Yesterday afternoon, Jilly and I had a few hours free so we explored Kathmandu.
We walked into town, trying to memorise the streets for the way back. There’s mostly no street names in Nepal (so not much of a postal service I’m told); local people just seem to know where they’re going … if not, they stop and ask locals what the next turn should be until they get there.
This is Jilly’s fourth visit to Nepal so she knows her way around well and is educating me about the politics and culture of women’s health here and about some of the research and interventions that’s been ongoing here over the years by The Green Tara Trust and their affiliates (including academics from the UK (Bournemouth University and Liverpool John Moore)). It’s interesting to hear her reflect on the ways in which international volunteering can benefit practice back home too – something that will be evaluated in due course and somethings I will experience first hand once we complete our workshops in Nawal Parasi this week.
We visit Bhatbhatini shopping centre; a department store where you can buy everything from alcohol and food to clothes and crockery. There’s no legal age limited for drinking alcohol, so Jilly and I don’t get asked for proof of our age 😉 At lunch time I tried Momos for the first time – listed as one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 things to do in Nepal (not far behind Everest!) it’s a Nepalese traditional dish; dumplings stuffed with veg, chicken, buffalo or mutton – steamed or fried and served with a small dish of spicy sauce. They’re delicious!
We then took a long walk to Thamel which is known as the tourist or ‘hippy’ quarter. Lots of beautiful crystals, jewellery, fabrics, fruit stalls, and everything in between – even a ‘Diabetic and Thyroid shop’ (I wonder what they offer there?). Colourful rickshaws line the streets. Everything is colourful here and teeming with life but it’s heartbreaking to see children and adults begging on the streets. There’s so many people in need here, much more so since the earthquake last April. Many still live under tarpaulin in the city and on the fringes. Rebuilding will take time …. but the monsoon is coming and many are still without a roof over their head. Despite the stresses they face, people here remain polite, friendly, honest and trustworthy. A most humbling experience.
We go on to visit the Royal Palaces at Durbar Square (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Our guide Bishwo is fantastically knowledgeable and funny. He took us to temples, and to see a local artist who paints Buddhist mandalas, wheels of life and more. The intricate and minutely detailed paintings are so impressive. We see many historic buildings, central to Nepalese culture, including the Royal Palace (sadly damaged in the earthquake), the erotic temple, hanuman temple and the home of Kumari the living goddess. A child who is considered to be the reincarnation of the Kumari is chosen when just a baby and kept indoors until she reaches puberty. The current Kumari is 10 years old and it’s strictly forbidden to take photos of her if you see her through one of her windows.
The oldest temple in the square dates back to the 11th century. It’s sadly reduced to rubble after the earthquake. Ten people were killed here when it fell. I can’t imagine the horrors the people here have seen and what they are still living through. Bishwo reassures us the temple is being rebuilt … but into a new temple across the square, using the old bricks from the original sacred Hindhu temple!
Jilly and I end our day walking home in the dusk, miraculously finding our way back home through the winding alleyways – the Nepalese way. A day I will never forget.
Today we worked on our presentations and workshop plan. We were introduced to Sampada Ghimire who will accompany us to Nawal Parasi as our interpreter for the workshop. Sampada is a recent university graduate and after achieving her BSc in public health is extremely keen to be involved with the project and ultimately wants to use her education and experience to be an activist she says, to help the people of Nepal. Many Nepalese people we’ve met take education very seriously and want to use their education to improve their country and the lives of its people. I find them extremely inspirational.
Jilly has organised some more meetings for us and after a morning’s work we head to Boudnath Stupa. I’m in my element among the Tibetan monks walking with the people around the giant stupa. I light incense on the Buddhist alter and revel in the sights and sounds. A wedding party suddenly descent to the sound of drumming and the bride and groom emerge from a small temple after 10 mins or so. The whole scene before me is colourful, but the bride even more so in her reddish orange glittering veil.
Soon our sightseeing in Kathmandu will come to an end – we travel south to the Terai region, the outer foothills of the himalaya, on 11 May and I’m told to expect high temperatures and humidity.
Nepal Earthquakes http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-32479909
Volunteering in developing countries
Durbar Square, Nepal, UNESCO World Heritage Site https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kathmandu_Durbar_Square
Kumari Goddess https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kumari_(goddess)