We completed our visa-on-arrival using the automated machines and paying our $30 each. Mark withdraw some of their currency then we got a taxi. A young guy insisted on getting in our taxi with us and trying to sell us a Tibet or Bhutan tour. He alighted in the Thamel (backpacker) area just round the corner from our hostel. The Backyard Hostel was a nice place, it was on a tiny, yet two-way road made of loose bricks. We were immediately upgraded to an ensuite room, as the other rooms were full, which was nice. They wanted more money for air-con but we had fans so we didn’t bother.
I had been feeling gradually worse from pain in my chest since we arrived in Mumbai so we got a taxi to the Grande International Hospital to get my chest checked out by a cardiologist. The doctor did some tests and asked us to come back the next day to see a gastroenterologist. So we took the taxi back to the hotel admiring the dozens of tiny shops and narrow, pot-holed roads on the way.
Next day I skipped breakfast while Mark climbed four flights to the roof terrace to have his fried eggs on toast, with ginger tea. The hotel staff were very polite showing a lot of interest regarding how I was feeling. We then got a taxi back to the hospital to see the gastroenterologist. He thought it was probably an inflamed sternum but he agreed to do an endoscopy after lunch, plus a few other tests. The doctor thought I wouldn’t need any sedation! He said he had just done an endoscopy on a ten-year old boy without any sedation! How sad! As soon as he started I could’t bear the sensation and pulled the tube out of my throat, hurting myself a bit in the process, so he put me under saying us tourists are too week. This was the country health situation before the earthquake, imagine nowadays how much help they might need!
He found the cause of the pain, which was good, three 1cm ulcers and took pictures of them. He also took a biopsy of one of them for testing, saying we would need to come back in a week for the result. We took a taxi back to Backyard and ate in the Rosemary Kitchen, voted no.1 restaurant by TripAdvisor, which was very nice. I had the fish, avoiding spicy food because of the ulcers, and Mark had a chicken tikka massala, which he said was delicious!
The day after we decided to have a rest day, to catch up on sleep and help me recover. Mark enquired some more about trips to Tibet, but we were looking at $1,600 each plus a ten-day wait for a Tibet visa, and I was still recovering. Mark then spent the rest of the day trying to find somewhere to get a brown zip for his shorts. One man sitting on the floor with his sewing machine agreed to do it, so he left the shorts with him but when he returned after an hour or so he had put a black zip in instead, which Mark was annoyed with. He then ask him take it out and went with him looking for a brown zip, but they had no joy. I found it all quite funny!
The next few days were spent going to the hospital and back for tests by thankfully everything was clear.
We restarted our sightseeing by visiting the stupendous Boudhanath Stupa adorned with rows of multi-coloured prayer flags, like square bunting. It stood in the middle of circular square, surrounded by tall buildings. The stupa had a large, white concrete dome with a pyramid-shaped, golden tower on top with a set of eyes on each face. We ate lunch in a first floor restaurant overlooking it while watching the Buddhists walk around the stupa clockwise turning each brass prayer wheel as they went. We entered the stupa and climbed the steps to the wide platform that encircled it. From their we could watch the people standing and then lying in their press-up like prayers on their prayer mats. We also saw a monk moving multi-coloured beads into a bowl to record his prayers, like you might with rosary beads. Suddenly we heard drumming and a procession started, with several men carrying a sedan chair with a statue if Buddha on top, under a golden parasol. They circled the stupa led by monks. There we also got a sense of everyday Nepalese life watching a builder loading cement into a basket strapped to another man’s back, rickshaws and motorbikes going passed.
We then took a taxi to Pashupatinath the famous Hindu Cremation Temple on the Bagmati river, which flows into the sacred Ganges. We paid $10 entrance fee each (it was another $10 for a guide but we didn’t take one) and looked around the ancient buildings before we came across a small bridge and gasped in awe! Looking down we saw a dead body being burnt under a pile of split logs and dried grass, his feet protruding from one end as the flames took hold. The other side of the bridge we saw the ritual taking place and families walking down the steps to dip the wrapped bodies of their loved ones in the holy river. We crossed to the far bank and strolled along passed the rows of small temples each containing lingams (male and female stone Hindu symbols). We saw a group of pujas (Hindu priests), sitting cross-legged with their long beards and white painted faces and stopped for some pictures after making a small donation.
Further along the bank the trees were full of small monkeys running amok, even annoying a stray dog, much to our amusement. We could even make out hermit temples carved into the rocks further upstream. It was a truly special place, similar to Varanasi in India, no doubt. As we retraced our steps and crossed the bridge once more the whole troop of monkeys suddenly dashed past, startling us a little. We explored the main, gold roofed temple building and I bought a beaded necklace from a lady outside. We then took the taxi back to the hotel. What an exotic day!
The next we walked twenty minutes or so to Durbar Square (later destroyed in the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on 25th April 2015 which saw more than 8,500 Nepalese perish). We perused the complex of red brick temples and buildings, often built on stepped pyramids, with ornate wooden rooves. The place was a hive of activity, full of rickshaws, pigeons and multi-coloured prayer flags. There were some wonderful statues of many-armed gods, stained in brightly coloured powders, elaborately decorated gates and glorious old buildings in their original state.
We climbed up the wooden stairs to the top of one of the larger buildings, the Hanuman Dhoka (Old Royal Palace), which afforded us views down over the square below where a market was taking place and a number of dogs were sunbathing. The city seemed to stretch for miles, and was dominated by huge mountains on every side. We found a modern-looking restaurant nearby ran by an expat who explained that they had to use bottled water for everything or even the locals would get sick, never mind us tourists.
The following day we took the taxi to the airport where we left Nepal behind and flew back to India.
We are still very sad with what happened to these amazing people and our hearts will always be with them. What a fabulous place to visit!
Some more pictures..