Wednesday, 09 October, 2013, 1:30 p.m.
The pace of the last week picked up considerably from previous weeks. Last Wednesday I wrapped up my first stay in Sisautiya with the promise that I would return, and I devised a way to avoid the 14-hour bus ride back to Kathmandu. On Thursday I caught an early bus headed up the terrible road back to the main east-west Mahendra Highway. My eventual destination for the day was Daman, a small village situated on a north-facing slope in the Mahabharat Range, which supposedly claims the best views of the Great Himalaya of any town in Nepal. On clear days, the views from an observation tower include 300 kilometers of snowy peaks from Dhaulagiri in the west to Everest in the east.
I changed buses at the junction town of Pathlaiya and headed north over the Churia Hills, the first line of foothills rising from the Terai. Lunch of chicken’momos‘ and another bus change in the city of Hetauda had me leaving the Mahendra Highway to climb the steep and tortuous Tribhuvan Highway into The Mahabharat. Three hours of switchbacks and an elevation change of more than 6,000 feet on a road that sometimes wasn’t wide enough for the bus and a car coming the other way brought us to a pass from which Hetauda could still be seen only about 10 miles away in a straight line, but now more than a mile below. After another 15 minutes of coasting downhill, I arrived in Daman. It had taken 11 hours to go 60 miles as the crow files from Sisautiya, and even after all that elevation gain, I had reached only a quarter of the height of Everest.
Now, after all that hype you might expect something spectacular, and it would have been, except that a slow-moving weather system had settled over the entire region, obscuring any views. The redeeming part of Daman was that I stayed in a traditional Nepali house that had been converted by a Sherpa family into a three-room guest house. It felt like I was staying with a family once again, sharing dal bhat by candlelight with them for dinner and Manjushree, the friendly grandmother, making omelets for breakfast on a traditional wood-fired, earthen stove, while Meowgi the dust-gray cat stayed close for warmth and stray bits of egg.
Although Daman was supposed to be an inspiring meditative place, the weather made me restless and wish for a travel partner.
On Saturday, I finished the journey back to Kathmandu, switchbacking in and out of the low clouds and marveling at the resourcefulness of the Nepalis who make their living farming the improbably placed terraced fields draped across each valley. After tacking two extra days onto my travel back to Kathmandu, I needed a vacation from my vacation. A rest day caught me up on news and emails, and then I was off again to see some more of the capital. On Monday, I set out to explore Thamel, a historic tourist neighborhood with guesthouses, tourist traps and shops selling everything imaginable.
After a pleasant and quiet visit to a notable bookshop, checking into a hotel and some more delicious momos, I headed south through the labyrinthine streets and alleys of old-town Kathmandu. Getting lost and stumbling into one of the many bahals, I eventually reached Durbar Square and took in the sights and sounds as sunset drew near. Before dusk settled all the way in, I made a linear route back to Thamel and thought about the treasure trove of artifacts and historical buildings that are casually placed around the city and commonly, if not always, still used.
Yesterday morning I got an early start and walked the 2 kilometers to Swayambhunath, the second largest stupa in the valley, which involves climbing several hundred feet up a hill of the same name along a stone staircase. Taking my time, I waited for the sun to burn off the haze obscuring the rest of the valley. In the meantime, I enjoyed the people-watching and read up on some of the Hindu-Buddhist deities of Nepal in a book I had bought the previous day. As neither Hinduism nor Buddhism are mutually exclusive of the other, religion in Nepal often melds these two together, just as you might expect of a people wedged between Hindu India and Buddhist Tibet. This unique fusion could be seen at Swayambhunathin features such as a particular chaitya, which incorporated into the Lingam/Yoni structure of a [Hindu] Shiva shrine. Anyhow, I found it to be interesting stuff.
My next stop was a Tibetan refugee camp, which organizes women with carpet-weaving skills into a cooperative in which carpets are hand-made with a guaranteed quality and sold at fixed prices. The profits then go back into the Tibetan community. I had seen how Persian carpets are made while in India, and although the method of knot tying for Tibetan carpets is completely different, the craft involves no less deftness nor blinding speed of the hands. Even the slower women work so fast I could never figure out exactly what their fingers were doing with the wool yarn. Despite the rate of knot tying, it still takes about a month for a 2-by-4-foot carpet.
Continuing on foot, I stopped at a bookshop and found a potentially useful computer book for the students in Sisautiya. Then I made my way to Patan Industrial Estate, a government-run series of workshops that produce traditional handicrafts, in search of observing the lost-wax method of casting used by Patan‘s famous bronze figure industry. Although I didn’t get to see any bronze casting, I did see some wood craftsmen at work, which more than made up for the metallurgical disappointment. I had been walking for most of the day and decided to round it out by walking home, for a total of at least 15 kilometers.
Now I have to get ready to meet Lhakpa Sherpa (founder of Sherpa House Restaurant in Golden) and the rest of the Hike for Help group for 10 days in Solukhumbu, coming up in a week. It so happened that Lhakpa had scheduled one of his ‘voluntourism’ trips to his home district near Everest during October. As I would already be in the country at the time, I was able to join him and a handful of other Coloradans for a 10-day trek. Stay tuned for that.
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Sisautiya to Kathmandu via Daman
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