quiet weekend – we were all so tired that we decided to just take things easy and do a bit of what we fancied, think about packing, last minute bits of shopping etc etc.
Saturday was probably the warmest day we’ve had – round about 25 degrees over mid to late morning until mid afternoon so it was wonderful to have time to sit by the pool and read for a couple of hours before lunch, having had a late and leisurely breakfast. We all decided that we did want to visit Swayambhu temple – the monkey temple – which is the second most famous and revered Buddhist temple – after Boudha Stupa, ( which is almost next to Samata) in Asia. Chris and Anne decided to walk – it was nearly five km – and we chickened out and decided to get a taxi, knowing how difficult walking on Kathmandu streets is at the best of times as they are rarely paved, have no pavements, and the traffic is a nightmare. We agreed to meet up at the top in time for sunset, which can be spectacular up there we were told. What a wise decision we made.
The winding road up and up to the foot of the final hill was full of potholes and milling crowds – the Buddhists tend to go to their local temple and walk around clockwise, sometimes leaving offerings and prayer flags on a Saturday. Secondly, we knew there were steps – known as the pilgrims’ steps – up to the top, but had no idea there were about 800 of them, very steep and often without handrails. That on top of the walk would have done for me and I don’t think I would have made the top. As it was we had to take it very steadily and keep stopping – pretending to be admiring the view!! It is aptly named the monkey temple as there are hundreds of them and you have to watch your bag and be sure you aren’t carrying anything that looks like food or they will have it immediately.
There was a fascinating local market on a patch of rough ground where were dropped off so we spent a while there haggling for some spices – for Nick – and got a huge piece of root ginger for 50 rupees as well as some curry spices etc. Needless to say there are endless beggars and street hawkers on the way up but we managed to navigate past most of the rogues and gave our rupees to the deserving. We saw several lepers, as we have in one particular spot in the city centre – something you don’t imagine seeing these days. The monkeys are delightful in a way, as their antics are very amusing, but they are all rabid so need to be kept well away from and not annoyed or encouraged. As we toiled up the steps the views across Kathmandu were wonderful and there were numberless small eagles (we were reliably informed) wheeling around. Once we collapsed on to a seat at the top we realised that
the temple is the centre of what is almost a self contained village where the Buddhist monks and various craftsmen and artisans ply their trade. There were groups of people dancing spontaneously to the tunes of some local musicians, people were eating ‘picnics’, preparing food over little calor gas heaters and generally enjoying a lovely winter afternoon. As always happens, at around 5pm the temperature dropped dramatically and darkness fell within twenty minutes. There was too much haze for the sunset to be very impressive, but we had enjoyed being there so much that it didn’t matter and we got safely down to the bottom before darkness fell.
Today, a general strike was called – Sunday is a working day here – and it was as if the whole of London had ground to a total halt. It is all to do with the fact that some protestors who dislike the government killed five Moaists and a policemen the other day, so the government have called a general strike, as they do quite frequently. The last one was the day we arrived. No cars, motorbikes, ‘buses’ – nothing but bikes. Not a single shop open other than the pharmacies, the hotel gates shut and armed guards outside. We were allowed out on foot but told to keep well away from any large groups of people and ot to take photos. It was like a ghost town! This is the power that the Moaist government has over the people. Although the strike was pretty peaceful – we didn’t see any violence or disturbance, though we heard lots of shouting and drum banging in the distance from 7am onwards – the processions of protestors are quite intimidating, and woe betide anyone who strike breaks. We went out to try to buy water and found a shop in a side street that had one shutter open and was about to serve us when the processions could be heard approaching. We were told to move well away and come back when they’d gone. The place was shut up within seconds and you would have thought there was no-one there at all. When we eventually got the water we were asked to say we couldn’t remember where we had bought it, if asked!! So after our short sortie we returned to the hotel and spent the rest of the day sitting in the sun – at least the others did and I spent a couple of hours getting the final proof for the book ready for my meeting with the publishers in the morning. A last dinner together this evening –Mary not feeling too well now which is a great shame at this late stage, and up for an early night after final bits of packing and paying various bills etc. The hotel almost seems like home now, and they keep referring to us as their English family! We will miss the way they have looked after our every need. We just hope that the strike is not called again tomorrow as that could seriously disrupt our travel to the airport.