Nepal: #2 A Walk Down Memory Lane

 

My time in KTM was brief but this was a chance to have a wander down memory lane after 37 years since I lived here in the late 1970s. (This will be more words than photos… we’ll add photos to flickr after I get home. All too difficult from here!)

So… Day 1… I decided to just wander and see what was what… and I walked more in KTM than I ever did back in 1979. But then, I had a car and driver.

I trundled out of the hotel past all the security guards and through the gates into the narrow laneways that lead to the hotel entrance from Durbar Marg. Durbar Marg is a main thoroughfare that leads to the Narayanhitti Palace, the residence of the former Royal family but now a museum. I decided to head away from the Palace towards New Road. This relatively important shopping street was built after the area was destroyed in a 1934 earthquake. It doesn’t look too new anymore particularly as it has another 37 years worth of dust and grime on it since I was familiar with its shops. It seems to be mostly held together by communication wires all tangled together as in many Asian cities.

I made a few observations. There are many people on the streets with leprosy. Most were begging on the grubby footpaths exhibiting there deformed hands and feet. Begging bowls were mostly empty so not even the locals show much concern. I also observed that, unlike 37 years ago, on this walk I didn’t see one cow and there were only a few dogs. Not the same emphasis to mind your foot steps to miss the dog poop!

At the end of New Road is one of the entrances to Durbar Square where much of the recent earthquake damage took place. Many very significant, centuries old buildings and temples were seriously damaged and/or collapsed altogether. I’m sure you remember the devastation caused to the area from TV news stories at the time.

There were a few barricades across the road but I’d been walking past and through them all morning, so didn’t take much notice, except to watch out for bits sticking out that might stub my toe. By the barricades I went. Whistles blew and all hell broke out! Why? Ah! The barricades are there because Foreigners have to pay to get into this famous Square nowadays. The cost? One thousand Nepalese rupees (AUD12.50). I baulked, knowing what corruption goes on, and in any case, I hadn’t as yet changed any of my hard currency into the local stuff. And to put the charge into some perspective, my whole bill at a 5star hotel which included a bed, dinner, 2 beers and breakfast, was only 12 times that amount. And I’d been in that square many times before with much better memories

So, I about turned and headed back the way I came with a few deviations along the way up narrow streets and alleyways, mostly lined with shops of all kinds. The streets were busy with people and motor bikes.

I decided that I had to change some money. I’d noticed earlier that there were a couple of money changers quite close to the hotel’s front gate of the hotel so I decided it might be a good place to try. And, with my little bit of Nepali, I got a slightly better rate than that advertised. Back to hotel with money now to buy tickets into places on Day 2.

I wasn’t the only one ready to settle down for an early night at the hotel. Some local pigeons were settling down on my window sill railing despite the efforts of the hotel to keep them off. A double row of heavy fishing line has been strung between nails but this just means the pigeons do a tight-rope walk to get to where they want to go. One ‘puffy‘ male is even courting on the tight-rope! Quite dexterous he is too, but then the reward maybe worth it.

Across the other side of the lawn, the big jacaranda trees was busy with grey and black crows looking for a suitable branch to spend the night on. There are also what appear to be small flocks of parrots that fly across the garden. There were never any parrots in Kathmandu in the late 1970’s, in fact Indians used to bring the birds up from the Terrai for sale. Perhaps, just like at home in Canberra where over the last few years Rainbow Lorikeets from the warmer coastal areas have made Canberra home, these parrots find Kathmandu to their liking now too. Global Warming at work? Perhaps.

Day 2 of my wanders saw me up and ready to explore. I decided to visit the Royal Palace Museum, a place I’ve never been into before because when I lived in KTM the King and his family lived in that Palace. But not any more. Nepal no longer has a king.

 

The palace’s name is derived from two Newari words, ‘Narayan’ from the Lord Vishnu temple located near the palace, and ‘hiti’, which refers to the water spout to the east (right) of the main palace gates.

