July 02, 2009
When I went off to Durbar Square yesterday, the driver asked me which one I wanted to see. Huh? As I mentioned before, Durbar Square is a fairly generic term and there are 3 Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu area. Bhaktapur is probably the furthest one away, but it is more than just the one square. The old section of town is on UNESCO’s list of places you really have to see before they are completely destroyed (The new section of town is a place you wish you could avoid if you head east out of town but can’t).
The UNESCO list is a wonderful thing for local governments because it is effectively a global permission slip to charge lots of money for entrance. Most of the amazing temples in the Kathmandu valley have very low costs for tourists to see. But Bhaktapur is about 10 dollars per person which is close to a months income for some Nepalis. This must rake in a fortune during heavy tourist times and hopefully it really does go to helping preserve this amazing location and helping its residents.
One of the issues with these attractions is that the entrances are filled with hopeful tour guides. Times are tougher now with fewer tourists, so they have the added tool in their belt of playing the guilt card into hiring them. I had taken the tour of Bhaktapur 15 years ago and just wanted to enjoy myself this time. The thing with tour guides for me is that just a few hours after the tour is finished, I have forgotten most of what they told me. So I try to brush them off as much as possible. We were quite successful with this for the most of the entrance area but then we met two boys who surprised us.
On our way through the main entrance, a small boy named Sushan tagged along with my sister. She tried to get rid of him, but then he plainly stated his goals. He had no interest in being a tour guide. Sure, he could point us in the right direction, but he was much more interested in practicing his English with us. So he tagged along with us. And he turned out to be an excellent guide making the stay in Bhaktapur far more enjoyable than I would have thought possible.
Later, his cousin (Sushan, I am sorry, I have forgotten your cousin’s name) joined us as we wandered around. There is much to see in Bhaktapur and I had a great time, but one of the highlights was seeing the Thanka (pronounced something like Tonka as in Tonka Toys) painting school that Sushan goes to. We were able to tour the facility, and watch several paintings being made. The thankas can take upwards of several months to complete and look like back-breaking work. At the top of the school there is a room where they sell thankas to tourist visitors like us. In the back of the room was a very large thanka that took 7 masters a few years to complete. It was amazing. But they aren’t cheap. I had bought a thanka of obviously lower quality at a much more affordable price in Thamel a few days ago so I was thanka’d out, but Sarah bought a cheaper, student-made thanka that she liked.
On the way back to our taxi ride home, we stopped in Sushan’s school supply store. Sarah was very surprised that the only thing Sushan said he wanted in the store was a English Nepali dictionary that was out of his price range. Sarah bought it for him as thanks for the wonderful tour. At the end of our stay in Bhaktapur she even inscribed the cover with a thoughtful message about how important it was to stay in school. Sarah and I really do hope he sticks with it and we fully expect him to do well.
From there we headed to Pashupatinath. It was already a long day and we were pretty tired. This heat will kill your enthusiasm very quickly. So we made it a very short stay. Just long enough to see the funeral pyres, and to watch the monkeys jumping in to the river to cool off and play.
Tomorrow is our drive to Jiri and its going to be a long trip, better to rest now…