For all my talk of liking to do things alone and wandering around getting lost in new cities, there are times when I feel like I would like the company of others. My friends Marc and Yvonne visited Nepal a couple of years before I did, and Yvonne puts me in touch with a chap called Shiva, who runs a free walking tour of the city twice a day. I contact him and arrange to talk the afternoon tour, since it ends at the Monkey Temple in the west of the city, which will be a great chance to see the sun set over Kathmandu.
We meet at the Garden of Dreams. I’m early, so I buy a ticket for it and have a speed walk around the ground, which are lovely but very crowded. It’s like a medieval jostling match with all the selfie sticks bobbing around.
Shiva is waiting outside on the street. We’re joined by a Canadian nurse and her silent Kiwi partner. No one else comes, so we set off through the streets of Thamel, Shiva explaining why the roads are dug up (new water pipes are being laid through the area) and how Nepalis never visit Thamel because it’s three times more expensive than anywhere else in the city because of the tourists. We stop for a quick snack of lentil pancakes, which are salty but quite delicious. These I will try again when I get to the mountains.
We head back along the streets I was taken down the other day, and we stop in the square with a round, four-sided stupa in it. We learn about the symbols on the stupas (the ‘nose’ represents Nirvana, and is set as the number 1 in the Nepalese writing script, symbolising unity and togetherness) and why there are eyes on them (they represent the all-seeing abilities of Bhudda), as well as the prayer wheels and how to use them.
Shiva also explains that whenever you walk around a stupa you should always walk around it anti-clockwise. In addition to this, one should never walk around a stupa an even number of times. Ideally, one should walk around three times, and he explains that the most devout of people will walk around a stupa 108 times, as this is the number of human desires identified by Bhudda. This is something that I will remember for the rest of my trip, and I will silently judge those that I see walking around a stupa clockwise.
Shiva is incredibly knowledgable and informative, and the tour is very interesting. We wind our way out towards the west of the city and up the hill to the money temple, passing through neighbourhoods and crossing the river. It’s an uphill trek to the temple, and when we get there monkeys abound. The sky is murky and it is approaching the golden hour. We begin our ascent up the steps to the temple. I had not know that there were so many – there must be about 150 steps. I stop along the way to catch my breath and steady my wobbly legs, taking pictures to make it look like I’m not so out of shape and need the rest. As we get towards to the top, the incline of the steps gets steeper and steeper. I joke with Shiva that he must be really fit if he does this tour twice a day. I’m really happy when we get to a ledge and can stop for a moment to buy tickets. The Canadian and the Kiwi decide not to go up to the temple since it costs money, but I get a ticket and pant up the remaining steps.
It’s crowded up there, and it’s strewn with Tibetan prayer flags. The gold leaf-covered stupa is glinting in the waning afternoon sun. There is an interesting view over the city, with its squared off apartment blocks. It reminds me somewhat of the view from Manadaly Hill in Myanmar. I dutifully walk around the stupa anticlockwise, stopping to take pictures of the statues and temples all around. I’m taking my time and taking it all in. I decide to walk around three times, as I have learned to do. Halfway through the second round Shiva has joined me. He takes my camera and takes a couple of photos of me with the stupa behind me, and then he guides me around the temple, answering questions. At the back, there is a decrepit old building, which used to be a monastery. Sadly, this was damaged during the earthquake and the monks have not been able to afford to rebuild.
On the third trip I take in the view and the setting sun across the city. Clouds have gathered, so it’s not the clear sunset that I had hoped for, but it’s still a reflective and contemplative moment. After completing my third circumnambulation of the temple we collect the waiting Canadian and Kiwi and make our way back down the steps. This is almost worse than coming up them, as they are steep and deep and I have size 12 feet, meaning I have to come down carefully at a 90-degree angle so as to have enough concrete to rest my feet on. Monkeys gambol over the steps and along the path down go the road.
We decide to eschew a taxi and walk back into Thamel. It’s around 7 pm now, and the sun is going down. Shiva has been an awesome guide, and I would highly recommend his tour (check out his Facebook page here). I slip him 1,000 rupees as a tip (roughly $10) as we part company, thanking him for his time and knowledge.
Kathmandu done. Now it’s time to get further out into Nepal. I head back to the hotel to pack up my things and get ready to go and see Mt. Everest.