The original palace, built in 1915, was destroyed in the 1934 earthquake… Nepal as you probably realise, is prone to earthquakes.  Among the 8,519 people killed in that earthquake were two daughters of the then King of Nepal, Tribhuvan. After that, a new palace was built nearby, Tribhuvan Sadan. And it was in that building, on June 1, 2001, that the royal family of Nepal was massacred. King Birendra and his Queen Aishwarya, crown prince Dipendra, Princess Shruti, Prince Nirjan and other relatives were all shot while they were enjoying a quiet family gathering.  Official reports state that Dipendra massacred his own family in anger over a marriage dispute involving his intended bride.  His mother had not approved his choice.  The official report of the massacre states that, in an alcoholic and hashish enraged state, Dipendra shot his family and then himself.  However, he didn’t die for three days, and, as protocol dictated, he was crowned King, even in his comatose state in hospital.  His reign lasted for 56 hours.  He was succeeded by his uncle, Prince Gyanendra.  The Tribhuvan Sadan building has since been demolished, obliterating all physical evidence of that awful event.

If your curiosity is raised by this short description of an historic moment in Nepal’s history, I can suggest the book, “Love and Death in Kathmandu” by Amy Willesee and Mark Whittaker, Australians journalists who went to Nepal to find out for themselves the real story. It’s also an excellent view of the political way of life in Nepal in the time of the Kingdom.

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In 1963, a new building was begun on the site of the palace destroyed in 1934. It was called Narayanhiti Palace, and it’s that palace that is now the Narayanhiti Palace Museum.

I arrived at the palace just after it opened at 11.00.  There must have been 50 other people all queuing to buy tickets. All, except three other foreigners, were ‘locals’.  This was good to see as there must still be a good deal of respect for the now defunct royal family.  The royals were very much revered by the Nepalese when I lived in KTM 37 years ago.  The king was slowly changing things, giving up total power to other ruling sectors, but this was generally against the people’s wishes.  He was a god, he could do no wrong; hard for us to understand, but that’s the way it was in what was still, in many ways, a Medieval kingdom.  Slowly, slowly he was having an effect.  But that is another completely different story, one that I’m not going to even touch here.

Back to the queue. Tickets cost different amounts depending on who you are and where you come from.  Nepali citizens get in for Rp100 (1AUD = 80 NPR), Students get in for Rp20, Chinese Nationals and SAARC Countries pay, Rp250, while all others pay Rp500.  Kids under 3 are free.  The advantage of being a foreigner was that I was taken to the front of the queue for a quicker fleecing!  Once that was done and dusted, all cameras, phones, in fact everything except wallets and water bottles, had to be left in a locker.  This involved queuing at another little window for someone to take your belongings and give you a key in return.  Rather surprisingly, lockers were free!

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It was a rather long walk up the curving driveway what used to be the ceremonial route to the main entrance of the palace.  I climbed the main steps as had many kings, queens, presidents, Heads of State and other dignitaries in the past  Inside, tourists are allowed to view 19 of 52 rooms.  They are rather subdued compared to many ‘palaces’ I’ve had the privilege of touring in other countries.  There was some ostentation, as would be expected, but there was nothing over the top as seen in pictures of some current presidents in a few African countries.  And nothing like the palaces of the Russian Tzars or French Emperor’s palaces that I’ve had the privilege of visiting.

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There are several photos of inside the palace on ‘images’ on Google. We’ll add a couple to give you some idea of the style. This interesting ceiling is over the throne.

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That was the throne…

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And that was the King who sat on that throne.

The palace was converted into a museum when Nepal became a republic after the 2006 revolution. One of the things that impressed me the most was the fact that even though the royals were thrown out of power by the Maoists, there was no looting and smashing of anything that belonged to the previous regime.  There’s still plenty of the ‘old-way’ of Nepalese Royal life to be seen.

And really, the whole place, inside and out, is not very well maintained.  The inside was musty (it is the monsoon season after all) and it’s a bit dank.  All signs were in Nepali and English, which made the experience for non-Nepali speaking tourists a great help!

The palace surrounds and gardens are nowhere near what they must have been when the royals were still in residence.  The cost to the country to maintain them is still high and no doubt better directed towards helping the Nepalese to build a better country for all.  As long as the entrance fees cover the cost of maintenance, most will be kept happy.  I’m glad I went.

