I’m sitting here on a cushiony bench in Yaksha Cafe with my dear friend and colleague Ghanshyam. There’s wifi, the breeze is nice, and the spicy masala tea hits the spot. For a year we’ve worked together remotely and now, being in person is so natural. We’re learning new things about each other, like we both sit with our legs folded up leaning at an angle to our computers. We look like matching bookends co-working right now.
I sit back and marinate on what I’ve seen so far.
I live a block from Durbar Square (Palace Square) → in Patan → in Lalitpur → in Kathmandu. Many centuries ago, the king who ruled all of the Kathmandu Valley split his kingdom into three for his sons to inherit. These kingdoms existed for around 300 years in peace and collaboration. So there’s a Durbar Square in all three of Kathmandu’s cities: Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, and Kathmandu. After generations, the Gorkhas conquered the valley and the three kingdoms were no more.
Some of Patan Durbar Square’s temples are still being reconstructed from the 2015 earthquake. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, the temples must be rebuilt with traditional materials and in a traditional method. This adds considerable time to the reconstruction. The one temple not affected by the earthquake is the primary temple, dedicated to Krishna. This tall temple was carved from a single, giant rock and can withstand these tremors.
At night, especially on festival days (and there are many) people hang out in the square with their friends and families. Vendors sell plastic balloons with starry lights inside or Pikachu Mylar balloons. Teenage boys sell light-up flyers that they fling into the sky and then helicopter down. I’ve seen these in Florence, too.
One night, I burst out laughing when I saw one of these glowing toys land on top of the pious king. Its colors shifted from red to blue and back again. Could he have imagined this silliness joining him in his prayers when he commissioned this statue? Will the monsoon rains wash it down?
For a much better view of this video check out the Instagram reel.
By now, 2 weeks in, I know where I live. My homing beacon is a big white sign that says “FASHION JEANS” visible from most sides of the busy 4-way intersection. Across the narrow street from the Fashion Jeans sign, a small temple stands on the corner of my alley. Another small temple in a lot-sized courtyard faces my door.
The first time I came home from Dhokaima Cafe, a 15-minute walk away, I got to my intersection, but GoogleMaps was 100% vague about the location of my front door. And I learned that 7 pm is hardcore rush hour. A traffic guard was (ineffectively) directing traffic, but it was just a jumble of motorbikes, a few small taxis, one truck carrying goods, and pedestrians in between it all.
I couldn’t find my Fashion Jeans sign or the temple. So I braced myself and eeked through the motorbikes with my arm out to will them not to move. I made it and walked down a street, but this was not my street. I tried the next street, but I got to the KK Mart instead. I must have crossed that crazy intersection 4 times when finally I was in my alley, the key was unlocking the right door, and I was finally resting on my sofa, being welcomed home by the couch mites.
I’m usually very happy with my Airbnb picks, but there was a surprisingly limited stock in Kathmandu, especially in Lalitipur. The apartment I chose is only a 20 minute walk from where Ghanshyam and his family live. It has decent reviews and the apartment does have a decent setup. The hot water and water pressure of the shower is on point. The bed is a regular kind of comfortable. And it’s only $420 for 5 weeks.
But oh man… it’s pretty grody even though it looks clean. At least the finger-sized cockroaches got the message that entering the apartment meant sure death, so I haven’t seen more than the 5 I offed in the first few days. I think the mites are dead from sitting in the sun. But I was pretty pissed that these were issues in the first place. I’ve never had this kind of problem in an Airbnb before. Also, I asked for a pot to make soup and the guy was like, sorry we only provide the one pan. Thanks, buddy. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the review I give you.
But maybe I’m a touch spoiled? I’ve stayed in some really great places. Like the 3-story stone apartment with a courtyard garden inside the Pope’s palace complex in Avignon, France; my Spanish nest of an apartment where the Mediterranean’s waves lulled me to sleep each night and the sun’s reflecting light kept me company each day; the two-bedroom apartment in Cairo where I watched the feluccas glide down the Nile while I worked every day. And I’m a fundamentally adaptable person. So… I’m fine 🙂 It’s just surprising.
Speaking of hot water, when I flew in I noticed reflected light glinting off of rooftops. I confirmed later that these are solar panels, which many houses and apartment buildings have. But they’re not for full-use electricity. They’re to heat the water that comes from the faucet of a sink, shower head, or washing machine. If there’s not enough sun for a while, everybody will get cold showers. But I’ve been enjoying perfectly hot showers since I arrived, so I’d say the system works really well.
There are regular rolling blackouts. Something about the power grid and load balancing and something else. I should ask my brother the engineer if he can give me details on how power grids work. And then I should play the board game Power Grid. If I had it here I could play Power Grid when the power grid goes down and my internet stops working.
The lights going out is surprisingly easy to get used to. One comes to not miss a beat in a conversation or putting food from fingers to mouth. In Iraq I remember many times brushing my teeth and not fumbling the rhythm either when it was suddenly dark and then when it was light again. So far the difference is the blackouts in Iraq (when I was there) were quite brief. Usually the power would come back on before I left the bathroom. But here the power can be out for hours. But it always comes back on eventually. Pro tip: This makes it important to keep electronics fully charged whenever possible. <takes own advice and plugs in laptop>
There’s so much to look at and learn about and observe here. And I am planning to hit up the main attractions on this trip. But I came to Nepal to hang out with Ghanshyam and his family. Before now, I’ve been getting to know his wife, Bipasha, and his baby, Girvan through WhatsApp photos and messaging on Instagram. But what’s it like to meet in 3D?
Like we’ve known each other for years – that’s what it’s like. From the first hug with Bipasha and all the smiles since then. On Friday when they met me at Amigo’s restaurant, Girvan toddled right over, leaned against me with his chin resting on my shoulder, and observed the restaurant quietly from there. And my heart melted. I lay my cheek against his black hair and rubbed his back gently.
In a short time, he was bopping around again, being whisked away by a server who wanted to play with him (this happens quite often), laughing at the water bottle we waggled around for him. Such a bundle of joy to everyone around him. He’s at the age where it’s a game to hand an adult something (followed by rounds of applause) and then hand it back. “Julie Auntie la deo?” “Yay!!!! Good job.” “Baba la deo?” “Yay! Smart boy!” The simple pleasures, amiright? It was also super cute when Bipasha and I shared a mango-based mocktail from two straws in the same glass, like at a 1950s soda counter.
So that’s all for installment one. Stay tuned, friends, more to come!