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It took just on an hour to complete the tour and, by that time, thunder clouds were building over the mountains that surround the Kathmandu Valley.  Would they develop into a wet afternoon?  Before that happened, I went back to the hotel to drop off my palace museum leaflet and to collect my old Nokia phone, the charger for which I’d lost somewhere some months ago.  I’d noticed some ‘mobile repair’ shops on New Road, so hoped that one of them may have a replacement charger.  I headed in that direction and hadn’t walked more than a couple of hundred metres when there was what I sought, a mobile phone repair shop, not much bigger than most people’s toilets.  Sure enough, the guy had exactly what I needed.  He went to the trouble of trying out the new charger in my phone.  It didn’t respond, but it has had a flat battery for over three months.  Do you have new batteries?  Of course he did!  I’ll have one of those too, please.  All up it cost Rp700 (AUD about 8).  The charger alone at home was going to cost considerably more than that and I had to order it into the bargain.  In the event, I didn’t really need the battery as the old one is charging nicely now… Murphy again!  But it is in it’s old age and just takes a little longer to respond… don’t we all?

On the strength of that success, I decided to see if I could locate some local beer.  Just a few shops way was a likely prospect.  Pay dirt!  A couple of bottles of cold beer, at less than half the price at the hotel, and I was a happy boy.

Back in my room sooner than I’d thought, I was extra pleased to have missed any chance of getting wet in a thunderstorm… I’ll have plenty of chances to get really wet when I get up into the hills with Binod.

Enjoyed a beer while watching the resident pigeons doing their tight-rope practicing on the wires outside my window ledge.

Lovely buffet in the Sunrise Restaurant.  One thing that has changed in the restaurant is that there are new tables.  I suppose you would expect that after a 37 year lapse in time.  I know the tables are different because back then when we were staying here in 1979, we brought the whole restaurant to a complete stop, or at least my elder son Peter did.   Peter, was 11 months old at the time, was sitting with us at the table. He was sitting in a seat that hung on the side of the table, his weight keeping it in place.  However, as 11 month’s old do, he was finding his legs and, on this occasion, he pushed hard against some under-table framework and shot himself backwards, off the table and straight down onto the marble floor.  There was utter silence.  Then, the shock of what he had done set in, and he cried.  No real harm was done but all the staff raced to his rescue.  His new-found trick was quickly forgotten, by all but his parents… I remember it well.

Another occasion that comes to mind from 1979, was when a waiter dropped a bucket of ice.  He dropped to his knees and scooped the ice back into the bucket.  This would have been OK except that he continued to do what he had set out to do, and that was to put the ice in someone’s glass of water.  Refrigeration, and ice, was such a luxury back then that I’m sure he couldn’t bare the thought of wasting such a prized commodity.  The maitre de was quickly on the scene to remedy the situation.  Seems strange to us, but the waiter probably went home each night to a mud-floor dwelling.  Ice would be precious.

And that reminds me of another situation that occurred after we moved into our house, which I must point out was bigger, and better, than the one we left behind in Canberra.  We had a stand-in cook for a day or two and on this particular occasion it was taking a long time for a cup of tea to arrive.  I went into the kitchen and found the electric kettle sitting on top of the electric toaster  Of course it was taking a long time to boil, but again, this person would have gone home to a single light globe hanging on a cord and no other electrical appliances. These were learning experiences for us!

And here comes another memory.  My predecessor had planted a black passion fruit vine in the garden at our house.  Lo, and behold, it fruited… so I took the fruit and gave it to the cook and said that this would be nice with tonight’s fruit salad.  Tonight’s fruit salad duly turned up with the passion fruit included.  The problem was that the cook had scooped out all the seeds, as he would have done if the fruit had been a papaya. He presented us with small pieces of diced passion fruit skin.  We could do nothing else but try to stifle a giggle!  How was he to know, I didn’t explain to him the vagaries of this, to him, new fruit?  My time in Nepal was full of this type of incident which only made for a better experience, a life changing experience, that hopefully, has made me a better person to understand that there is always another way of doing things.

Those clouds have eventually released their load with thunder and lightning. Dinner time beckons and I’ll leave my memories here and venture down for a meal. More anon of the real adventure, the real reason for coming to Nepal, when I get to the villages with Binod and have some photos ( and video) of that area to share with you all.

David

All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  jtdytravels

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